Three reasons why Senegal needs to rethink youth, farming and development

At the end of the first week of August, the UNDP decided to allocate CFA 15 billion francs to Senegal under three programmes: maternal and child health, gender-based violenceand youth employment integrating the migration variable.

On Saturday August 12, the former Director of the Agency for Return to Agriculture (ANREVA or REVA Plan), one of the agencies that survived the political change in March 2012 and became the National Agency of Integration and Agricultural Development (ANIDA), during a reception at the farms of Mbour attended by the members of the “Development and Planning” Commission of the National Assembly, highlighted the financial support provided by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Italian cooperation aimed at creating thousands of farms in Senegal.

On Wednesday 16, at the Presidential Council on the Future of Higher Education and Research, held under the aegis of President Macky Sall, the Higher Education Minister stated, in relation to its demography, that Africa would be the continent of the future provided that the provision of training was adequate. The vision of new kinds of education and university research is integrated into the “Studying in Senegal” label. This label requires some breaks with current practice, such as reforming training, as the President outlined: “The first decision is to reorient the higher education system towards science, technology and short vocational training”; raising the cost of registration fees (which has not changed since I was a student, as peace on the campus depended on that); returning to orthodoxy in the criteria for awarding scholarships with a focus on educational performance; and, finally, a new university that would map the emergence of new academic centers with a focus on the Kaolack region (center of the ancient groundnut basin), which would be devoted to the agricultural sector.

Taken together, these events give us an opportunity to rethink the coherence of development policies and programmes. In the areas of population (demography), health, education or employment, our policies seem to be well thought-out and in line with standard economic thinking –  that is to say, within certain old rules such as the “Tinbergen principle of consistency” and the “Mundell principle of efficiency.” However, a closer look at the policies suggests that this supposed compliance with economic rules is just a figment of the imagination. Indeed, very often, these policies have conflicting objectives and implement programs that produce annihilating effects.

These facts, of importance to the country’s development, seem to have in common only the period when they were covered by the media. Yet they are all based on the aim of co-ordinating action to take advantage of the demographic dividend.

Three principles

However, this opportunity may be lost due to a lack of policy coherence. This inconsistency is noted at three levels.

  • The first level is the inconsistency of public policy. To recap, three different initiatives are at work here: first, the Ministry of Higher Education, which is considering creating a university specialising in agriculture in the Kaolack region (part of the funding was reportedly acquired); second, the Ministry of Agriculture on which depends the National Agency of Integration and Agricultural Development (ANIDA) which receives funding partners to create farms; and third, the Ministry of Finance that signed (along with the UNDP) the documents of the three programs including the youth employment-related migration. I am prepared to bet that these three organisations have not discussed how to coordinate their actions in the interest of effectiveness and efficiency.
  • The second level is the consistency of development support. One of the five guiding principles of the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness was the principle of alignment. The explicit assumption of this principle is that aid provided by the donor or development partner should harmoniously fall within the scope of the objectives and priorities set by governments, as the only holders of popular sovereignty and mandate. However, for this explicit principle to have a clear meaning, it should be supported by an implicit principle that partners’ actions are consistent and mutually reinforcing. Nothing suggests that the UNDP, AfDB and the Italian Cooperation exchanged and harmonized their views and actions which they unrolled in August.
  • The third level is the principle of popular support that guarantees the success of any public policy. After a failure of several policies and programs, people seemed to have learned lessons from the mistakes of “Top Down” approaches. Unfortunately, history appears to be repeating itself. People are embarking on a process of reflection on the future of young people, their involvement in agriculture without thinking it through first. It reminds me of the traditional tailors in northern Senegal who were called “Ya Mi Yi Ma” which can be translated as “Go, it’s alright, I’ve seen you.” In fact, the traditional tailors were all famous simply because they never took the measurements of the clients for whom they sewed clothes: they only needed a glance to adjust their seams. This symbol of archaism or rather informality is being applied to policy and programmatic actions on youth and agriculture.  Governments simply need to see street vendors ‘invading’ the streets of Dakar or illegal migrants attempting to cross the Atlantic to join Europe, to then identify with a magic trick the answers to their problems.

Young people: questions for Senegal

jeunes1Indeed, what is known about these young people? Who are they (distribution by age, gender, level of education, marital status and by area of residence)? What do they think about everything and agriculture in particular? How do they think? What are their trajectories? What do they have in common? Where do their differences lay?  What are the models that inspire them? What are their aspirations? What are their values and their sets of beliefs? Where do they want to go? How do they want to go there? By what means do they want to go there? In what ways do they want to go there? With whom do they want to go there? What kinds of support do they need? How do they want to be supported?

What type of agriculture do they want to return to agriculture? In what areas must this agriculture be implemented: in rural areas or near cities? Which cities: Dakar, regional capitals, small towns? Do they want only agriculture or do they want to combine it with other activities? What are these activities? Do they apprehend agriculture as an activity for their entire working life or as a transient activity? Having rejected the agriculture of their fathers, how are they thinking an agriculture which they would be proud of and willing to pass on to their children?

Considering these issues is essential for understanding how to approach youth employment, agriculture and development.

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Photos: “La jeunesse” – grafitti by carlosoliveirareis and IMG_2200 by jacksonjameswood (Flickr)