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DR Congo oil palm company bankrolled by development banks unleashes wave of violence against villagers after peaceful protests

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On 13 February 2021, local communities in the area of Lokutu, Tshopo Province, Dr Congo organised peaceful actions to protest the arrival of a delegation of investors organised by the oil palm plantation company Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC). The villagers were protesting against the failure of the company to provide them with any benefits after more than a 100 years of illegally occupying their lands and the recent takeover of the company by a private equity fund called Straight KKM without any involvement from the communities. Since 2013, PHC, until last year owned by the Canadian company Feronia Inc, has received over US$150 million in financing from the development banks of the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the US. 

A peaceful protest was held at the airplane landing strip in Mwingi to greet the arrival of a delegation of the new owners of PHC/KKM. The new director of PHC and one of its new owners, the Congolese businessman Kalaa Mpinga, was not part of the delegation, which was composed of 3 Asian investors, a representative of PHC and a South African. The villagers then marched from the airfield to the office of PHC in Lokutu.

The next day, the delegation attempted to visit some of the affected communities (notably in Mindua). In some places they were confronted with roadblocks organized by the communities as a sign of discontent. 

In the days that followed, PHC’s security guards (known as gardes industriels) began terrorising the local populations.

According to the information provided by numerous local sources, dozens of villagers from the communities of Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa, and Mosite (all located in the vicinity of PHC’s Lokutu plantations) suffered arbitrary arrests and/or physical violence. At the present time, it appears that 12 people are still being held in Yangambi prison (150 km from Lokutu and therefore far from their villages and from any support to assist them in asserting their rights). 

One of those attacked by the company’s security guards died shortly after being badly beaten, tortured and detained. Blaise Mokwe, a 33-year old man engaged to be married, from the village YAKOTE, community of BOLESA, BOLINGA sector, Yahuma territory in the middle of the PHC/ Feronia/ KKM Lokutu plantations in the Province of Tshopo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, died on 21 February 2021 as a result of torture, assault and beatings, perpetrated by the security guards of PHC / Feronia / KKM in Yahuma/Basoko territory, at the Lokutu plantation site, Tshopo Province (DRC).

Here is a breakdown of the arrests and assaults that have occurred so far:

1] Arbitrary arrests in Mwingi – 13 February 2021 – of 3 RIAO-RDC members and 1 community leader

2] Arbitrary arrests in Bolesa – 15 February 2021 – of 8 people, one person who died of his injuries

3] Arbitrary arrests in Mindua – 15 February 2021 (and following days) – of 5 (or more) persons

4] Information that several women were likely raped in Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa, Mosite

Request for authorisation for a peaceful protest in Lokutu to denounce the killing and violence committed by PHC against local villagers.

Increasing violence over the past months

According to community members, since the recent sale of PHC, and the hiring of Mr King Mpika as Security Estate Manager (head of security) of the PHC in Lokutu, the criminalisation of local protest has increased. According to Gilbert Lokombu Limela, President of the Civil Society of Basoko (Lokutu side), King Mpika’s security operations also include a detachment of around 50 police officers from Kisangani. Tensions have also been heightened because of the delay in a mediation process that was promised to the communities by the DEG-FMO-Proparco complaint mechanism over 2 years ago. 

Mr King Mpika (who according to some sources is related to the new PHC owner Kalaa Mpinga) is said to have made death threats towards two of the detainees arrested on 13 February, before leaving Lokutu: Mr Christian Litikela and Chimita Alela. 

He is said to have given the orders that led to the acts of repression and recent arrests. 

Villagers protesting the killing of Blaise Mokwe and other violence committed by security guards and police under the command of PHC, February 26, 2021

Circumstances of the arrests

According to local sources, the arrests at Mwingi were carried out by local police, at the request of PHC security. The security guards led or participated in the arrests.

In Mwinigi, three members of RIAO-DRC in Lokutu were arrested under a false pretext of inciting revolt, taking photos of the protest and providing interviews to journalists in which they explained the context of the Lokutu protests. Similar charges were made against the community leader who was arrested at the same time. Three of those arrested were badly beaten. One was released after a payment of 300,000 FC (US$150), while the three others were transferred to Yangambi prison

In the vicinity of Bolesa, the PHC security guards arrested 4 women and 4 men, which they then took to the police station in Lokutu. Several of those arrested were assaulted before they arrived at the police station. Some arrived handcuffed/tied. The eight villagers were taken to the holding cell in Lokutu and the four women were later released. Three of the men were transferred to Yangambi prison. One of those arrested and assaulted, Mr. Blaise Mokwe, was transfered to a hospital which could not care for him and he died on 21 February of his injuries at his home.

There are also reports that a young teacher from Mwingi, who is a local member of RIAO-RDC, was assaulted by PHC security guards while he was travelling to central Lokutu, without any reason given. According to local sources, the arrest was extremely violent. The teacher was eventually tortured, handcuffed and taken to Lokutu prison. He is reported to be in critical condition. 

Following the violent incidents in the vicinity of Lokutu after the demonstration, further assaults and arrests were reportedly made in other villages, including Mindua. The majority of those arrested in Mindua were apprehended by PHC security guards on suspicion of stealing palm nuts and taken by the security guards to Lokutu police station. Sources indicate that five men were arrested, as well as one woman who is five months pregnant. The woman was allegedly beaten and raped and is now at risk of losing her baby. She is reported to have been transferred from the local police station in Lokutu to Yangambi prison. 

Local sources also state that there were several cases of sexual assault and rape committed against women by PHC security guards in Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa and Mosite during this wave of violence. 

The coffin of Blaise Mokwe, sitting outside the offices of PHC, as act of protest by his family.

Killing of Blaise Mokwe

Blaise Mokwe, a 33-year old man engaged to be married, from the village of Yakote, was arrested on 15 February at his home near his village of Yakote. That day, he started his day by sweeping his yard in front of his house. As his broom was broken, he went to the plantation to look for a stick to repair his broom. 

That’s when he was arrested by the security guards. They accused Mr. Mokwe of “stealing palm nuts belonging to the plantation” and forced Mr. Mokwe to take them to his house to search the premises and find the “nuts”. Following the search, they found no nuts or oil at Mr Mokwe’s home. However, the security guards decided to take Mr Mokwe to the Lokutu police station. Considering this arbitrary arrest and in the absence of any offence, Mr Mokwe refused to follow them. The security guards then tried to take him by force to the Lokutu police station.

When Mr. Mokwe resisted, the security guards beat and kicked him and then took him by force, handcuffed, to the Lokutu police station (25 km away).  

On arrival at the police station, the commander reportedly demanded that Mr Mokwe be immediately taken to hospital as his health was in a critical state. Unfortunately, at the hospital, due to a lack of medication, Mr Mokwe was unable to receive the necessary care. He therefore returned to his village in Yakote. He died on February 21, in Yakote/Mosite, of the injuries sustained when beaten by the PHC security guards.

In an act of protest and desperation, Mr Mokwe’s family took his body to the Lokutu police station the next day to seek justice. But the Lokutu local police commander refused to allow the body to be taken to the police station because, according to him, the security guards of PHC were responsible for Mr Mokwe’s death, not the police. The body was then taken to the PHC workers’ camp in Lokutu, where it remained during the day of February 22nd, in the presence of some relatives. 

Receipt for the loan of US$100 provided by PHC towards the costs of Blaise Mokwe’s funeral.

PHC made a contribution of 200,000 FC (US$100) to the funeral expenses of Mr Mokwe. Subsequently, PHC requested that an acknowledgement of debt be signed by Mr Mokwe’s elder brother, committing him to reimburse PHC for the payment of the advance to cover funeral expenses. Subsequently, sources confirm that representatives of PHC acknowledged that Mr Mokwe’s death was linked to the assault and beatings he suffered at the hands of its security guards. 

This is understood to be what motivated the company to promise the family an additional indemnity of 500,000 FC (US$300) to cover the funeral expenses.

Mr. Mokwe was buried on 22 February at the end of the day.

Original source: RIAO-RDC

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100 years of Total Energies – a dark legacy

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On 28 March 2024, the French oil and gas giant TotalEnergies celebrated its 100-year anniversary. In a happy coincidence, Total’s centennial party was spoiled by the news that their intimidatory legal action against Greenpeace France was unsuccessful!

The ruling was a major victory for freedom of expression and the fight against polluting companies like Total – especially since they are hellbent on expanding climate-wrecking operations despite a worsening climate crisis. Behind its facade as a “French industrial flagship” lies a grim history of environmental devastation and links to human rights abuses.

TotalEnergies’ history of lies

Researchers have found that Total’s awareness that its products could lead to catastrophic global warming dates to the early 1970s. However, according to historians, Total chose to implement a strategy of misinformation and a “factory of doubt” for many years, in order to delay and distract political action to limit oil and gas extraction.

Today, Total remains one of the most polluting companies on the planet. Despite its pledge to be net zero by 2050, fossil fuels still account for 98% of its energy production – and it recently announced plans to increase its fossil fuel production over the next 5 years.

TotalEnergies’ history linked to human rights abusers

Total proudly displays its ‘ethical charter’, but it has not hesitated to develop projects in countries where human rights are constantly violated.

In Burma, in the early 1990s, Total developed the Yadana gas project and became a major financial contributor to the ruling military regime, which was responsible for brutal human rights violations. It took two decades of pressure from civil society for Total to withdraw from the country.

More recently, Total’s giant EACOP pipeline and the Tilenga project has resulted in over 118,000 people being forced from their land in Uganda and Tanzania, according to grassroots organisations. Ugandan student activists were reportedly jailed by their government after voicing concerns about the project.

In 2022, Total was reportedly the only Western oil company that did not declare its withdrawal from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Working with Russian partners, Total extracts a gas condensate that has allegedly been processed into fuel for Russian fighter planes.

TotalEnergies’ history of toxic extraction

In Yemen, Total has reportedly been operating oil wells on the Messila field since the 1990s. Here, Total reportedly buried millions of litres of toxic water, which contaminated the only local freshwater source. The health of the population has reportedly been negatively affected, cancer cases have increased and farmers have been left destitute.

In Argentina, the Vaca Muerta shale gas extraction project is a real carbon bomb that could emit nearly 15 billion tonnes of CO₂e, according to Greenpeace France estimates. It is located on the lands of the Mapuche Indigenous populations, who say they have been displaced and the region is suffering from a huge amount of pollution.

“The oil companies entered our land without our permission … We had goats born without jaws, without mouths [because of pollution].”—  an elder Campo Maripe to the Guardian

TotalEnergies’ history of environmental disasters

Like its competitors, Total has been involved in a number of tragic events that it would like to forget:

On December 12, 1999, the MV Erika, an oil tanker chartered by Total, sank off the coast of Northern France.⁣⁣ The vessel spilled 20,000 tons of heavy fuel oil across 400 km of coastline, causing major environmental damage. Over 200,000 birds were killed. ⁣

⁣Total denied responsibility, but was found guilty and convicted of “gross negligence” by French courts.

The MV Erika, an oil tanker chartered by Total, that sank off the coast of Northern France, spilling 20,000 tons of heavy fuel oil across 400 km of coastline in 1990.
This aerial file photo taken on December 13, 1999 shows the stern of the Maltese registered oil tanker Erika as it sinks off the French coast near Brest western France.
© /MARINE NATIONALE/AFP via Getty Images

A few years later, 31 people were killed and more than 2,500 injured, as 400 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in a factory owned by a subsidiary of Total in Toulouse, France.⁣

It was the worst industrial disaster to hit the country in fifty years. Here too, Total denied responsibility, and it took an 18-year trial for Total’s subsidiary to finally be convicted.

We must put an end to the reign of oil and gas!

Despite repeated warnings from scientists, Total continues to expand its fossil fuel operations. It’s time to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the loss and damage they have caused to humans, nature and the climate. It’s time to stop all new coal, gas and oil projects and phase out these dirty fuels forever. It’s time for Total and the entire fossil fuel industry to stop drilling, and start paying.

Original Source: Green Peace

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Amidst Failed US Sanctions, the Indigenous Pay the Price for Nicaragua’s Gold Rush

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In a new report, Nicaragua’s Gold Rush, the Oakland Institute exposes how, despite US sanctions on Nicaragua’s gold mining sector, the industry has boomed, fueled by foreign business interests. The US is the primary destination, accounting for a staggering 79 percent of total Nicaraguan gold exports.

“The devastating cost of this expansion is borne by the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions, who face incessant violence, massacres, kidnappings, and colonization of their lands,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute and coauthor of the report.

The US government issued sanctions against state-owned mining company ENIMINAS in June 2022, accusing the Ortega-Murillo regime of “using gold revenue to continue to oppress the people of Nicaragua and engage in activities that pose a threat to the security of the hemisphere.” President Biden substantially expanded these sanctions by executive order in October 2022, authorizing the US Treasury to sanction any entity with financial connections to the US involved in Nicaragua’s gold sector.

The report reveals that the US government has so far failed to enforce these measures, allowing the gold sector to expand massively and continue to deliver significant revenues for the Ortega-Murillo regime and the shareholders of the firms involved. Numerous mining companies falling under the scope of the sanctions continue to operate with impunity and acquire new gold mining concessions amidst a surge in violence against Indigenous communities.

The main beneficiary of the gold boom is Canada-based Calibre Mining Corp., whose 57 concessions cover more than 1.1 million hectares (ha) – nine percent of Nicaragua’s total territory. 26 of its metallic mining concessions – covering over 940,000 ha – were awarded between June 2021 and December 2022. 11 of them – totaling 336,598 ha – were awarded after the US Treasury announced the sanctions in June 2022. If Calibre’s remaining 15 requests are granted, a single foreign company will control 1.57 million ha, or 13.1 percent of Nicaragua’s landmass. Adding to the concern is the overlap of many of Calibre’s concessions with state-recognized Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories, where community members report a lack of consultation and consent– a violation of Nicaraguan law and international norms. As a Canadian company operating in Nicaragua that also owns mining concessions in the US through wholly-owned subsidiaries, Calibre is a clear candidate for sanctions designation under Biden’s executive order.

The report also identifies other transnational corporations controlling vast mining concessions in Nicaragua, including Canada’s Mako Mining Corp.; China’s Zhong Fu Development; Colombia’s Grupo Mineros; and the UK’s Condor Gold and Royal Road Minerals. The leading financiers of these foreign companies include US investment firms BlackRock Inc., Van Eck Associates Corp., and Invesco Ltd., Canadian mining firms B2Gold Corp. and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.

“The Biden administration talks a big game about using targeted sanctions to hold human rights violators accountable in Nicaragua, but the Treasury Department lets the worst of these actors off the hook,” said Josh Mayer, Oakland Institute fellow and coauthor of the report. “Sanctions enforcement must go beyond Nicaraguan entities to have any chance of stopping the violent colonization of Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories,” he continued.

“By failing to implement the sanctions, the Biden administration is effectively sustaining US and international mining companies with US investors that profit from Nicaragua’s gold sector. Neglecting to hold these financial interests accountable not only allows violence against Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to escalate but is another evidence of the lack of credibility of President Biden’s commitment to upholding human rights,” concluded Mittal.

Source: oaklandinstitute

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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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