Delayed Compensation Threaten Food Security for Balaka Smallholder Farmers

Some smallholder farmers of Traditional Authority Nsamala in Balaka were advised not to plant late maturing crop varieties last season and not to cultivate any this coming season.

A solar limited company and a cement manufacturing company are coming with a solar plant and cement factory in some of the villages. They promised to compensate them fairly so that they buy fields elsewhere as well as residential plots.

62 year old Fanny Saiti was born and raised in Ng'onga village under TA Nsamala. This has been home ever since, and shared some farming plots to her nine children.

It was a tough decision to accept moving from here going anywhere she does not know. But for the sake of development of the country, she accepted.

She says the message came in November 2022, and following instructions, she only planted maize leaving other crops like pigeon peas and sweet potatoes.

"Maize did not do well, and I am left with no cash crop that would assist me buy additional maize.

"Eight months down the line, I have not received the compensation for me to buy another farmland and place to build a house as both are within the land Potland Cement (Malawi) Company is to construct a cement factory," said Saiti.

On 30th March, 2023, Saiti says some officials from Balaka district council came with forms with an amount of 23 million kwacha for her to sign which she would get for her farmland, woodlot and house.

She queries that this is not enough for her to buy a plot for a house and land for farming considering the high cost of things now.

According to Saiti, some officials threatened her that if she turned down the offer, she will lose the land without any penny.

Just like Saiti, many other people affected are not satisfied with the process of coming up with the figures for compensation. Ontop of that, there is communication that has come first week of July saying the figures were calculated using city rates and that 30 percent need to be deducted from amounts to suit the district rates.

Joyce Chiwaya aged 42, a single mother of three says she struggled to build a better house for four years. She says it is an insult to be offered 6 million kwacha compensation considering that it will be difficult to buy land and build a similar house with that amount.

"This is not on as things have gone up, and now we are told that 30 percent will be deducted from this amount following their own so called anomaly during calculations," complained Chiwaya.

Ambiguous Calculations

Some signed the forms against whatever figures for fear of losing their land without verifying, while few others are ambivalent and have asked for fresh calculations.

Charity Makuta was setting up a farm in the area and started a process of leasing.

She denied to sign after noticing that the measurements of her land were against the measurement on the lease process documents.

"When lands officers came to measure the land, the 2.1 hectares that came out was in tandem with my lease documents.

"I was however surprised when they came with the forms for value that showed the land is 0.69 hectares and that there was no any structure, yet there are livestock kraals and this prompted me deny to sign and they agreed that there was an anomaly," explained Makuta.

Nobody knows whether this is the only miscalculation.

42 years old Anderson Monjeza says he was told will get 1.7 million kwacha for his  woodlot standing on an acre.

Ward councilor for the area Osman Mapira says has asked the secretariat at Balaka district council to consider inviting the concerned parties for a redo of the calculations in a more transparent manner.

"There are more questions than answers to the whole process and I have asked the director of planning and development to consider revisiting the process to benefit both the project affected people (PAPs) and the investor," says Mapira.

The facilitator of the the whole process, Malawi Investment and Trade Center (MITC) says it did its mandate to promote and facilitate sustainable, inclusive and transformative investments and trade in Malawi.

"One of our roles is to facilitate investors acquisition of land for their projects as stipulated in the new Land Act 2016. For Portland Cement (Malawi) Limited, our role was to engage the relevant government institutions namely Regional Commissioner for Lands and Surveyor General (South) and Balaka District Council (DC) to assist in acquiring the land on behalf of the company," says part of an email response to our questionnaire.

MITC says a disclosure exercise conducted on 30th March, 2023 was done by regional lands office for the south alongside Balaka District council office in absence of them and Regional surveyors office.

According to MITC, this is where a draft compensation report was disclosed to the PAPs instead of the revised report, a situation that has made the council and lands officials seem equivocal about the process.

The people affected by the project have hands tied as to whether they will cultivate their fields or not.

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