Ziguinchor — Peanut farmers and peanut oil producers in Senegal's southern province of Casamance have threatened to block exports of locally grown peanuts, saying there are insufficient nuts for the home market, and that such a move will affect local livelihoods.
Peanuts have been available for export for two years, the top three importers in 2006-2009 being the UK, the Netherlands, and Mauritania, but producers are concerned that exports are set to soar given increased interest from buyers in China, Russia and the Republic of Korea.
Under an ambitious initiative to boost agricultural output, entitled GOANA, the government promised to increase the production of peanuts to one million tons each year. Following a soar in production in 2010 that led to a surplus of nuts, the government decided to open the sector to exporters.
At a press conference on 4 December in the provincial capital Ziguinchor, local peanut oil producer SUNEOR called on the government to revise its decision to open up the peanut market.
"Opening of borders for peanut exports will threaten jobs. Production this year will not even meet local needs," said Bernard Kamony, general secretary of SUNEOR, who spoke at the press conference.
SUNEOR, which processes the vast majority of Senegalese peanuts, says they have enough capacity to process the entire peanut crop, but with the nuts being diverted for export, they will have to lay off the seasonal workers they had hired.
"National production is under 800,000 tons, while demand is running at one million tons. Local industry... is capable of purchasing the entire peanut output of farmers and more," said Kamony.
Farmers had accepted the increase in producer prices last year (from 175 CFA francs to 190 CFA francs) on condition that there would be no peanut exports, he said.
"If the authorities open the borders, our jobs are threatened because last season in Ziguinchor, we worked only one month during the season and thousands of fathers have been unemployed since March 2012...
Border closure threat
"WTO rules ensure the protection of local industry and the authorities must take this into account in their decisions."
Kamony was adamant: "If this decision to open the borders is upheld, we will confront the state. We have the means and human resources to close the borders," he said.
Peanuts are one of Senegal's most important cash crops and some 40 percent of the country's cultivated land is used to produce them, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
SUNEOR head Samuel Ndour said the state can open the borders once production reaches one million tons. But he warned: "We have sent a letter to the authorities. If they do not reply we will show them what local farmers are made of... We have been in this business some 30 years, and we know... how to ensure that the seeds stay where they are... The state must respond to our demands. If not, we are prepared to block trucks leaving with the nuts."
He continued: "We are also prepared to confront foreigners to ensure they leave the seeds where they are. And if that means finding them in the villages to hunt them down... we will do it... We are not going to accept the demise of local industry," he said.
However, a dissident group within SUNEOR favours foreign exports, believing farmers can benefit from higher prices and more immediate payments.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]