Senegal: Self-sufficiency in food, leader in a green OPEC

Grand yet unattainable plans?

As the price of crude oil hovers around US$100 per barrel, there's increasing interest in bio-fuels. For long a leader in production of this alternative fuel, Brazil uses its enhanced status and economic influence to encourage developing Africa to plan ambitious bio-fuel projects. In Senegal, octogenarian President Abdoulie Wade has embraced the idea with zeal. But protests against land-grabs to kick-start such projects have claimed lives. Tensions have boiled over in rural Senegal, with two deaths and at least 22 injuries resulting from clashes at Fanaye, north near to the Mauritanian border.

Wade "deeply regrets" the fatalities reports AFP, yet according to African Agriculture he envisaged in 2006 "Biocarburant ... as an escape route from crippling fuel import bills. The biofuels plan envisaged that an average of 1,000 hectares in every rural district would be planted with jatropha."  Wade even foresaw a time when Senegal could be a leading green OPEC member, along with mentor Brazil. But the immediate human cost seems huge. Where do the rural poor graze their livestock close to the villages where they live? As Italian, Norwegian, British and other firms profit from the biofuel boom, most locals appear excluded from the process. Has Wade really thought this through?

By 2008, Wade had devised 'La Grande Offensive', "another incredibly ambitious plan. At that time importing 60% of its food needs, Senegal was to be transformed to self-sufficiency by 2015" noted African Agriculture. But jatropha production reduces cultivatable food producing farmland. Food riots have shaken the capital Dakar and Wade's authority is now under threat. For this is a country where 60% of people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods from smallholdings. And in the sprawling metropolis of Dakar with its huge bustling markets the rice price is key. More than half of the average families' weekly budget is spent on food.

Senegal's tortuous transition from net importer to net exporter of food will be thwarted by the biofuel development plan. It appears that Wade would be wise to hire better expertise to effect his aims unless they result in the starving of his people in the process.

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