According to several sources, the Secretary-General of the IOC, Jean-Claude de l'Estrac, has referred to a request for a land concession for the project of 20,000 ha in the region of Menabe which was approved by the Malagasy authorities
"Madagascar, breadbasket of the Indian Ocean": A risky plan to be handled with care
Under the initiative of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), Madagascar is the focus of a large project to produce and export agricultural products to ensure the food security of this regional space. But this process, which was drawn up in the midst of a deep political crisis in Madagascar, raises the spectre of land grabbing, against the interests of Malagasy peasants and people, which would go against the objectives of the project. A meeting of investors, engineers, technical and financial partners that will take place in Mahajanga, west Madagascar, on 25-27 March 2013, with the participation of the transitional government of Madagascar as well as regional authorities, will be a critical step toward "concrete commitments" of the different parties.
Upon learning of the upcoming meeting on "Food security in the Indian Ocean: Investing in agricultural production" which will take place in Mahajanga on 25-27 March 2013 under the auspices of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), the Collective for the Defence of Malagasy Lands - TANY wants to draw the attention of participants, project planners and decision makers involved in this project which aims to make Madagascar "the breadbasket of the Indian Ocean".
Several issues need to be taken into consideration during this meeting which forms parts of a vast ongoing agricultural project in Madagascar, drawn up by the IOC and relying on the Malagasy Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI). The IOC, composed of five member states -- Comoros, La Réunion/France, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles -- risks going against its own mission, which is to "strengthen the ties of friendship and solidarity between people and build regional projects for sustainable development aimed at protecting and improving living conditions and preserving the natural resources upon which people depend."(1)
The project is in a very advanced stage
While supporting the process to resolve the political crisis in Madagascar, the IOC has been developing an agricultural program since 2011 (2). The Commission has taken on board a report produced by Shafick Osman (3), a Mauritian expert and consultant, in September 2012. After a "brainstorming" meeting in Antananarivo, the project was elevated to the rank of proposal during the 8th Indian Ocean Islands Forum in La Réunion (4), in which a Malagasy delegation of 80 people participated. A preparatory workshop for the Platform meeting was held mid-January 2013 in the Malagasy capital.
In the current political context, it is illegitimate to try to bring such a project forward in Madagascar. The Commission should wait until Madagascar's presidential, legislative and municipal elections have been held so that elected representatives of the Malagasy people can participate in the discussions. This project, which aims to ensure the food security of the people of the five islands, would require huge land areas of Madagascar.
According to several sources, the Secretary-General of the IOC, Jean-Claude de l'Estrac, has referred to a request for a land concession for the project which was approved by the Malagasy authorities (5). The concession concerns 20,000 hectares in the region of Menabe (6). The Malagasy transitional government does not have the power to take such decisions (7), and both the national and regional authorities have been strangely silent on the means and objectives of this project.
Respect the legitimate land rights of the Malagasies
The IOC project is founded on the dangerous idea that Madagascar should be a "reservoir of arable land" for the West Indian Ocean as it represents “90% of the Indian Ocean arable land” and because of the existence of large uncultivated areas there (8).
It is important to stress that part of the land of Madagascar is composed of mountains that are too steep to farm, millions of hectares of quarries, forest zones and protected areas. Land areas that some consider "empty and unoccupied" are in fact occupied by peasants who live and farm there since generations or use them for extensive livestock production and herding. Conflicts over the most fertile lands pitting local communities with their family- based models of food production against new investors seeking large areas of farmland are well known in Madagascar and competition between interested investors due to "scarcity of lands suitable for agro-industry" have been documented by the Land Observatory (9).
Like the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (10), the latest report of the World Bank entitled "Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness" (11) underscores the necessity of respecting rural families' rights to use land for their own subsistence and livelihoods.
These legitimate land rights must be taken into account in a serious and effective way by all parties to the IOC program. Otherwise, this project aiming to ensure the food security of the people of the Indian Ocean will become a source of land grabbing in Madagascar, undermining the rights of Malagasy people and threatening their own food security.
The need for transparency and benefits for the peasants
Three regions have already been identified as pilot zones. Were the local communities in Menabe consulted, especially regarding the 20,000 hectares already mentioned? How about those in Vakinankaratra, where rice will be grown for export, and those in Sofia, which will produce onions? (12) What concrete proposals were made to the peasants who will be affected?
Total transparency on this IOC project is necessary, whether that concern the mapping of the target areas, the type of land acquisition and transaction proposed (long-term lease, purchase, etc), the agricultural production model planned for each crop (agribusiness or contract farming with small peasant producers), the number of jobs for Malagasy workers to be created by the companies involved, the anticipated export tax revenues, etc.
In La Reunion as in Mauritius, public institutions and authorities are carrying out, in the framework of this project, an investment strategy in farming on Malagasy lands. Since March 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mauritius Arvin Boolell has encouraged Mauritian economic actors to take an interest in Madagascar (13) while the Regional Council of La Réunion has invested in Malagasy organic rice ((14) and would like to acquire rice paddies according to some sources (15).
The former president of the Chamber of Agriculture of La Réunion has expressed reservations on the proposal to turn Madagascar into "the breadbasket of the Indian Ocean". He insists that the project should be limited to rice only and warns that other Malagasy farm products could flood local markets in La Réunion and discourage producers there.
In Madagascar, the Minister of Agriculture has himself stated that "The objective is self-sufficiency in rice by 2018, with a production level of 12 million tonnes" (16) but no concrete elements support this proposal. On the initiative of the CCI, regional representatives have been negotiating directly with investors during the latest Indian Ocean Forum in La Réunion (17).
The different impacts and benefits for small Malagasy producers require more studies and clarifications. Any project aiming to ensure the food security of the Indian Ocean through regional cooperation must be focused on the future for peasants in Madagascar as well as on the other islands.
Paris, 22 March 2013
The Collective for the Defense of Malagasy Lands – TANY
(7) http://lexpressmada.com/feuille-de-route-pour-la-sortie-de-crise-a-madagascar-madagascar/27525-engagements-des-acteurs-politiques-malgaches.html article 8
(9) http://www.lagazette-dgi.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28484:grenier-de-locean-indien-un-projet-en-gestation-pour-soutenir-le-pays&catid=45:newsflash&Itemid=58, http://www.lexpressmada.com/5426/riziculture-madagascar/40154-deux-nouveaux-greniers-a-riz-en-vue.html
(11) http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/cfs/Docs1112/VG/VG_Final_FR_May_2012.pdf articles 3b6, 3b8, 3b9, 7.3, 9.9, 12.2
(13) http://www.acclimate-oi.net/en/adaptation-securite-alimentaire-cooperation-regionale-riziculture-maurice%20%20 http://www.lagazette-dgi.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11363&Itemid=57
(17) http://www.newsmada.com/index.php/economie/3451-feioi-madagascar-est-de-la-partie#.UUTU11clKOg Feioi : Madagascar est de la partie