It was the first day of the local rice trade fair and following the panel presentations, it was time for the ‘QnA’- the Questions and Answers. Everyone, it seemed had something to say and wanted to be heard. The event, the “1st Edition of the Foire du Riz de la Vallée” (Senegal River Valley Rice Trade Fair), held July 4-6, 2019, in Saint Louis, Senegal, was organized Aissatou Gaye, Senegal’s Policy Reform for Investment Mobilization Project (PR4I) Small Grants Award winner, with the support of the Feed the Future Program for Increasing Investment in Agriculture in Senegal, implemented by Africa Lead. Mrs. Gaye is the founder and head of Enterprise Aissatou Gaye (EAG), an agribusiness located in northern Senegal specializing in the processing and commercialization of locally grown rice. The theme was “Saint Louis Nourishing Senegal: Stakeholders, Engagements, and Challenges.” The trade fair was organized in collaboration with Senegal’s National Rice Producers Association (Association Nationale des Riziers – “ANR”) and with multi-sector support that included the PR4I Steering Committee, city officials, government ministries and technical support services. It featured a strong participation from local private agribusinesses, women groups evolving in the rice sector, rice producers, rice processors, rice distributors and also financial institutions. It was also the first major rice sector event to be held since Senegal’s government adopted its official policy calling for achieving self-sufficiency through increased domestic rice production and increasing food security which are core objectives of the government’s Plan for an Emerging Senegal economic development plan.
The trade fair featured 20 exhibitors, half of them women. The exhibition stands showcased every aspect of the rice sector value chain – from seed varieties to processing to consumption. There were different varieties of locally grown rice as well innovative products such as soap and popular traditional Senegalese foods such as beignets, couscous, and millet –all made from rice.
The event consisted of a two-day conference accompanied by the trade fair which ran all three days. The panel discussions addressed topics such as problems of financing in the rice sector, in particular financing access for women, land access, expanding distribution channels, adapting and adopting new agricultural production techniques, the nutritional benefits of locally grown rice, and improving marketing and communications to raise public awareness about consuming locally grown rice, in particular rice from Senegal’s northern river valley region. There were 191 participants attended the conference on the first day and 132 the following day. The trade fair exhibition, which ran from 10H00 to 9 PM each day, was free and open to the public.
On the final day of the conference participants discussed the various constraints and challenges they face doing business in the rice sector. They drafted a list of recommendations about some actions to be taken to address them, including a proposal directed to the North Zone Investment Platform for sufficient support and monitoring. Also, the suggestion that the local rice trade fair and conference become an annual event was supported enthusiastically. Senegal is one of the three African countries, along with Kenya and Tanzania, to benefit from small grant funding for the Policy Reform for Investment Mobilization Project (PR4I), an initiative of the Bureau for Food Security and Resilience (BFSR) aimed at increasing private sector interest and investment in Africa’s agriculture sectors. In Senegal, the northern Saint Louis region was targeted for the PR4I Small Grants Award intervention because it is an area that is currently attracting the most private agribusiness activity and interest. However, the region’s small and medium private enterprises are not reaping the benefits. The objective of the PR4I Small Grants project is to stimulate private sector interest and investment in the agriculture sector. Africa Lead will continue to support the Senegal PR4I Steering Committee and the Small Grants Award winner in following up on the recommendations from this first local rice trade fair.