20 December 2014
What if you threw a lavish party for foreign investors, and no one came? By all accounts, that is what’s happening in Mozambique’s Nacala Corridor.
(Bread for the World)
What if you threw a lavish party for foreign investors, and no one came? By all accounts, that is what’s happening in Mozambique’s Nacala Corridor, the intended site for Africa’s largest agricultural development scheme – or land grab, depending on your perspective.
The ProSavana project, a Brazilian-and-Japanese-led development project, was supposed to be turning Mozambique’s fertile savannah lands in the north into an export zone, replicating Brazil’s success taming its own savannah – the cerrado – and transforming it into industrial mega-farms of soybeans. The vision, hatched in 2009, but only revealed to Mozambicans in 2013, called for 35 million hectares (nearly 100 million acres) of “underutilized” land to be converted by Brazilian agribusiness into soybean plantations for cheaper export to China and Japan.
In my two weeks in Mozambique, including one week in the Nacala Corridor, I had a hard time finding evidence of any such transformation. It was easy, though, to find outrage at a plan seen by many in the region as a secret land grab. That resistance, which has evolved into a tri-national campaign in Japan, Brazil, and Mozambique to stop ProSavana, is one of the reasons the project is a currently a dud.
The new face of South-South investment?
I came to look at ProSavana because, out of all the large-scale projects I studied over the course of the last year, this one sounded almost plausible. It wasn’t started by some fly-by-night venture capitalist, growing a biofuel crop he’d never produced commercially for a market that barely existed. That’s what I saw in Tanzania, and such failed land grabs litter the African landscape.
ProSavana at least knew its investors: Brazil’s agribusiness giants. The planners also knew their technology: Brazil’s soybeans, which had adapted to the harsh tropical conditions of Brazil’s cerrado. And they knew their market: Japan’s and China’s hog farms and their insatiable appetite for feed, generally made with soybeans. That was already more than a lot of these grand schemes had going for them.
I was also compelled by the sheer scale of the project. When first announced, ProSavana was to encompass 35 million hectares of land, an area the size of North Carolina. That would have made it the largest land acquisition in Africa.