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Weathering change in Senegal

Simple survival and persistence qualifies as success when farmers are battered by shocks that would seem to be enough to ruin them.

As described by Mortimore and Harris (2004), Senegalese farmers withstood the jolts of multiple government turnabouts on support to (and control of) groundnut production during the 1970s/80s, which ultimately made exports unprofitable. Droughts took their toll during the same period.

The cultivation of millet could not replace the gap left by groundnut because the market was small. Subsidized imports had fostered an urban preference for rice.

Farmers adapted each time despite severe hardships, although some migrated out. They learned how to reorient towards the local groundnut market, and improved their water and labor-use efficiency in millet and groundnut production by adopting new varieties and practices.

They shifted emphasis to goat and sheep fattening when it became more profitable than crops. And they supplemented farm income with off-farm remittances.

These achievements illustrate the resilience, determination and skillful adaptation of poor small-scale farmers.

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Mortimore, M. and Harris, F. 2004. Do small farmers' achievements contradict the nutrient depletion scenarios for Africa? Land Use Policy (in press).



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