Considered by many as a symbol of good governance in a struggling region, Senegal, through its capital, regularly hosts international conferences and benefits from various money lenders. Yet, among other things, its urban development is far from being uncritical.
Like most growing sub-Saharan African cities, Dakar faces runaway population growth which results in substantial levels of poverty and food insecurity, exacerbated by Sahelian climate conditions. These issues are partially met by urban and peri-urban farms that feed and employ Dakar’s residents.
Made up of fertile soil, the Niayes Valley provides Senegal with 80% of its horticultural products and constitutes Dakar’s main source of food thanks to its proximity (Diop, 2019). Moreover, urban agriculture is a source of income for 26% of Dakar’s population (Ba et al., 2016).
Although locally grown food importance is crucial, urban farms “are being consumed by the city itself” (Bair, 2012). This rapid urban expansion increases demand not only for products but also for lands, resulting in intensive construction.
As Dakar’s population has increased, so have its rents leading to high land values for which “agriculture could never match housing development for financial returns” (Bair, 2012). Besides, farmers broadly lack secure land tenure (Zelem, 2011) with widespread sharecropping practice facilitating expropriations (Ba et al., 2016).
Despite the 1964 Land Law that aimed “to redress colonial legacies” by enabling Senegalese citizens to access land, neoliberal reforms have continued since 2000 (Brown, 2015). Urban political struggles related to “the proliferation of middle-class and elite housing estates” are leading to many land conflicts in Dakar Region (List, 2017).
These usually result in land grabs at the expense of urban farmers, producing new urban inequalities. Government officials and urban developers typically advance new housing projects and deny property rights applications from farmers in order “to reframe Dakar as a ‘world-class’ city” and thus attract foreign capital (List, 2017). These efforts to become a model of ‘Africa rising’ which are translated into housing construction privatisation to block developing informal housing were supported by international actors such as the World Bank.
Even if farmers fought hard against this ‘speculative urbanism’ to protect their land and obtained a law restricting construction (PASDUNE) within the valley in 2002, many Niayes farmlands have been replaced by housing and infrastructure that come with it, but also business parks, golf courses, arenas, etc. This “poor enforcement of land-use planning regulations” (UNEP, 2014) further marginalised urban agriculture.
Furthermore, urban farming in Dakar Region is also constrained by a lack of water supply due to rainfall deficits and above all demographic growth. 80% of Dakar’s urban farmers face water distribution shortages (Redwood, 2003) that can be up to 162.000 cubic meters per day, but also salinisation processes because of excessive pumping of its main water source (Ba et al., 2016).
In a nutshell, urban agriculture in Dakar Region has a significant role in poverty alleviation, food security, livelihood and employment, particularly for the urban poor.
Nonetheless, urbanisation is rashly occurring and translates into conflicts over resources which are becoming more scarce (FAO, 2010), threatening urban agriculture which offers both socio-economical and environmental benefits if well though out.
To be continued…