Women Lead Battle To Save Senegal’s Shrinking Farmland

By Nellie Peyton

NDIAEL, Senegal (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The women of Thiamene, a tiny straw hut village in northern Senegal, used to scrape together a living by collecting wild baobab fruit and selling milk from their cows.


But their earnings have plummeted since an Italian-Senegalese agribusiness, Senhuile, took over the surrounding land five years ago, blocking their paths to the local market and river, and spraying pesticides that make their herds scatter, they say.

“Life here is precarious, especially for women,” said 42-year-old Fatimata Sow in the village square, gazing at the vast landscape of arid ground dotted with the stumps of trees.

While the men in her community do larger-scale agricultural work or have jobs in the nearby town, it is women who tend to the gardens and raise the animals that keep families fed.

“The unhappiness and suffering we have lived from the impact of Senhuile is hard to express,” said Sow.

Vittoria Graziani, a spokeswoman for Senhuile’s majority shareholder Tampieri Group, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in December the local population had signed agreements with the company – which villagers deny – and that Senhuile was open to hearing their concerns.

Female-led work is vital to rural communities like Sow’s, yet women are often the first to suffer from large land deals and disputes, which are common across West Africa where statute law clashes with tribal customs, activists say.

Now, women in Senegal are fighting back, from young coders designing a mobile app to help women buy land to civil society groups rallying female villagers to stand up to multinationals.

“Before, it was unthinkable for women to be part of the decision-making regarding land at both local and national levels, said Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Africa director at the U.S.-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

“Now, women are organizing for change,” she added.


In Senegal, the law dictates that virtually all land belongs to the state, though occupants can purchase ownership and registration documents. In practice, especially in rural areas, customary law reigns and communities dictate who uses land.

While women in Senegal make up half of the agricultural work force, only one in 20 owns land, United Nations data shows.

Across much of sub-Saharan Africa, tradition dictates that women are not allowed to inherit land, and can only access it through their fathers or husbands. Even then, the plots they are granted are often the least productive.

While women can apply for land ownership, only group applications are accepted and very few of the requests are granted, said the Prospective Agricultural and Rural Initiative.

But Boury Tounkara, a young female coder in the northern city of Saint Louis, is developing an app along with three colleagues to fight gender discrimination in land buying.

One feature will allow women to start the buying process without identifying themselves, reducing the potential for bias.

“We hear about these problems all the time,” said Tounkara, who visited communities near the wetland reserve of Ndiael, where Thiamene is located, to ask women what would help them.

“We always see men creating apps so we thought, why not us?”

Female lawyers are also working with civil society to help women understand their land rights and gain legal recognition.


Source: nytimes.com

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3 Responses to Women Lead Battle To Save Senegal’s Shrinking Farmland

  1. Tekoma January 17, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    This is not nice at all. Why can’t women acquire a piece of land? This has got to stop in Africa because we are all humans.

  2. princess January 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    This isn’t right and doesn’t make any sense to me. Women should have equal right to acquire any land like the men do. In the kingdom of God women are not separated from the men. The bible addressed every human as man, so everyone should be given equal right to own a land.

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