Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Hilde van Vlaenderen, Serigne Mansour Tall and Gora Gaye

3.1 Introduction

With an estimated 30 to 50 percent of active Senegalese men absent from their villages, with international remittances estimated to account for 30 to 70 percent of the budget of their families back home (Eurostat, 2001), and with approximately 70 percent of the population engaged in agriculture, Senegal is an excellent case study for exploring the linkages between remittances and access to land. It is estimated that two million Senegalese migrants are currently living abroad (Eurostat, 2001), and there is rarely a Senegalese family who does not boast a migrant.

This chapter draws on fieldwork carried out in Senegal and France. In Senegal, semi-structured interviews were held with 19 persons, including several members of four extended families with relatives in France as well as traditional and local authorities. In France, four migrant portraits were undertaken, including two portraits of migrants from the extended families interviewed in Senegal. The portraits were then discussed with a focus group of 12 migrants belonging to the village association of Diégoune, Senegal. Where appropriate, the chapter also draws on the literature on migration, remittances and land specifically relating to Senegal.

The chapter is structured as follows. First, the field sites are presented. Second, the phenomenon of migration between Senegal and France is described with specific reference to the study participants. Third, data on the nature and significance of remittances, and on their implications for the study area are discussed. Last, the chapter focuses on remittances and changes in land tenure in Senegal.

3.2 The field sites

In Senegal, interviews were held in the village of Moudéry and in the rural community of Kër Momar Sarr. In France, the four migrant portraits and the focus group discussion were carried out in Paris.


Moudéry is the administrative centre of the communauté rurale (rural commune) of Moudéry, in the department of Bakel, along the Senegal River, in the east of Senegal, close to the border with Mali. Moudéry has a population of approximately 7000 inhabitants, most of whom are Soninké, and three quarters of whom have dual Senegalese and French nationality. The area has a long history of emigration, particularly to France, starting from independence. Since then, a remarkably large share of the population has migrated overseas. Of the 32 elected local councillors, 7 have dual nationality, and 22 have been or are migrants themselves. The research team did not manage to identify any households who had no members currently or previously abroad.

Subsistence agriculture is the main activity of the population. It is motivated by socio-cultural factors as well as economic motives. Especially for Soninké descendants from higher caste groups, selling a harvest is a sign of poverty. However, increasing one’s production and obtaining a good harvest are rewarded with respect from the community, even though it is used for subsistence.

There are three types of agriculture: rain-fed agriculture (from June to November); irrigated agriculture, with infrastructure provided by SAED (Société d’Aménagement et d’Exploitation des terres du delta et des vallées du fleuve Sénégal et de la Falém); and fruit orchards. Maize, rice, millet, beans, groundnuts, bananas and vegetables are the most commonly grown crops. Recently, some families have started to invest in agricultural equipment such as tractors and pumps. Two families from this area participated in the study:

Kër Momar Sarr

Kër Momar Sarr is an area of 7600 km2, with an estimated population of approximately 10900. It contains 60 villages and is located in a sylvo- pastoral zone in the Vallée Fossile (Louga region), in the Northern part of Senegal.

There are three ethnic groups in the area. The Peul (in English also referred to as Fulani), the majority group, are predominantly involved in cattle herding, the Toucouleurs in fishing and the Wolof in agriculture. Areas of fertile land around the nearby Lake Guer are under irrigation and have been managed by ASREAD. Migration in this area is fairly recent and dates back from 1972/73, when the area suffered from serious drought. Two families from this area, both involved in farming, took part in the study:


In Paris, interviews were held with one migrant member from each of the two families from Moudéry, and with two migrants from the Casamance Province, (one from the town of Ziguinchor and the other from the village of Diégoune). Below are short profiles of the four migrants interviewed.

3.3 Migration between Senegal and France

Significant migration from Senegal to France started in the 1940s, when the first Senegalese soldiers joined the French army. During the 1950s the first sailors joined the Marine Marchande Française. During the colonial era, the transformation of the traditional economy and the increased dependence on manufactured goods led to the need for cash, which was not locally available. Migration and remittances, which responded to this need, became engrained in the livelihoods of the Senegalese.

In 1960 Senegal obtained independence but maintained strong links with France. Attracted by the economic boom, large numbers of Senegalese moved to France initially to work as factory labourers, but later they diversified into other forms of employment and enterprises. Many obtained the French nationality, sent regular remittances home and only returned to Senegal to retire.

The 1968-73 period of drought in Senegal, combined with low world prices for cotton and groundnuts, had an important negative impact on the local agriculture and as a result reinforced migration and the need for remittances.

France still maintains a close relationship with Senegal. It is the primary investor in Senegal, and French enterprises count for more than half of Senegal’s formal sector. Bilateral co-operation programmes operate in a variety of sectors, such as education, health, rural development and institutional support. In 2002, Senegalese migrants residing in France were officially estimated to number 42,000, representing 22 percent of all migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and 5.8 percent of all regular migrants. Migration between Senegal and France is governed by a number of bilateral treaties concerning entry requirements and procedures, migrants’ legal status and “co-development” (see above, box 1).

The outward migration from Senegal to France has fostered the influx of Malian migrants into Senegal, to replace the agricultural labour force lost from rural areas. The Malian migrant workers are, however, largely seasonal and are often paid on a piece work basis. In the Bakel region, Malian migrants are particularly numerous due to the proximity with Mali.

Who migrates?

Studies indicate that, although female migrants are on the increase, the majority of migrants are males (NIDI/Eurostat, 2000). Males are often young and single when they migrate and they do so from their parents’ home. This was true for all the migrants in the study. Female migrants are more likely to be married at the time of migration than migrant men. This is influenced by the fact that women’’s migration is frequently related to reuniting the family (NIDI/Eurostat, 2000). This was the case for the wives of Moussa and Aly.

Why migrate?

The migrants we interviewed mentioned different motivations for their migration. Moussa and Amadou came to France to study and stayed on. Aly emigrated predominantly to increase his chances for a better life after having travelled widely. All three, however, indicated their desire to support their families back home as a factor in their migration, as well as a desire for personal development through studying, gaining experience and developing contacts. It is important to acknowledge that motivations are usually multifaceted.

Ousmane emigrated as a result of his family’s culture of migration. His father and elder siblings had emigrated before him and his emigration was decided upon and arranged by the extended family, including his employment in France.

All the migrants, with the exception of Aly, were assisted (financially and otherwise) by their families with their migration, which confirms findings from the literature. In most cases, migration is not an individual decision, but a social process, involving a family strategy of survival and betterment, characterized by a range of economic, social and cultural dimensions. Migration involves discussion at household level, is sanctioned by the household head and facilitated by the family network. Family members or fellow villagers overseas help the new migrant to settle and start his new life. It is these social networks that bind migrants and non-migrants in complex social, transnational relationships. When families facilitate the emigration, they expect remittances and family commitment in return (see Ammassari & Black, 2001).

Living in France

The migrants in the study recognise the advantages of living in France, including access to technology, education and experience not available in Senegal as well as economic benefits. Amadou acknowledges that “There are plenty of work and leisure opportunities in France and many exciting things to learn and experience. I am particularly interested in financial systems, stock exchange and electronic communication systems, i.e. internet facilities. In Senegal these areas are still undeveloped”. Therefore, migrants are torn between longing to live a rural existence with the extended family in Senegal and their reluctance to leave France because it provides services and opportunities. Aly says “I would leave for Senegal tomorrow, but it is better that I stay in France in order to earn some more money to look after my family and eventually earn enough to realise my dream of obtaining a large area of land in Senegal which I can cultivate and where I can develop a small tourism resort”.

Social contact and support for the migrants in France are predominantly provided by other Senegalese migrants, including friends, extended family members and village associations (see below).

Links between migrants and their home remain strong and those in this study return home fairly often, ranging from twice a year to once every three years. Ousmane phones his parents and wife weekly, Amadou phones his mother monthly, while the other two phone more irregularly. This is consistent with the literature, which states that migration does not necessarily lead to social and family disruption (Ammassari, & Black, 2001). Data from our study, however, also shows that the intensity of contact with the family back home diminishes as the migrant builds up his nuclear family in France. Aly and Moussa used to go back once a year, but since they have started families, they return less often.

Return to Senegal... or not?

Studies have revealed several reasons for return migration (Ammassari, & Black, 2001). The migrant may wish to rejoin his/her family, may be running away from adverse conditions in the destination country, or may aim to enjoy enhanced social status back home. All participants in the study indicated an intention to return to Senegal and their families in the future. Aly has plans to invest in an agricultural project; Amadou and Moussa want to invest in business or development projects, while Ousmane intends to go home to retire. All of them indicated that they would like to contribute to the development of Senegal when they return. However, several reservations with regards to return were expressed. They argued that they have adapted (some more than others) to the European lifestyle, including its services and facilities (pensions, medical compensation, access to banking facilities, telecommunication). They fear the loss of those services on their return to Senegal.

Aly argued that return to a collective lifestyle, with shared accommodation, wealth and land, may not be easy after having become used to a more individualised existence in France.

Three of the four migrants interviewed had children born in France, which makes their eventual decision to return to Senegal more difficult. Aly, who has teenage children, recognises the probability that his children will not join him on his return to Senegal. He has already invested in a house in France for his children.

3.4 Remittances and livelihoods

Various sources estimate that migrants send to Senegal more than 60 thousand million francs CFA (91,5 million Euros) every year. According to the head of the local post office, in Moudéry, old age pensions of migrants add up to 90 million francs CFA (137,200 Euros) per month and remittance volumes are even higher. All participants in the study sent remittances to their families. These form an important component of their families’ income.

Remittances and household livelihood strategies

Fieldwork in Senegal and Paris revealed that remittances vary, depending on the needs of the family (i.e. during the harvesting season more cash is needed to pay farm labour; at the beginning of the school year extra cash is required). The amount of remittances is predominantly decided upon by the migrant, balancing his financial means and the family’s needs. However, lack of familiarity with the hard living conditions and constraints faced by migrants in France amongst those in the home country can lead to frustrations for migrants. Several participants in the Paris focus group complained about the continuous requests for additional cash and their families’ lack of knowledge of the high costs of living in France; in particular their lack of understanding of their children’s needs in a French context, which implies the need for items such as televisions, computers, a family car, etc.

Remittances are generally sent on a monthly basis and although the postal services are currently in crisis in Senegal, they are still relied upon for transferring migrants’ remittances. Recently, fast transfer services such as Western Union and Money Gram have become more popular, although they were not relied upon by the study participants. In discussing this matter with the focus group, they argued that these services are too expensive. All of the participants relied on informal means (hand-carriage by migrants or their friends travelling to the home town) when possible.

Box 5. Remittances: amount, frequency, transfer mechanism and use

Amadou remits a monthly sum of €100 (plus €6.70 postal costs) to his mother. The money is mainly used for household groceries and other consumables. When necessary the remittances contribute to paying water and electricity bills and, in the beginning of the year, to pay the school fees. Occasionally, in case of emergency, Amadou is asked to send extra money. This happened for instance when the septic tank of the family home needed urgent repair. The remittances are sent by postal order and take one week to arrive. Amadou’s mother pays a fee (equivalent to 15 Euros) to the post office in Senegal.

Moussa remits 300 euros every three months. El Hadj, Moussa’s eldest uncle in Paris organises the money collection and transfer for all the family members living in France. These are usually sent by post, which takes 15 days to arrive, or sometimes they are carried by an acquaintance travelling from Paris to Senegal. However, the amount sent varies depending on the needs of the family. El Hadj phones the family home regularly to get an update on the financial and other needs of the family, which he then feeds back to family members in Paris. Remittances are used to buy food and for the maintenance of the house. During the cultivation season, approximately four months, extra remittances are required to pay for labour and other agricultural inputs. Moussa indicates that, since the harvests have been good this year, the amount sent may decrease. Sometimes, however, it may be decided to maintain the level of the remittances, despite a good harvest, in order to build up a reserve or to pay for extra consumables. This is discussed between the migrant group and the family in Moudéry. The remittances are sent to the head of the family, who decides on their disbursement.

Aly sends monthly remittances to his family. His eldest brother takes care of the money, which is used to buy food for the family and to help pay the electricity bill and school fees. Occasionally the family has an emergency for which they request additional financial help, for instance when somebody is ill or has had an accident.

Ousmane has twice yearly meetings with the family members living in France during which they decide on the amount of money to be sent home. Based on the varying needs of the family, which are regularly communicated to Ousmane and the capacity of the family members in Paris, the amount sent varies. Currently they send about €5000 a year, sent every three months to the family head. Often the money is carried to the village by a friend or acquaintance travelling from Paris. At other times postal services are used. The remittances are generally used to buy food and other consumables. During the cultivation season, extra cash is required to pay for labour and other agricultural inputs. Sometimes additional funds are required, for instance when somebody falls ill and needs to go to hospital in Dakar. Sometimes Ousmane sends money to his wife directly, through friends or acquaintances travelling to the village.

Both in Moudéry and in Kër Momar Sarr, remittances are spent on food and other essential consumables, education, the upkeep and servicing of the homesteads, land and agricultural inputs. In Kër Momar Sarr, remittances are also spent on livestock and to pay those responsible for herding livestock.

Some studies conclude that remittances generate dependency amongst families in the home country, who develop a passive attitude towards work. Others argue that the additional income from remittances enables families to invest in local development and entrepreneurial endeavours (Ammassari & Black, 2001). Although a direct causality between remittances and investment is hard to establish, several investments made by our interviewees are linked to remittances (see box 6 below).

Box 6. “Investing remittances”

Moussa has helped his brothers to start their own business. He bought second-hand books (novels, bestsellers) in France and shipped them to Senegal, where his brothers have been operating a library. This has been financially very successful, and Moussa’s brother managed to start a taxi business with the profits they made. While continuing with the library business, they now manage two cars with drivers, which provide taxi services in Dakar. The taxi service earns them €10 a day. Moussa’s family also owns four houses in Dakar.

Amadou regards business activity as an important tool for development in Senegal. He has bought his brother a car, which the latter uses for transporting people between Dakar and Ziguinchor and in the Casamance Province. Amadou intends to get more involved in business on his return to Senegal, but is currently reluctant to run a long-distance business from Paris. He feels that to be successful he needs to be directly involved in the management of the business rather than leaving the management in the hands of a local partner.

From the participants’ responses, investments in property, particularly in Dakar, and in small business are most prominent. According to Marc Vergnière (1974), a fairly large portion of remittances is invested by the Soninké to build houses for rent in Dakar. These houses also provide the migrants with somewhere to live when they eventually return to Senegal. The Cissé family owns a house in Dakar which they rent out. Aly has bought two houses in France and built one in Diégoune.

Although some participants invested money in small family businesses in Senegal, they expressed reluctance to invest in larger scale enterprises while still in France. They lack confidence in finding a suitable local partner and fear financial mismanagement in their absence. A fear of corruption on the part of the Senegalese government also served as a deterrent to invest in enterprises in Senegal. This latter view was strongly expressed by the participants in the Paris focus group.

Remittances and village associations

Besides sending remittances to family members, migrants provide financial support to development projects in their country, in particular to the village associations in their respective villages. In Senegal, the village association as a channel for collective remittances has become an important phenomenon since the 1970s. Village associations are created by the village and/or its migrants. Members of a village association make regular financial contributions towards development projects in their home village. One village commonly has village association branches in different localities abroad as well as in Dakar and in the village itself. The most popular projects undertaken by village associations are in the field of education, health, telecommunications and agriculture. The building of mosques, which enhances the prestige of the village, is also popular. These projects are widely recognised as providing an important contribution to improving living conditions back home.

Box 7. Remittances and local development

Amadou belongs to an African association which aims to provide free internet services in African countries. As a member of his organization, he is involved in setting up cyber cafés in Senegal, and in accessing materials and appropriate training for the use of internet facilities. On his next trip to Senegal he intends to develop contacts in Dakar to further this project.

Moussa is involved in a training project for “anti-social youth” in France. This concerns the training of groups of young people in assembling computers and developing solar power equipment. He has arranged for goods made by the trainees to be sent to his hometown. Moussa and Ousmane also belong to a village association for Moudéry. Thanks to the contribution of migrants’ associations, Moudéry has acquired two schools, a health centre, two markets, a post office and seven mosques. Two houses have also been built in Dakar to receive young migrants from Moudéry awaiting their emigration to Europe.

Aly is a committee member of the Association des Sénégalais de Diégoune en France, founded in 1990, which contributes to the development of Diégoune. There are currently about 30 people in the association and each member contributes three times a year. This adds up to about 1000 Euros per year. Besides contributions from the members, the association organises social events in order to raise funds. Generally such events raise about 800 Euros. Aly emphasises that for Senegalese people, their place of origin is of great importance. One’s village of birth remains an important aspect of one’s identity. As such efforts to improve one’s village are regarded as a duty. The association has already built a school, an exam centre and two maternity wards. There are plans for a post office in order to avoid people having to walk a long distance to use post office facilities. The association, however, is finding it increasingly difficult to collect funds. The migrants complain of rising living costs in France. Aly believes that the association needs additional help and promotes the idea of “jumelage”. This involves the twinning of Diégoune with one or more towns in Europe or America. He envisages that representatives of the twinned towns would meet, discuss development priorities in Diégoune and subsequently provide financial and other aid for the village. He has witnessed the success of twinning in the village of Baïla, where, as a result of its twinning with a town in France and another in Germany, various development initiatives have been carried out. Aly also feels that a successful twinning project would relieve the immigrants to a certain extent of their financial duties.

In discussions with the Paris-based research and development organization Groupe de Recherche et de Réalization pour le Développement Rural (GRDR), which works with village associations in Senegal, some constraints of the “village association approach” were mentioned. Tensions may occur between different stakeholders in the development projects, namely the migrants, the village elders and the rural council.

3.5 Remittances, access to land and agriculture

Land tenure in Senegal

Under customary land tenure systems, access to farm land depends upon the allocation of a plot by the relevant customary authority. Once the land is productively used, the rights can usually be inherited according to a patrilineal kinship system. Land can also be accessed through loans and rentals. During the colonial period, attempts were made to change this system and to replace customary law with legislation based on individual land rights and written titles. These attempts did not, however, have much impact on access to land for the rural dweller.

The 1964 law on the “domaine national” abrogated customary land tenure and nationalized most of the land. The State is the exclusive trustee of this land and is responsible for its management. The domaine national is subdivided into four categories:

In Senegal, land administration is closely linked to decentralization, in place since the early 1970s and reformed in 1996. In rural areas, rural councils (“communautés rurales”) are responsible for the management of land and natural resources in their territory (zones de terroir). They can allocate land to those who can show they develop and use it productively (“mise en valeur”). Farmers who use their land productively have their access to this land protected by law.

Despite an extensive body of legislation on land tenure and on decentralization, customary rules regarding land are still widely applied in rural areas (Münkner, 1995; Toulmin & Longbottom, 1997). Rural councils rarely make land allocations without the approval of customary chiefs. For instance, in Moudéry access to land is essentially still according to custom, except for lands where the SAED has provided irrigation. These areas previously belonged to the oligarchy of the village, but are now allocated by the rural council to families applying for it.

Access to land for our respondents

The Sylla family, which belongs to the local elite (and qualifies for chieftainship in the village), is one of the two large landholding families in Moudéry. Besides cultivating their own land, they lend land to landless families. This combination of land rights, social class and local authority provides the Sylla family with substantial power and influence at village level. This year the family cultivated 13 ha of customarily held land, excluding the land used for fruit trees and vegetable gardening. Eleven hectares were used for millet and two for maize. Since the family holds large areas of land, they were able to choose the best fields for cultivation close to the river. Since several members of the family are abroad, the Syllas have cultivated these lands with the help of five labourers from neighbouring Mali, which cost them the non-negligible amount of 280,000 FCFA (426 euros).

This cultivation capacity has also enabled the Sylla family to reclaim three hectares of land that it had lent to another family (see below) and to successfully apply for an additional two ha of irrigated land from the rural council, which they have used to cultivate millet. Overall, this year the family produced 80 tonnes of millet and 1.4 tonnes of maize. The produce is essentially used for consumption by the family, although a share is destined for needy families in other villages. Last year the family distributed 200kg of millet to each of 30 families. The young brother of the family head, who is president of the rural council, is largely responsible for distributing these gifts. Very occasionally, surplus is sold to traders who come to Moudéry to buy grain.

The Cissé family bought two ha of irrigated land from the ex-president of the rural council, for 110 000 FCFA (168 euros). However, this transaction was informal and does not have any legal value. The Cissé family uses it to cultivate maize, rice and millet, vegetables and bananas. It does so with the help of three Malian labourers, who are employed during the cultivation season. The produce is used for consumption as well as for sale to local buyers.

In Kër Momar Sarr, very few migrants invest in land. The two migrants involved in the study are exceptional. Their motivations for investing in land include their familiarity with farming as well as witnessing successful farming in other parts of the world and their limited knowledge about other investment options.

Mamadou, migrant in France from the Mboup family, has attempted unsuccessfully to acquire land through the rural council for the past eight months. He therefore resorted to renting a plot of irrigated land (1.47ha at 125.000 F CFA/ha (=190 euros/ha)) from a village association in charge of an irrigation project in the area. For a second plot of land (three ha) in another village, he engaged the assistance of his uncle, who is resident in the area, to intervene, since the land is reserved exclusively for residents of the village. Mamadou cultivates in partnership with his stepbrother. He cultivated one ha with tomatoes and the remaining 3.47ha with sweet potatoes. The produce was sold and the proceeds were used to pay for capital costs (tractor, pumps, fertilisers, etc.); the balance was then divided between Mamadou and his brother. Mamadou complained about several constraints in farming including: lack of easy access to land (failure to obtain land through the rural council); high cost of irrigation; shortage of available markets, market monopolies and fixed prices for goods.

In Diégoune, Aly has inherited land from his father, for which he has now obtained a title deed. He grows a variety of crops including peanuts, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, maize and mangoes for commercial purposes. Although he lives in France, he hires labour to manage his land. He predominantly hires women employees, whom he argues are more reliable. He is in monthly contact with his employees in order to discuss farming issues. Aly also inherited a herd of cattle from his father, for which he employs a herder. The herd provides milk and occasionally meat for sale. Aly intends to purchase more land to extend his farming activities. However he has prioritized other projects, such as purchasing a house in France for his children. As a result, acquiring more land will have to wait.

As stated in chapter 2, it is difficult to infer a direct association between remittances and improved access to land. Migrants and their families may invest in land as a result of remittances, but they may also be influenced by other factors such as level of education and pre-existing wealth. On the other hand, where remittances per se are not intended to be invested in land, they may still enable the household to free up other income for investment.

The experience presented above shows that a range of strategies are used to secure access to land, going beyond land purchases. The Sylla family has reclaimed land previously lent to other families and has acquired irrigated land through the rural council. The Cissé family bought irrigated land from an individual in the village. Mamadou rents irrigated land from a village association. Aly sought and obtained a certificate of ownership for his customary land. Through hired labour and agricultural inputs, all participants have enhanced the ‘mise en valeur’ of their land, and hence their tenure security.

Study participants identified several motives for investing in rural land, including: the familiarity of the migrant and his family with agricultural practice; the importance of agricultural production for households’ livelihoods; the cultural attachment of the migrant to rural life; exposure to successful agro-business in other locations; and the belief that enhanced agricultural production will enable the migrant to reduce his remittances.

The changing relationship with rural land

In the field sites, rural land does not yet have great market value. There is still unexploited land available. However, irrigation has increased land values (e.g. in Moudéry), and has attracted some migrants to invest in land. Thus, three of our respondents sought out irrigated land for investment. In the Kër Momar Sarr zone, the flooding of the Vallée Fossile and the construction of the Golon channel with a pump system have added value to the land and have attracted incomers, including foreign companies (e.g. investment from Kuwait). Although, officially, land cannot be bought and is allocated by the rural council, many informal rental and sale arrangements are made, and prices are soaring.

Migrants and their families contribute to these changes as a result of their greater financial capacity than many other villagers. Investment in irrigated land, combined with financial means to buy agricultural inputs and a more entrepreneurial inclination of migrants may gradually change the nature of agriculture, moving from subsistence to commercial farming. This may in turn create employment opportunities for other villagers. Several respondents already employ hired labour and sell their produce, though on a very small scale.

In perspective, these changes may create tensions at the family level. As was stated earlier, agriculture is traditionally regarded as an activity in which the entire family is involved and which is geared at consumption rather than commercial purposes. The agricultural tasks are clearly delineated and the head of the family takes the main decisions. At this stage, it is still unclear to what extent international remittances are supporting this model of family farming, and to what extent they are promoting a different type of agriculture, centred on individual entrepreneurship and commercial production. Interestingly, while in the case of the Sylla and the Cissé families it was the family head who acquired land, in the Mboup family it was the individual migrant, Mamadou, who acquired land with the help of family members.

Large-scale acquisition of irrigated land by migrants and their families, combined with greater means to use the land productively may, however, negatively effect land access for poorer families, who do not have the capacity to buy or rent land or even to cultivate their own customary land. With prices soaring, land will become less accessible to poorer households and more concentrated in the hands of a few investors, amongst whom are found some of the more affluent migrants and their families. A land dispute encountered during the field study in Moudéry is partially linked to the desire and the means of a family with access to remittances to expand the land area under its direct control. In this case, a piece of land had been lent out by the head of the Sylla family to the Sow family for over 10 years. In 2003, the Sylla family reclaimed its land. The Sow family refused to surrender the land and brought the matter to court, arguing that the land belonged to the domaine national and that therefore the rights of users (mise en valeur) should be protected. The court, however, ordered that the land be surrendered to the Sylla family, as they could produce a certificate of land allocation by the rural council, while the Sow family did not possess any documentation. Increased capacity to cultivate the land, linked to increased financial capacity of the migrant family are likely to have played a role in this dispute.

Two caveats need to be made. First, in these processes of land commodification and concentration, the migrant is only one among many players. In the Kër Momar Sarr area, a number of big investors have acquired several hundred hectares, which makes it more difficult for the villagers to obtain land through the rural council. Secondly, at the time of the study, while there are signs of increased commodification of land, and of greater agricultural intensification and commercialization, this process of social change seems to be still at an early stage, and is far from complete.

Obstacles to investment in rural land

Despite recent interest in rural investment, migrants still predominantly invest in urban areas (construction and transport/commerce). All the migrants we interviewed had invested in small business or property. This may be due to an array of obstacles to investment in rural land. As is illustrated in Mamadou’s case, acquiring land can be a long, complicated process, requiring negotiation and administration. This is difficult for the migrant, who wants to make his investment whilst remaining abroad. Being well-connected is key: the Sylla family, who has contacts in the rural council (a family member is even the president of the council), was able to secure access to irrigated land, whereas Mamadou, who does not have strong local connections, was unsuccessful. This highlights the importance of migrants’ representation in institutions, such as rural councils.

Investing in urban property is often more attractive for various reasons. Being a property owner has a symbolic value and property investment is regarded as more secure, easier to manage and offers the possibility to rent the property out. Urban property is more widely advertised as an investment option, even in destination countries, whereas rural land is not generally promoted as an investment opportunity for migrants. However, people are increasingly informed about the possibilities for buying land, through family and intermediaries.

3.6 Conclusion

This chapter has provided insights into the role of remittances in rural livelihoods and access to land, and on their potential impact on changes in land tenure in rural Senegal. It has done so through a small number of targeted interviews aimed at identifying key issues and broad trends. Although investment in rural land is still in its infancy and migrants still largely prefer to invest in residential property, irrigated land is a growing attraction for investors, including migrants and their families. This increase in rural investment may affect land tenure and social relations in rural areas. Due to their relatively high economic capacity, migrants can become a key development player in rural areas, though at this stage it is not yet clear whether as source of support for family farming or as heralds of agri-business.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page