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American Hog Baron Sets Sights on Tanzania

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Originally published by Think Africa Press


By Camille Watts


A Tanzanian piggery



What do Iowa and Tanzania have in common? If the multi-million dollar investor Bruce Rastetter has his way, more than you might think. Rastetter’s Iowan-based Agrisol Energy Tanzania is on its way to acquiring 800,000 acres in the west of Tanzania to develop for both crop-farming and raising livestock. Agrisol Energy promise a large, modern, sustainable agriculture enterprise that will provide Tanzania with access to development capital and best-in-class agricultural technology, techniques, equipment, supplies and management. In conjunction with this endeavor, the company says it will provide education, technical assistance, procurement, and sales and business administration support to individual Tanzanian farmers and small landholders.

Mixed reaction

Despite the apparent benefits that the project would bestow on the Tanzanian people and economy, it has been met with a mixed reaction. At a time when 50 million hectares of African land, an area twice the size of the UK, has been acquired by foreign companies or governments in just a few years, the question of twenty-first century ‘land-grabbing’ is receiving widespread international attention. Independent think tank the Oakland Institute has launched a campaign against the Agrisol development, claiming the project will forcefully displace 162,000 Burundian refugees who have been settled on the land for 40 years, destroying their livelihood, community and homes.

As well as displacing the current inhabitants of the area in western Tanzania, the Oakland Institute argues that the project will fail to deliver on the promised benefits. The development will rely heavily on foreign, largely American, industry, meaning that little of the investment will actually reach Tanzanian companies. AgriSol disputes this, stating that it and its partners – Serengeti Advisers Limited, the Pharos Global Agricultural Fund, the Summit Group, and the State University of Iowa – are committed to behaving responsibly and sustainably in their outreach programs.

So far so typical, as far as ‘land grab’ disputes go. More unusually, the Oakland Institute has also launched an attack specifically against Bruce Rastetter, the millionaire businessman and investor largely behind the Agrisol development. Concurrently serving as CEO of Pharos Ag, co-founder and managing director of AgriSol Energy, CEO of Summit Farms and a key donor to Iowa State University, it is fair to say Rastetter has a vested interest in the project.

Who is Bruce Rastetter?

A native-Iowan who made his fortune in pig farming and ethanol production, Rastetter has already sparked controversy in the US because of the large sums he has donated to the Republican party. He has been referred to as a "kingmaker" whose backing can make or break Republican candidates in the state of Iowa and further afield. Rastetter also founded one of the most powerful conservative lobby groups in the US, the American Future Fund, and he is an influential donor of the Tea Party movement. His supporters fete him as an entrepreneur with a strong sense of civic duty, but some environmentalists and Democrats suggest his only motives lie in increasing his companies’ profits and gaining influence over agricultural regulations.

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a group that says it works for "social, economic, and environmental justice", has questioned Rastetter's business operations and political influence for many years. Adam Mason, an organiser for the group,  accuses Rastetter of promoting factory farming in Iowa “that ran family farmers out of business” and polluted local air and water.

Rastetter brought a group of Tanzanian government officials to Iowa in July 2010 to give them an idea of the development he envisages for Tanzania. Unsurprisingly, given that land in Iowa yields thirty times more than its Tanzanian equivalent, they were very impressed. One month later the government had signed the preliminary contracts with Agrisol.

Can there be mutual benefit?

Mason calls Rastetter’s project in Tanzania a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, but the investors, Rastetter, and the Tanzanian government seem to believe that the development could be mutually beneficial. Tanzanian prime minister Mizengo Pinda has repeatedly pointed out that 44 million hectares of land in the country are currently undeveloped, yielding nothing to anyone. The president of the UN-run International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kanayo Nwanze, has rejected the term "land-grabbing" altogether, warning against throwing the baby out with the bath water. He places an emphasis on transparent governance to ensure that the benefits of foreign investment reach the population.

Other evidence, however, suggests the benefits of the project are likely to be more one-sided. Agrisol described one of the sites in question, Katumba, as an “abandoned refugee camp”, despite the fact that the area has a population of 70,000 people with a further 60,000 nearby. These farmers produce  40% of the food for the district on 4% of the land. It is difficult to envisage how they will benefit if Agrisol take control of the area, but all too easy to picture how Rastetter, his co-investors and individuals in the Tanzanian government will.

The onus of ensuring that this development produces a fair distribution of profit will now lie with Pinda's governance. It remains to be seen whether Agrisol will create a model for future African agricultural development or if "hog-baron" Rastetter will come to gain the title of "kingmaker" in Tanzania too.