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A corporate cartel fertilises food inflation

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Last year’s financial results from the world’s largest fertiliser companies are now in — and it’s a shocker. Given the sky high fertiliser prices of 2022, it was anticipatedthat their revenues would break records, but no one could have predicted this scale of profiteering. As the world grappled with a severe food crisis and farmers saw costs rise, the world’s largest fertiliser firms ramped up their margins and more than tripled their profits from two years ago.

Graph 1

Graph 1 shows the total profits of the big nine fertiliser companies over the past five years. They exponentially grew from an average of around US$14 billion before the Covid-19 pandemic to US$28 billion in 2021 and then to an astounding US$49 billion last year. International agencies like the World Bank blamed the spike in fertiliser prices on the Russian war in Ukraine, resulting in high natural gas prices (used to produce nitrogen fertiliser) from shortages and trade disruptions. But as can be seen in Graph 2, a major part of the story is the monopoly power of the fertiliser companies. These companies increased prices far beyond the increases in production costs and boosted their profit margins to a massive 36% in 2022.
Graph 2
There are signs that fertiliser prices are coming down from their stratospheric heights earlier this year, but the effects of the price spike are still being felt. The high prices and lack of supply in some countries caused farmers to cut fertiliser use, thereby reducing production levels and contributing to an alarming rise in global food insecurity. The high prices also pushed many farmers deeper into debt. Farmers from Cameroon to the U.S. say they are still spending three times as much on fertilisers as they were a few years ago. And in countries where fertilisers are heavily subsidised, the price spike has saddled governments with huge debts. In India alone, the central government’s expenditure on fertiliser subsidies last year surged from US$9.8 billion to US$17.1 billion. People are paying the price for the fertiliser industry’s price gouging.
The costs are also rising for the planet. Chemical fertilisers are a major source of environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with nitrogen fertilisers alone accounting for one out of every 40 tonnes of annual emissions. New reports from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Earth4All, a global collective of leading scientists and economists, make it clear that steep and immediate reductions in global fertiliser use are required to avert catastrophic climate change. Both recommend a near phase-out of nitrogen fertiliser consumption by 2050 (see Graph 3). The idea is not to recklessly crash production levels, but a planned transition toward more sustainable, agroecological farming systems that require less or no fertiliser.
Graph 3
It is increasingly clear that today’s food inflation is a product of both corporate greed and ecological breakdown. Obscene levels of profit-taking by corporations are happening across the food system, from fertilisers to processing to retail, and this is pushing up prices. But the way these corporations organise our food production and distribution is also driving climate change and, undermining the capacity for the global food system to deliver affordable and accessible food, now and over the long term.
Bold new approaches are urgently needed to reign in corporate power in the food system and turn the food crisis around. When it comes to fertilisers, policy actions like windfall taxes and price controls can help. But to deal with both profiteering and environmental catastrophe we need to transition food production to rely far less on chemical fertilisers. The fertiliser industry will be pushing for the opposite when it gathers for its annual meeting in Prague this week, yet around the world there are farmers and rural movements already leading a transition away from chemical fertilisers, with plenty of successful examples to learn from. What’s holding us back is the structural political change needed at all levels to address the excess profiteering from the fertiliser industry, and chart a new path toward more resilient food systems.
Source: grain.org

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Attacks fueled by governments’ double standards fail to deter human rights defenders

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  • At least 300 defenders killed in 28 countries for their peaceful work in 2023

A faltering international human rights framework and hypocrisy from governments have exacerbated a rising wave of killings, criminalisation and a range of other threats that hampered the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) in 2023, Front Line Defenders said as it launched a new report.

The Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2023/24 gives a detailed panorama of the violations against HRDs across all regions of the world in the last year.

The report also reveals statistics gathered and verified by the HRD Memorial initiative – which Front Line Defenders coordinates – documenting the killings of at least 300 HRDs in 28 countries in 2023. Almost a third of those killed (31%) were Indigenous people’s rights defenders. This brings the total documented killings of HRDs in the last decade to nearly 3,000.

“This appalling wave of attacks on human rights defenders is a direct result of an international human rights framework left in tatters and governments’ double standards when it comes to respecting human rights,” said Alan Glasgow, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.

“A quarter century after the UN adopted a Declaration on human rights defenders, not enough progress has been made to ensure defenders are valued and protected. In this time, thousands of defenders have paid with their lives and many more face ongoing attacks and intimidation for their peaceful work. Urgent action is needed to change this.”

Wide-ranging risks to HRDs

Globally, the violation most commonly cited by HRDs was arbitrary arrest/detention (15%), followed by legal action (13%), continuing an ongoing trend of criminalisation as the most-reported risk. This was followed by death threats (10.2%), surveillance (9.8%) and physical attacks (8.5%). Trans and non gender-conforming HRDs reported slightly higher rates of physical attacks, and a much greater risk of smear campaigns. Globally, the five most targeted areas of human rights defence were: LGBTIQ+ rights (10.2%); Women’s rights (9.7%); Human rights movements (8.5%); Indigenous peoples’ rights (7.1%); and Human rights documentation (5.2%).

LGBTIQ+ defenders under attack

For the first time, the data show evidence of an onslaught against HRDs working on LGBTIQ+ rights in many parts of the world, comprising over a tenth of all attacks reported globally. LGBTIQ+ defenders were the most targeted group in Africa (23%), and ECA (17%) and among the five most-targeted in Asia and the Pacific.

This reflects a trend in which violence, surveillance, death threats, smear campaigns and other intimidation are increasingly being used to silence and stigmatise LGBTIQ+ defenders. In 2023, LGBTIQ+ defenders accounted for 5% of the killings documented by the HRD Memorial.

Draconian new laws illustrated this alarming trend, including in Uganda, which passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill allowing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”; and Russia, where the Supreme Court listed the “international LGBT movement” as extremist.

Conflict and crisis

At a time when there are more violent conflicts occurring than at any stage since the Second World War, it has become increasingly clear that HRDs are frequently targeted as a result of the vital work they do in conflict situations.

This was the case in Sudan, where Front Line Defenders documented the killing of eight HRDs. Defenders’ work often puts them at higher risk of violence from warring factions, but they have few dedicated avenues to seek urgent relocation to safety.

Amid Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza, civilians, including HRDs and their families, overwhelmingly bore the brunt of the attacks. HRD journalists, HRD medical workers and other defenders were targeted with killings, violence and arbitrary detention with ill-treatment. The international response to the conflict has exposed deep-rooted hypocrisy on the part of some governments that purport to support human rights.

Wars and crises elsewhere also had a devastating impact on defenders, including in Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, DRC, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico and Syria.

In the hyper-masculinised context of conflict, the risks faced by WHRDs and those advocating for gender justice are exacerbated. According to Front Line Defenders’ data for 2023, defenders promoting and protecting women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, where multiple conflicts are ongoing, were the single most at-risk group of HRDs in the region. These challenges ranged from physical attacks and disappearances to criminalisation, threats, online smearing and even targeted killing.

Right to protest trampled

In many parts of the world, public protests against unpopular decisions by governments were met with a violent police response. Instead of engaging in good faith with peaceful protesters and protecting the right to protest, states are moving to restrict it and criminalise those involved in organising or leading protests.According to Front Line Defenders’ 2023 data, where HRDs faced criminal charges, charges related to assembly or public order offences were among those most commonly used.

“Governments around the world must seize the opportunity to see human rights defenders, not as a threat to their grasp on power, but as positive and critical change-makers to improve societies and defend the human rights of their citizens,” said Alan Glasgow.

“Shoring up the embattled international human rights framework, ending hypocrisy on human rights and repealing laws that curtail human rights are among the ways governments can protect human rights defenders and uphold their vital work.”

Source: Frontline Defenders.

Report: Frontline Defender’s Global Analysis 2023/24

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Campaign Victory: World Bank Suspends Funding for REGROW, a Conservation Project Responsible for Evictions & Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania

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  • The World Bank has suspended funding for the Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project in Tanzania after over a year of advocacy by the Oakland Institute on behalf of tens of thousands of villagers impacted by the project.
  • The US$150 million project’s stated objective was to improve management of natural resources and tourism assets in priority areas of Southern Tanzania – including Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA). Instead, the Bank’s funding paved way for widespread human rights abuses against communities living near the park.
  • As a high-level World Bank delegation heads to Tanzania to further investigate, the Oakland Institute calls for an immediate halt to the government’s plan to forcibly evict over 21,000 people in order to expand the park’s boundaries.
  • Moreover, villagers who have been victims of gross human rights violations and crippling livelihood restrictions must receive adequate, effective, and prompt reparations to ensure justice and help redress the harm they have endured.

Oakland, CA – As of April 18, 2024, the World Bank has suspended disbursements for the REGROW project in Tanzania with immediate effect – following steadfast advocacy by the Oakland Institute on behalf of impacted villagers. The US$150 million project began in 2017 to “develop” tourism assets in Southern Tanzania but the Institute’s research in 2023 revealed it was directly financing evictions and egregious human rights abuses against communities living near the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA).

“The long overdue decision of the World Bank to suspend this dangerous project is a crucial step towards accountability and justice. It sends a resounding message to the Tanzanian government that there are consequences for its rampant rights abuses taking place across the country to boost tourism. The days of impunity are finally coming to an end,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

In September 2023, the Institute released Unaccountable & Complicit, shattering the silence on the World Bank’s role in the violent conservation activities underway around RUNAPA. The report first exposed the government’s plans to evict over 20,000 people from their land in order to expand the boundaries of the park. It also documented violence and rampant cattle seizures perpetrated by Bank-funded Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) wildlife rangers, systematically carried out to force people off their land.

When first informed of these abuses and violations of its own safeguards in April 2023, the World Bank deflected blame and failed to take action. The Institute then filed a request for inspection with the Bank’s independent Inspection Panel in June 2023 on behalf of villagers in the Mbarali District. In November 2023, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved the Inspection Panel’s recommendation to launch an investigation focused on the actions of TANAPA rangers. The investigation is ongoing and will conclude later in 2024.

Despite the Bank’s assurances its resettlement safeguards would not be violated and the launch of the Panel’s investigation, the government brashly moved forward with eviction plans. On October 20, 2023, the government officially declared(link is external) it was modifying the boundaries of RUNAPA to now encompass at least 23 legally registered villages – forcing the eviction of over 21,000 people who did not provide their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to the decision and have not been offered any alternative land or compensation. Thousands of additional people living in sub-villages are now considered within RUNAPA and will also be evicted as a result. Structures have already been marked for demolition and power has been cut to several villages. In December 2023, villagers filed a case in the East African Court of Justice to stop the boundary expansion as past attempts(link is external) in Tanzanian courts failed to provide justice.

The Bank has already disbursed approximately US$100 million out of the US$150 million total budget, including over US$35 million since the complaint was first filed in June 2023. In addition to allowing eviction plans to move forward, the Bank’s failure to take immediate action resulted in serious harms for the local communities. Ongoing project disbursements allowed TANAPA to continue carrying out killings and cattle seizures in recent months. On October 28, 2023, twenty-one-year-old Zengo Dotto was gunned down(link is external) by TANAPA rangers in Mwanawala village, the latest in several murders during the course of the REGROW project. During the first months of 2024, rangers illegally seized and auctioned off thousands of cattle from herders while preventing farmers from cultivating their land – devastating countless livelihoods as a result.

International media attention on the Institute’s findings, including The Guardian(link is external) and Associated Press(link is external) covered by The Washington Post, ABC News, and numerous other major outlets – put a global spotlight on the Bank’s complicity in the ongoing atrocities. In February 2024, to further escalate pressure, the Institute and Rainforest Rescue delivered a petition(link is external) with nearly 80,000 signatures to the President of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, calling on him to immediately stop funding the project.

“The Bank ignored damning evidence for an entire year that the Tanzanian government was completely disregarding its own safeguards. This should be a wakeup call for the Bank’s leadership in Washington, D.C. – you cannot continue to ignore the voices of the people on the ground who are struggling to survive as a result of your so-called “development” projects,” added Mittal.

A high-level World Bank delegation will soon travel to Tanzania. “The government’s plan to expand the park cannot go forward against the will of local communities, who will lose everything from such an expansion. In addition to preventing forced evictions, the Bank must focus on how to remedy the harms caused to the villagers who have lost loved ones to ranger violence or had their lives devastated by livelihood restrictions. Comprehensive reparations for all victims of this project are urgently required,” concluded Mittal.

Source:oaklandinstitute.org

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A new wave of land grabs strikes Tanzania

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Tanzania was one of the most heavily targeted countries of a huge scramble for farmland around the world that followed the food and financial crises of 2008 and that was supposed to help solve global food insecurity. The large farm projects, which became a strategy of choice for donors, multinational corporations and some governments, ultimately caused more harm than good by exacerbating land conflicts and destroying people’s livelihoods. In Tanzania, most of these projects soon collapsed and caused miseries for small farmers. But, despite this tragic record, Tanzania’s government is pursuing another round of foreign agribusiness investment by turning hundreds of thousands of hectares of lands into block farms where corporations will produce export crops, not local foods for the people. With China looking to Tanzania as a new supply source for soybeans, the stage could be set for another wave of land grabs, with dire consequences for Tanzania’s small farmers.

It should have been the death knell for large-scale agribusiness in Tanzania. In early 2019, Kilombero Plantation Limited (KPL), the much-hyped, showcase model of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor for Tanzania (SAGCOT), went bankrupt.[1] Despite receiving tens of millions of dollars from foreign development banks and investors, the owner of this large-scale rice farm, a UK-based private equity fund, was unable to pay off its debts and the farm was seized by its creditors. Tanzania’s NMB Bank spent the next two years trying to find a buyer, before the government stepped in to acquire it, and then handed it over to the Army to manage.[2]

The 5,818-hectare rice farm was once highlighted by the G7 and the World Economic Forum as proof that large-scale agribusiness could drive Africa’s agricultural growth. But, with the firm in financial ruin, Kilombero Plantations Limited became instead a stark example of Tanzania’s misguided and failed decade-long drive to increase foreign investment in agriculture.

The collapse of Kilombero Plantations was the latest in a long list of failed agribusiness projects in Tanzania, ushered in by a series of donor-funded programmes under the Presidency of Jakaya Kikwete (2005-2015).[3] These programmes– beginning with Kilimo Kwanza in 2006, then SAGCOT in 2010, and finally Big Results Now in 2013– aimed to make large areas of land available to companies, on the assumption that these would make Tanzania an export powerhouse, ensure food security, and most importantly, bring employment, technology, services (training, inputs, machinery, etc) and new markets for the small farmers living near to the farms. SAGCOT alone claimed it would bring in USD 2.1 billion in private sector investment.[4] But after 10 years, very little of this promised investment had materialised, and, of the few projects that got off the ground, most had failed, leaving a legacy of problems for the affected communities to deal with.[5]

By the time of the Kilombero Plantations bankruptcy, Tanzania’s then President, Dr John Pombe Magufuli, had grown frustrated with the approach of his predecessor, and had begun charting a new course. He scrapped the Big Results Now programme and began winding down SAGCOT. His government cancelled funding to a SAGCOT “catalytic fund” that had been created through a World Bank Loan– a clear sign of the changed approach.[6] And he also launched a process to revoke dozens of land titles from companies that had failed to bring lands under production.[7]

But in 2021, Magufuli died, and his successor, his Vice-President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, quickly reversed direction. Under the leadership of her Minister of Agriculture, Hussein Bashe, large-scale agribusiness once again became the government’s priority and the doors were swung wide open for domestic or foreign companies wanting large areas of farmland. SAGCOT resumed its central role, with an expanded mandate to establish corridors across the whole country.[8] Hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds have been budgeted for large-scale irrigation and, through a programme that claims to support the involvement of youth in agriculture, hundreds of thousands of hectares of lands across the country are being cleared and consolidated into “block farms” and offered to companies for the production of specified export crops.[9]

Betting on tomorrow

The centrepiece of President Samia’s renewed effort to allocate lands to agribusiness companies is a programme called Building a Better Tomorrow (BBT).[10] Under this programme, the government designates and clears large areas of land for conversion to large-scale, irrigated agriculture, called “block farms”, in which a selection of youth and women, mainly from urban cities and graduates from universities, are allocated small plots of between 1 – 10 acres (0.4-4 ha), while local communities are sidelined. In July 2023, President Samia announced that all 52,000 youth who had applied to join the army that year would be drafted into the BBT programme.[11]

Each BBT block farm is to produce a specific crop for a company that co-invests in the operation. In the model, the company will supply the inputs and machinery and purchase all of the production. It can also get a 99-year lease on a portion of the block farm area to farm the lands itself. The BBT farmers meanwhile get 33 to 66 year titles, and, while they can transfer the titles to someone else, they cannot change the conditions of their contract. They will thus be at the mercy of the company controlling the farm from whom they must buy all of their inputs and to whom they must sell all of their harvests.[12]

President Samia has stated that 690,000 hectares around the country have already been identified for block farms, but there is no publicly available information about the exact locations. In January 2023, the government published a first call for investment proposals for various BBT block farms on 65,000 hectares in the regions of Dodoma, Mbeya, Kagera and Kigoma. Interested companies could apply for lands of between 400 to 8,000 hectares on each block farm.

In March 2023, the first BBT farm was officially opened in the Chamwino district of Dodoma Region. The Minister of Agriculture, Hussein Bashe, explained that an initial 162 hectares were allocated for training 812 youth selected to participate in the project.[13] Despite access to land being an issue for the local communities, most of the youth selected for the project are not local and have little of any agricultural experience. The farm in Dodoma is supposed to eventually extend to 11,453 hectares and will produce grapes for a wine processing plant. But there has been no public mention of any private investor as of yet.

Promotional photoshoot of youth farmers at the BBT block farm in Dodoma, Tanzania, 25 March 2023. Source Twitter (X)

Prudence Lugengo, a policy specialist with SAGCOT, says lands for another BBT farm have also been allocated in the regions of Katavi and Tabora. In this case, the BBT farm is said to be a massive, 120,000-hectare block farm that will produce wheat for the Tanzanian agribusiness company MeTL, owned by the Tanzanian billionaire and former politician Mohammed Dewji. According to Lugengo, MeTL will acquire 50,000 hectares for itself and the remaining 70,000 hectares will be allocated under the BBT programme for youth. MeTL did not respond to our requests for confirmation of the deal, and it is not clear how Dewji will be financing this project.[14] It should be noted that just a few years ago, Magufuli’s government revoked several titles for large areas of farmland belonging to Dewji because of his failure to bring them into production.[15]

Together with the aforementioned issues, the odds and prospects of the glorified BBT programme are questionable in its very early days, with allegations surfacing within the corridors of social media, accounting on the government’s failure to live and fulfil its promises. As of late January 2024, a letter alleged to have originated from one BBT youth participant was widely circulated on social media, asserting that the government had failed to allocate to them the promised 5 hectares of land, individually, (let alone the 10 hectares originally promised) and so has the government failed to establish irrigation facilities. Instead, 260 of the youth who had passed through the training programme were sent to a 600 acres farm area in Chinangali, where they are farming without irrigation or decent housing, and are producing sunflower under an off-take arrangement with a company, without any guarantee of a land allocation for themselves.[16]

What are “block farms”?

A “block farm” is a large, contiguous area of land devoted to the production of a few or even a single crop. In Africa, a “block farm” programme can take many forms, but generally the government ensures that the lands are ready and available for large-scale farming, provides infrastructure (such as roads or irrigation) and identifies one or two companies to be the main or “anchor” investors. Normally, a portion of the lands will be farmed and acquired by the company on a 99-year lease and another portion will be farmed by medium to small-scale farmers who must produce crops for the company under contract.

Zambia has pursued a programme since 2006 to establish block farms of 100,000 hectares in each of its 10 provinces. Although the government failed to attract any “credible investors”, in 2023 it hoped to revive the programme through a USD 300 million loan from the World Bank for the construction of infrastructure at the farm sites.[17] The Government of Malawi also launched a block farm programme in 2020, consisting of a number of what it calls “mega farms” of around 5,000 hectares each. It too has struggled to attract significant private sector investment.[18]

A new soybean frontier for China?

Despite the pomp surrounding the roll-out of the BBT programme, there is little evidence of much interest from the private sector. The only significant funds that have so far been committed are from the government, which has pledged USD 1.4 billion over the next 10 years, and from a similar batch of donors to those who supported the SAGCOT era investment drive. These include the World Bank (USD 300 million), the African Development Bank (USD 100 million), AGRA (USD 40 million), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (USD 60 million) and USAID (USD 100 million).[19]

Soybeans could be an exception, and in particular, soybeans destined for China. Due to the growing tensions with the US and the war in the Ukraine, China is increasingly concerned about its dependence on these two countries for soybeans (as well as maize), and it is now looking to Africa as an alternative source of supply. Tanzania is one of three African countries that China has identified for the development of soybean exports. In 2020, it passed a phytosanitary measure to allow the import of soybeans from Tanzania and the first shipment was made the following year by China’s largest grain trader, COFCO.[20] In November 2022, President Samia signed a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership with China during her visit to Beijing in which soybean exports were specified as an initial priority and a task force was created for implementation.

At the moment, Tanzania only produces 200,000 tonnes of soybeans per year– a mere drop in the bucket compared to China’s annual import of 100 million tonnes, most of which goes to produce animal feed and vegetable oil. Production would have to increase dramatically for Tanzania to become a significant supplier.

China’s largest seed company, Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture, has been tasked with pursuing this potential. The company is part of the CITIC Group, China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, and it is already playing a key role in advancing China’s control over soybean and maize production in Brazil, China’s most important supplier. After entering Brazil in 2017, Longping quickly became one of the top seed companies in the country. Now Longping is looking to do the same in Tanzania, as China seeks to export the Brazilian model to Africa.

“We want to take Longping’s expertise in maize and soybean seeds to [Tanzania and Ghana]. There, the climate conditions, temperature and altitude are similar to those in Brazil and very favourable for the development of agriculture. We want to be facilitators of this process, teach them how to plant and produce grains so that in the future they will also be suppliers to China”, says Aldenir Sgarbossa, President of Longping’s Brazilian operations.[21]

In 2022 and early 2023, Longping sent delegations to Tanzania to secure political support and to identify areas for soybean production. Tests of its soybean varieties from Brazil are now underway, as well as for its hybrid maize and sorghum seeds, which will be grown in rotation with the soybeans, as is done in Brazil. While these initial varieties are not GMOs, Longping has several GMO varieties under testing and awaiting approval for commercial sale in China, and it has already had some of its GMO maize varieties approved for human consumption.

Longping says it will invest over USD 213 million (500 billion shillings) in a first phase for developing soybean production in the south of Tanzania and will also invest in the improvement of grain exporting facilities at the port of Dar es Salaam.

The company’s operations in Tanzania are being run through a joint venture with a Tanzanian businessman, the media mogul Joseph Kusaga, owner of Clouds Entertainment Group, along with his wife, Juhayna Kusaga. Longping also has high level support from within the Ministry of Agriculture, from SAGCOT and even from former President Kikwete, who has been using his position as a director of AGRA to encourage Tanzanian farmers to plant soybeans for export to China.[22] As evidence of Longping’s political connections, the government gave it special clearance to reduce the required time for testing of its seeds from five years to five seasons, making it possible for Longping to start large-scale production in 2024.[23]

The Tanzanian government is also making lands available for the company. An initial area of 53,000 ha is said to have been allocated as a BBT farm in the Chunya District of Mbeya Region. Longping Tanzania says it has “acquired” 10,000 ha of these lands for its own farm and claims to have already started farming, while the remaining 43,000 ha will be allocated to participating farmers who the company will supply with seeds, fertilisers, and machinery.[24] The farmers must sell their harvests exclusively to Longping Tanzania, which will then export to China, where the Chinese government has offered a guarantee to purchase all of the soybeans that are produced.[25]

Vice-President of Tanzania Dr. Philip Mpango shakes hands with the CEO of Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture, Liang Shi, outside the national State House. To the right is Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Anthony Mavunde. February 17, 2023 . Source : Twitter (X)

Longping’s ambitions extend beyond this BBT farm. The company is also setting up block farms with the recently established Soybean Association of Tanzania.[26] According to the association’s chairman, Marcus Albany, these block farms will bring together a group of farmers, with each farmer contributing an area of land (minimum is 2 hectares and maximum is 10% of the entire block farm) to establish one large farm that will be managed as a group. The farm will operate under a contract with Longping, which stipulates the amount the farmers must pay Longping for the supply of inputs and machinery and the price they receive for the sale of their harvests, with the amounts renegotiated each season. As with the BBT farms, a farmer can transfer their share of the lands to another farmer, but that farmer must then take on the same conditions agreed to with Longping.

The Soybean Association of Tanzania and Longping have already formed one block farm in Morogoro Region that is presently at 5,700 hectares and they expect it to eventually reach 10,500 hectares. They are in the process of setting up another one in Lindi Region on 10,500 hectares, one in Katavi starting at 202 hectares and one in Sumbawanga that is still in the process of negotiation with a private landowner. Albany says that, although his association is not made up of youth, the government is also trying to get them to be part of the BBT farm in Mbeya.

Other Tanzanian businessmen are also moving quickly to acquire lands for soybean production. The newly established company Jadeja Farming is developing a 2,800-hectare soybean farm on contested lands at Sumbawanga district in Rukwa Region.[27] The company has ties to Jatu PLC, a company listed on the national stock exchange that claimed to be pursuing block farms but that ended up defrauding its shareholders of over USD 2 million.[28] In the northern region of Kagera, a Tanzanian company called Global Agency is building a massive 21,000 ha maize and soybean farm. Despite its past legal and financial troubles, Global Agency has received substantial funding from the Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank (via a loan from the African Development Bank), as well as political support from high level members of President Samia’s party.[29]

Moreover, Longping is not the only Chinese company investing in soybean production in Tanzania. In the coastal region of Kilwa, a company called Pan Tanzania Agriculture Developments is pursuing a 25,000 ha large-scale cassava and soybean farming project, on lands that were previously part of a much contested biofuels project that went bust. Pan Tanzania Agriculture Developments is connected to the Chinese company, Beijing Chaoliang (translated as “Best Agro” or “Super Grain”), as well as Hunan Construction Engineering Group and the Djibouti Silk Road International Bank.[30] In July 2022, nearly 25,000 ha were converted from village lands to “Export Processing Zone” lands, opening the possibility for Pan Tanzania Agriculture Developments to acquire them on a long-term lease.[31]

Land conflicts will get much worse

The combination of China’s new interest in soybean exports from Tanzania and the Tanzanian government’s revitalised interest in foreign agribusiness investment is creating the conditions for a surge in land grabbing. Land conflicts are already present across the country, not only because of agribusiness projects but also because of deals for mining, wildlife and forest reserves, parks and carbon credit projects that the government is also pursuing. One of these, a “sustainable forestry” project with a company owned by a member of the Dubai Royal Family, involves setting aside eight million hectares of lands for the generation of carbon credits.[32]

The new push for block farms and soybean production adds fuel to a fire that is already running hot. For example, in the Kilosa District of Morogoro Region, tensions over land have simmered for decades between villagers who want to maintain access to lands for food production and businessmen who either use the lands for sisal plantations, rent them out for cash or hoard them and render them unproductive. The villagers finally succeeded in getting the government to intervene during the presidency of Magufuli and many land titles held by these businessmen were revoked. But the lands were not redistributed to the villagers. Instead, they were turned over to the District Councils, which are now consolidating the lands and leasing them out as block farms to so-called “farmer groups” to produce cash crops like sisal on the instructions of the state or are handing them over to businessmen and public agencies, such as Tanzania’s Agricultural Seed Agency.

Abdul Tumbo, a small farmer from Mvumi village in Kilosa District struggling to prevent his lands from being grabbed by businessmen and block farm schemes. (Photo: GRAIN)

Abdul Tumbo is a farmer from Mvumi village in Kilosa District. He has been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for farming on lands that his grandparents farmed but that are also claimed by a powerful businessman. The Magufuli government revoked the businessman’s land titles a few years back but the District Council is now trying to organise these lands into a block farm instead of letting Tumbo and the other villagers continue with their farming. The villagers want nothing to do with the block farm. They say the land is theirs and there is no reason why they should pay rent for it. Moreover, they want to produce food for their families and communities, not commodities for companies.[33]

Tumbo points to one neighbouring community where the District Council has pushed ahead with a 325-hectare block farm on lands the local villagers have been farming since 1984 when a sisal estate was shuttered. In December 2022 the villagers planted local maize for food, and shortly after, on the very same lands, the “farmer group” planted sunflowers. Now the District Council has seized the maize harvest and tensions are boiling over.

Across Tanzania, similar conflicts are erupting as the government and businessmen illegally use backdoor channels to transfer large areas of village lands into block farms to produce soybeans and other crops for export. Thousands of small farmers and pastoralists could be displaced from their lands in the process, and many more could lose access to water, as these projects tend to involve the use of large amounts of water for irrigation. The impacts will be felt not only in rural areas, but also in urban centres, as the lands that small farmers now use to produce food for the country will be converted into large-scale farms to produce agricultural commodities for export.

In another example, in 2023, the government, controversially, gave an eviction order to villagers of at least 23 villages in Mbarali District through a government notice (no. 28 of 2008), whose implementation was delayed because of the controversy and uncertainty on the legality and morality of the notice itself. This eviction order affects one of the most productive districts and national food baskets for rice and will affect over 25,000 smallholder farmers in the area. The order is to expand the Ruaha National Park in a World Bank funded project.[34] At present, 852 villagers have taken the matter to the High Court of Tanzania to challenge the eviction order.[35]

The current situation in Tanzania is reminiscent of the ProSavana project that Japan sought to finance in Northern Mozambique a decade ago. That project involved the take-over of 14 million hectares of land in one of the most fertile and densely populated areas of the country to set up large farms and enlist farmers into contract farming schemes to produce soybeans and other cash crops for export to Japan. ProSavana was developed between the Japanese, Brazilian and Mozambican governments behind closed doors, without the knowledge of the affected communities. When these communities became aware of what was going on, they immediately began to organise resistance, with the support of civil society organisations in Mozambique, Brazil and Japan. Despite the powerful forces aligned against them, Mozambican farmers and their allies managed to stop the project, and it was officially terminated in 2020.[36]

This is a critical moment for Tanzania’s small farmers and pastoralists to defend their lands. These food producers are already struggling with a lack of access to sufficient land and water, exacerbated by the climate crisis and the country’s rapidly growing population. They can produce an abundance of nutritious, chemical-free foods to feed the country, and even produce a surplus for export, if the right policies are in place to support their seed systems, provide protection for their lands and water and ensure they have adequate access to markets. Scarce public resources should not be wasted on a failed model of corporate agriculture.

Banner photo: Tanzania’s Minister of Agriculture, Hussein Bashe, visiting a block farm project in Chinangali area, Chamwino, Dodoma District. Source : Twitter (X)

___________________________________

[1] Oakland Institute, “After Defaulting on Loans, Kilombero Plantation Ltd (KPL) Goes up for Sale,” March 2019: https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/after-defaulting-loans-kilombero-plantation-sale

[2] “State tells off Kilombero plantation lobbyists,” Daily News, March 2023: https://dailynews.co.tz/state-tells-off-kilombero-plantation-lobbyists/

[3] For a selection of examples, see: “Annexe 2. Discarded land deals 2016” in GRAIN, “The global farmland grab in 2016: how big, how bad?”, June 2016: https://grain.org/e/5492

[4] SAGCOT also promised to establish large-scale farms on 350,000 ha, transition 100,000 small farmers into commercial farming, create 420,000 new employment opportunities, lift two million people out of poverty, and generate $1.2bn in annual farming revenue by 2030. See: Emmanuel Sulle, “Bureaucrats, investors and smallholders: contesting land rights and agro-commercialisation in the Southern agricultural growth corridor of Tanzania”, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2020, DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2020.1743093

[5] Gideon Tups and Peter Dannenberg, “Emptying the Future, Claiming Space: The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania as a Spatial Imaginary for Strategic Coupling Processes”, Geoforum 123, 2021: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2021.04.015

[6] “Tanzania government cancels Sh100bn Sagcot scheme,” The Citizen, May 2023: https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/national/tanzania-government-cancels-sh100bn-sagcot-scheme-2681476

[7] “Magufuli Revokes Title Deeds for 14 Undeveloped Farms,” Tanzania Daily News, August 2017: https://allafrica.com/stories/201708150094.html

[8] Personal communication with Prudence Lugengo, Policy Specialist with SAGCOT, 24 March 2023.

[9] The government increased the budget allocation for irrigation from 57bn/- 2021-22 to 416bn/- in 2022-23 and has a stated objective to expand the irrigation area from 727,280 hectares to 822,285 hectares in 2022/2023, with a national irrigation target of 1.2 million hectares for 2025 and 8.5 million hectares by 2030.

[10] The idea for the project is said to have come from Geoffrey Kirenga, the CEO of SAGCOT.

[11] “Tanzanian government to draft 52,000 JKT members into BBT scheme,” The Citizen, July 2023: https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/national/tanzanian-government-to-draft-52-000-jkt-members-into-bbt-scheme-4299870

[12] Details about the block farms were gathered from various news reports, government documents and interviews with various people involved in the programme in March and April 2023.

[13] “BBT bring hope for youth employability,” The Guardian, March 2023: https://www.ippmedia.com/en/features/bbt-brings-hope-youth-employability

[14] In July 2022, Dewji told Reuters that he plans to list an agriculture company worth up to $4 billion on the New York or London stock exchanges in 2023, with money raised mainly from development banks. Rachel Savage, “Tanzanian entrepreneur Dewji plans $2-4 billion grains production investment via SPAC,” Reuters, July 2022: https://www.reuters.com/markets/deals/tanzanian-entrepreneur-dewji-plans-2-4-bln-grains-production-investment-via-spac-2022-07-08/

[15] “Tanzania revokes titles to six farms owned by Dewji,” East African, January 2019: https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/tanzania-revokes-titles-to-six-farms-owned-by-dewji–1410744

[16] See the post by Maria Sarungi Tsehai (@MariaSTsehai), 27 January 2024 on Twitter (X): https://twitter.com/MariaSTsehai/status/1751133786195087548?t=Rbeb-qm73R83MVzH6UFt-g&s=19

[17] See 2023 Budget address by Honourable Dr. Situmbeko Musokotwane, Minister of Finance: https://www.parliament.gov.zm/sites/default/files/documents/articles/2023%20Budget%20Speech.pdf; and Ministerial Statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Mtolo Phiri, MP, on the Farm Block Development Programme presented to the House, 16 March, 2023: https://www.parliament.gov.zm/sites/default/files/images/publication_docs/Ministerial%20Statement%20-%20On%20the%20Farm%20Block%20Development%20Programme.pdf

[18] Owen Khamula, “Agriculture ministry moves in to establish mega farms,” Nyasa Times, 30 June 2022: https://www.farmlandgrab.org/31400

[19] “Tanzania Country Presentation for HIH Investment Forum,” October 2023: https://www.fao.org/docs/handinhandlibraries/countries/tanzania/bbt_ps_m-m_presentation-raf-slide-wg-25-sept.pdf?sfvrsn=1dad93cf_1 and “USAID to invest $100M in supporting agribusiness youth in Tanzania,” Further Africa, November 2023: https://furtherafrica.com/2023/11/17/usaid-to-invest-100m-in-supporting-agribusiness-youth-in-tanzania/

[20] “First Shipment of Tanzanian Soybeans Enter China” June 2021: http://en.sasac.gov.cn/2021/06/25/c_7280.htm

[22] “Good news for soybeans farmers to effectively utilise Chinese market,” The Citizen, February 2022: https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/business/good-news-for-soybeans-farmers-to-effectively-utilise-chinese-market-3721346

[23] Personal communication with Juhayna Kasuga, Director of Longping Tanzania, 21 March 2023.

[24] Personal communication with Juhayna Kasuga, Director of Longping Tanzania, 21 March 2023 and 27 November 2023.

[25] “Wakulima wa kusini wavutiwa na uwekezaji wa kampuni ya Longping High Tech”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation (Tanzania), May 2022: https://www.foreign.go.tz/resources/view/wakulima-wa-kusini-wavutiwa-na-uwekezaji-wa-kampuni-ya-longping-high-tech

[26] Personal communication with Marcus Albany, 24 March 2023.

[27] See the company website: http://jadeja.co.tz/about/. And the video about the farm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZJf5eA0X64&ab_channel=JadejaFarming. The farm is known as the Efatha Farm, which was embroiled in a land conflict, see: ‘We were wrong on farm dispute’, The Citizen, October 2017: https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/national/-we-were-wrong-on-farm-dispute–2609534

[28] A director of Jadeja, Hussein Msemwa, was the Assistant Manager of Jatu PLC (https://www.linkedin.com/in/hussein-msemwa-07246211b/?originalSubdomain=tz). For more on Jatu PLC, see: “Struggling Jatu Plc turns to Dutch consultant”, The Citizen, January 2023: https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/business/struggling-jatu-plc-turns-to-dutch-consultant–4075174

[29] On the legal and financial troubles, see the court cases against Global Agency for failure to pay Rabobank (https://tanzlii.org/akn/tz/judgment/tzhccomd/2021/3517/eng@2021-12-13) and Balton Tanzania (https://tanzlii.org/akn/tz/judgment/tzhccomd/2022/378/eng@2022-11-11). On the political support from Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Vice Chairman, Colonel Abdulrahman Kinana, see: https://panafricanvisions.com/2022/09/tanzania-ruling-party-vice-chairperson-welcomes-investors-in-kagera-region-which-is-suitable-for-opportunities/; and from the current Minister of Agriculture Hussein Bashe see: https://www.ippmedia.com/en/news/bashe-orders-misenyi-dc-support-investors-promote-agro-investments. The TADB does not report publicly on its financing of companies, however the AfDB’s report on its loan to TADB indicates that Global Agency received funds from the TADB for a Kagera farm and that 45% of the entire AfDB loan of $67 million went to companies in Kagera (of which the only other company listed was the Kagera Cooperative Union). See: https://www.afdb.org/en/documents/tanzania-tanzania-agricultural-development-bank-project-completion-report

[30] “Chaoliang Group’s Tanzania PTA construction project signed with Hunan Construction Engineering Group for USD 300 million,” China Agricultural Outlook News, October 2021: https://www.farmlandgrab.org//31442. Hunan Construction Engineering Group was sanctioned in 2013 by the World Bank for fraudulent practices in a road construction project in Tanzania: https://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/documents/sanctions/office-of-suspension-and-debarment/2018/nov-1/Notice-of-Uncontested-Sanctions-Proceedings-Case-268.pdf

[32] “Blue Carbon and the Government of Tanzania join forces to accelerate transition to low-carbon economy,” Gulf news, February 2023: https://gulfnews.com/business/corporate-news/blue-carbon-and-the-government-of-tanzania-join-forces-to-accelerate-transition-to-low-carbon-economy-1.1675752836855

[33] Interview with Abdul Tumbo, 29 March 2023.

[34] “World Bank investigating alleged crimes at $150 million Ruaha tourism project,” The Citizen, September 2023 https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/national/world-bank-investigating-alleged-crimes-at-150-million-ruaha-tourism-project-4384506

[35] “Smallholders In Mbarali Protest Govt Plans To Evict Them From Their Land,” The Chanzo, February 2023: https://thechanzo.com/2023/02/09/smallholders-in-mbarali-protest-govt-plans-to-evict-them-from-their-land/

[36] For more information on ProSavana, see: https://www.farmlandgrab.org/cat/show/827

Original Source: Grain

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