“We, the poor.” This is how Francisco Chicompa introduces the peasant families who live in Napai II, a village in the district of Mecuburi, Nampula province. The label stuck like glue: poor is what they are called, and so poor is what they are. Even so, at 60, Francisco had never considered being anything other than a peasant farmer. This hard life had taught him to withstand the whims of nature and the uncertainty of the crops, it left his hands calloused and his already weak body stooped. It was a difficult life which he hadn’t chosen, but which he had never thought of leaving. Or not, at least, like this.
The land provided food for him, his wife and his eleven children. The land provided money to buy clothes and send the children to school. The land held memories of his ancestors, a diamond which he was obliged to pass on, intact, to future generations. His parents left seven hectares to him, to which he added three more, which he cleared with his own hands. It was everything he had and now he knows just how much that was.
“The negative impacts outweigh the positives”. This was the conclusion of the study on the “Progress of Forest Plantations on the Farmers’ Territories in the Nacala Corridor: the case of Green Resources Mozambique”. The study was proposed by a group of three Mozambican organisations: NGOs Livaningo and Justiça Ambiental (Environmental Justice), and União Nacional Camponeses (the National Peasants’ Union), and carried out in 2016 by Lexterra consultants. The representatives of the Mozambican Government do not share the same analysis: “There is no conflict of interest, quite the opposite, what we are seeing is that small-scale farmers are now concerned with increasing their areas of production, they now know that they really have to produce, they have to follow production techniques (...) It is news to us that there are peasants who are complaining about these companies’ presence,” says the vice-minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Luísa Caetano Meque, while she reads a document projected onto the wall, that her advisor writes down at the same time as the questions are asked. “Now we are just hanging on and on and on. Before we had the harvest, we could buy and sell on the market.” What Francisco calls “hanging on and on and on” the Government calls “development”. Like poverty, it always depends on the eyes of the beholder.
In Mozambique, the sale
of land is prohibited by law, but any family production which has
been operating for at least ten years has the Right to Use and Benefit from
the Land (DUAT by its Portuguese initials) freely and for life. This means that, in theory, the peasants’ authorisation would be vital for Green Resources to move forward. This would be a sort of gentlemen's agreement established in a community consultation and sealed by the local or national government, depending on the number of hectares requested.
Lack of land to cultivate, less food, more poverty: for the peasants of Napai II, this is the face of development. “They only paid for the cashew trees, but we got nothing for any of the other products that were in the machamba [smallholding]. I had 90 cashew trees on my land. I used to get five or six thousand meticais [90 euros] per year,” Francisco complains. He doesn’t know how much the other fruit trees used to provide, as it was his wife who would do the picking and selling at the market. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t want to; land is a heritage that cannot be translated into loose change: “There’s no point analysing it, knowing that I spent that much or harvested that much,” he explains.
“These calculations should be done by the Government, they are the ones who are responsible for protecting the people. But family agriculture isn’t open to corruption, it doesn’t provide opportunities for personal gains, so it is not of interest to them. Let’s imagine a scenario in which a peasant farmer is tired, he doesn’t see his life improving and he is even willing to give up his land. He could possibly expect to receive in exchange a value equivalent to what he would otherwise have produced over 10 or 20 years. There must be a fair way to assess this, it is not just a case of giving half a dozen meticais for a tree - one tree gives more than this in just a year,” states Anabela Lemos, director of NGO Justiça Ambiental. “And we mustn’t forget that peasants don’t live solely from agricultural production. Land is not only their livelihood: it has anthropological, social and cultural value, which is worth a lot. People put up with a lot of authoritarian actions, they put up with being marginalised, they see the forest recede, water being polluted, but the biggest demonstration of power they have is to defend the land,” adds João Mosca, director of the Rural Environment Observatory, an academic research centre that wants to contribute to agrarian and rural development in Mozambique.
Although peasants may be the weakest link in this power struggle, they stand united, they do not give in. The handwritten letter that Francisco holds in his hands is proof of this: “We ask the Property Registry Services to come and mark out the 30 hectares that they asked us for and get them to give us back 370 hectares, because what Lurio Green did to us has brought the people unforgettable sadness.” In this conflict resolution meeting, where representatives from local government, Green Resources and Napai II peasants are present, Francisco is the spokesperson for the many dozens of people who have gathered round in a circle. The company says that it received a DUAT of 1,800 hectares and that it has “visual records” of this meeting “in the queen’s house”. The peasants deny having participated in this community consultation and repeat that they only authorised the occupation of 30 hectares. Hilário Anapacala, the political leader of the District of Mecuburi, (who has been replaced since this meeting took place) is pressuring the population to give in to Green Resources’ demands, asking the peasant farmers repeatedly if they are sure they want to block the expansion of the company in Napai II. Meanwhile, at least 400 hectares have now been planted with eucalyptus trees, forcing families who lived there to leave.
Outside the circle of people, there is a woman dressed in a police-like uniform. Steely-faced, she says nothing. This woman is the traditional leader of Napai II, the “queen” as they call her. She represented the peasants from the beginning of negotiations and is the only one who seems to not be against the massive eucalyptus plantations.
“Community consultations are limited to the conversations between community leaders and the companies, and at least one representative from the government must be present. It is the responsibility of the sub-district level political leaders, chefes de posto, to defend the people, but instead they only think about the money. To obtain the DUAT, they ask people to sign a blank piece of paper and they attached the signatures to a document which says that the transfer of land was authorised. If the queen received some goats and a new house, imagine how much they gave the local politician...,” says Anselmo César, project coordinator at the Comissão Arquidiocesana Justiça e Paz (Archdiocese Justice and Peace Commission). “The main issue is that the State didn’t turn its back on its responsibilities, the State defined its responsibilities as serving capital, serving the development of capital,” adds the Mozambican economist and researcher at the Institute for Social and Economic Studies, Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco.
Escorted by the police, the district political leader is sat on a plastic chair, a sort of improvised throne for the meeting. When Francisco finished reading the letter, Hilário Anapacala gave the floor to the representative from Lurio Green. Aníbal dos Anjos, an engineer, clarified that Lurio Green “is here to stay” and intends to build a paper factory in the province of Nampula, which is why “it needs a large area of land” to plant eucalyptus trees.
A number of people asked for the floor to tell their stories of how the community leaders had prevented them from speaking out against the demarcation of lands, but the government representative, now visibly irritated, blocked them every time insisting with the question: “Lurio Green is a company [Lurio Green is a project of the company Green Resources] that could benefit the district, but we, the community, don’t want it because you think that you have no space to grow food, is that it?” In Portuguese and Macua (the language spoken in the village), the chorus of “no” against the company was repeated as many times as Hilário Anacapala asked if those present were sure of what they were saying. And there were many. The question that had led to the calling of the meeting was left unanswered: “Will we get our land back or not?”