Uncertainties surround farming reform in Tanzania


Several transnational corporations have come to Tanzania to invest in plantations in the country’s Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor, a region the size of Italy.

The initiative is sponsored by a food security alliance created by the G7 group of industrialized countries. The goal is to bring innovation to agriculture and create more jobs in the sector to reduce poverty and wipe out hunger in the nation.

There is, however, an intensifying debate over how to reform farming in Tanzania and other countries. Who can produce the food the world needs — plantations or small-scale farmers?

“Today, Tanzania is 53 million people and they don’t really have the ability to keep up with the change. I think it’s a race against the clock,” said Per Carstedt, executive chairman of Agro EcoEnergy, a Swedish company that is one of several corporations working on the corridor project. His sense of urgency comes largely from the fact that more than half of all Tanzanians are under age 17.

He said the nation needs to transform its agriculture to create new jobs and support economic growth before a demographic crisis hits.

It’s not just Tanzania that needs an agricultural revolution.

“If you are not able to provide jobs and opportunities for [developing countries] in the future, it’s a ticking bomb,” Carstedt said. He thinks the world needs to increase food production 60 percent in the next 45 years.

Carstedt is urging Tanzania and its neighbors to take a hint from Brazil, a country that turned to large-scale farming and became the world’s largest exporter of sugar. He noted that Brazil now accounts for 50% of the world’s sugar exports. “Why is it not possible to replicate the same kind of development here?” he asked.

Poor, small-scale farmers in Tanzania, however, are siding with those who oppose large corporate investment in agriculture.

There’s a simmering standoff in Razaba, a village in Tanzania’s Bagamoyo district, over the Swedish company’s plan to establish a sugar plantation. There have been lengthy disputes over property compensation. As a result, the project is four years behind schedule.

Agro EcoEnergy said it had consulted the villagers in Bagamoyo, but a recent study by ActionAid Tanzania said the majority of small-scale farmers in Razaba had not been offered a choice on whether to be resettled or stay on their land.

The report said they also had been denied crucial information about the irreversible effects of the project on their livelihoods and food security.

Local farmers expressed fear about the loss of prime land and authorities’ failure to engage them in the process.

Nawahi P. Nawahi, 59, a father of four, said the confusion about the land acquisition had disrupted local farmers’ lives.

“A lot of the food crops and produce have dried up. There’s nothing here now; we have even stopped planting to wait for the evaluation process,” said Nawahi, who used to grow maize, beans, paw paws, cassava and vegetables on his 2.4-hectare parcel of land.

Another small-scale farmer, Alala Shaibu, 26, decried what he saw as the breakdown of traditional social structures because of the simmering tensions.

“I am aware of families that have been torn apart while a big number of children have dropped out of school because their parents are unable to cater for their basic education,” she said.

Tanzanian officials said the Bagamoyo project “is a special case” and that the land belonged to the government. Dr. Moses Kusiluka, the commissioner for lands, said the site was initially earmarked as a ranch for livestock keeping before it was abandoned.

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