Nelly Bassily | April 16, 2012
An American energy company is poised to secure a 99-year lease on more than 320,000 hectares of land in western Tanzania. The company, AgriSol Energy, is proposing a ten-year investment in the Kigoma region. It intends to develop the huge tract of land for large-scale crop cultivation, as well as biofuel and animal production. But because of international pressure, the deal has now lost one crucial partner, Iowa State University.
According to AgriSol, the goal of this project was to, “Develop a new private/public/academic partnership model that combines large-scale, commercial farming with local outreach and outgrower programs for small landowners.” Mr. Iddi Simba is Chairman of Serengeti Advisers, a Tanzanian investment firm working with AgriSol. He says, “We will work with government and private businesses to develop and expand local markets and improve food distribution within the country.”
But the land in question has served as a resettlement area for Burundian refugees since 1972. It is home to more than 160,000 people and their farms. The area would have to be evacuated before Agrisol could use the land for agriculture. When this situation was uncovered by the Oakland Institute in 2011, there was an international outcry and denouncement of the scheme as land-grabbing. Agrisol and their partners have come under pressure and scrutiny.
Anuradha Mittal is executive director of the Oakland Institute. She says, “This land has been feeding many families. The proposed large-scale commercial agriculture is mechanized − it does not create jobs for these small-holder farmers … At best some might become sharecroppers, some might become plantation workers, at most. But it’s going to deny them food security.”
In February, Iowa State University announced that it had backed out of its role as agricultural adviser to the project. The University entered the deal with the aim of assisting small-scale farmers. But Iowa State University said it has become tired of defending its role in the African project and its partnership with AgriSol Energy.
Babu Pascal Steven is head of the youth department at the Kigoma Vijana Development Association. He had been running a youth agricultural project in the area but stopped due to lack of funds. Mr. Steven says that Kigoma has plenty of natural resources, and has in recent years been invaded by investors who make deals without involvement of the locals. He continues, “We also learned about the investment in media and in Parliament. Otherwise, we know nothing.”
The Oakland Institute credited campus and media activism for the turnaround at the university. Ms. Mittal says, “I sincerely hope we can keep the pressure on and have a just outcome.” But for now, AgriSol intends to continue with its plans.
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