Accounting for agri-investments in unaccountable environments
As argued here, the kind of information on (foreign) investments in the farming sector that states provide depends on their capacity and willingness to make finance’s footprints and operations visible.
After adopting a series of market-oriented reforms under the auspices of the World Bank and IMF in 1986, Tanzania managed to attract considerable foreign investment into its resource-based sectors from the 2000s onwards. Although many of these investments went into mining, agriculture also attracted some notable investments. Besides strategic investments into sectors such as tea, coffee and horticulture by classic agrobusiness interests, the country saw an increasing inflow of largely speculative capital into agrofuel production from the mid-2000s onwards.
The boom was short-lived, however, and had largely ended by 2018 because of the demise of the global biofuel bonanza. In fact, the country has seen a number of spectacular failures in biofuel investments, including an investment of over US$50 million on its northern coast that saw a Swedish investor’s land title revoked by the government in 2016.
Since 2007 we have also seen an increasing number of private equity investments flowing in, attempting to capitalize on the food and financial crises of 2007/ 8. Unlike Aotearoa New Zealand, however, the state, in this case, has not been of much help when it comes to deciphering such investment deals, or the agrarian landscapes produced by them. The Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), established in 1997 as an investment facilitator and reincarnation of the investment promotion centre, founded in 1990, and the Business Registration Agency (BRELA), are major bottlenecks for foreign investors. In theory, the TIC, as a “a one-stop agency”, also facilitates access to land, as it presides over a land bank filled with land “ready for investment”, but the realities of land occupation in the country meant that investors usually went for land that had been already used by some sort of business entity or to which the government had the title. Even so, both these institutions serve as major clearing houses for foreign investors. Although they may be able to provide information on investors and investee companies, they do not provide easy public access to such information, however. Moreover, neither institution is in a position to tell one how many private equity funds have acquired farms in Tanzania, since different categories of investors are usually lumped together under the meta-category of “foreign investor”, be it a private equity fund, an agrobusiness company or an individual.
Obtaining data on farm asset ownership is equally challenging, as “[l] and is politics in Tanzania” . In the country only 10 per cent of land has been surveyed and titled, as a result of insufficient funds and staff and outdated, paper-based systems . In 2012, after receiving public pressure from the opposition and in the wake of biofuel investments failures, the state commissioned local researchers to find out how many large farms (those above 20.23 hectares) were owned by foreign companies and individuals, but this report has not been officially released to this day . Foreign players were found to own 31 farms with an average size of 2,550 hectares, while foreign individuals owned 14 farms with an average size of 1,031 hectares, adding up to 93,484 hectares. Like the TIC data, the study lumps together different foreign entities without further specification. Other available public data, such as the Land Matrix data, is equally opaque, with many cases missing or containing only limited information on the investment chains behind the deals. Land Matrix data in late 2018 listed only ten concluded transnational land deals in the period from 2010 to 2018, with many other previously listed investments, especially those for agrofuels (many of these projects were announced from 2005 to 2008 but never materialized), having disappeared from the databank in the meantime. This stands in sharp contrast to former estimates of both the number and size of large-scale land deals in Tanzania .
 Chung Y (2017) Engendering the new enclosures: development, involuntary resettlement and the struggles for social reproduction in coastal Tanzania. Development and Change 48 (1): 110.  Locher M and Sulle E (2014) Challenges and methodological flaws in reporting the global land rush: observations from Tanzania. Journal of Peasant Studies 41 (4): 569–592.  Department of Economics (2013) Consultancy services to conduct an assessment and evaluation of the ownership of farms above 50 acres in Tanzania Mainland 2013. Dar es Salaam: Department of Economics, University of Dar es Salaam.  Herrmann R (2017) Large-scale agricultural investments and smallholder welfare: a comparison of wage labour and outgrower channels in Tanzania. World Development 90 (C): 294–310; Schoneveld G (2014) The geographic and sectoral patterns of large-scale farmland investments in sub-Saharan Africa. Food Policy 48: 34–50; Locher M and Sulle E (2014) Challenges and methodological flaws in reporting the global land rush: observations from Tanzania. Journal of Peasant Studies 41 (4): 569–592.
My own fieldwork suggests that, between 2004 and 2018, there were 14 cases of non-agrofuel- oriented land acquisition by foreign investors, who either had private or public equity backing, with the investment being driven by financial concerns rather than by strategic agrobusiness concerns (there have been other large-scale acquisitions, but executed by classic agrobusiness firms with interests in sugar, coffee or tea; investments in mining are excluded here). In total, these deals comprised 92,717 hectares, out of which almost 70 per cent was accounted for by carbon offset forestry projects. As such, “only” 26,366 hectares remain for genuine financialized agricultural production (note that existing sugar estates, for instance, accounted for almost 60,000 hectares up to 2016, when the Swedish investor mentioned earlier had its title for 20,000 hectares of land revoked by the Tanzanian government).
Although this may seem tiny, some of the deals involve investments of US$10 million or more. In addition, in the early 2010s, the Tanzanian government claimed that another 25 former state farms, all titled and amenable to mechanization and economies of scale, and covering a whopping 388,528 hectares , were ready for investors. In addition, a few other private equity players, as well as impact investors involved in debt financing, have targeted companies or farming cooperatives at other nodes of the agricultural value chain. Many of the cor-porate targets have been small and medium-sized enterprises, but there was one grand exception: in 2012 US private equity giant Carlyle paired with two South African private equity funds to acquire a US$210 million stake in a large Tanzanian commodity-trading company, but sold that stake again in 2015 back to the management. Only one of the funds involved in agriculture has been set up in Tanzania, indicating the very nascent nature of domestic private equity (contrary to neighbouring Kenya, where local private equity funds are quite active in agrobusiness). All in all, the claims of two fellow researchers that “[a]cademics and policymakers must realise that the knowledge about the land deal situation in Tanzania is still less clear than suggested by certain databases and needs further investigation”  still seems to carry much validity.
(Ouma 2020: 86-87)  Development Partners Group Tanzania (2013) National Key Result Area (NKRA): Agriculture Lab. Dar es Salaam: Development Partners Group Tanzania. Available at: www.tzdpg.or.tz/fileadmin/documents/dpg_internal/dpg_working_groups_clusters/ cluster_1/psdtrade/Documents/Policy_docs/20130408_AgLab_workstream_storyline_AS_PRINTED.pdf (accessed 5 February 2020).  Locher M and Sulle E (2014) Challenges and methodological flaws in reporting the global land rush: observations from Tanzania. Journal of Peasant Studies 41 (4): 588.