Senegalese eaters consume an astounding 8 million baguettes per day. In 2022, Senegal imported more than 800,000 tons of wheat to meet demand. The country has imported most of its wheat from Russia in recent years, and the Russian war against Ukraine has made wheat and other commodity crop prices uncertain. But there is a growing movement to incorporate local, traditional crops into breadmaking to help reduce Senegal’s reliance on imports—and promote food sovereignty for West Africa.
“We are very dependent, which is why it is necessary to anticipate the substitution of wheat by our local cereals,” says Amadou Gaye, President of the National Federation of Bakers in Senegal (NFBS). “We cannot control external events, and therefore, using our local cereals in breadmaking is safer.”
NFBS is boosting local production by helping train bakers to use different techniques for baking with local and traditional grains. With support from organizations like the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF), an international nonprofit association of national agricultural research systems from 23 West and Central African countries, in addition to financial support from the World Bank, more than 300 bakeries are using local grains such as millet, maize, sorghum, fonio, moringa, cowpea, and cassava to experiment with new bread types in Senegal.
“This is the future of baking,” says Gaye.
According to Gaye, bread made with local and traditional crops, also called composite bread, is as good as wheat bread in terms of taste, quality, and appearance. He has seen an increase in the consumption of composite bread in recent years. Increasing local cereal production can not only boost local economies but also create jobs for Senegalese workers, promote the creation of new industries for processing cereals, and support better national food security and sovereignty.
Composite baguettes are more nutrient-dense and have less sugar than typical baguettes. Théiré bread, for example, uses 15-percent millet and 15-percent couscous flour, providing an important source of fiber. Gaye says that composite baguettes also typically have a high water-to-flour ratio, which helps them last longer on shelves than breads made only with wheat.
“Not many people know about the technique [to make the bread], but people love it,” says Gaye. The composite bread requires “many techniques” to achieve certain qualities that eaters are looking for, and NFBS supports bakers in need of funding for special equipment, such as a spiral kneader to mix different flour types.
In 2022, NFBS organized a West African Confederation of Bakers to help exchange these techniques and raw materials between countries. And the West African Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP), which CORAF coordinates at a regional level, has already helped to export composite bread technology to other countries in the region.
Bakeries in Cote d’Ivoire, for example, historically faced significant challenges in sourcing wheat flour. The WAAPP provided training workshops for more than 350 bakeries and 150 pastries to produce with more inexpensive, nutrient-dense, and easy-to-produce local cassava flour. Now, many bakers in Côte d’Ivoire have enough flour to not only meet demand but also grow their own businesses.
Right now, the region’s local grains are more expensive than subsidized wheat, but Gaye expects this to change as demand grows. NFBS and its partners promote local products through commercials on television as well as encouraging farmers and farmer organizations to plant more local and traditional grains.
Recently, NFBS helped to introduce a reform to the Senegalese government’s 1979 decree that mandated the incorporation of millet flour in bread. Because local grains remain underused, the reform will expand the decree to incorporate several local cereals, provide tax incentives to bakeries that incorporate local cereals, and have bakers use as much as 45-percent local cereals in breadmaking.
Gaye says that this progress gives him hope for a more sustainable food system for the region, especially as the West African Confederation of Bakers “will support each country to draw inspiration from the Senegalese model.”
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Photo courtesy of T.K. Naliaka, Wikimedia Commons