For a number of years, peasant farmer communities in the province of Niassa, in northern Mozambique, have been fighting back against the expansion of monoculture pine and eucalyptus plantations. This expansion has caused serious problems because it is taking over land from machambas, small family farms used to grow food. Now the struggle waged by these communities has received a significant boost.
Following denunciations made by the National Union of Peasant Farmers (UNAC), based on information gathered in the field by the Provincial Union of Peasant Farmers of Niassa (UPCN), and by WRM (1), the National Directorate of Land and Forests (DNTF), a government agency, has voiced harsh criticism of the conduct of pine and eucalyptus plantation companies in the region, on the basis of a recent field study.
According to an article published February 25, 2011 in the local Niassa newspaper “Faísca”, the DNTF concluded that Chikweti, the main plantation company in the region, has illegally occupied no less than 32,000 hectares of land, in addition to 30,000 hectares granted in concession by the government and another 14,000 hectares for which concessions are currently under study. This finding confirms the accusations made by the UNAC and local peasant farmers interviewed by WRM during a visit to the region: that plantation companies are taking over land in areas that have not been officially licensed to them.
The DNTF report also confirmed the allegations that the required community consultation processes were not properly carried out by the company. When the company tried to restrict talks to community leaders known as régulos, offering promises of jobs and resources, the community members were not heard, and subsequently revolted against their own leaders. According to the local newspaper, “a district administrator accused Chikweti of arrogance and ‘a lack of social responsibility.’”
The article noted that the DNTF report also found evidence of the invasion of machambas by tree plantations, which are sometimes a mere 10 metres from houses in the communities. According to the report, “when it negotiated the establishment of the plantations, Chikweti said it would only plant in marginal areas, but in fact it has invaded productive agricultural land.” In the administrative post of Maniamba, said the article, the company invaded the local community’s lands with promises of compensation that were never fulfilled.According to the UNAC, the peasant farmers rose up in protest and uprooted the company’s plantations.
And finally, the article said, the DNTF report also denounced the deforestation of native fruit tree forest areas, used by the local population as a source of food, in the district of Sanga.
The local newspaper highlights the fact that the main investor in Chikweti is the Global Solidarity Forest Fund (GSFF). Based in Sweden, the GSFF was founded by the Diocese of Västerås (Sweden), the Lutheran Church of Sweden and the Norwegian Lutheran Church Endowment. Today, one of the GSFF’s largest shareholders is the Dutch pension fund ABP.
One has to wonder, what is the opinion of this Global Solidarity Forest Fund and its investors regarding the denunciations that have now been made by an agency of the government of Mozambique itself? These organizations urgently need to analyze and take a position on this matter, because it has been clearly demonstrated that Chikweti’s operations cannot in any way be described as “solidarity”. On the contrary, its aim is to seek profits to the detriment of local peasant communities.
This matter has taken on even greater importance now that Chikweti is seeking FSC certification, supposedly a guarantee of “good forest management”, for its pine and eucalyptus plantations, through the FSC-accredited certifying body Soil Association Woodmark.
As has been amply demonstrated in previous WRM bulletins (see, for example, Bulletin No. 161), the FSC has been heavily criticized for granting its “green label” to monoculture pine and eucalyptus plantations around the world. The certification of Chikweti would be yet another mistaken move in the wrong direction on the part of the FSC, as well as an insult to the peasant communities of Niassa who directly suffer the problems caused by Chikweti.It should be noted that the Mozambique Land Law of 1997 guarantees peasant farmers, who make up the majority of the country’s population, access to their lands, which is crucial to ensure their food security and sovereignty.
In March of this year, the Swedish Cooperative Centre (SCC) arranged a meeting among representatives of Chikweti, the government and civil society. According to reports from the UNAC in Niassa, this meeting did not allow for meaningful dialogue, although a commission has been established to continue the debate over Chikweti. And in the meantime, another conflict flared up in the community of Licgole, where Chikweti continues occupying land and evicting peasant farmers. One community member was arrested and detained, but released several days later.
It should be stressed as well that the problem of Chikweti is not only a problem of this particular company. There are dozens of foreign investors coming to Mozambique with the aim of investing in land, often for projects involving monoculture plantations of trees or other crops for agrofuel production.
According to the UNAC, these companies negotiate directly with peasant communities, without government involvement, acquiring land in exchange for promises of benefits for the community. When these promises are broken, conflicts erupt, and it is when these conflicts become unmanageable that the companies seek the government’s support.
These companies appear to have an insatiable hunger for land, since between 2004 and 2009, according to the article in Faísca, concessions were granted for almost three million hectares of land in Mozambique. And while the hunger of these companies is being fed, the food security and sovereignty of the Mozambican people is becoming increasingly threatened.
(1) See WRM Series on tree plantations No. 14: “The Expansion of Tree Monocultures in Mozambique: Impacts on local peasant communities in the province of Niassa, a field report”
This article is based on information gathered from the National Union of Peasant Farmers of Mozambique (UNAC) and an article published in the newspaper Faísca, in Niassa, Mozambique, on February 25, 2011.