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Human rights defenders & business in 2022: People challenging corporate power to protect our planet.



“All over the world the positive achievements of human rights defenders too often go unrecognised. Defenders are targeted because they confront powerful vested interests by protecting our natural resources and shared climate, defending labour rights, exposing corruption, and refusing to accept injustice. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, States can and should do more to protect defenders, including by passing mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation that requires businesses to engage in ongoing, meaningful engagement with defenders and other stakeholders.

– Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur
on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Every day, people across the globe are taking action to protect their communities, environments, and livelihoods from irresponsible business practice and demanding that companies uphold their responsibility to respect human rights, sometimes at great personal cost. Our data tracking attacks against these human rights defenders reveals the majority are against people raising concerns about harm to our shared environment.

This includes community members using direct action to stop logging in conservation areas in Malaysia, Indigenous leaders in Mexico protecting rivers and local biodiversity from harms caused by hydroelectric projects, and journalists reporting on environmental pollution in Serbia.

Despite the significant challenges they face, defenders are achieving victories worldwide. In 2022 defenders in Sierra Leone successfully advocated for a new law protecting customary land rights and banning industrial development in protected and ecologically sensitive areas; environmental justice groups in Louisiana’s “cancer alley” in the United States halted two large petrochemical projects; garment workers in Pakistan’s Sindh province won a 40% increase in minimum wage; women human rights defenders were elected to senior political positions in Brazil and Colombia, and after years of advocacy by Indigenous women leaders and organisations, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women adopted General Recommendation 39 on Indigenous Women and Girls – the first language in a binding international treaty focused on the rights of Indigenous women and girls.

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, we celebrate the courage, creativity, and commitment of these people, organisations, and communities across the globe who are protecting our rights and shared planet.

Yet, human rights defenders continue to face intolerable levels of risk and harm. In their vital work to promote human rights and protect the environment, they confront powerful actors and interests. They raise concerns about companies and investors engaged in irresponsible practice, governments failing in their duty to protect human rights, and other non-state actors profiting from environmental destruction. They do this work in increasingly restrictive environments, where anti-protest, terrorism, defamation, and “foreign agent” laws are used to silence dissent. According to CIVICUS, 2022 was marked by a serious decline in civic space, with only 3% of the world’s population living in countries with open civic space, where the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression are respected.

The scale of lethal and non-lethal attacks against people defending our rights, natural resources, and environment from business-related harms shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and that voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop, and remedy harm. It reinforces the need for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation grounded in safe, ongoing and effective rights-holder engagement, respect for the process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples, and strong safeguards for human rights defenders, as well as further government action to protect the people who are at the forefront of protecting our planet.

Between January 2015 – March 2023, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre tracked more than 4,700 attacks against human rights defenders raising concerns about harmful business practice. In 2022 alone, we tracked 555 attacks, revealing that on average more than 10 defenders were attacked every single week for raising legitimate concerns about irresponsible business activity. Three-quarters of attacks (75%) were against climate, land and environmental defenders. Over a fifth of attacks (23%) were against Indigenous defenders, who are protecting over 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, although they comprise approximately 6% of the global population.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Our research is based on publicly available information and as many attacks, especially non-lethal attacks (including death threats, judicial harassment and physical violence), never make it to media sources and there is a significant gap in government monitoring of attacks, the problem is even more severe than these figures indicate.

Global picture

Attacks against human rights and environmental defenders occur in every region of the world. Since we began tracking in 2015, Latin America and Asia and the Pacific have consistently been the most dangerous regions for defenders.

In 2022, the highest number of attacks on defenders raising concerns about business-related harms occurred in Brazil (63 recorded incidents of attack, affecting one or more defender), India (54), Mexico (44), Cambodia (40), the Philippines (32), Honduras (31), Belarus (28), Peru (23), Colombia (20), and Uganda (17). Learn more about our research methodology.

Types of attacks

Defenders are subjected to a range of attacks, including both killings and non-lethal attacks, such as threats, smear campaigns, arbitrary arrest, strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), and physical and sexual violence. Most (86%) of the attacks we tracked in 2022 were non-lethal, which are often precursors to lethal violence and warning signs to States to increase protection efforts.

Non-lethal attacks are generally left uninvestigated and unpunished, which can have a chilling effect on the work of defenders and promote impunity that feeds further violence where defenders persist in their critical work. The Esperanza Protocol, launched in December 2021 by civil society organisations and experts in international law, provides guidelines based on international human rights law to support the investigation, prosecution and punishment of threats against defenders by governments and ultimately create an enabling environment for the defence of human rights worldwide. While the protocol largely focuses on the duty of States, it also notes business actors must ensure their activities, actions, and omissions do not lead to threats against defenders and address any harms to defender


Oscar Mollohuanca Cruz was a former mayor of the Espinar district in Peru and a human rights and environmental defender. In 2012, alongside other community members, he raised concerns about environmental contamination and harm to human health related to copper mining in the region. 

In 2016, along with two other defenders, he was criminally indicted on charges of endangering public safety, obstruction of public services and disturbing the peace related to his activism and the protests in 2012. The three defenders faced eight years in jail for the first two charges and seven for the third one, in addition to fines of 27,000 EUR (100.000 soles). They were acquitted on 17 July 2017, however on 10 May 2018, the First Criminal Appeals Chamber of the Ica High Court of Justice overturned the acquittal and ordered the trial to be initiated once again.

In November 2021, Oscar participated in the National Campaign of Environmental Defenders in Peru where he shared his concerns about the lack of protection of defenders in the country and the urgent need for protecting the right to defend human rights. On 7 March 2022, Oscar was found dead with injuries on his body.

Judicial harassment

Many governments are not only failing in their duty to protect human rights but also actively targeting defenders through their legal systems or facilitating use of these systems by private actors to target defenders. Judicial harassment, which includes arbitrary detention, unfair trials, and other forms of criminalisation, continues to be prevalent worldwide. It also includes strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), lawsuits initiated or brought by business actors against people and groups for exercising their rights to participate in, comment on, or criticise matters of public concern. Judicial harassment causes significant stress and harm to defenders and diverts time away from their human rights work while draining their resources. It can have a chilling effect, deterring others from speaking out against abuse. Jointly, these forms of judicial harassment comprised nearly half (47%) of the cases we tracked in 2022 and 51% of cases since 2015.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Sunčica Kovačević and Sara Tuševljak are 25-year-old law students who formed a group comprised of local community members and activists organizing against the construction of small hydropower plants in the Kasindolska river in East Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This initiative raised concerns about the environmental and human rights impacts of hydropower plants operated by BUK d.o.o, a subsidiary of Belgian-based company Green Invest. In January 2022, Green Invest brought three defamation lawsuits, which bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs, against Sunčica and Sara and they have been threatened with further legal action.

The Resource Centre sought a response from Green Invest, which stated the lawsuits were filed to stop the defamation against the company. A rejoinder from Riverwatch, EuroNatur, Foundation Atelier for Community Transformation – ACT, Save the Blue Heart of Europe, and Stop Building Small Hydropower Plants on Kasindolska River expressed support for the defenders.


ACT – Foundation for social change

Gendered nature of attacks

During 2022, nearly one-quarter of attacks were against women human rights defenders. While defenders of all genders are targeted due to their human rights work, women human rights defenders challenging both corporate power and patriarchal gender norms often endure specifically gendered attacks. This includes online threats and harassment of a sexualised nature and smear campaigns criticising women for spending time on activism rather than caretaking in the home. In research by the SAGE Fund about women defending their lands, territories, resources and the climate from extractive projects, many women interviewed said the psychological harm from online smear campaigns was one of the most significant and long-term forms of structural harm they face.

These tactics are meant to stigmatise, isolate and silence women defenders. Due to patriarchal power dynamics, women human rights defenders often also face risks in different spheres, including in their societies, communities and families. They may experience discrimination or violence in the movements and organisations they work with, criticism from their families or communities for their human rights work, and intimate partner violence at home. While defenders of any gender face barriers to justice and remedy, these difficulties are compounded for women human rights defenders due to gender-based discrimination and violence, and even more challenging for women facing multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, ability and other identities.

Sector overview

Attacks against defenders occur in relation to almost every business sector in every region of the world. The four most dangerous sectors in 2022 related to natural resources. Short term profit-driven extractive approaches which have underpinned the global energy model are core drivers of attacks on defenders and have not provided many of the economic benefits or development promised to communities and countries.

Mining has consistently been the most dangerous sector for defenders since we began tracking in 2015, showing little progress to prevent attacks. Nearly 30% of attacks in 2022 were connected to mining, and the sector is even more dangerous for Indigenous defenders – 41% of attacks against Indigenous peoples in 2022 related to mining.

This is particularly concerning given that International Energy Association projections point to a six-fold increase in demand for transition minerals (e.g., copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel, manganese, zinc, as covered in our Transition Minerals Tracker, as well as rare earths) by 2040. In addition, a 2022 study found that half of the world’s resource base for crucial energy transition materials is located on or near Indigenous Peoples’ lands. Lithium mining is of particular concern: according to the study, 85% of current and planned lithium extraction projects are located on or near land managed or inhabited by Indigenous peoples.

Mining for transition minerals, as well as land-intensive renewable energy projects, are already causing widespread abuse of land, water and Indigenous peoples’ rights. Our Transition Minerals Tracker revealed the world’s biggest producers of six key minerals needed for the zero-carbon transition are largely failing to address risks and impacts on local communities, including attacks on civil society organisations and their leaders. This approach to the transition will also continue to fuel opposition, conflict, and result in delays to both projects and achieving our global climate targets. Such conflict has already resulted in at least 369 attacks on defenders related to renewable energy projects since 2015, including 98 killings. In addition, we have tracked at least 148 attacks related to transition mineral mining between 2010 and 2021, making up over a quarter of the 517 attacks recorded with links to renewable energy value chains – from mineral extraction through to installations.

Despite these risks, human rights and environmental defenders are at the forefront of advocating for a rights-respecting, more sustainable energy transition which does not replicate harmful extractive models of past and present. They are also innovating and reimagining the energy sector based on equity. We are seeing a small, but growing, adoption of equity model frameworks where renewable energy companies design projects with Indigenous communities based on the principles of co-ownership and sustainable shared benefit, which is essential for a rights-based and sustainable transition.

Perpetrators of attacks

As many attacks involve collusion between State, private sector and other non-state actors in contexts with high levels of impunity, perpetrators are often difficult to identify. In cases where attacks could be connected with a specific company or a business project (43% of total attacks in 2022), the highest number of attacks related to companies headquartered in India and the United Arab Emirates. Both countries have tried to position themselves as global and environmental leaders and are hosting major multilateral events in 2023 – G20 and COP28, respectively. In addition, Brazil, set to host the G20 presidency in 2024, is the most dangerous country overall for defenders raising concerns about business. This worryingly signals that the countries charged with steering collective action on climate and global economic and financial stability are failing in their duty to protect human rights and to hold companies headquartered in their countries to account when they violate the rights of defenders.

The five companies whose operations, value chains, or business relationships were connected to the highest numbers of attacks in 2022 were JSW Steel Ltd. (India), Otterlo Business Corporation (UAE), TotalEnergies (France, East African Crude Oil Pipeline majority shareholder), Inversiones los Pinares (Honduras), and NagaCorp Ltd and its subsidiary NagaWorld (Cambodia) (more information about the allegations can be downloaded here). These include any attacks against defenders raising human rights concerns about these companies’ operations, value chains, or business relationships, even if the company did not perpetrate the attack directly.

We invited these companies to respond. JSW Steel Ltd. and TotalEnergies responded; their full responses are available here. Otterlo Business Corporation, Inversiones los Pinares, and NagaCorp did not respond.

There are many ways companies can be involved with attacks on defenders, including:

  • Calling police or state security forces to disperse a peaceful protest at one of their operation sites;
  • Threatening, firing or calling for the arrest of union leaders;
  • Cooperating with state repression, such as by providing services or products that enable surveillance of journalists and other defenders; and
  • Initiating lawsuits against defenders for defamation, damages or incitement to commit a felony; and
  • Lobbying for policies that restrict civic freedoms, such as “anti-protest” laws and actions that lead to criminalisation of defenders.

Less obvious tactics to silence defenders and undermine their rights include providing incentives for some community members to create divisions, obstructing unionisation, disseminating distorted information about projects, lobbying against regulation intended to protect human rights and the environment, and exploiting governance gaps for corporate benefit, among others.

According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and subsequent guidance, if business actors are causing or contributing human rights abuse affecting defenders, their responsibility is clear-cut: end the abuse and address and remedy any harm. Even in cases where there are no apparent direct links between companies or investors and attacks, business actors with operations, supply chains, business relationships and/or investments are expected to proactively use their leverage to promote respect for the rights of defenders and civic freedoms. In addition, restrictions on civic freedoms signal riskier contexts for investment and economic activity and create an “information black box” for companies and investors, making it more difficult to engage in robust human rights due diligence.

Other non-state actors involved with attacks on defenders include illegal miners, loggers and organised criminal groups. Illegal mining and logging – extraction of these natural resources undertaken without appropriate land rights, exploration licenses or transportation and other permits – are often associated with significant human rights abuses, environmental harm and corruption. Lack of transparency in precious metal supply chains, weak regulation in both producing and consumer countries, the potential for significant profit, and high levels of impunity fuel exploitation in this sector.

People who raise concerns about illegal mining and logging are protecting their land, clean water, and biodiversity; combating pollution and deforestation; and helping to address the climate crisis. They often face threats and violence from those involved with this illegal exploitation of resources. While companies are not direct perpetrators of these attacks, these illegally extracted resources often end up in their supply chains, showing a need for stronger human rights due diligence among sourcing companies.

State actors

Among the cases we tracked where information was publicly available about alleged perpetrators of attacks, the police were named most frequently, followed by the judicial system. The data we uncovered shows how governments are failing in their duty to protect rights and, further, are actively using agents and arms of the State – police, armed forces and the judicial system – to try to silence and stop human rights and environmental protection work. According to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, governments have a duty to investigate, punish and redress all forms of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in a business context, yet many have a vested interest in these attacks happening under the radar given their involvement. In addition, very few States are collecting official data on lethal and non-lethal attacks.

Advances in legislation and voluntary commitments

Over the past two years, there have been several significant developments related to business and human rights defenders in both soft and hard law, driven by years of civil society advocacy. In 2021, the seminal interpretation of UNGPs by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights clarified the normative responsibility of business actors to respect the rights of defenders and highlighted the critical role played by defenders in human rights due diligence processes and in enabling business enterprises to understand the concerns of affected stakeholders. In addition, the Escazú Agreement – the first legally binding instrument in the world to include provisions on environmental human rights defenders and the first environmental agreement adopted in Latin America and the Caribbean – entered into force.

Milestones in 2022 and 2023 include:

  • Adoption of General Recommendation 39 on Indigenous Women and Girls by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – the first language in a binding international treaty focused on the rights of Indigenous Women and Girls. The recommendation also acknowledges that Indigenous women and girls are at the forefront of demand and action for a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment.
  • Inclusion of strengthened stakeholder consultation requirements and the language of human rights defenders in the European Union corporate sustainability due diligence legislation text approved by the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) on 25 April 2023, making it more likely that the final text of this historic corporate accountability legislation could include requirements related to defenders. At the same time, the language in the JURI committee’s position is in some ways weaker than the text proposed by lead MEP Lara Wolters in her earlier draft report. The EU Council’s General Approach adopted by Member States on 1 December 2022 also includes language on defenders and explicitly mentions them as stakeholders whose rights or interests could be affected by corporate activity.
  • Appointment of former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defender Michel Forst as the first-ever Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, which protects the right to live in a healthy environment in the European Union. This is the first such mechanism specifically safeguarding environmental defenders to be established within a legally binding framework either under a UN system or other intergovernmental structure.
  • Consultations on the revision of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, in which civil society groups have urged strengthening the text on reprisals and explicitly including “human rights defenders”.
  • Several corporate and government commitments to the protection of civic space and human rights defenders as part of the US Summit for Democracy.

These and other developments signal momentum towards recognition of the need to prevent and address attacks against defenders raising concerns about business-related harms, including among companies themselves. For example, Hewlett Packard Enterprises enacted a policy commitment to respect the rights of marginalised groups (including defenders) in January 2022, and TotalEnergies published information about the actions it has taken with respect to human rights defenders and freedom of expression in Uganda (see also TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s human rights policy). In addition, the Voluntary Principles Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative that guides oil, gas and mining companies on how to conduct their security operations in a manner that respects human rights, will release guidance on defenders in 2023.

The scale and severity of attacks on people across the globe protecting our rights and environment clearly show the need for urgent action. We call on States to fulfil their duty to protect the rights of defenders and for business actors to respect the rights of defenders by acting on these recommendations.


Recommendations for states

  • Pass and implement legislation recognising the right to defend rights and the vital role of defenders, both individual and collective, in promoting human rights, sustainable development, and a healthy environment and committing to zero-tolerance for attacks (more detail recommendations available here). This must include legal recognition of the specific rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples (more detailed recommendations  available here).
  • Accede to or, if already ratified, fully implement key international and regional standards that protect the civic freedoms of defenders, including those raising concerns about harmful business practice.
  • Pass national laws to implement the UNGPs, including mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, and consult with defenders at all stages of this process. This legislation should mandate that business actors engage in ongoing safe and effective consultation with defenders and other rightsholders potentially or directly affected, should be an integral part of climate mitigation and adaptation plans, and should be aligned with the UN working group’s guidance on defenders and other key standards mentioned above (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Collect and report data on non-lethal and lethal attacks to inform more effective protection mechanisms and passing anti-SLAPP legislation to prevent companies silencing defenders (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Ensure effective remedy for violations when they occur, including by strengthening judicial systems to hold businesses accountable for acts of retaliation against defenders and actively participating in investigation and prosecution of those responsible for attacks.
  • Move towards supporting the adoption of a binding United Nations treaty on business and human rights and ensure that it explicitly recognises the risks defenders face and their right to defend human rights.

Recommendations for companies

  • Adopt and implement policy commitments which recognise the valuable role of defenders, reference specific risks to defenders, ensure effective engagement and consultation with defenders at all stages of the due diligence process and commit to zero-tolerance for reprisals throughout the company’s operations, supply chains and business relationships.
  • Create public commitments to respect fundamental rights with particular attention to rights often abused in connection with attacks on defenders, such as violations of land and Indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Engage in and report on the results of human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and ensure effective access to remedy for those harmed by business activity, in accordance with the UNGPs, the UN Working Group’s guidance on ensuring respect for defenders, and the UN Working Group’s gender guidance.
  • Recognise that Indigenous defenders are disproportionately at risk, respect Indigenous peoples’ rights, grounded in their rights to self-determination; lands, territories, and resources; and right to free, prior, and informed consent, including their right to define the process by which FPIC is achieved and to withhold consent (more detailed recommendations available here).
  • Publicly recognise that defenders have a right to defend human rights, are essential allies in assisting businesses to adhere to their responsibilities under the UNGPs.

Recommendations for investors

  • Publish a public human rights policy which recognises the valuable role of defenders in identifying risks associated with business activities and commits to a zero-tolerance approach to attacks against defenders. Clearly communicate the human rights expectations included in this policy to portfolio companies, including that companies:
    ‣ disclose human rights and environment-related risks;
    ‣ engage in ongoing consultation with communities, workers and defenders;
    ‣ have policies and processes to respect Indigenous peoples’ rights (including land rights and free, prior and informed consent);
    ‣ respect the rights of defenders; and
    ‣ ensure effective access to remedy when harm occurs.
  • Undertake rigorous human rights and environmental due diligence that integrates a gender perspective throughout and review potential investees for any past involvement with retaliation. Avoid investing in companies with this track record.
  • Use leverage with investee companies which cause, contribute to, or are directly linked to human rights and environmental harms, including attacks on defenders, so that the company mitigates negative impacts and provides access to remedy to those affected.

Source: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

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



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



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:

[2] “State tells off Kilombero plantation lobbyists,” Daily News, March 2023:

[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:

[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:

[6] “Tanzania government cancels Sh100bn Sagcot scheme,” The Citizen, May 2023:

[7] “Magufuli Revokes Title Deeds for 14 Undeveloped Farms,” Tanzania Daily News, August 2017:

[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:

[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:

[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:

[15] “Tanzania revokes titles to six farms owned by Dewji,” East African, January 2019:–1410744

[16] See the post by Maria Sarungi Tsehai (@MariaSTsehai), 27 January 2024 on Twitter (X):

[17] See 2023 Budget address by Honourable Dr. Situmbeko Musokotwane, Minister of Finance:; 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:

[18] Owen Khamula, “Agriculture ministry moves in to establish mega farms,” Nyasa Times, 30 June 2022:

[19] “Tanzania Country Presentation for HIH Investment Forum,” October 2023: and “USAID to invest $100M in supporting agribusiness youth in Tanzania,” Further Africa, November 2023:

[20] “First Shipment of Tanzanian Soybeans Enter China” June 2021:

[22] “Good news for soybeans farmers to effectively utilise Chinese market,” The Citizen, February 2022:

[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:

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

[27] See the company website: And the video about the farm: 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:–2609534

[28] A director of Jadeja, Hussein Msemwa, was the Assistant Manager of Jatu PLC ( For more on Jatu PLC, see: “Struggling Jatu Plc turns to Dutch consultant”, The Citizen, January 2023:–4075174

[29] On the legal and financial troubles, see the court cases against Global Agency for failure to pay Rabobank ( and Balton Tanzania ( On the political support from Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Vice Chairman, Colonel Abdulrahman Kinana, see:; and from the current Minister of Agriculture Hussein Bashe see: 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:

[30] “Chaoliang Group’s Tanzania PTA construction project signed with Hunan Construction Engineering Group for USD 300 million,” China Agricultural Outlook News, October 2021: Hunan Construction Engineering Group was sanctioned in 2013 by the World Bank for fraudulent practices in a road construction project in Tanzania:

[32] “Blue Carbon and the Government of Tanzania join forces to accelerate transition to low-carbon economy,” Gulf news, February 2023:

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

[34] “World Bank investigating alleged crimes at $150 million Ruaha tourism project,” The Citizen, September 2023

[35] “Smallholders In Mbarali Protest Govt Plans To Evict Them From Their Land,” The Chanzo, February 2023:

[36] For more information on ProSavana, see:

Original Source: Grain

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URGENT ALERT: Tanzanian Government on a Rampage Against Indigenous People



Oakland, CA – 2024 has started with the Tanzanian government escalating its brutal campaign against Indigenous and local communities living near Protected Areas (PAs) around the country. Impacted villagers are sounding the alarm that their rights to land and life are under siege from a government focused on increasing revenues from safari tourism and hunting at any cost.

Simanjiro District

On January 14, TANAPA paramilitary rangers opened fire and shot several Maasai herders in Kimotorok village in Simanjiro District, outside of Tarangire National Park. Eight people were arrested and over 800 livestock seized. These incidents happened just a year after over 3,000 cattle were seized outside of the park and sold at an auction.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA)

On January 18, the government announced that it will change the legal status of the NCA and no longer permit any human settlement. This drastic move would forcibly remove approximately 100,000 people – primarily Maasai pastoralists – against their will. The government has set the goal(link is external) of evacuating 20,000 people by March 2024.

Maasai communities in the NCA protesting on January 20, 2024, chanting: “We will not agree with these unlawful plans to evict us…our land will remain ours.”

The government’s plan to move the Maasai away from the NCA is deeply flawed. As exposed by the Oakland Institute’s field research, relocation sites not only lack adequate water and grazing land, but the existing residents are being driven out to make way for those relocated – creating conflict.

Safari tourists gathering in large crowds in the NCA Safari tourists gathering in large crowds in the NCA

Ruaha National Park

In Southern Tanzania, government efforts to force people from their villages for the expansion of Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA) have intensified since the start of the year. TANAPA rangers have seized farming equipment and fertilizer to stop people from cultivating their land during the onset of the rainy season. To seek an end to this oppression, communities filed a case in the regional East African Court of Justice in December 2023.

TANAPA helicopter taking away farming equipment from farmers living outside of RUNAPATANAPA helicopter taking away farming equipment from farmers living outside of RUNAPA

The expansion of RUNAPA is enabled by funding from the World Bank. The 2023 Oakland Institute report Unaccountable & Complicit exposed how tens of thousands of Indigenous and local communities face evictions while Bank-funded rangers are accused of murder, rape, and other shocking violence. The recommendation from the World Bank’s Inspection Panel to investigate the project was approved by the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors in November 2023, following the Institute’s request for inspection(link is external) on behalf of impacted villagers.

“The intensification of violence and evictions by the government coincide with the launch of the World Bank investigation. Approximately US$100 million out of the total US$150 million has been already disbursed to the project. It looks like instead of pressuring the government to stop its abuses, the launch of the investigation has led the government to intensify its plan for widespread evictions, letting TANAPA rangers continue their violence with impunity,” said Andy Currier, Policy Analyst at the Oakland Institute.

Impacted villagers are calling on the World Bank and its donors to freeze the financing of the REGROW project during the IP investigation that is expected to be completed by July 2024.

International Community Must Take Action

The new eviction announcement, livelihood restrictions, and rampant violence by TANAPA rangers –unleashed across the country – is a clear escalation of violence by the Samia Suluhu government. In complete disregard of past condemnation of these abuses by African and international human rights bodies, the government has intensified its efforts to further repress Indigenous communities living near PAs.

“Devastating plans that are destroying the lives of the Indigenous Maasai and other communities have nothing to do with conserving the environment but everything to do with greed,” said Anuradha Mittal, Oakland Institute’s Executive Director. The government aims to attract(link is external) five million visitors annually to generate US$6 billion from the tourism sector by 2025. “In the North of Tanzania, the Maasai communities have made clear that they will not leave the lands they have stewarded for generations. Despite the threat of arbitrary arrest and detention, thousands of courageous Maasai land defenders continue to protest and speak out against the eviction plans – showing the world they will not give up their struggle,” Mittal added.

Impacted communities in Tanzania are calling for international support. “As donors of the Tanzanian government, you are positioned to rescue the life, livelihoods, and culture of our people. You can either be silent and complicit, or take a stand for justice, dignity, and human rights.”

“How many more people must lose their lands, their children, their future before the international community takes real action and holds the government to account?” Mittal concluded.


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