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Critic: Agrisol Has 'Sweetheart' Tanzania Deal

August 21, 2012
Des Moines Register

An agriculture company with Iowa ties should back out of a Tanzanian land deal if it can’t promise enough local jobs and won’t demand better government compensation for refugees who could be displaced to make room for large-scale farming, said the author of several reports critical of the deal.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, said Agrisol Energy LLC has negotiated a “sweetheart” deal that could harm an estimated 162,000 refugees, some of whom have had their homes and crops burned by government security officials.

Agrisol, where Iowa Board of Regents member Bruce Rastetter is managing director, has not said how many local jobs the project would create, even though it has asked to not pay import duties or corporate taxes, according to documents Mittal obtained and posted to her think tank’s website.

“This man has the audacity to say with a straight face that he’s doing good for the developing world? Shame on him, and shame on you if you believe him,” said Mittal, who traveled to Des Moines from California to speak at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement offices Tuesday.

The Iowa social justice group has filed an ethics complaint against Rastetter for allegedly using his position on the regents to advance the Agrisol deal. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will review the complaint on Thursday.

Agrisol Energy officials, however, have said they’ve leased about 35,000 acres in a region that has been unoccupied for three years. The lease price, 25 cents an acre, is fixed by Tanzanian law, company officials said.

Henry Akona, a company spokesman, said Mittal has made new accusations and demands of Agrisol over the last 18 months because she can’t prove wrongdoing. Mittal has accused Agrisol of being responsible for a plan that displaced refugees, then she later said the company only played a supporting role in developing the plan, he said.

“She keeps shifting the goal posts,” Akona said.

The Tanzanian government has said refugees that remain would be offered citizenship and be compensated in exchange for being removed from settlements they have lived in for decades.

However, Mittal said, citizenship has yet to be granted, and the compensation has been too little. In addition, she said families don’t know when or where they will have to move.