With the Rio+20 conference about to open, we would like to share with you a real life story from Mozambique on the problems that rural communities get themselves into with carbon trading projects. When farmers start growing carbon instead of food. Written and documented by Via Campsina Africa.
Maputo, 15 June 2012 (Via Campesina Africa News Team) – Food production and people's sovereignty in Africa could be seriously compromised by carbon capture projects and the so-called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) mechanism. They can exacerbate food insecurity on the continent and could result in the loss of control over land and forest resources for African farmers.
This scenario could become a reality in the near future in Mozambique, as the country has offered its land to serve as a “model” for carbon capture projects and REDD+.
As evening falls, Albertina Francisco*, a farmer from the Nhambita community in Sofala province, Mozambique, returns home. She is tired after another day of work at her machamba (a term used in Mozambique to refer to a patch of farmland). In addition to looking after the maize, mapira (a type of sorghum) and cassava which she grows, another task has been added to Albertina’s workload: looking after the trees she planted a few years ago to ensure she is not penalized by Envirotrade at the end of the year, the company with which she has a carbon supply contract. Albertina is required to ensure the survival and good growth of the plants and to ensure that at least 85% of the plants received survive.
“In addition to the maize and mapira I also have to look after the trees now, to make sure they don’t die. I planted a lot of trees and it’s not easy checking on them all”, said Albertina, who visits her land twice a day.
Just like Albertina, another 1400 farmers in Nhambita and other villages in the Púngue administrative region in Sofala have been contracted to plant and care for trees on their land.
“When they came they said that the project is good because by planting trees we’d receive money to fight poverty and we’d be in charge (of the trees) even after the conclusion of the project”, one Nhambita farmer tells us.
The project is called the “Nhambita Community Carbon Project”1. The aim of the company that runs it, Envirotrade, is to capture carbon through agro-forestry, and sell carbon credits on the voluntary markets, which at this stage comprise Europe and the United States. By buying carbon credits, companies in industrialised countries can “sell” a positive image to their clients, clean their conscience and allow pollution of the planet. With the implementation of REDD+ and the purchase of carbon credits, it is expected that rich countries will continue to emit greenhouse gases, as they will be financing carbon capture projects in other locations, generally in countries in the South.
Envirotrade also claims to be alleviating poverty through this project.
In addition to using their land to plant trees (gliricidia, faidherbia, cashew trees, mango trees, and timber-yielding varieties), communities are also expected to protect and patrol a defined area of just over 10 000 hectares, from which Envirotrade also sells carbon credits through the REDD+ mechanism.
Planting, preserving and protecting the forests are all services regulated by a contract between Envirotrade and the farmers. The contract is for a fixed term of only seven years. Yet, as stipulated by the clauses in the contract, the producer (farmer) is under the obligation to plant and care for trees, and will receive an annual payment, which varies according to the system chosen and the size of the area of land used. After seven years payments cease, but farmers still have a duty of care.
“It is the farmer’s obligation to continue to care for the plants which they own, even after the seven year period covered by this contract”♦, one of the articles in the clause on obligations of producers stipulates.
According to Envirotrade trees capture carbon for a period of 50 to 100 years. The farmers’ duty to care for the plants and forests thus automatically spans several generations.
“If a farmer passes away during the contract period, the contract, all the rights contained therein but also all the obligations, are transferred to their legitimate/legal heirs (children)”, António Serra, National Director for Envirotrade clarifies.
It should be noted that the contracts regulating these activities do not include a section on farmers’ rights.
Nhambita is a community in Gorongosa district, in the administrative region of Púngue at the centre of Mozambique. It is extremely biologically diverse and boasts a wealth of vegetation and forests to be envied.
The European Commission contributed about 1.5 million Euros of financing to Envirotrade between the start of the project in 2003 and 2008, for research and testing in Nhambita. However the European Commission cut its funding, one of the reasons being irregularities observed in the proposed method for measuring carbon.
What’s in it for the farmers…
According to Envirotrade their projects aim to alleviate poverty (in communities), and contribute to sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. “It is a new way of doing business”, the company, which believes it is offering a new way of life for individuals and communities, states on its website2.
The services set out in a farmer’s contract which we gained access to were to be provided through planting trees in an area totalling 0.22 hectares (22 by 22 metres) in the farmer’s yard; and the farmer will receive a total of 3,215 Meticais (128 USD) over the seven years of the contract period. In order to earn enough money to actually alleviate poverty, this farmer would need access to a much greater land area, diversified systems, and would have to plant many more trees – which proves virtually impossible.
The most highly paid system run by Envirotrade is termed “forest plantation” and can earn the producer about 17.500 Meticais (670 USD) over seven years.
These amounts refer to one hectare, which means the amount may be lower or higher depending on the area of land in question. Nhambita’s farmers have an average of one hectare of land per family.
António Serra, National Director for Envirotrade in Mozambique, explains: “A farmer who has one hectare can sign a seven year contract one year using the bordadura system (border strips), the following year sign a seven year contract for consociação (mixed crops) covering the same area, and the third year sign a seven year contract under the quintal (yard) system. In this way the producer is involved in the project over a long period of time.”
However, do not let anyone be under any illusion that they will become rich through REDD+ and planting trees: “Carbon trading is not there to make anyone rich (farmers). The market itself shows that there are many costs involved. This is not going to make communities wealthy. Individuals need to have other sources of income”, Envirotrade’s Carbon manager said in an interview.
Envirotrade stopped issuing new contracts three years ago, because of financial difficulties.
Food sovereignty in danger
It is important to stress that commitment to this type of service could aggravate food insecurity for the community or for families, if the timescales and size of land areas needed to plant enough trees to ensure higher earnings are taken into account. This will lead to farmers “growing carbon” instead of growing food crops.
On the other hand “the current focus on the economic value of the forest [as promoted by Envirotrade] should not make the biological, spiritual and cultural values less important, as they [the communities] have been providing effective
conservation for generations”, a study3 by Jovanka Spiric, who has researched the socioeconomic impact of the REDD programme in Nhambita, states.
A considerable number of farmers have abandoned farming and dedicate all their time to maintaining firebreaks and patrolling forests in the REDD+ area.
Gabriel Langa*, a father of four with two wives, is the head of the group which manages firebreaks and patrols Bloc 2, one of the “protected” REDD+ areas in the Bué Maria area of Púngue. Before, he used to farm to feed his family.
“Now our main activity is firebreaks. I don’t have time to go to the machamba”, Langa says.
Langa will earn 8845 Meticais (340 USD) during the firebreak phase for the “conservation” area, which he will divide between the group of four that he manages.
Forests were never at risk of disappearing…
According to Envirotrade, the buffer zone of the Gorongosa national park4, where Nhambita community is situated, was at risk of disappearing due to intensive logging (for coal) and unchecked land clearing by fire.
Community leaders together with the Committee for Natural Resources management for Púngue, operating out of Nhambita in Gorongosa and set up before the arrival of Envirotrade on the scene, dismiss this hypothesis and claim that the committee has always known how to care for and preserve the forests and land in the area.
“The community had no problem with this and always knew how to manage resources. With the creation of the Management committee in 2011 this capacity was strengthened because we were trained to do it”, said Francisco Samajo, president of the committee. “This is probably what brought Envirotrade here”, he added.
Reacting to this, Aristides Muhate, Carbon Manager for Envirotrade says: “Sometimes people want first and foremost to assert their merit. Everyone knows that this area would be a hotbed of illegal logging today. He (the head of the resource management committee) wouldn’t even have the resources (money) to carry out the patrolling that he does”.
Envirotrade finances the Natural resources management committee, which in turn pays inspectors to patrol the forests and “protect them” from members of the same community.
Although the farmers admit to having benefited in some ways from the Envirotrade project (in terms of fruit trees, some annual income, health centres, transport in case of illness) consensus does not seem to prevail regarding the assertion that the communities were very poor and that their forests and lands were poorly managed.
Another Nhambita farmer, Raimundo Eduardo, stated that he had never considered himself to be poor, as in his own words “I have a machamba and I always worked”.
Giving up tree planting: Not everyone is finding the activity fun
Juvenal Francisco, 31, a farmer from Nhambita, gave up tree planting in 2010 as he felt the services did not bring him income.
“It seemed as if I was only working for them and I wasn’t seeing any benefits for me”, Franciso tells us. He took the initiative of contacting Envirotrade himself to make clear his desire to give up the activities.
What motivated Francisco to terminate the contract was the fact that as of year four he had not been paid the annual amount set out in his contract, allegedly because he had been unable to care for the plants in the way required by Envirotrade. Juvenal Francisco is of the opinion that Envirotrade failed to comply with one of the conditions it committed itself to, namely that of paying him for a seven-year period.
“As of year four they stopped paying me and they never explained why”, he said.
Chabane says he planted over 900 timber- and fruit-yielding plants starting in 2007. Now, he dedicates his time to growing maize, sweet potato, mapira and cassava.
This has been a great source of conflict between Envirotrade and many farmers. A high number of “contracted” farmers find their earnings reduced for not achieving the 85% survival rates set out in the contract. Our reporting team also learnt that over the past three years, there have been delays to payments for environmental services, due to financial difficulties.
Farmers don’t know what they are involved with
The Nhambita communities are not familiar with the REDD+ concept; and despite the fact that some farmers know that they are planting trees and preserving forests “to sell carbon”, they show a lack of deeper understanding of the concept and its mechanisms.
Envirotrade's National Carbon Manager, forest engineer Aristides Muhate, justifies this fact. “Information exists on different levels. There’s no reason why we should waste time explaining complicated concepts to the farmers, ” he says, pointing to the low levels of schooling among most of the population of Nhambita and the surrounding areas. This could be considered in breach of the right to advance information and free consent before operations started on their lands.
“We know that our income from planting trees comes from carbon. I don’t know anything more about it”, Elias Manesa from the Mutabamba community confessed, showing that he didn’t understand what carbon is.
The lack of comprehensive information surrounding Envirotrade’s carbon business involving community resources calls into question the transparency of the process. The poor or complete lack of understanding among farmers of the concepts linked to REDD+ and the carbon markets means that they are managing their resources and getting involved in the business without awareness of its full implications: allowing Northern polluters to continue to release carbon into the atmosphere. This poses risks to these very farmers’ well-being if we take into account the fact that these emissions will have a negative impact on Mozambique, for instance through droughts and flooding.
Another woman, who does not have a personal contract with Envirotrade but who has planted and cares for trees because her partner decided for both of them to get involved, was also unaware of the ultimate objectives of this activity.
“All I know is that my husband receives money (annually) because of the trees we’ve planted. I don’t know any more details”, she said. In fact, over half of the farmers who have signed contracts with Envirotrade are male. Few women own land in Mozambique, even though they constitute the group which devotes the greatest effort to food production and other land-linked labour.
Emerging social conflict
Signs of social conflict linked to payments for environmental services (PES) between Nhambita community members are beginning to show. This situation could become more serious in the future.
Farmers who do not benefit from PES are displaying resentment for not receiving any money from Envirotrade.
In other REDD projects in countries like Indonesia, payments for environmental services are creating inequalities due to income disparities, and this tends to create divisions in the community and jeopardize organisational, social and cultural cohesion.
As an example, the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique5 recently published a story on the case of farmers being displaced because of implementing the REDD programme in Mexico.
Jossias Jairosse* arrived in Nhambita recently and works in the community carpentry workshop in his village. Envirotrade had stopped issuing contracts when he settled in the community. He feels resentful and inferior to his neighbours, as they have annual income levels which he has no hope of reaching.
Mozambican land in demand with others for REDD+ projects
A company backed by British capital is eyeing up about 15 million hectares (19% of Mozambican territory) for REDD+6 activities. Cases of land grabbing linked to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation could make this figure even higher, if agrofuel production and the growing of different monocultures are included here. These practices can also be included under REDD+ as the system includes carbon credits from cultivation and land use and not just from forestry. According to the 2008 national forest inventory, about 70% of the country (54.8 million hectares) is currently covered by forest and other wooded areas. These areas are at risk of being exploited for carbon capturing.
Mozambique finds itself in a privileged position, among the most “coveted” countries in Africa when it comes to the implementation of so-called development projects benefitting from foreign investment. The World Bank for instance considers Mozambique an appropriate location for REDD projects, the Clean Development Mechanism8 and industrial agriculture.
Companies in the North have been acquiring land in Mozambique for export-oriented production, agrofuels and now for REDD+. Currently even the so-called emerging economies, namely India and Brazil, are acquiring land for use in agro-business and for mining.
In most of these cases local communities, and particularly farmers and indigenous populations, are heavily affected and often their rights are violated. In the case of the REDD+ programmes there is a significant risk that farmers will find themselves serving as employees of companies who use forest resources and local land to take advantage of the carbon credits system internationally, thus maximising their profits but not necessarily contributing to eliminating poverty in the communities.
In Uganda 22 000 farmers were displaced from their lands by a forestry carbon offsetting project in 2011.
The Nhambita project as a model for Rio+20 and the Green Economy
The Nhambita carbon project will serve as a model at Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and the Green Economy, and appears on the website of the Rio+20 Commission for Sustainable Development.
Civil society organisations criticise the Rio+20 summit harshly for trying to bring approval and legitimacy to the commercialisation of nature.
“We are awaiting the REDD National Strategy and outcomes of Rio+20 in order to broaden implementation of the REDD+ programme in other locations”, Aristides Muhate of Envirotrade confirmed when interviewed by us at one of the company’s camps on May 23rd, 2012.
In fact, Envirotrade has a further two projects in addition to the Nhambita one, which operate with the same objective of selling carbon: one in the Zambezi Delta region and one in the Maconia district of the Quirimbas archipelago in Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique. Envirotrade is actively developing plans for a further two large-scale REDD+ projects.
The Nhambita REDD+ project might be copied in other areas of Mozambique. Members of the Mozambican government as well as international representatives, including Zambian ex-president Kenneth Kaunda, have visited the project, which could also serve as a model to be copied outside Mozambique in other African countries.
What is REDD...
The idea behind Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is that developed countries wishing to reduce their emissions should receive financial compensation for doing so. Thanks to photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which means they serve as a sort of “sponge” absorbing pollution. The REDD concept is marketed as a way of preserving forests, stopping climate change, protecting biodiversity, eradicating poverty and financing communities.
However, according to the United Nations, REDD could lead to “locking up forests”, “loss of land”, “conflict over resources”, “the concentration of power in the hands of elites”, “new risks for the poor” and could “marginalise the landless”. 9
Many sectors in civil society warn of the risk that REDD projects could result in massive takeovers of land and constitute a way of colonising forests.
The REDD+ Legal framework in Mozambique
Work on developing the REDD National Strategy started in 2009. With the technical support of the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation and Indufor (Brazil), The Ministry for Coordination of Environmental Action (MICOA) and the Ministry for Agriculture (MINAG) held provincial meetings in Maputo to present the REDD+ programme. However, during these meetings the information given basically centred on the benefits and opportunities for Mozambique in implementing REDD+, thus creating expectations concerning income among participants. The negative aspects of REDD+ were not mentioned.
“The process was not very transparent, there was no access to the process for representatives of civil society who wished to follow it. Access to information was also lacking”, said Anabela Lemos of Justiça Ambiental (“Environmental Justice”).
The REDD National Strategy is still being debated in Mozambique. Its drafting has been the target of criticism from civil society organisations, including the National Farmers’ Union (União Nacional de Camponeses, UNAC) and Justiça Ambiental (Friends of the Earth Mozambique), because of its focus on clean development mechanisms and carbon markets, because it has named agrofuel and monoculture projects as eligible for REDD+ and because it did not involve civil society from the outset.
For example, community consultations that have been carried out reveal themselves to be unrepresentative – community and farmers’ consultations involved only 889 people in a country with a population of over 20 million.
“The REDD National Strategy is still being discussed, but the (Sofala) provincial government authorised it because the idea was to see how it would turn out. All the experiences will be compiled here (in Nhambita), that’s why we are a sort of laboratory, a model project”, said Aristides Muhate, carbon “head” at Envirotrade.
Recently, Charles Hall of Envirotrade told British newspaper The Observer10 that “the business model for Envirotrade frankly remains to be proven”. According to him, “The fact that this can be made into a sustainable business on the basis of selling carbon offsets remains to be seen”.
International peasant movement La Via Campesina (which includes Mozambican farmers), recently released a position paper ahead of the Rio+20 conference, condemning among others the REDD mechanisms, carbon markets and the green economy.
“We repudiate and denounce the green economy as a new mask to hide increasing levels of corporate greed and food imperialism in the world, and as a brutal “green washing” of capitalism that only implements false solutions, like carbon trading, REDD, […] and all of the market-based solutions to the environmental crisis”, part of the position paper reads.
Augusto Mafigo, president of the Mozambican National Farmers’ Union, is concerned by the involvement of Nhambita farmers in carbon and REDD+ projects. Mafigo is convinced that REDD+ can be detrimental to farmers.
“As farmers we reject REDD, as it is clear that this is not a sustainable programme, and we run the risk of losing our resources and aggravating the poverty which already plagues us”, he said.
* Real names withheld to protect the sources.
♦ Translator’s note: Translation of the contract terms originally in Portuguese.
9 UN-REDD Framework Document, http://www.undp.org/mdtf/UN-REDD/docs/Annex-A-Framework-Docoment.pdf , p. 4-5 A Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP) Policy Brief, Based on the report “Making REDD Work for the Poor”, (Peskett et al, 2008) http://www.povertyenvironment.net/pep/ PEP includes UNDP, UNEP, IUCN, OCI, SIDA, ADB, DFID, WCMC For footnotes and complete textual citations of UN documents: See Earth Peoples http://www.earthpeoples.org/blog REDD Brochure