AgriSol lands another 10,000 ha amid growing public outcry
Guardian | 11 December 2011
BY GERALD KITABU
The US-based AgriSol Company has landed another lucrative land deal involving 10,000 hectres amid growing public outcry about the recent land deals sealed by the company in Rukwa region.
Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda
The company, mid this year, came under attack from land rights activists and politicians, especially Members of Parliament for acquiring over 300,000 hectres located at Mishamo and Katumba areas in Mpanda district for agricultural development.
The attacks prompted Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda to throw his weight to defend the investor, saying the deal could benefit the local economy and had the potential to uplift peasants in the area from the vicious cycle of poverty. He said the investor through Agrisol Energy Tanzania Limited, had acquired the land in question after open, long negotiations with regional and district leaders.
Before the dust settles, an investigation conducted by The Guardian on Sunday has revealed that the same firm has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kigoma regional authorities about two months ago for the acquisition of the land located at Lugufu area in the region.
The area in question was formerly used as the camp that harbored Congolese refugees until 2009 before they were repatriated. It is located 92 kilometers south of Kigoma .
Lugufu has a total of 15,000 ha out of which 10,000 ha have been reserved for the investor while 5,000 ha have been reserved for the newly designated Uvinza district, to build headquarters and other services in the neighborhood.
Already residents from the villages that surround Lugufu area have started registering complaints over the manner in which the decision to award the land to the prospective investor was reached, saying the process did not involve them. The villages that surround Lugufu area are Mwamila, Basanza, Kazuramimba and Kazaroho.
In separate interviews the residents claimed they knew nothing about the investor and the type of investment as they have never been consulted, leave alone introduction of the prospective investors to them, blaming district authorities for making it a secret deal.
Now, the residents have vowed to protest against the AgriSol investment deal in Lugufu should the deal materialize, on grounds that they have never been involved in the land acquisition process and more importantly, they were not sure of the benefits they would get when the project kicks off.
Lugufu, a camp that accommodated 510,000 Congolese refugees, is located in Uvinza ward. Following the signing of peace agreements and consequently the restoration of peace in the Congo, the refugees were repatriated and the camp closed in 2009.
In an interview with the Guardian on Sunday, the chairman of Mwamila Village which surrounds Lugufu, Yohana Nkolanigwa said he knew nothing about the intended investment except having seen officials of the purported investment company passing through their village to Lugufu and putting beacons, a sign that send a message that the land might have been sold or was in the process of being sold.
“We don’t have any knowledge of the investor or the intended investment. We only hear about the investment in the media, which means we have never been consulted leave alone there being awareness creation, education on benefits that we are going to get from the proposed investment,” he said.
He told this newspaper that he remembered one day in July this year a delegation passed through their village but did not stop until they arrived at Lugufu.
Later, in the evening, he went to see security guards of the Lugufu area who told him that the delegation was led by the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives accompanied by the investor and they were surveying the land.
He said he was shocked to note that the nearby land was being leased to a foreign investor while his village with a population of 4,820 was faced with shortage of land due to invasion by people from other villages such as Kazuramimba and at times, there are land conflicts caused by a rising population.
Mpenjiwa Jackson, head teacher of Mwamila primary school, apart from blaming the district authorities for leasing the land which is now habouring rare animals such as chimpazees, elephants, wild pigs, and elephants. He said that it is not wise to lease the land to the investor while Mwamila village is faced with shortage of land, and increased population caused by migrants from Manyovu, especially the Sukuma and Tusi tribes.
“Mwamila village has no pastures for livestock keepers, and the village is currently being invaded by livestock keepers, something which can cause land conflicts in the near future,” he said.
On his part, the chairman of the village environment committee, Godfrey Thomas said that apart from responsibility of the district authorities for making the deal a secret, leasing the area would be a big blow to biodiversity such as survival of chimpanzee. They have in recent years been multiplying much faster after the repatriation of refugees.
According to him, Lugufu is endowed with abundant natural resources such as rare animals and fertile soil for locals and at the moment there are more than 200 chimpanzees which, if the investor would take the land means even the very rare species would go.
Moshi Muzanye, agricultural extension officer for Kazuramimba ward which has a population of 32,200 said that at first he heard the district authorities asking villagers who wanted to go and farm in Lugufu to list their names so that they fill a special application form. But as the residents started filling in the forms, another directive was issued by the same authorities that the land had been leased to a foreign investor whom they do knot know.
He said that if the government had consulted them, he would have advised it to reserve the land for locals to ease pressure on their land because it can accommodate more than 30 villages with a population of 2,000 people at any moment.
Herman Chubwa, a villager in the Kazaroho hamlet, which has a population of 185 located close to Lugufu, said that one day in July this year, some people came to the village and started surveying Lugufu area. When he asked them about their mission, they told him that they were surveying the area for a foreign investor.
“I was shocked. I could not believe my ears as even my neighbours knew nothing about the planned investment in Lugufu. How can we live with an investor we don’t know and his mission,” he queried.
The chairperson of Basanza village, Abdul Buguzo and acting village executive officer Rigobati Lilai said that the news about the investment in Lugufu caught them by surprise.
Still they admitted that one day they received visitors who identified themselves as AgriSol officials seeking good neighbourhood, as they were planning to acquire 3000 ha of Luchugi land in the nearby village. It is about 20 km from Lugufu, but they knew nothing about land acquisition in Lugufu.
They said that at one point in time, the Division Officer, on behalf of the DC visited the village and explained to the villagers about AgriSol investment in Luchugi and not Lugufu.
Babu Pascal Steven, the head of youth department at the Kigoma Vijana Development Association (KIVIDEA), and his executive secretary Festo Nemesi were running an agricultural project for the youth in the area but stopped due to lack of funds and inputs to expand the projects.
They said that Kigoma has plenty of natural resources and in recent years it has been invaded by investors who make deals without involvement of the locals.
“We also learnt about the investment in media and in Parliament otherwise we know nothing,” they said.
Co-founder and managing director of Farming for Energy for Better Livelihoods in Southern Africa (FELISA) also based in Kigoma, Dr Hamimu Hongo expressed his dismay and horror at the whole process of the investment and the level of involvement of the local communities, saying it was not participatory.
According to him, a foreign investor with enough resources should have been given undeveloped land and not the already developed one like Lugufu which has all the infrastructures left behind by the refugees’ management which could help in assisting poor locals to farm easily.
He was of the view that such potential land should have been given to local investors for the benefit of smallholders and the nation at large.
Despite Kigoma district authorities admitting to have met the investor and conducted preliminary discussions about the proposed investment, the investigation conducted in the region by the Guardian on Sunday revealed the district authorities were not aware of the signed MoU as it was regional authorities that were actively involved in the negotiation process.
Kigoma District Administrative Secretary Margreth Heguye confirmed to have information about the investor but declined to give more details, saying she knew nothing about the proposed investment as all the files were in the hands of the District Executive Director but when this newspaper reached Kigoma district’s Acting Executive Director Jomo Watai on the MoU he said had never signed the document with the investor.
“What is going on is just negotiating meetings between the two parties. The MoU would be signed when both parties have reached consensus on the terms of leasing the land,” Watai said.
While the district council denied completely to have signed the MoU, the Kigoma region Assistant Administrative Officer responsible for Planning and Coordination, George Bussungu confirmed that the MoU was signed two months ago, and that a feasibility study was underway, financed by the investor.
In what appeared to be a surprising remark, he scoffed at the MoU signed between the Mpanda district council and the investor, saying the MoU did not have the interest to the Mpanda people and the nation.
“When we saw the MoU signed between the Mpanda District Council and the investor, it was obvious that it had no benefit to the nation.
If you look at the MoU, there is no difference with the Ministry of Energy and Minerals that gave an investor 97 percent leaving behind 3 percent as royalty for the nation,” he explained.
Despite complaints from the village leaders, local communities and other stakeholders for lack of involvement, the Kigoma regional authorities said all villages and other stakeholders were fully involved in the process.
Asked by this paper if the MoU has been signed, the regional authorities admitted to have signed it but excused themselves that the deal was still at a low stage pending the feasibility study currently underway, being taken by the investor.
Speaking cautiously on behalf of the Kigoma Regional Administrative Secretary, the Region’s Assistant Administrative Officer in the Planning and Coordination Section, George Bussungu said that the investor would only be given land if the deal would be fair for all parties.
A lesson learnt from the MoU signed between Mpanda district authorities and AgriSol in Mishamo and Katumba revealed that the deal was not fare, it aimed at benefits the investor more than locals and the nation at large.
Citing examples of some provisions in the Mpanda MoU, which Kigoma Region authorities had strong reservations, he said that his region would not agree to lease 99 years to an investor, genetically modified crops (GMOs) and that in case of conflict, the mediation should be done at the High Court of Tanzania and not in London, UK as it is written in the Mpanda MoU.
When contacted for comments on the planned investment, Betram Eyakuze , the director of AgriSol Tanzania Ltd, the Tanzanian arm of AgriSol Energy that would provide the domestic front for this operation, confirmed that AgriSol was conducting a feasibility study in Lugufu.
He declined to give details on the deal saying he was on the road and if the reporter wanted more on the matter he should file questions through his email.
“Yes, AgriSol is surveying the land including preparing an Environmental Impact Assessment but if you want to know more on other issues send me questions through my email because I am on the road driving,” he said.
Recently, the same investor signed an MoU with the Mpanda district Council, provoking protests from people of all walks of life due to controversial terms included in it.
These include the initial term of the certificate of occupancy which is 99 years lease, plus the proviso that the government creates a regulatory framework for growing Genetically Modified (GM) crops, which is not yet to be approved. The deal, for the district, is a Sh200-per-hectare-per annum land rent, and Sh500 as fee to the council per hectare per year.
Also in the list are other controversial terms such as that for any disputes that may arise, arbitration shall be held in London, England, pursuant to the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which is reminiscent of the controversial Dowans contract.
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