In a country where there are 37 billion m3 of water per year and 4 million hectares of cultivable land, engagement in the agricultural sector is a reality. The diaspora does not intend to stay in the background and want to appropriate the possibilities offered by agriculture. Senegalese living abroad, having reached a certain level in their professional career in France, favor a return to roots and origins by symbolically investing in the agricultural sector. The paths of Assa Cissé and Ismaïla Ndiaye are representative of this movement.
Assa Cissé: From the law firm in Paris to the fields of Kédougou
Alawyer by training with a degree in international law and economics, Assa Cissé worked in the banking sector before joining a law firm where she supported investors in the Middle East and East Africa. A rich career that she intends to put on hold to invest in the production of pepper and garlic in Senegal.
“I have always pushed my family to go into farming. And as with us, people do not believe until they have clear evidence, I decided to personally engage in this sector to set an example, “Assa Cisse smiles mischievously. Determined and sure of what she wants, the young Senegalese surprised her world and those around her.
Become a pepper producer
“For many, success is Europe when you can succeed in Senegal. Senegal now imports all of its pepper. Which is extremely expensive. I suggested to my cousins to invest, with me, in this sector. We will start on an area of 2 hectares and we will see what it will give. But I know it will work, ”enthuses Assa Cissé. The Senegalese who has lived in France for several years has put all her savings into the project. “We started our activities in October in the Kédougou region,” she informs. Having the following ideas, she had bought the seeds. An operation that was not without difficulties. “We bring the seeds from Madagascar to France and then the goods have been transported to Senegal. It’s very difficult as a journey. The big difficulty is therefore the logistics ”. She had no other choice but to use this bypass route since her ambition to buy seeds in Côte d’Ivoire was significantly dampened by the possibility of paying customs fees “at entry and at the exit of each border ”between the Ivory Coast and Senegal. “We are normally in the ECOWAS common market, but in reality, this is not the case,” she protested. There are procedures that have been introduced by Nigerian lawyers to denounce these injustices, states have been condemned but they are not changing their rules. I know the procedure for bringing an action within ECOWAS, I reserve the right to do so. These obstacles have forced me to buy seed in Madagascar when the Ivory Coast is very close. I purchased five 25-kilo bags “. In 2016, the young woman sharply challenged Jean-Pierre Senghor, the national coordinator of the Community Agricultural Areas Program (Prodac) at the time, about her situation and the support she could benefit from. “He told me that starting with 100 hectares is scary. This is what I originally wanted. He advised me to start the activity with 20 hectares. This is what made us favor the 2 hectares “.
The importance of support
When setting up his business, Assa Cissé realized that you need to know the regulations to access the Senegalese market. She takes the example of her experience in Dubai. “Things are clear there because there are free zones. When a person wants to create a project, all he does is put his bags down. I know Presidents Wade and Sall picked up on this concept. Knowing how it works and what the difficulties are, I will do the same in Senegal ”. This is why she created the African Institute of Rights and Procedure in Senegal, which plans to support entrepreneurs in Senegal and the sub-region. While traveling, Assa Cissé admits to realizing that agriculture is the sector where it is necessary to invest. However, there are several things to improve. “In East Africa, it’s like in Dubai. You go to the Ministry of Commerce and all the information is available.
In Senegal, some simple questions do not lead to the simplest answers. For example, in terms of tax exemption, if you import seeds, you don’t have to pay customs duties because Senegal wants to promote agricultural entrepreneurs.
Normally the importation of semen is subject to exemptions. In Senegal, there are rules but people don’t always know them. “.
Ismaël Ndiaye: The Parisian engineer who became a farmer in Saint-Louis
Senegalese living in France for more than fifteen years where he worked as a telecom engineer, Ismaël Ndiaye asked himself many questions about the advisability of returning to Senegal from 2009. Three years later , he ended up deciding to invest in the agricultural field.
How to explain that a telecom engineer with strong responsibilities in a large international company makes the decision to give up everything for agriculture? ” Routine ! », Ismaël Ndiaye answers simply, with a smirk. But still… “I was fed up with the metro, work, sleep even though I had a good situation in France”. The Senegalese quadra thought on the one hand, to be able to bring something to Senegal but he also “wanted to find (his) roots”. Agriculture was the best way to do this. “When entering the agricultural sector, the idea was to find a profitable business. It is part of the reflection when you decide to return ”. In his reflection on changing professional gear, Ismaël Ndiaye does not forget his old reflexes linked to his training. “Thus, I took an engineering approach by documenting myself, by informing myself about the agricultural field. From there, I decided to return to the village of my ancestors which is next to Saint-Louis, a few kilometers from Gaston Berger University “.
Back to basics
A return and an installation which took place gradually. “I asked the whole village to support me in arranging the land acquisition. There were a few reservations but in the end everything went well. I was able to have 50 hectares. Luckily, these are the lands where my grandparents cultivated ”.
The conditions acquired, Ismaël launches into the deep end of his new adventure by taking care to go through a test phase. “I built 5 hectares on my own funds. I imported material from Italy for landscaping and repairing the fields. Subsequently, I started the test phase from the end of 2013. The harvest took place in early 2014. I was growing chilli, African eggplants and watermelons. It went very well. I had confirmation that the land was arable and that it was suitable for the agriculture I wanted to do. ” The only downside was that he hadn’t anticipated the storage phase well. To explain his error, the neo-farmer confesses to having “no structure from any organization or body to () accompany him”. The consequences for the local economy are direct: its harvest abounds in the local market. “I was forced to sell since I didn’t have any storage facilities. Our chilli crop had “flooded” and saturated the local market in Saint-Louis. What had brought down the prices ”.
Example for the diaspora
Many Senegalese living abroad want to get involved in agriculture. To these, Ismaël Ndiaye gives feedback. “To set up the company, I went through Apix and had to benefit from the CDI, the investment code. This allowed me to import equipment at zero customs fees. However, in the testing phase, I unfortunately did not receive any support “. The now farmer confesses that he has had a lot of good speeches, but actions do not always follow. “I am not alone in the case of having started my test phase without being accompanied”. However, Ismael Ndiaye says he is able “to employ all the people of his native village and those of the surrounding villages, between 200 to 300 people in the first phase”.
The young man is aware that you have to believe in agriculture but also in the risks taken: “We have no guarantee to recover the money put in at the start of the project,” he agrees. I advise against everyone going on this adventure with personal funds, which I did. ” Indeed, to finance his operation, he put his own funds to the tune of 150,000 euros, the equivalent of 100 million CFA francs between 2009 and 2016. “These are the savings resulting from my labor when I was an engineer. in France between 1999 and 2009 ”.
The industrial phase
Especially since moving to an industrial approach requires funding. “It doesn’t just happen with savings. This is big funding. I am waiting for a partner, private or public, who is able to provide at least part of the funds necessary for the industrial start-up of the activity “. In the meantime, the test phase enabled him to settle charges such as the payment of day laborers (50 people employed per day for the pepper harvest, for example). “What I won in this test phase, around 15 million CFA francs, was redistributed to the employed villagers”.
It is with caution that he looks at the solutions proposed within the community agricultural estates. “I am waiting to see because it seems to me that Prodac does not fund projects. I think it would be nice to have some form of connection with private initiatives. The goal is to create jobs, initiatives like mine play a big part in it “. We can only agree with him.
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