Carbon Plantations in Mozambique: Livelihoods, Development, and Local Legitimacy
The Norwegian forestry company Green Resources (GR) is one of several commercial actors that have started planting forests in Africa, aiming to reduce global CO2 emissions and join the international emissions trade market. During my fieldwork in Niassa province in Mozambique, I investigated how one of their plantations, Sanga, socioeconomically affects adjacent local communities.
Established in 2007, GR’s goal is to have their plantation at Sanga certified under the Kyoto Protocol‘s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and thus to sell CO2 credits on the international market. Simultaneously, the company plans to earn money on forestry products from the plantation.
During my case study in Sanga, I looked into the types of social and economic benefits that the villagers received from the plantation; how local communities have been involved in the land acquisition process; how local farmers are compensated when moving their farms to give space for the plantation; how local communities’ access to natural resources have been affected, and how local food production is affected as well as how the company and their plantation is generally viewed by the local population. I spent the most time in Sanga’s district capital, Malulu, which is situated very close to the plantation. At this point I am still very early in the process of analyzing the data gathered in the field, but it is still possible to give a brief overview of issues that repeatedly came up during my research.
On the positive side, most villagers express that they are happy that the company has brought employment, and thus money to many families in the community. Green Resources is almost the only employer in some of the villages, and by far the biggest employer in Malulu. There was, however, a general dissatisfaction among most of the villagers concerning how the company interacts with locals, and partly on how the plantation is run.
The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, has formulated 11 principles on how to include human rights in large-scale international land acquisitions. The two first principles include that the negotiations on land deals should be transparent and include local communities, and that such transfers can only take place with free and informed consent from the local communities. Most villagers I interviewed expressed that they had not been heard in the consultation process when the land concessions were acquired. Only a limited number of villagers, including the chiefs were involved in the consultation meetings, in addition to government officials. De Schutter’s two first principles were thus not followed.
The farmers in the region practice so-called slash-and-burn agriculture, meaning that they move their crop fields about every fifth year, when the soil is exhausted. When the machambas they have left are ready for food production again years later, they do not have any official land rights or user rights on these areas in Mozambique. This means that companies like GR can make a deal with the government to lease such areas, and that they do not need to pay any compensation as long as the fields have been left for a certain while. Many farmers find this to be unfair, since they have cleared the land and since the fields could be used in the future, but the land law is on the side of the company in this situation.
Another issue often mentioned during the field study concerned poor working conditions on the plantation itself. Many villagers expressed dissatisfaction with minimum salaries, temporary and uncertain contracts, and a high staff turnover among the plantation workers.
Thirdly, the company has promised to promote community development in the villages. The fact that some of these initiatives seem to be constantly postponed is a problem. In Malica village, Green Resources has promised to build a new market, but have not yet started. It is three years since they came to the village. Now the villagers are tired of the promises, and the Management Committee, which negotiates with the company on behalf of the community, was planning to quit when I recently interviewed them. This is partly because of what the committee saw as broken promises by Green Resources, and partly because many villagers were unhappy with the work of the committee itself.
On the access to natural resources, the main issue seems to be that villagers were forced to go further and further away from the village to get firewood after the plantation was established. The villagers’ access to water does, however, not seem to have been affected by the plantation in any way so far. Based on information gathered in the field, it seems like the plantations’ impact on local food production has not been significant.
To conclude, a key problem in Green Resources’ relationship with the inhabitants of Malulu, Malica, and other villages in the area seems to be a lack of effective involvement and communication with the local communities. The fact that so many villagers feel they had no say in the land acquisition process is one example underlining this. Likewise, the fact that GR does not have a community development plan with specific goals and deadlines, and the fact that the company does not make clear contracts with the communities on specific community development projects, is another. The communities would most likely appreciate such a plan, and it would make it more difficult for the company not to follow up on their own promises.
If the company wants to be welcomed by the people in Sanga, it is very important that they actually stick to their own promises and show positive results on the ground. If not, they risk more incidents like the one that now seems to be happening in Malica.