Published by the Oakland Institute, February 2014
Senhuile-Senéthanol, an agribusiness company, has been setting up agro-industrial plantations in the Saint-Louis region of northwest Senegal since July 2010. Owned by a complex maze of companies and individuals with ties to numerous countries around the world, including Italy, United States, Brazil, and Panama, the company holds a lease for 20,000 hectares of land. From the very inception of the project, Senhuile-Senéthanol has faced stiff resistance from local populations.
First incorporated as Senéthanol, the company originally intended to develop intensive production of sweet potato for bioethanol in the Rural Community (CR)1 of Fanaye. When violent protests against the project led to two deaths and many wounded, former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade decided to move the operation from Fanaye to the forest and wetland preserve of Ndiaël. In doing so, the president changed the classification of a natural protected area and overlooked the 40 rural villages that rely on this land for food and pasture. The company, which is now operating as Senhuile, has already cleared land and begun growing operations within the reserve.
By moving the project from Fanaye to Ndiaël, the state simply transferred the burden to a different population. Semi-nomadic herding is the main economic activity of the approximately 9,000 inhabitants in the project area. The plantation poses a major threat to the livelihoods of this population, as it occupies vital grazing land and prevents access to food, water, and firewood. In addition, the project will displace villages located within its territory. The corporate structure of Senhuile-Senéthanol is complex and obscure, and what exactly the company plans to grow — and to what end—is unclear.
While the exact business intentions of the project remain murky, it has already had a significant impact on the lives of the people of Ndiaël. Should the project continue, thousands of residents will be forced from their homes and villages to make way for a foreign company that nobody knows much about. Rather than acquiesce to the needs of shady foreign investors, the government should instead consider requests from local communities to further develop their own sustainable small-scale food systems.
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Acknowledgements: This report was researched and written by Jettie Word, Policy Analyst at the Oakland Institute, with editorial support from Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director. Davide Cirillo provided valuable research assistance. Davide authored the project map and the Box “How Senhuile-Senéthanol Used the Land Tenure System to Acquire Land in Senegal.” Ebrima Sillah conducted research on the ground in Senegal. We are deeply grateful to organizations and individuals who collaborated and assisted with research, in particular CRAFS, GRAIN, Re:Common, and the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR). The views and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the Oakland Institute alone and do not reflect opinions of the individuals and organizations that have sponsored and supported the work.