‘Youth Farming and Aquaculture Initiatives Aim to Reduce Food and Political Insecurity in Senegal’ – New Security BeatBy Leadership Project // Friday, June 7, 2013
This blog post first appeared on New Security Beat, the blog for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.
The 2011-12 West African food crisis led to riots in Senegal and Burkina Faso as well as food insecurity for millions of rural and urban poor across the region. The crisis emerged from a number of factors, including instability in northern Mali, increases in global food prices, and low rainfall in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 growing seasons. Many countries in the region are now reassessing and expanding domestic agricultural capabilities. At the top of the agenda for Senegal, a democratic republic on track to reach many Millennium Development Goals, is reducing youth unemployment and increasing domestic agricultural capacity.
Youthful Labor Force
Senegal has a population of about 13 million, and the UN estimates it may reach 29 million by 2050. Sixty-three percent of Senegalese are under the age of 24 and 20 percent fall between the ages of 15 and 24 – a similar demographic to that which captured the world’s attention in the Middle East and North Africa during the spring of 2011.
Despite a 3.3 percent annual urbanization rate, driven in part by young people flocking to cities to hawk fruit or electronics on the street, agriculture still occupies about 78 percent of Senegal’s labor force. Well-educated youth from the national university system – one of the strongest on the continent – enter the job market at a pace of about 100,000 graduates a year, according to USAID and the International Youth Foundation, while the formal private sector creates fewer than 30,000 new jobs annually. High government officials have referred to the rising tide of educated and uneducated youth alike as a “time-bomb,” to which the 2011 food and gas price riots was perhaps a preview.
It is in this context that Senegal is discussing initiatives that simultaneously diversify the rural economy, improve food security, and gainfully employ young people. Two of the most promising responses, we argue, are expanding farming in southern Senegal and fish farming in eastern Senegal.
A Casamance Agricultural Boom?
A low-level separatist conflict has simmered in southern Senegal, a region known as the Casamance, since 1983. Ethnically and linguistically distinct and geographically separated from the rest of the country by The Gambia, the Casamance has seen economic stagnation since independence.
Still, the region has incredible agricultural potential, with copious water resources and a semitropical climate. A recent boom in cashew exports to India – facilitated by English speaking Gambians – confirms this potential.
In September several American non-governmental organizations in conjunction with the Senegalese Ministry of Youth began discussions about investing in a widespread agricultural training program for Casamance youth. The discussions derived from a mandate put forth in the 2006 Senegalese action plan for youth employment. With a population of 1.8 million, it would be feasible to formally train a substantial number of the region’s young people in irrigation, agricultural product transformation, accounting, and English (to limit the influence of middle-men in the India-Casamance exchange).
The initiative is on track to open a center by 2014 and complete an academic and service program with its first cohort of youth by mid-2015. Annual Casamance service days, focused on engaging youth, are planned to follow.
The reasoning stands that by providing economic opportunity to Casamance youth and reasonably priced food to families, two of the major tenants of the conflict seen in the last two years would be diminished.
By Mark Brennan and Kody Emmanuel, New Security Beat
Photo credits to Flickr user Norm Copeland, used under creative commons. The original can be found here.
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