Adventure, Interviews
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Dreams of Rural Senegal: Starting a Bio Farm From Ground Zero

Assietou Diop is a French agronomist, based in La Rochelle specialising  in the management of rural territories. Read on as we catch up with her about a project close to her heart.

“Sanctuary” … I think it’s important for everyone to be able to introspect, question and not be afraid of loneliness. It is in solitude that we learn to really know ourselves, to improve, to evolve and to refocus on what is really essential for us, by distancing from the world around us as well as those who can influence us, sometimes in the wrong way. From my point of view, too many people are afraid of this loneliness which is nonetheless at certain periods of life essential not to lose oneself. “Solitude is the nest of thoughts” as a Kurdish proverb says.

I was born in Bordeaux (France) and grew up in La Rochelle. My father is Senegalese and I bear the name of the mother of my paternal grandmother. My name comes from a character from the Qur’an “Assia” who was the wife of the Pharaoh and adoptive mother of Moses. My last name Diop comes from Lat Dior Diop, emblematic anticolonial figure of Senegal.

I like to open myself permanently to new cultural experiences, traveling as much as possible, reading a lot of all kinds of works (novels, poetry, biographies …). I like cinema, music, dance. I like to make the most of my close friends, my family. I like nature, the countryside, gardening …

On the farm:

I have had two professional experiences. Recently I was a commercial representative for farmers. I assisted them with finding a solution for the natural improvement of soils based on vegetable composts. This experience allowed me to better understand my own aspirations in my professional life. I realized that I needed to work for myself and be consistent with my principles and my sense of ethics. In addition, I feel the need to fully reconnect with my Senegalese origins and for that, I would like to settle there.

So I decided a few months ago to embark on a new project. I can not say too much for the moment because the project is still at the initial stages but the idea would be to set up a completely organic farm. The first stage of this project is the study of the Senegalese consumer market and the construction of premises that I would need.

This project is very important to me because I feel that in this society, once we have studied in a given sector, we lose our freedom and we suffer a double pressure from our environment. We are forced to take “any work” as long as it matches our level of education and allows us to have a good salary. For me, work is an integral part of our flowering and it is essential to try to live our dreams, as crazy as they may appear to others. How many acquaintances get up each morning to accomplish tasks that slowly kill their real needs …! To be in agreement with oneself is a quest that one must pursue, even if it fails, at least one has no regrets …

On childhood:

I find in Senegal several things that I miss in France. The sense of family, solidarity, freedom but also the spirituality and atmosphere of joy that emerges. I like that we have no restrictions, we can undertake several activities at the same time. And above all, every day is different, there is something unpredictable peculiar to all Africa, every day has its share of surprises, it can be confusing when one is accustomed to life in Europe but at the same time, it is richer and we enjoy life better. 

I have memories of my summers in Senegal as a child, with my little sister. We lived in my grandmother’s family home, in a popular district of Dakar, and we spent our days on the street with our friends in the neighborhood, inventing all kinds of games without ever getting bored. Things were simple and we did not need much for a wonderful holiday.

On Africa:

Amilcar Cabral is an emblematic figure of the West African anti-colonial struggle. I think he understood that agriculture is the first sector of economic development in Africa and a prerequisite for it to become self-sufficient and economically independent. We have huge agricultural potential that is not sufficiently exploited in my opinion and a large part of this potential is unfortunately taken over by foreign countries who have understood that the current acquisition of land will be a lucrative asset for them in the near future. We have come to a point where everything is ruled by money, consumption and instantaneous use of resources and products. Today, a great deal of natural resources are being destroyed, some of which will be exhausted in the distant future, with a growing world population. 

We are witnessing the limits of growing inequalities between rich and poor, a disconnect between city and countryside and consumers who are no longer aware of what they consume and the impacts of their diet on health. It is clear that food chains in many countries, especially Western, are composed of many private intermediaries whose main objective is to gain an economic margin. Agroecology is a way to reconnect with what you consume, protect our resources, regain pride in the farmer’s profession, social justice and consumer confidence. But it should not be the sole concern of producers because they are subject to the “free market”; it must be initiated by society in the broadest sense, the consumer above all, and the producer via the scientific and political community. 

People need to be ready for Africa building sustainable infrastructure and agronomic practices and I do not feel that this is really the case today. There is always a lot of work to be done in terms of environmental protection. If part of the population has concerns, beautiful agricultural projects emerge in agroecology and some areas remain well protected by their inhabitants. We can also see that for many, quick profitability remains the watchword even if some projects are not economically sustainable. Tourism, agriculture and energy, are starting to follow the same path as elsewhere unfortunately and I very much hope that mentalities evolve faster than damage to the landscape and the environment.

I think there is still a complex in Africa in comparison to the West and that has huge consequences for economic development. There is so much potential internally and yet everything still depends on the West. I believe we should stop always wanting to compare ourselves to others and focus on ourselves to create an economy that takes into account cultural realities which also needs the local population.

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