YOKOHAMA – While Japan advocated investment and private sector-led growth in Africa at the big aid conference this weekend, concern mounted among citizens’ groups that an agriculture project in Mozambique that Tokyo is pushing as one of its key projects in Africa, may end up depriving local farmers of their land.
“Small farmers are really concerned about the project,” Augusto Mafigo, president of Mozambique’s National Peasants’ Union, known as UNAC, said.
The program, dubbed ProSavana, which is promoted by the Japanese, Brazilian and Mozambican governments, is about developing a vast area of intact savanna in northern Mozambique, encompassing more than 10 million hectares of land in three provinces.
However, the Civic Commission for Africa, which represented members of Japanese and African civil society at the just-completed Tokyo International Conference on African Development, also expressed concerns that ProSavana is actually designed to promote agribusiness that will only benefit foreign companies.
“TICAD . . . should ensure that its process does not lead to the dispossession of the small farmers’ land in what is commonly referred to as land-grabbing,” it said in a statement issued Monday.
Japan is tying up with Brazil on the project in Mozambique to make use of its experience from the 1970s, when Japan helped Brazil, both financially and technologically, develop the Cerrado savanna area, which had been thought unsuitable for farming.
As a result, Brazil became a major soybean exporter along with the United States, stabilizing the supply of soybeans for Japan. The two countries now look to make Mozambique the next model case of “successful” development aid in the arena of agriculture, which they say will lead to poverty reduction.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is involved in the project, says there has been “misunderstandings” among the locals in Mozambique, emphasizing that the project is aimed at improving the agricultural skills of local farmers to boost their standard of living.
The UNAC, which represents peasants across Mozambique, last month submitted an open letter to the Japanese government calling for the project to be halted, saying it is designed to facilitate foreign investment and that local peasants are not included in the consultation process.
During TICAD, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Mozambican President Armando Guebuza on the sidelines of the conference and said Japan is committed to implementing support for agriculture development in the savanna area, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The UNAC’s Mafigo said concerns about the project also arise from past examples. In 2010, farmers in Tete province in northern Mozambique were forced to move off their land after abundant coal reserves were found there.
According to the UNAC, around 80 percent of the population in Mozambique is engaged in agriculture as a means of living, and roughly 90 percent of cultivated land in the country is tended by small, family-run farms.
Mafigo said he himself grows crops such as potatoes, cassava and peanuts, which is enough to feed his wife and seven children, although that does not make a lot of money. He says farmers in Mozambique would prefer assistance that would allow them to sustain traditional farming.
“If (foreign companies) take the land away from me, I won’t afford even to live in the condition I’m living right now. . . . I will go through misery” if the project is implemented, he said.