Iodine deficiency is a major problem in Senegal where it causes birth defects in children and goitre in adults. Women salt producers are leading the charge against this form of malnutrition with the help of a WFP programme that helps them to enrich the salt they harvest with iodine and trains them as business leaders.
By Callie Lefevre
FATICK – 28-year-old Selby Diouf leans over into the calf-deep water and scoops at the salt marsh bottom with a small plastic sieve. Her 7-month-old son Babacar is tied to her back. She empties the contents of the sieve—raw salt—into a large bucket that she and the other women have balanced on a rock.
When they have filled the bucket with salt, they will bring it to shore to dry in the sun, before it is processed through one of the iodization machines provided by WFP and its partner organization, Micronutrient Initiative.
The training and equipment these women have received has allowed them to bid for WFP tenders for iodized salt. Ten groups so far, including Selby's, have been shortlisted for an initial order of 30 metric tons.
“It is hard work,” Selby says. “Out in the hot sun all day, and sometimes your baby is crying. But we are proud to have this business and support our families.”
Hard work, but worthwhile
Selby is a member of the Ndiémou salt producer group in the Fatick region of Senegal. At the Ndiémou site, about 700 salt producers from 28 villages work to harvest an average of 500 tonnes of salt per month, which is iodized on site using the four machines.
Senegal is one of the most important salt producers in West Africa, and WFP has been purchasing 100 percent of its salt requirements for Senegal locally, as well as much of its requirements for other countries in the region.
However, the local market is mainly supplied by small producers with a limited capacity to adequately iodize salt. This is cause for concern, as poor iodine intake is a risk factor for birth defects in newborns and goitre in adults. In Senegal, over 7 million people are not protected against Iodine deficiency disorders, 255,000 of whom are infants vulnerable to brain damage.
“In the beginning, it was hard to get villagers to understand the benefits of iodized salt, why it was better to pay a little more,” explained Mame Marie Diouf, a 32-year-old mother of five and a management committee treasurer overseeing two groups of producers at the Ndiémou site. “But after sensitization they now understand.”
Empowering local women like Selby and Mame Marie is another advantage of the project, as salt harvesting in Senegal is largely seen as “women’s work”. WFP has provided a grant to teach women the leadership skills they need to run the salt production associations.
“We women work well together,” says Mame Marie, who’s been in the business for ten years. “There is a solidarity between us. And as you can see, we make good managers!"