Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2012 2:57 AM BT

By Honest Ngowi Any elementary standard economics textbook will list land as among the factors of production. Others in that list tend to be labour, capital and entrepreneurship. All production processes take place on land. This is the case in virtually all sectors of the economy. Land therefore is the bottom line without which no wealth is produced.

All these indicate the sanctity (holiness) of land in mankind’s economic and other activities. Its sanctity call for rethinking of a number of issues if this very scarce and generally finite resource is to be a blessing instead of a curse in Tanzania and beyond.

Land-based investments study
Given its weight in gold, land has attracted attention in various contexts. Among the most current interest in the world of research is a collaborative study on land-based investments in Tanzania. The said study was coordinated by the Research in Poverty Alleviation (REPOA), Tanzania Natural Resources Forum (TNRF) and the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

The author of this article has been involved as one of the two researchers and authors in the said study. Selected issues emerging from the study are shared here for wider readership and most importantly for quick actions accordingly.

High land demand
Factors from international and local scenes are driving and fuelling demand for land in Tanzania in particular and Africa in general. Globally, high food prices, concerns on food security and energy crisis are among the drivers of increased land demand. Others include climate change and related demand for alternative and cleaner energy as well as the impacts of the 2008 economic crisis.

In the local scene, economic growth aims as stipulated in such documents as the Vision 2025 and its newly developed implementation vehicle – the three-phased Fifteen Years Development Plans are triggering and fuelling high demand for land.

This in turn is based on the mid 1980s major and far-reaching reforms in the management of the economy. Of most relevance in such reforms is the embracing of market-and private-sector-led economic growth. In agriculture for example, Kilimo Kwanza and SAGCOT initiatives are likely to be key movers and shakers from the land demand side of the economy. Very unfortunately, the higher than supply demand has resulted into a number of land-based conflicts.

Drivers of land-based conflicts
There are well over 1000 land-based conflicts reported in Tanzania on annual basis. These arise when various groups and individuals consider not fairly treated by either the authorities or individuals and companies.

Causes of land-based discontents and conflicts include but are not limited to denied or limited ownership of and access to land and resources attached to it such as water. Others include forceful evictions and the related involuntary resettlement more or less equal to internal displacements; unfair compensations or lack of compensation all together; environmental destruction including destruction of flora and fauna (plants and animals) as well as air, water, sound and even visual pollution with many negative health implications.

Other drivers include the habits of some people and even institutions holding huge tracks of land without making use of the same but denying access of such land to others; land grabbing is also a major emerging issue in Tanzania. Cases of few individuals, corporations and institutions – both local and foreign - commanding ownership of extremely huge tracks of land at the expense of the poor majority are not short of supply.

Also in this list are issues related to availability, access and ownership of land and resources attached to it by such groups as women, youth, minority and indigenous people. Land conflicts can also emerge from one’s tempering with others’ holy, traditional and cultural sites of worship with symbolic, identity and sense of belonging importance. Conflicts also arise from the wrong attitudes of authorities that compensation is all about money. We forget that not everything that counts can be counted and be priced in monetary terms.

Who’s against who?
The conflicts above have been observed between and within several social, economic and ethnic groups of land users. Typically these are large scale miners and farmers against their small counterparts who are artisanal miners and smallholder farmers respectively.

Conflicts have also been observed between and among agriculturalists against livestock keepers; beekeepers and logs harvesters as well as beekeepers against some tobacco plantation investors. Conflicts between hunters and gatherers (endangered precious minority of about 2000 people only in Tanzania) against the mighty tourism industry and many others more are common events today.

Land is plenty
In its bid to attract investors the government has tended to announce that there is plenty of investment land in this country. However, one will struggle a lot to find adequate and ready-to-occupy land. This is land with all the required documents including land use plans and infrastructure.

In a pro-e-governance government one is supposed to access such land online in a land bank. To the contrary, some investors have used lots of resources including time and money looking for that ‘plenty’ land but in vain. If the long awaited true land bank would see the light of day in Tanzania, one would see substantial improvements in the land question in Tanzania.

Changes are needed
Given the sanctity of land for economic and other developments, there are a number of changes that must be done. Inter alia, the highly centralized, bureaucratic, unclear and corruption-prone land administration system must be improved. The core causes of the many land-based conflicts need to be addressed properly in order to defuse the ticking time bomb before it explodes.

Lessons from best and worst practices should be taken as opportunities sooner than later. The government at all levels, development partners, civil society organizations, the private sector and indeed individuals have a moral duty to bring about the needed changes.

The author is a senior lecturer, researcher and consultant in Economics and Business at Mzumbe University Dar es Salaam Business School.

This article was published in The Citizen newspaper and is also available at the following link:
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