1406 Dust in Their Eyes

Dried out Tomato Plant


One sunny morning inland in Senegal, I got out of the bush taxi to meet Father Roberto who was waiting for me at the roadside. Father Roberto invited me to his village Koudiadiene in the region Lamlam to tell me about the suffering of the villagers which is caused by phosphate mining by European investors. No sooner had I arrived than I was struck by the first consequences of this mining: a grey dust covers the plants, trees and houses. Immediately, Father Roberto told me that this dust is toxic and is harming the people’s health. Since these companies arrived the number of lung diseases, such as tuberculosis and asthma, has increased and the health centres are not equipped to handle the situation.



Father Roberto then showed me the outskirts of the village. It takes just a few minutes to reach the first mines where earthmoving machines throw up huge quantities of dust into the air. The companies dig day and night up to a depth of eight metres to extract the phosphate. Their activities have transformed the ancient woodland into land scarred by holes and piles of earth.



tl_files/aefjn-images/im_aefjn_ntw/Visits of the Secretariat/2014 Senegal/Engins.jpgI met César, a young man of the village, who took me to see the mining sites and surrounding area from close up. You can see that the phosphate is loaded directly onto trains that are heading for the port of Dakar to be exported straight to Europe by ship. Nearly all the production is exported to Europe; just a little is sold on the local market. The phosphate is mainly used for fertiliser for intensive farming; some is transformed into phosphorus and used in many chemical products. At the moment there are three companies mining here[1]; they are either European or strongly financed with European capital. There are yet more who are interested in coming to Lamlam. In fact, there are already new plans for mining in the Lamlam area and the village of Koudiadiene is at the heart of this area. Therefore the village may have to be relocated as, if the mines come closer to the village, life will become even more unbearable. So the villagers are asking for steps to be taken to help them (a) socially – as compensation for the loss of the land that gave them an income and housing, (b) environmentally - to rehabilitate the landscape and reduce pollution, and (c) regarding health - to treat the increasing number of patients.



tl_files/aefjn-images/im_aefjn_ntw/Visits of the Secretariat/2014 Senegal/landscape.jpg

I walked around with César. The only trees in sight were baobab and palms; there was little grass and a lot of sand and dust. Later an old man told me sadly before it used to be a dense forest with lots of wildlife, where villagers could find fruit and other plants and where villagers used to be able to live from hunting. The effects of this deforestation could be disastrous in a Sahelian country like Senegal. Indeed, the clearing has accelerated desertification and salinization, reducing agricultural production and leading to soil erosion. In addition, all the soil, plants and trees near the mines are coated in a grey carpet of dust. The effects of dust quickly become clear when César shows me a tomato plant withering because of poor soil quality. "There hasn’t been much of a crop this time."



tl_files/aefjn-images/im_aefjn_ntw/Visits of the Secretariat/2014 Senegal/trou.jpgAnother problem for the family farmers is the drastic cut in their access to water for irrigation as the companies use large quantities of water; in addition, the phosphate mining is reducing the quality of the soil as heavy metals are discharged into the water[2].  A little further on, we saw cattle eating dusty grass; this not only is bad for the animals but later on enters the food chain of the villagers (meat, milk, …) Another hazard for the cattle, and for the people, are the holes left by the companies after prospecting or mining. Four children of shepherds died after falling into such holes.


Take it or leave it



tl_files/aefjn-images/im_aefjn_ntw/Visits of the Secretariat/2014 Senegal/Machines.jpgNext, I met Gustave, the local councillor, to share with him what I had seen. He said: “We weren’t consulted before the companies set up here.”  He considered that the granting of permission to the operating company did not follow the correct legal procedures. Consequently, many villagers had lost their land with little compensation which had been non-negotiable and non-proportional. It was "take it or leave it." Loss of land and pollution have increased hunger and malnutrition, and poverty has made its home in the village. The people used to have three meals a day before the companies arrived but now just have one, at midday. They do not eat in the morning and after lunch the adults put a little aside for children. Priority is given to children, but malnutrition is spreading because of the loss of land. 



Before, the village farmers grew food crops such as millet, cassava, sorghum and also cash crops like peanuts, mangoes and citrus fruits. In this way, the villagers could feed themselves and sell some crops to pay for school and health costs and to finance weddings. Now there are fewer crops because there is less arable land available in the village. In addition, food prices are rising and food security is in danger in the village. Similarly, cattle farmers have seen a decline in their standard of living because of the shortage of pasture and pollution of the grass.


 “If there is no land to cultivate, what are the people going to live on?”

Various villagers confirmed that the companies do not meet the Senegalese laws. According to the Senegalese Mining Code, companies must keep their plants at least 500 meters from the village, but the plants are so close that people are no longer able to sleep in Koudiadiene. In addition, companies are supposed to restore the landscape after mining, and set up a fund for this to be managed by the local people. However, at the time of my visit the people were not yet aware of the existence of such a fund.



tl_files/aefjn-images/im_aefjn_ntw/Visits of the Secretariat/2014 Senegal/thumbs.jpgThe midday sun encompassed the village and I sat under the palm tree with the men from the village who were busy weaving palm fibres. I asked them what they thought about the activities of the factories in the Lamlam region. First there was silence; then one of them said: “It’s true that they have brought about more damage than benefits. In principal we are not against the companies coming here if it contributes to local development, but not like this.” Then this man confirmed that the companies do not respect the mining code and that they had not kept their promises to build schools[3], health centres, roads and wells and to create jobs for the locals. Unemployment is a particular source of discontent at Koudiadiene as the firms hardly employ any villagers. Lots of the village youth had asked for work at the mines, but I was told that only two or three men from Lamlam had been successful.



In addition, Senegalese social law had not been followed. The companies use daily contracts for low wages (1500 CFA / about 2.30€ for 10 hours). They do not pay social security contributions, so that workers are not entitled to social and health cover, nor to compensation for accidents at work and there is no pension entitlement. The tl_files/aefjn-images/im_aefjn_ntw/Visits of the Secretariat/2014 Senegal/Imagetassesdeterres.jpgvillage men want permanent contracts, but unemployment persists in the village despite the presence of these companies. For this reason many young people leave the village to work in the city, in Thies or Dakar, for example as taxi drivers. Those who remain in the village have been forced to reinvent their lives: they make baskets from palm fibres to sell at the markets, but the money this brings is less and more volatile than what they used to earn from selling food. Young people faced with a shortage of land, pasture and employment with local firms have no hope for a prosperous future, and this could give rise to conflict. Just after my visit communities held a demonstration against the companies.[4]



As night fell, the noise of machinery continued: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, noise and dust. These European factories are working to feed the consumption model of the West without any concern for the social and environmental impact on the villages. In the meantime, the people of Koudiadiene are under pressure to find new ways of living in order to have something to eat in the evening…



I would like to thank the people of Koudiadiene for their warm welcome during my stay.



Gino Brunswijck

Policy Officer

[1] One company is European, another is a subsidiary of a European Group and the third is a Senegalo-European concern most of whose capital comes from Europe.

[2] Our Phosphate Risk : “Water Quality”,  http://www.thephosphaterisk.com/issues/water-quality

[3] In the colonial past, a firm had built a school for the children of its workers, but the new companies have not built any schools.

[4] Groupe WalFadjri : « PHOSPHATES DE THIES :Les populations crient haro contre le péril phosphatier» See:



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