In Madagascar, an Indian company plans to rent nearly 500,000 ha


Le Monde | 21 March 2009 issue | unofficial translation by GRAIN | original French here

Special envoy, Antsohihy (Sofia region)

"Varun? That's a tree, right?" Refuged under a shelter as a downpour drenched the village square of Ambalavy in northwest Madagascar, André Rabenampiana says he knows the wood "varona" but has never heard of the Indian company Varun International. When the storm passed, the father of seven children went back home to tend his quarter of a hectare rice farm.

Rabenampiana does not suspect that his plot of rice land and those of his neighbors could soon be farmed by foreigners. He is not alone. Varun International plans to rent 465,000 hectares of land for fifty years, mostly in the regions of Sofia (170,000 ha), Menabe (165,000) and Atsinanana (100,000), and mostly on lands already in use. The company wants to grow rice on 80% of the area, plus maize and dal (lentils).

Land acquisitions by foreign corporations fueled the revolt that has just led to the downfall of President Marc Ravalomanana. On Wednesday 18 March, his successor Andry Rajoelina announced the cancellation of the contested sale of 1.3 million hectares of land to the South Korean company Daewoo. Aware of the political sensitivities, Varun tries to set itself apart: "Daewoo wanted to drive the peasants off their land. With us, there will be contracts," an official reassures.

For over a year, this subsidiary of Varun Industries (cooking utensils, oil...) has moved step by step to secure its agribusiness project worth 1.5 billion euros over ten years. It first had to get the the agreement of the Malagasy authorities. On 29 January 2008, the President of Varun Industries, Kiran Mahta, met with Marc Ravalomanana who was then head of state.


Mr Ravalomanana agreed to the deal on certain conditions. According to an informed source, "Varun had to make donations to [Ravalomanana's] private foundation, sell 15,000 stainless steel utensils at a reduced price to Tiko, the President's food processing company, and send Indian rice seeds for the President's rice fields." But the state only owns a small part of the land involved in the project. Nearly 85% of the targeted areas are already being farmed and their transfer requires the approval of the peasant owners. Varun International offered a deal: if the farmers agree to rent their land for 50 years, they will get 30% of the harvest.

The farmers shouldn't lose out given the promise of considerably increased yields. Tractors will replace zebus and more fertiliser will be used. Output is expected to rise from 3 to 12 tonnes of rice per hectare. Without doing anything, the farmers will get the same if not a larger amount of rice.


In one of the few houses of Ambalavy with a sheet metal roof instead of straw, Jean-Rémi Rivondrazana, the deputy mayor, is delighted. "Earn money without working? Who could ask for more?" beamed this farmer of two hectares. "The only problem is that the contract lasts for 50 years. I would have preferred 15 or 20 years. I am afraid a new colonisation."

In Antsohihy, the region's capital, an agricultural engineer raises other questions: "What will we do with all the farmers who will no longer have work? Varun told us they would give the people here jobs, but most of them live in the bush and are illiterate." The company promises to employ 10,000 people, or 1% of the affected farmers in a country plagued by unemployment. The region's top official, André Randriamanesy, welcomes the opportunity: "It's a win-win. They promised to bring electricity to the countryside, deliver drinking water and build schools and health centres."

The Director of Regional Development, Léon Mananjara, denounced the lack of transparency. "How can one make decisions on such enormous projects when the farmers are not even informed and we have no access to the details of the agreement?"

The challenge is not just local. Varun looks like the operational arm of an Indian state in search of land to feed its 1.1 billion people. A company representative, Tapas Kumar Bodaki, does not deny this objective but insists on their intention "to share the production with Malagasies so that they eventually become self-sufficient." From the start, 20% of the rice they produce will be exported to India. Varun says this will go up to 60% within ten years.
Original source: Le Monde


    20 Oct 2010

    its good that the economy power and country agriculture sector will grow more and also there an income to country+employment+rice production that madagascar importing from indian and other will good benifit.

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