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Chinese appetite makes peanuts the new 'gold' in Senegal
by Staff Writers
Dinguiraye, Senegal (AFP) March 24, 2013

Waiter, there's Nicaraguan iguana in my soup!
Managua (AFP) March 22, 2013 - Catholics tired of fish on Friday can enjoy a Lent-friendly smorgasbord in Nicaragua, where soups made with iguana or armadillo are served with a healthy portion of bull testicles.

The delicacies violate local laws against eating such species during their breeding period, but are seen as a meat-free dish in the lead-up to Easter. They are also considered an aphrodisiac, and thus popular with older men.

"It is really tasty. It is a traditional dish," gushed Manuel Zamora as he bought two iguanas at a market. The popular Iguana soup is made with the critter's meat and eggs, ground and toasted corn meal, and vegetables.

Pedro Espinoza, a Nicaraguan who lives in Costa Rica but is home visiting, says, "I like the taste of iguana. The little eggs are delicious."

Especially popular is a performance-enhancing soup called Levanta Muerto, which translates roughly as "Raises the Dead." It is said to boost energy and virility, and nourish the brain.

The soup consists of meat from the black, spiny-tailed iguana, brains, bone marrow, bull testicles and, in some cases, shellfish.

"I love bull testicles," said Jose Cordoba, a fan of the dish, which is popular among older men and office workers.

Miriam Sirias, who runs a lunch counter in a Managua market, says people eat the soup to keep their gray matter sharp. Her chef Cristina Gutierrez cuts in to add: "A lot of people eat it for its aphrodisiac effect."

Armadillo meat is also popular, even though some experts say it can carry the bacteria that causes leprosy.

But it is the spiny-tailed iguana, known in Spanish as a garrobo, that is the biggest hit in popular Nicaraguan cooking. People here say it helps fight cancer, diabetes, anemia and other ailments.

Jennifer Gomez, accompanying her mother to the market, says garrobo flesh kills cancer cells, claiming she has a neighbor who has had cancer for nine years but keeps it in check by eating garrobo three times a week.

"She has not died," Gomez said.

Demand for the garrobo in particular is so fierce that live animals are brought to markets in large numbers, even though you are not supposed to hunt them during their breeding season from September to April.

"Here, we sell them skinned," said one vendor, Iveth, as she chops the head off a garrobo, removes the skin, rips out the guts and hands over the body and eggs to a customer, all for the equivalent of less than four dollars.

Another soup popular along Nicaragua's very poor Atlantic coast is made of turtle flesh, fish, beef coconut milk and vegetables.

Enrique Rimbaud, head of an environmental group called Amarte, said it is a pity to sacrifice all these animals.

He is collecting signatures to press Nicaragua's parliament to pass a law protecting 187 endangered species by classifying them as part of the national heritage.

High walls protect a Chinese peanut warehouse in central Senegal, where the product is becoming the new "gold" for farmers bypassing local traders to sell to Asia at inflated prices.

Beneath an asphalt road leading into the village of Dinguiraye in the west African nation's "peanut basin", the shelling factory is an imposing site on the savannah of dry grass and stunted trees.

"We prefer to sell our peanuts to the Chinese for between 250 and 260 francs (about 0.30 euros, 0.40 dollars) a kilo. Prices sometimes even reach 300 francs in the weekly markets," said farmer Oumar Thiam.

This is significantly better than the 190-franc maximum fixed by the state, he pointed out.

"This is the first time that peanut prices have reached this level and it is thanks to the Chinese," he told AFP.

In the nearby village of Sanguel women sort peanuts in the presence of supervisors, some of them Chinese.

"Filming, photography and talking to the workers is strictly prohibited," a Senegalese foreman advised firmly.

"I buy the farmers' peanuts and I shell them before selling them to China, Russia, the Philippines and Malaysia," said Dong Yang, a local Chinese boss who was one of the few foreign exporters willing to talk about his business.

Peanuts, introduced by French colonists, continue to play an important role in the economy as the main cash crop in Senegal, providing employment for 60 percent of the population.

They are transformed into oil, powder or paste for use in many recipes, including "thieboudienne" (rice with fish), a national dish, while by-products include animal feed from seed residue and fuel from the shells.

Peanut production has declined in recent years however, mainly owing to a lack of rainfall and a drop in prices.

Peanuts have been available for export since sector regulations were eased nearly three years ago but producers are concerned that exports could now soar given increased interest from buyers in China.

"Farmers now lay down the law because there are many foreign buyers," trader Habib Thiam said.

"The peanut is becoming the gold of the peasant farmer, having once been the gold of the millers" who paid growers poorly and made substantial profits when they sold their transformed peanut products.

"The rush into the Senegalese market is (now) discriminating against millers who are finding it increasingly hard to get hold of peanuts from farmers," Diallo said.

"This is a catastrophic year for our factories, which will only work for one month out of 12 because of this unhealthy and unfair foreign competition," said Bouba Aw, head of a peanut millers' trade union.

He called for laws "to supply as a priority local mills which employ about 5,000 people including 2,000 in permanent jobs".

In addition, he said that the opening up of the industry would lead to "problems with the availability of peanut seeds" owing to increased shipments abroad.

But local producer El Hadji Ndiaye said: "Senegalese farmers have grown peanuts since the 19th Century. They have always managed to get seeds and will always keep seeds in reserve."


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