Mozambique’s Controversial ProSavana Project Moves Toward Approval

Mozambique’s Controversial ProSavana Project Moves Toward Approval

Mozambique’s government is expected to approve ProSavana, a controversial joint agricultural program with Japan and Brazil to develop soybeans on up to 35 million hectares (nearly 100 million acres) of fertile, “underutlized” land in the Nacala corridor. That’s the size of North Carolina.

Based on a similar Japanese-supported program in the Brazilian cerrado, the plan is to implement soybean farms in three northern provinces of Mozambique. Approval by the government is expected by the end of 2015, project coordinator António Limbau told Portuguese news agency Lusa, StarAfrica reports.

The plan has already been through public consultation at district and provincial levels and now requires consultations on a national level, StarAfrica reports.

During public meetings, farmers raised concerns that they would lose their land despite government assurances that this would not happen in Mozambique and that joining the program is not mandatory.

There have been protests by residents of the Nacala corridor and by several non-governmental organisations who questioned the results of a similar program in Brazil, according to StarAfrica.

Prosavana should be launched in 2016, Limbau said.

Prosavana was pitched as a project to improve the living conditions of the Nacala corridor population, modernize agriculture, increase productivity and create new models of agricultural development, which are based, at present, on family subsistence farming, StarAfrica reports. The plan was also to help farmers get their products to market.

Timothy A. Wise traveled to Nacala to check out the conditions in the area, and wrote a report in December for FoodTank. Wise is a policy research director at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute and a fellow at the Open Society Institute.

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“I came to look at ProSavana because, out of all the large-scale projects I studied over the course of the last year, this one sounded almost plausible,” he said. “It wasn’t started by some fly-by-night venture capitalist, growing a biofuel crop he’d never produced commercially for a market that barely existed… such failed land grabs litter the African landscape.”

From FoodTank. Story by Timothy A. Wise.

ProSavana at least knew its investors: Brazil’s agribusiness giants. The planners also knew their technology: Brazil’s soybeans, which had adapted to the harsh tropical conditions of Brazil’s cerrado. And they knew their market: Japan’s and China’s hog farms and their insatiable appetite for feed, generally made with soybeans. That was already more than a lot of these grand schemes had going for them.”

I was also compelled by the sheer scale of the project. When first announced, ProSavana was to encompass 35 million hectares of land, an area the size of North Carolina. That would have made it the largest land acquisition in Africa.

…ProSavana’s premise was that the soil and climate in the Nacala Corridor of Mozambique were similar to those found in the cerrado, so technology could be easily adapted to tame a region inhospitable to agriculture.

Someone should have gone there before they issued the press releases.

It turns out that the two regions differ dramatically. The cerrado had poor soils, which technology was able to address. That’s also why it had few farmers, and those that were there could be moved by Brazil’s then-military dictatorship.

The Nacala Corridor, by contrast, has good soils, which is precisely why it is the most densely-populated part of rural Mozambique. (If there are good lands, you can bet civilization has discovered them and is farming them.)

Mozambique also has a democratic government, forged in an independence movement rooted in peasant farmers’ struggle for land rights. So the country has one of the stronger land laws in Africa, which grants use rights to farmers who have been farming land for ten years or more.

The disconnect between the claims ProSavana was making to its investors and  the reality of the situation reached almost laughable proportions.

Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco led sales visits to Mozambique, organized by Brazil’s Getulio Vargas Foundation, which had put together the agribusiness-friendly draft “Master Plan” that was leaked to Mozambican civil society organizations in March 2013.

Brazil’s biggest farmers came looking for thousands of hectares of land, only to find three disappointments: they couldn’t own land in Mozambique; what land they could lease was by no means empty; and it was far from the ports, with no decent roads to transport their soybeans. Brazil’s soybean mega-farmers packed up their giant combines and went back to the cerrado, where there are still millions of hectares of undeveloped land.

…According to Americo Uaciquete of ProSavana’s Nampula office, Brazilian farmers came expecting 40,000 hectares free and clear. He told me no investor could expect that in the Nacala Corridor. The only foreign investors who will farm there, he said, are those willing to take 2,000 hectares and involve local farmers.”

Read more at FoodTank.