By LLOYD M’BWANA
LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)– Globally, principles for responsible investment in agriculture and food system, requires respecting, protecting, and promoting human rights, including the progressive realization of the right to adequate food, in the context of national food security. This is in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments and protocols.
International principles, protocols that safeguard land rights
2011 Nairobi Action Plan for Africa’s Land Scale Based Investment (LSBI) principles agreed that there is the need for the respect of existing, customarily defined rights of local people and communities to land and land-related resources.
The LSBI further states that persons who lose access to, or ownership of land-related resources and benefits, are required to be awarded a compensation.
This must therefore, be fair and timely in compliance with existing national laws, and relevant international instruments, and that member states have the responsibility to promote transparency of all parties throughout the investment process.
In Africa, however, agriculture production and preservations of land resources, is primarily the responsibility of women and children, such that any serious government incooperate the two in formidable land laws reforms, minus that, its a total disaster.
It must be noted however, that despite the reverence which surrounds land issues in Africa, the system of patriarchy, which dominates social norms, has tended to discriminate against women, when it comes to ownership and control of land resources.
This has been re-enforced, firstly by imported land laws, that have cemented the patriarchy systems. In this regard, both are undemocratic and render constraints on economic development of the rural areas.
Thus, the unequal access and lack of security tenure on Africa’s land resources due to inequality, is highly contested.
It continues making it hard for redistribution or settlement and irrigation schemes, which eventually has exerted pressure in many African governments to resort to land policy reforms.
Large scale agricultural investments, displaces marginalised groups
With the adoption of some unparatable international protocol, including New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, land-grabbing has been on the rise due to demand of the large scale agricultural investment.
In the New Alliance, the Group of Eight (G8), highly industrialised nations that includes France, UK, Japan, Italy, Germany, US, Canada and Russia, Britain brings along the African Union (AU), several African governments and the private sector, representing more than 150 companies.
The alliance seeks to promote commercialised agriculture at a larger scale, thereby causing its perpetrators to dispossess indigenes’.
As one of the Sub-Sahara African countries, Malawi is required to provide 20,000 hectares for foreign investment, under the G8 cooperative framework.
The country is therefore, implementing the G8 Alliance framework, through the Green Belt Initiative (GBI), and large-scale sugar cultivation.
The GBI practical objective, seeks to address the food insecurity challenged by shifting from subsistence farming to commercial farming. But in the end, many people have lost their land, coupled with rapid population growth.
Much as there are new land laws in place, waiting for its enforcement, the incidences of land-grabbing remain unresolved. This is causing marginalized groups in the society (women and youth, the ultra poor) being exposed to terrible experiences; and many become homeless and destitute.
A recent visit to Group Village Headman (GVH) Saidi, Traditional Authority (T.A.) Bibikulunda in the central district of Salima, exposed an illogical attempt by the senior chief to displace poor families when she made shabby land deals with Malawi Mangoes Limited (under GBI), to acquire land of about 1,700 of 3,300 hectors of land and eventually Bibikulunda pocketed MK 212.3 million.
According to some concerned citizen group for the area, the senior chief blackmailed village headmen with little shares from the money she got from the deal. But the situation got worse when some of the affected families were receiving MK500 each from the proceeds of the land sell. This fueled the communities’ anger.
Eventually, the affected households mobilized themselves by mounting vigils for 18 days at Salima District Commission (DC) offices to demand the removal of Chief Bibikulunda’s from the chieftaincy over corrupt practices.
Thereafter, President Peter Mutharika suspended the chief from her chieftaincy, pending investigations on the alleged corrupt practices she was embodied in.
“We are happy that this corrupt chief has been suspended, as she made us slaves on our own land. This land was sold dubiously to foreigners, without consultations but only telling us that it was government which allocated it to the green belt initiative which wasn’t the case.
“We are not against developmental projects on our land, but openness on any land transaction. We want to benefit from its proceeds as the owners. This is why we stood firm to our 18 days vigil at the DC’s offices in protesting the chief’s corrupt tendencies, which we endured for so long time,” said Muhamad Chingomanje, Concerned Citizen grouping’s Publicity Secretary at T.A. Bibikulunda.
Similar scenarios of chiefs’ land grabbing tendencies are happening at Traditional Authority (T.A.) Mgabu in the Lower Shire district of Chikwawa, where communities were forced to vacate their substance farming land was turned into sugarcane farming. This caused the affected families divided over the decision.
Currently, tension is still high in the area as two factions imaged (pro-sugarcane farming or anti-sugarcane farming), which Tchalo Smallholder Cane Growers Association is advocating and venturing into for about 19,600 square metres (140 m x 140 m) of land without the communities consultation; over 140 households will be affected.
With numerous land-grab concerns, there is a need to reconsider the land law and change the approach to development strategies, by supporting the smallholder farmers to achieve the commercialised agriculture, without encroaching on the rights of the indigenes’ right to land.
The Malawi Parliament passing of ten land-related bills into laws in 2016, there is hope that proper administration of land in the country, couple with fair compensations will be done diligently.
The newly land related Acts include Land, Physical Planning, Land Survey, Customary Land, Registered, Land Acquisitions (Amendment), Local Government (Amendment), Malawi Housing (Amendment), Forestry (Amendment) and Public Roads.
Land rights now campaign
Due to slow enforcement of these legal frameworks in safeguarding the marginalized groups land rights, many communities are still subjected to land grabs from misguided individual, and investors, who connive with those in power to reap from the poor.
This is the reason about 15 African countries including Malawi participated the first ever World Mobilization Day for the “Land Rights Now Campaign in March 2016, although it had low turnout.
The campaign rages on this year, which started from April 21, 2017 till the whole month of May with one voice: urging political leaders to safeguard land rights with workable policies and acceptable legal frameworks.
The country’s grouping that advocates for proper land governance and administration, Landnet Malawi, alongside International Land Coalition, (ILC), Oxfam, Centre for Environmental Development and Cameroon NES Platform, are on the forefront with this year’s campaign.
The campaign aims at reminding the continent leaders to maximize usage of international protocols, agreements and treaties on land rights on poor people.
Landnet Malawi National Coordinator, said that the campaign is vital for trickling down land law reforms, and their enforcement and implementation programs.
Mlaka added that there was a need for practical actions in land administration that must be in line international statutes towards the welfare of the poor people, who have been subjected to displacement due to illogical land grabs.
“Due to the increasing pressure on land, tenure insecurity for a majority of Malawians especially smallholders and the vulnerable, has also increased and more citizens are becoming land-poor through losing their land to foreigners or Malawian large-scale land users. This has left the most economically valuable land in the hands of a small number of actors, and excluding many of the poorest people, including women.
“The campaign therefore intends to highlight and provide direction for addressing key land issues on the continent, including emerging global and strategic issues such as the ‘new Scramble for Africa’s Land Resources.’ It is in the interest of the member states of the AU to ensure that investments in agricultural land, promotes inclusive and sustainable development,” Mlaka said.
While there is some emerging evidence of communities deriving financial benefits from their involvement in large scale land investments, the greater body of evidence points to the fact that such adventures have, to date, failed to deliver the anticipated financial and economic benefits. It is not surprising that states have used fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to create attractive environments for would-be investors.
These include duty exemptions, full or partial tax holidays, or tax rate reduction, allowing expatriate employment, remittance of profits, access to land at sub-market rates, simplified investment processes despite questions have been raised about the appropriateness and sustainability of the nature and extent of incentives offered to investors.