Senegal – a discussion of the economy

Alec Yeh - Senegal


January 26, 2010

I had the most interesting discussion with my boss at the Traditional Hospital. It was about the Senegalese economy. I just wish I could have fully understood every word, instead of having to ask him to try and explain some of it in English. I also wish I got him on video. He was made for NOVA, or any educational video. I swear. He has the perfect mannerism and look for it. God I love NOVA.

You see, what’s peculiar about Senegal is that it’s actually getting poorer. Most countries are slowly getting out of poverty. With Senegal, it’s the opposite. Which is why the big question for me is, “Why in the world is that?” So I asked Monsieur Ba what he thinks are some problems with Senegal. Well, like most people, he said that Senegal imports way more than they export. Senegal is extremely poor in natural resources. The only thing they have, according to Monsieur Ba, is phosphate. And you can only do so much with phosphate. The land in Senegal isn’t the best for agriculture. Their biggest crop is the peanut. Thus, they have to import everything. And when I say everything, I pretty much mean everything that’s not locally grown. You will find very few things actually produced in Senegal. They even have to import the petroleum they power the entire country with. That’s why electricity here is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. More expensive than the US. My Poste de Sante’s monthly bill is around 1,200,000 CFA (They’re opened 24/7). That’s about 2,500 dollars a month!

Imported products, as we all know, are much more expensive. This is a perfect example of how everything is closely related; in this case, the economy and health. Many families can’t afford imported food products, which explains why they have very little diversity in their meals. You will notice most of the foods they eat are grown in Senegal. However, the foods that are grown in Senegal tend to be less healthy, because that’s all that can grow here. You will notice most of the crops here grow extremely close to the ground, or in the ground. I remember from biology, plants will grow closer to the ground because transporting water from the roots to the tips of the plant takes lots of energy and nutrients. That’s why small shrub-like crops, like peanuts, grow well here. They have lots of starches, but starched don’t have much vitamins. They don’t have leafy green vegetables because those require lots of water and nutrients from the soil that simply isn’t there. Importing fertilizer is extremely expensive and isn’t cost efficient. Lack of certain nutrients in their diets cause many health problems here.

Then there is the issue of pride. Even if there are certain things grown locally, there is a social issue attached to it. I think this is the strangest thing. They import most of their rice from China. Though they grow rice in Senegal, it isn’t enough to feed the country. But even if people had the choice of Chinese rice or Senegalese rice, they’d pick the Chinese rice. That’s because it’s imported. Buying something local, for the Senegalese, means you can’t afford the import, which means you’re poor. For example, millet is locally grown here. Millet is incredibly cheap, and MUCH MUCH healthier than white rice. If they only ate more millet, they wouldn’t have the huge issue of diabetes, and they’d save a lot of money. But they will never eat more millet. To them, since millet is grown in Senegal and because it’s cheap, if you eat too much millet, it’s a sign of poverty. Just because the poor is poor, doesn’t mean they don’t have pride.

Another problem Monsieur Ba said is that there is no diversity in their economy. Their economy is all service-based. Tourism is a huge sector obviously. Many foreigners like to go to Senegal, especially Europeans, because it’s a relatively stable country in West Africa. Since tourism is their main service, everything stems from there. And with all these services, there are tons of fees attached to everything, which is another issue. Many businesses get fed up with these crazy fees.

I’m sure there are many more issues. But I’m going to leave those for the future. There’s no point in discovering them all now. I have five months left after all. And I don’t want to bore you all. I know stuff like this isn’t always fascinating to everybody, even if it is to me.

Alec Yeh