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August 08, 2011

Tanzania: participatory approach needed to avoid agro investor-locals conflicts

This is the week in which Tanzania celebrates farmers’ day, known as Nane Nane.  As Tanzanians celebrate the day it is important to discuss some of the emerging issues in agricultural investments across the globe in general and Tanzania in particular.

The discussions are important in raising issues that need policy attention as well as better legal and regulatory framework. The objective is to shape the agricultural and related sectors in such a way that it will deliver the desired outputs first and foremost for Tanzanians and by extension to the greater humanity.

Partly due to the global food crisis, there has been a surge in foreign direct investments (FDIs) that focus on food production in Africa, including Tanzania for use abroad in the foreign investors’ countries and not in the FDI host economy. Emerging interests to acquire huge tracks of ‘agricultural’ land in Africa by investors from outside the continent and within the continent (South Africa in particular) are raising issues and questions of land-grabbing in Africa.

Other issues related to new forms of FDIs in agriculture include food production on the African soil in order to feed human beings and animals in the investors’ countries. Emerging issues include the use of food insecure Africa to provide food security to investors. Among the current interests of such forms of FDI in agriculture has been witnessed by the oil-rich Gulf countries.

Good as it may be, this new form of foreign investment in agriculture calls for pro-active and proper policy, legal and regulatory framework. This among other things will help in making sure that there is a win-win situation between and among all the involved parties.

Another emerging issue in agricultural investment across the globe in general and Tanzania in particular is investment in bio fuel production. This is a relatively new trend where agricultural produce like maize and sugarcane are planted in order to be used as source of energy mainly in rich industrialized countries instead of feeding human beings.

The debate also extends to environmental degradation, livelihood support systems as well as land grabbing issues. These issues, among other things call also for pro-active and proper policy, legal and regulatory frameworks if Tanzania is to meaningfully benefit from these emerging trends.

Of late, investments in agriculture as is the case in mining and other land-based economic undertakings have caused conflicts. There are conflicts between farmers – both local and foreign – and livestock keepers; forest products extractors and many other groups. Conflicts between local communities and foreign investors have been observed in number of places. This is mainly so in natural-resources-based investments including agriculture. Major issues revolve around resource use conflicts. Instances of clashes between small scale and large miners over access to mineral deposits are a common occurrence in a number of mining sites (for example Nyamongo and Mererani areas in Tanzania).

Within agriculture conflicts revolve around land and water sources ownership and use. The case of Karatu Kiru valley sugarcane farming where one of the investors was killed by local community on May 31, 2011 serves as an illustration. Another ensuing conflict may be that of the American company AgriSol Energy LLC in Mpanda. The bone of contention includes the alleged 99 years lease of about 300,000 acres of land by the government to the investor in the former refugees’ camp area.

Critical voices complain about the peanut sum of money (said to be Sh00 per acre per year!) the government will get for leasing the land. Mpanda District Council expects to get between Sh500 and Sh700 per acre as taxes.

Thinking of how much money an investor like AgriSol can make from an acre of land given the investor’s financial and technological capability the Sh700 tax per acre turns the policies and legal frameworks on charging it into a laughing stock. Another issue from the affected villagers include lack of participatory approaches in the whole saga. It is argued that their voices, views, inputs and opinions were not sought in the process.

To avoid violent conflicts between and within agricultural investors and other groups of land users negotiations and participatory approaches are extremely important. However, there should be adequate negotiation capacities and quality participatory approaches. These are likely to be inadequate in most local levels, especially at district and village levels. These are among the issues that call for pro-active policy, legal and regulatory frameworks if land-based conflicts are to be avoided.

The Citizen

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