‘Not a story’
The controversy surrounding the Tozzi Green dam has been covered in national media outlets and followed closely by a regional radio station affiliated with the Catholic Church. Civil society groups such as Transparency International – Initiative Madagascar and Liaison Office of the Rural Trainer (BIMTT), which represents the interests of rural farmers, have criticized Tozzi Green for its lack of transparency on the project. Yet Berti said the attention is unwarranted and the opposition is “politically motivated.”
“I’m sorry for your story but I’m afraid it’s not a story,” Berti told Mongabay. He said repeatedly that the company did not know if the project was feasible and had made no definitive plans. “We made a couple of drillings in the mountains, that’s it.”
However, the people of Farihitsara believe there is a story and worry that it will have an unhappy ending. Rumors about the project abound. Research drones arrived without warning, frightening local residents, who aren’t sure where they would be moved if the project comes to pass. Some have lost motivation to work the fields for fear they will suddenly be dispossessed of their land. Indeed, several people said that Tozzi Green employees have already come to Farihitsara with images and maps that show the village would become a lake.
There are signs that the project will move forward. The company has begun holding occasional meetings with stakeholders, including village representatives.
Noely Ranaivosolo, a 57-year-old farmer who leads a local opposition group, said he found it difficult to speak up during the meetings, which are sometimes attended by officials from the regional government or the energy ministry. “We [the village representatives] talked about what makes us human and our beliefs, the Bible,” he told Mongabay after one such meeting in the village of Sahanivotry, the seat of the commune (essentially a county) by the same name, in May. “Talking about the law, we aren’t too familiar.”
The power to decide
Even the mayor of Sahanivotry commune, Raymond Rakotonirina, who lives well outside the dam’s potential impact zone, strongly opposes the project. But he is powerless to stop it, he said, adding that decisions come from the central government. He cited the company’s recent exploratory drilling as an example. “We couldn’t stop it,” he told Mongabay. “The authorization came from the [energy] ministry. They sent it to us just for our information. If it had been our decision, it would have been another situation.”
He also said that Tozzi Green’s mixed reputation in the area has fueled opposition to the project. Though the company employs local day labor at its plant, and recently electrified 200 houses in the village of Sahanivotry, the mayor said he believes its overall social record is poor. “Only this electricity provision has been done in 10 years,” Rakotonirina said.
Farihitsara and other villages that could be affected by the Tozzi Green dam project do not have electricity, but that’s not unusual for rural villages, even when they are near power plants: only about 6 percent of Madagascar’s villages have electricity.
The mayor also voiced frustration about the lack of information regarding the dam project. “We do not know the number of people to be displaced,” Rakotonirina said. “They don’t want to reveal the truth. When we ask them for information, Tozzi Green keeps saying that they are still making studies.”
An uncertain future
Because there are no definitive plans, it’s impossible to know how many people could be affected. Tozzi Green acknowledges that four villages would be inundated under its tentative plans and says that about 150 households would have to be moved.
However, civil society groups dispute those figures. BIMTT says that with a height of 40 meters the dam would inundate 680 hectares (about 1,700 acres) and force thousands of households to relocate. BIMTT built a 3D map of the Sahanivotry area based on data obtained from the Geographical and Hydrographic Institute of Madagascar (FTM). However, BIMTT has no study to back up its claims. The group says that such a study would be premature, as there is no guarantee that the dam will be 40 meters or less, and that the first step is for Tozzi Green to present its studies and plans openly. Tozzi Green, meanwhile, is critical of BIMTT’s initial analysis, saying that it’s based on erroneous population figures.
A communications officer from the energy ministry told Mongabay that it had granted Tozzi Green permission to conduct studies but had not yet amended the company’s concession to include the proposed dam site. Tozzi Green said it has not yet requested environmental permits, as it is still conducting studies. The company is in the final stages of negotiations with Insuco, a consultancy with offices two floors up from Tozzi Green’s in the same skyscraper, to do an environmental and social impact assessment and a resettlement action plan. These studies will cost Tozzi Green “a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Berti said.
Berti said the dam might be built in three years’ time if the project moves forward. He indicated that it could be a boon to the local economy, and drew comparisons to Lake Mantasoa, a tourist destination in Madagascar’s central highlands that was created when the French built a dam there in the 1930s. That lake has a surface area of 2,000 hectares (almost 5,000 acres); Berti said the new lake wouldn’t be as big.
Ultimately, it could come down to a question of compensation in the form of money or land. During a televised debate on the dam controversy, representatives of Madagascar’s energy ministry aligned themselves with Tozzi Green and promised local village representatives that residents would be compensated appropriately when their land was expropriated.
“They just want to give us money,” said Noely Ranaivosolo, the opposition group leader in Farihitsara, whose extended family has been farming the land for generations. “But we’re not sure how we will live.”
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This story first appeared on Mongabay
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