Monday, May 14, 2012

Tanzania govt signs off huge tracts of land to foreign investors in secret deals

Tanzania leads East African countries in secretive land investment deals, with the government signing off huge chunks of land to foreign governments and private investors, a new survey shows. And East Africa — a region where land is usually an emotive issue — tops the global charts on dishing out farmlands, edging out Southeast Asia, South America and Central Africa.

Tanzania recorded at least 58 deals involving an estimated 2.2 million hectares, according to the Land Matrix Project, a new online database.

Kenya follows with 13 deals over an estimated 633,500 hectares. Uganda comes in third with four deals over an estimated 76,512 ha; while Rwanda tails with just a single deal over an estimated 3,100 ha. There is no information on Burundi.

While the entry of foreign investors purportedly comes with positive trickle-down effects like provision of jobs and economic growth, some security analysts and humanitarian organisations said this trend is exposing EAC countries to possible food insecurity, instability, social unrest and conflict in coming years. Indeed, it has already sparked land invasions in northern Tanzania.

Foreign governments that seek this land import most of their food and so they want it mainly to grow food and export it back to their countries. A section of politicians in Tanzania have been pushing for land reform that would see the seizure of big tracts of land owned by rich individuals and their transfer to poor, landless people — this was promised by both Cha cha Mapinduzi and Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) candidates in the campaigns before the recent by-election in Arumeru East constituency in Arusha.

While the single land investment in Rwanda is from next-door neighbour Uganda, Tanzania’s are mainly from Germany, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Korea, and Netherlands; while Kenya’s deals come in from Canada, UK, Japan, Qatar, the US, and Switzerland.

Ironically, a majority of the countries, particularly in Africa, that are giving their land away routinely suffer from famine and starvation.

The Land Matrix Project has been created by the Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Bern in Switzerland; the Paris-based Centre for Agricultural Research for Development; the German Institute of Global and Area Studies; Germany’s lead development agency GIZ, and the International Land Coalition. The matrix, its creators said, systematically collates and seeks to verify information on large-scale land acquisitions, from 200 ha and above, that have been concluded since 2000 with the aim of providing a quantitative response to a global trend where rich countries are swooping down on poorer ones and picking up huge pieces of land on the cheap.

An accompanying report – Transnational Land Deals for Agriculture in the Global South — says that there has been a slowdown in the scramble for land, which peaked in 2009, because of “the easing of commodity prices, the financial crisis and new realism about the risks of the investments concerned.”
It is also possible, the report adds, that the slowdown “may also reflect a new wariness about announcing very large-scale prospective deals, and a shift in media interest to other topics.”

The wariness may result from the fact that for a time now, as these transactions have grown in scale and intensity, many commentators, including former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, have expressed fears that a new Scramble for Africa is underway. The interactive matrix has recorded 1,217 agricultural land deals, which amount to 83.2 million hectares of land in developing countries or 1.7 per cent of the world’s agricultural area.

Out of these deals, only information about 625 — 51.4 per cent, or 43.7 million ha — have been evaluated as coming from a reliable source, reflecting the deep secrecy in which these transactions are shrouded.
Past studies show the rush for African land has been facilitated by incoherent land tenure systems that self-interested elites have maintained as they are.

In Uganda, for instance, the government has been developing a comprehensive national land policy since 1983 and has yet to complete it. The policy, according to one of its drafts, is essential for the sustainable management of land resources since the majority of Ugandans are dependent on land for employment and survival.

No adequate reason has been given to explain the delay, fuelling speculation about the intentions of the government. Beginning in 2005, when land became a highly volatile and political issue, it tried to speed up the process and has since worked out four drafts.

But Esther Obaikol, the executive director at the Uganda Land Alliance, says it is frustrating that the Cabinet has been sitting on the last draft for two years now without the slightest indication when it intends to move on it. Daudi Migereko, Uganda’s current Minister of Lands, says they are waiting for the Cabinet secretariat, which determines the Cabinet’s agenda, to set a date for it.

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