The Citizen (Dar es Salaam) | 25 August 2010
As large-scale investors' interest in acquiring vast swathes of land for commercial agriculture in Africa intensifies, farmers believe the time is ripe for the government to press investors to allocate shares to villagers as a corporate social responsibility.
Should the proposal be put in place villagers will become shareholders of large-scale commercial farms.
The villagers, most of whom are peasants, frequently face eviction from their land to pave the way for large-scale farming. Because most of them often lack knowledge of their own land rights, they are normally paid peanuts by large-scale investors as compensation for their land. The payment is usually accompanied by the promise to build schools, roads and water supply systems.
"In my view, the solution to this problem is not money; rather, the government should obligate large-scale investors to give a part of their shares to us in exchange for our land," said Mr Ahmed Simba, a Kigoma-based farmer.
Mr Simba, who is among the few knowledgeable small-scale farmers, spoke to BusinessWeek in Morogoro at a recent symposium for Mviwata, a network of farmers' groups in Tanzania.
He said the investors should give villagers time to relocate to new places close to such investments. He added that the land lease agreement should cover a few years but be subject to renewal under certain conditions.
"We can benefit from large-scale investment in agriculture if we stop leaders from imposing their ideas on farmers, believing that what is in their interests (leaders) is in the interest of the nation," he noted.
His sentiments come at a time when available data indicates that Tanzania and other African countries are giving away vast tracts of land to large-scale investors who are mostly interested in cultivating biofuel and food crops to feed their countries.
A report titled 'Biofuels, land access and rural livelihoods in Tanzania' established that over four million hectares of land have been requested for biofuel investments, particularly for jatropha, sugar cane and oil palm.
The report, commissioned by the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum's Forestry Working Group (TFWG) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), says out of the requested land, some 640,000 hectares have been allocated. Of these, only around 100,000 hectares have been granted formal rights of occupancy.
And according to a recent draft World Bank report leaked to the Financial Times of London last month, investors in farmland are targeting countries with weak laws and are buying arable land at cheap prices while failing to deliver on promises of jobs and investments.
The report, 'The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?' is the broadest study yet of the so-called "farmland grab" in which countries invest in overseas land to boost their food security, or investors - who are mostly locals - buy arable land.
Another Mviwata member, Arusha-based Thomas John Laizer, shared Mr Simba's sentiments and urged the government to be a close auditor of the partnership between villagers and large-scale investors, both local or foreign.
"It's a fantastic idea...However, the government's hand remains vital because if investors are left to do what is in their interests, villagers may end up losing everything in their own country," he said.
"If they (investors) collude with some unscrupulous Tanzanians to produce fake reports that give the impression that certain corporations should not pay corporate tax because they are yet to make profits, what will prevent them?" He continued, adding that the country should make changes to its Land Act.
"Presently, Land is a public asset under the president's custody. This, ironically, means that nobody owns land in Tanzania, which in my view is a mistake," he said.
The best option, he said, could be to allow citizens to own land so that the government only comes in to supervise a partnership between land owners and the investors.
Mr Apolo Chamwela, a Kiteto-based farmer believes that despite the government's emphasis on commercial agriculture, under the much-touted Kilimo Kwanza initiative, land transactions need special treatment.
But a research fellow with the Research on Poverty Alleviation (Repoa), Dr Damian Gabagambi, (pictured) believes that giving villagers the chance to own shares in huge agricultural investment undertaken in their areas may be seen as a solution based only on theory.
"In practice, this may not necessarily be the solution... In my view, the solution lies in surveying our agricultural land and developing the agricultural value chain," he told BusinessWeek in an interview reflecting his personal views.
Surveying agricultural land would help Tanzania to earmark every piece of land either for crop or animal husbandry, he said.
"This means that whenever investors knock on our doors, we would know where to place them...With a well developed agricultural value chain, the coming of large-scale farmers would assure our farmers a ready market for their products," he said. He added that this system worked well in Mtibwa after the creation of the Mtibwa Outgrowers' Association (MOA).
When Mtibwa Sugar Estate was privatized in mid 1990s, only 25 farmers organized themselves to form a group that registered the Association. But to date MOA boasts 18 branches and a membership base of 5800 in all villages surrounding the estate.
Farmers, under the MOA, are doing good business and benefit from a ready market for their produce created by the Mtibwa Sugar factory.
Besides advocacy, the association offers training to farmers and gives services in the form of machinery. As a result of such benefits, the association currently runs loading machines and land preparation tractors.
Like any responsible investor, the association is currently extending support to six secondary schools in the area, a high school as well as training farmers."Encouraging such unions may be very helpful to small-scale farmers, especially at a time when there are signs of huge interest from large-scale investors in the sector," said Dr Gabagambi.