publié by Admin, le Monday 1 August 2016
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AGRICULTURAL INVESTMENT ZONES (AIZs) MUST NOT LEAD TO THE FORCED EVICTION AND STARVATION OF PEASANTS IN THE VAKINANKARATRA REGION.
As part of the implementation of AIZs project by the Vakinankaratra Region, inhabitants of several rural communities in this region had been asked to get ready to leave their living areas while the promoters of this project expressed the intention not to carry out any eviction.
Peasants have not been duly informed of the possibility for their associations to participate in investments in the framework of the AIZs.
Following the AIZs promotion campaign and calls for expressions of interest by foreign and national investors to operate therein, the AIZs promoters have indicated that for the first round of land allocations, 21 investors signed emphyteutic leases for lands of various sizes for a total surface area exceeding 1,000 hectares. (1)
The lands concerned by these AIZ in 8 communes (2) are currently owned by the Region or the State, and their history has been marked by diverse developments over the years; some had been titled by settlers while others had already been allocated to investors before 2009 as part of AIZ, or assigned to other purposes.
Associations and NGO are part of eligible investors in this AIZs project. But successive investigations conducted in March and July 2016 in several communes show that while information sessions have been organized in some places, in most of the communities visited by the researchers, inhabitants including the Fokontany Chiefs and occupants of lands concerned by the AIZs, were not aware of the opportunity to organize themselves into associations and to apply for land allocations in order to invest in the AIZs.
Refusing the current situation and prospects, some occupants of lands allocated to investors who have been notified of their upcoming eviction expressed their opposition in many ways; others destroyed infrastructures established by investors in some villages, hence their convocations by the local police.
Thus, hundreds or even thousands of families should not only give up the fertile lands of the region that they have developed and cultivated to feed themselves, for several generations for many of them. But also, they are going to find themselves without land or housing to survive? Such a program is totally unacceptable and inconsistent with the stated objective of “improvement of regional growth and living standard of the population” (1).
The evolution of officials’ discourse and the legitimate rights of peasants
In December 2014, the then Minister of Agriculture announced the launch of AIZs, stating that there should be no evictions or encroachments on the peasants’ lands (3). During the fields visits conducted by the CRAAD-OI researchers in March 2016, an AIZs official had begun to modulate this statement by saying that “encroachments and expulsions will be avoided as much as possible”. In July 2016, the peasants interviewed told the researchers that they were requested to stop cultivating the lands they occupy because they will have to leave them.
Investigations in the villages showed that most of the affected families had been living on these lands for decades; many older people aged 50 and 60 were born and have always lived in those villages. These families were established there prior to the transfer of lands to the State by the colonial regime. Therefore, these occupants are not “squatters” at all, but families whose land rights must be recognized and respected.
Thus, it would appear that fine words have served only to lull the vigilance of peasants and citizens?
The worst part of this is that testimonies gathered from victims of these evictions indicate that the announcements about the requirement to leave the premises were not accompanied by any alternative proposal, in spite of the specification relating to the AIZs which states that the Region will ensure the resettlement of “squatters” and support all steps towards the definitive acquisition of lands allocated to the latter. (4)
Instead of expelling them, we must support peasants and respect their choices.
These contradictions between objectives and real facts are surprising and unacceptable, considering that the issues at stake are critical not only for the rights and future of concerned peasants, but also for the achievement of the stated objectives of the AIZs project. (5)
We believe that it is very urgent to inform and call on all involved: officials of decentralized authorities at different levels; NGOs in charge of the implementation of investment projects; the deconcentrated public services and the Central Government; funders involved in the financing of this AIZs project; as well as citizens of all the regions and the world who are thinking about and striving for agricultural, economic and social development.
Taking into account the good intentions expressed by decision-makers in the press, there is still time for all actors to provide information and support to peasants in all concerned communities and to achieve the objective of “zero expulsion” effectively. The occupants who had worked and fertilized their lands for decades should take precedence over newcomers.
During the field visits conducted by the CRAAD-OI team, some peasants have expressed their reluctance to engage in contract farming projects for export products because of the inability to produce what they want in the proposed new system. The inclusion of peasants’ choice is a sine qua non condition for the success of any initiative relating to their livelihoods and land rights. In order to achieve and “allow for the maintenance and the development of activities [and employments] in the territories” (4), the current family farming system should be maintained, developed and benefit from different forms of support defined with the participation of concerned peasants in the Region’s agricultural development projects.
Access to land and natural resources as well as the control of their agricultural activities by smallholder families are fundamental rights. Decision making on the future of territories towards improvement in well-being and food sovereignty of the population should not be detrimental to the expertise and rights on their territories acquired by peasants.
25th July 2016
(2) The 8 communes are : Ambatotsipihina, Ambohipihaonana, Andranofito, Andravola, Faratsiho, Ibity, Mandoto, Tsarahonenanana Sahanivotry
(3) http://www.lexpressmada.com/blog/ac... & http://www.farmlandgrab.org/post/pr...
(4) Specifications. Land assignment to private investors in the AIZs of Vakinankaratra Region.
(5) « Specific objectives : - Increase the added value produced by the region thanks to agriculture, breeding and their products processing ; - promote jobs creation in rural area ; - develop all value chains inside the rural world » in Note of synthesis on the agricultural development policy. Vakinankaratra Region, October 2015.
To read the French version with the organizations’ logo, please see: http://terresmalgaches.info/IMG/pdf...