The people of Mozambique are resisting the controversial agricultural development programme ProSavana, fearing it will cause environmental degradation and social displacement. Protest is targeting the neoliberal model of development that fails to spread benefits beyond elites and investors and instead deepens poverty and exploitation.
Resistance to ProSavana , the controversial agricultural development programme in the Nacala corridor located north of Mozambique, is not isolated. This resistance is part of the broader forms of resistance sweeping across the country particularly in the metropolises. Recent years have seen a number of popular revolts and demonstrations, ranging from campaigns organised by civil society groups to spontaneous demonstrations breaking out across Mozambican cities. Some of these have been linked to the food riots that have broken out in response to rising costs for basic food commodities such as bread, as well as for public transport. If these waves of protests had persisted, a fall or destabilisation of the system would have been inevitable.
Many reasons have been offered for this resurgence of urban protests. Some have attributed the recent uprisings in some cities to dissatisfaction felt by the general population as a result of blocked, inefficient or discredited formal communication mechanisms with the state. While this explanation has some merit, I believe it is insufficient on its own.
What that explanation misses is that Mozambican people are responding to the dictatorship of a neoliberal model of development. This is a model that, despite showing supposedly “positive” official macroeconomic indicators – most notably “Gross Domestic Product (GDP)” – nevertheless worsens social and economic inequalities. It is a model of development based on extractivism and destructivism that has done nothing to reduce poverty, and fails to spread social and economic development across the general population.
Despite this gloomy social outlook, the Mozambican Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, José Pacheco, continues to fight tooth and nail for ProSavana and related investments. Recently in parliament – on 22 July 2015 – he claimed that Prosavana would be the country’s salvation, inlight of prevailing food insecurity. The minister told parliamentarians that, contrary to what the social movements, civil society groups and the political opposition think, ProSavana aims to transform small-scale farmers into market-oriented intensive producers.
While it is true that the conditions in which Mozambican peasants work need to be improved, we must ask whether it is possible to transform them into large-scale farmers to enter into the agribusiness circuit – and whether it even makes sense to try.
The issue is that ProSavana reflects completely the neoliberal development model described above: destruction of the environment, exploitation of men and women and the accumulation of wealth for the few. Accordingly, it will be the agribusiness companies, not small-scale farmers that will benefit from this initiative. To force family-scale producers, who generally use agroecological techniques and local seeds, to become “competitive”, could be considered not only a fallacy, but also an act of violence.
Peasants’ movements, various civil society groups and some progressive academics – including people linked to the government – have understood this from the beginning, in 2012. This is why resistance to ProSavana has reached such intensity. Indeed, it seems likely that the resistance to ProSavana is now larger and longer than that against any other development initiative in Mozambique’s post-colonial history.
Despite this, the government and its supporters insist on moving forward. Pedro Dzucula, provincial director of Agriculture and Food Security in Nampula (one of the provinces affected by ProSavana) and probably ProSavana’s most tenacious defender within government after Minister Pacheco, was quoted by the newspaper Noticias in August 2014, guaranteeing that ProSavana would go ahead no matter what. Dzucula believes the opposition to ProSavana, which he considers to be a form of subversion, is “encouraged from outside the country, using some segments of civil society”. However, he has failed to substantiate these allegations.
The government’s heavy-handed approach and deafness to popular dissent are inciting further resistance to ProSavana. Activists accuse both Pedro Dzucula and Minister Pacheco of approaching the subject in a threatening way. During a public hearing on ProSavana on 12 June, Minister Pacheco could not have been clearer; after ordering participants to make patriotic speeches during that public consultation, he said: “We will trample any obstacle and move forward.” This only shows how some within the government confuse their role as “servants and elected representatives of the people who should be listeners” but opt to side with investors and dictate rules.
However, some Mozambican Government officials and supporters of ProSavana are also aware of this increasing resistance – which has even drawn international attention – and have gradually changed their language. The language used in the first version of the ProSavana Master Plan, leaked by civil society in 2013 - which, according to civil society, confirmed the worst case scenario  - is totally different from that which was used in the last version, presented in June 2015. The most recent version can mislead if the reader fails to pay close attention to the details. The devil, they say, is in the detail. The language has changed, but the essence of the idea remains the same.
There are those who claim that opposition to ProSavana is unfounded, as that those opposing it simply know nothing about it. They insist that ProSavana should be allowed to proceed and then be judged by its results. This approach overlooks the risk of potentially very significant and irreversible environmental damage it may cause from use of agrotoxins, water pollution, destruction of native forests, as well as social disintegration resulting from community displacement.
But perhaps ProSavana will be a “necessary evil” – necessary in order to provoke negatively affected communities to rise up. When thousands of peasants have lost the only thing that guarantees them sustenance, eventually they will have no choice but to fight back, together, for land and dignity. Perhaps then we will see the sleeping giant awake.
The government needs to recognise that it is the representative of the people, not their master, and to open dialogue with them, rather than “informing” them of development plans. It is problematic that, in the 21st Century governors still insist on implementing incongruent programmes, acting as if they were the shepherds and the people the flock. These are the same vanguard behavioural trends characteristic of some communist regimes, but implemented in a context of right-wing neoliberalism.
This contradiction can be seen when a governor claims that s/he is going to work with “small and medium-scaled producers, poultry farmers and livestock farmers, that in a process of gradual transformation (...) they will evolve from applying predominantly subsistence agriculture to market-oriented intensive agriculture” , without explaining how it will be possible for this miracle to transform millions of people into agricultural entrepreneurs.
* Boaventura Monjane is a Mozambique journalist and social activist.
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