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US Agro-Tech Firm Grabbing Land in Tanzania

June 12, 2011
East African

By Kevin J Kelley

A cassava farmer. Refugees will be displaced to give way to an agricultural  multinational Picture: File

A cassava farmer. Refugees will be displaced to give way to an agricultural multinational Picture: File


The Tanzanian government is on the verge of concluding a deal with international investors that will result in evacuation of refugee resettlement areas to make way for cultivation of biofuels and genetically modified crops, a US-based research institute charges in a report released last week.

Under the land deal now being negotiated, AgriSol Energy Tanzania would develop 325,000 hectares in western Tanzania consisting of three refugee camps: Lugufu in Kigoma Province (25,000 ha); Katumba (80,317 ha) and Mishamo (219,800 ha), both in Rukwa Province.

“While Lugufu is now empty, Katumba and Mishamo sites are being evacuated by the Tanzanian government to make way for the project,” says the report by the Oakland Institute, which investigated internationally financed land deals in seven African countries.

Refugees lose out

The Tanzanian government announced a plan in 2008 to grant citizenship by 2010 to Burundian refugees who had begun settling in Katumba and Mishamo in 1972. About 162,000 people are covered by the citizenship plan.

“Yet, while the Tanzanian government is being celebrated internationally for this generosity, the refugees’ citizenship is contingent upon a coerced move from the places they have called home for the past 39 years,” the Oakland Institute says.

The report cites interviews with refugees who received Tanzanian citizenship in 2010 but who say “their legal status and actual certificates of citizenship were being withheld until they relocated to other areas of Tanzania,” according to the Oakland Institute. White South African farmers would be brought in to help develop the emptied tracts, the report adds.

Among the details being discussed, the institute notes, are the question of land title, since foreigners are not permitted to hold land titles in Tanzania. Tax holidays, repatriation of dollars out of Tanzania, waiver of duties on project-related imports, and commitment to construction of a rail link for Mishamo are also on the table for the talks between the Tanzanian government and the potential investors, the report says.

The deal is further contingent on the government’s creation of a regulatory framework for use of genetically modified crops, the institute adds.

Quick acquisition

“Though these issues are yet to be resolved, the process is well underway, with the expectation that the title of certificate of occupancy will be awarded within three months (as of April 2011),” the report says. It notes that the Tanzanian government “views AgriSol as part of its Kilimo Kwanza (agriculture first) policy initiative to modernise and commercialise the country’s agricultural sector.”

AgriSol Energy Tanzania was born of a partnership between US-based AgriSol Energy and Tanzania-based Serengeti Advisors Ltd, according to the institute’s year-long investigation. Serengeti Advisors is led by Bertram Eyakuze and Iddi Simba, a former director of the East African Development Bank as well as a former Trade and Energy minister of Tanzania.

Another key partner is Pharos Global Agricultural Fund, managed by a Dubai-based financial firm.