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Another Shady Land Deal in Africa, This One Assisted By the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania

December 30, 2011

By Rachel Cernansky


The Oakland Institute—the think tank that revealed the connection this summer between Ivy League universities and land grabs in Africa—is now voicing concern about the support the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania is lending to a land deal in that country that would displace more than 160,000 people.

Displacing Refugee Populations with Unsustainable Agriculture
According to the Oakland Institute [PDF], the stated goal of the project is to commercially develop a site—which encompasses lands that have served as refugee resettlement areas since 1972—for large-scale crop cultivation, beef, and poultry production, and biofuel production.

The institute adds, "Agrisol’s vision is to accomplish this through industrial-style agriculture employing biotechnology and other high-technology inputs to be supplied by AgriSol’s business partners, including Monsanto, Syngenta, and other powerful global industrial agribusiness conglomerates."

The key player locally is AgriSol Energy Tanzania, which is a partnership between Iowa-based Agrisol Energy, LLC and Tanzania-based Serengeti Advisers Limited. This month, the Oakland Institute released a brief highlighting eight myths about AgriSol.

Meanwhile Alfonso Lenhardt, the U.S. ambassador, recently defended AgriSol's activities in the Rukwa and Kigoma region using one of the very myths mentioned in that brief. According to the Daily News in Tanzania:

"Agrisol have not grabbed any land but were actually invited by the Prime Minister when he visited Iowa state two years ago and saw how American technology can produce sufficient food and energy from farms," Lenhardt argued as senior media stakeholders expressed concern over allegations of land grabbing by Agrisol in western Tanzanian regions.

Food Security?
Here's what the Oakland Institute has to say about food security and how AgriSol stands to benefit from the deal: "While claiming to benefit Tanzanians and contributing to the country’s food needs, AgriSol’s internal documents reveal its intent, which includes agrofuel production and export markets."

More specifically:

While pitching the project as in the best national interest of Tanzania, AgriSol’s Tanzanian cohorts fail to mention AgriSol’s demand for “Strategic Investor Status” to receive incentives including a waiver of duties on diesel, agricultural and industrial equipment and supplies; production of agrofuels, and request of the government to commit and provide a timetable for the construction of a rail link for Mishamo.

AgriSol will generate significant profits through the project. While it intends to invest $100 million over a 10 year period, if corn is cultivated on only 200,000 of the 325,000 hectares, net profits for the company could be $272 million a year, an amount which nearly equals the total budget of Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture. If they receive Strategic Investor Status it would include an exemption from corporate tax, currently 30 percent of this amount.

• AgriSol’s feasibility studies call for it to negotiate with the government for input subsidies, which for now are targeted for the smallholder Tanzanian farmers. If accepted by the government, such a demand will divert scarce public resources from smallholders to agribusiness.