Despite repeated failures, Mozambique Minister still wants big plantations
Jose Pacheco, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, is offering foreign investors 150,000 hectares of irrigation projects which need $2.5 billion in investment.
Mozambique News Reports and Clippings | 17 July 2017
By Joseph Hanlon
No new plantation has succeeded since independence, neither state nor private. But it has not stopped Frelimo leaders since Samora Machel from dreaming of giant mechanised farms funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from abroad. The latest is Jose Pacheco, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security and a member of the Frelimo Political Commission, who is offering 150,000 hectares of irrigation projects which need $2.5 billion in investment.
At the 8-9 June Tete Infrastructure Forum a list of huge projects was tabled, with dams, highways, railways and electricity lines. Pacheco tabled projects on five rivers, costing $14,000 to $28,000 per hectare. (There is a table
of the five projects in the attached pdf version of this newsletter.)
Zitamar (12 June) points out
that this is above the $12,000 per hectare that the World Bank sees as the normal cost. The World Bank notes that small scale irrigation is much cheaper, $4500 per hectare, and notes that Mozambique has the potential for 94,000 ha of small scale irrigation and 99,000 ha of large scale irrigation (only two-thirds of Pacheco's proposal).
The World Bank report concludes that "the irrigation technology with the greatest potential in the drylands is community-based small-scale irrigation". It continues: "Although there is considerable scope for developing new large-scale irrigation schemes in the drylands, the economic, institutional, and technical conditions remain demanding."
It is important to stress that not one new plantation or large irrigation scheme has succeeded since independence - neither state nor private. Each time I say this, people point to projects they are sure will succeed, but so far none has. Pacheco promises 10% or more rates of return, as have so many of the failed large schemes.
From the colonial era and early post-independence period Mozambique has inherited several large irrigation schemes, including Chokwe on the Limpopo, Nguri in Cabo Delgado, and Munda-Munda and Intabo in Zambezia, which have never been made to work effectively and profitably. Yet small scale irrigation is already in use in various parts of the country, and could be expanded. It is not easy, and would require technical support and funding from government. But it would have much more chance of success.
In 2002, Agriculture Minister Helder Mutea told me that he was sure foreign investors would fly in and agree on plantation investments in just a couple of days, and this would end poverty. It did not happen, but 15 years later, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco is saying the same thing. It is time to admit this is not going to happen, and instead look to small scale domestic farming investment backed by the government.
Portucel: trading land for jobs did not work
The largest foreign investment plantation in Mozambique is benefitting few local people, according to a study released last month and a civil society statement in May. Peasants gave up land on the promise of jobs, but in practice there are few jobs, and 75% of local people say their lives are no better.
Portucel seemed to have the potential to be successful because it is a partnership 80% owned by Navigator, a major Portuguese pulp and paper company, and 20% owned by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. Navigator produces paper largely from eucalyptus trees, and in 2009-11 was granted 356,000 hectares in Manica (183,000 ha) and Zambezia (173,000 ha) on which to plant eucalyptus. If all in one piece, it would be an area 60 km by 60 km, and is triple the size of Navigator's plantations in Portugal.
Portucel follows a "mosaic" model in which it intends to plant two-thirds of its land and allow local people to remain on the other third - thus avoiding resettlement. Families are allowed to keep 2.9 ha, but in some cases the 12 metre high eucalyptus trees come right up the edge of the farm.
Five civil society organisations which serve with government and Portucel on an advisory committee issued a statement in May demanding "the Government and Portucel Mozambique redesign their policies and ways of acting as a way of achieving inclusive and more sustainable development. The Government must take corrective measures and play its role to promote the welfare of the people."
The new study is by Natacha Bruna of the Rural Observatory (Observatorio do Meio Rural, OMR) and she interviewed people in two districts of Zambezia. Local people told her they were not properly consulted, as required by the Mozambican land law, before Portucel was given land; 80% of those surveyed said they had not known about the consultations. Some people said they were pressured by government and local leaders to agree, and a government representative admitted to Bruna that there was some resistance in the community to giving up land and that local leaders were used as "facilitators" to persuade the communities.
The main reason that local people supported the project was they thought they were being promised permanent jobs in exchange for giving up land. Instead, Portucel has only created 251 permanent jobs, of which 15 are for foreigners; only 9% of families that gave up land gained permanent jobs. There have been 3000 seasonal or short term jobs, paying 127 Meticais (about $2) per day, but most of those are in the early planting period.
The reduced land area of individual farms has led to both a drop in food production and a reduction in the area left fallow between crops, according to Bruna. Another report, by Centro Terra Viva, says that the original proposal was the trees would only be planted on marginal land, but in practice good fertile farmland has been used in some places.
Navigator says it will invest $2.3 bn on the project. Of this $40 mn is to go for "social development" - $1600 for each of the 25,000 families in the project area, or $112 per hectare. The local complaint is that this support for inputs and local roads has mainly gone to traditional leaders and the already better off, increasing local class divisions. Support for somewhat larger "emergent farmers" has led to an increase in production of two cash crops, soya for chicken feed and feijao boer (pigeon pea) exported for dal.
The Rural Observatory study is highly critical of government. "No mechanism has been established by the government for the monitoring, evaluation and certification of the level of implementation of the sustainability plan presented by the company," which is therefore free to do what it wants to maximise its own profit. Instead of monitoring the relationship of the company to the community, local government officials look to Portucel to finance and support public sector activities, from office material to the education and health sector.
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Portucel has half of all the forestry plantations in Mozambique. The other two big forestry plantation groups are held by Green Resources (Norway), which has scaled back and reorganized, and the South Africa government owned Safcol, which owns Ifloma, which is not currently in operation, South Africa Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said on 8 March.
Natacha Bruna, Rural Observatory report.
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