Photo: Officials inaugurate the first renovated road funded by USDA in Laty, Senegal.
By Joani Dong, Foreign Agricultural Service Agricultural Attache, Senegal
We don’t spend much time thinking about roads in the United States. We worry about the traffic on them, but we don’t consider the importance of the actual road itself. But to the Senegalese villages of Sindone, Yabon and Laty, a new road represents a path to a more prosperous life.
The new 7.5-mile stretch of road that runs through the three villages is the first renovated secondary road completed with the support of USDA’s Food for Progress program. I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new road in the village of Laty and seeing the difference it will make in the residents’ lives. The road will connect the villagers with markets where they can sell their crops, like mangoes, cashews and palm oil, to create new economic opportunities and expand food availability.
The Food for Progress Program, administered by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, helps developing countries like Senegal modernize and strengthen their agricultural sectors. U.S. agricultural commodities donated to recipient countries are sold on the local market and the proceeds are used to support agricultural, economic or infrastructure development programs administered by government agencies and private volunteer organizations (PVOs).
In Senegal, FAS partnered with a PVO called Shelter for Life to rebuild rural roads in the Casamance region. While Senegal is regarded as one of the most stable nations in Africa, the Casamance region has not seen the same economic growth as the rest of the country for two reasons: first, it is geographically cut off by The Gambia; and second, it has suffered from one of the longest-standing conflicts in Africa, lasting more than 30 years. This disconnect has left the southern region lagging behind, with weak infrastructure and inefficient roads. Many residents fled because of the conflict and resulting deterioration. Those who did stay had difficulty getting their crops to markets to sell. This area is referred to as the “breadbasket of Senegal” for its production potential, but the weak infrastructure made efficient and consistent production impossible.
But leaders are working towards a peaceful and definitive solution to the conflict. The Shelter for Life roads project will provide the necessary infrastructure for residents to return to villages abandoned during the long years of conflict in this region. Better and wider roads will pave the way for large vehicles – rather than bicycles and donkey carts – to carry crops to market. The ability to sell crops at market will provide residents with more income, enabling them to pay for their children’s schooling, buy medicine, invest more in their crops and reduce food loss.
The road through Sindone, Yabon, and Laty now links agricultural production zones to the major highway, the RN6, which is being rebuilt with funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Shelter for Life plans to construct another 73.3 miles of feeder roads within the project’s allotted three years, with another 10 miles planned for completion by the end of this year, employing up to 900 local laborers.