A coalition of organizations— including Senegal’s Reflection and Action Group on Land, international NGO, GRAIN, and the Italy’s Re:Common— have recently released a report investigating the link between land acquisitions in Senegal for the Senhuile-Senethanol project and money laundering.
According to the report, the project is one of many incidences of farmlands in Africa and other developing countries being illegally appropriated by affluent investors as legitimate financial assets.
Beginning in 2007, Italy’s National Action Plan for Renewable Energies set aside € 200 billion (roughly US $272 billion) in subsidies to invest in the development of energy from renewable sources. By 2008, more than 20 Italian companies overtook large portions of African land to produce crops for biofuels.
In 2010, Senethanol, a company set up by Italian and Senegalese investors, initiated a project that was slated to grow sweet potatoes on 20,000 hectares of farmland— owned by the rural community of Fanaye— for the production of biofuel.
Conflicts arising within the community in response to the project forced its relocation to the Ndiael Nature Reserve in 2012, where it was restarted. However, the project will instead produce sunflower seeds for export to Italy’s edible oil market.
The report finds that Italy’s Tampieri Financial Group has not substantiated its claims about profitable return rates for the project’s investors. There is little evidence to suggest that any significant sums of money are moving through the project— lending credence to concerns about money laundering.
As the report notes, many land deals in developing countries secured by wealthy foreign investors are commonly presented as well-meaning ventures to improve local food security and economic development. However, the livelihoods of 37 villages have been compromised by the Senhuile-Senethanol project, which has isolated many of them from their water supply and grazing lands for livestock.
The project is just one of many recent land grabs in Sub-Saharan Africa signifying an emerging link between large-scale agricultural land deals and corporate crime.