SAR, Vol 12 No 2, February 1997
A BLUEPRINT FOR NIASSA
BY OLAF TATARYN JUERGENSEN AND HARTMUT PEREIRA KRUGMAN
Olaf Tataryn Juergensen is a Research Associate with the International Development Resource Centre, Ottawa, Canada. Hartmut Pereira Krugman is Senior Programme Specialist at the IDRC's regional office in Johannesburg.
Nestled between Malawi and Tanzania in northern Mozambique, the Province of Niassa often has been referred to as the "Forgotten Paradise." Mozambique's largest and potentially richest province remains one of the most underdeveloped regions in southern Africa, with little activity in the formal cash economy, scarce and ill-equipped schools and health posts, a mere 200 kilometres of paved roads to service an area roughly the size of England, and train travel to the provincial capital of Lichinga made hazardous because of unsafe rails and bridges.
Yet if forgotten, Niassa is not without history. The Portuguese colonial government had very little interest (or capacity) to develop basic infrastructure or the local economy initially. At the end of the 19th century the entire province was sold to German interests. Fearing British expansion from Nyasaland (today Malawi), however, the Portuguese established a small administrative presence at Lichinga during the first half of this century.
The province took on a new significance to the Portuguese when Frelimo began to enter Mozambique from bases in Tanzania in the early 1960s. In response, the colonial government moved a massive number of soldiers and agents into the province as a counter-insurgent measure. Yet the sheer size of Niassa and relatively small population (approximately 700,000 in 1975) made tracking down Frelimo futile.
When Renamo began its civil war with the Frelimo government shortly after independence, however, Niassa's size and lack of infrastructure came back to haunt Frelimo troops, for Renamo was able to traverse the huge forests and labyrinth of river valleys with little opposition. With the signing of the 1992 Peace Accord between Frelimo and Renamo and successful democratic elections in October 1994, Niassa finally has the opportunity to realize its development potential.
The legacy of 30 years of almost constant war has devastated the province. Large scale population displacement, universal degradation and destruction of physical infrastructure, stunted commercial development, and the loss to a generation of basic education and training all take their toll. Yet ironically, the 1976 - 1992 Renamo-Frelimo war, which was the most intense period of conflict, kept development initiatives out of the region, and as a result Niassa's rich natural resource base remains generally healthy. Events since the "Peace Election," however, put the environment at risk of unbridled modernization and development. This brief report sheds light on some of the dilemmas facing Niassa as it prepares for the 21st century.
Niassa looks toward 2000
Attempting to spur post-conflict reconstruction and development, the provincial government hosted a seminar, "Niassa 2000," in October 1995. The seminar brought representatives of various national and provincial ministries, NGOs, the diplomatic community, donors and local business leaders together to try and chart a provincial development strategy. The main conclusion of the seminar was that exploration and commercial development of the province's natural resource base would provide for its future prosperity.
In concert with Niassa 2000, several key areas were identified as central to the province's future development: cash-cropping, immigration, natural resource utilization, and tourism. The seminar also concluded that all projects would integrate a sensitive "appreciation" and integration of local historical, geographical, and cultural factors. There are apprehensions, however, that comprehending the potential socio-cultural and ecological impacts and integrating these considerations into the imperative of stimulating provincial economic development remains more elusive.
Share-cropping cotton and tobacco for export was re-introduced in the Mandimba-Cuamba-Mecanhelas alley, financed by the Portuguese multi-national Joao Ferreira dos Santos (JFS) and sanctioned by the government. Some of the most fertile lands adjacent to the main north-south Niassa road have already been converted from basic maize production to more lucrative cash crops. The arrival of JFS was warmly embraced by those people fortunate enough to live in the southern quarter of Niassa, for it provided the opportunity to earn a supplementary income. This income would allow families to begin to rebuild their lives, after years of dislocation and dispossession. One eager peasant in Mandimba had this to say: "we will help anyone who wants to develop it here. We will work the land to buy clothes."
Yet despite its immediate economic appeal, the deeper environmental, social and cultural impacts associated with this system of production and income generation require a broader historical lens and careful assessment of implications for the future. Already, land exploitation and expropriation have emerged close to the main road along the fertile Mandimba-Cuamba corridor. The rich body of literature on cotton production in Nampula and Zambezia [most recently, see SAR vol. 12 no. 1, 1996] points to the complexity of cash-cropping in Mozambique, where high prices have been charged for seeds, fertilizers, and equipment, while prices set by regulators and the business community for purchasing the crop were unfair to the producers. Tobacco and cotton farmers in several districts of Niassa revealed in interviews in April, 1996 that their terms of credit, fertilizers, seeds and commodity prices were all externally fixed. In a troubling statement, one local Burley tobacco farmer noted "the people don't know how much the seeds cost because JFS Enterprises came here and allowed the people to use the seeds. Then JFS will cut money during tobacco commercialization. The people will receive money but not including the seeds they received." Obviously, one would like to see a better power balance here.
The second great trek
The central district is earmarked for significant external intervention as well, one which has substantial development potential but promises future conflicts. Isolated Majune, with plenty of surface water and "unoccupied" land, became the focus of much attention when it was selected as the site where white South African farmers and their families would resettle on land secured by 50 year lease agreements. Academics, pundits, and practitioners have seen the migration as rooted in factors related to the 1994 election of the ANC, most particularly the ANC's plans to (re)distribute land and the wish to undertake a second historical trek and create an enclave of Afrikanerdom. Unlike the first trek, this migration is not clandestine, but rather very public - a South African Broadcasting Corporation team even travelled to the district - and received political backing from the highest offices in Mozambique and South Africa.
Under the conditions of the Mosagrius agricultural development programme, signed in May, 1996 by Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano and South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Majune was designated as the location where the first wave of South African families will settle and begin commercial farming activities. The first families arrived in June, 1996.
The historical irony that a region which was devastated by a war of destabilization fomented by the former South African apartheid government, which supplied and trained Renamo at secret camps in South Africa, today welcomes settlers wishing to preserve key elements of apartheid is lost on the people living in the region. Instead, there is a widespread consensus that the "Boers" will bring jobs, schools, health posts, and other basic amenities that the impoverished state has been unable to furnish. One regal old woman analyzed the situation like this: "they [South Africans] will bring more employment for the people and develop more activities so we can get the best of our life. We do not think bad of them. They will help us. When they come here they will meet traditional customs and will take land that is protected by traditional authority. We will work with them to get employment and solve our problems." In fact, as we discovered during our field research prior to the arrival of the farmeiros, so excited were some of the people that one chief noted, "we have been waiting for the South Africans for a year. We were thinking that you were a South African! We thought the Government had forgotten us."
Particular concerns about the settlement relate to water use, clearing large tracts of land and the intensified use of soils. Since the settlement area does not receive adequate and timely precipitation as required by modernized large-scale agriculture, it is understood that diverting some of the flow of the vital Lugenda River might be unavoidable. The consequences of modifying the flow would be far reaching, however, as the river cuts diagonally through the heart of the province and serves as an important source of food and drinking water during the dry season.
The migration most certainly will reshape the human landscape as well. The South Africans will (re)establish schools and health posts in the isolated northern region, to provide basic social services to the men and women who work on the new farms and help reconstruct the devastated Majune infrastructure. Coupled with the ability to earn a daily wage income, these services will draw migrants from the main population centres in the southern half of the district. The need for additional labour during the planting and harvest periods of the agricultural cycle will have potentially negative repercussions on the gender division of labour in the household.
As South Africans develop roots and modernization proceeds, local cultural change is inevitable. How such change can be channelled to help build the capacity and cohesiveness of local communities and society, rather than unsettling them, remains an open question.
Riches of the land
Informal, unregulated gold recovery from river beds is an important local economic activity in parts of north-western Niassa, particularly the Lago District. Typically, however, this gold was traded across the border to Tanzania, leaking gold revenues out of the province through informal marketing channels. This trend can depress the prices offered to local gold panners, and thus deprive them, their families and the local economy of cash income.
The process also raises apprehensions about water pollution from toxic mercury compounds used for informal gold processing and usually directly released into the rivers. Such pollution could threaten the ground water around the town of Lupilichi, and if run-off were to reach Lake Niassa, the health and fortune of numerous lake shore dwellers, as well as aquatic life in the Rovuma River, might be jeopardized. Successfully regulating gold panning activity may improve processing practices, and thus yield environmental benefits.
Larger scale exploitation of mining and forestry represents tremendous potential profits. The province boasts highly lucrative minerals such as gold and diamonds, and coal reserves that dwarf the country's main fields at Moatize in Tete Province. Due to the poor state of road and rail infrastructure in the northern half of the province, mining development is at an early stage, but is expected to attract large-scale capital investment and play an important long-term role.
As much as 90 percent of Niassa is covered by forests, and the government estimates that at least 94 million cubic meters of commercially viable timber is available in the province. These stands consist of various exotic hard and soft woods, and have already drawn the attention of Europeans. Commercial logging has yet to appear in Niassa, as it has in an unregulated fashion in parts of Zambezia, Manica, and Sofala, but lucrative ebony stands are already being harvested by "private" loggers, paid handsomely by European companies who use the wood for musical instruments.
Game for tourists
Niassa's north-eastern corner (Mecula District) is dominated by the 21,000 square kilometre Mecula Game Reserve, which is set to begin operations. The Reserve depends on the Lugenda River maintaining a healthy flow to keep the big-game stocks abundant. From the perspective of the local communities, and the vantage point of provincial and national authorities, the operation of the Reserve, its very large size, isolated location (it hopes to attract fly-in tourists, as travel by road to Mecula is extremely difficult), and future impact need careful study and management. The challenge is to maintain the balance of the existing ecology and to integrate local communities so that all parties can benefit from the economic opportunities that develop.
A pilot study by the National Department of Forestry and Wildlife of the communities inside and surrounding the Mecula Reserve confirmed that a significant number of people live inside the Reserve or nearby in the wildlife dispersal corridor. It is important to involve these communities in the management and operation of the Reserve and its wildlife if it is to yield equitable and sustainable benefits.
The areas of Lago and Lichinga districts fronting on Lake Niassa are targeted for tourism and fishery development. Already, the traffic of tourists travelling from Likoma Island in Malawi to Cobue in Mozambique by dhow has gradually increased. Although relatively small in scale, tourism on the Malawi side of Lake Niassa has long been a major boon to the local communities, and is seen as an important form of economic development with low capital intensity.
War in Mozambique, and the natural path for backpackers "overlanding" between Cape Town and Nairobi, which cuts through Malawi to the north, left tourism almost entirely absent from Niassa. However, a series of guest houses is now being constructed in Cobue, and immigration requirements have been amended so that tourists from Malawi can enter Mozambique on a temporary 24 hour visa. In Metengula, 3 hours from Lichinga, a small, locally owned beach operation also is beginning to thrive.
Yet local tourism-related enterprises already are threatened by foreign investors from South Africa and Europe, who seem interested in developing the pristine eastern shore of the lake. The interest of these international investors sparked local concerns that tourism development in Niassa will come to resemble the pattern along the Indian Ocean coastline in Mozambique, rather than the pattern of neighbouring Malawi, where investment and control is almost entirely in the hands of Malawians. Mozambique's coastline boasts some of the most exclusive resorts in southern Africa, but these resorts have shown little regard for their local economic, social or cultural impacts.
If Niassa's development does not take a measured and informed approach, then perhaps in a generation or two people will refer to Niassa as "Paradise Lost." Clearly the inherent weaknesses of any "development" process is laid bare in Niassa, a place virtually untouched by several decades of rhetoric or practice of development in Africa. The twin ideologies of the cold war and apartheid helped bring Mozambique to its knees through a complex interplay of political, economic and military events orchestrated as much from within the country as from Washington, Pretoria and Moscow. In recent years, the new twin ideologies of unbridled market-based development and regional/global economic integration pose new threats to equitable and sustainable (re)construction and longer-term development. Niassa is at particular risk, and yet its very exclusion offers the possibility of a different development road. The hope is that Niassa will find its way, but the question remains: where is the map?
The authors wish to thank Antonio Matchuo of Eduardo Mondlane University's Department of Geography for his assistance in collecting and translating the oral testimonies from Yao and Macua.
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