Senegal is encouraging Malaysian companies to explore and seize opportunities in its oil and gas (O&G) industry, says its Ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Adrienne Diop.

She said the Senegal Government recently discovered a huge offshore oil reserve off the West African country's Atlantic coast.

Therefore, it was not only a new sector for Senegal but also a new opportunity for investors to gain advantage from the industry, she noted.

"It (O&G) is a new business for us (Senegal). We need to learn the technologies and technicalities in the O&G industry. Malaysia has done well in O&G and also has good training centres. Therefore, we hope to send our students to learn from Malaysia," she told Bernama in an interview recently.

To better equip its people to undertake works in the O&G industry, Diop said her government was planning to send Senegalese students to Malaysia's Institut Teknologi Petroleum PETRONAS (INSTEP) in Terengganu state by year-end.

INSTEP is a state-of-the-art technical training institute owned by Petronas Technical Training Sdn Bhd (PTTSB). Established in 1981, it aims to accelerate human capital development to support the growth of Petronas as well as Malaysia's O&G industry. Currently, the training institute also serves international clients from over 15 countries, as part of its aspiration to be a "Leading Partner of Choice in O&G Technical Learning and Certification".

Diop said promoting education, tourism and business networking were imperative in strengthening and broadening people-to-people contact.

She said there was a spike in the number of Senegalese students in Malaysia, to between 70 and 80 people from only 10 to 15 previously, following various partnerships between the two countries.

Among them were collaboration in higher education to boost cooperation, exchange of teachers, and scholarships accorded to Senegalese students. These efforts are in line with the Malaysian Government's emphasis on making the country an education hub within the Southeast Asian region.

In March last year, the Malaysian Government offered 10 scholarships to students from Senegal in their bid to bridge the higher education gap between both countries.

Both sides also agreed to cooperate, support higher education and scientific relations between the institutions, as well as further encourage exchange programmes for academic staff and researchers.

The envoy said Senegalese prefer to study in Malaysia, considering its good quality and affordable price as compared to the United Kingdom, the United States or Canada, as well as its (Malaysia's) peaceful environment.

Diop said Senegal emulated some of Malaysia's success models, especially in services and administrative sectors, waqaf system, as well as the incentive system to support the small and medium enterprises.

"We are copying with some of the good things (in Malaysia) and we are on the way to doing that. Malaysians are generous in knowledge. If you have something good, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. If you are doing it well, we don't need to go and spend 20 years to do the same things," she added.

She explained that Senegal, with over 90 per cent of its population comprising Muslims, was currently setting up its own waqaf system.

The Senegal Government is also currently developing a new city near the town of Diamniadio, which is inspired by Putrajaya (Malaysia's administrative centre).

It is intended to ease congestion at Senegal's current capital of Dakar.

"This is interesting for businessmen because it is a new city that needs infrastructures like schools, hospitals, roads and affordable housing. It is good to come now as Senegal wants people to invest, especially in affordable housing for civil servants.

"We want Malaysia to present its knowledge and technical know-how in Africa, especially Senegal. Malaysian companies need to diversify and be more adventurous to venture out from their traditional markets like ASEAN, the United Kingdom and the United States. There is no barrier to international business with information technology and infrastructure facilities," noted Diop.

Currently, there are few Malaysian companies in Senegal, including Iris Corp Bhd, a digital identity and business solutions company which currently supplies 10 million identification biometric cards for a five-year period.

In May 2016, the company entered into a contract with Senegal's Interior and Public Security Ministry to produce and supply new multi-application identity biometric cards based on contactless chip technology and 10 fingerprint biometry.

On agriculture, Diop said Senegal's Agricultural Ministry hoped to finalise discussions on market access for Senegalese groundnuts in Malaysia by year-end.

She added the ministry was working on 'fitosanitario' (health and safety certificate) requirements with Malaysian authorities to enable the country to export its products directly to Malaysia, thus reducing costs. Previously, Malaysia imported Senegalese groundnuts from other countries.

Senegal, with an estimated population of 16 million, borders the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. Its economy is driven by mining, construction, tourism, fisheries and agriculture