A workshop in Mozambique examined the connections between finance on the one hand and food and land on the other. Titled “From the Financialization of Food to Life-giving Agriculture,” the workshop took place in Maputo from 7-11 December. It was organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) together with Bread for All (BfA) and was hosted by the Christian Council of Mozambique.
The phenomenon of financialization of food is often associated with speculation on food commodities that gives rise to escalating food prices. But it is also about massive investments in large-scale, industrialized agriculture.
The workshop discussed a study commissioned by the WCC and BfA on the financialization of food in Africa with a focus on Mozambique. Researched by Sasha Mentz-Lagrange, the study, which will be released next year, highlights the example of ProSavanna, an agricultural mega-project involving Brazilian, Japanese and Mozambican investments.
The project aims to convert 14.5 million hectares of land in the Nacala Corridor located in the northern province of Nampula in Mozambique into extensive, foreign-run farming operations producing mainly soya and sugarcane for export. In the process, some 500,000 people are projected to be displaced from their sources of sustenance.
Maria Paulo, one of the participants in the workshop and a farmer in the area affected by the project, told her story. “A group of white people came and explained something, but it was not clear. In the beginning we had hope in ProSavanna. We have land, natural resources, but no infrastructure and support. We don´t produce enough even for subsistence. But now we are lost.”
“The ProSavanna Project was signed in 2009 but was kept secret from the people until the draft plan was leaked in 2012,” explained another Mozambican participant, Calisto Ribeira, an activist working for ORAM (Associacao Rural de Ajuda Mutua), an organisation fighting for land rights for small farmers.
Civil society groups in Mozambique were quick to demand transparency from their government. A few public hearings took place and in April of this year a “dialogue mechanism” was set up. The government of Mozambique hopes to convince the population that large-scale, monocultural, input-intensive and export-oriented agriculture is the way to go. But many local farmers are worried about losing their rights to till the land and therefore their livelihoods. There are worried, too, that the Brazilian model of large-scale plantations will have adverse effects on soils and waters. The WCC-BfA study provides some evidence that there is cause for concern.
The workshop participants, comprised of representatives from rural churches and ecumenical networks as well as church-based practitioners and experts from all over the world, visited two farming communities, Patique and Mawocha Homu 1, both situated in the Manhiça District, some 70 kilometres from Maputo. Small holder farmers, predominantly women, welcomed the visitors with songs and shared their struggles.
In Patique, a sugar cane company pushed away farmers from the land they were entitled to for subsistence – some 24 acres for 70 families. “We planted here in our fields, but then people with a lot of money arrived,” said one for the farmers. “Tractors came and destroyed our food crops to plant sugarcane.” “We cannot eat sugarcane,” said another.
“We went to the police to ask for help, but they arrived another day and were shooting at us,” lamented one of the farmers. “Some of us were put in jail.”
The case went to court. Only recently it decided in favour of the Patique community. “God supports us.”
However, for the farmers comprising the Mawochu Homu 1 association, the outlook is not so encouraging. A South African investor and producer arrived some years ago with the title for the 30 hectares of land the community of farmers had been tilling since 1998. The court affirmed the title on the basis of a contract between the two parties.
“I cannot read nor write,” explained one of the farmers who had affixed her signature on behalf of the association to a contract that gave away the right to use the land for 15 years in exchange for what is now the equivalent of roughly USD 900 . “Nobody explained to me what the contract is about,” she said. “I did not receive any money.”
Participants of the workshop reflected on the situation of the smallholder farmers in Nampula and Manhiça in Mozambique. They were deeply impressed by their persistence and resiliency and shared observed similarities with their own contexts in other parts of Africa, in Asia and Latin America.
“But the big question is how can we as churches support these struggles, challenge the financial and economic structures that give rise to such unjust conditions and work towards life-enhancing agriculture,“ said Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for economic and ecological justice.