Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries, despite an economic growth of over 6 per cent over the last few years. Around 50 per cent of the population continue to live on less than 1 US dollar a day and do not have access to basic services like safe water, schools and medical facilities. According to the Mozambican Technical Secretariat of Food and Nutrition Security (SETSAN), around 35 per cent of Mozambican households are chronically food insecure.
Mozambique’s development is deeply connected to the agricultural sector, as 80 per cent of the population live in the rural area. Since 2006, Mozambique has pushed hard to attract foreign investment into forestry and agriculture, facilitating large-scale foreign investments in agriculture and concessions to foreign investors. Investors flooded in, attracted by the promise of large areas of available fertile land, good climatic conditions and low land prices.
The Oakland Institute estimates that 1 million hectares have gone to foreign investors, 73 per cent of which are for the forestry sector and 13 per cent for agrofuels and sugar. Much of this land, claimed as unused, was in fact used by local communities. Therefore many of these investments have caused conflict and resistance.
Niassa is one of the regions where the government has promoted forestry projects and faced resistance. It is located in the north of Mozambique and is the country’s largest province at around 129,000 km².The provincial government aims to attract private investment for commercial plantations for 240,000 hectares by 2017.
The documentary film looks at the community of Licole, based in the region where Chikweti Forests of Niassa has expanded its plantations. Chikweti Forests of Niassa is a subsidiary of Global Solidarity Forest Fund (GSFF), a Sweden-based investment fund, co-owned by Dutch pension fund ABP, the Diocese of Västerås, and the Norwegian church endowment, OVF.. The fund promised to provide jobs and community based development for 3,000 people in Niassa on ‘unused or underused land’ and good returns to its investors.It seemed a win-win to everyone.
The reality has been very different.
- Grabbing of community lands. Communities in Niassa report that Chikweti invaded productive agricultural lands or expanded to lands which were not ceded to the companies. An investigation by Mozambican government agencies in September 2010, discovered that Chikweti had, at that point in time, obtained agreements for around 30,000 hectares, but was occupying another 32,000 hectares illegally threatening people’s livelihoods and food security. In the community of Licole, this seizure of lands led in April 2011, to peasants uprooting and cutting down some 60,000 pine trees on an area of 12 hectares with machetes and hoes, and destroying some equipment.
- Loss of access to forests has threatened subsistence for local communities.Community members use forest products for several purposes: firewood to cook, wood to produce charcoal,construction material, fruit and some forest plants for medicinal use. Some of these forest products are also used as additional sources of income.
- Failure to provide promise of secure jobs. Chikweti Forests promised to employ 3,000 people in 2011, but now only employs 1,100. Workers complain of harsh working conditions, poor wages, delayed payments of their salary, short-term contracts, long working hours and lack of support for local customs, which make it impossible for workers to attend funerals and other ceremonies.
- Impact on communities’ access to water. The tree plantations in Niassa also have severe impacts on the access to water of local communities. Eucalyptus and pine trees, grown on the plantations, are fast-growing trees with high water use. Some community members already indicate that the wells used during the dry season dry up earlier. Tree plantations can also affect local water by contaminating local streams and rivers with chemicals. The loss of access to water and water pollution is so far not the main concern raised by communities in the plantation areas. However, water use by plantations is linked to the age of the trees, reaching, for example, a peak at around 15 years for eucalyptus. As plantations get bigger, it is also likely to become a bigger issue.
- Environmental impacts. While Chikweti and GSFFs present their projects as ecological investment, tree plantations have severe environmental impacts from destruction of ecosystems to loss of biodiversity and impacts on soils. The establishment of Chikweti’s tree plantations has lead to the cutting down of native forests, which represent an important source of livelihood for local communities, as they are a source of fire wood, fruit and medicinal plants. The establishment of big monocultures of non-native species, such as pine and eucalyptus furthermore, leads to a loss of biodiversity, especially – but not only – when they replace areas previously covered with native forest.
- Inadequate consultation of local communities. Many of the complaints raised by the local population about the tree plantations are linked to the fact that, in several cases, consultations with local communities were not carried out, as Mozambican law stipulates, to ensure their effective participation. Communities report that either consultations didn’t happen, were falsified, gave out inaccurate or insufficient information, or were limited to only consulting with community leaders. This led, for example, to conflicts between the leader and the community in Licole, Kambalame and Mussa, where chiefs reportedly received bicycles and were employed as guards once the plantations had been established.
For more on Chikweti forests and land grabbing in Niassa, Mozambique, read ‘The Human Rights Impacts of Tree Plantations in Niassa Province, Mozambique published by FIAN and Hands off the Land Alliance: http://www.tni.org/report/human-rights-niassa-province