Swedish land grab in Tanzania causes protests
Published: 22 Mar 2013
Short URL: http://farmlandgrab.org/21831
FarmLandS | 22 March 2013
SEKAB's sugar plantation in Bagamoyo (Photo: Geo-Lasse)
In 2009 we, a group of researchers from Sweden and Norway, wrote an opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter against a case of Swedish landgrabbing for biofuel in Tanzania. The Swedish company SEKAB claimed that they just targeted an unutilised state ranch, but we knew that the area was actually settled and used by small-scale farmers and pastoralists. In the month before some influential Swedish environmental researchers (several from Stockholm Environment Institute) had written an opinion piece in Göteborgsposten that was very positive about such projects in Tanzania and biofuels in Africa more generally. They took an innocently environmentally friendly perspective, without discussing existing land rights and the role for African smallholders. I also debated on Swedish Radio with one of them.
Since then biofuel projects in Africa have been more and more criticised and there are few concerned environmentalists who believe that biofuel from plantations in Africa is the solution to the energy problem. More and more people also realise that there is a conflict between food security and large biofuel plantations.
The Swedish project we crtiticised has also had its ups and downs since then. I have tried to report on it successively in my blog in Swedish: widgren.blogspot.com . The development of this project until late 2011 has also been summarised by Kjell Havnevik, who is now following the project in his research. One of the most problemtic plans was to convert larges tracts of miombo forest in Rufiji to plantations. The net less of CO2 to the athmosphere from the clearing of this forest incuding its large root system would probably easy outweigh the environmental gain from Swedish cars driving on ethanol. The project is now focussed on some 8000 hectares sugar plantation outside Bagamoyo for sugar production - no longer biofuels more than marginally.
In August last year the Resettlement Action Plan for the project disclosed a conservative estimate of the number of villages and inhabitants that would have be resettled (=evicted). During the last month the reports about the problems in the area have started to come out from Tanzanian media. This link in Swahili describes how the Swedish company now called Agro Eco Energy has come in conflict with the neighbouring national park, a problem which has been taken up by the Tanzanian parliament. Other reports tell that "Villagers cry over land grabbing" .The villagers claim to have had a previous court case which shows their right to the land. Read also "Dubious land sale in Bagamoyo creates dispute between villagers and investor"
The letter of protest from the villagers of Makaani Gana, which is about to be bulldozed for the plantation(including houses and a mosque) can be found here in Swahili. The google translation is rather confusing so please: if anyone out there can help me with translation I would be grateful.
It would be interesting to hear the same environmental scientists that in March 2009 were so positive about biofuel in Tanzania to comment this four years later. No longer seems sugarcane converted to biofuel for Swedish cars be so hopeful. And it is no longer possible to claim that the land is unutilised. Swedish development aid, companies and innocent environmental scientists ought to study Swedish agrarian history to understand how respect for customary rights and long use of the land formed the basis for the present transparent system of land rights in Sweden.