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January 07, 2012

US university scales back link to controversial Tanzania land deal

by Gerald Kitabu

AgriSol’s planned investment project in Katumba and Mishamo refugee settlements in Tanzania's Mapnda district has suffered the first major big blow following Iowa State University (ISU)’s decision to scale back its involvement with AgriSol to an “advisory capacity,” The Guardian on Sunday has learnt.

Dan Rather, the longtime CBS reporter and anchorman, who also reports for HDNET, a television network, and Jenny Beth Dyess, a Research Intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project, reports that Iowa State University (ISU) which intended on partnering with Bruce Rastetter, AgriSol owner, to conduct the small-farmer training programme has pulled out of the project and remained with an advisory role only.

Reports say Dr. Dennis Keeney, Professor Emeritus of Agronomy and Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering at ISU was appalled when he first became aware of Rastetter’s project at how dehumanizing the corporate world could be. He is concerned but doubts ISUs withdrawal will make much difference to Rastetter’s programme since he doesn’t believe Rastetter took “training” seriously anyway.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute and a contributing author to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, is also skeptical of Rastetter’s project. After conducting a study into Rastetter’s plan she labels it a “land grab,” an exploitive land transaction by a foreign government or private investor for the purpose of agricultural production and export.

Mittal also is concerned about demands in AgriSol Energy’s proposal to Tanzania requiring permission to cultivate GMOs and guaranteed access to export markets.

A 2010 analysis by the World Bank shows large-scale agribusiness investments rarely have any beneficial effects on the local community. AgriSol’s project will likely displace thousands of people from their homes and farms and while some will be employed as labourers, most of the managerial positions will probably be given to foreigners.

ISU thought that they would work with AgriSol to make sure that the massive for-profit venture was also a socially responsible one. According to an AgriSol news release, ISU’s involvement ensured that the project would “effectively and efficiently serve the interests of the local communities and the country.”

While critics call the deal a “land grab” that would be catastrophic for thousands of small farmers just the kind of people that AgriSol claimed its project would benefit, the honourable US ambassador in Tanzania Alfonso Lenhardt has a different view when he said: “Agrisol have not grabbed any land but were actually invited by the Prime Minister when he visited Iowa state two years ago and saw how American technology can produce sufficient food and energy from farms. The Ambassador had been quoted as saying, in reference to the Bruce Rastetter and AgriSol Energy.

But researchers into the whole project say the Ambassador could be deceived just like local people who were told of the benefits the deal could bring without any written documents as if it were a gentleman memorandum of understanding over this source of livelihoods of the poor.

The Executive Director of The Oakland Institute, a policy think tank, said in response to the ambassador’s defense of AgriSol Company,  'Honorable Ambassador, our latest brief dismantles AgriSol's lies around project benefits to the people of Tanzania.'

She adds: “It is shocking to us that an appointee of the Obama administration would side with a project that will displace and destroy livelihoods of over 160,000 Africans to accommodate investors, including US and Tanzanian politicians and businessmen, with questionable records of integrity.”

In an interview with ISU’s newspaper on the fate of the refugees, a top administrator at ISU, Associate Dean David Acker, responded that the act was emphatic saying that is an awful thing to even consider.

He said: “If you did find a set of business people who were willing to have anything to do with kicking refugees off the land, who would want to have anything to do with them? Not me personally, not Iowa State.”

Unfortunately, the facts tell a different story. Acker himself was in charge of ISU’s work with AgriSol and, as he is doubtless aware, ISU faculty visited the refugee settlements to do preliminary research for the AgriSol project in March and November 2010.

What’s more, ISU is mentioned in the memorandum of understanding between AgriSol and the Tanzanian government. The agreement specifies that AgriSol would be “working closely with Iowa State University” and also makes clear that the project would move forward only after the “resettlement and removal of all former refugees.”

However, the investigation raised questions about the reasons behind ISU’s involvement with AgriSol.

AgriSol founder Bruce Rastetter is a major donor to ISU and his multi-million-dollar endowment pays the salary of an ISU faculty member who worked on the project. Rastetter also sits on the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees ISU. Critics charged that Rastetter was using the university’s name and reputation to further his own business interests.

The company, mid this year, came under attack from land rights activists and politicians, especially Members of Parliament for acquiring over 300,000 hectres located at Mishamo and Katumba areas in Mpanda district for agricultural development.

The attacks prompted Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda to throw his weight to defend the investor, saying the deal would benefit the local economy and had the potential to uplift peasants in the area from the vicious cycle of poverty. He said the investor through Agrisol Energy Tanzania Limited, had acquired the land in question after open, long negotiations with regional and district leaders.

The signed MoU with the Mpanda district Council, provoked protests from people of all walks of life due to controversial terms included in it.

These include the initial term of the certificate of occupancy which is 99 years lease, plus the proviso that the government creates a regulatory framework for growing Genetically Modified (GM) crops, which is not yet to be approved. The deal, for the district, is a Sh200-per-hectare-per annum land rent, and Sh500 as fee to the council per hectare per year.

Also in the list are other controversial terms such as that for any disputes that may arise, arbitration shall be held in London, England, pursuant to the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which is reminiscent of the controversial Dowans’ contract.

When contacted for comments on the ISU’s decision to scale back its involvement with AgriSol to an “advisory capacity, Betram Eyakuze , the director of AgriSol Tanzania Ltd, the Tanzanian arm of AgriSol Energy that would provide the domestic front for this operation, could not pick up his phone.

IPP Media

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