Skip to main content Skip to footer

Guest Column: Iowa State Furthering an Example of Colonial Capitalism

March 20, 2012
Iowa State Daily


Ahna Kruzic is a senior in sociology.

As of lately, an immense amount of controversy has surrounded the involvement of several Iowa-based partners in a highly controversial and undeniably questionable investment deal in the African country of Tanzania.

Agrisol Energy LLC and Summit Group, with the present and former assistance of our beloved university Iowa State in varying capacities, is in the process of commercially developing a large tract of land for the purpose of large-scale crop cultivation and biofuel and animal production. According to Agrisol, its goal with the project was to “develop a new private/public/academic partnership model that combines large-scale, commercial farming with local outreach and outgrower programs for small landowners.”

I argue, however, that the Agrisol Energy Tanzania scheme is one that will ultimately further colonialism via the utilization of Iowa State’s reputation as a world-class land-grant institution. As citizens of the state of Iowa and therefore shareholders of Iowa State University, I encourage you to engage in honest discussion regarding the nature of this land acquisition project.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the definition of colonialism is “ ... the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically ... ” Agrisol’s land acquisition project does just that; it acquires land, occupies it with foreign settlers and exploits it economically for the purpose of profit to outside shareholders.

The tract of land to be utilized for production, approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island, has served as a resettlement area for Burundian refugees since 1972. Already inhabited by several communities that are home to more than 100,000 inhabitants and their farms, the area would undeniably have to be evacuated before Agrisol could utilize the land for agricultural development.

As sources such as the Oakland Institute and "Dan Rather Reports" explain, the success of Agrisol’s investment in Tanzania was and is 100 percent contingent upon the evacuation of these residents. Refugees in the area being evacuated are being granted Tanzanian citizenship; however, their legal status as citizens is dependent upon them evacuating the area they’ve called home for more than 30 years. Colonialism: “ ... the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial control over another country ...”

Though Agrisol claims this project would benefit the Tanzanians by developing a modern agricultural sector, it is very clear this simply isn’t the case. Though it has been claimed that Agrisol is in the process of identifying farm project managers locally so as to benefit the local community, it is ardently clear that Agrisol plans to occupy the land with outsiders so as to maximize profit.

Bruce Rastetter has articulated this well himself; “ ... and they’re fine with bringing in South African farm managers ... the white South African farm managers, to be able to provide that general expertise ... ” Don’t you think the locals who already live with and farm the land have the “general expertise” to continue farming the land? Colonialism: “ ... the policy or practice of ….occupying it with settlers ...”

In addition to kicking the inhabitants off of the land for the purpose of resettling it with individuals who have the “expertise” to work with Agrisol’s land-grab scheme, Agrisol’s operation as a whole reeks of economic exploitation of the country as a whole; the currently inhabited land will be rented to Agrisol at the rate of 55 cents a hectare within a 99-year contract. Though Agrisol’s rhetoric has emphasized that this project is in the best interest of Tanzania, Agrisol has sought from the Tanzanian government incentives to cut duties on agricultural equipment and slashing of taxes on profit that would undeniably benefit Tanzania as a whole (since this project clearly isn’t benefitting the local community).

In addition to Agrisol’s flat-out refusal to reinvest in the economies and communities it is profiting from, it has requested that the government commit to constructing a rail link as transportation infrastructure in the area that is undeveloped — this, of course, would come from Tanzanian tax money, further exploiting Tanzania.

Irrigation, roads and railroads would potentially have to be built through utilization of tax money. Though Agrisol will be paying a mere 55 cents per hectare to the Tanzanian government, it has been projected that Agrisol can expect net profits in excess of a quarter billion dollars per year. Colonialism: “ ... the policy or practice of ... exploiting it economically ... ”

Though there is a clear argument that Rastetter’s Agrisol is participating in a land grab that can be described as colonialist, the argument also can be made that this is a clear example of crony capitalism as well, which is defined as “ ... an economy in which success in business depends on close relationship between business people and government officials ... ”

What do Summit Group (the overseer of Agisol and subsequently the Tanzania project) and Iowa State University have in common? Rastetter serves as co-founder and managing director of Agrisol, CEO of Summit Farms and is influential within the ISU community on varying levels. In addition to Rastetter’s role as business man, Rastetter is a major donor to Iowa State and a president pro tempore to the Iowa Board of Regents — the governing body of the state universities.

What do Iowa State University and Rastetter have in common? Iowa State has conducted feasibility studies regarding Rastetter’s Tanzania scheme. Iowa State’s reputation as a land-grant institution has been utilized to garner support in Tanzania. You can connect the dots. Krony capitalism: “ ... an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials ... ”

As citizens of the state of Iowa, we must question whether Iowa State continues to fulfill its mission as a land-grant institution when subject to such corporate influence. The mission of a land-grant institution, as defined by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, was to teach agriculture, classical studies and other useful skills so that education could be accessible and practical for all.

Is education accessible and practical when Iowa State’s world-class reputation is utilized to secure profits for the already wealthy? Citizens of Iowa — what exactly are your tax dollars funding? I encourage you to engage in honest, thoughtful conversation.

From 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Ames City Hall Auditorium, Occupy ISU is hosting just that — a conversation. “After Agrisol: Defining a University’s Ethics and Interests in a Corporate World” will consist of panelists discussing the land-grant mission and its ally with corporate interests, research ethics, the defunding of public education and the intersections of each.

As stakeholders in Iowa State University and the future of our state as a whole, this conversation is one that impacts each of us and each of our futures.