Taking Land & Livelihood From Villagers – The Agribusiness & Governments Misleading Deals In Senegal

Banda Samba, ex-advisor of the local Council of the region of Kaolac, shows a copy of the document, noting and describing the land sold to the African National Oil Corporation, to members of NGOs in the town of Fass, Senegal. Banda was one of the first people raising concerns over illegal land deals and land grabbing in the region. He believes that this was also the reason he was put in prison for more than one month, allegedly on the grounds of “assaulting the Council”, but without charges or proper trial. While he was in prison, the local Council has been dissolved and interim special delegation responsible directly to the President has been put in place to govern the region. During that period, the original document describing all the land that has been sold has disappeared from the Council’s archives.


Photojournalist and Documentary Photographer Luka Dakskobler is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography.  These images are from his project ‘Land Grabbing In Senegal’. To see Luka’s body of work click on any image.


As the world faces growing food crisis and searches for renewable-energy sources the rush for acquisition of farmland by international investors is in high swing. Especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Under false pretence the acquisitions often result in loss of land and gross human rights violations. The so-called land grabbing presents an additional way of prolonging decades of exploitation of the continent.

Mostly foreign agricultural businesses and investors are acquiring the land for growing food for export or crops for biofuels. The land grab deals are most often agreements between strong international agribusinesses and governments of developing nations promoting development through international investments. Too often the rights of local population and local communities are neglected.

The locals are most often denied access to their basic livelihood and displaced from their land necessary for their survival. Where there actually are employment opportunities for local population they often become dependent on the slavery-like working conditions in the companies. There is little evidence of positive contribution of large scale agricultural land grabs to so desired development of local communities.


"More than 37 pastoral villages have stood in the area for more than 200 years and are now under threat. The company is fiercely protecting their expanding operation on their acquired land (with security guards and barbed wire, journalists are being arrested...), destroying pastures, sacred trees, cemeteries, cutting villages off from each other, blocking pathways..."


Pictured here are just two prominent cases of land grabbing in Senegal. In the region of Ndiaël in Northern Senegal, pastoral communities are fighting against the operation of large agribusiness Senhuile/Senethanol, an Italian-Senegalese (and a shell company in New York) company with very murky operational background. After a violent opposition and casualties in Fanaye 30 kilometres away Senhuile acquired a 50 year lease on a 200,000 hectares of land in Saint-Louis region, including a Ramsar wetlands reserve that was partially declassified for their purpose. 9000 pastoralists and their 100,000 grazing animals live on that land that also provides them with food, firewood, medicinal plants, resins etc. More than 37 pastoral villages have stood in the area for more than 200 years and are now under threat. The company is fiercely protecting their expanding operation on their acquired land (with security guards and barbed wire, journalists are being arrested…), destroying pastures, sacred trees, cemeteries, cutting villages off from each other, blocking pathways… In a semi-arid area they are irrigating their land on a large scale, using the water from Lake Guiers, an important water reservoir that was supposed to provide drinking water for the 37 villages, a lake that already faces dangerously low water levels and pollution. The company intended to produce sweet potatos for biofuel production, but then changed their mind several times and finally decided on rice, maize and peanut production in 2016. The locals are continuing their resistance, beginning their own agribusinesses on a newly declassified land, trying to fight back to survive on their land.


A man tends to his cattle next to the lake Lak de Guiers, which provides water for Senhuile, January 8, 2014. The company is using the land for growing crops that require massive amount of water for irrigation, placing additional pressure on already low level of water security in the semi-arid zone.


Chief of the village Mamadou Sow picks berries full of vitamins from a Jujube tree in a remote village of Ndiourki, Senegal, on January 8, 2014. The berries from the Jujube trees that have been growing in the area for centuries are very popular with the villagers for their high value in calcium and vitamin C as well as for having other positive effects on health, including the ability to lower blood pressure. However, several trees surrounding the village were cut down by Senhuile in order to clear the land for their plantations, depriving the villagers of one of their sources of vitamins.


A man holds berries from the Jujube tree in a remote village of Ndiourki, Senegal, on January 8, 2014.


Women walk home to their village of Ndiourki, one of 37 Senegalese villages threatened to lose their livelihoods due to the operations of Senhuile. In traditional Peulh communities, when a woman is married, she receives cows to take care of and uses their milk and butter to feed their families or to gain small income. Due to lack of grazing land several animals died, depriving women of means of subsistence and the slightest income they gain independently.


A schoolboy does his homework in a school of a remote village of Ndiourki, Senegal, on January 8, 2014. With running water and solid equipment the school in Ndiourki is one of better equipped schools in the region. It has also been providing schooling for several kids from neighboring villages until the Senhuile plantations blocked their direct access to the school. Now children that can’t easily access the school are being educated in temporary, less equipped schools in their local villages.


A local Senhuile employee shows his presence checklist in one of the villages in the Ndiael region of Senegal, on January 8, 2014. The checklist serves as the basis on which the company pays him for his work. Out of 4500 jobs that were promised by the company, Senhuile is currently employing around 200 people, 20 of them are women. The man is employed as a guard, receiving payment of 3000 Senegalese francs (4,5 Eur) for a day and 4000 Francs (6 Eur) for a night shift. He does not have an official employment contract with the company; the company also does not pay social security or insurance for him. The payment is not regular and is often lower than promised.


Meanwhile in the region of Kaolac in Central Senegal an Italian company African National Oil Corporation grows Jetropha plants for biofuel production and have expanded their business to peanut production later. The company came into the villages in the region with false development and employment promises, misleading the villagers to sell their traditional land for a small amount of money by signing more or less blank papers. Predominately agricultural communities in the region are now left without the income from employment, and with less land (some sold all of their land) that would allow them to fully fulfill their food needs and invest in further development of their communities.


Mamadou Mambone stands on the land he has sold to the African National Oil Corporation near the village of Colobane after a woman from the region working for the company, persuaded him that the deal presents a positive development for his family and the village as a whole. Together with his brother, he sold more than 15 ha of land. Similar to others, they signed a blank paper, with which they allegedly sold the land.


A man transporting peanuts passes the headquarters of the Italian company African National Oil Corporation in the region of Kaolac, Senegal, on January 10, 2014. The company first come to the region in 2007 aiming to buy the land for jatropha plantations for production of biofuels. The company acquired a massive area of land by promising villagers that they will be regularly employed in the company, if they would sell more than 5 ha of their land. They did not keep that promise, leaving villagers without land to grow sufficient amount of food or to gain additional income.


Ndaye Fall, who sold all the land to the African National Oil Corporation, sits under a tree outside her home in Kaloac, Senegal. After the death of her husband she sold all her land to the company, with a vision that she would more easily provide for her eight children if she gains additional income by being employed at the company. The company did not keep the promise. They offered her work for only two months in bad working conditions and without regular payment. Before selling her land, Ndaye was growing millet and peanuts. Now she has to buy the peanuts at the market, grilling them and selling them in order to survive.


See also:

15 Years After The Genocide

by Luka Dakskobler



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