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Land-Grabbing in Tanzania Takes Hold!

December 8, 2011
Business Times

Going dirt cheap for bio-investors, costly for locals

WITH the spectre of land-grabbing looming larger and larger across Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, the menace is already full of oddities. In Tanzania, for instance, while ordinary folk pay between Tsh250,000 and Tsh2.5 million to lease one acre of land for a year, investors in so-called 'biofuel' projects can lease the same acre for a measly Tsh700, Business Times has learned!

Lease land in both rural and urban Tanzania is available for up up 99 years.

The secretary-general of ActionAid, Marco de Ponte, revealed this during an on-line interview with Business Times on land grabbing and its consequences on food security.

Land-grabbing is a result of exclusive policies among African Governments, including Tanzania's, whereby investors are given priority in accessing land, while locals have to struggle on their own to get land!

With foreign companies buying vast tracts of land at dirt-cheap prices, the number of displaced people is already increasing alarmingly. Locals are all kicked out from their fertile land and end up living on infertile land, de Ponte laments.

“Most of the poor people are at risk of losing the land that they have farmed and lived on for generations to make way for biofuel crops production, much of which would be shipped back to Europe,” de Ponte said.

For example, the Iowa-based investor Bruce Rastetter and fellow investors in the industrial-agricultural corporation Agrisol Energy have their sights on 800,000 acres (325,000 hectares) of land in Tanzania that is already home to 162,000 people!

The World Bank estimates that demand for biofuel feed-stocks is a major factor for world agriculture, with land conversion for biofuels by 2030 estimated to range between 18-and-44 million hectares (ha). 

Global biofuel consumption is estimated to jump from about 70 billion litres in 2008 to 250 billion litres in 2020. 

For the EU, the increase will be steeper: from 13 billion to about 55 billion litres. To meet the EU's ten per cent target alone, the total land area directly required to grow industrial biofuels in developing countries could reach 17.5 million hectares, well over half the size of Italy!

Kees Burger, an associate professor at Wageningen University, believes that it is the responsibility of the governments of the (recipient) countries to set clear rules for investments.

At the same time, he says, the global community can set standards for bio-fuel production that takes into account the manner in which land was acquired. 

Activist Anuradha Mittal from the US-based Oakland Institute has been waging letter-writing and media campaigns against the project. She says if the  Agrisol Energy deal goes ahead, 160,000 people will be displaced! 

She also says there will be environmental degradation, and very few, if any benefits, for the local population.

"We will keep the pressure up. Their lies of boosting food security and creating jobs are totally unacceptable because there is no evidence to suggest that it would work for the people of Tanzania or for the people who have been displaced from their land," Mittal said.
A senior research fellow with the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, Deborah Brautigam, is urging the Tanzania Government to take its time in making a decision on the proposed 99-year lease.

"I would say I am more on the side of it as an opportunity that should be handled with extreme care. I am not sure that it is being handled with appropriate care. These are areas that were not empty; there are people that are having to be moved, and so on.  There has not been, as far as I know, a very clear analysis of the social and environmental impact.  So, I think the Government may be moving a little bit quickly and perhaps precipitously," she said.

Brautigam said that, in the post-colonial era, governments tried but failed to establish successful large-scale government farms.  She says after subsequent years of having mainly small scale farms with low productivity, there is now a push for export-driven commercialized agriculture.

Brautigam says Tanzanians should be much more informed about these issues, as well as US officials, since Agrisol Energy is an American company.

"What is it that we are doing?  Will this be harmful for food security in Tanzania? Have all of the possible ramifications of this kind of investment been addressed?  We are a country that cares about poverty. We are putting a lot of effort into assisting Tanzania to move out of poverty. Is this kind of project something that will help ? or is it, as many people fear, something that will hurt?" she soliloquized.

In recent weeks, opposition leaders in Tanzania have also been speaking out against the proposed lease. Meshack Opulukwa from the opposition Party for Democracy & Development (ChaDeMa) told the country's National Assembly that “increased food production is no justification for taking away land from villagers.  

“The displacements would increase the likelihood of conflicts between farmers and pastoralists,” Opulukwa also said, adding that “Tanzania has no problem with food shortages but, rather, with infrastructure and moving food around.”

On its website, Agrisol Energy says it anticipates starting development of the acquired Tanzanian land in late 2011.  Now, it seems that date will at least be pushed back. 

Activists and opposition leaders sincerely hope the proposed lease is never finalized!