will turn out alright. Correction: everything is going to get better.
There will be new roads, a new school, a pharmacy, even a proper water
supply. Most of all, there will be jobs -- 5,000, at the very least.
"If there are jobs for us, then it's a good thing," says Juma Njagu,
26, who hopes to be able to leave his meager existence as a planter and
charburner behind soon.
GALLERY: GREEN PLANTATIONS
on a picture to launch the image gallery (4 Photos)
lives in Mtamba, a village of about 1,100 souls in Tanzania's Kisarawe
district, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south-west of Dar es Salaam,
the capital and largest city. Mtamba, accessible by dirt road, is a
place where people scrape by on a bit of farming, a bit of fishing and
the production of charcoal. There isn't much else in Mtamba.
could change if the British firm Sun Biofuels goes ahead
with plans to produce biodiesel fuel from "Jatropha curcas," an energy
plant with a high oil content, which it hopes to plant on Kisarawe's
Tanzanian government has granted the British firm the use of
9,000 hectares (22,230 acres) of sparsely populated farmland, or enough
land to cover about 12,000 soccer fields, for a period of 99 years --
free of charge. In return, the company will invest about $20 million
(¤13 million) to build roads and schools, bringing a modicum of
prosperity to the region.
Biofuels is not alone. In fact, half a dozen other companies
from the Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, Japan, Canada and
Germany have already sent their scouts to Tanzania. Prokon, a German
company known primarily for its wind turbines, has already begun
growing jatropha curcas on a large scale. It expects to have 200,000
hectares (494,000 acres) -- an area about the size of Luxembourg --
under cultivation throughout Tanzania soon.
A gold rush mentality has taken hold -- not
just in East
Africa but across the entire continent. In Ghana, the Norwegian firm
Biofuel Africa has secured farming rights for 38,000 hectares (93,860
acres), and Sun Biofuels is also doing business in Ethiopia and
BioEnergy, a British company, plans to invest millions
of euros in northern Namibia. Western companies are turning up in
Malawi and Zambia, where they plan to produce diesel fuel and ethanol
from jatropha curcas, palm oil or sugar cane. Foreign investors have
their eye on 11 million hectares (27 million acres) in Mozambique --
more than one-seventh of the country's total area -- for growing energy
plants. The government in Ethiopia has even made 24 million hectares
(59 million acres) available.
consequences of this boom are dramatic. Experts agree that the
worldwide push to grow energy plants is on overwhelming factor in the
global explosion of food prices. According to onestudy by the
as much as 75 percent of the increase could be attributable to this
change in the types of crops being farmed. Many farmers in
industrialized countries are more than happy to accept government
subsidies for corn or rapeseed, but this comes at the cost of the
cultivation of wheat, potatoes and legumes.
plants are not competing with intensively farmed land in Africa
-- yet. Investors argue that the land they are using is uncultivated or
underused. But rising food prices and population growth will also
increase pressure in the southern hemisphere to convert unused land to
investors, growing energy plants in Africa is highly profitable. Crude
oil will become scarce in the foreseeable future, so that
easy-to-produce biofuel comes at just the right time. At an estimated
annual yield of 2,500 liters per hectare, Sun Biofuels is in it for the
long haul in Tanzania. Production becomes profitable as soon as the
price of a barrel of crude oil exceeds $100 (¤69) on the world market.
A barrel currently goes for just over $100.
offers oil farmers virtually ideal conditions for their
purposes: underused land in many places, low land prices, ownership
that is often unclear and, most of all, regimes capable of being
land is unusable, says the Ethiopian energy and mining minister in
Addis Ababa, the country's capital. "It's just marginal land," say
officials at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in Dar es
Salaam. "The whole thing is nothing but positive," says the district
administrator of Kisarawe, who is responsible for the Sun Biofuels
project. "We have convinced the people." In his rudimentary office,
which lacks both a computer and a copy machine, he leafs through the
none of these places are the needs of local residents taken into
account. In Ghana, BioFuel Africa wrested away land clearing and usage
rights from a village chief who could neither read nor write. The man
gave his consent with his thumbprint. The weekly newspaper Public
Agenda felt reminded of the "darkest days of colonialism." The Ghanaian
environmental protection agency eventually put a stop to the
clear-cutting, but only after 2,600 hectares (6,422 acres) of forest
had been cut down.
Tanzania, while there are hopes, there is also plenty of reason
to be skeptical about promises that everything will improve. In April
2006, Sun Biofuels claimed that it had received formal approval for
cultivation from 10 of the 11 affected villages. At that point,
however, several communities were not even aware of the plans, while
others had attached conditions to their consent. A village head
complained, in writing, to the district administration that Sun
Biofuels had cleared and marked off land without even contacting the
Dar es Salaam, Peter Auge, general manager of Sun Biofuels
Tanzania, sits in his office. He is a casual, straightforward South
African. "It is true," he says, "that we were a little reserved with
our information policy." There are still many unknowns, says Auge,
adding that he doesn't want to read in the paper that "the project is
two years behind schedule."
Auge promises social investments, although
they are not
part of the agreements at this point. Even when it comes to
compensation for the people living on the land, which the government
insists must be paid, the investors are getting an exceedingly good
deal. They offered the equivalent of about ¤450,000, a ridiculous price
for the 9,000 hectares (22,230 acres) that they can now use for almost
kilometers (43 miles) farther south, on the Rufiji
River, thousands of residents are being forced to move to make way for
the Swedish company Sekab's plans to grow sugarcane, a highly
water-intensive crop, on at least 9,000 hectares (22,230 acres) and
then distill it into ethanol. Five thousand hectares (12,350 acres)
have already been approved.
river and the wetlands along its banks are the only source of
drinking water for thousands of people, especially during the dry
season. Sekab also plans to tap this reservoir to irrigate its
plantations. Transparency? Nonexistent. Compensation? None whatsoever.
Information? A scarce commodity. When residents attending an
informational event asked about compensation payments, they were told
curtly: "You will get what you are entitled to."
PR machine is all the more active, even in poor countries like
Tanzania. Naturally South African national Josephine Brennan, who is in
charge of public relations for Sekab in Dar es Salaam, sees only good
things for Tanzania's future. Farming for biofuel will enable the
country to build new schools and new roads, which translate into better
opportunities for Tanzanians, says Brennan. According to Brennan, small
farmers will also be able to earn more money in the future by growing
biofuel-ready plants, and up to three million people in Tanzania alone
will be lifted out of poverty. With its two million hectares of
potential cropland, Tanzania, says Brennan, has as much growth
potential "as the Celtic Tiger, Ireland." Finally, she is convinced
that "the world needs Tanzania."
Brennan's rosy predictions do not reflect opinions in East
Africa. A study on energy plants in Tanzania, conducted by the German
Agency for Technical Cooperation, lists a host of negative side
effects. What is more, this is not the first time that white investors
have promised prosperity for Tanzania.
With similarly enticing promises, small
talked out of their land several decades ago to make way for coffee
plantations. In the 1990s, foreign mining companies arrived in Tanzania
to dig for gold. "They promised us jobs, new roads, new wells and
schools," says journalist Joseph Shayo. "And what happened? No schools,
no wells and few jobs, which were low-paying jobs, to boot." To make
matters worse, large mining zones were fenced off and became
inaccessible to the original residents.
a recently published study on the "Biofuel Industry in
Tanzania," journalist Khoti Kamanga of the University of Dar es Salaam
warns against the side effects of energy plantations. The population,
Kamanga writes, is usually uninformed, while the cultivation of energy
plants usually goes hand-in-hand with forced resettlement. According to
Kamanga, it is very likely that ethanol production will also affect
food prices in Tanzania, with the country's dependency on food imports
growing even further.
Dar es Salaam, the government has now recognized that the boom
also comes with problems. "Energy plants cannot be an alternative to
food production," said President Jakaya Kikwete, responding to
widespread resentment in his country over high food prices.
the energy farmers remain unimpressed. Sun Biofuels and Sekab
each want to expand their production to 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres)
-- as soon as possible.
-- Translated from the German by Christopher
Venezuela: Indigenous land battle faces violent attack
29 August 2008
President Hugo Chavez has intervened in a land dispute in the Sierra de
Perija region, near the country's north-western border with Colombia,
where the Yukpa indigenous people have occupied 14 large estates to
demand legal title to their ancestral lands.
"There should be no doubt: Between the
large estate owners and the indians, this government is with the
indians", Chavez declared on his weekly talk show, Alo
Presidente, on August 24.
"The large landowners have to understand there is a revolution going on
here", Chavez added.
Yukpa were forcibly driven off their lands during the Perez Jimenez
dictatorship in the 1940s. Today much of the 1200 hectares under
dispute is "owned" by the Vargas family, although they do not have
legal title to it.
According to the constitution adopted by
popular vote in 1999 and the Indigenous Land Law passed in 2005, the
government is required to grant indigenous groups legal title over
their ancestoral land.
In 2005 the national government officially designated the lands
currently under dispute for demarcation and redistribution, however the
process stalled and over the past year the Yukpa began occupying
estates in efforts to recuperate their land.
The conflict came to a head on August 6 when hundreds of armed
mercenaries, hired by large landowners, attacked the indigenous
communities occupying the estates.
This was just the latest in
a series of attacks aimed at terrorising and intimidating the
indigenous community and forcing them off their lands.
In July, land owner Alejandro Vargas and four others, armed with guns
and machetes, attempted to assassinate the Yukpa cacique (chief)
Sabino Romero, who is leading the occupations, and beat and killed
Romero's elderly 109-year-old father Jose Manuel Romero.
Venezuelanalysis.com reported on August 18 that after shooting
through the small door of a Yukpa home in July, Vargas told the Yukpa
that pleading to the National Guard or local government will do no good
because "I pay all of them".
The dispute highlights a growing struggle between on the one hand
the grassroots movements and the left wing of the pro-Chavez movement,
seeking to deepen the Bolivarian revolution towards socialism as Chavez
has called for — and, on the other, the right wing of the Chavista
movement, who don't want to go beyond capitalism, the US-backed
anti-Chavez opposition and significant parts of the still-existing
capitalist state institutions.
After the attack, the military commander in Zulia, General
Izquierdo Torres, ordered a security cordon to be erected around the
area, preventing independent journalists from entering the zone and
restricting free movement of the Yukpa communities occupying the
Torres has been accused of collaborating with the local landowners
on August 21-22 a humanitarian mission of 45 people, belonging to
social movements, representatives of Venezuelan alternative and state
media and students from the Bolivarian University, were intercepted by
the National Guard, four of whom were detained.
One of those detained, Tomas Becerra, was badly beaten.
in an August 8 press conference, indigenous minister Nicia Maldando
downplayed the armed attack, arguing that there were not hundreds of
mercenaries, only 50, and called on the indigenous communities
occupying the estates to follow the legal path and respect private
The minister also told the Yukpa that testimonies and denunciations
of the attacks should be brought to the local courthouse to be
However, the Yukpa remain wary of regional and
local authorities, which frequently contradict central government
policies in a zone where large landowners retain tremendous power.
More than 200 peasants have been killed by private mercenaries
hired by large landowners in the struggle to redistribute idle lands
and carry out agrarian reform since Chavez's 2001 land reform
Chavez slammed what he described as the "ambiguous attitudes" of
some government functionaries in dealing with the land demarcation
process and ordered an investigation into the violent attacks.
times, we are feeble-spirited, we name a commission and a year goes by
and they travel, and they travel again, and they have a meeting here
and there, and two years go by, but there is never a solution to the
problem", Chavez declared.
"These are the old vices of the past, that is called bureaucratisation,
and this has to come to an end!"
also gave instructions to Vice-President Ramon Carrizalez, justice
minister Rodriguez Chacin, environment minister Yubiri Ortega, as well
as General Torres, to "demarcate the indigenous lands with the
participation of the indigenous councils", compensate the landowners,
and offer the communities the protection, credits, and equipment needed
to launch sustainable agricultural projects.
Yukpa representative Mari Fernandez told state television channel
VTV on August 26 that the community continues to receive death threats
from the land owners, calling on the national government for
"We want protection for Sabino, because they are trying to kill him",
Gonzalez Romero, another Yukpa representative, also explained to VTV:
"We are the original peoples of the Sierra de Perija. We are not
invading the estates, no, they belong to us, what we are doing is
recuperating the land of our ancestors."
Venezuelan ombudsman Indico Ramirez confirmed on August 28 that the
Yupka have the law on their side, stating that the government will buy
the lands, grant collective title to the Yupka and negotiate
compensation with the landowners.
Chacin also said that the presence of mercenaries in the zone and
the death of Jose Manuel Romero are being investigated, as is the
detention of the four members of the humanitarian mission.