Water and Jobs: A model project in Senegal combines efficient use of natural resources and women’s empowerment

This World Water Day, 22 March, the focus is on the power of water and work to transform people’s lives, influence economies and improve social conditions in communities worldwide.

Green Cross brings unique experience interlacing these issues into innovative programme initiatives. The so-called “Freddas” project, three years in the making, is helping ensure access to water, energy sustainability, and jobs development in communities along the Senegal River Valley. Developed by Green Cross Italy, and with co-financing from the Italian Development Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and phyto-cosmetics company L’Erbolario Lodi, the Freddas project also has women’s empowerment as a core value.

For Green Cross, holistic solutions are essential to achieving real change.

“The project intervenes in the poorer areas and arid regions of Senegal, where there has been a lot of internal and external migration, both on the African continent and to Europe,” said Elena Seìna, Coordinator of Gender Activities for Green Cross Italy. “Today about 1,000 people have started new jobs, either on the ground or in the management of technological equipment. Of these, about 650 are women, some of whom hold leadership roles in the two cooperative enterprises established for agricultural work and the marketing of products.”

The 600,000 square metres of formerly abandoned land that were selected for the project now form a barrier against the advance of desertification, and contribute to food security and increased income for rural communities and farmers in the villages of Bokhol and Gouriki Samba Diom.

“Encouraging women’s independence and the sustainable use of water resources are indispensable to realising several of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations and the international community in 2015,” said Marie-Laure Vercambre, Director of Green Cross International’s Water for Life and Peace Programme. “Particularly for the goals targeting women’s empowerment, SDG 5, and managing water resources, SDG 6. We are pleased with the benefits this project will bring to these communities, and to have been able to contribute to this endeavour.”

“Access to and exploitation of natural resources to create jobs and prosperity is often a source of conflict between communities and with nature, altering the balance of ecosystems,” said Elio Pacilio, President of Green Cross Italy. “For this reason, we saw the clear need for projects based on the sustainable use of natural resources.”

“Furthermore, the cost of energy is the real obstacle to the development of agricultural activities,” continued Pacilio. “So Green Cross collaborated with ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) to create two photovoltaic plants and a drip irrigation system to address the issue. These produce 150 kWp of electricity, generated by the sun, at virtually zero energy cost – thus saving about 35 per cent on the total costs of agricultural production. The micro-irrigation system, which is made up of some hundreds of kilometres of pipes laid onto the ground, will reduce the farms’ water footprint by about 80 per cent – a reduction in water consumption of about 800 million litres a year.”

At the heart of this project was a commitment to address the lack of women in important positions of authority. Women are not only gaining work through this project – they also take part in decision-making and hold leadership roles in the two social enterprises (Groupe d’Interet Economique) set up to give stability and future direction to this project.

“Before the project arrived in these lands, women were divided between work in the fields and care of the house,” said Ramatoulaye Kane, head of the women farmers of the beneficiary villages. “In addition, if we asked them to talk even about how the day had been many of them gave instructions to a man to be spokespersons or answered ‘tomorrow, tomorrow.’ They were not accustomed to taking part in decisions, while being very active in community life.”

“The women’s sensitivity to the common good, their strong respect for nature and their knowledge that they must look to the future make me optimistic about the success of this experience,” said Seìna. “A true revolution has been the direct allocation to women of parcels of land, which is something that had never happened before. It affords them more freedom and more weight in the collective decisions of their communities.”