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SNV: “Let’s Make Land the Most Productive Asset”

SNV: “Let’s Make Land the Most Productive Asset”

The Dutch Development Organisation (SNV) is going to start implementing the so-called Responsible Land Investment. The idea is to realise two historically difficult to reconcile objectives: secure access to land and productivity. Hilário Sitoe, from SNV, explains how they intend to get there.

With a predicted duration of four years and a cost of 800 thousand euros (more than 53 million meticais), the project, recently launched, will still have to bring together the main interested parties, namely the Government, the communities and the business community to outline forms of action.

SNV intends, basically, to fill the gaps that prevent the country from transforming land into an asset for development, at a time when its policy and strategy are under review, and with a very poor consultation process.

According to Hilario Sitoe, leader of the agriculture sector at SNV, besides this entity, the project is managed by a consortium made up of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Land Equity International (LEI), the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) and the World Agroforestry (ICRAF), and has financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Recently, SNV launched a project it calls Transformative Investment in Land which, among other issues, aims to “reason” the issue of access to land by communities, helping to make a stand against the phenomenon of usurpation. How do you plan to intervene in this area?

First, it is important to contextualise the Mozambican Constitution and look back to understand how we were and why we are like this today. It is important to stress and understand that developments are beginning to show and to bring, not only in Mozambique, a discussion around land investments.

“Why are the communities not able to make the land an asset? It’s because they don’t have the capacity to use it to develop large and productive projects.

The Right of Land Use and Utilisation (DUAT) serves as a comfort to less advantaged societies. A good portion is in the hands of communities, who have it as a resource for the development of any asset.

As such, if we ensure that under current legislation and customary law, communities continue to own the land, we are creating the conditions for them to generate some income and have a livelihood.

It may seem that it already works like that, not least because the communities have held the land for some time. So the question may be, “why are they not able to make an asset out of it?”

And the answer is that they don’t have the capacity to use the land to develop something big, they can’t make it productive. So they confine themselves only to practising domestic agriculture, and rarely achieve surpluses to market and take some income to feed their families.

One of the important discussions at this level is the fact that land, by law, is owned by the State. Are there therefore no limits to the intervention of the SNV in an attempt to protect the interests of communities and the private sector?

I think that’s the big question. The project looks at all these dynamics from the perspective of land-based investments, exactly to create conditions for more sustainable food systems.

To discuss agriculture from the perspective of production and commercialisation one must also look at other factors such as the natural resources involved, the transport and processing systems.

The chain has to become increasingly sustainable from the point of view of food systems, and this is only possible if there is arable land available that can be used, whether for small investments or for large ones, but which are capable of generating income.

Therefore, the project wants to create conditions to, according to the context, stimulate a discussion of the various sectors – public, private and civil society organisations – and discuss the issue from the angle of land rights by communities and land-based investments where the community is consulted.

The discussion extends to aspects related to the financing of investments on land, but also to the need to maintain, probably, the right of use and benefit, without excluding ownership because, if this is possible, we will be contributing to improve production in the less favoured communities. That, in short, is the vision of the project.

Experience shows that the objective of giving communities and businesses the right to use and benefit from land is very old and difficult to achieve. What will be the innovative aspect in SNV’s project?

There are already three interesting approaches: one is non-monetary compensation, but in light of the use and enjoyment of land. Another model is the stakeholder platform, because we think it is possible to bring the private sector closer to the various communities who want to protect their interests, rights and duties in light of primary legislation. Then we have the private sector that is interested in increasing land-based investments, and finally we have the public sector that is the custodian and manager of the land. We are discussing all these issues to then be put on the table and debated by the three stakeholders – Government, business and communities.

“The project looks at all these dynamics from the perspective of investments, exactly to create more sustainable food systems”

Note that, for example, in the consultation phase of the new National Land Policy, communities were not consulted because there were extreme events, in this case cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which made it difficult to access some areas where land issues are even more pressing. Then we have the issue of the insurgency in the North, where it was also not possible to hold consultations in certain places, not counting covid-19, which coincided with the period of the consultations, making them unviable because there could be no direct contact between people.

The consultation with the communities was not carried out in full due to the issues I mentioned and this is not anyone’s fault. What may have happened is that a number of issues that may be of interest to the communities may have gone unnoticed in the current draft of the land policy.

Similar projects are being developed in other countries, notably Ghana, Ethiopia and Myanmar. What are the responses that these markets have given that could provide insight into what will happen in Mozambique?

Ghana has one of the best examples of decentralisation of land use that promotes secure access to land by communities and businesses. In that country, local leaders are free to decide how land should be distributed and used, both by the private sector and by communities.

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These leaders study investment proposals on land and decide whether or not to go ahead with concessions for new investments, after a thorough study of the benefits that these projects can bring to the local economy. But to decide on this they rely on great technical support. Each case is different, and each country can develop its own strategy, but in Ghana it works well and there are quality investments.

Will the financial sector be involved in these discussions? What is this sector’s opinion on the project?

Immediately it will not be involved, but we will work with representatives of the private sector, including the CTA. One of the main problems we have is that this should be a tripartite dialogue, but it is not possible to have the private sector, the State and the communities at the same time. Therefore, conditions must be created to have all three at the same table discussing the premises that exist for land-based investments.

If the private sector wants to improve its investment environment it will have to make a programme with environmental sustainability, social sustainability of the communities and technical sustainability, because it has to make the communities happy, but not with what we usually see, which is to drill a borehole here or a school there. I think it has to be a more meaningful development plan.

We have, for example, the oil and gas investments that involve many millions of dollars. And what we see is that they drill a borehole for water while they could create a more elaborate development plan or a community development plan, invest in social infrastructure and create conditions for the development of the human capital that is there, open schools, provide scholarships and create conditions for these people who will graduate to be employed.

This model is already used in many countries. If a certain community is close to an oil & gas project, why not transform it into a city? From my point of view, the discussion should be along these lines.

At the end of the four-year period, what country will we have in terms of land exploration if everything goes according to forecasts?

At this stage we are carrying out studies that will focus on the type of action plan that we need to have in order to implement activities tailored to the problems that exist.

But I believe that if we reach a stage where the tripartite dialogue actually takes place, and the communities already participate in the issues of large investments, and the DUATs for the communities are processed much more quickly, it could be a great investment for the project.

There are examples of places where large investments were made on the land, which then became large cities. That is another level of yearning that requires a lot of seriousness and celerity. Communities take a long time waiting for the DUAT, around ten years or so. The success of land investments depends on getting a good database for their management, that communities participate and have a voice, and that the investments are socially, environmentally and technically sustainable.

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