Rice farmers may be evicted by new biofuel companies

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Food crisis: Stephen Wasira, Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives. Photo/FILE

Food crisis: Stephen Wasira, Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives. Photo/FILE 


Posted  Monday, September 28   2009 at  00:00

Tanzania farmers in key arable areas face eviction by multinational corporations out to cultivate agrofuel products.

More than 5,000 rice farmers from various parts of the country could be affected.

This will trigger an environmental and humanitarian crisis as displaced villagers are left without land to grow food crops.

A new report made available to The EastAfrican last week by an international environmental group warns that Tanzania’s water sources, so critical to food production, will also be diverted to fuel production, increasing conflicts over access to water.

The report was compiled by a local environmental group, the Environmental, Human Rights Care and Gender Organisation (Envirocare) Tanzania, and an international organisation, the Impact of Jatropha Trade in Tanzania.

It says the government has few qualms about evicting farmers from their only means of livelihood, even if this sparks civil conflict.

According to the report, the government wants to fast-track agrofuel initiatives and switch vast areas of land to sugarcane, palm oil and jatropha production, pushing out locals to poorer lands.

“The most fertile lands, with best access to water, are being targetted, even though they are already used for food production by small-scale farmers,” said the report.

Abdallah Mkindi, environmental officer of Envirocare Tanzania, said that the country plans to place extensive areas under biofuel cultivation, including sugar plantations in the Wami River Basin, displacing small-scale rice farmers.

Mr Mkindi said that with the country routinely depending on imported food aid, owing to frequent drought, producing fuel for export instead of food for locals will deepen poverty and food insecurity in the years to come.

He said more than 1,000 rice farmers in Wami Basin, Coast region, a vast area in the alluvial flood and delta plain of the Wami River and its distributaries, and another 1,000 rice farmers in Ruipa, Mtwara region, will be displaced to pave the way for cane growing.

“The Usangu plains, another area identified for potential sugarcane production, have already seen the government’s willingness to accommodate large investors at the expense of small-scale farmers,” he said.

In Usangu district in Mbeya region, more than 1,000 rice farmers were recently displaced from their land to make way for a large plantation. The plantation has cut off the surrounding communities’ access to the river, leading to disputes over water.

According to Mr Mkindi, several international investors are looking at fertile areas with good rainfall and access to rivers, particularly for sugarcane and palm oil cultivation.

The targetted areas include Ruipa, Ikongo, Mahurungu-Mtwara, Usangu plains, Malagarasi, Kilosa, Babati and Hanang in Tanzania.

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