Fahamu (Oxford)

Tanzania: U.S. University Withdraws From Land Grab Deal

The most controversial and potentially devastating part of the deal was the forceful removal of 162,000 people thriving on the land.

In a turnabout that should remove AgriSol's last shred of credibility as a 'responsible investor' in Tanzania, Iowa State University (ISU) announced in a statement on February 10, 2012 that they have withdrawn themselves entirely from ties to AgriSol and the land deal it is planning in Tanzania. From Dean Wintersteen's statement we learned that the university is tired of spending 'much of our time and energy . . . directed at countering misrepresentations about why and how we were involved.'

Wintersteen added that attention has 'not been directed at what originally compelled us to explore program development in Tanzania - the role agricultural education can play in helping small farmers and families struggling against poverty and hunger.'

In response, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, had this to say:

'What has been hard about ISU's role in the AgriSol deal is that we share the mission of supporting small farmers. However, the Tanzanian land deal spearheaded by political insider Bruce Rastetter, who used ISU's involvement to gain credibility and further a charade of 'responsible agriculture,' would not have helped small farmers and their families."

Iowa State University's role in the AgriSol deal was first uncovered by the Oakland Institute in June, 2011 in a brief that questioned its ties to the project and to Bruce Rastetter, co-founder and Managing Director of AgriSol and an important donor to the university and a member of the Iowa board of Regents.

Since then, AgriSol has been the target of media coverage and other investigative reports including one by Dan Rather. AgriSol has issued a variety of statements regarding their intent in Tanzania but has not formally announced a withdrawal from the most controversial and potentially devastating part of their plan - the removal of 162,000 people thriving on the land they have their proposed sites.

The Oakland Institute countered AgriSol's claims of being 'responsible investors' with a myths and facts brief. In particular, AgriSol claims that they have little or no role in moving the long-standing refugee communities in Tanzania, stating that the Tanzanian government is responsible for this.

To that claim Oakland Institute Executive Director, Anuradha Mittal, responded with:

'It is a 'chicken versus the egg' situation. The communities would not be forced to move if there was not an investor interested in their lands and had not expressed this interest to the government. We know for a fact that AgriSol is misrepresenting their desire to take over the land in the areas known as Lugufu, Katumba and Mishamo.'

The Oakland Institute applauds the critical role of campus and media activism that has resulted in the turnabout at the university. Mittal added, 'Bad press alone won't stop this kind of devastation; our partners in the student community, the press, and of course in Tanzania are having an impact and we sincerely hope that we can keep the pressure on and have a just outcome.'

'We invite Iowa State University to join with us. In over 40 years the Burundians have built a robust and productive farming community. It would demonstrate support of ISU's mission to help 'small farmers and families struggling against poverty and hunger,' to ensure that they are not forcibly moved.'

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