Wednesday, December 28, 2011

AgriSol in Tanzania: Land-Grabbing or Outright Theft?

Tanzanians and other Africans seem to be worrying a lot about reductions in foreign aid and what conditions will need to be met in order to receive whatever is available. But they don't seem to be paying much attention to the fact that land is being grabbed by foreign multinationals at a rate that involves far higher sums of money than foreign aid.

The Oakland Institute has investigated AgriSol's dirty deals in Tanzania and though they have been found wanting, they appear to be going ahead. Many Tanzanians suffer regular food shortages and poor diet but Agrisol intends to use huge tracts of land and substantial amounts of water to produce biofuels and genetically modified crops for export.

Aside from needing land and water to produce food and other things, Tanzania is not yet prepared for genetically modified organisms. Even if they have some kind of regulation, probably regulation that suits the likes of AgriSol more than it does Tanzanians, the country is unlikely to have the capacity to enforce appropriate regulation any time in the near future, which should suit the GM industry.

AgriSol and others involved in these land-grabs like to claim that the land is marginal and/or underutilized, even uninhabited, none of which are true. Biofuels and genetically modified crops, despite claims to the contrary, need water and fertile soil. So AgriSol want to bribe (or whatever the current nomenclature is) their way into 800,000 acres of fertile land which is inhabited by over 160,000 people.

Of course, AgriSol also claim they will be enriching Tanzania and the local communities who will be effectively dispossessed and displaced. AgriSol will not allow such matters to get between them and hundreds of millions of dollars profit. So they need the assistance of public relations experts, legal experts and, of course, political allies. And with that amount of money to be made, this assistance should be readily available.

The Oakland Institute have published eight myths they have identified about land-grabbing, and in particular about this current AgriSol intrigue. The first is that the land is not being used, which most land-grabbers claim. The land is inhabited by displaced Burundians, some of whom have been there for nearly 40 years, having been originally displaced by war.

AgriSol also claim they are not involved in the displacement of Burundians, which they say started independently of their efforts. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny. Their claims about cooperating fully, consultations, transparency and the like are also untrue. All the big land-grabbers claim that Africans will benefit, AgriSol being no exception, even taking steps to ensure that they can export food crops at times when there is a lack of food security in the country involved.

Indeed, AgriSol will be looking for a tax exemption and they will want to receive input subsidies that are currently destined for Tanzanians. So much for private enterprise eschewing subsidies! AgriSol go through the usual sanctimonious posturing about environmental responsibility, which simply doesn't add up for either biofuels or genetically modified organisms, which are both extremely destructive to the environment.

Very small numbers of people will be employed by AgriSol's scheme and fewer still are likely to be Tanzanians. And the amount of 'rent' they will be paying is a derisory one tenth of a dollar an acre for a 99 year lease. Good agricultural land costs in the region of millions of dollars, so it's not clear how rental revenue will even cover the costs of the paperwork.

The Oakland Institute unearths many disturbing things about AgriSol and the various well connected people involved, who seem to be more scrupulous about maximizing earnings than anything else. Sadly, there will be a few in Tanzania who will be able to pick up a nice fee for selling their friends and families. But Tanzania as a whole and ordinary Tanzanians will lose a lot more than they stand to receive in donor funds, no matter what conditions they agree to.


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