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Background: Senhuile-Sénéthanol in Senegal

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The communities of the northern Senegalese region of Ndiaël stand in opposition against the Senhuile-Sénéthanol project, which deprives them of access to their lands and threatens their basic means of subsistence. The actions of this Italian-Senegalese company pose a grave threat to the food sovereignty of 9,000 inhabitants in the affected region. This land grab was implemented without taking into account the rights of the local people. This project must be stopped.

A Controversial Project from the Beginning

In 2010, the Dakar-based company Sénéthanol SA was granted 20,000 hectares of land in the Fanaye region in order to cultivate sweet potatoes for the production of biofuels for Europe. The local people who depend on this land for their food and livelihoods firmly opposed this proposal. Tension mounted rapidly and culminated in tragedy on October 26, 2011, when two villagers were killed and dozens of others were injured during an organized protest against the project. In reaction, the Senegalese President at that time--Abdoulaye Wade--temporarily suspended official approval for this project. However, in March 2012, between the two rounds of the presidential election, he re-authorised the project in the natural reserve of Ndiaël, which lies 30 km to the west of Fanaye. In order to grant this reauthorisation, the now-former President Wade reclassified 26,650 hectares of a protected area, granting 20,000 hectares to Sénéthanol SA and reserving the remaining 6,650 hectares for the relocation of villages located within the area.

Following the national elections, the current president, Macky Sall, cancelled the project only to once again reauthorise it several months later. The operations have since been implemented by Senhuile SA, a joint venture owned by the Italian-based Tampieri Financial Group–-which holds a 51% stake in the venture-–and Sénéthanol SA, which holds the remaining 49% stake. The project now aims to produce sunflower (for Europe), peanut seeds (for the local market), and food supplies for livestock. The true intentions of Senhuile SA in terms of cultivation and use of the land remain unclear.

The Dramatic Consequences for Local Populations

“If the project stays here, we will be obliged to leave our village” – Rougi Sow, villager of Kadoudef (April 2013)

The project zone affects 37 villages, representing a population of up to 9,000 people who earn a living primarily through semi-nomadic farming with an estimated 100,000 livestock. The operations of the company prevent these villagers from using their grazing land, and deprive them of access to food, water, and firewood. Women are particularly impacted, as they must now cross large distances in order to retrieve these vital and basic resources. Furthermore, while Senhuile SA envisions that certain villages will be displaced, it has neither kept its promises to construct infrastructure such as schools and hospitals nor sought to create employment in the region. In fact, it has provided practically no compensation to the affected populations. Driven from their land, the inhabitants of this area are no longer able to support their own needs and those of their families.

In order to defend their rights, the local communities-–who opposed the project from the outset-–created the Collective for the Defence of the Ndiaël Reserve. The multiple community protests and the attempts at negotiation with the company have not succeeded in providing satisfactory solutions. The 37 villages affected remain determined to regain their land and ask Senhuile-Sénéthanol to end their operations in the area, which on the June 4, 2013 led to the deaths of 3 children, who drowned on their way to school while attempting to cross the canals built by the project.

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Watch video from Ndiaël (long version)