The ongoing rush to African land by national and transnational investors was a dominant theme at the People’s Dialogue and Summit being held at Mumemo in Maputo.
From Mozambique to Swaziland, passing through Angola, South Africa, Malawi, Namibia and Lesotho, the voices and experiences of the people have expressed mounting concerns about the increasing enclosure of land to promote large-scale investments that seriously affect the fundamental rights of the local population and compromise efforts to achieve food sovereignty.
‘Everyone knows the problem of the land. It is a complete invasion’, says Renaldo Chingore, a leader of the National farmers Union in Mozambique, UNAC.
Three special commissions were organized aimed at a deeper understanding of the impacts of land grabbing, sharing personal experiences, discussing alternatives and recommending a common strategy to defend land and water as fundamentals of life.
By listening to the people, the land problem, which had already been presented as an extremely serious matter in the speeches made during the plenary sessions was characterised as a phenomenon with potential to rapidly expand all over the continent, and to impact negatively on the present and future of Africa.
In particular, common concerns were expressed about the role of the governments in utilizing laws and the smokescreen of legality to enclose thousands of hectares of land and water resources, evict entire communities, and deprive traditional property rights of any effective recognition. This was possible because governments are taking advantage of the scarce knowledge of the law by the people, who are not informed about their rights and prevented from expressing their consent, in open violation of national and international obligations contracted by the SADC members.
Many participants reported that there were efforts from investors to obtain the consent of local leaders by making promises and ‘putting sugar in their mouths’, but there were also other several cases of direct action by government Ministers, who are ‘treating the land as their own property’.
‘We only know what is happening to our land when there is a conflict’, says Herbert Murombo ‘as this means that means it will be too late for us to intervene’.
In some circumstances, as stressed by Alice Kachere who said, ‘Fisher folk realize that they cannot access the sea or the rivers when they are faced with newly built fences’, which seriously affects the self-sustaining capacity of communities.
The delegates demanded an immediate moratorium on all large-scale agricultural investments such as the Pro-Savana project in Mozambique. This must be accompanied by precise political responses, such as the intensification and facilitation of the process of recognition of common land titles in favour of the communities; the dissemination of information on land related laws and of people’s rights in local languages; the respect of the right to free, prior and informed consent of affected communities; the direct involvement of peasants in the definition of agricultural policies based on sustainability, food sovereignty and agroecology; the realization of a seeds’ bank to preserve biodiversity; a regional ban on GMOs and the assumption of the duty to inform consumers about their presence in the food by clear labelling, and the improved access to local infrastructure capable of stocking water and cereals for the needs of peasants and populations.
By Tomaso Ferrando