6 June 2023
The activities of an American cashew nut company are questioned in a report on the humanitarian plight caused by the displacement of communities by a gas consortium in northern Mozambique.
The report commissioned by TotalEnergies – the industrial lead in the Mozambique LNG consortium – assesses the impacts of population displacement caused by a 7,000 hectare land concession known as the Afungi site to the consortium just south of Palma, in the Cabo Delgado province. The activities of the Sunshine Nut company are highlighted within the report compiled by Jean-Christophe Rufin – a respected human rights activist and one of the founders of Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) – and Ingrid Glowacki.
The report examines the various initiatives by the gas consortium to mitigate the direct impact on farmers and fishers who are removed from their traditional land and fishing grounds, the impact of the displacement on surrounding villages, and the threat of economic inequality caused by development related to the pending gas boom in an area bereft of infrastructure and services.
There are a host of international and local non-profit organisations involved in initiatives such as boat-building, irrigation for produce to be purchased by Mozambique LNG, a sewing factory to produce personal safety equipment for gas workers, and micro-credit to support women-led projects, amongst others. Many of these projects, partly necessitated by the displacement from the gas processing site, are insufficient, incomplete, or badly managed.
This includes the relocation and compensation under the Resettlement Plan initially developed by Anadarko, the company that was awarded the Afungi site in 2012 before Mozambique LNG took over in 2019.
There were “reservations” expressed by the population about a lack of consent or information, the assessment of damages, compensation, and the payment of compensation. “Most of the people we met expressed their concerns,” state Rufin and Glowacki.
Contracts were drawn up in Portuguese although most families spoke Swahili, and draft deeds which would allow families to defend their interests, were not issued.
Many families were not given the text of the agreements they signed, and signings were often collective rather than at individual level. There were land and asset inventories that required updating since initially being conducted between 2013 and 2015, particularly for families that were yet to be relocated, and a lack of intangible heritage – such as the transmission of land to children – being assessed.
There were also displaced families that had been assigned to new land in neighbouring communities. This was on the basis that these neighbouring communities would give up this land and be compensated for it. But they have not received their compensation and have thus refused to release it, meaning the displaced families cannot cultivate it.
There is also the impact on fishers who have been shifted inland and are now transported to the coast by shuttle bus.
“This system creates scheduling constraints and is not compatible with the irregular nature of fishing practices,” notes the report.
It also meant all the fishers were having to fish at approximately the same place, reducing catch and over-exploiting marine resources at that location.
“It would be more reasonable to equip these populations with autonomous means of transport (tuk-tuks), allowing them to go to the coast at a time that is convenient for them,” state Rufin and Glowacki.
Sunshine Nuts’s cashew production project is singled out as one of two special cases.
According to the report, the US-registered Sunshine Nuts set up the Mozambican-registered Sunshine Approach Foundation, which has an agreement with the Mozambique LNG gas consortium to provide livelihoods and employment generating activities as part of the consortium’s resettlement plan.
But the report states the CEO of the foundation is also the CEO of the Sunshine Nuts company, and while the company’s involvement may be accompanied by “socio-economic actions” it is, strictly speaking, “a commercial activity”.
The report states the production of the cashew trees and the construction of “the plant” are commercial in nature, but the agreement is between Mozambique LNG and the foundation, which is a non-profit organisation. The foundation purchases the cashews from farmers at a price regulated by the state.
In response to emailed questions, Sunshine Nut Company founder and CEO Donald Larson said the company and foundation were separate entities, with his wife, Terri being president of the foundation.
Larson said the company provides roasting operations in Maputo and buys nuts from shelling factories which will be set up and operated by the foundation.
Larson said, “All activities, whether our Sunshine Nut Company or this separate charitable foundation set up to accept the donations from the Sunshine Nut Company and donors, benefit the communities around our operations.”
The report also questioned the Sunshine Approach Foundation’s use of land assigned by the state to the Mozambique LNG.
The consortium elected to leave about 2,000 hectares outside the Afungi site’s fenced area, and the report notes that about 500 hectares of this is used by the Sunshine Approach Foundation for cashew plantations.
The report notes one of the difficulties of resettlement is providing land to compensate those who have been displaced, resulting in neighbouring villages having to give up some of their territory.
“Why take the territory of neighbouring villages rather than using these lands not occupied by the (gas) project?” ask Rufin and Glowacki.
Larson said “every person who had a piece of land” had already been compensated elsewhere, and the 500 hectares within the gas consortium site was allocated to the Sunshine Approach Foundation by TotalEnergies to establish a cashew tree plantation. He said families from the nearby villages of Patacua and Maganja were then allotted two-hectare parcels to care for and harvest.
“In many ways, TotalEnergies, who has already compensated these families, is regifting the land to the families,” said Larson.
Lastly, the report noted the Sunshine Approach Foundation’s values, as set down on their website are “strongly marked” by a Christian evangelical ethos. This is within a predominantly Muslim region.
However, Larson said most of the 92 people the foundation employed were Muslim, and staff were not forced to take part in any religious activity. No Christian proselytising took place and Muslim staff were given time to conduct Islamic prayers, work times were altered during Ramadan, and major Muslim holidays were recognised.
The other special case highlighed in the report is the relationship between Mozambique LNG and the Mozambican army.
The gas consortium inherited an agreement between Anadarko and the Mozambican government – amended in 2020 – providing for an army joint taskforce (JTF) of about 600 soldiers to be stationed at the gas consortium’s Afungi site.
The agreement included the provision of accommodation, food and equipment for the soldiers, as well as individual bonuses which would be withdrawn in the event of any human rights violations.
Originally, the JTF was needed to protect the Afungi site from Islamic insurgents who attacked Mocímboa da Praia in June 2020.
“Poorly equipped, unprotected and without supply, the Mozambican army troops were at the time vulnerable,” notes the report. “Their low pay could encourage abuses against the civilian population. The mechanism of a bonus was aimed at reducing this risk and providing an immediate sanction in case of non-compliance.”
However, the situation has since changed. Following insurgents taking over Palma in March 2021 – which led to complete evacuation of the Afungi site via ferry – security has gradually been restored, particularly since July 2022 with the deployment of Rwandan troops.
However, Mozambique LNG remains saddled with the Mozambican soldiers, with whom, through the payment of conditional bonuses, it has individual financial relationships.
“In the event of human rights violations, this link directly engages the responsibility of the consortium without it being able to act either in relation to the command or the sanctions applied to those responsible for these violations.”
A permanent link between Mozambique LNG and the Mozambican army would make the consortium party to the conflict under international conventions.
TotalEnergies states Mozambique LNG has “started a dialogue with the Mozambican authorities” to review the relationship with the Mozambican army.
Following cyclones Kenneth and Idai, and the attacks by insurgents, operations at Afungi are suspended by force majeure. With security returning to the region, the lifting of the force majeure would “more than likely” result in “a massive influx of people” seeking work, particularly in construction of the gas plant. The report says it is necessary to complete the resettlement process to reduce the impact of such an influx on local communities.
Following recommendations from the report, TotalEnergies released an action plan, which includes setting up a dedicated foundation to implement the socio-economic development programme.
The foundation’s programmes would have a multi-year budget of US$200-million (about R4-billion) and extend across the Cabo Delgado province to ensure development beyond the immediate confines of the Afungi site.
The foundation would have a supervisory board made up of civil society and Mozambique LNG representatives, with community liaison officers recruited from all affected communities.