Nelly Bassily | May 3, 2010
Antoinette Dembélé was kicked off her land. Her garden allowed her to feed the three children of her deceased daughter. But it was destroyed to make room for an irrigation canal built by a Libyan company called Malibya. The canal would allow the cultivation of rice for export. “My garden was very important,” Ms. Dembélé laments. “It produced a good yield. I depended on no one to eat and pay my taxes.”
Ms. Dembélé is not the only one affected. A large land grab is occurring in the Macina commune of south central Mali, along the fertile lands of the Niger delta. A government agency called Office du Niger administers lands in this commune.
The single word “REMOVE” was handwritten on the wall of Sidiki Sanogo’s business. Mr. Sanogo is the owner of a bar in Macina commune. Giving him no notice, the administrators of Office du Niger authorized the destruction of Mr. Sanogo’s business. Once again, the decision was made to accommodate Malibya’s irrigation canal.
Land belonging to 57 families was seized. The families received no compensation. Entire villages lived on the 100,000 hectares the Malian government leased to the Libyan company for 50 years. Malibya pays nothing to the government for the use of the lands. They pay only a tax on water usage.
Auguste Drago is Director General of Office du Niger. He promises that compensation will be provided to locals soon. But he does not say when and how they will be compensated. “We can compensate them in kind. We can compensate them with buildings, houses, and we can set up orchards. Otherwise, we can give them cash,” Mr. Drago says.
The main local criticism of Office du Niger is lack of information and transparency. The agreement between the Libyan company and the Malian government was never made public.
Ibrahima Coulibaly is President of a peasant union called Coordination nationale des organisations paysannes au Mali. Mr. Coulibaly reviewed the agreement and is worried. He believes this document could result in total catastrophe. He fears that the lands administered by Office du Niger might become a Libyan colony.
Afatham Ag Alassane is Mali’s Minister of Agriculture. He is not worried about the water used by Malibya, or about the final destination of the 200,000 tonnes of hybrid rice that Malibya will produce per year. Mr. Alassane is convinced that Malibya is investing in Mali as part of a mutually beneficial partnership. However, the agreement doesn’t clearly define what will happen to the rice. He says, “You know, in agreements, there is always a way to find a consensus so that, if a crisis occurs, the production yielded in Mali may serve both the Malians and the Libyans.”
According to Mr. Coulibaly, Libya is using its oil money to buy everything. He cautions that the use of farmland must not be taken lightly. It must be looked at very carefully because it represents “tomorrow’s food sovereignty”.
Though farmers are opposed to the Libyan company’s presence, administrators from Office du Niger want to attract other foreign investors from the Gulf states, China, India, and Europe.
In addition to the irrigation canal, Malibya is building roads to access the lands. Some Malians are working on the project and are happy with the jobs. But others say that Malian farmers are becoming mere employees in their own country, on farm lands conceded to foreigners.