Entreprise Aïssatou Gaye supports a woman’s paddy rice season in Ross Bethio
By Fatima Datt, Communication Specialist
Rice is a strategic product for food security and nutrition in Senegal, occupying a prominent place for the population. In recent years the rice sector has undergone a clear consolidation, with a considerable increase in production volumes. Posing a national issue, however, is the reality of the significant technical and economic difficulties of rice cultivation. A major challenge is that the crop requires significant amounts of rain or irrigation, a problem in a country that is often dealing with rainfall shortages, even during the rainy season. Still, there is growing enthusiasm among producers, especially women.
Sixty-two-year-old Arame Mbaye, who was born and raised in Saint-Louis, one of the largest cities in Senegal, has been cultivating rice for the last four decades. Saint-Louis is located at the entrance of the Senegal River, north of the country’s capital, and is a large rice-producing area. The geographical position of Saint-Louis offers favorable climatic conditions for agricultural production. Combined with the potential of irrigable land (estimated at 172,800 hectares) and the abundance of water, the region is a major agricultural hub for Senegal.
Since 1981, Arame has been growing rice and garden vegetables in Ross Bethio, a community 51 kilometers from Saint-Louis. Today, she is the owner of four hectares of paddy field. Arame is the president of an Economic Interest Group that brings together close to 20 women who produce paddy rice. She is also very active in her community as an advisor to the women in her neighborhood and works as a matron in a health post in her community. Despite the depth of her experience and the amount of effort she has exerted, until recently, Arame was not enjoying the success she hoped for.
Having left school at the age of 11, Arame relies on paddy cultivation as her main source of income. However, limited access to financing and the high cost of supplies make her harvest seasons mostly unprofitable. With her profit varying between 2,000 and 3,000 XOF (approximately $3 to $4) per bag of paddy, Arame finds it difficult to pay off her loan, reinvest in inputs, and meet her family’s needs. Arame shared, “When the season is good, I can pay the loan and have a small profit; but if the season is bad, I can barely pay the bank and I have nothing left.”
Facing these challenges, Arame heard about Enterprise Aïssatou Gaye (EAG) and its female founder/owner, Aïssatou Gaye, through the activities of her association. Arame was drawn to Gaye’s unique, almost revolutionary reputation, as a female entrepreneur who buys paddy rice from producers to transform it into white rice, while also helping those farmers gain access to credit for purchasing their inputs.
In 2021, through its COVID-19 Rapid Response program, the Trade Hub awarded a $450,842 co-investment grant to EAG to help the company increase white rice production in the Ross Bethio region of Senegal and reduce the country’s dependence on rice imports. In efforts to increase paddy production, EAG supports producers in the community by facilitating access to an interest-free credit line of up to 2,000,000 XOF (approximately $3,072) and by distributing agricultural inputs as an in-kind contribution. As a direct result of EAG’s co-investment partnership with the Trade Hub, the company has been able to significantly support paddy rice producers to increase and improve food security in Senegal.
Through the co-investment, EAG has acquired the necessary machinery to cultivate an additional 375 hectares of land to increase agricultural production and integrate 375 farmers into its current network of 1,545 paddy rice producers. In addition, EAG will raise and leverage approximately $5.3 million in private capital as part of its three-year partnership with the Trade Hub.
“Enterprise Aïssatou Gaye has signed a contract with me to buy all my paddy rice, which allows me to repay my credit on time and have my profit. I no longer have paddies growing moldy or being wasted because of the lack of buyers,” declares Arame. As part of that network of 1,545 paddy producers supported by EAG and the Trade Hub, Arame was able to access funds (through a third-party holding with La Banque Agricole) for several harvest seasons, allowing her to achieve a level of success that better reflects her experience, knowledge, and hard work.