Making large-scaleland investments account for small producers’welfare

16Oct 2021
The Guardian
Making large-scaleland investments account for small producers’welfare

​​​​​​​RESIDENTS of Mngeta village in Kilombero District, Morogoro Region have a story to tell about Kilombero Plantations Ltd (KPL). There was a foreign company that acquired 5,818 hectares of land for rice farming in the year 2009. They remember the benefits they enjoyed for the-

Small farmers feed the nation (file photo)

-first few years when the company’s rice farms began to flourish but they also recall the bitter experience.

“Yes, the company provided employment for locals, mainly on short term basis ranging from daily to six months. For those who were lucky to get employed earned money, which they wouldn’t get if the investor was not there. Employment was an alternative source of income that helped to improve the lives of locals,” says Bonaventure Mpole, a resident of the district and a land rights monitor.

The Monitors who are mainly the youth get training from Haki Ardhi, a Land Rights Research & Resource Institute, in basic land laws, land administration, good governance and conflict resolution, among others. They work as volunteers in their respective villages to educate villagers on their land rights and how to protect the same.

The volunteers also help to resolve conflicts among villagers before such cases are taken to the Village Land Tribunal.

However what started as a blessing later turned into a curse after KPL allegedly grabbed land belonging to small farmers. “The company took 950 hectares that were part of Lukolongo village. Some villagers were relocated to another area where they were again chased away because the area was within Kilombero Ramsar Site,” explains Mpole. “People have lost their land because of this investment and as a result of which there have been pockets of food shortages and economic hardship. There are some who were compensated but they have had to start things from scratch. Life will never be the same,” he says.

The food crisis of 2008 that was further compounded by finance and energy crises spurred large-scale investments particularly in agriculture. The aim was to increase low-income countries’ agricultural production and improve the livelihoods for poor farmers. Most of the investments were done by rich countries or companies from the North and directed in the poor Southern countries. This trend was influenced by the increasing demand for food in the North, as well as rising global food prices forcing governments and the private sector to invest in agriculture in low-income countries.

Large-scale agricultural investments (LAIs) were thus seen as a solution to rural poverty and many African countries were optimistic of meeting the increasing demand for food and improved economy.

The case of KPL provides a snapshot of negative impacts of investments and small producers suffer most from the impacts.

In much of sub-Saharan Africa, land tenure systems are based on customary arrangements that are often poorly protected by statutory law. For this reason, growing commercial demand for farmland exposes rural populations to increased risks of involuntary displacement and dispossession of valuable livelihood resources. Recent research has documented adverse livelihood impacts of LAIs such as loss of housing and farmland through forced resettlement and loss of access to land and common-property resources like water, pasture, and non-timber forest products.

According to International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) many land-based investments do not consider good governance in their operations. “We have seen weakened environmental impact assessments, compressed or limited community consultations, the opening up of Indigenous lands and protected areas, as well as relaxed licensing requirements,” says the institute in one of its publications.

Some pastoralists have also suffered the impacts of large-scale agricultural investments in their areas. “One challenge we face in protecting our land comes from large scale investments. In Kiteto and Simanjiro Districts, large-scale farmers have encroached into pastoralists land and this has often resulted into conflicts between the two parties,” says Paulo Rokonga, a resident of Loibosoit A village in Simanjiro district. He explains that the village is implementing land use plans and while these should provide some solutions between investors and locals, the former often ignore them.

Among groups that suffer from LAIs are women. IIED argues that women’s access to land ownership can have long-standing impacts on livelihoods, food security, and self-sufficiency of households thus investors have a duty to protect women’s land rights. Apparently this is not always the case as there are instances when women have lost access and ownership of their land due to large-scale investments. “I think this happens because there is little protection of women’s land rights due to irresponsible investors and weak enforcement of investments laws. Some investors think they are above the law and no one keeps an eye on what they do to other land users,” says Masalu Luhula, an expert in land laws at Landesa.

Available literature shows that Tanzania has a progressive legal frame work relating to women's land rights and women's participation in land governance. The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania recognizes equality to own property for all citizens. But ensuring that such legal framework has an actual impact has been a major challenge. The 1999 Land Act, revised in 2019, establishes several principles that help to safeguard women’s land rights, and the 1982 Local Government (District Authorities) Act establishes the village council which requires that a minimum of one-fourth of village council members be women.

The village council is the executive body vested with power in respect of all village affairs, including managing village land. Decisions made at the village council are then subject to approval by the village assembly – a village’s highest decision-making body, which includes all villagers.

Experience shows that land-based investments increase competition for land. Legal empowerment approaches that secure land rights are thus central to realizing a just transition whenever ownership of tracts of land changes ownership. These impacts increase people’s food and income insecurity reduce their capacity to cope with shocks, and intensifying social conflicts.

Further, LAIs are considered to be a major driver of deforestation and environmental degradation. “Forest and woodlots are a south of income for communities living adjacent to these ecosystems where they produce charcoal, timber or firewood to earn their living. For some individuals, income from sale of forests goods, including those from woodlots, surpasses that from other sources including farming. So when land-based investments lead to deforestation and environmental degradation, they reduce the incomes of small producers and throw them into poverty,” says Cassian Sianga, a researcher in forestry. He argues that large-scale investments should strive to protect the livelihoods of small producers whether these are farmers, pastoralists or forest communities.

The Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) Liaison Officer, Simon Lugazo says that currently many people in villages are aware of the importance of conserving forests and the environment in general because they have realized many benefits. “When large scale land invests tends to exacerbate deforestation and degrade the environment, the cut the lifeline of the communities. This does not matter whether the communities own the forests of woodlots near their villages; the important point here is that they earn their living from these resources,” he explains

Most LAIs are therefore environmentally unsustainable, as confirmed by a review of case studies in sub-Saharan Africa. They have impacts on land use and the environment when diversified or extensively used cropland is converted into intensively managed monoculture plantations.

As LAIs are entering rural areas dominated by small-scale land users, they are likely to affect people through changes in land use and the environment.

It is important for authorities to broaden their understanding of the diverse ways in which LAIs affect land use and the environment as a prerequisite for eventually proposing and negotiating pathways that enable LAIs to improve their contributions to achieving the 2030 Agenda’s sustainable development goals. Despite some benefits from employment opportunities and infrastructure improvement, the overall impacts of LAIs as negative, highlighting reduced access to land and water, pollution, health issues, and unsatisfactory working conditions.

Government should invest in devising concrete transformative options to improve LAIs’ contribution to sustainable development in their host countries. This seems to be more the case in countries where a clear regulatory framework for land acquisitions exists and is implemented, and where land tenure rights are clearly formalized and registered. Further, LAIs should make an effort to avoid environmental impacts, care for the social and economic well-being of people in their surroundings, and contribute to wider economic development. “Government should adapt and domesticate of regional and international best practices in investment and make a thorough scrutiny in order to avoid rogue investors,” says Masalu. “There should be strict monitoring and evaluation of investors’ activities to avert adverse impacts on community land ownership and rights,” he adds.

Overall, there is ample space for negotiations among the different actors to improve LAIs’ contribution to sustainable development, taking into account the needs and visions of small-scale farmers and other producers, as these are the actors mostly depending on the land for their livelihoods.

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