Open letter to Tozzi Green, BIO, Finnfund and the governement of Italy

16 May 2024

Open letter
 to Tozzi Green,
 to the banks BIO in Belgium and FINNFUND in Finland
 to the government of Italy

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen.

We, farmers' organisations and Malagasy civil society organisations, are writing this letter to inform you of the intimidation and heavy pressure being suffered by the inhabitants of the Ambatolahy commmune in the Ihorombe region of Madagascar, where the Malagasy state has leased 11,000 hectares of land to the Italian multinational company Tozzi Green under two contracts of 30 years each, one in Satrokala and Andiolava communes in 2012 and the other one in 2018, the Ambatolahy commune was added. The company claims to have returned 3,900 hectares. When the company's jatropha project in the municipalities of Satrokala and Andiolava failed, it was replaced over large areas in the 3 communes until 2022, by the production of maize for animal feed, as well as the production of geranium for its essential oil. The company has now decided to replace the maize plantations with trees in order to sell carbon credits.

You, the company, know that since your arrival in the region, the inhabitants of the Ambatolahy commune have refused to give up their land. They make their living from livestock and agriculture, and need their land to raise zebu, which requires a large area for grazing. What's more, they say they have many children, and need to expand the areas they use to grow food for their families. In addition to the important role of zebus in their lives and traditions, they use them to break up the soil when ploughing.

The company has been financed by several banks, including the Belgian development bank BIO and the Finnish development bank FINNFUND.

The communities of Ambatolahy claim that the company's activities have not brought development to the majority of the population, but rather increased hardship. The areas where livestock can move and graze have now become restricted. The livestock are not in good health and no longer calve every year as they used to. The penetration of zebus on the company's plantations has caused various problems, and led to harsh financial penalties. In addition, they report that it had become difficult for zebus to get onto cultivated land to work the rice paddies and other fields. The company had stated that it would provide jobs for local people, but most of them were temporary or even daily, with wages often paid late. The company failed to keep some of the promises it had made to improve the lives of local people.

The company's new project will consist of acacias monoculture plantations mainly, as well as red eucalyptus that would be processed into essential oil. In October 2023, local residents signed a petition declaring their opposition to the project, which they took to mean that the company would remain in the area indefinitely (1). Then in April 2024, leaders of the lonaky associations (traditional 2authorities), the herders' association, the Comité de défense des terres and a federation of farmers' organisations wrote to the Office National pour l'Environnement (ONE) (2) stating that they had not been invited to the public consultation meetings on the project and that they were opposed to it because they are the ones who know where one can and should plant trees in a way that does not harm their zebu grazing areas. They added that they already planned to collaborate with the PLAE project - Programme de Lutte Antiérosive - which is committed to consulting communities on where to do so.

Since then,
- company representatives have approached the lonaky and organisation representatives to persuade them to change their minds and accept the company's project,
- then gendarmerie commanders held individual discussions with 5 men, lonaky and association leaders, but the latter maintained their refusal,
- For a week now, Tozzi Green's public relations manager has been in the field, conducting persuasion operations together with gendarmerie officers who are said to act as intermediaries in discussions between the company representative and the communities, but to no avail,
- A meeting took place on Monday 13 May between the company representative and two gendarmerie officers on the one hand, and the 5 people supported by some twenty ray aman-dreny (elders) on the other. The community members confirmed their rejection of the tree-planting project. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that the company representative would be responsible for taking the minutes. The people of Ambatolahy are now waiting for the minutes of the meeting to be signed by their representatives.

We, farmers' organisations and Malagasy civil society organisations, are very concerned about the interminable continuation of this effort of persuasion with the help of gendarmerie officers and about the evolution of the situation. The communities of Ambatolahy have the right to protect their land, their culture and their livelihoods. They have the right to express their refusal like all citizens of the world, and to maintain this position if it corresponds to their conviction and if they feel that a refusal is appropriate, especially in view of the results of the company's activities in their region over several years.

This is why we are writing and informing national and international public opinion of the current situation, and asking for the support of all citizens in Madagascar, Italy, Belgium, Finland and around the world who value justice and fairness, freedom of thought and expression, and the ability to hold opinions freely without intimidation or direct or indirect pressure.

As they themselves put it, the people of Ambatolahy are not against development, but want it for the majority, if not all, of the population. Their region is suffering from drought due to climate change. Despite 15 years of carbon markets and carbon offsetting, global climate change doesn't seem to be slowing down. On the contrary, its consequences are worsening. The communities say they don't support carbon credit projects. They are aware of the benefits of reforestation and are 3prepared to plant trees where they think it can be done without harming the development of zebu rearing, their sources of income or the future of their descendants.

16 may 2024

Signatories
Collectif pour la défense des terres malgaches – TANY
Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier – SIF
Comité National pour l’Agriculture Familiale - CNAF
FIFATA - Association pour le Progrès des Paysans
CAP Malagasy - Réseau Conseillers Agricoles de proximité
VFTM Menabe
VFTM Vakinankaratra
Vombo Bongolava
Fikotamifi Itasy
Fimpiama Haute Matsiatra
Fagnimbona Vatovavy sy Fitovinany
Vifam Alaotra Mangoro
Ffts Sofia
Sahi Haute Matsiatra
Rova Vakinankaratra
Fifatam Amoron’i Mania
BIMTT
Coalition des Paysans de Madagascar – CPM
ONG FIANTSO Madagascar
Réseau SOA - Syndicat des Organisations Agricoles
SIF Province Fianarantsoa
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