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20 February 2020
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Newsletter n° 135 [ENG]

NO TO THE PROVISION OF 60,000 HECTARES OF LAND IN MADAGASCAR FOR THE EMIRATIE COMPANY ELITE AGRO LLC

The decade began in a singular way for the Malagasy people : on 16 January 2020, a press release signed by the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries announced that a "framework agreement" ("Memorandum of Understanding") had just been signed on 60,000 ha of land in Lower Mangoky with a large company called Elite Agro LLC based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

What have the various authorities revealed to date about this framework agreement ? What can we think, at the present stage, of this new form of "collaboration" of the State with foreign investors that involves a huge area of Malagasy land ?

Hesitant and contradictory statements by state officials

The first public information on the project was issued on 16 January as a press release (attached). 

"In order to achieve the President of the Republic’s Commitment to food self-sufficiency in Madagascar, particularly during the year 2020, when the 60th anniversary of the independence will be commemorated, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries has sought partners who will help achieve the objective. Thus, a ’Memorandum of Understanding’ has been signed concerning the collaboration of the State with a major private group based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Elite Agro LLC.

The agreement covers the exploitation of an area of 60,000 ha in the Lower Mangoky zone for the cultivation of rice, maize, wheat, soya, cape peas and groundnuts. The planned annual production is 350,000 tons of rice, 200,000 tons of maize, 150,000 tons of wheat at the outset, and is expected to reach at a later stage 240,000 tons, 300,000 tonnes of soya, 20,000 tons of cape peas and 30,000 tons of groundnuts.

The form of partnership consists of a contribution from both parties : the State provides the land in the form of a loan to the industrial group Elite Agro LLC, while this group will carry out all the planting, take care of all the necessary equipment and logistics and provide the salaries of the people who will work on the farm. All production will be purchased by the Malagasy State at a modest price, again in accordance with the agreement between the two parties, to supply both the local market in order to achieve food self-sufficiency and export targets.

A trial will be made during the first year, and if the trial is successful, both parties will sign a final contract later. This project will start immediately, having obtained the approval of the Council of Ministers on 16 January 2020. (1)

Antananarivo, Thursday the 16th of January 2020

The Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries

RANARIVELO Fanomezantsoa Lucien"

The questions, protests and opposition having flowed from all sides in Madagascar, the President of the Republic mentioned the project in a press briefing on 20 January 2020, specifying that the contract will last 30 years. "We will benefit more from it, because it will allow us not to import any more and therefore not to pay transport costs," explains Andry Rajoelina. (2)

The TV program "Don-dresaka" (debate) on Sunday 26 January on TVPlus devoted to the subject shed more light on various points, in particular on the location of the concerned land, in the Manja district of the Menabe region, on the other side of the Mangoky river in relation to the new perimeters developed by the African Development Bank (3).

During the TV debate, a supporter of the project stated that there were no occupants on these deserted premises and that there was therefore no one to be consulted beforehand. The Director General of Agriculture, for his part, had insisted on the availability of large areas and had suggested that the project could be implemented in areas where there were no inhabitants. But in a press conference (4) the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries said that there are actually inhabitants on the land,"even if the population density is low", and that if it proves necessary, for technical reasons, to relocate people, consultations and agreements with the affected local population will have to be made.

The way in which State officials are releasing information in dribs and drabs with contradictions and hesitations can only give rise to concern and suspicion. Even if the decision-makers give the impression that they have reason to believe that this Memorandum is not worthy of being shown in the sun ("tsy fampiseho masoandro"), we demand as a matter of urgency, like many citizens, the full disclosure of this Memorandum to all Malagasy people in all regions and throughout the world, because the Malagasy territory belongs to all Malagasy people.

However, some reflections can be shared from the incomplete data available to the general public.

Given the current state of available information, what should we think of this new form of partnership/transaction ?

On the one hand, it is difficult to believe everything that has been said, without seeing the content of the Memorandum signed, given the discrepancies between the various statements on the existence of local communities in the area concerned, for example. Many citizens are wary of the so-called one-year trial : if the industrial group starts to undertake the rapid work it has promised, who would dare to think that it will leave if the trial proves inconclusive ?

On the other hand, will the enormous amount of land brought by the Malagasy be considered as significant capital or will it really be lent/donated for free without any consideration ? Aren’t the state and Malagasy society losing out in that the project deprives our citizens of an enormous amount of land, and the state will have to buy the products of the harvest from this company ? The vague term "at a modest price" sounds like smoke to confuse and put to sleep. Moreover, the leaders declare that this system will allow the Malagasy State to avoid using foreign currency by importing food (3), as it does at the moment. But how will the State pay for the harvest ? In Ariary cash, through a system of barter against underground or water resources, or with other plots of land ?

Then it is said that the Malagasy state will buy the harvest. Nothing is known about the price the Malagasy consumer will have to pay for the purchase of rice, maize and other products of the Malagasy soil. If this price is too high, the majority of the Malagasy population, already in great difficulty at present, will not be able to buy food on the local market and food insecurity will worsen throughout the country. If the price is too low, it is likely to discourage and force Malagasy farmers into bankruptcy.

Concerning the company Elite Agro LLC, we will come back later on the known experiences in the other countries of Africa, Asia and Europe where this company intervenes.

We reject the use of this type of partnership to achieve food self-sufficiency.

The signatories of this Communiqué are opposed to any provision of Malagasy land to foreign entities - be they individuals, companies or States - whether the transaction is a sale, lease, loan or donation, and regardless of the length of time envisaged for the provision.

Indeed, 

  • Land is a common property of the Malagasy people and not a commodity,
  • Malagasy families own less than 1 hectare of land on average to work, feed and live on,
  • Some Malagasy farmers are "landless",
  • The patriots of past times fought against colonization so that present and future generations would exploit the land independently, and not for all of them to become agricultural workers for foreign financial groups or multinationals,
  • When local communities are displaced, they lose their land, places, livelihoods and culture permanently. The consequences for them are the same regardless of how long decision-makers and new land occupants expect the transaction to last, whether it is a sale, lease, loan or donation.

Furthermore, in this specific case, the decision of the Council of Ministers to immediately apply the content of the ’framework agreement’ before having informed and consulted the potentially affected inhabitants, and before having carried out the technical and social studies on the impacts of the project on the communities concerned (5) is completely unacceptable. The families who live from livestock and agriculture on the land granted by the State to Elite Agro LLC are men and women who deserve respect for their fundamental rights, like all citizens of the world.

We reject the "framework agreement" with the Elite Agro LLC group because it will not lead to food self-sufficiency, which is defined as "the capacity of a territory to meet the food needs of its population through its own production and resources", This framework agreement runs directly counter to this definition, since the inputs, know-how and material and financial means for this project would be provided by this foreign group.

This project poses a grave danger to Madagascar on several accounts

  • for Malagasy access to huge areas of the territory for decades ;
  • for the environment as we know nothing about the production methods that will be used (GMOs, chemical fertilizers, pesticides,...?) ;
  • for the food security and sovereignty of the entire population ;
  • and for the development of the farmers who make up more than two-thirds of Madagascar’s population.

We strongly contest the strategy adopted by the leaders to rely mainly on investors and large groups from all over the world to cultivate the land in Madagascar, instead of developing the country’s vital forces by further multiplying support measures for local peasantry and entrepreneurship.

Paris, 19 February 2020 (The French version was dated 02 February 2020)

CRAAD-OI : Centre de Recherches et d’Appui pour les Alternatives de Développement - Océan Indien
craad.madagascar@gmail.com ; http://craadoi-mada.com

Collectif pour la défense des terres malgaches – TANY 
patrimoine.malgache@yahoo.fr
 ; http://terresmalgaches.info, www.facebook.com/TANYterresm...

References :

(1) Free translation by us of the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries attached
(2) https://www.madagascar-tribune.com/... ;
http://www.midi-madagasikara.mg/a-l...
(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KE4...
(4) https://2424.mg/tetikasa-elite-agro...
(5) http://www.midi-madagasikara.mg/eco...