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February 11, 2009

Locals displaced as foreign biofuel investors cause scramble for land in Tanzania

A new scramble for arable land in Tanzania has started - the coastline and the fertile land in Northern and Southern Tanzania being the prime targets. This scramble, which has seen thousands of acres of fertile arable land falling into the hands of foreign companies, has been engineered by the quest for bio fuels.

At least for now five regions have been at the centre of this scramble. Dar es Salaam, Coast, Tanga, Mbeya and Arusha regions have been cited as the first victims of land grabbing engineered by foreign companies in Tanzania.

Already the coastline of more than 1,000 kilometres stretching from Tanga to Mtwara has been taken either directly by foreign companies or by local well-to-do Tanzanians who pose and act on behalf of multinational corporations. Most of these companies pose as strategic investors.

In Bagamoyo district, Coast region, the situation is alarming. The district, which is about 40 kilometres from Dar es salaam city centre has been the focus of these land grabbers. Recently, thousands of acres of land were given to an 'investor' for sugar cane farming.

The land was given to the investor despite technical advice by agricultural experts from the ministry of agriculture and food security who had turned down the proposal. Like many other places, the land is needed for cultivation of sugar cane to produce bio fuels.

In the same region in Mkuranga district, a Swedish company, Sekab is seeking to be given two million acres of land for the cultivation of bio fuel plants. Locals and the district authorities said that the company is expected to invest over US$400 million for the project.

Another company, British Sun Biofuels is also scrambling to acquire at least 8,000 acres of land in Mkuranga for a bio fuel project.

In Kisarawe district in Coast region the story is the same. One company has been given about 8,000 acres of land to plant jathropa. Kisarawe district authorities have already sanctioned the deal.

In Arusha, thousands of acres of land have been given to 'investors' in flower farming, coffee and aloe vera, leaving the locals without land. The locals are now forced to be labourers on their own land.

In Rufiji district, also in Coast region the story is the same. Thousands of acres have been given to foreign companies who have promised the Tanzanian government to cultivate food crops.

What the approval of these projects means is that thousands of villagers if not millions will have to be removed from their land.

Some of the land was taken during the privatization of public corporations through the Parastatal Sector Reform Commission (PSRC).

A case in point is in Mbeya region where one Asian business tycoon is controlling more than 7,500 hectares of fertile paddy fields in the Kapunga area where he cultivates rice. He purchased the once government-owned paddy fields from the PSRC in 2006 promising the authorities that he would engage in large scale farming.

What the government expected from the 'investor' was creation of jobs and an increase in food production for both local market and export. This has not happened. Instead what the investor is doing is to lease the land for a fee under conditions similar to feudalism.. Before the land was privatized, it was a source of livelihood for more than 30,000 villagers in the area.

East African Business Week

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