Rufiji interviews: what do they know about SEKAB

Riches of the Poor | 20 May 2009

These videoclips are work in progress. They are from a collection of six hours of video interviews recorded by Kassim Mustafa, Maweni Farm, and Joseph Shayo, JET, in Rufiji and Kisarawe districts in Tanzania in November 2008. The material shows very clearly that the people who have agreed to give out their land for free to SEKAB have been mislead by unrealistic promises of investment in social services and infrastructure that would follow from the project.

These two clips also suggest that:

  1. there is no signed agreement with the villages, SEKAB’s commitments to social infrastructure are just talk
  2. At least some villagers believe that each of them will formally own 5 ha of sugarcane plantation that the company will clear, manage and harvest for them, so that they will come to earn a land rent or a labour free income. This is of course entirely unrealistic.
  3. it seems the village chairman anticipates that lots of money will be made from the timber when the land is cleared, and it is our impression from watching dozens of long interviews that such expectations of benefiting from timber trade has made the local elite more favourable to the project.

Ordinary villagers knew very little about what is being planned and many were suspicious.

Ibrahim Saidi Mboweto, Village Chairman

We received a request… that they wanted land to grow sugarcane. The village council discussed it, and presented its proposal to the village assembly. The village decided, with one voice, that we should agree to this project being established in our village, and that we will give them the land.

(not in clip: they didn’t say how much land they needed, and we didn’t know hob much land we have in the village, so we had to survey the land first…. there is at least 28,000 ha, we set aside about 2400 for sugarcane… and about 800 ha for “outgrowers”)

Question: Have you signed any contract with the company?

Mboweto: Actually as a village… we haven’t signed any contract. Except that when we agreed, we explained what we wanted to be done for us . For example… we requested a secondary school… and other projects too such as a water project… and we put other projects aimed at developing the community there. Also, employment… that the villagers are given priority when the company employs people. These things were in the document we submitted

(No people living in the area, it now has trees, wild trees, “pori”, he explains that the village asked the company not to burn the trees when clearning, and he hopes to benefit from timber business… so this is not barren land, but forest land that has valuable timber)

Mboweto: Our main livelihood is agriculture. In the past, before the forest was protected, we had good income from harvesting timber. But the way forest management is going now, with the government prohibiting harvesting, we are left with farming only.

Ibrahim Salum Jora, village elder

Why did we agree to this project, immediately after they asked us?

We asked them what is this project, what are the benefits, what will we get out of it? They explained very convincingly. They said, you will participate in this project. When you have approved this project and we have got that area, we will clear farms that will belong to you villagers, inside our area. Each person will get five acres. These were the words that made us so happy. But since you lack capability and resources, we will cultivate those farms for you. We will plant the sugarcane. Then we’ll harvest. We will know how many tons we got from that person’s farm. Then… we will claim all the expenses we had for getting that harvest. What remains as profit we will give to you. Then we said that since we were born we have never heard of such a wonderful project, if that is really how it will work. But we don’t know, it could be like this, or not. But we have faith so we said, we are pleased.


Question: What if it doesn’t work out like that?

Answer: If it doesn’t become like what they explained? Then we will claim that an injustice has been made. What would that look like? If people have agreed and we have these expectations… and if it doesn’t become like that, then that will be an injustice. And when a poor person suffers injustice he can only turn to God, nobody else will listen. We can’t start a war, we can’t chase him out. But we pray to God that he will do as he says.

[Note from editors: This post is about land grabbing for biofuels (in this case, a SEKAB project in Tanzania to produce ethanol from sugarcane), not food production. But the parallels are clear]
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