In Senegal, Sweet Potatoes Provide Nutrition for Students and Financial Stability for the Community
School canteens, or cafeterias, are at the heart of a development process that increases access to nutritious food for children in Senegal. Canteens also promote the development of local crops and increase access to education. In this context, Counterpart International collaborates with the National Cooperative Business Association Cooperative League of the U.S.A. (NCBA CLUSA) to support school canteens in the St. Louis region of Senegal through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded Food Transition for School Canteens in Senegal (TACSS) project.
In November 2020, several fields managed by parents and other community members contributed to the nutrition and sustainability of local school canteens through donations of orange flesh sweet potatoes (OFSP), which are rich in vitamin A.
In Senegal, malnutrition affects over a quarter of children under the age of five, according to the World Bank, causing school attendance rates to suffer and drop-out rates to increase. At home, many children do not receive the nutrition they need to grow strong and stay attentive in school. Community-led and community-based solutions are critical.
Located in the Pété district, the Lougué community is one of the most promising OFSP production areas. The region embraced growing OFSP in 2019, borrowing a field from a local farmer to participate in the project. Immediately after OFSP production training, this motivated the community to adopt a consistent production rhythm and make regular donations of OFSP to the local school canteens.
After the first production and donation, the community began a second campaign to minimize irrigation costs and take advantage of the rainy season. As a result of this initiative — an additional 11 kg of OFSP — was donated to the school in November 2020. "The [donation] was cooked in the canteen for the benefit of the students. Dishes based on lentils, peas and rice are always accompanied by potatoes," said Lougué school director Issa Mbaye.
The community was also able to make a cash contribution to the school. Following the production of OFSP, they had a total income of around $230 (125,000 FCFA). The community then decided to give around $46 (25,000 FCFA) of their profit to the school to further support the canteens. "This financial contribution helps in the daily expenses of the canteen," Mbaye said.
Recently, the community lost access to the field they were leasing. However, they did not lose their motivation. They have since been able to find another field for their products and used their funds to install fencing and protect the area. This ambition is a testament to the real sense of ownership the community has for the project.
This initiative has provided access to nutritious food for the school canteens and contributed to creating additional income for the community. The TACSS project supported the school canteens and sweet potato production through two important ways. First, it allowed families to support the school canteen with an in-kind contribution. Second, it created an additional income-generating activity for vulnerable families. The Lougué community witnessed firsthand the advantages of this approach and is now successfully producing for the school and themselves with minimal support.