Speak about the country of Tanzania to most travelers and you’ll hear stories of Zanzibar’s golden beaches, or perhaps a hard hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. Not so here. On a recent trip, I traveled to Tanzania’s Bagamoyo District, a couple of hour’s drive from the capital of Dar es Salaam.
Photo courtesy of Steffen Hoppe via Shutterstock
Bagamoyo was selected as the site for one of the first projects to be launched under the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition – an $8 billion initiative launched by President Obama at the G8 Summit at Camp David back in 2012.
Under the plans, a Swedish-owned company fronted by a man nicknamed ‘Ethanol Jesus’ by the Swedish tabloids, will be given a 99-year lease to an area of land that at 20,000 hectares is bigger than Washington D.C.
The project is one of many planned across Africa as part of the New Alliance. President Obama has committed nearly $2 billion of US taxpayers’ money to this initiative, funding large private sector partnerships which are supposed to inject much-needed money into rural communities in Africa.
So what’s the problem? For this huge sugarcane plantation in Bagamoyo alone, up to 1,300 people will lose their land or homes. Our research found that many of the people affected were not allowed to choose whether to leave their land, and were denied crucial information about the impact of the project on their ability to make a living off the land and grow food to feed their families.
The company – EcoEnergy – claims its project will inject much-needed money into the local economy. But in reality, its figures are over-inflated, and any profit is likely to leave the country, along with most of the sugar – which is almost certain to be turned into ethanol to fuel cars and trucks elsewhere in the world.
Sugarcane. Photo courtesy of Hywit Dimyadi via Shutterstock.
Instead of providing food for their families, which can be sold at the local markets to earn some money, these local farmers are faced with having to grow sugarcane – a crop that they can’t eat and can only sell to the company. But in order to do this, they will need to take out huge loans, equivalent to US$16,000 per person – or thirty times the minimum annual agricultural salary in Tanzania. Thirty times! Imagine if you had to put yourself into that kind of debt just to have a job.
But the impacts of the New Alliance will be felt well beyond Bagamoyo. During my trip, I visited the Ruipa Valley in Kilombero. This is another area heavily populated by poor farmers, where the Tanzanian government is trying to attract large agri-business projects, which will almost certainly see more farmers forced off their land.
It’s not only in Tanzania that this is happening. New Alliance projects are up and running, or planned, in 10 African countries. This means there are many other communities out there at risk of losing their land to similar projects.
Under the New Alliance deals, African countries promised to make land and labor available to big companies that are also part of the initiative – companies like tax dodging brewing giant SABMiller and international food conglomerate Cargill. But this has come at a huge cost for the local communities who farm the land and produce up to 80% of the continent’s food.
The New Alliance wouldn’t be possible without US money, and we don’t think taxpayer’s dollars should be used to support these kinds of projects. Instead, the US Administration should be making sure that poor farmers, like those living and work in Bagamoyo, have the skills and equipment needed to make their farms more productive.
Written by By Doug Hertzler, Senior Policy Analyst, ActionAid USA