"The question of land grabbing is just some illusion promoted by a group of people who don't know what's happening on the ground in respective countries in Africa," according to Mkindi
ACT refutes US website claims on land grabbing
BY NORTHERN STAR CORRESPONDENT
Rampant land grabbing claims in Tanzania by a United States-based website have come under fire with some stakeholders worried it can scare away investors. The claims made during the recent World Food Prize Conference at Des Moines, Iowa, US by Land Matrix website said land grabbing was serious in Tanzania, posing a threat to agricultural development.
But representatives of the agricultural sector who attended the meeting have described the claims as false, exaggerated and without proper verification. The chairman of the Agricultural Council of Tanzania (ACT) Mr Salum Shamte said he has been shocked by information on 'rampant land deals' in Tanzania by the website.
"As farmers we had to check and ensure the correctness and validity of these statements and by and large found them to be grossly incorrect and exaggerated", said in a statement availed to this reporter. He added the claims could deal a blow to the agricultural sector, the economic backbone of the country and dependable livelihood to millions of Tanzanians.
Information on the website is reported to have been picked by various newspapers abroad, a situation which can compromise the country's chances to continue attracting foreign investments. "It is causing a lot of damage to our efforts to our efforts to attract investments from the local and international private sector into agriculture", he explained.
Without giving figures, Mr Shamte noted that the agricultural sector in Tanzania has not attracted much investment compared to other sectors. However, he said farmers were keen to be connected to the value chains brought about by having access to technology, finance and markets.
"This linkage can be brought about by more private sector investment into our agriculture", he said, noting that portrayal of the country as being notorious for land grabbing can reverse investment flows.
ACT is an apex private sector farmer organization in Tanzania with a membership of 2.2 million. Mr Shamte is also the managing director of the Tanga-based Katani Limited. His remarks were echoed by the executive director of the Tanzania Horticultural Association (TAHA) Ms Jacquiline Mkindi who insisted.
“Land grabbing in Tanzania doesn't exist. It may be happening in other African countries but generalizing Africa as if it is one country is not fair practice”. According to her, in reality Tanzania has 44 million hectares of arable land out of which only 25 per cent have been utilized so far.
“So the question of land grabbing in this kind of a situation is just some illusions promoted by group of people who don't know what's happening on the ground in respective countries in Africa”, she pointed out.
The Tanzanian ambassador to the US Ms Mwanaidi S. Maajar said she was shocked to hear that American agricultural investors currently in the country were being criticized by the competitors as being land grabbers. She emphasized the importance of small scale farmers working together with large scale farmers and investors in agricultural industry in ensuring higher yields.
"This is the way to go for countries like Tanzania to modernize agriculture that will see an average farmer develop into a commercial farmer", she explained. Reports of large-scale land acquisition in Tanzania have been voiced in recent years, especially for investors in biofuel production, especially in the coastal and south western regions.
Managers of Land Matrix website, an on-line public data base project on land deals, admit that some land acquisition claims in Tanzania have been difficult to verify. However, it reported of information that some multi-national firms have entered into land leases with the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), amounting to thousands of hectares.