Hibiscus (or bissap, as it is called in Senegal) is a valuable and versatile crop whose brightly colored, star-shaped flowers are prized for their tart flavor, and can be made into a long list of byproducts. Hibiscus jellies, jams, fruit pastes, traditional medicines, teas, syrups and refreshing drinks can be found in almost every market stall in West Africa. These beautiful flowers have a high concentration of vitamin C and have been proven to medically reduce high blood pressure.
In 2009, this blood-red flower presented The Hunger Project (THP)-Senegal with a unique opportunity. By farming hibiscus flowers, they merged three primary goals: promoting environmental stability, empowering women and using microfinance to create new and sustainable sources of income. This project, known as “Bio Bissap” (organic hibiscus) has produced encouraging results.
THP-Senegal introduced the Bio Bissap project into their action plan, experimenting with the income-producing possibilities of hibiscus cultivation. Two women’s groups in the villages of Ndiolofféne and Ndour Ndour were chosen to pilot the project. Approximately 120 women were initially involved, and each of the two groups subsequently cultivated one to two hectares of the hibiscus plant.
The experiment aimed to allow the women to increase their incomes, strengthen their financial stability through diversification, and promote their own independence by gaining access to land.
The experiment was implemented in phases. In order to garner community support, Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops (VCAWs) were held to sensitize the groups of women about the possible benefits of bissap cultivation.
The second phase brought on two agricultural specialists from USAID for technical support to ensure use of the best agricultural methods. The specialists trained the women on effective cultivation methods, such as choosing appropriate soil types, selecting the best varieties of bissap and preparing the land. Additional training took place regarding the best practices for harvesting and sorting the bissap, as well as the proper post-harvest drying and preservation techniques.
Initial results from the first cycles of the experiment were encouraging. The groups sought net profits of at least 500,000 FCFA (US$1,017). The bissap was profitable enough to allow THP-Senegal to scale up the project to its current size, which now includes 12 villages, with a total membership of 563 women. These women now plow and maintain a combined total of 21 hectares.
The project has been successful enough to gain national attention. The Senegalese Agence de Presse interviewed Idrissa Ba, Program Officer for THP-Senegal, regarding the project’s progress. In the article Ba explains the importance of empowering women as an essential part of all THP programs and emphasizes the Bio-Bissap project’s empowerment of women not only through additional income, but also through land control, a privilege which they previously did not enjoy.
Motivated by their successes, these women hope to expand their membership participation and land ownership in the coming years.
October 15, 2010