Hidden victims of the 'green revolution'

Biofuels are nothing new to Simeon Mayimel. He's been burning charcoal and elephant dung for years. He had never expected that they would change his or his people's way of life.

One of the elders in his village, Nangene, Mr Mayimel is the leader of a community of two dozen or so families facing an uncertain future. They are Shangaan people, whose way of life in the borderlands of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, based on crops and cattle, has altered little for generations.

That is about to change. Nangene and seven other villages have been consumed by the recently created Transfrontier Limpopo National Park, which straddles the three countries, and the villagers along with more than a thousand other families are to be resettled outside its borders. They have been promised houses, electricity, running water and grazing at a new site.

But now the government has given a huge tract of the same land to a biofuels company, Procana, and their putative home is set to become Mozambique's largest sugar-cane plantation.

"They have told us there is room for both [villagers and plantations] but we haven't seen it," Mr Mayimel complains. "All the time we are told we will be moving next month. Then when next month comes we are told it will be next month."

The resettlement plan was only agreed after three years of fractious negotiations and the intervention of a local human rights group, Oram, which taught the villagers how to stand up to the authorities.

Issuto Tankar, who led Oram's fight, says that without support they would have been driven off their land as others have been elsewhere in the country. "They would have left by now without compensation. The people would have lost everything."

The Limpopo park headquarters is only a few miles from Nangene but it belongs to a different world. The park commissioner, Rodolfo Cumbane, receives visitors in a polished boardroom with leather chairs. He admits that the sudden arrival of the biodiesel revolution has delayed the resettlement of the villagers but insists the promise of a better life will be kept. "We are trying to improve the environment and create job opportunities together with the resettlement," says Mr Cumbane. Then he adds: "Work will start later this month, or next month."

Is there enough water for industrial agriculture, small-scale farming, grazing, hydropower and irrigation? "Yes," he replies, before admitting that rainfall varies sharply from year to year.

This week the streets of Chokwe and Maputo were transformed into battlegrounds after the government dropped price controls and the cost of bread soared. At least 11 people were killed with many more wounded.

Fears remain that there is more of this to come as the twofold effect of the biofuel boom is felt: global agricultural commodity prices surge and local food security is undermined by the switch from food to fuel. Places such as Chokwe and Massingir will feel the worst of it.

In Maputo, Tanja Kleibl, from the Catholic development agency Cafod, which funds Oram's work, says that Mozambique's economic miracle – hailed by the president of the World Bank this week – could prove a dangerous illusion. "It is all political," she says. "The government supports big agricultural interests ... not small-scale farmers who are 80 per cent of the population." There is already serious malnutrition in one province, she adds, and recent floods show how quickly people become dependent on food aid. "They are storing up conflict for the future."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test