In Bambilor, one of the centers of onion production in Senegal, about thirty kilometers from Dakar, the report is bitter: the supply greatly exceeds the demand, under the combined effect of foreign competition, harmful agricultural practices or even insufficient storage capacities.
“A house, a bag of onions”: behind this enigmatic appeal launched recently on social networks in Senegal hides the cry of alarm from onion producers calling on each household to buy a portion of their harvest, which is rotting for lack of buyers.
Under a fine morning rain, nets of 25 kilos are piled along the sidewalks, ignored by passers-by.
Professionals speak of a dark year. In reality, the sale of national production of the strong-flavored bulb is a long-standing concern, reflecting the importance of onions in Senegal.
The onion, of which Senegal produces 450,000 tonnes per year, is an essential ingredient in local gastronomy.
“It is cooked in all sauces”, explains Aram Faye, 50, who works in a market garden. It gives flavor to yassa chicken, thiéboudienne and mafé, traditional dishes in the land of Téranga.
Onions are at the top of consumption and market garden production in Senegal, with strong growth, a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicated in 2018. It supports nearly 200,000 producers in a country of more than 16 million inhabitants where agriculture employs more than two-thirds of the workforce, according to Amadou Abdoul Sy, director of the Market Regulation Agency (ARM).
Among them, Diongue Masseye, 71, watches helplessly at the withered onions lining his 450 m2 warehouse, many of which have already sprouted.
A question of quality
Almost a third of production is lost each year.
“I’m going to distribute it to the local women”, he sighs.
The price of the 25-kilo net has dropped drastically: sold 8,000 or 9,000 CFA francs (12 or 13 euros) a few months ago, it only leaves 4,500 or 5,000 CFA francs (around 7 euros) – much less if part of the lot is faded.
Diongue Masseye plague against the State which, according to him, should have provided for a giant cold room. The lack of storage capacity is one of the reasons for this loss. But she is not the only one.
“The poor quality of the local onion results in significant losses and the virtual impossibility of storing it”, wrote the FAO. The specialists cite the questionable quality of the seeds but also the propensity to harvest the onions too early and therefore too wet, to sell them before the competitors.
In Notto Gouye Diama, a large market for market garden products in the west of the country, Daouda Mbaye, trader, shows dozens of bags of damaged onions from which customers who are more interested in peppers, apples, cabbages and carrots turn away. .
“They belong to a farmer who came to drop them off for me to sell. I informed him that they are no longer salable. He will come and see for himself.”, he explains.
The festivals of Ramadan in May and Tabaski (local Eid al-Adha) in July “unfortunately did not allow the disposal of unsold stocks”, deplores Boubacar Sall, president of the national college of onion producers in Senegal.
He calls for the implementation of a regulation of agriculture in Senegal, to rebalance the status of small producers, “plagued by unfair competition from the big guys”, with three times higher yields.
Admittedly, imports have been suspended since January, “but we imported the producers: Moroccans, Chinese etc, who have strong means of production and conservation”, emphasizes Mr. Sall.
A number of consumers continue to display a preference for imported onion when it is available in the market.
For Amadou Abdoul Sy, director of the Market Regulation Agency, producers have their share of responsibility.
“Everyone produces at the same time. The authorities had asked to put the crops on the market at different periods according to each production area but they were not listened to”, he regrets.
The housewives rub their hands, like Astou Ndiagne in Bambilor.
“Instead of buying a kilo of onion at 400 CFA francs, we buy it at 100 or 150 CFA francs, it allows us to save money”, she smiles mischievously.