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Sahelian farmer representatives visit Italy

A group of farmers' representatives from four Sahelian countries spent a week in Italy in May, visting farms, agricultural associations and international organizations. The visit was set up by Italian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in the Sahel with the aim of introducing the two worlds to each other and exploring areas of possible collaboration. Italian organizations participating in the exchange included Terra Nuova, Crocevia, CIPSI and Comunità Impegno Servizio Volontariato (CISV).

Niger: a woman drawing water
FAO/18488/P. Cenini

The visitors were representatives from the Platform of Sahelian Farmers' Organizations, which was established in 1996. The Platform unites organizations in nine Sahelian countries: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.

On their trip to Italy, the representatives visited a consumer organization in Tuscany, rice and dairy farms in Piedmont, a biodynamic poultry farm and a farm practising organic horticulture in Lazio, as well as several international organizations in Rome. They also held discussions with Italian professional agricultural organizations on trade and policy questions like the future of the Lomé Convention and the upcoming World Trade Organization negotiations.

At the end of the week, Paul Ouédraogo from Burkina Faso, summed up his impressions: "Italian agriculture is very specialized and depends heavily on industry. It is also vulnerable because of its specialized nature and this is why they have started planning alternative strategies for diversifying the crops, like organic farming. It's interesting to see that they are returning to some of the mainstays of African farming strategies".

Demba Keita from Senegal, where the farmers' organizations are partners in FAO's Special Programme for Food Security, said: "In our countries the problem is not only increasing agricultural output but also helping producers get organized to gain access to markets."

The Sahel stretches from the islands of Cape Verde to Chad, and is home to 45 million people. The Platform aims to give a voice to the farming, fishing and herding families of the Sahel - some 60 percent of the population of the region. The aim is to help them to:

  • defend their needs and interests at national, regional and international levels;
  • mobilize themselves to defend their own interests and improve their living conditions;
  • create lobbies capable of having an impact in decisions regarding rural development.

The international community has been committed to promoting development in the Sahel since the devastating drought in 1973-74, which provoked the deaths of thousands of men, women and children. Two major organizations operate in the area: the Committee for drought control in the Sahel (CILSS), which groups nine countries in the region, and the Club du Sahel which groups ten northern countries.

14 June 1999

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