After achieving independence in 1960, Senegal experienced several years of economic growth, mostly based on agricultural resources and increases in productivity. Senegal has a population of about 12 million people; 58% of the population is rural, but the majority of people living in rural areas are poor. Although 60% of the population works in the agricultural sector, agriculture accounts for only 15% of the total GDP of the country.
The Constitution of 2001 recognizes economic and social rights, including the right to own property for every citizen. The National Domain Law was intended to limit the influence of ethnic and religious hierarchies; it encourages a more productive use of land and the creation of better condition for agricultural exports, while also giving control over land to decentralized government bodies. The Rural Community Law of 1972 established the structure for rural councils, which have the authority to allocate use rights to land and the criteria for the improvement of production-based on local development plans. Despite several other land laws that have been passed, land access and use is primarily regulated by customary law that generally tends to favor elites.
Consequently, land disputes are increasingly common in Senegal. Additionally, open access rules and practices on public land lead to a situation in which everyone is entitled to use land without any consideration of the damages that may result. Mechanisms for dispute resolution include formal and customary procedures as well as alternative systems, such as arbitration boards and municipal councils.