Mozambique: Land grabs force farmers off land (New Internationalist)

| May 27, 2013

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Sandrina Muaco is one of the six per cent of Mozambicans who make it past the age of 50. She lives in Maurunga village, in Chiure district, in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. Hers is one of 171 households displaced by foreign and domestic companies who have moved in on the fertile fields near the Lurio River.

Ms. Muaco’s six hectares of cashew trees were cleared to make way for Eco-Energia de Moçambique’s sugar processing plant. She recalls, “We used to spend a week picking nuts every harvest. I would sell the cashews and make alcohol from the fruits. The land produced a lot.”

In Chuire district, investors are seeking agricultural land for everything from bananas to biofuels. Like 80 per cent of Mozambicans, villagers here rely on agriculture to survive. But Muaco wasn’t a subsistence farmer. Her plot was four times the size of the average land holding. Eco-Energia paid $664 in compensation for Muaco’s trees and house, which were cleared to make way for the sugar cane plantation.

But two years on, the money has been spent on a new home, clothes, and renting an exhausted plot of land nearby. Ms. Muaco now scratches out a living growing cassava and maize. She concludes, “I lost everything.”

The sugar factory, as yet unused, now occupies the spot where Sandrina Muaco’s cashew trees once stood. In the long term, Eco-Energia hopes to get control of 30,000 hectares across the province, export organic sugar to Europe, and distil bioethanol.

Villagers say they did not know what they were getting into. Martiño Silva is the village’s traditional leader. He thought the lease was for four years. When Eco-Energia asked them for land, Mr. Silva says the villagers agreed. He explains, “We thought it would be a small area by the river. Then they said they needed more.”

Elsewhere in Chiure, villagers have lost access to valuable common resources. The German mining firm Graphite Kropfmühl cordoned off forests around scores of exploration sites. Farmers are cut off from seasonal staples such as wild tubers and beans, as well as bush meat, firewood, bamboo and medicinal plants.

One local woman blames the chef de aldea, the lowest ranking government official, for signing away her cashew, banana and mango trees. She now rents a plot half a day’s walk from her house. Aching muscles mean she can farm only every other day. Other villagers say the compensation process lacked transparency and was haphazard, missing some families altogether.

Luis Muchanga is with the national peasants’ union, UNAC. He likens the competition for land to a race. He says: “Companies have a strong appetite. There’s a lot of them, chasing resources. Internally, this sparks speculation, which goes beyond the capacity of local government [to regulate].”

As the United Nations Development Programme pointed out in its 2012 Human Development Report, “Private investors naturally prioritize their own objectives, not the well-being of the poor and the vulnerable.” UNAC land activist Diamantino Nhampossa puts it more bluntly: “The people are being cheated.”