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So much to lose than gain in foreign land investments

24th January 2012
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 This Week our columnist GERALD KITABU discusses with STANSLAUS NYEMBEA, Programme Officer for Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT) on foreign investments and land grabbing in Tanzania: EXCERPTS:

 

Question: What can you say is land grabbing?

 

Answer: Land grabbing is the process whereby small holders are dispossessed of their land through interventions by outside actors. In recent years, the world has been witnessing massive exploitation of huge pieces of land in poor countries.

Due to political instability and the drastic rise in the prices of fossil fuels namely diesel, petroleum and kerosene, European countries, which are mostly in need of these fuels, have decided to find the alternatives of solving the problem.

They are acquiring huge chunks of land through controversial contracts that sometimes do not benefit locals. In most cases the signed contracts do not create equitable balance between the investors’ interests and the locals’ during land acquisition processes and procedures.

As I said earlier, foreign investment follows oil crisis in the past few years which continues to rise prompting oil security fears within the developed world. As energy prices across the globe remain volatile, many developed countries think that it is very important to explore new sources of oil and gas to help alleviate the stress on consumers and businesses.

 

Q: If that is the case, what is the connection between fuel crisis and land grabbing in Tanzania?

A: As I said earlier, following recent fossil fuel crisis coupled with political instability in oil producing countries and elsewhere in the world, the developed world, particularly western Europe and America has drawn a road map to find alternative sources of energy from renewable energy.

Renewable energy such as bio-fuel requires among others, big land, fertile soil and water for growing crops such as paddy, Jatropha, sugar cane, maize, cassava, and palm oil. The only place where fertile land and water is plenty is Africa.

A research conducted by LEAT, shows that towards the end of 1990’s, many European and American companies started acquiring huge chunk of land in different regions and districts in Tanzania such as Kigoma, Coast region, Arusha, New Katavi region and elsewhere to grow such crops to meet their demands back in Europe and America.

Tanzania qualified for this because it has the potential of producing about 4,010 and 1,726 million litres of ethanol and bio-diesel per year, according to the study.

Tracks of land are being given out to foreign investors.  By 2008, around 20 foreign companies and other 5 were in joint ventures. Potential land for food production such as in Rufiji, Rukwa, Mbarali, Rufiji, Kisarawe, Wami was identified and/or allocated to bio-fuels companies. Since then, 4.5ml ha of land have been requested by bio-fuel investors out of which 641,179ha have already been allocated to investors, processes going on.

 

Q: what are the benefits of such investments?

 

Answer: Research conducted by LEAT shows that there are both positive and negative impacts regarding the investments. However, negative impacts outweigh positive ones. So many times, the process of land acquisition bypasses the voice of local people.

In most cases, the positive impacts are short in nature. For example, there have been short term employments, short term income such as food vendors who happen to vend their food at factories and companies, government revenues increased, some infrastructures improved.

However, experience shows that the investors are not sustainable and the nature of their investments have very devastating effects on local production especially soil fertility, something which can trigger food insecurity and dependence. For example, apart from land grabbing, foreign investments in renewable energy has seen many villagers work long hours in the investor’s farms which means they are left with very little time to concentrate on their own farms to produce enough food, something which, if not regulated, may cause food shortage in future.

There are a few opportunities accrued from the investments. For example, some companies promised to create thousands of jobs but ended up creating only 750 jobs and until now most of them have been retrenched citing shortage of water as the major problem. If that is the case, why didn’t the investor assess these problems during the feasibility study? Furthermore, experience in many places shows that employment is not that much rosy due to terms of contracts which are normally controversial in nature.

 

 

Q: Any other negative effects?

 

 

 

 

 

A: LEAT discovered that in some places land grabbing is accompanied by environmental degradation such as deforestation. So, when this happens, it is the women who suffer most especially when it comes to shortage of water and other basic social services. In some places where women earn good income, family ties as well as marriages have broken down.

Loss of access to local resources is another problem whereby women are at risk of loosing their land because many vocal people and negotiators are men. Many people, after being employed in companies have a tendency of abandoning their farms hence food insecurity.

Other negative impacts include land degradation especially deforestation which leads to water scarcity. There have been a series of conflicts between locals and investors in some places over water utilization. Occupational Health services sometimes are not observed, investors prefer women for cheap labour than men because women are passive. So, generally speaking, the investments affect more women than men.

Most investors have the culture of dispossession and harvesting without investing. So to say, there is a danger of creating vagabonds and criminals in big cities due to the influx of people whose farms have been grabbed by investors to big towns and cities like Dar es Salaam.

 

 

Q: What do you think is the solution?

 

 

 

 

 

A: LEAT has always emphasized on empowering local communities so they may be able to invest in various sectors. This should go along with changing of land laws and policies so that the locals can benefit from the investments.

Stern measures should be taken against defaulting investors, including revoking their investment certificates. Stern measures should also be taken against local officials who collude with defaulting investors.

There must be public pressure and demand for accountability. This would be possible if the public is well enlightened of their land rights. There is a need to investigate and assess foreign investments carefully before and during the investment process to establish whether the investments are worth and of benefit to Tanzanians.

There must be awareness creation among the villagers and the general public at large. However, rights based approach that supports small-holder producer’s needs to be adopted.

There is a need to invest in small scale producers by empowering them because despite their small production unit, they are the ones who have been feeding the nation since independence.

Government should provide visible space for small producers by defining the practical and strategic relationship of large scale farmers and out-growers.

However, there is a need to put in place a policy on biofuel to inform all actors of the best practices in the sector. Guidelines may not be enough. Policy instruments are needed to help adjust the overall demand for non-food biomass at levels which can be supplied by sustainable production.

Since every village has Land committees, these committees should be sensitised and work closely with district authorities when it comes to investment issues.

 

Lastly but not least, many villages in Tanzania have no title deeds. Land grabbing is partly contributed by lack of such title deeds. Tanzania Investment Centre should actively monitor land investment by inspecting summaries right from the village level. Finally the investors should be given a trial period of between five to ten years during which failure to abide to the laws of the country, should lead to revoking of their licences. The lease term should be reduced from 99 to 33 years.

 

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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