Picking Up The Pieces From A Failed Land Grab Project In Tanzania
Tanzania's Minister for Land, Housing and Urban Settlements, Anna Tibaijuka
[Land Grab In Africa]
KISARAWE, Tanzania — I arrived in Tanzania, one of the frontlines in the battle over land grabs in Africa, just as another round of international negotiations on guidelines for “responsible agricultural investment” (RAI) wrapped up in Rome late last month. The policy document is intended to curb so-called “land grabs” in Africa and other developing countries.
Negotiations were not going well. The governments of developed countries were debating every point in the guidelines, which are slated for approval by the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in October. They were resisting many of the most basic principles to guarantee the right to food and land for farmers and herders who have seen their land and livelihoods given away to foreign companies and governments.
Those distant policy debates seemed urgent as I sat down with villagers from the Kisarawe area of Tanzania, southwest of Dar es Salaam, where 11 villages have given up 20,000 acres of land to the British-owned Sun Biofuels for a large-scale biofuel plantation. The biofuel project has failed, and now the villagers are staring at 5,000 acres of useless jatropha trees surrounded by guards hired to keep villagers off what used to be their land.
When the villages agreed to give up the land, they’d been promised compensation for it and, more importantly, more than 1,000 jobs, a variety of community development projects – roads, wells, schools, health clinics – and agricultural investment in local farms.
But those security positions were the only jobs the farm was providing. The local village councils and some farmers have gotten a little compensation for the land, but have nothing else to show for it.
“We offered the land so the community can benefit,” said Ramazani Jetta, a small-scale farmer from Marumbo village.
Under Tanzanian law, the villagers’ deal with Sun Biofuels had converted the title of the property from “village land” to “general land,” putting it under the control of the Tanzanian national government. The government then leased it to Sun Biofuels to produce vegetable oil for the production of biodiesel, to meet the growing demand for renewable fuels in Europe.
But the failure of Sun Biofuels’ project does not mean the land will be returned to the villages. Instead, it will stay with the leaseholder while the company and the government look for a new investor to sublease the land and develop it.
As long as the company pays the paltry rent on the land and puts it to productive use, it is lost to these regretful villagers. For the full 99 years of this lease.
For a community desperate for agricultural investment, and the jobs and higher incomes that investment could bring, this is the worst of possible outcomes. These are poor rural communities that gave up their land because they need jobs, schools, clinics, roads, and higher agricultural productivity from their small farms — none of which they will now see.
I was far from the negotiations in Rome, but this was a textbook case of irresponsible agricultural investment — precisely the kinds of practices the RAI is intended to curb.
The agricultural price spikes of 2007-2008 fueled a surge in large-scale land acquisitions, particularly in Africa. An estimated 100 million acres of African land have been sold or leased to foreigners in the wake of the food price spikes, according to the Land Matrix Initiative.
China got a lot of the initial blame for exploiting the opportunity and buying up land, but the main buyers were US and British companies like Sun Biofuels.
The charge of “land-grabbing” seems apt. The deals typically involved 99-year leases for small sums of money on land that was not “unoccupied,” as the local governments had suggested. Thousands of farmers and herders, most with no formal land title and no legal basis to defend their rights, were dispossessed overnight.
This is the very problem the UN’s Committee on World Food Security is trying to address with these guidelines on responsible agricultural investment.In Kisarawe, Tanzania, these problems have been all too real.
I’d read about the case, which has been well documented by the Oakland Institute and other international researchers and campaigners, before arriving, but it was worse than I realized.
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