Over the past 30 years Governments have invited me to imagine how to relaunch their economy. Senegal opened its doors and with the support of ENABEL, the Belgian Cooperation Agency, and accompanied by Idriss Aberkane, we identified a first set of opportunities. This article gives you a lift to more positive insights of how we can transform the economy with each page you will read. We are planning the follow-up with action on the ground since the initiatives are obvious and the entrepreneurs are willing.
Reflecting on the first visit 40 years ago
When I first landed in Dakar in 1981, the capital city of Senegal, I was impressed it had maintained an amazing touch of simplicity with an extraordinary quality of life. Living with friends in the Corniche, the coastal zone bordering the city, we would walk in the morning to buy fresh fish caught in the early hours from abundant waters. My university friend was committed to create new business opportunities in Africa, opting for a base in Senegal. Traffic was chaotic, but everything moved at its slow pace and no one seemed bothered. The blend of French and African cooking style made each lunch and dinner a delightful discovery. The Mauritanian Silver Market of Dakar where arts from the Dogon were on sale, and a visit to Gorée Island from where hundreds of thousands of slaves were forcibly sent to America, places geopolitics and history in a dramatic context. One could feel the heart of Africa.
While we cannot change the past, we can certainly influence the course of the future. Life in Dakar has become as complicated as Lagos was forty years ago. However, traveling around the country and having exchanges with local entrepreneurs, the chambers of commerce, educators of novel farming concepts like agroforestry (which is only novel in name having been practiced for millennia), it is clear that Senegal still has a surprising blend of opportunities and necessities as well as a broad series of emergencies. The country is facing the permanent risk of malnourishment, especially children, while half the mango harvest rots away. The unemployment is so high that more young Senegalese die at sea trying to escape to far away islands than succumbing to the novel virus. The cities struggle dealing with solid municipal waste, and plastic litters the entrance of each village, and community. The lack of visible action to clean up this mess is discouraging, but not for long!
Embracing Novel Business Models
The need to address food, fresh water and jobs has been a priority for policy makers for decades. Since I had the honor of meeting Leopold Senghor, the founding President and poet, and his successor Abdou Diouf, during what was heralded a peaceful transition, and exception in Africa at the time, I kept a special interest in the development of the country years after I left convinced in the early ‘80’s so much could be done. However, decades later we have to accept that the seas are overfished beyond repair and salt encroaches the aquifers destining large tracks of land into an expanding Sahel Desert. While millions of trees are planted in a persistent fight against desertification, licenses are still given for the wrong reasons, and the wrong farming species, Australian eucalyptus trees, which dry the land further. One wonders how it is possible the same errors are still repeated when these ill-fated decisions have been documented in extenso throughout the Continent. South Africa even declared war on the eucalyptus, singled out for drying out the whole nation and putting it on the brink of collapse, forcing billion dollar investments in desalination plants, while Senegal continues to permit its planting when it has a marvelous local biodiversity of palm and baobab trees.
Thanks to an invitation from ENABEL, the Belgian Cooperation Agency, in December 2020, I could experience first hand the extent to which Senegal is ready to embrace novel business models that are building on what is locally available. Senegal is inherently a very rich country, beginning with its extraordinary people and the yet to be discovered natural resources as well as its thriving ecosystems. The time has come to observe Senegal not through the eyes of an expert trained by a university in another part of the world with four seasons. It’s time to look at intrinsic values ready to be discovered and turned into a platform for social, ecologic and economic development while conserving culture and tradition.
There is no doubt the international community is prepared to reach out, support, and fast track wherever possible. When I returned, we first studied food and health opportunities as ENABEL, my host, had singled out as clusters for their assistance. And food is both an amazing opportunity and a dramatic reality. Senegal has only been able to keep up a steady volume of peanuts (arachides), mangos, and millet, thanks to the rapid rise of irrigation and the introduction of modern farming. The artisanal and small scale farming is making way for monocultures with economies of scale, supported by the widespread introduction of chemistry and even genetics. We all have seen the positive impact of water supply to the roots! However, we also have witnessed the long term adverse effects of this approach to water on soil fertility and its salinity. Experience shows that the short term solution often leads to a long term disaster. This is why the wide presence of agroforestry projects throughout the nation is so encouraging. A new concept recovers the dynamics that brings life to the rural economy. This is the basis of resilience.
The Factory of the Future: The Mangrove Ecosystem
Senegal has a natural tendency to lose land to the sea. This is not caused by human interference, it’s the result of a unique geography whereby sea-water encroaches up to 40 kilometers inland. The Sine and Siloum estuaries cover 1,000 km2 inland and varying degrees of salinity depends on rainfall during the seasons. This shift between rainy and dry seasons determines the rhythm of natural cycles. However, this massive areal of land and water mass mainly covered by mangroves has remained largely unexploited. Seldom have I seen such a large window of opportunity.
While shrimp are caught and wood from mangroves are occasionally harvested, the area three hours drive from Dakar, (which is the same size as La Boca in Buenos Aires which has one million people), does not even have a single public transport boat. This implies no one lives there - and no one will ever live there. It is difficult to imagine how this region will ever turn productive working with the natural cycles of the ecosystems when there are only a few private piroches - as the local flat ships are called- that crisscross the area. However, a visit to this area where the Government is investing in mangrove restoration one tree at the time, one can quickly imagine how an Indonesian experience of mangrove regeneration set up after the tsunami devastated the whole region, could not only secure economic and social development but also ensure that the ecosystem thrives - again, provided the right business model is chosen.
This is not about maximizing one output from the sea or the land, it’s about searching for a dynamic and optimal level of productivity that responds to the needs of communities and the ecosystem. A comparable initiative to the one in Indonesia has also been implemented in Eritrea indicating there are at least two solid exemplary experiences at large scale to potentially inspire Senegal to change and embrace the potential of millions. However, the success of this initiative does not depend on technologies, first and foremost what’s required is the preparedness to embrace a new model of production.
Idriss Aberkane, the French visionary entrepreneur and author of the bestseller “Libérez Votre Cerveaux” - “Free Your Brain”, the industrial farming and manufacturing mainstream model always accepted the notion of chimneys spewing black smoke and waste as standard. However, the biggest factory ever is nature, and while it produces, it increases biodiversity. Humanity needs to rethink the productive capacity of these mangroves, and ecosystems, since there is no need to decimate fauna and flora in order to produce the basic necessities for local communities. On the contrary, the creative approach developed by Indonesian scientists inspired by the Blue Economy concept, has demonstrated that one can work with Nature and attain levels of productivity and resilience that are way beyond the modern industrialized world.
Shrimp, Crab, Fish, Seaweed, Honey … and carbon sequestration
We are not referring to a theory, but to a vision that has already been implemented. The replanting of mangroves in the region of Surabaya was combined with the placement of metallic nets around the young trees. As the mangroves grow, shrimp nestle inside enjoying an abundance of algae, growing in size. They soon become too large to escape through the small holes in the nets and a natural farm that needs no feed is born. Instead, the ecosystem feeds its fauna and flora. This is a very competitive proposal. While the productivity of intensively farmed shrimp, and shrimp only, fed with imported feed mainly made from slaughterhouse waste and GMO soy, is certainly higher than the shrimps - only the shrimps (!) - in the mangroves nets, the total sum of the biomass is a multitude while the costs are only a fraction. The shift from a core business with one product is replaced by a cluster that emulates Nature as follows.
As shrimp found their home, milkfish and crabs naturally arrived. Harvesting has never been easier. The mangroves are cut short and pruned regularly just above the sea water line strengthening the root system, a valuable resource that captures volumes of greenhouse gases. The off-cuts of twigs and leaves provide feed to goats and sheep, that are 50% fresh water. We forget that mangroves are efficient producers of fresh water, hence an increase of milk productivity in livestock by feeding them the pruned remnants, which also supply a rich blend of minerals. An increased production of goats milk from one to two liters a day, doubling output without any need for additional grazing land. And the meat is not only tastier, it’s richer in nutrients.
Few people realize that both Korea and Japan feed seaweed concentrate to their ruminants. While they never thought about the impact of such a practice on climate change, wishing to ensure a richer mineralization of milk and meat, the fact is this blend of nutrition from the sea served in pellets reduces methane emissions by a surprising 80%. This offers an immediate platform of development for Senegal. The farming of seaweed, quickly dismissed as a food that no African would consider, caters to cutting back on greenhouse gases, while growing the economy. And there’s more! Since rice is -next to millet- a staple food for the local population, the question is why would Senegal continue to import genetically modified rice from Thailand, when it could make its saline fields lost to the encroaching sea available for farming salt resistant rice varieties that China has been offering to the world?
Transport, Salt and Health
Mangroves are at the crossroad of salt and fresh water, oxygen and lack of oxygen. In this stressful environment resilience is reinforced with an opportunity to discover the very best that has been hidden to traditional analytics. It should be no surprise that flowers in this ecosystem are abundant, and this creates an ideal environment for plants to thrive. The ecosystem of the mangroves is therefore internationally recognized as ideal for the hub of honey with productivity levels that are unheard of in the industry. This is an additional opportunity: all products from beehives are in abundance and ideal for commercialization - provided there’s transport. This relies on human intelligence, so it can be planned and implemented with the dynamics of the dry and rainy seasons.
Salt is a business of value. It created wealth for cities like Salzburg (Austria) and has been a currency for trade throughout history. The Sine Saloum region and the encroachment of the sea leads to a simple business: drying salt. While this is certainly an entrepreneurial initiative that is worth pursuing, only a few are able to make money out of it. There are two issues that require our special attention: (1) micro-plastics and (2) micro-nutrients. Since Senegal has not seriously dealt with solid waste management, plastics are found everywhere. While ultimately the big pieces of plastic waste could be picked up by civil society, the main issue at stake is the micro-plastics. A quick verification of the raw salt harvested in the region demonstrates an excessive presence of micro-plastics. This is no exception, unfortunately this is a standard around the world. It is not a comforting thought to realize that each one of us is eating the equivalent in plastic of a credit card every week, weighing approximately 5 grams! But now we have a challenge that the local salt - which is natural from the sea - is full of microplastics as part of this vicious supply chain that is detrimental to our health. Or would anyone stand up and pretend that microplastics are good for you?
The removal of microplastics from salt is a must as a precautionary principle. However, this has a cost. Hence the need to find more value in the salt that justifies the expensive removal through a simple centrifuge which will put the plastic particles -sometimes measuring only a few micron- at the top, while the salt crystals end up on the bottom. Now standing on a bridge, and watching the horizon, one easily spots the pinky shades adorning the edges of the water. This color is caused by naturally occurring micro-algae which thrive in salt environments. These small organisms are often affected by microplastics. However, they also provide a wealth of micronutrients including betacarotene and iodine. Both are needed, and are key in the fight against malnutrition. Iodized salt is critical in the fight against goiter, and indispensable for the development of the brain. So how can Senegal turn into the first mass scale provider of iodized and mineralized salt that’s certified without microplastics? This is a real window of opportunity that differentiates Senegalese salt from any other seasoning!
The Job Machine
The awareness around the need for iodized salt is very high and development agencies fund the addition of iodine and its distribution. Now, the salt that is freshly harvested on thousands of kilometers of shore in the estuary is cheap and abundant. Unfortunately, iodine evaporates quickly in the blazing wind and sun, leaving the iodized salt without iodine after just a few days. Nature always provides solutions! If we farm salt resistant micro algae and we ensure there are seaweeds, then we can blend dried seaweeds (which also a moisture absorber) into the salt, and enrich it with “encapsulated” iodine, meaning that it will not evaporate, and will additionally supply nutrients like fibers that improve intestinal tract functioning. During this entire process much needed jobs are generated. Just the thought of a future right at home is inspiring.
In order to secure such a shift in the mind of all, it is key to stop considering the errors of the past, and mangroves lost. We cannot see the saline fields only as fit for producing salt. We need to focus on a portfolio of initiatives that permit the fast reconstruction of the mangrove ecosystems with a thriving aquaculture, where instead of imported feed and hormone treated fish like the tilapia, one builds on the local biodiversity. We need to treat saline land as an opportunity to farm rice that generates a direct income for the local population, increasing food security while offering a blend of trace minerals that can only be obtained via these exceptional ecosystems that can be regenerated.
The Indonesian model has been implemented and created an average of 2 jobs per hectare. But if we extrapolate what we know from Surabaya, then Senegal could generate 200,000 jobs in this delta alone, improving the livelihood of more than a million people for the better. Even a minor fraction would be welcome.
While the world focuses on a viral challenge, the country has suffered more deaths of young who risk sailing from the Senegalese coast to find refuge in a far away island. If there is a political will to reverse the situation and embrace an economic development that gives hope, then mangrove regeneration is certainly one that would keep the best and the most dynamic at home, instead of risking their life. Remember: only the best and audacious risk their life to find a better future for themselves and their family.
The Marvels of Mangoes
As mentioned, one of the marvels of the Senegalese countryside are the mangoes. Introduced by the Portuguese from India, they have been planted across the country and the continent. From the annual 76,000 tons of harvest only half are valorized. The rest is left to rot. How could that ever happen? From an over abundance during a harvest season that’s too short, or an incapacity to organize? Mangoes should never be left to rot in a country facing a dire level of malnutrition. With the potential of local resources, how can children suffer from a lack of vitamins and trace minerals? Has a connection to the sea been severed due to overfishing? Or, is it an increase of processed foods imported from countries that produce cheaper and subsidize their farmers? Senegal could produce thousands of tons of fruit, vegetables and grains, and yet it relies on the ill designed model of “competitive advantages” where the cheapest wins, and imports gain over local farmers. Does this enrich a few, and drive the farmers off the land to join the extreme poor in shanty towns?
What is in a Loaf of Bread?
Due to impoverished soil caused by monocultures that mine the land, as well as well soil erosion due to changing weather and climate conditions, an unavoidable consequence of tilling, nutrition in grown produce is diminishing. Senegal can only secure a healthy generation once the Nation and its farmers produce better quality food. How? This requires a novel approach. The mango is a great case study. This is not just the flesh of the fruit, it’s the whole fruit. We forget that we should not value food by the ton, or by the kilo we eat, rather we should focus on the content measured in protein, lipids, vitamins and minerals.
There’s a solid case example that could deliver results within a year. A mango seed is not only huge, it is also highly nutritional. Many seem to forget that a seed has all that a young tree needs to grow into a fully fledged mango giant. Thus if the flesh of the fruit is rotting away, at least the Senegalese communities should not miss out on the nutrient-rich seed. Which is an obvious opportunity. The seed can be converted into a fine powder that resembles flour, which can be added to bread. As the baguette has become a standard in Senegal, left by the colonizers, this tradition should at least include the wealth of seeds that can be extracted using the same technology developed in Mexico for the recovery of all the goodies in avocado seeds, similar in size and nutrition as the mango. Seeds are too good to be wasted, cycled through the food chain instead is far more lucrative. Generating jobs and income, while providing the nutrition so desperately needed.
And what about the skin? We cannot only overlook the fact that the skin of any fruit is like leather, a vegetable leather that has exactly the same function in the world of fauna and flora: let in things you need, and permit stuff out you do not want. Fruit peel is taken off even though it is edible since it is a rich source of dietary fiber and contains considerable amounts of mineral and vitamins. It is advised to eat fruits along with its peel, however, since too many monocultures apply chemicals that should not be ingested some cautions should be kept in mind while eating and processing whole fruits.
Many cultures maintain the tradition to produce fruit leather: dried sheets of fruit pulp. These have an elastic, soft, rubbery texture and sometimes even a sweet taste. This leather can be made from most fruits, although mango and banana are amongst the most popular ones. Just like the seeds, the leather which has a shelf life of up to 9 months and this pulp can enrich cookies, cakes and ice cream. The process is simple: peels are turned into a puree, sieved to remove bigger fibers. It can be stored for months to plan the production of this “veggie leather” independent of the season. This fruit peel puree is poured in a thin layer of wooden trays. Entrepreneurs around the world are responding to an increasing high demand from the world of fashion to have cruelty free leather that - at the same time - this addresses food waste. The company Fruitleather in Rotterdam is already supplying the fashion world with samples and now manufactures to order with mangos peels that are discarded in the Netherlands. But Senegal wastes 50% of its harvest? The seeds and the peel generate such a potential income and jobs, while providing the nutrition that is missing dearly. It does not make sense to discard this opportunity.
The Boabab Surprise
While the mango tree has been adopted over the centuries as Africa’s own, there is one native tree which could not be more Senegalese than the baobab. These majestic trees have been maintained throughout the countryside with great respect. After all, the locals believe they house ghosts. The cutting down of this tree at an offering price of €400 is taking its toll in regions where poverty is rampant. However, across the board, the baobab continues to shape the silhouette of the Senegal’s savannah. Even with a dramatic lack of replanting, these majestic trees that take hundreds of years to grow to maturity, remain impressive. It is a surprise that the baobab -perhaps the most recognized flora from the Continent of Africa, so well known in the international community and closely associated with Africa, with a fruit that is recognized as a superfood- is not used to its full potential. There is more value to derive from it without even ever touching it.
Even when the fruit is widely recognized as a superfood, the highest value that can be derived from a baobab tree is not the annual harvest of its fruit but its yeast, which propagates around the fruit. When the fruit is ripe, microorganisms concentrate to feast on the abundance of sugars. Now, yeast is yeast, but no yeast is like baobab yeast. The harvesting of yeast during the rainy season, or when the fruit is ripening, is an opportunity without parallel. A small laboratory with a few experienced micro-biologists could identify the most virulent yeast species and propagate them for fermenting yogurt, bread, and even beer. This baobab yeast will be most valued in international niche markets. When I tabled the idea during a meeting with entrepreneurs in Kaolack, one of the attendants noted that “it is not even to be found on Google”!
The country has suffered from past exploitation and now needs to find its own pathway. However, Senegal cannot simply copy and paste what others have done elsewhere. It must find its own opportunities that are authentic and do not force to compete on price with the rest of the world. This brings us to a series of experiences that can be brought from around the world which offer novel opportunities to Senegal. Africa needs ideas and business models that use what is locally available. And yeast is in abundance. Is it not surprising that today just about all yeast needed in the country is imported. The tables can be turned around by offering the world one of the most exclusive yeast products ever - the one that thrives on a 4,000 year old baobab tree!
Coffee from Senegal?
Senegal does not grow its own coffee but has a unique recipe: Touba coffee. The latter was created in the late 19th century by Sheikh Amadou Bamba, a spiritual and charismatic leader of the Sufi Mouride Brotherhood, which is said to have introduced the use of coffee to the country. Touba coffee is flavored with cloves and jarr, known as Guinea pepper. It has a strong balsamic taste and, according to its inventor, it also has medicinal properties. The historical and political relevance of the figure of Bamba meant that his coffee became a symbol of identity and belonging for the African community. Today, Touba coffee is popular with the Senegalese, served in all Tanganas, street cafés of the suburbs, as a perfect example of local street food: sparsely furnished with benches and tables, they also serve food and are busy 24 hours a day. The world is in search for novel forms to enjoy this coffee that is served at a rate of 2.25 billion per day. Could 0.001% for the African diaspora out of Africa not be a fine niche of 2.5 million dollars for export with a high value added? And then grow to 0.1% accordingly!
The coffee market in Africa remains very small since most consumption is limited to the upper classes. Ivory Coast drinks only 0.9 liters per inhabitant per year while the average for the European Union is tenfold, the Fins drink twenty five times more. These coffee trends are to be considered with great care. Worse, the number of African coffee farmers has dropped by 50% over the past 50 years due to the pressure to farm more and cheaper. Senegal will only grow out of poverty and high rates of unemployment if it grows the rural economy. It is a marvelous opportunity to add value to agricultural produce such as cloves and jarr, while adding a brand to the nation, and offering a helping hand to neighboring coffee farming nations. There is nothing more powerful in marketing than the promotion of a product that carries the hearts of a nation.
Clean and Simple Foods
However, we are obliged to send a signal of caution to the growth of farming: the country needs to focus on the development of its own clean supply chain. As already mentioned, insisting again: the dramatic increase of plastics in all our food is exhausting our drive towards quality. This quality is needed to differentiate products on the market with the potential to command higher margins. Senegal really needs to take control of its plastic waste and consider a few bold statements. The waste needs to get off the street, alleys and land. Although it’s difficult to change bad habits, at the same time there are no strong policies at all in Senegal to curb massive pollution. I know all too well that solutions have been announced but are yet to be implemented. There are interesting options to destroy the plastics and this will be key to preserving the fertility of farms already under stress, and to ensure that the potential discussed for oysters, crabs, and fish is not undermined due to excesses of microplastics which could haunt the quality and price for decades to come.
This is why Senegal should embrace simpler superfoods that are easily translated into engines of employment like spirulina, found in the wild and quickly commercialized through farming on rooftops even in the center of Dakar. The cultivation of mushrooms on the wealth of fibers from the millet straw to the husks of nuts that are currently discarded, is another quick win. This is done in more than two dozen African countries. Senegal already has a series of small scale initiatives that have pioneered novel approaches, such as agroforestry in the Kaydara Center where young graduates learn how to create agroforestry around palm trees. The Mayor of the local village Fimela responded with a constructive approach: each graduate from the agroforestry course receives one hectare plot of land free to put into practice what they have learned. The first 100 HA have been allocated. This is so encouraging to see.
Termites as a Source of Inspiration
There is a need to reflect on the built environment as well. As Senegal progresses into an age of modernity, the temptation to emulate Western building styles is imminent. While a few hotels and lodges celebrate the century-old and proven building techniques based on rammed earth, most of the prestigious buildings are constructed out of steel, cement and glass. There is nothing more inefficient than buildings which are crunched out of a CAD-CAM computer without any creative contribution, nor consideration for the local environment. My argument is not just related to the style of buildings, but rather to the use of energy and the climate control inside edifices. More and more electricity is spent on heating and cooling buildings. Why is the installation of an energivore temperature control system preferred over the natural building designs that keep the inside climate fresh with ambient humidity … just like the termite mound. Nothing is more African in building design than a termite hill.
Termites are the first colonies in the world’s history that domesticated another species: mushrooms, delivering finely chewed wood to their favorite food. This secures a fertile feeding ground for the mushrooms that thrive when the climate is right. Termites learned how to provide the best growing conditions and wherever in the world, whatever the climate, termites maintain the same ideal conditions to farm their unlimited supply of food, provided they keep supplying chewed wood. A few architects have been fascinated by this ingenious approach to air circulation. It was Mike Pearce, the Zimbabwean building designer, who ventured the construction of the first ever 10 story office building and shopping mall in his home town Harare, demonstrating the ease and efficiency with which a building could emulate the wisdom of termites.
It is easy to imagine such new developments around the new city developments around the new Dakar Airport, embracing these age old techniques pioneered by both termites and the architects from Africa. This reduces the cost of operation, improves healthy working conditions and sets a standard that should be embraced with climate change as an imperative. These buildings also cut investment costs by 10% and energy spending by over 40%, making both business and health sense, while creating an image and positive reference point for the country.
The Democratization of the Internet
Once the decision is made to consider architecture as an instrument for cultural identity, ecological efficiency and modulation of the immune system, as well as economic management, it is timely to reflect on a necessary leapfrog for internet connectivity. Senegal has already invested a lot of money to strengthen its internet infrastructure. However, the reality is that its vast land area is not very densely populated. Therefore data mining companies will not offer the speed and bandwidth since the volume available does not justify investing. The last decade has clearly seen an expanding digital divide, and while there are some encouraging innovations, such as mobile phone banking originating from Africa, the largest majority of the population does not have access to a well functioning internet.
As long as data and geolocation is dependent on exclusive licenses for the 3-4 and 5G, and later the 6-7 Gs, there will never be the internet service communities need and deserve. Senegal could be an ideal nation to pioneer a novel technology known as internet over light, also known as LiFi. Pioneering this proven internet system would free Senegal from the present dilemma of investments falling short of business volume by combining multiple benefits ranging from access to communications, energy savings and the efficient provision of community services. The implementation of this breakthrough internet that only needs electricity lines and light bulbs would prepare the country to shift from datamining which only benefits overseas operators, to data farming that brings the benefits of the internet home, generating further jobs that are badly needed. While the exploration of this opportunity would require a separate paper (Datamining vs. Data farming published in January 2021 by the same author).
If Senegal were to take the political decision to embrace LED lamps as a standard, offering light with an 80% reduction in energy consumption since the energy is used to provide visibility and not heat, then the country can simultaneously introduce LiFi. LED lamps flicker millions of times per second. In between these flickers, chips can process the binary codes into a Morse code, which is sent over public and private light networks from one side of the village or country to the other without ever needing to involve a mobile phone operator. This is potentially the real democratization of the internet.
Whereas there are only a few hundreds of radio frequencies available, sold through a license for exclusive use at very high costs mostly to foreign investors who are subsequently offered monopolies, light has a billion frequencies. A billion available and unregulated frequencies render it impossible for Governments to make any serious money on the sale of a license. While this may be bad news for the state budget, it is great news for advocates of a local internet based on local needs and local information without the risk of hacking or datamining. This is exactly the opportunity that communities which do not meet the minimum requirements of large data conglomerates have to offer services to the communities at low cost and with great relevance.
From Data Mining to Data Farming
In this report, I have suggested the introduction of agroforestry at a larger scale. Now I strongly recommend that Senegal becomes a regional leader in data farming, instead of datamining. Senegal could follow the example of Morocco where private and public groups invested in the creation of the 1337 and the YouCode schools, training highly motivated youngsters with an unparalleled affinity for information into the hubs of entrepreneurship and accelerators of novel business models that lead to the export of talent, without any of the bright young leaving the country. This approach should shape the nation’s practices and policies towards the internet and education, creating an environment that supports the exploration of innovations. Hundreds of entrepreneurial initiatives will emerge from these schools.
Information locally should be shared and processed locally. It seems ridiculous that a question formulated by a member of the Kaolack Chamber of Commerce is sent over a transatlantic underwater cable to servers on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, to return to the neighbor with the sole purpose: extract all the possible information through datamining. Senegal does not have to accept this 21st century form of slavery. LiFi can operate anywhere there’s a lamp providing light. The street light in the city turns into the backbone of the internet, offering gaming at high speed. The home and office lights all convert into a hub for local and free communication. The beauty of this approach is it can be financed by savings in energy, since LiFi cuts the need and cost of electricity for light, and routers typically operate 24 hours a day to a fraction. The savings of two years of power at the old rates and volumes finance the internet transition from 5G to LiFi.
A Positive Approach: Always Search for Better
It needs to be clearly stated: we are not against monoculture, or 5G! We are in favor of much better solutions that permit countries like Senegal with such a tremendous potential to respond to the basic needs of all with what is locally available. This, combined with the capacity to control the whole value chain from farm to fork, from data to information, is what needs to guide policy makers in their wise and smart approach to economic development that brings also social justice and evolves hand in hand with Nature.
This model will not only improve the indices of poverty, and jobs, while reducing the chance that the best and the brightest risk their lives for a far away opportunity, this will create conditions for entrepreneurs for the common good to emerge towards discovering their unique role in society. When entrepreneurs stand up and take initiative, then a new class of investors will join: those who wish to leave a legacy.
Africa has genuine solutions for its serious challenges. It is time there’s a broader search for solutions that makes a difference for nature and communities. Cluster’s will be identified, and portfolios will be developed. The times in which Governments impose productivity and efficiency over and above resilience and the commons is over. Within this new framework many fresh opportunities will see the light, resulting in a full transformation of the local economy where growth is the norm, and poverty will be eradicated as full employment is achieved. Let us not forget in Nature there is no waste, everyone contributes to the best of their abilities and no one cheats!
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.