The Republic of Senegal is a coastal country of Western Africa whose population is young, still predominantly rural and largely engaged in agriculture. This sector has been suffering great difficulties, notably a decline in cereal production and a weakening of two key sectors, that of groundnut - the main cash crop – and of fisheries. The important shortfall in cereal production is compensated by massive imports. Extensive measures are currently being developed to revive food production. Despite satisfactory macro-economic performance driven by the dynamism of the tertiary sector, poverty still affects more than half of the population and has not declined much in rural areas.
Infant and under five mortality have declined, the rates being low in comparison with other countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Maternal mortality has also declined but remains at a worrying level. Immunization coverage of young children is relatively large. Access to safe water has improved considerably but sanitation remains problematic. For both these aspects as well as for access to health care, huge disparities persist by place of residence.
The diet is based on cereals (rice, millet, sorghum), vegetables and fish. These staples are complemented by groundnut and cowpea, but cereals nevertheless represent about two-thirds of the dietary energy supply. The consumption of rice has increased because of growing urbanization in addition to reliance on imports in the past, to the detriment of that of millet and sorghum. While the share of protein in energy supply remains low, that of lipids is increasing, thus reflecting the ongoing nutrition transition. Difficulties in the agricultural sector combined with poverty are the main causes of household food insecurity. A quarter of the population is undernourished, a proportion which has remained stable over the last decade.
Breastfeeding is a common practice but early initiation remains infrequent. Despite significant progress, only a third of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. Complementary feeding practices also need to be improved. Progress in exclusive breastfeeding, access to safe water and immunization coverage may explain the decrease in the prevalence of stunting among young children over the last two decades. In 2005, it was 20% and that of wasting was 9% among children under five years of age. Almost one adult woman out of five suffers from chronic energy deficiency. Meanwhile, the country is undergoing a nutrition transition characterized by the emergence of overweight and obesity, especially among women living in urban areas.
No nationally representative survey on the prevalence of iodine deficiency disorders has been carried out. The consumption of adequately iodized salt still remains limited and requires better monitoring. Vitamin A supplementation coverage is relatively high among children, but the extent of vitamin A deficiency has not been estimated at national level in this group of population, precluding assessment of the impact of the intervention. Among women, a recent and nationally representative survey shows that vitamin A deficiency is not a public health problem. On the contrary, anemia is a severe public health problem which affects more than 80% of young children and almost 60% of women. Iron supplementation coverage of pregnant women is rather high. To combat micronutrient deficiencies in a sustainable way, long-term food-based approaches have also been implemented but need to be reinforced.
Public investments in health, in education and for improving living conditions have had encouraging results but efforts need to be maintained in order to face demographic growth and to reduce the large disparities between urban and rural areas. Currently Senegal has opportunities to improve the nutritional quality of the diet due to its political involvement in agriculture and food security.