New land scramble worries small farmers

 

 

26/10/2011

 

As the world population clocks on the seven billion figure, the need to produce even more food is more critical than ever before. Some countries with far better economic means to invest in farming have started grabbing land in Africa in order to grow food for their populations back home and fuel for their industries.

This trend has thrown widespread skepticism among indigenous populations fearing that they would be replaced from their small pieces of land. It is the fear for land scarcity, for landlessness and lack of food, the fear of being deprived of the only source of livelihood accessible to them.

Investors with big enough capitals have been seeking to occupy land for both food crops and bio-fuel plants. Many African governments have been Okaying such investors to take up land in their countries.

Tanzania is not an exception, given the fact that the country has been endowed with vast arable tracts of land.

However, small-scale farmers have been raising concerns over the trend. Many, though, lack capital to conduct intensive farming. They are afraid that the coming in of foreign investors with big capitals would cause them to become fiefs in the plantations and therefore continue languishing in poverty.

They want the government to protect them by stopping allowing such moves.

Mr Ahmed Simba, a Kigoma-based peasant, complained that the government has been allocating huge tracts of land to certain investors in the district, while refusing to allocate the same pieces of land to local groups that had applied for them.

“I’m afraid we will end up being cheap labourers in such plantations, why does the government prefer foreign investors to local ones?” he questioned.

He was speaking to the BusinessWeek at a sideline interview during the National Agricultural Seminar organized by Mviwata -- a Network of Small-scale Farmers’ Groups in Tanzania -- in Morogoro last week.

Presenting a paper on the Role and place of small producers in the writing process of the new anticipated Constitution, Bashiru Ali, a senior lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, said that land and its related issues should be thoroughly elaborated in the new Constitution to avert possible conflicts related to land handling and management.

“We need to look into our land laws and strengthen them so that they adequately protect the rights of indigenous Tanzanians,” he said.
 
According to him, up to last year, the government had already allocated over 610,000 hectares of land to 13 foreign companies, whereas some have not made any real investment on the land. Some have even been accused of engaging in such activities as timber production and therefore destroying the environment instead of conserving it.

He urged the small-scale farmers to actively engage in the process of writing the new constitution once it starts.

The issue of land grabbing has been an increasing concern in Africa. Among countries that are said to have set their hands on African land include South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Investors from these countries have already gone into Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, to name just a few. China has been investing in the production of bio-fuel.

Protagonists to the move by foreign investors taking over land in Africa have argued that such investment would bring the much needed improvements in agricultural business and therefore as long as the needs of indigenous people are kept in mind, Africa would benefit immensely. They argue that it is time Africa feeds the world and gain from the business.

However, critics warn that for a country like Tanzania sidelining of small-scale farmers in land ownership would only breed future conflicts based on land.

“We have seen it elsewhere that farmers uprooted from their land resorted to use of violence to regain it,” says Mr Stephen Ruvuga, the executive of Mviwata.

According to him, the country should brace for its food security to be in jeopardy since the to be investors will obviously produce agricultural crops for foreign markets leaving them with nothing to eat as they would not afford the prices.

Explaining further, Mr Ruvuga is of the view that the country should seek to build capacity of the indigenous small-holder farmers so as they could continue feeding the nation without any sort invasion to their only land.

Tanzania has 44 million hectares of arable land, of which the government says about 10.8 million is in use.

But some experts say this is misleading because the only idle lands are the national parks, and forest and game reserves. Either peasants or pastoralists occupy the rest of the arable land.

Source: THE CITIZEN

 








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