Pine and eucalyptus planting companies are advancing on land belonging to peasant family communities in several provinces in northern Mozambique. This is a relatively recent process, encouraged by the Mozambique Government that sees monoculture tree plantations as a tool to promote development and progress in the more remote regions such as the province of Niassa.
The main incentives for monoculture tree plantations are focussed on this province. Niassa is the province farthest away from the capital city Maputo. It is the largest of the country’s ten provinces, the least populated and, what is very important for the companies, the province covers much flat and fertile land.
The companies have been granted concessions by the country’s central Government that allow approximately 250,000 hectares to be planted over a 50-year period. Presently five companies are working in the region with a total of 11,000 hectares of plantations and the forecast is to expand and cover approximately 100,000 hectares in the next few years. Funding is provided by the Swedish Government and the Global Solidarity Forest Fund, set up by various Swedish and Finnish Churches. This Fund states that it is offering employment to the communities and planting trees on degraded land that these have abandoned.
However, various negative impacts resulting from the expansion of monoculture tree plantations have been observed in the province of Niassa. After visiting some 10 communities in different districts, it became obvious that the main impact from the expansion of the plantations is related with the communities’ access to their land. In the first place, the companies are occupying lands in the vicinity of the communities as they are located near the highways and the companies intend to benefit from these highways to facilitate transportation of their harvest. Several communities have had to accept the presence of companies granted concessions by the central Government and, in some cases, at the very most a negotiation took place regarding where land could be occupied by the company.
Secondly, the communities do not agree with the companies’ statement that they are occupying degraded land. The fact is that the communities usually leave cropland fallow for some years after a cycle of plantation. This does not mean that the community has abandoned the land. The plantation of eucalyptus and pine on these lands reduces the future availability of land for the community. It should be noted that 80 % of the province’s population lives in rural areas.
Another of the negative impacts is related with employment. This is the argument the companies use to get the communities to accept the plantations, but there are complaints because jobs are only temporary, salaries are very low and transport is not always offered.
In the district of Lichinga and neighbouring districts, the Mozambique National Peasant Union (UNAC) – a member of Vía Campesina – and the Lichinga Peasant and Associations Union (UCA), are warning rural communities and society in general about such negative impacts. As an alternative, they propose obtaining more support and encouragement for community food production. Finally, as various leaders have affirmed, “no-one eats eucalyptus.” Additionally, these Unions are standing up for respect and implementation of the 1997 Land Law in favour of the communities, before the companies start occupying the lands, as this Law guarantees the peasant communities access to the land and its ownership.
By Winnie Overbeek based on an exchange trip to Mozambique conducted in November 2009