One of the main features of the new government policy of Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) is that certain unused government-owned land and other land not being adequately farmed might be leased out to local and foreign firms to use for large scale farming. But this idea is coming under increased criticism in Tanzania and amongst NGO’s and other activists abroad. They point out that China has secured land in the Democratic Republic of Congo roughly the size of Belgium to set up the world’s largest palm tree plantation and that Rwanda has signed a $250 million investment deal to produce 20 million litres of biodiesel per year from jatropha, a hardy ‘wonder plant’ that can grow in low-quality soil. They claim that all over Africa what they describe as ‘land grabbing’ is speeding up. They warn of possible water shortages, evictions of farmers and corruption.

Tanzania is being criticised for its lack of policy to guide biofuel investment. According to the Tanzania Investment Centre, the country has over 33 million hectares of uncultivated, arable land. But ‘uncultivated’ doesn’t mean ‘unused.’ For many villagers such land is a source of firewood, medicinal herbs and building materials. When foreign investors come, locals get displaced. Moreover, loss of economic opportunities is rarely included in compensation for land legally belonging to a village. In Kilwa District villagers were paid less than $10 per hectare by a biofuel company for giving up their right to their farms. The International Institute for Environment and Development, a London-based think-tank, calculated that in some cases the value of timber harvested from such land each year is higher than the compensation the villagers receive.

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