BAGAMOYO, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ali Shaaban was not entirely surprised to see a huge poster erected on his farm warning him not to carry out any agricultural activities in the area.
In the past few weeks the 56-year-old farmer had noticed
some white men he didn't recognize driving shiny 4x4 vehicles through
his village in Bagamoyo district, about 70km (44 miles) from the
commercial city of Dar es Salaam.
And through his archaic radio receiver, he had heard the announcement calling for anyone residing on Razaba farm to leave.
Despite having lived on the farm for decades, Shaaban is now
facing eviction as the government prepares to remove hundreds of
families from the area to make way for a biofuel investor.
“This is a test of my life," he says. "At this age, where on
Earth can I and my family go? There is no other place my children can
Farmers in Tanzania’s coastal region are protesting what
they see as the government's collusion with land grabbers, investors the
farmers accuse of swallowing up entire villages to make way for
renewable energy projects.
In Bagamoyo district, farmers claim that Swedish company
EcoEnergy acquired 5,000 hectares of community-held customary land after
seducing villagers with promises of new schools, hospitals and job
EcoEnergy plans to build a sugarcane plantation and an
ethanol-production facility at Razaba farm. The company estimates it
will produce about 125,000 tons of sugar, 100,000 megawatts of
electricity and 25 million litres of ethanol every year.
On its website, EcoEnergy refers to the land as an
"abandoned state cattle farm" — it was used as a ranch from 1976 to
1993 — but Razaba is still currently home to an estimated 600 families.
“We have been living in this area since the 1950s," says Ali
Ngwega, a village leader in Bagamoyo. "Now the government is branding
us invaders just to please someone powerful."
EcoEnergy managing director, Anders Bergfors, dismissed the
land grabbing accusations, saying the company had followed the correct
procedures to obtain the land.
Bergfors said the company intends to contract small-holder
farmers in the area to grow sugarcane and become partners in the
“We would like them to form small companies with about 100
hectares per farmer; we will have commercial contracts with them,” he
According to Bergfors the project is necessary to boost
sugar and electricity production, as well as production of ethanol, a
form of renewable energy.
Bergfors said the Razaba project would create direct
employment of 2,000 people, and another 1,500 could be contract growers
for the operation.
But people living on Razaba farm say they are not reassured by the promises.
Tanzania’s government maintains that living in the area for a
long time does not automatically give villagers legitimate ownership of
land. “The law is very clear and the investor is the legal owner,” said
Anna Tibaijuka, Tanzania's minister for housing and human settlement.
Official land title deeds are difficult to get in Tanzania,
due to pervasive bureaucracy and corruption. While village land isn’t
supposed to be sold to outsiders, the lack of paperwork means villagers
have little recourse when it does happen.
According to the Tanzania Investment Centre, a government
agency, the process of land acquisition requires that investors submit
their proposals to the village council via district officials. The
village assembly is called to examine the proposals and when a piece of
land is approved for investment, ownership is transferred to the
government, which can then lease it out for a maximum of 99 years.
The problem is that “once village land is transferred to
(the government), the local people lose their ownership rights until the
end of the lease,” said Abdi Kagomba, a legal affairs manager with the
Tanzania Investment Centre.
Over the past few years, disputes with locals over land
ownership rights have forced several biofuel companies to suspend or
cease operations in Tanzania’s Rufiji and Bagamoyo districts.
The Tanzania Investment Centre says there are over 40
foreign companies who have expressed interest in acquiring land for
biofuel cultivation in Tanzania. Currently, about 436,000 hectares of
land have been earmarked for biofuel production.
Available land and cheap labour make Tanzania attractive to
investors, some of whom have been courted by Tanzania’s government,
Around the world, concerns about climate change and energy
security are prompting many countries to introduce policies that
encourage greater use of renewable fuels. And when the 2012 G8 summit
saw the launch of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,
which encourages the private sector to invest in African agriculture,
Tanzania was one of the first countries to sign up.
But as interest in Tanzanian land grows, a share of farmers
in Bagamoyo and Rufiji districts claim they have been the victim of land
A June study
commissioned by the Stockholm Environmental Institute, entitled
"Biofuel production and its impact on local livelihoods in Tanzania,"
suggests that the government’s encouragement of outside investors has
weakened local people’s capacity to protect their own interests.
Although Tanzania law directs companies to obtain land
through the Tanzania Investment Centre, the study cites cases in which
private investors have bypassed the law and negotiated directly with
The study also says that most land acquisition deals end up
in dispute because investors are seen to have failed to honour the
promises they made to local communities.
"In some cases the agreements between investors and local
people were made only verbally, but the villagers felt that agreement
had been reached” while investors believed that without paperwork they
were not obliged to fulfill any promises.
Even if a deal is made legally, the study's findings show
that farmers whose land happens to be within investment areas are often
unable to negotiate the government’s compensation offers.
For the farmers currently protesting the government's deal with EcoEnergy, the study does offer some hope.
“Villages have in some cases been successful in pushing back
when they feel their rights are not being respected, even after
agreements have been made,” the study’s authors noted.
Pushing back is exactly what the farmers of Razaba farm plan
to do. “We will use every means to defend our rights," says farmer Said
Hidaya Mwinyijuma. "No matter how powerful the investor is."