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Organic Farming Gains Foothold in Senegal

In the developed world, organic foods are trendy and often expensive. In the West African country of Senegal, a group of farmers growing food without pesticides or chemicals say it is good for the earth. They say their products can stand up against traditionally grown vegetables not just in quality, but in price, too. Voice of America's Jordan Davis reports from Thies, Senegal.

Under the midday sun, farmers draw water from the well to keep plants healthy during the dry season. What they will not put into the soil, though, are industrial fertilizers. On this organic farm, some of the most productive workers are not even human, says farmer Cheikh Sen. The papaya tree roots work the soil, he says, providing nutrients. And instead of using pesticides, farmers try to attract more help from the skies above. Sen says the birds come and eat insects. Insects that might otherwise ruin crops.

These farmers on the outskirts of Thies made a choice to grow without chemicals. And their products have found a market, albeit a small one. Every Saturday, their crops are hauled into town for Senegal’s only regular weekly organic market. It is run by Agrecol Afrique, a local NGO advocating locally-grown organic foods. Agrecol’s Mossane Ndour Gning says growers and customers meet to work out prices, "If prices are out of reach of many people, then there will be an elite that can afford it and the rest will be left behind."

Marketgoer Aissatou Gueye is shopping for her family dinner. She says prices here are not expensive. And plus, she says, the food is healthier.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization in the capital Dakar has been promoting growing healthy food for several years, adapting the techniques of organic farmers for urban dwellers.

Though the organic movement is still small, the FAO’s Aminata Mbaye says there is a growing consciousness among Senegalese about what is in their food, "It is obvious that if people have the means, they want the best quality."

Outside Thies, Cheikh Sen says there is no chance he will begin using traditional methods. He says the land itself is so powerful you do not need anything else.