ProSavana. What is it? According to the Mozambican government, it is a valid tool for agricultural development in the regions along the Nacala Corredor: Nampula, Niaassa and Zambézia in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. They claim that the program, run in partnership with the Brazilian and Japanese governments, will increase food production, boosting human development. However according to civil society organizations, it is a land-grabbing operation that would allow huge private groups to expropriate 14.5 million hectares of land, disadvantaging 4.5 million farmers who would be forced to become low-paid laborers.
“It’s deplorable that they want to replicate a model that hasn’t worked in other countries, like Brazil and India,” says Stelio Miguel Joaquim, the president of the Slow Food Youth Network Moçambique. A member of the network, Paulo Luis Artur, added, “The main objective of the project is to establish a regime of extensive monoculture maintained by the use of toxic agricultural chemicals on a huge scale. But before doing this, the project would have to appropriate the land currently held by small-scale farmers, leading to a serious loss of environmental and cultural biodiversity, impoverishing the soil and polluting the rivers, and eventually leading to health problems for the local people. The only way to address this tragic situation is to unite civil society groups and create grassroots forces that can put pressure on the government to rediscuss ProSavana.”
To this end, UNAC (União Nacional de Camponeses) has stepped up to defend the small-scale farmers, with support from other Mozambican civil society organizations: Justiça Ambiental, ADECRU, Liga dos Direitos Humanos, Livaningo, Forum Mulher and Kulima. Together, they sent an open letter to the Mozambican president, the Brazilian president and the Japanese prime minister, expressing their discontent. Agostinho Bento, a spokesman for UNAC, continued: “There were no responses to the letter, so UNAC and the other organizations launched a campaign with a clear name: Não ao ProSavana! The aim is to raise awareness among the Mozambican and international public and to try to bring the matter to the African Court. In light of the wave of resistance and the strong advocacy activities carried out by the farmers and civil society representatives, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security decided to hold community consultations in the ProSavana implementation zones, with the aim of presenting the program’s plan. Unfortunately the meetings were spoiled by threats to the farmers, brazen manipulation and a complete lack of transparency in sharing information, which was often changed at the last minute to throw the meetings off track.”
Unhappy with how the meetings had gone, the Não ao ProSavana supporters asked for a general consultation, which took place on June 12 this year at the Joaquim Chissano Congress Center in Maputo. Bento recounts what happened: “Regrettably the Agriculture Minister himself, José Pacheco, after having himself convened the meeting, assumed the role of moderator, ensuring control over proceedings. At this point all of the civil society representatives loudly called for a neutral moderator to encourage greater transparency in the debate. The request was not granted and in fact the minister tried to intimidate the participants by saying that he was well informed about the presence of people who had come to obstruct the project and he added that he would not tolerate such attitudes. ‘We’ll go over everything and everyone,’ he said.
Pacheco’s tough stance was not enough to intimidate the civil society campaigners who, despite the presence of key representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, the private sector and other delegates invited to support the program, represented the majority present in the room. The farmers who had arrived in large numbers from the north of the country reasserted that ProSavana was not a program from the Mozambican government, and, as it is not a program produced by Mozambicans, would endanger the whole local agricultural production system. However nothing changed and José Pacheco did not allow any of the civil society organizations to speak officially, inviting them to send their concerns in writing directly to the ministry. Given this behavior, the civil society representatives exited the room, leaving it empty!”
In the words of the rallying cry of Mozambican farmers: A luta continua! The struggle continues!