The market gardening entrepreneur modernising rural agriculture, with the help of solar power

Thanks to its fertile soil, favourable climate and plentiful supply of water for irrigation, the small village of Lompoul Sur Mer in the Niayes area of north-west Senegal is an ideal location for market gardening.

Practiced throughout the year, market gardening is the primary income source for many women in the village. Aïssata Ba, 45 year old mother of 7, has been involved in market gardening for 30 years. This activity has provided her with financial and social autonomy, since her husband died.

However, market gardening means hard manual work for the women who practice it, as they lack modern infrastructure, the financial means to acquire mechanised tools, and technical and agricultural skills to modernise practices.

Unable to recruit agricultural workers to support her, Aïssata manages her 0.15 hectare plot with her two sons. The work involves preparing seedbeds, planting, removing weeds, spreading organic manure and irrigating, all by hand, leaving her with very little time to take care of her children, or sell fish – her other economic activity.

For years Aïssata had been drawing water from her well manually, using one rope and two buckets. Her two sons help her irrigate: “We were constantly moving between the plot and the basin, and it was a very tiresome, inefficient job,” Aïssata explained. She found that these challenges severely limited her production capability.

In June 2018, Energy 4 Impact selected Aïssata to take part in an economic empowerment programme giving female entrepreneurs involved in farming, dairy production, agro-transformation and shop keeping, access to renewable energy technologies and mentoring to help them improve their productivity, income and livelihood. In the Niayes zone, Energy 4 Impact has been focussing on market gardening, helping women-led entrepreneurs and cooperatives to acquire solar-powered pumps and provided them with business, technical and financial mentoring.

Aïssata received coaching to develop a business plan to restructure her activity, evaluate profitability of crops, and define a clear route-to-market strategy. She was also introduced to a supplier of solar-powered pumps, offering partial credit on the equipment. Energy 4 Impact helped Aïssata raise 50% of the cost of the pump and PV panel – the contribution required by the supplier in order to provide the equipment on credit. The remaining 50% is due to be paid over an 18-month period in 3 instalments, using the money that Aïssata generates from the increased profitability of her business.

Armed with new knowledge, skills and tools, Aïssata decided to anticipate the onion growing season this year, in order to gain a competitive advantage on the other local producers. And when her onions were the first to arrive on the market, Aïssata confidently sold them at a premium price, making a nice profit.

Energy 4 Impact’s Business Development Support Coordinator, Jean Cesar Ndione said: “The labour involved in manually irrigating crops meant that Aïssata couldn’t produce across her whole plot. This limited her turnover to around 202,500 francs ($350). Thanks to the solar pump, she has been able to increase production from 900 kilos to 1,428 kilos of vegetables, and her turnover has increased to 357,000 ($617) francs in just one season. Equally, the forecasts for the next tomato and cabbage season are excellent. Her results have really exceeded all expectations.”

Energy 4 Impact continues to support Aïssata with ongoing business and financial mentorship, and provides technical guidance on the use and maintenance of the solar equipment and on modern agronomic practices.

Aïssata said: “A year ago, I would have never thought I could achieve such a transformation. I was so exhausted by the intensity of the manual labour. Now, everything has changed. I have a better understanding of my business and I can share what I learn with my sons, who are now equally passionate about market gardening. Looking forward, my dream is to invest in a few more acres of land, as well as install a sprinkler system to make irrigation of a larger plot easier and optimise our time.


This story was created in collaboration with our partner, Energy 4 Impact.