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Country profile - Senegal


As one of the world's top food importers, rising food prices have hit Senegal hard, and the country has seen protests and riots as food has become increasingly unaffordable. The government has responded with an ambitious national strategy to become food self-sufficient by 2015 but, faced with enduring problems of drought and poor soils, increasing production sustainably will be a considerable challenge.


Agriculture employs around 75 per cent of the working population and comprises 17 per cent of GDP. Groundnuts, cotton, gum arabic and sugarcane are the primary cash crops. Millet, corn, sorghum and rice are the main food crops. With groundnut production accounting for 40 per cent of cultivated land and cotton production another 33 per cent, cash crops dominate agriculture.

Until recently most government subsidies and agricultural extension services were directed to groundnut production. Decreasing yields due to environmental degradation and fluctuating world prices have encouraged attempts to increase domestic production of staple food crops such as rice, millet and sorghum. President Abdoulaye Wade has promoted diversification to end the "tyranny of mono-cropping", reducing dependence on groundnuts.

The government has announced ambitious plans for food self-sufficiency in Senegal (World Bank)
The government has announced ambitious plans for food self-sufficiency in Senegal
World Bank

However, Senegal is still a net importer of food and is the second largest importer of rice in Africa, buying in 850,000 tonnes in 2005. A further 300,000 tonnes of wheat and 200,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables were also purchased from abroad in the same year.

Poultry production is relatively common amongst the rural population, and raising cattle, sheep and goats is the primary activity for pastoralists. Pastoralists in the northern regions are generally nomadic; located in the arid Sahel they are faced with shortages of pasture and watering points. Most pastoralists participate only marginally in the export of meat, although UEMOA and PPLPI are currently attempting to increase domestic and intra-regional livestock trade through trade liberalisation and improving access to veterinary services.

Going, going, gone

The vast majority of crops are rain-fed, making water availability one of the country's biggest agricultural challenges. Successive droughts and occasional flooding have also led to declining yields as soils have become degraded and eroded. Despite having the potential to irrigate up to 240,000 hectares, at present the country irrigates only one-third of this area.

Agriculture employs three-quarters of Senegalese workers (World Bank)
Agriculture employs three-quarters of Senegalese workers
World Bank

The Manantali and Diama dams, built in the 1980s, were designed to reduce the risk of flooding, store water in the rainy season, aid irrigation in the dry season and potentially enable double cropping. However, construction of the dams reduced the productivity of the floodplains, adversely affecting flood-recession or draw-down farming.

Whilst still important to the economy, groundnut production has reduced soil fertility to an extent that farmers are moving further inland as they look for new land for cultivation. Combined with a quadrupling of the population in the last 50 years, the increasing demand for land and fuel woods has contributed to deforestation. According to the World Bank, 450 square kilometres of forest is lost annually, predominantly for agricultural purposes.

Meanwhile, the fishing sector represents one of the largest sources of national revenue, accounting for 22 per cent of all exports and generating US$366 million in 2005. And the fishing sector has become increasingly valuable, generating income both through exports and the sale of fishing rights to foreign countries, particularly the EU. However, foreign vessels have contributed to overfishing and an increase in harmful practices such as dynamite fishing and bottom trawling. The inevitable collapse of fish stocks has now made an important source of dietary protein increasingly unaffordable for the poor.

Senegal's fisheries sector is one of the most improtant sources of national revenue (World Bank)
Senegal's fisheries sector is one of the most improtant sources of national revenue
World Bank

The way forward?

The county's new strategy is the Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance (GOANA), which aims to dramatically increase production of staple crops by 2015. Plans include the conversion of unused land to agriculture, which President Wade has said could result in the country producing two million tonnes of corn, three million tonnes of manioc and 500,000 tonnes of maize each year. Other measures include increasing irrigation and encouraging foreign investment.

Frustrations caused by the current food price crisis have been clear as President Wade recently criticised FAO for treating Africa "like beggars". While plans are in motion to rapidly increase production in order to reduce import dependence, ecological problems and mismanagement of natural resources pose significant constraints. Faced with falling fish stocks, poor soils, deforestation, desertification and declining annual rainfall, careful management of the environment will be crucial in order to achieve GOANA's ambitious plans. With world food prices continuing to rise it is likely that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Senegal
  • Capital: Dakar
  • Area: 196,190 sq km
  • Population: 12,853,259 (July 2008 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 2.58% (2008 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 57.08 years
  • Ethnic groups: Wolof 43.3%, Pular 23.8%, Serer 14.7%, Jola 3.7%, Mandinka 3%, Soninke 1.1%, European and Lebanese 1%, other 9.4%
  • Languages: French (official), Wolof, Pulaar, Jola, Mandinka
  • Inflation: 12.2% (2007 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$20.6 billion (2007 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$1,700 (2007 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 16.7%; industry: 18.9%; services: 64.4% (2007 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 12.51%; permanent crops: 0.24%; other: 87.25% (2005)
  • Major industries: agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, fertiliser production, petroleum refining; iron ore, zircon, and gold mining, construction materials, ship construction, seafood
  • Agricultural products: groundnut, millet, corn, sorghum, rice, cotton, tomato, green vegetables, cattle, poultry, pigs, fish
  • Natural resources: fish, phosphates, iron ore
  • Export commodities: fish, groundnuts, petroleum products, phosphates, cotton
  • Export partners: Mali 19.2%, France 8.3%, India 5.8%, The Gambia 5.3%, Spain 5.1%, Italy 4.9% (2006)

Date published: September 2008


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