UNAC’s 3rd International Conference about Land

Another International Conference about Land, organized by the National Peasants Union (União Nacional de Camposeses, UNAC), took place in early October in the Telecommunications of Mozambique (Telecomunicações de Moçambique, TDM) conference centre. It was a privilege to hear the peasants testimonies, concerns and appeals… most of which, unfortunately, remain unresolved and unanswered. The main issues addressed were:

  • Land conflicts that are getting worse all over the country. Farmers who find themselves competing with megaprojects, like plantations, for land that rightfully belongs to them;
  • The lack of market and of product flow paths, which sometimes leads to rotten goods;
  • Unfair competition with imported products from South Africa and Swaziland. Although most of the products from our farmers are organic, consumers end up choosing the cheapest and “nice-looking” products in detriment of local goods;
  • Community Consultation misguided and biased, often involving only community representatives and not the community as a whole, which allows leaders to be misled or even bribed, in exchange for personal benefits and at the expense of the welfare of the whole community;
  • The lack of incentives and of a specific policy for the preservation of local seeds and local knowledge, pushing farmers to purchase improved seeds that lead to having low production results;
  • Prosavana, because it is being imposed and because it is a top to bottom program which endangers the land and livelihood of peasants, clearly embracing agro-businesses;
  • Other issues raised were the lack of subsidized agricultural credit, lack of extension workers, ..

The problems are many, the feeling of abandonment is widespread and the fear of questioning and complaining is permanent. How can we be facing this scenario in a country that does not tire of glorifying itself over its excellent and progressive land law, and where over 80% of the population depend on agriculture?

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Nothing about us without us! (Photo credit: JA!)

Another much discussed matter were the seeds: the qualities of local seeds vs the qualities of improved and genetically modified seeds that we thought we were not allowed in Mozambique, but which the Ministry Of Agriculture (Ministério da Agricultura, MINAG) is clearly keen to introduce. In fact, there are already experimental fields. In his presentation, the representative of MINAG praised widely the benefits of clearly questionable genetically modified organisms, and even said we cannot have an aversion to new technologies. The concerns of farmers are ignored, the concerns of non-governmental organizations are ignored – that is when they are not also accused of having outside interests – and there is plenty of evidence that shows us that by adhering to all forms of greedy development, based on the extraction of all types of natural resources and on the commodification of nature, the government is mortgaging the future of the country. The examples of large and serious impacts of new agro businesses programs like Prosavana, which are done with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are numerous, but still, those in charge insist on not accepting them, and insist on following the path of profit at the expense of people and the environment.

The conviction of the representative of MINAG on benefits of GMO’s, and the fact that he did not mention a single negative point, showed the pathway that the government chose to follow on this matter, despite the clear objections of the peasants who were present, despite the positioning of UNAC and several other civil society organizations. The way sensitive issues such as GMOs are approached is daunting, with only the “positives” being taken into account and no negative aspect being even mentioned. The peasants clearly said they want their native seeds, because the improved seeds do not germinate, because they do not want to pay for seeds every sowing season, because they do not want to become dependent on large agro business companies. But the government representatives said they were not prepared to discuss that issue at the forum, they had only been asked to present their work.

Although very briefly, the Nacala Corridor Strategic Economic Development Plan (Plano Estratégico de Desenvolvimento Económico do Corredor de Nacala, PEDEC), which the presenter defined as a set of strategies for economic development of the Nacala corridor, and safeguarding social and environmental aspects, was also presented at the conference. How this plan safeguards the social and environmental aspects of the area, remains a mystery among many other details of this immense and greedy program. Several issues remained “in the air”, as most of those present were totally in the dark regarding this program. The presenter had little or nothing to say when faced with questions, but assured that the 400 page study gives proper details and addresses concerns. The representative of GAZEDA, also responsible for the presentation of this program, stated that the PEDEC does not include Prosavana, that they are separate programs.

In the end, the reports and testimonies of current land conflicts were played down by one of the representatives of the government who said that the Law of the Land is quite clear and that there is no room for debate. If there are land conflicts they should be resolved with the Law of the Land. According to the same individual, there should be no doubt regarding this, so we asked him why then do these conflicts remain unresolved until today… the worst blind is the one who does not want to see.

The 3rd International Conference about Land confirmed the total lack of alignment between what farmers want and how they want to develop, and what the government wants economic development for Mozambique to be: designed at the highest level with its cooperation partners rather than with Mozambicans, and based on programs already implemented in other parts of the world, which benefit countries like Japan, a major player in both the PEDEC and Prosavana.

Any organization that seeks to question and wishes to obtain better understanding of these programs is labeled by some members of the government as “serving foreign interests”. It is hilarious to hear these comments from people who are implementing programs that are completely imported, and are against development… all to avoid having to answer difficult questions that have been consistently placed…

One of the questions that many farmers have posed during this conference was: “Ultimately, who does this government serve?”… No one dared to answer!

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