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Iowa Firm Accused of Displacing Tanzanians for Profit

WASHINGTON, Jul 11 2012 (IPS) - A major U.S. energy company, AgriSol Energy, is accused of engaging in land grabs in Tanzania that would displace more than 160,000 Burundian refugees who have lived there for decades, according to a report by the Oakland Institute, an organisation focused on environmental issues.

An ethics complaint from the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) states that AgriSol is benefiting from the forcible eviction of the refugees, many of whom are subsistence farmers, and leasing the land — as much as 800,000 acres — from the Tanzanian government for 25 cents per acre. “All duty and tax free,” the Iowa CCI adds.

The project could net AgriSol, led by co-founder Bruce Rastetter, as much as 300 million dollars a year, according to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. Larry Ginter, a retired hog farmer from Rhodes and a member of Iowa CCI, said in a telephone conference that he was “outraged at the exploitation of the farmers there (in Tanzania).”

“This is an old pattern that has been going on for years,” he adds about AgriSol. “This is a classic case of colonialism, and is theft of the highest order.” A spokesperson for AgriSol Tanzania denies those allegations and claims that the government had been the one that had instigated the movement of refugees. “We did not evict them,” Henry Akona, director of communications for AgriSol Tanzania, told IPS.

“Perhaps it has been mishandled,” he said, regarding the movement of refugees. “But it’s unfair for the Oakland Institute to mix AgriSol into it.” The company’s website states that the project is delayed at the settlements of Katumba and Mishamo “until the situation is resolved”.

The AgriSol project was supported by the Tanzanian government under an initiative called Kilimo Kwanza — meaning “Agriculture First” — that was launched in 2009 by the Tanzania National Business Council to “promote agricultural development through public-private partnerships”.

The “public-private” partnership would, currently and in the future, aid ArgiSol in three different types of production: large-scale crop cultivation, such as food grains, beef and poultry production, and soy and maize production.

AgriSol was set to launch a 100-million-dollar investment in Tanzania over the next 10 years. The stated aim of the programme, according to AgriSol was to, “help stabilise local food supplies, create jobs and economic opportunity for local populations, (and) spur investment in local infrastructure improvements.”

The demands that ArgiSol made included such lopsided conditions that AgriSol would effectively “pay less for land in Tanzania than for a Starbucks coffee in the United States,” according to Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute.

Mittal, who conducted field research in Tanzania, said these policies have been supplemented by aggressive moves to stymie local businesses. “The people on the ground have been told they can’t build new businesses,” she said. “They have no other option left but to move.”

This partnership, according to the report, was also contingent on several other factors including that the Tanzanian government grant AgriSol a preferential “strategic investor status” and relocate the 162,000 people currently living in Katumba and Mishamo. While unfortunate, the company counters, AgriSol was simply engaging in a business relationship, since the refugees were set to move anyway. “AgriSol was like a potential new tenant,” Akona explains.

AgriSol Energy Tanzania, the company behind the Tanzanian operations, was a partnership venture between Rastetter’s AgriSol Energy and the Tanzania-based Serengeti Advisers Limited. Iddi Simba, the former Minister for Industry and Trade for Tanzania was one of the heads of Serengeti Limited.

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