Thirty-one families from the districts of Lichinga and Sanga in northern Mozambique have not been able to harvest any crops this 2008/2009 season due to their obligatory withdrawal from their crop areas (machambas) to other new areas because of a “reforestation” megaproject. The inhabitants are blaming the reforestation projects for the devastation of their machambas.
Less than 10 years ago, Niassa was identified by the Government of Mozambique and bilateral Swedish Aid as one of the regions in the world with the greatest potential for timber production. Over 2.4 million hectares were identified for possible tree plantations.
In order to encourage investment in the forestry sector, the Malonda Foundation was set up in 2006 to establish partnerships with national and foreign investors. To ensure and attract investment, the Foundation needed to obtain the concession of vast tracts of land. In Mozambique, the State owns all the land and can only allocate rights over community lands through a process of community consultation and negotiation. In practice, these consultations and negotiations were not sufficiently wide or comprehensive.
A recent report from the Swedish Bilateral Aid Helpdesk (October 2008) on the consultations and negotiations over community lands confirmed what had been verified in the field: “a tendency to work only with traditional leaders...resulting in a feeling of marginalization in the population.”
Very often the traditional kinglets, ignoring the law regulating land use and pursuing financial interests, sign documents for the forestry area investors, placing at risk the peasants’ right to use the land. The companies maintain contact with the kinglets of the respective areas haphazardly. The inhabitants only notice the existence of a particular project when it is already being implemented.
In the case of the Mussa-Chimbunila region in the District of Lichinga, land concession has been problematic. Up to 25% of the concession granted to the Foundation overlaps with productive community lands.
Idrissa Assane, president of the Mussa Farmers Association said she saw her machamba being measured without any prior information. “In an attempt to obtain some explanation I addressed the local structures, specifically the kinglet and later the administrative office and the reply was that I had to wait. To my horror I see that there is a project to plant trees on my land and here I am still waiting,” Assane lamented in 2008.
The 31 peasant families in the Assane region had areas where they grew much food sustaining their families all the year round. In the machambas abandoned because of the pine plantations they left many fruit trees behind such as banana, mango, pear, papaya, pineapple, peach, avocado and loquat trees and many root crops.
Following many complaints made throughout 2008, the Foundation started to respond to the question of how to find new areas for the affected families’ crops. The Foundation technicians opened up new areas, provided seeds and fertilizer but this was all done too late. According to UNAC (the National Peasant Union) corn crops will be very poor. However the Maloda Foundation promised that there would be food security in the districts where it works.
In the village of Mussa, District of Lichinga, Baptista Iussufo Imede regretted that he had been obliged to leave his machamba with a large crop and allocated another area where the late sowing and inappropriate fertilizer for corn had resulted in failure.
Baptista and other families affected by the process have neither a cob of corn nor any other crops, stated Iussufo.
The Foundation’s Bulletin “Noticias de las Comunidades” (News from the communities) contains information stating that the peasants are satisfied with their new machambas. This and other news in the Bulletin are neither true nor the community’s real situation, according to information given by Salimo Ndala from the village of Mussa. According to him he was sad about the obligatory withdrawal, the lateness of tilling, sowing and the fertilizer – which, contrary to the statement of the Foundation’s bulletin, are not satisfactory. A photo of Ndala appears in the bulletin.
According to some of the community voices contacted by the National Peasant Union Bulletin, “in Mozambique laws only defend the rich and not the poor;” This position is upheld by Baptista Iussufo Imede from the village of Mussa, District of Lichinga:
“In Niassa, all the reforestation projects enter with policies that do not favour the communities in terms of peasant development. They do not comply with the land law, with its clauses that say that community lands require consultation with the communities, pasture areas, conservation areas and consuetudinary rights.”
Ndala told the UNAC Bulletin that increasingly the peasants are becoming more vulnerable because some of the kinglets work for personal interests.
Rematuo Issa regrets that very often it is not the peasant women who take decisions: everything ends up with the men and the women only comply.
“Under these circumstances, it is the woman who most suffers, together with the children. Where is the struggle against poverty that the Government is always talking about? Is it that peasants will come out of poverty without land? Is this the Green Revolution?” asks Rematuo.
By Alifa Aide, Niassa, Lichinga, Mozambique. Sent by Janet Gunter, CAFOD, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org