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Brazil: Mozambique Cedes Land to Brazilian Agribusiness

The government of Mozambique is ceding 6 million hectares [pt] of land to Brazilian farmers (this corresponds to two-thirds of the landmass of Portugal) to grow soy, cotton and corn in the northern provinces Niassa, Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Zambézia. The idea is to draw on the Brazilian experience in the Cerrado (Brazil's savanna), where since the 1960s the agricultural frontier has advanced into the interior with industrial livestock and soy plantations.

The cultivation of soy has already taken over 80% of the Brazilian cerrado. Image: openDemocracy on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The cultivation of soy has already taken over 80% of the Brazilian cerrado. Image: Leonardo Freitas via openDemocracy on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Brazil, this inward push of agriculture and meat production has led to the devastation of 80% of the Cerrado, which is recognized as one the richest grasslands in the world in terms of biodiversity. The degradation of this habitat, which occupies a quarter of Brazilian land, has drained and polluted the hydrological basins of the region, considered the principal water sources of the country.

With the deal from the Mozambican government, the Brazilian agricultural frontier is now set to cross the Atlantic Ocean towards the African Savanna. For geographer Eli Alvez Penha, author of the book, “Relações Brasil-África e Geopolítica do Atlântico” (“Brazil-Africa Relations and the Geopolitics of the Atlantic”), the “ecological and cultural similarities” means there is a “good ecological match” between Brazil and the African continent.

In an interview [pt] on the website of the Federal University of Bahia Press, Penha discusses, among other things, a comment by Kenyan agricultural specialist Calistous Juma that “for each African problem, there exists a Brazilian solution.” Penha adds, “I would say, that the reverse is also true.”

Brazilian agribusiness, based on the depletion of natural resources, now hopes to export its unsustainable model of GMO seeds, soil management that leads to degradation, and land exploitation based on a failed model of agrarian reform. As early as 2006, the website Repórter Brasil [pt] pointed out the new direction for the Brazilian agricultural frontier:

A rápida degradação do solo é um exemplo [de perdas irreversíveis à região]. De acordo relatório da Conservação Internacional, o plantio tradicional da soja, como é feito no Cerrado, causa a perda de cerca de 25 toneladas de solo por hectare ao ano. Caso fossem aplicadas técnicas de conservação, como a aragem mínima, o número poderia ser reduzido a 3 toneladas por ano.

Para Rosane Bastos [bióloga integrante da Rede Cerrado], a improdutividade pode impulsionar a destruição de outros ecossistemas: “se os grandes produtores ficarem sem solo, vão subir para a Amazônia”, prevê.

The rapid degradation of soil is an example [of irreversible loss to the region]. In keeping with the report of Conservation International, the traditional planting of soy, as it is done in the Cerrado, causes the loss of nearly 25 tons of topsoil per hectare per year. If conservation agriculture techniques were employed, such as no-till farming, the number could be reduced to 3 tons per year.

According to Rosane Bastos [biologist with the Cerrado Network], depletion could cause the destruction of other ecosystems: “if the large scale producers end up without topsoil, they will head up to the Amazon,” she predicts.

The majority of the Mozambican population lives in the countryside. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 70% of inhabitants living under the poverty line. Image: The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The majority of the Mozambican population lives in the countryside. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 70% of inhabitants living under the poverty line. Image: The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It is not only today that Mozambique has begun to look to agreements like these to increase agricultural productivity, as Global Voices reported in the months of January and July 2010. Already in 2009, Repórter Brasil [pt] pronounced its fears for traditional Mozambican communities:

A Constituição de Moçambique decreta que todas as terras do país são propriedade do Estado, que pode conceder autorização de uso a empresas por períodos de 50 anos. Essa concessão, no entanto, está condicionada à ausência de comunidades tradicionais no território. Pelo jeito, lá, como no Brasil, boas leis não são garantia de boas práticas.

The Mozambican Constitution declares that all lands in the country are the property of the State, which can cede land to companies for periods of 50 years. This concession, however, is conditional on the absence of traditional communities in the territory. Apparently, there, as in Brazil, good laws do not guarantee good practices.

One of the requirements of the Mozambican government to concession of land use rights is that 90% of the labor employed be Mozambican. There are small scale farmers living in at least half of the land offered by the government to Brazilians. Mozambique is one of the 49 most impoverished countries in the world, where 70% of the population lives under the poverty line, and where farmers have huge difficulties getting loans [pt] for food production.

The structure of land ownership and the acquisition of land by foreign companies in African countries was the subject of a study by the United Nations, according to a text by Fundação Verde (The Green Foundation):

O documento pontualiza que as aquisições (de modo geral feitas na África mediante contratos de aluguel de meio século ou um século inteiro pelo que nada se paga) podem constituir um benefício ao supor investimentos estrangeiros. Também pode acarrear atração tecnológica, incremento da produtividade agrária e criação de emprego e de infra-estrutura. Mas, assim como estão sendo levados a cabo, com precárias consultas à população local, falta de transparência e sem garantir nos contratos os compromissos de investimento, emprego ou desenvolvimento de infra-estruturas, supõe colocar em risco o modo de vida de milhares de pequenos agricultores ou pastores, cuja existência depende da terra.

The document points out that the acquisitions (generally made in Africa with rental contracts for half a century or an entire century in which nothing is paid) can constitute a benefit from the supposed foreign investment. The acquisitions can also bring about technological development, the increase of agricultural productivity as well as the creation of jobs and infrastructure. However, as they are currently being carried out, with barely any consultation of the local population, lack of transparency, and without guaranteeing in contracts the commitments for investments, employment nor development of infrastructure, they risk endangering the livelihood of thousands of small farmers or herders, whose existence depends on the land.

Can what some consider to be Brazilian “neocolonialism” [pt] in Mozambique contribute to the socially just development of this country? If, on one hand, Brazil can offer technical know-how [pt] for the cultivation of seeds on the African savana, on the other hand the country has an unsustainable model of agribusiness to offer, based on monoculture, environmental degradation and the concentration of land in the hands of the few.

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