They say the marketplace is where the flavor of humanity rises to the surface. Walking through the vendors' stands in Kolda, heaped high with fruits and vegetables, it was easy to believe. Kolda, a commercial center in Senegal's central Casamance region, has long known the power of trade, and its merchants and artisans do business with Africans from throughout Senegal, the Gambia, and Guinea Bissau.
The market stands in Kolda's Market Exposition were a proud display of the variety and exuberance of Casamance's economic potential. The tables burgeoned with local products, fruits, vegetables, and innovations. I saw several varieties of natural honey, deep bowls of manioc and corn flower, and gorgeous vegetables from corn to peppers and more. There were river fish on display in a deep aquarium, deep baskets of colorful mangos, rows of bottled fruit juices, and a trio of brightly-dressed women offering local, traditional dishes rich with spices. One woman showed me packets of organic, natural medicines made from the local moringa tree, which grows abundantly in the area.
But everyone I talked with told me the same thing: Casamance's production goes largely to waste because it's too difficult to transport the products out of town, and so sellers miss out on the chance to sell beyond their local region.
The business of buying and selling depends on transport linkages, and the highway that threads forms the backbone of the Casamance is in bad shape at the moment, victim of heavy rains and decades of neglect. No wonder then that the Senegalese people consider it a priority.
A bad road impacts more than just farmers: I spoke with the president of a cooperative of taxi drivers, who explained how much of a driver's meager profits go to repair of their vehicles, which suffer mightily on the dilapidated highway, and how hard it was to transport vegetables anywhere without it arriving bruised and battered.
And easier transport through the Casamance will lead to better access to schools, medical services, and businesses. Families separated by long distances will find themselves connected again, and everybody will discover that the Casamance, rich with produce and opportunities, is just a little closer than it once was.
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