Mozambique: Agribusiness land grabs spark resentment (AFP)

| December 14, 2015

Download this story

In recent years, the immense reserves of gas and coal in northern Mozambique have attracted foreign investors. But so has the fertile soil—and small-scale farmers are being displaced by large farming projects.

Regina Macomba received 6,500 Mozambican meticals [US$126] when she sold her house and two hectares of land to an agribusiness venture. But the farmer, now in her 50s, didn’t have a choice about whether or not to sell.

She was bought out by Agromoz. The company is a joint venture between the Amorim Group, owned by Portugal’s wealthiest family, and Intelec, owned by former Mozambican president Armando Guebuza. In 2012, Agromoz received a government concession to farm on 10,000 hectares in a remote area near the border with Malawi.

Hundreds of farmers like Ms. Macomba were evicted to make way for a mega-farm that will grow soybeans for chicken feed.

Ms. Macomba now lives in Mutuali, 2,000 kilometres north of the capital, Maputo. She recalls, “Three days after receiving my … payment, the bulldozers arrived to destroy our homes, and we had to carry our belongings and food away on our heads as the sun came up.”

Near Ms. Macomba’s residence stands a wooden frame which will eventually become Arnaldo Francisco’s house. The 26-year-old farmer was also evicted in 2013, but has yet to put a new roof over his head. As he de-seeds piri-piri peppers, he explains, “I’ve had to tend my crops first.”

Ms. Macomba and Mr. Francisco do not read or speak Portuguese, Mozambique’s official language. Yet they both signed detailed documents to sell their property—without understanding them.

Agromoz says it acted in accordance with the law and conducted the entire process with full transparency.

Andre Luft is Agromoz’ chief executive officer. He says, “It wasn’t the company that fixed the level of compensation, but the Mozambican government which determined what should be paid to each family.” However, Mr. Luft acknowledges that the swift eviction of the farmers tarnished the company’s public image.

Agromoz says its project was behind schedule because of community consultations. The company is currently using only one-fifth of the concession, which means that other small-scale farmers still face the threat of eviction.

Antonio Muagerene is the head of PPOSC, an umbrella group which unites local civic groups. He places the blame for the current tensions on the government, which he says has failed in its role as mediator. Mr. Muagerene adds, “The Agromoz situation is explosive; nobody knows what could happen.”

Non-governmental organizations are concerned that the Agromoz scenario could be repeated on a much larger scale. The Prosavana project, for example, emerged from a 2009 agreement with Brazil and Japan, and covers 10 million hectares.

The first draft of the project calls for adopting industrial farming practices used in Brazil to boost Mozambique’s capacity to export soybeans. Farmers’ associations are outraged that exports are prioritized when five million Mozambicans suffer from chronic food insecurity. According to Prosavana’s coordinator, Antonio Limbau, a second draft of the project takes into account many of the concerns voiced by small-scale farmers and civic groups.

Manuel Pedro Massava is a representative of Mutuali’s farmers. He is skeptical that the project will treat farmers any better than in the past.

He warns, “Agromoz was a lesson for us. We saw how people were treated, and the same thing will happen with Prosavana.”

To read the article on which this story is based, Mega agrobusiness fuels growing resentment in Mozambique, go to:

Photo: Hundreds of small farmers in northern Mozambique have been evicted since 2013 to make way for a mega farm that will produce the soybeans for feed for chickens. Credit: AFP Photo/Adrien Barbier