THE government of Zanzibar has decided, quite categorically, to revoke the title deeds for land that has remained undeveloped for long periods of time. Second VicePresident Seif Ali Iddi announced this firm decision in the House of Representatives recently.
He told the august House that the move is aimed at reducing the escalating conflicts over land. The land, which the government has taken back, will now be apportioned to citizens or investors who need it and will put it to productive use.
Land conflicts appear to be a curse in Tanzania. Indeed, land hoarding is a sin. Last year will, inevitably, go down into the annals of history as a terrible one for livestock keepers and farmers.
There are too many conflicts over land mainly on the Mainland. Livestock keepers need land for grazing their cattle and the farmers want it for crop cultivation. For the farmers, there is not much to write home about.
A spectre of drought has left crops withering and some harvests are regrettably miserable. The government, under close supervision from President John Magufuli, has already resolved more than 690 land conflicts out of a whopping 1,378.
Land conflicts are a confounding scenario in this country. They crop up anywhere nearly every day. In urban centres, conflicts over land pit developers against each other or the government.
In rural Tanzania misunderstandings over land often see farmers square off for a fight against cattle keepers. Others conflicts trigger squabbles between investors and villagers.
Land conflicts keep escalating despite state efforts to shoot them down. Since the year 2004, for example, a total of 117 land councils have met to find solutions to 103,000 conflicts.
Numerous other land conflicts remained unresolved during this period. These figures speak aloud about the magnitude of the problem, and in fact, this is the tip of the iceberg.
The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Developments says that land councils are expected to handle a shocking total of 12,000 conflicts a year. Perhaps the bitterest conflicts over land pit farmers against cattle keepers.
In 2016 we heard a lot about battles erupting in this regard. Farmers keep complaining that the pastoralists’ animals ruin their crops and the cattle keepers charge that they have equal rights to land.
During the year under review, the nation was shocked by a rather irrational combat that pitted livestock keepers and farmers at Dihinda village of Mvomero district in Morogoro region.
As you may have guessed, the bone of contention was village land. While the livestock keepers needed the land for grazing cattle the farmers stood their ground demanding that the pastoralists take their cattle elsewhere for grazing because the animals were ruining their farms.
The dispute boiled over and culminated into a fight that virtually bordered on insanity. Not many people understood when it came to light that a the cattle keepers killed a farmer during the combat and that the farmers brought down 71 head of cattle.
The village must have looked like a battle ground or rather, a killing field. The combatants wielded sharpened spears, bows and arrows, knives, sticks and stones during the fight.
The madness culminated in the killing of the farmer and the cattle. The cattle keepers abandoned their remaining animals, much to the mercy of the farmers and fled the village.
They also left their lowly homes and farms unattended. The nation was told that the farmers auctioned the fugitives’ cattle and destroyed their homes. All this smacks of sheer lunacy.
This is an atrocity that is committed in callous wickedness. The killing of the farmer is a criminal offence that must have been committed with stone-hard insensitivity. And the mowing down of 71 head of cattle is equally nefarious.
It is imperative to mention here that we all need the presence of farmers in this country as much as we need livestock keepers. While farmer till the land and grow food and cash crops, the cattle keepers produce the equally important cattle meat and milk.
In the wake of the Mvomero incident all regional commissioners in the country were instructed to set aside enough grazing land for the benefit of the pastoral communities, some of whom have their herds tucked deep in reserved forests or even national parks.
A similar directive was been passed further down to district commissioners who were detailed to demarcate land for wildlife management and, consequently, resolve some of the conflicts over land.
Indeed, these directives came at an opportune moment. Nearly 20 regions have borders hemmed in by either game reserves, national parks or reserved forests. In recent years some migratory cattle keepers have moved their herds into these areas coming into conflict into state operatives or even wild animals.
The year 2016 also saw villagers complaining bitterly over the pres ence of local and foreign investors who had been given land by state officials without involving the traditional owners of that land -- the villagers.
In some cases aggrieved villagers shed tears. So, some farmers in this country get a raw deal when their tracts of farmland are passed to so-called investors with little or no compensation at all.
This is land grabbing which is, indeed, an abominable felony; no wonder foreign investors are not taken kindly in some localities. It is worthwhile to point out here that this is an undesirable practice that is knocking small-scale farmers off their feet not only in Tanzania but also in other African countries and farther afield.
Even where investments are profitable, it is often difficult to see how they contribute to poverty reduction. The jobs created are few, short-lived and low-paid - and public revenues are limited by tax exemptions.
So, some of the poorest wananchi in this country are losing their land, water and natural resources that have supported their livelihoods for generations. It is these poor farmers who have provided the backbone of the economy for long.
They should be protected. A few months ago, President John Magufuli revoked the ownership of five undeveloped sisal estates and farms in Tanga region. The upshot in this noble move was to redistribute this idle land to other investors or the Wananchi in the vicinity who were short of land.
The decision to repossess the estates and farms was announced by the Minister for Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development, Mr William Lukuvi, much to the delight of the Wananchi in the area.
When on the campaign trail a year ago, President Magufuli had pledged to repossess all undeveloped estates, farms and other property including dormant factories and pass them on to other people for meaningful development.
Mr Lukuvi said that the decision to repossess the undeveloped sisal estates and farms in Tanga region was reached by President Magufuli in December, 2015. The revoked estates included Lewa, Sagula, Bwembela, Kihuhi and Tilapula farm, all in Muheza district.
Now, this presidential move should tell the so-called investors who possess large tracts of undeveloped land what is in the pipeline. This is only a tip of the ice-berg. The government will not sit back and watch as unscrupulous investors hoard land.
Unfortunately, agriculture in Tanzania is dominated by smallholder farmers (peasants) who cultivate average farm sizes of between 0.9 hectares and 3.0 hectares each. This also means about 70 percent of Tanzania’s crop area is cultivated by hand hoe.
But it should also be understood that 20 percent of the farmland is tilled by oxen ploughs and 10 percent by tractors. It is also unfortunate that Tanzania depends on rainfed agriculture.
Food crop production dominates the agriculture economy. About 5.1 million hectares are cultivated annually, of which 85 percent are under food crops. Women, it has been established, constitute the main part of agricultural labour force.
It is imperative then that farmers, who make up nearly 90 percent of the 45 million-strong nation, need a lot of societal support. It is these mostly poor peasant farmers who eke out a meager living out of farm work and produce surplus to feed the rest of the population.