COMACO in Nyalugwe Chiefdom, Eastern Province
By John T. Njovu
COMMUNITY Markets for Conservation (COMACO) operates out-grower schemes in poor communities to supply it with agro-products for its factory. It produces mealie meal (milled maize), peanut butter and, refines and bottles honey. It has been operating in the Nyalugwe chiefdom for almost two decades.
An outgrower scheme is an economic system that is commonly being used by foreign owned companies and social enterprises in Zambia. Mainly due to poor service delivery of the government (bad governance), poor citizens are at the mercy of exploitative companies and social enterprises. The government agro-production enhancement, extension and marketing systems have been too weak to effectively help peasant farmers. Indigenous people who own the vast majority of the land are poor and do not have the unity, skills and finances to effectively and efficiently use their land. Where they unite and form cooperatives, the cooperatives formed are also riddled with numerous management and financial challenges. They have, therefore, little impact on reducing poverty in rural farming communities. The out-grower organisers have the financial power but not much land. They, therefore organise, train and fund peasant farmers to supply them with inputs for their processing or packaging plants.
However, COMACO, in the Nyalugwe chiefdom, has gone beyond its out-grower scheme and purportedly owns a large tract of traditional land. It is selling purportedly bi-carbon to developed nations. It has what is called a community ranch that purportedly runs from the west side of Great East Road from Luangwa bridge to somewhere near Kacholola. The western side of the area borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. An estimated 65 by 10 Km stretch of land. There has been concern by a number of descendants of the Nyalugwe ancestry on such a large piece of land being awarded to a single person. Large tracts of land have been awarded to investors on the western side of Great East Road and near the Luangwa River in the past. The investors operate safari camps. COVID-19 has shown the disadvantages of letting foreigners drive the economy of a chiefdom. When the flow of foreign tourists ceased, questions started being raised on a business model that relies on foreign investors and tourists. Descendants of the Nyalugwe ancestry have called for changes in the business models in the chiefdom. They are calling for more accountability and transparency in the chiefdoms transactions with investors. Aware of the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), they are calls for indigenous people to be more involved in developments in their homelands, especially dealing with communal land and to reject exploitative investors.
The deals of COMACO in the chiefdom have been deemed exploitative and are, therefore, causing concerns among the majority of indigenous people in their area of operation. This is especially that there is no accountability and transparency on the number of hectares being declared for sales of Bi-carbon and how much is being realised and shared between COMACO, the traditional chief and the community. The bigger the tract of land, the more money is realised from sales of bi-carbon sales. The community is also not aware of agreements between the government and developed nations regarding the resolutions of the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), climate change mitigation and the green economy.
A team of concerned Nyalugweans based in Lusaka, therefore, took a study tour to the chiefdom on a fact finding mission as tribal stakeholders. This was from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th December 2022. They were Messrs John, Samson and Lovemore Njovu, and Messrs Jack M. Nyalugwe and Simon Banda, and veteran Journalist Mr. Derrick Sinjela and videographer, Mr Victor Mapepa. The three Njovu-s and Mr Nyalugwe hail from the royal clan. They are princes. The team was led by Mr. John T. Njovu. 1
They on Saturday 17th December met with his Royal Highness Chief Nyalugwe, a number of head-persons, members of the Catholic Church’s Commission for Justice and peace, and a member of the Nyalugwe Development Trust. According to the chief and Head-persons, COMACO has not fulfilled its promises to the communities in its operation area during the long period that it has operated in the area. Mr Joseph Nyangu who is Headman Tiyopa of Mvuwa explained that when COMACO arrived in the area and made them sign documents, it did not explain what the purpose was for making them sign. They were only informed that something nice is on the way for them. He regrets signing as nothing nice has come his way. He also explained that the community including the chief’s representative had a meeting where they rejected that COMACO should build a camp at Mvuwa near St Joseph of Mvuwa-Chamilala Catholic Mission. They told COMACO to go to Mishope area that is far away from the settlement of Mvuwa-Chamilala.
The Catholic Commissioner, Mr. George Katwamba, questioned who was giving such large tracts of land to the investors. Mr Nyangu responded that it was Chief Nyalugwe. Mr Katwamba explained that a chief does not own land and cannot give it away without consulting headmen. He said that a chief is only a custodian of the land on behalf of the people. The headmen are in charge of villages daily matters. He blamed the headmen for the allocations by the chief of land that raises uproar among ordinary villagers. Mr. Nyangu begged to differ with him and argued that they have been dis-empowered by the chief..
Mr Jack Nyalugwe argued that our forefathers fought for land and independence against colonialists and it is disappointing to see that we are opening the door for recolonisation by giving large tracts of land to one company. He urged Nyalugweans to say no to such agreements concerning ownership of land.
The chief assured the delegation that COMACO will not fence off the ranch. He explained that its southern boundary is where many animals enter Zambia. They come from Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It would destabilise the ecosystem in the Luangwa basin.
Mr John T. Njovu appealed to the Catholic Commissioners of Peace and Justice led by the Lay Priest (aBusa), Mr. Sylvester Siliro Lungu, to help investigate what was going on between the communities and COMACO where it was operating, and to ensure that there was fairness and justice in the dealing of COMACO with the communities in the chiefdom. He was aware that it is regarded as taboo to question authorities and that there was superstition on openly criticising wrong doers. Poor communities also fear to take on higher net-worth individuals and companies. Legal costs tend to be high and the legal process too long for them to sustain. The belief in witchcraft is strong among rural communities. Therefore, trained Catholic commissioners, he argued would be best to circumnavigate such challenges in establishing the truth. Public audits are needed to review the memorandums being signed by agents of indigenous communities with cunning investors for fairness to communities. And to review reports of financial transactions pertaining to community resources for accuracy and accountability.
The COMACO Nyimba office refers all queries to their Chief Executive Officer in Lusaka, Dr Dale Lewis. The Commissioners shall follow up matters outstanding with COMACO.
Some female members of the community criticised the visiting team for not having a female member in the team and not requesting female relatives to take part in the meeting with the chief and with the Catholic laity. They pointed out that females were also important stakeholders on land issues.
On the way back to Lusaka, the team observed that there was clearing of the forest and excavation of a hill on the area of concern near the Luangwa bridge. However, it was too far away from the main road for the team to go and investigate whether mining or building construction was going on there. And who were carrying out the works.
The team noted the shrinkage of land for the occupancy of indigenous people in the chiefdom. Members were concerned that if more land is allocated to foreigners then future generations will have no land to settle on and for economic development as the population increases. The 10 km stretch being occupied by COMACO to the Mozambican border from the Great East road shall be needed by the growing population. The population at the Mvuwa-Chamilala area is likely to rapidly increase in the next decade as St Joseph Rural Health Centre is now a full fledged hospital. It means more workers and suppliers of goods and services coming to settle around the hospital.
As the chant of “COMACO No” by the meeting’s participants echoed from the nearby Mvuwa hills, the team concluded that the majority of people in the Nyalugwe Chiefdom wanted COMACO out of the chiefdom. COMACO has not been open with the community on the income it is making from the communal land and not sharing that income with the community.
John T. Njovu
COMACO AND THE NYALUGWE CHIEFDOM
COMACO (https://itswild.org/) has veered from its usual outgrower scheme to ‘green neo-colonialism’ of indigenous territories. It is using its financial and marketing muscles in poor communities to grab land in the guise of partnering with them. At the moment it is trying to set up a camp in Mvuwa near St. Joseph Catholic mission. However, the community of Mvuwa has objected to its plan to set up base there. COMACO is well connected to a number of BINGO and other international partners (https://itswild.org/donors-and-partners/). It CEO presents himself as a saviour of poor Africans.
The communities where it operates lack the business and legal knowledge to see beyond what they are being offered. They are being taken advantage of by a company that is aware of the international business trends regarding climate change and carbon sales. Using their land and forests, COMACO is reaping them off because of the weaknesses of their rulers and policies. Those who are critical of COMACO’s scam and the collusion of their traditional rulers, have no means to make a stand for their indigenous rights or take legal action or raise local and international awareness to expose COMACO’s activities.
COMACO has a history of not delivering on its promises to the communities. There are complaints in the Nyalugwe chiefdom and Chibende and Mwanjabatu chiefdoms of the company failing to deliver on its promises.
Most of the members of these communities are not aware of hectares declared and the amount of money that COMACO is realising from their land. COMACO has not been conducting the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process well. It has purportedly been just promising nice things to signatories of its beneficiaries’ agreements without specifying what these nice things are. ‘ REDD+ schemes are all legally based on proper FPIC of participating communities being carried out.
This is contrary to their presentation of their REDD+ approach and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Due to weaknesses of royal establishments, COMACO is able to get away with excessive exploitation of indigenous peoples. Traditions of not asking royal establishments to be transparent and account for moneys realised from dealings with investors on behalf of the people, have also not helped commoners to benefits from their ancestral lands. The names of communities keep on being used in transactions that only benefit a few. National commerce, industry, forest, and fisheries policies are not helpful to most indigenous people. There are mostly poor. Therefore, they help perpetuate the colonial and neo-colonial exploitation of locals by external investors.
COMACO is acquiring large areas of land in contrast to what chiefs are giving to locals. This will in the end reduce the amount of land for residences, farming, and developments of the locals in future. For example, the upgrading of a rural health centre in the Mvuwa – Chamilala area into a hospital will lead to major social and economic developments in the area. The 7 to 10 Km behind the hospital to the border will be needed by the community and newcomers in the area for residences, shops, offices and entertainment. However, it won’t be available if it shall be held by COMACO. The royal establishment and civic managers should be able to see this as a seed for future civil conflicts between the community and company. The youth may begin to resent what their royal establishments, elders and civic managers are doing. Giving away land in return for menial jobs, small amounts of cash, cell phones, motor bikes and used vehicles.
COMACO’s virtual board found on https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/a640b3496b5d4f079093429597296d7f/page/Carbon-Verification-/ shows how huge the indigenous land being used without FPIC of local inhabitants to sell carbon credits to polluters abroad is. They describe their carbon strategy here: https://itswild.org/causes/carbon-project/.
It is also not explaining to communities or communities do not understand the restrictions on future usage by local people that is intrinsic to the REDD.
It is time to have order where there is no order in land allocation and stop the abuse of the rights of indigenous peoples. There is a need for a thorough investigation on COMACO’s acquisition of communal land in the areas of its operations by relevant authorities. Public audits of community partnership agreements with business houses and NGOs should be thoroughly carried out by governance agencies to stop communities from being exploited. There is also need to have transparency and accountability in land allocations and the sale of bi-carbon in the chiefdoms. Traditional lands are held in trust by traditional leaders on behalf of all the descendants of the ancestors of ethnic groups. Independent systems of land allocation in chiefdoms should be in place so that no one may abuse the custodial positions.
John T. Njovu
In a quest to interact with all stakeholders, on Tuesday, 20th December 2022, John Njovu, wrote Nyimba Member of Parliament (MP) Menyani Zulu:
Dear Honourable Mr Menyani Zulu:
Wishing you all the best during this Solstice season and a happy New Year.
I wish to let you know that I visited the Nyalugwe chiefdom during this past weekend. I had sent you an SMS on your Airtel number 0971859217 about it. I had wanted your office’s participation in the meetings as a representative of your constituents regarding such important matters as land.
My aim had been to find out more from stakeholders on the issue of COMACO having been awarded a large tract of land from Luangwa bridge to Kacholala. Also to find out if it was true that it was going to fence off the land.
I met the chief, head-persons and the Catholic laity representing the church from Nyimba to Saulo village. I had invited the Councilor Mr. Moses Tembo to the meeting at the Catholic St. Joseph Church of Chamilala-Mvuwa. He, unfortunately, did not join us at the meeting held on Saturday 17th December, 2022.
Based on the information I gathered there is no accountability and transparency of transactions of COMACO in its dealing with the chiefdom. No money has been received by the community from the communal ranch and other places managed by COMACO. No one knows how much is being realised from bi-carbon sales by COMACO and being declared as land owned by it in bi-carbon transactions. The community does not seem to have the ability to assert itself in business affairs with investors or development partners. I, therefore, requested the Catholic Church that has resources to ensure that there is fairness in the relationship of the community and COMACO to help the chiefdom.
Attached is my longer write up on my tour of the Nyalugwe chiefdom. You may likely find some issues there for your follow up. I am hoping that one day we can meet and discuss issues of social economic development in the Nsenga chiefdoms that may be of interest to your constituents and my audiences. I am a film producer, Indigenous Evaluator and administrator of the Facebook pages; The Nsenga People and JTN Luangwa Blog.
John T. Njovu
Atlas Project Coordinator – Africa and Asia
Member – Global Indigenous Evaluation Task-force (EvalIndigenous)
Member – UNEG – EvalPartners’ 2021 Global Forum Organising Taskforce
Honorary Member – Zambia Monitoring and Evaluation Association (ZaMEA)
Life Member – The International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS)
Former Treasurer – African Evaluation Association (AfrEA)
Former Chairperson – The Governance Monitoring and Evaluation Committee of the Government of Zambia
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