Senegal starts brewing biodiesel

The Senegalese department of Agriculture last week announced a collaboration with Brazil and India to begin producing biofuels in Senegal. As part of the program “retour vers l’agriculture” the government aims to replace Senegal’s oil imports with homegrown fuel. A pilot project calls for 4000 hectares of jatropha for vegetable oil to produce 10 percent of Senegal’s fuel in the country.

Apparently, Senegal is in the forefront of African countries seizing upon an opportunity to rid themselves of their dependence on imported fuel. Expensive fuel is one of many factors that burden countries like Senegal. Biofuels leverage the domestic resources and keep wealth within the country, instead of sending hard-earned money abroad to the already rich oil companies in Europe and the US.

This is a good example of initiatives that will have a much bigger long-term impact on economic and social development in African countries than “big development aid” campaigns. Before we pledge a certain percentage of, say, the US budget to development aid, we should first stop American and European companies and governments from sucking the wealth out of Africa and from fueling conflicts with military aid. We should support Fair Trade and sustainable business practices, like micro-loans.

Secondly, development aid needs to help African entrepreneurs and governments develop economic strategies that focus on value-added, not on exporting raw materials. And development aid needs to use local solutions and know-how to solve problems, instead of parachuting in and imposing “solutions” without regard for the problems.

Finally, the most difficult, and perhaps the most important aspect of development aid ought to be “leadership” development. Identifying and supporting leaders at all levels of society and providing support must be a priority, along with encouraging and supporting access to education and information for everyone. These are the building blocks of a participatory, democratic society, which is, in turn, the foundation of economic opportunity for everyone.

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