Credit: A. Etizinger / CGIAR. Tanzania farm landscape.
DECEMBER 2010 - Global demand for an environmentally friendly alternative to costly fossil fuels has led to increased investments in the production of biofuels in Tanzania. This has generated considerable debate on land use issues. Biofuel production can generate agricultural income and economic growth in rural areas. But biofuel plantations can also lead to rural land loss, landlessness, food insecurity, and environmental degradation.
In 2009, the Tanzanian Government allocated 640,000 hectares of land for biofuel production—a fraction of the approximately 4 million hectares requested by investors. The discrepancy between requests and allocations is due in part to a moratorium on new allocations imposed during the finalization of the National Biofuel Policy and Guidelines, which include provisions to protect land rights and safeguard rural livelihoods.
Investor demand for land poses a considerable threat to the land rights of rural communities. About 70 percent of the nation’s population resides in rural communities on Village Land on which they rely for their livelihood. Much of the agro-ecologically suitable land for biofuel production is Village Land, some of which may be deemed to be at least temporarily “unoccupied or unused”. Village control over that land is at risk.
The increasing demand for agricultural land has revealed weaknesses in the land governance structure. For instance, the main land laws—the Land Act of 1999 and the Village Land Act of 1999—are ambiguous on the issue of village control over the “unoccupied or unused” village land. This ambiguity makes it easier for the national government to make such land available to investors, possibly without adequate compensation to the village.
The impact of biofuel production on communities also depends on the production model, which can range from large commercial plantations to contracted smallholder arrangements such as outgrower schemes. The latter has had fewer negative impacts on land access and greater positive impacts on rural livelihoods. Furthermore, crop use for biofuel production can affect the availability and price of those crops. Oil palm and sugar cane are cultivated as food crops in Tanzania, while jatropha is used in certain areas as hedges or grave markers because of its ability to survive in harsh conditions. Jatropha is believed to offer farmers new opportunities to improve income from unproductive or infertile lands.