Babati land conflict

Ubwani, Zephania

May 11, 2002

Book ID 625

See also

Ubwani, Zephania Babati land conflict, May 11, 2002
Page Number: 1
Extract Date: 1997

Babati land conflict has roots in colonial period

Who was a behind the recent farm clashes in Babati district pitting the local villagers against the Asian large scale farmers? Correspondent Zephania Ubwani who lived in Babati in the early 1970s, during which time he visited nearly all the farms in the Kiru Valley recalls his last visit to the area in 1997. His report.

Seated under the shade of large tree outside his hillside residence in Kiru Valley, the then 60 year old Asian farmer Chagan Modhwadia appeared both an optimistic farmer and a worried businessman.

He was happy that his sugar cane production was poised for a brighter future because of the huge market demand, and fertile land, but he was worried about taxation and the threats to estate land.

On that particular sunny day at the height of the dry season in August 1997, he had three types of visitors, two of whom were types to his day to day business. In the morning he had visitors from the now dis-established Institute of Production Innovation (IPI) of the University of Dar es Salaam led by Dr. Abdallah Chungu.

IPI was installing prototypes of mini-sugar plants it had developed in various large-scale farms in the Kiru Valley where the Asian farmers have opted for sugar cane production instead of the coffee plantations and fruit orchards that were planted when the farms were first opened up by white settlers in the 1950s.

The IPI experts were coming to see the performance of a sugar processing plant they had installed in his compound, but the outspoken Asian farmer amused them when he said the mini-sugar plant was too small for him.

"This plant has the capacity to produce 700 kg of sugar a day. That's too small for our operations," he said, adding that he would be comfortable with bigger plants that could produce many tonnes of sugar in order to make huge sales and profits.

Shortly before noon, Mzee Chagan was to play host to a journalist. To him that was strange. He had not seen such visitors to the farms before but was soon to settle down after being told that the reporter's visit was linked to the IPI-support project.

Then sometime after 4 pm, when the sun was pushing westwards behind the Mbulu highlands, an old Land Rover with two passengers arrived at the farmer's noisy compound almost unnoticed.

These were officials of the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) from Babati, the district headquarters which is barely 20 kilometres from the rocky bottom of the Kiru Valley. He took time to talk to them but was later to complain as is always the case with businessmen.

Mzee Chagan was (and probably still is) the owner of the 3,000 acre Dudumera Plantations Limited which is roughly ten kilometres off the Arusha-Babati road..

There are about a dozen other farms in the neighbourhood.

According to the villagers, the present Dudumera Plantations, which Mzee Chagan owns under a 99 year lease, was formerly run by a famous Greek settler called A. P. Matsis, who later settled near Arusha and died in the 1980s.

Extract ID: 3436

See also

Ubwani, Zephania Babati land conflict, May 11, 2002
Page Number: 2

"Kwa Terror"

But the illiterate inhabitants of Kiru valley being pastoralists, peasants, casual laborers,

fishermen, mere passers-by and others, any mention of Dudumera Plantations is a received with hostility, showing that labour relations between the farm owners and the surrounding communities, including the farm workers, could have been bad. Dudumera estate is commonly known as "Kwa Terror", not just during the last 30 years it has been in Chagan's hands, but even before.

"Bwana Terror" would connote a no-nonsense settler farmer, often holding a gun, who would terrorize his stubborn farm workers. The same tactics would apply to trespassers and cattle grazers.

Until then, (1997), officially there were 34 commercial farmers, most of them of Asian origin in the entire Kiru valley, an area stretching from close to Babati to the southern shores of Lake Manyara. However, in many farms not all land was cultivated.

Information gathered had it that the area was opened up after the Second World War, when the white settler farmers, including soldiers demobilized from the war, were moved there with the facilitation of the British colonial government.

During the white settlers" occupation, probably until the early 1970s, the farms were typical settler farms.

They enjoyed modern irrigation facilities, and produced coffee, beans, maize, and fruit, while some were cattle ranchers.

Change in ownership from the white European settlers to the Asians, in turn, changed the scenery from the lush green coffee and fruit plantations to sugar cane fields.

Incidentally, the sugar cane grown was not used to produce the badly needed crystalline sugar, but jaggery (sukari guru) which is a key raw material for the production of alcoholic drinks by villagers nearby and in neighboring regions.

It was because of the big potential for sugar cane that IPI earmarked the area for the installation of prototypes of mini-sugar plants in an effort to promote the technology as well as produce crystalling or table sugar for the local market.

Extract ID: 3437

See also

Ubwani, Zephania Babati land conflict, May 11, 2002
Page Number: 3
Extract Date: 1970s

High production of jaggery

Mzee Chagan, although not entirely happy with the conflicts between the commercial farmers and the surrounding communities, admitted that Kiru Valley had a great potential for sugar production.

"There is enough water, fertile land and conducive weather" he said at his hillside residence, looking over his large sugar cane farm.

At least 1,000 out of the 3,000 acres leased to him in the 1970s, were under sugar cane cultivation from which he produced 10 tonnes of jaggery a day.

Despite the lush and evergreen farms on the banks of the Kiru river, which originates from the Mbulu highlands, and the assistance given to him by IPI, the Indian farmer was worried.

He talked of high taxation, high costs of inputs and labour and lack of credit facilities for commercial farming in Tanzania which, he said, had low returns compared to other countries.

However, his main worry appeared to be what he described as "threats from the villagers and local leaders" over the commercial farmers" land.

He hinted to this reporter that the Kiru Valley was facing a land crisis especially between the surrounding communities, including local peasants and livestock grazers, and the settler farmers and local government authorities on the other.

His remarks implied that there was frequent trespassing on the land leased to them and for which they paid rent, with no or little action taken by the authorities in support of the large farmers.

My trip later took me to Mara Estate further west and up the Kiru River basin. Mara Estate is where the recent clashes took place which claimed the lives of three people, scores injured and property worth millions of shillings destroyed.

The 1,763 acre Mara Estate is strategically located. It is below the rift valley escarpment and closer to the source of Kiru River which the rest of the estate owners downstream depend on for irrigation.

Extract ID: 3438

See also

Ubwani, Zephania Babati land conflict, May 11, 2002
Page Number: 4
Extract Date: 2002

A bereaved and shocked Patel

The estate Managing Director, Mr. Mahesh B. Patel, who parents were hacked to death, was there and talked about the labor problem, poor weather and arson which often razed his cane fields. He was the chairman of the Commercial Farmers Association.

Other Asian farmers, who did not want their names mentioned, hinted that they may be compelled to sell their farms and opt for other businesses because of what they perceived as threats from local leaders and villagers.

The Asian farmers did not need to elaborate on the land crisis in Kiru.

Even for a first time visitor, Kiru Valley bore all the hallmarks of poor labor relations between the local communities, on one hand, and commercial farmers on the other.

It is not clear if the Kiru Valley was fully inhabited prior to the coming of the settler farmers 50 years ago.

Located in the rift valley, south of Lake Manyara, the area is notorious for high temperatures. It was not a favorable land for cattle grazers because of the high incidence of trypanosomiasis, a disease caused by tsetse flies and which is lethal to livestock and human beings.

The area was also notorious for bilharzia, a disease associated with snails, especially in water logged areas and which threatened to wipe out Wambugwe tribe in the neighboring villages in the 1960s.

When the European farmers settled, they recruited their laborers mostly from central and western Tanzania. These people still form the core of their workforce today, although others have joined their ranks.

Information of how the estates evolved and whether some people were displaced from the area in the past to pave way for white farmers has been lacking because the authorities in Babati may have viewed the situation differently.

The farms were seen as an extension of the settler economy based in Arusha and beyond, as most of their owners had more to do with Arusha in terms of marketing their produce, procuring supplies and farm inputs than Babati.

Other farms were owned by absentee landlords who had settled either in Arusha or abroad. Until the early 1970s, the areas had no schools, dispensaries or local government administration, leaving the landlords to wield unchecked power over their helpless laborers.

Extract ID: 3439

See also

Ubwani, Zephania Babati land conflict, May 11, 2002
Page Number: 5
Extract Date: 1970's

Pastoralists enter the valley

Some changes took place from the mid 70s. As drought continued to bite in the neighboring districts notably Mbulu, Babati, Hanang and Monduli, cattle grazers invaded the area for greener pastures.

The cattle grazers were viewed with suspicion by the estate owners. Where will they graze their large herds when the best land is under cultivation or lease? They asked themselves. They also posed a threat to livestock in ranches owned by commercial farmers.

The cattle herders could not be easily recruited to become farm laborers.

At the same time, they could not tolerate the beatings often meted out to laborers and other villagers by the rude estate owners.

As more and more pastoralists and farmers settled in the area, more and more local leaders began talking about the right of the villagers like their access to water, pastures in fallow land and routes to their large herds.

By the 1970s, most white farmers had left and the farms were taken over by the Asian farmers who preferred cultivating sugar cane, beans and maize rather than coffee.

According to accounts, the farms were briefly taken over by the National Agricultural and Food Corporation (NAFCO) but soon reverted to the private commercial farmers after the giant Parastatal collapsed.

The bone of contention, according to Kiru residents, is not the land problem as such, but the hostility that has existed between the estate owners and the local communities and the failure by the local (district) authorities to act accordingly on the clashes reported before the killings.

Extract ID: 3440