Nelly Bassily | October 19, 2009
Tanzania’s land looks different to international investors than it does to Tanzanian farmers. Where farmers see farms, pasture and forests, investors picture opportunities to grow biofuel crops.
Two environmental groups have prepared a report describing the country as biofuel companies see it. According to the report, investors have identified hundreds of thousands of hectares of land for growing biofuel crops. If their projects proceed, more than 5,000 small-scale rice farmers could be displaced.
The report was released in late September. The response by local and international environmental groups was immediate. They pressured the Tanzanian government to put a stop to the land grabbing. Within weeks, the government agreed to halt new biofuel projects.
Esther Mfugale is the coordinator of biofuel production for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Cooperatives. She says the government has ordered regional authorities to halt biofuel projects. According to Ms. Mfugale, the government has also put a stop to the selling of village land.
She says the government “was asleep” and did not realize that these investors were planning to buy land in Tanzania.
Already, there are 40 companies growing biofuel crops in Tanzania. There are jatropha, sugarcane, and palm plantations. In some cases, farmers are contracted as outgrowers. They grow a biofuel crop which is then purchased by the contracting company.
In other cases, companies purchase land to grow the crops. This is what happened recently in the Usangu district of western Tanzania. More than 1,000 small-scale farmers were forced off their land. Where they used to grow rice, there is now a commercial sugarcane plantation.
Abdallah Mkindi is an environmental officer for Envirocare Tanzania, one of the groups which authored the report. He explains that the most fertile land is being targeted by biofuel companies.
While the government has put a halt to biofuel investments, it may only be temporary. Tanzania’s cabinet is preparing a policy on these investments. Once the policy is in place, the government may allow biofuel companies to invest in local land. But they will have to follow the government’s new rules. Ms. Mfugale said these policies will be used to prevent investors from acting against the interests of the country.