The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Senegal worked to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict by bolstering infrastructure and providing jobs. One USAID-funded program, undertaken in partnership with EnterpriseWorks Worldwide in 2001, aimed to modernize Casamance’s cashew-processing industry to strengthen the region’s war-torn economy. While cashew exports can bring in significant revenue, the region lacked the infrastructure to produce high-quality nuts for export. Processed cashews can bring in seven to 10 times the price of raw nuts. Today, 90 percent of the 15,000 metric tons of cashews Senegal produces each year come from Casamance.
Sadly, violence in the Casamance region has welled up again in earnest. The peaceful conclusion that many had hoped for following the peace accord of 2004 failed to materialize, and instead, the Senegalese army and Movement for Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) rebels both maintain a large presence in the region.
MFDC member Damien Manga disputes claims that rebel groups are financed by revenue from cashew exports. He says that while rebels do sell the nuts, the profits finance living expenses only, not weapons purchases. “We collect cashew nuts to sell like everyone else…Some say [selling] cashews…enables us to buy weapons. This is false…it is only our leaders who buy our weapons.” Instead, Manga places blame for violence around the cashew orchards squarely on the shoulders of the Senegalese military. Senegalese military spokesman Lieutenant Malamine Camare refutes this claim, saying that the army’s mission is “to ensure the safety of people and goods in this region. We never engage in profit-making activities, and we execute our mission by the rules.”
Because certain resources and activities are so frequently linked to conflict – diamonds and oil, for example – the role of agriculture is often ignored. As authors Alec Crawford and Oli Brown argue in a new publication discussed in this New Security Beat post, any resource can be exploited to further conflict. Earlier this year, ECSP hosted the “New Horizons at the Nexus of Conflict, Natural Resources, and Health” event series exploring the interaction between human health, natural resources, and conflict.
Photo: A cashew seller in the Gambia. Courtesy of Flickr user Javier D.