Several activists have spoken out against the government’s decision to approve the N$14 billion tobacco plantation project in the Zambezi region, citing health and environmental concerns.
This comes after information minister Stanley Simataa announced last week that Cabinet had given the green light to a Chinese company to start the project.
The company, Namibia Oriental Tobacco CC, has approval to grow tobacco on a 10 000 hectare farm outside Katima Mulilo for 99 years.
The company is in partnership with Swapo’s Oshikoto regional coordinator, Armas Amukwiyu.
The project obtained environmental clearance from the ministry of environment in 2014, which was initially rejected in May 2015 by the Zambezi Communal Land Board.
The chairperson of the Economic and Social Justice Trust, Herbert Jauch, yesterday described the government’s decision as unfortunate since it cannot be reversed.
Jauch said the decision is akin to giving away communal land rights to foreigners for 99 years. He said the decision has health, ecological and environmental repercussions.
“In terms of jobs, what kind of quality jobs will the community benefit from the project? Tobacco plantations do not pay well, and the agricultural sector itself does not give a decent minimum wage,” he stated.
Peter Iilukena of the Zambezi Anti-Corruption Movement said their main concerns were the benefits the community could get from the project, and what it would mean to the region.
“We feel there were not enough consultations done because what we wanted to understand is what kind of development will come to those near the plantation, and to the region as a whole. What quality employment will it bring?” he asked.
Iilukena said his movement will soon petition key offices for answers to some of the unanswered questions.
Muvita Linyando, information secretary of the Caprivi Concerned Group, said the decision would not benefit the people in terms of job creation.
“It is not good for our people, even in terms of their health, so we disagree with the decision.We do not approve it,” stressed Linyando.
Affirmative Repositioning movement leader Job Amupanda wrote to the president last week, asking why approval for the tobacco plantation had been granted when they were still waiting for a hearing, as promised by the Zambezi Communal Land Board in 24 January 2017, to take place.
“As far as we are concerned, the board cannot possibly make a decision and forward the same to the minister while promising to come back to us,” said Amupanda.
The Cancer Association of Namibia’s national director, Rolf Jurgen Hansen, issued a statement on Monday, expressing dismay at the Cabinet’s approval of the tobacco project.
According to him, the plantation would also mean serious devastation of biodiversity, soil erosion, and would cause water pollution.
“This decision is not only a health and natural disaster waiting to happen, but is also against the World Health Organisation framework on tobacco control that Namibia ratified in February 2006,” said Hansen.
Institute for Public Policy Research’s Dietrich Remmert expressed concern about the environmental impact the tobacco plantation would have, and whether it would be ethical for the government to allow production while knowing that it would affect people’s health.
According to him, endangered tree species grow in that area and would be threatened as a result.
Health executive director Ben Nangombe said decisions made by Cabinet are done collectively and all agencies of government must then abide by them.
“Cabinet applied its mind and reached a decision of approving this. It is then a collective responsibility of all government agencies and entities to oblige and comply. This is the same thing with the health ministry– unless Cabinet reverses its decision,” said Nangombe.
Nangombe said this in light of the fact that the ministry under former minister Bernard Haufiku had been aversed to approving the plantation, citing health issues.
An excited Amukwiyu said yesterday that he is relieved that Cabinet has made the decision to approve the plantation.
“It is good news for us, for investors and for the country at large. This project has a lot of potential and would create jobs. I cannot say all the details now, but once we get everything from the government, we will answer all questions concerning the project to assure the public. I am aware of the resistance on this but it is normal for there to be resistance,” said Amukwiyu.