Biovision has been involved in Senegal since 2013 with the project "Changing Course in Global Agriculture. This project seeks to strengthen political support for sustainable agriculture at national, regional and global levels.
At the end of 2014, Senegal’s population was just over 14 million and it is currently growing by about 2.5%, i.e. 350,000 per year. In total, almost 63% of the population are under 24 years of age and almost 44% of the population live in towns. As a result of the widespread rural exodus, this urban population is growing annually by more than 3.6% - significantly faster than the national average (www.cia.gov).
The Human Development Index of UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme, which determines prosperity on the basis of health, education and income, ranks Senegal 170th out of 187 (http://hdr.undp.org). Average life expectancy is 66.5 years of age and child mortality as a percentage of live births is 5%. About one child in six is malnourished.
The infection rate amongst adults for HIV/AIDS is less than 0.5% and so is significantly lower than in other African countries. Whereas more than 92% of people in urban areas have access to clean water, the figure for rural areas is only 60%. There is a similar urban-rural disparity in the supply of sanitary facilities. In Greater Dakar and the country’s other urban centres some 67% of the population have access to such facilities whereas in the rural areas it is only 40%.
Today almost 58% of those over 15 years of age can read and write. However, the illiteracy rate amongst women at 53% is much higher than it is for men at 30%.
With a land area in excess of 196,700 sq. km, Senegal is almost five times the size of Switzerland. Its natural landscape can roughly be divided into three vegetation zones (http://liportal.giz.de). In the north the steppe landscape of the Sahel Zone dominates with its drought resistant tree species such as the acacia. In this part of Senegal, rainfall is mainly restricted to the period between July and September so that the grass withers by November at the latest. Outside the rainy season, the Sahel region is dominated by the Harmattan, a dry desert wind that brings with it large quantities of Saharan sand. At its southern extremity, the Sahel zone transitions into a savannah landscape with scattered groups of trees and a range of grass species. Right in the south, the vegetation changes again with the foothills of the Guinean vegetation zone with dense forests that becomes mangroves as you approach the estuaries of the major rivers near the Atlantic coast.
Much of the terrain is flat and the only hills are the foothills of the Guinean mountain range in the south-east of the country. The main rivers - the Senegal and the Gambia - rise in neighbouring Guinea to the south in Fouta Djalon, an upland plateau sometimes called the “water tower”. These rivers flow for hundreds of kilometres in a north-westerly direction and supply vast areas, including much of Senegal, with fresh water. Since the end of the 1980s, the Manantali Dam in the Senegal River basin in Mali controls the water table throughout the year and allows the cultivation of rice and vegetables.
However, the backing up of sea water in the extensive river deltas close to the Atlantic has increased the salinity of the soil. In addition, soils in many of the areas under cultivation that adopted the monoculture system promoted by the former French colonial power are leached, particularly in the central part of the country, where groundnuts were grown for decades. The use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and the extensive forest clearance for firewood have also contributed to the gradual degradation and desertification of additional areas, including the Sahel zone. Here, the frequency of droughts and the increase in the number of rainy seasons with little rainfall have increased since the 1970s. This situation has been exacerbated by the effects of global climate change[SC1] and the extensive destruction of rain forests in West and Central Africa.
The difficult living conditions in Senegal impact on daily life, particularly in the northern half of the country. This has encouraged an increasing number of young people to move west – initially to the Dakar area, where 25% of the total population now live. However for some of them, this exodus from rural areas is merely a stepping stone to emigration to Europe.
Between 2005 and 2014, Senegal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from USD 8.7 billion to just under USD 15.6 billion (http://data.un.org). Economic growth is, therefore, somewhat slower than in other African countries south of the Sahara, largely because weather conditions impact on agricultural production. For example, droughts, floods and plagues of locusts have a direct effect on harvests and potential incomes. Despite these setbacks, economic growth in recent years has significantly exceeded the increase in population in Senegal. The average income is now some USD 1100 per person and so is more than 40% higher than in 2005. According to data from the World Bank, a high percentage – almost 47 % - of the population - were still living below the poverty level in 2011.
Agriculture is dominated by small-scale family farms that employ some 60% of the entire population. Even after independence from France in 1960, the socialist government failed to focus on feeding the local population: It did not diversify the agriculture sector but maintained the monoculture system operating in the “Groundnut Basin” that was geared to colonial needs. Rural households were similarly not protected from falling world prices and difficult weather conditions, triggering a series of crisis – including food shortages. The already difficult situation was exacerbated by the insidious land degradation.
However, since 2012, the new government in Senegal has reinforced its intention to organise agriculture on a more sustainable basis. Together with Kenya and Ethiopia, Senegal is one of the pilot countries involved in the process initiated by Biovision – changing the course of agriculture for the wellbeing of all (BV IS-10). This strategy promotes environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically efficient food systems based on small-scale family farms that can manage with few external factors of production, - such as seeds, artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides. Instead, the farmers will be encouraged to use local resources, practically-based knowledge and simple techniques in order to improve soil fertility and crop yields. To achieve this, the project will expand the availability of practical training for farmers, boost their organisational skills and increase awareness of alternatives such as organic farming.
At present, agriculture contributes almost 17% to Senegal’s GDP. Fishing is also important and it employs hundreds of thousands along the 500 kilometre-long Atlantic coast. Alongside groundnut products and cotton, fish products are one of the main exports in the primary sector in value terms. On the industrial side, the mining of stone containing phosphates for processing into artificial fertilisers is particularly important. In 2012, Senegal’s exports totalled USD 2.5 billion, whereas imports were just under USD 6.5 billion. This large balance of trade deficit has existed for decades and the country not only imports machinery, vehicles, metals and oil products but also food such as rice, wheat flour, dried milk and sugar.
More than 60% of all economic activity in Senegal is concentrated in the capital Dakar and the surrounding area (www.auswaertiges-amt.de): It acts as the West African hub for international aviation, banking and telecommunications and so plays a central role. The infrastructure is good and this combined with cheaper labour costs means that many French companies use the services of Senegalese call centres. The well-developed service sector accounts for three fifths of GDP.
Politically, Senegal has been one of the most stable countries in Africa since independence. After four decades of socialist hegemony, a presidential democracy based on the French model was introduced in 2000 – a change that was largely peaceful. The country has been regarded, therefore as a model state in the region. Coups such as those in many neighbouring countries are unknown in Senegal and basic human rights are largely respected by whichever party is in power.
An exception to this has been the violent conflicts that have repeatedly erupted since the 1980s in the once flourishing region of Casamance in the south of Senegal. The independence struggle by the rebel movement MFDC, partly supported by the neighbouring states of Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, has regularly claimed the lives of those in the military and the civilian population. The result is evacuated villages, mined fields, a devastated regional economy and – according to Amnesty International – torture by the military and police that have not been prosecuted by the judiciary (http://liportal.giz.de).
Since President Macky Sall was elected in 2012, the situation in Casamance is much calmer. The new government made peace in the region a priority and has introduced a pilot project of decentralisation that gives greater autonomy to the region.