Wednesday, August 28, 2019


This is Part 6 of a series of commentaries on Udadisi Blog entitled Tanzania Institutional Diagnostic: A Response and Comments By Andrew Coulson

Chapter 6: Land Rights

I have read several attempts to describe the confused position of land rights in Tanzania, and this chapter [by S.J. Mramba with discussion by Klaus Deininger ] is comprehensive, well-informed and practical. However, it is not an easy read: I would recommend readers to first read Deininger’s four page commentary at the end of the chapter, which provide a clear summary of practical proposals to improve both urban and rural land tenure.

Turning to the chapter, I would have liked more recognition that land is a form of property, and that control of land is an exercise of power, and that sometimes power is exercised to prevent change or reform. I do not think it is coincidental that the 1999 legislation has not been reformed, because there are individuals and classes that benefit from the present confused situation. There is some political economy in the chapter, e.g. pp.3-4 and the mention of Shivji’s position on p.6, but there could have been more.
One significant development is not discussed – though the comments about bias against villagers and enclosures of “commons” in Para 6.2 are consistent with it (note – the page numbering in this chapter is confusing). It is set out in a paper by a team led from Michigan State University (MSU) by Thomas Jayne et al.: “Africa’s changing farm size distribution patterns: the rise of medium-scale farms”Agricultural Economics Vol. 47, 2016. They present evidence that huge transfers of land are taking place, in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, to middle-class salaried professionals who are purchasing agricultural land cheaply, without, in the main, living on the farms. This provides a new and valuable source of capital for investment in agriculture. But many of these investors have little experience, or understanding of the risks, and some are not using the land at all, and risk having it taken back. Overall, it is a form of land-grabbing that far exceeds anything by overseas investors. 
The Jayne paper quotes fieldwork by a team at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) led by Prof Ntengua Mdoe, but I am told that this is not yet ready for publication. Much of this land is in marginal areas, such as Kiteto District in Tanzania, the South-Eastern part of Maasailand, where the Mdoe team identified 3668 farms of more than 5 ha. In the past, there are examples where mechanisation has been applied to marginal land such as this with initial success, but it has led to very serious soil erosion and failure (e.g. the Ismani area North of Iringa in the 1970s). 

Much of this land has been used by pastoralists, and continues the grabbing of such land for crop cultivation that was found, for example, in the Groundnuts Scheme or the Basotu Wheat Scheme of the late 1970s and 1980s. But perhaps much more is land that has not been cultivated since the villagizations of the 1970s. Many farmers who were compulsorily moved into villages were given plots far from where they had lived. The land they had cultivated, often with higher quality of soils than where they were moved to, was abandoned. Some of this is now being “sold” to these investors by village committees – for, I was told, a going price of T.Shs.1m per acre, i.e. very cheaply indeed. 
But meanwhile the forms of shifting cultivation, which enabled the fertility of large areas of land to be maintained are no longer possible, and from the 1970s farmers had no option but to adopt permanent cropping. They had little guidance on how to introduce rotations, crops and cultivation practices that will maintain fertility – and yields are falling. In earlier times, when fertility dropped, a family could ask the chief, or village leader, for more land – but with villagization plots became much more inflexible. How to treat this was a challenge when it came to our book on agriculture (Coulson, Ellman and Mbiho, Increasing Production from the Land, 2018). We dealt with it by avoiding the issue directly and pointing out that productivity increases are possible at all scales. 
The issue of land grabbing by overseas investors would have been more contentious if five large projects based on cultivation of biofuels had succeeded. The most specific research on this, which includes comments on all identifiable large-scale proposals, is by Martina Locher and Emmanuel Sulle: ‘Foreign Land Deals in Tanzania: An Update and a Critical Review on the Challenges of Data (Re-)production’, Working Paper 31, Land Deals Policy Initiative, 2013; and ‘Challenges and Methodological Flaws in Reporting the Global Land Rush: Observations from Tanzania’Journal of Peasant Studies Vol.41, No.3-4, 2014. [Note: the author referred to below Box 5 and in the bibliography is Sulle not Sule.]
Deininger’s commentary at the end of the chapter provides four pages which “provide concrete next steps that could allow Tanzania to improve land tenure security at a scale similar to that in Rwanda without giving up some of the distinctive characteristics of land tenure in Tanzania.” One of the main conclusions of the chapter, of the final chapter, p.16, and of the commentary is that rapid surveying of village land, using aerial photos, followed by the issue of titles whose details can be clarified subsequently, needs to be conducted for the whole country, urgently, as it has been for Rwanda. 
Why has this not been done? Maybe because it is opposed by those who are able to purchase land cheaply now. But if the rural areas are to provide a basic living for a large part of the population of Tanzania, they must have security of tenure.


AAB College September 9, 2019 at 5:11 PM  

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