The company, presumably linked to the Albanisa Nica-Venezuelan state partnership, maintains just under 8,500 hectares of the African Palm, threatening a fragile ecosystem.
By Michelle Carrere (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The African palm production company, Agrodesarrollo S.A. has violated environmental norms intended to protect Nicaragua’s natural resources according to an investigation carried out by the online environmental magazine “Mongabay Latam”*. The company, which maintains plantations of African Palm over a vast extension of land in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region, has been linked to Jorge Granera Sacasa, brother of Aminta Granera, chief of the National Police. The probe yielding this information included examination of official documents, a visit to the affected zone, and interviews with functionaries of the regional governments.
Research shows that in November 2013, the Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment (SERENA) received a request for environmental authorization to develop a program of planting and cultivation of African Palm over an area of 3,522 hectares in the North Caribbean. The zone forms part of the community known as Ebaniso Tasha Pauni, in the indigenous territory of Prinza Awala, part of the Prinzapolka municipality. The request was filed under the name of Agrodesarrollo S.A., based in Managua, naming Antonio Guerrero Roa as legal representative.
On November 14 and 15 of that same year, in response to the company’s request, an environmental evaluation was carried out based on inspection by an inter-institutional technical team made up of SERENA; the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources; the National Forestry Institute; the Ministry of the Family, Community and Cooperative Economy; the Agriculture Ministry; the Prinzapolka mayor’s office; and the Indigenous Territorial Government of Prinzu Awala, among others.
The government institutions denied Confidencial access to this report, but it was made available to us through the online magazine “Mongabay”. The document indicates, according to Lidia Coleman, former mayor of Prinzapolka, that “the Agrodesarrrollo S.A. company began to create the African Palm plantation without presenting the project to the regional authorities and without possessing the corresponding permits for its operation.”
The required norm in Nicaragua for the sustainable production of palm oil – a norm created with the participation of the Agrodesarrollo company – establishes that all companies should have an environmental permit from MARENA or the pertinent agency, plus a formal endorsement from the mayor’s office of the municipality where the plantations will be located. These requirements, among others, should be met before establishing a new plantation or expanding an existing one.
In addition, since it involves indigenous territories, the law requires the company to have authorization from the indigenous territorial government. Their permission must be obtained through an informed and open consultation with the communities involved. In this particular case, the company needed permission from the territorial governments of Prinzu Awala and Awaltara, given that the plantations will be occupying lands belonging to both indigenous territories. Nevertheless, neither of the indigenous authorities were even informed about the existence of this company in the region.
The report mentions that “the old-growth broadleaf and coniferous forest has been affected, including protected timber-yielding species.” The coniferous forestland was especially affected. It also informs of the disappearance of the flora and fauna in the area around the project, the ecological imbalance created in the area, the effect on the watersheds along the Makantakita river and the alteration of the physical and chemical parameters of the hydric resources, all as a consequence of deforestation along the streambeds.
In addition, it makes reference to the plant nursery created by the Agrodesarrollo Company which “consists of 6.4 hectares in which there are 200,000 African Palm plants ready for planting in 2014. The area utilized as a nursery was a broad-leafed forest which was totally deforested for this activity.” Finally, the report notes that “the inter-institutional technical team recommends a temporary and/or provisional halt to operations, while the company files the proper applications and permit requests with the indicated agencies and updates the corresponding endorsements.”
An expanding plantation
Despite these conclusions, the Agrodesarrollo Company wasted no time in expanding its African Palm plantations. According to Eklan James, mayor of Prinzapolka, the latest inspection held in July of this year by personnel from the mayor’s office and a technical team from the National Forestry Institute, determined that there are currently just under 8,500 hectares planted in African Palm. That expansion was carried out without the company’s having filed any requests and consequently without having obtained any environmental permits.
“Mongabay Latam” attempted to contact the National Forestry Institute to obtain information about how many hectares of primary forest had been deforested by this company up until now for the cultivation of palm plants. Nonetheless, the institute continued to ignore their request.
Nytzae Dixon, SERENA delegate in the Autonomous North Atlantic Region, assures that the company is currently soliciting a renewal of its environmental permit from that institution, a request that – for the second consecutive time – is being filed after the company already intervened on the land and not before, as the law establishes. Nonetheless, Dixon stated that the company is “in order” and that their non-payment of taxes doesn’t constitute an obstacle to obtaining the permit from SERENA, since said body is concerned with the environmental aspect and not their fiscal responsibilities.
The Agrodesarrollo company has continued expanding over the Makantaka Plains, where the last relics of coniferous forests in Nicaragua are found. During the first semester of 2015, the National Forestry Institute held a field inspection of Agrodesarrollo’s African Palm plantations in the zone of Alamikamba. The resulting report notes that some suggestions were made to the company concerning the field visit findings. Nonetheless, the Institute refused to disclose any further information with respect to those findings and recommendations.
Agrodesarrollo Company tied to Albanisa
“Mongabay Latam” attempted to communicate with the management of the Agrodesarrollo company without receiving any response.
The address that appears in association with the company is the same as the legal address of the GSI Trading Inc. The latter company, dedicated to the transportation and distribution of food products, was involved in a 2014 scandal involving the diversion of 50 thousand hundred-pound sacks of red beans sent from Ethiopia. Its executive director is supposedly Jorge Granera Sacasa, brother of the National Police Chief Aminta Granera.
“Mongabay Latam” visited the address associated with both Agrodesarrollo S.A. and the GSI Trading Inc., but neither of the two companies are actually operating from that location, which is in fact a private home. The residents indicated that the Agrodesarrollo company had moved to the offices of Albanisa, a Nicaraguan-Venezuelan conglomerate that has been involved in accusations of corruption associated with the presidential family and its inner circle.
This supposed relationship coincides with information offered by sources from the Regional Council of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, who assured that they had participated in meetings with Agrodesarrollo in the offices of Albanisa when discussing the topic of the palm fields in the territory of Awaltara.
The Albanisa consortium denies that Jorge Granera Sacasa works in that company.
Note: In 2016, according to data from Nicaragua’s Central Bank, 21,000 hectares of African Palm were harvested. By the end of 2017 they hope to harvest 32,000 hectares. For the following years, the projections continue to rise.
*Mongabay Latam is an informational webpage with news about conservation and environmental science. This post is extracted from an article entitled “Nicaragua: the secret expansion of the palm plantations” originally published on August 29, 2017.