Smallholders in Senegal Embrace Low-Tech Solutions for High Yields

August 3, 2017
Asse Bahaid SowGnima Koma (in blue) with women farmers in a maturing rain-fed rice plot at Medina Souane, Senegal.

Gnima Koma is a smallholder farmer in the Sédhiou region of southern Senegal. When you talk to Koma, she’ll tell you that she has a lifetime of experience farming rice, maize and sesame. Through Feed the Future, USAID-funded projects have helped her community learn better and more efficient farming practices; yet despite this experience, in her 56 years of rural farming, she never expected to become a database manager for her local farmers’ association. 

With the arrival of projects like Feed the Future Senegal Naatal Mbay (“flourishing agriculture” in the local language) over the past decade, Koma has received training not only on good agricultural practices, but also on  monitoring tools, data analysis and mapping techniques. These tools empower her and others in her community to consistently track, measure and adapt to food production needs for both home consumption and market demands. 

A key component of this project’s approach is connecting farmers to thriving market systems. The project works with farmer groups in Senegal to assess their needs and determine what types of data will be most useful, how to collect it and how to interpret it. The project encourages farmers like Koma to manage and analyze their own data while also providing them with helpful templates and training on how to monitor the data collection process. 

Collecting data at the farm or association level can be just as impactful as introducing new practices and farming tools. For farmers, the information is invaluable, enabling them to make evidence-based decisions on how best to support their members. It can serve as a basis for contracting and transaction monitoring, helping smallholders access loans. And, used in aggregate, the data can inform the Government of Senegal’s policy-making at the national level. 

To help ensure sustainability, Feed the Future also trains farmers in the selection, acquisition, and use of relevant and appropriate technologies to support their data collection and business functions, including grain humidity testers, line seeders, GPS systems, computers and smartphones. Currently, 115 project-supported groups are working with easy-to-use databases in Excel, reaching an estimated 80,000 farmers. 

“The trick is to keep the data systems simple, accessible and sustainable. Successful solutions do not need to be high-tech," said Adama Sarr Samb, database management specialist for Naatal Mbay. “Our business model for development includes helping farmer groups learn how to use existing technologies on their own so that they can make better use of their vast knowledge and experience as farming experts. And they need to be able to continue doing this without our assistance.”

For Koma, the proof is in the outcomes she observes on her own farm. 

“With the support of USAID agricultural projects, I am now able to ensure proper monitoring of our activities, she said. “I produce my reports more easily, I can operate the GPS, produce maps and analyze the data, and I feel quite comfortable with computer-based tools.” 

Koma is not the exception in her community. Other farmers have also benefited from the trainings and are now using data to help them make critical farming and business decisions. 

These new skills, combined with new agricultural techniques, have motivated Koma to increase her farm size by a factor of five. 

"Now I have the courage and the proper techniques to cultivate larger areas with a certainty to increase my yields,” Koma said. “I rose from two to 10 hectares and chose the option to specialize in upland rice. In the previous cropping season, our returns have tripled.” 

The Feed the Future Senegal Naatal Mbay project, implemented by RTI International, systematically strengthens production, productivity and marketing of irrigated and rain-fed rice, maize and millet in a way that is inclusive, leverages public-private investment and builds local capacity to support systemic, long-lasting transformation. You can keep up with the project on Facebook at