Already shaken in June by violent riots against the regime in place, Senegal could experience new turbulence following the rise in the price of foodstuffs, particularly rice.
The high cost of living has often led many peoples to the streets. It may well be that the rise in the price of basic foodstuffs has political impacts within several States, particularly in Senegal.
With the recent suspension of exports of certain types of rice from India, nothing excludes new food riots in this West African country, which has just been shaken by mobilizations of rare violence in support of the opponent Ousmane Sonko, sentenced to prison by the regime in place.
PhD candidate in political science at the University of Ottawa, my research focuses on the analysis of social movements in the face of land grabbing, women's access to productive resources and the study of agricultural policies in Senegal.
Worrying restrictions for Africa
The Indian government announced on July 20, 2023 the suspension of its exports of non-basmati white rice. This decision is in addition to that of the restriction of broken rice exports and the addition of a 20% tax for any purchase of paddy rice.
These actions carried out by the Indian government aim to limit the increase in the cost of rice on its territory and to cope with its drop in production due to difficult climatic conditions. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have contributed to a record inflation of world economies as well as an increase in the cost of cereals on world markets.
Ukraine and India are the main exporters of wheat and rice to African countries. The agreement on Ukrainian grain exports signed in July 2022 enabled the supply of 800 tonnes of wheat to North Africa, compared to 000 to 5 million tonnes before the crisis and one million to countries in the Horn of Africa through the World Food Programme, whose main supplier is Ukraine.
Russia's recent decision to not to renew the agreement on grain exports rekindles many fears within the governance of African states whose food security is already threatened. There malnutrition affected 278 million people in Africa in 2021.
“We are hungry, the rice is expensive”
The researcher at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University, and specialist in how environmental changes affect food security, Alison Heslin, asserts that there is a correlation between access to food, urbanization, poverty, type of political regime and occurrence of riots.
For Heslin, the food riots have a deep political nature. Indeed, during these riots, the demands of the participants exceed the claims related to access to food. This accessibility becomes a mobilizing force for demands social, economic and political.
These elements can be observed in the riots that shook Senegal in 2008, ranging from protests against the high cost of living to demands demanding the departure of President Abdoulaye Wade.
The difficulties of local rice production
Rice is one of the staples of Senegalese cuisine. National production covers only 40% of local consumption. The Senegalese state depends heavily on imports of Indian rice, which represented in 2021 70,7% of rice purchases.
The Senegalese rice sector faces many challenges. The Senegal River Valley, whose rice fields are irrigated, provides the majority of national production. Casamance also produces rice, by rainfed cultivation, but the yield is low. Climate change has a significant impact: irregular rains, salinization and soil acidification limit the increase in local rice yields.
Following the 2008 food riots, major investments were made by the Senegalese government in the rice sector, notably through the Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance,(GOANA). The results of this program did not meet the expectations of farmers who denounced a poor quality off-season rice production due to the government's eagerness to increase yields.
Other programs have been added to GOANA, including the National Rice Self-Sufficiency Program (PNAR), but we are still far from it.
This local production also encounters limits related to its marketing. Senegalese households have a clear preference for broken rice imported from Asia compared to local rice which is characterized by large grains. This food preference of Senegalese households is linked to colonization. During this period, the France distributed in Senegal broken rice from the rice fields of Indochina. It should also be noted that the price of this broken rice is also much lower than that of local rice.
Already a deep political instability
Senegal has thus been facing profound political instability in recent months. Of violent mobilizations and riots broke out in different cities of the country in support of opponent Ousmane Sonko, following his recent convictions.
This opponent crystallizes for his supporters a severance policy with the governance of Macky Sall by its size sovereigntist. Among other things, it supports a exit from the CFA franc, the reduction of the state's lifestyle and the establishment of a patriotic fund to finance small and medium enterprises and national industries.
Police repression and the announcement of the non-renewal of President Macky Sall's term of office have brought relative social calm, but the recent Sonko's imprisonment and the dissolution of his party raises fears of the outbreak of new violence in Senegal. According to his party, the increase in prices is linked to the government's inability to prioritize jobs and national companies and to lead a fight against corruption and the loss of resources.
Rising inflation and Indian rice import restrictions could thus become an amplifying factor for mobilizations in support of Ousmane Sonko.