Located in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands, the district of Mbarali in the Mbeya region has long been considered the country’s “rice basket”. However, for the past year, smallholder farmers in the area have been unable to cultivate the grain even to securely feed themselves, let alone produce for the market. These farmers are among 21,252 people in Mbarali who are facing eviction from their land under the guise of a ‘biodiversity conservation’ project— namely, the expansion of the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA) — being undertaken by the Tanzanian government, with funding from the World Bank.
We journeyed through the dirt tracks in the middle of the savanna—the vibrant crimson of the Maasai shukas making cardinal dots in the arid landscape. Zebras grazed in polyphony with cows, and the occasional giraffe paced gracefully, stretching its freckled neck towards the sky. Wildebeest and gazelles stampeded through the lands, a cloud of dust trailing behind them. From the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the landscapes of northern Tanzania are mesmerizing. The Ngorongoro Crater, often referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world,” is a natural marvel—a massive volcanic caldera teeming with wildlife amidst many shades of lush golden hues.
Hundreds of smallholder farmers gathered in the city of Morogoro on November 17 and 18 for the 27th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Mtandao wa Vikundi vya Wakulima Tanzania or the National Network of Small-Scale Farmers Groups in Tanzania (MVIWATA). The organization was founded in 1993 by self-organized farmers in the wake of the country’s first Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) under the IMF and the World Bank between 1986 to 1989. The neoliberal reforms ushered in during this period marked an absolute departure from Tanzania’s centrally-planned economy under socialist president and leading anti-colonial figure Julius K. Nyerere. In 1967, Nyerere issued the Arusha Declaration, committing Tanzania to the principles of socialism and self-reliance and paving the way for nationalization of key industries and the collectivization of agriculture.
On last month’s annual celebration known as Africa Day, activists in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere held demonstrations targeting French oil giant TotalEnergies’ involvement in African fossil fuel extraction projects. A main focus of the protests was Total’s proposed East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, or EACOP, which would transport 200,000 barrels of oil per day from western Uganda to export terminals 1,445 kilometers away on the Tanzanian coast. Grassroots organizers in Uganda and Tanzania have been speaking out against EACOP for years, sometimes at great risk to their own safety.