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Agrisol’s $100 Million Land Deal Opposed by US Environment Group

November 27, 2011
The East African

By Kevin Kelley

A leading US environmental group is opposing the planned purchase of 325,000 hectares of land in Tanzania by an American company.

The Sierra Club, which says it has one million supporters in the United States and Canada, is urging Tanzania Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda to “step away from this ill-advised project.”

Tanzania’s parliament is debating the government’s willingness to lease the land in the Rukwa and Kigoma regions to Agrisol Energy Tanzania Ltd, which is backed by a consortium of US investors and is part of an agribusiness enterprise based in the state of Iowa. Agrisol Tanzania is also partnered with Serengeti Advisers Ltd, a Tanzania investment and consulting firm led by Iddi Simba and Bertram Eyakuze.

Opponents charge that the deal amounts to a “land grab” that would result in the displacement of 160,000 refugees from Burundi, some of whom have lived on the land for 40 years. “Very productive smallholders” would be replaced by “large mechanised farms” growing genetically modified maize to be used as biofuels in developed countries, says Anuradha Mittal, a researcher with the California-based Oakland Institute.

Agrisol says its $100 million investment over the next 10 years is intended to produce staple crops and livestock that “will help stabilise local food supplies, create jobs and economic opportunity for local populations, spur investment in local infrastructure improvements.”

The company denies that it plans to grow crops for biofuel production. It adds, however, that “as crop production increases over time, excess crops that are not needed for valued-added food products could become available for other uses.”

As part of its current negotiations with Tanzanian officials, Agrisol is seeking a change in regulations to allow it to grow GMO maize, Ms Mittal says.

Agrisol says only that it intends to introduce “modern seeds” to Tanzania. Tax holidays for the investors, repatriation of dollars out of Tanzania and a waiver of duties on project-related imports are also being negotiated, the Oakland Institute says.

Mr Simba, the founding director general of the East African Development Bank, defended the deal in a July letter, saying it is “consistent with the vision of President Jakaya Kikwete to transform the country’s economy through significant, long-term investment in agriculture. The ambitious Kilimo Kwanza strategy is central to Agrisol’s mission to forge a partnership with the government and with farmers to ensure that Tanzania rises above subsistence farming,” Mr Simba added.