29 November 2012

Tanzania: Such Land 'Losers' Deserve Fair Deal

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/IRIN
Sugar cane plantation used in production of biofuel

THE government has announced that from now on; foreigners who intend to invest in agriculture will be allocated a maximum of 10,000 hectares.

The idea is to put a brake on haphazard allocations that often leave large tracts of land unattended for years. It is expected that the move will curtail what land grabbers call 'land banking'.

There have been greedy investors who purchase huge chunks of land, often corruptly, and leave them unattended for years so that they can re-sell them at a higher price. The 10,000 hectares will be parcelled out mainly to investors in sugarcane plantations and the minimum 5,000 hectares will go to rice growers.

Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda says this decision has been arrived at after an exhaustive research. Well and good, so long as the move reduces the now rampant conflicts over village land. Conflicts over land are so numerous. Some pit investors against villages.

Others pit farmers against livestock keepers. It is high time such conflicts were shot down. Some farmers in this country get a raw deal when their tracts of farmland are passed to so-called investors with little or no compensation at all.

This is land grabbing which is, indeed, an abominable felony; no wonder foreign investors are not taken kindly in some localities. Fine; foreign investments can help poor countries create jobs, increase export earnings and use more advanced technologies.

This could be the case if these so-called investors treated the 'losers of land' kindly. But many investments have failed due to insufficient soil fertility, financing difficulties or over-ambitious business plans. In Tanzania, for example, some large bio-fuels projects have now been abandoned. But the land still remains in the hands of the "looters."

Even where investments are profitable, it is often difficult to see how they contribute to poverty reduction. The jobs created are few, short-lived and low-paid -- and public revenues are limited by tax exemptions.

So, some of the poorest individuals in this country are losing their land, water and natural resources that have supported their livelihoods for generations. It is these poor farmers who have provided the backbone of the economy for long. They should be protected.

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