Land-based investment in Tanzania: how simplified legal guides are empowering communities | Land Portal

Over the last 20 years in Tanzania, conflict has escalated between communities and foreign investors over land rights and land-based investments. Here, Masalu Luhula discusses how the use of simplified legal guides is helping to empower communities to engage in dialogue and negotiations with government authorities and investors – and to promote socially responsible land-based investment.


Land rights and the escalation of conflict 

In 2006, the Dutch biofuel company Bioshape claimed to have leased over 27,000 hectares of land from four villages in the Kilwa district of Tanzania, undermining the communities’ rights to their land. In late 2020, after a protracted dispute between the villagers and the investors, the Tanzanian government finally found the transfer of lands had not adhered to land transfer legal requirements and was therefore void. But although this was a victory for the four villages involved and the organisations that supported them in redressing the situation, the communities still face the risk that their lands could be allocated to another large-scale investor. 

This situation is not unusual in Tanzania. Since the early 2000s, an increasing number of foreign investors have been leasing land for agriculture, tourism and forest plantations. But to date, too few land-based investments have generated significant incomes for rural communities, threatening the land tenure rights of affected communities and leading to an escalation of land-based conflicts, especially over disputed claims.

Much is due to the fact that rural communities have limited capacity to engage in land-based investment deals. Combined with ineffective community engagement and a lack of transparency on the part of investors and responsible government authorities, it has meant that contracts are often signed without the communities being aware of their rights or the implications of the terms agreed. And as the Bioshape case demonstrates, rural communities who  successfully reclaimed their land are likely to face the same challenges   with a new investor. 


Empowering communities to engage in land-based investments

What can be done to improve the situation? Over the last five years, the Tanzania Land Alliance (TALA) has worked with Landesa and the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF) on a National Engagement Strategy (NES) to monitor land-based investment in Tanzania and promote people-centred land governance. 

With support from the ALIGN project, NES is now piloting the use of simplified guides on socially responsible investment to empower communities in Kilwa district to engage in land-based investment negotiations. The guides – published by Landesa (2019) and Namati and CCSI (2018) – provide step-by-step, context-specific and easy-to-understand guidance on how communities and frontline advocates can engage with potential investors and the government, on the importance of obtaining free and prior informed consent (FPIC), on their right to say no to bad investments, and on how to build a community of practice. The guides also target government and investors, by promoting socially responsible investment practices. Most importantly, the guides are available in Swahili, the predominant language in Tanzania. 

This guidance is particularly vital for rural communities today, as land-based investment negotiations continue for large areas of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGOT) where Kilwa and other areas of the country are located. Coupled with support from land and investment-related civil society organisations such as Landesa, TNRF and TALA, these guides will help to prepare communities to engage in negotiations from a position of empowerment. 


Shaping land policies: putting the guides into practice

While the guides aim to support communities at the local level, they are also intended to have a wider impact at policy and other levels of engagement. With support from international organisations working on land and investment – including the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) and others – the guides also provide an opportunity to shape policies and practices on land-based investments for a better future. 

The guides show how investment negotiations can and should work for communities, government and investors by filling the existing gaps both in law and practice, managing power imbalances and providing the space for negotiations that do not jeopardise community interests. Building the capacities of all actors involved on socially responsible investment will help to avoid unnecessary conflicts by ensuring that investments benefit everyone involved. 

Piloting the use of the guides in Kilwa and elsewhere has helped district authorities and communities to begin developing frameworks to ensure land-based investment are socially responsible at the local level. For example in Rufiji district, Landesa has trained district council members, ward executive officers and community representatives on rights and obligations in investment negotiations. The pilot also provides space for learning and bringing local-level experience to higher-level policy and law reform dialogues. As a villager from Migeregere commented, 

These guides are with us now, in the language that we can understand ... This will also help us be in the position to discuss with governments and investors at a relatively equal but differentiated footing.

The pilot is an important first step towards embracing socially responsible investment. But it is vital that every community has access to the guides and close support from civil society. Building partnerships between organisations at national, regional and international levels will provide an opportunity to upscale the agenda beyond community dialogue to inform policy and best practice globally. 


Relevant RLBI Navigator resources 


Landesa’s Responsible Investments in Land and Property guidebook series on socially responsible land investment in Tanzania:

Namati’s guides Preparing in Advance for Potential Investors and Negotiating Contracts with Investors

These two guides provide guidance for communities and organisations that support them on how to prepare for interactions with potential future investors, and how to negotiate with them. 

The Interlaken Group’s Guide Land Legacy Issues - Guidance on Corporate Responsibility

This guide provides operational guidance for companies confronting “legacy land issues” and clarifies a company’s roles and responsibilities in dealing with legacy land issues in their existing holdings, while also providing direction on where to look for more detailed information and tools

WB’s guide Grievance Redress Mechanisms

This note provides guidance for governments and companies on how they can provide effective remedies to affected parties who perceive that their rights have been adversely affected by investments. 

WB’s guide Public transparency 

This note provides guidance for governments and companies on the type of information about agricultural investments that they should make publicly available.

The LEGEND project’s note Agri-Investments and Land Disputes - How To Resolve Pre-Existing Community Conflicts over Land Identified for Commercial or Development Projects

This note is for private sector project implementers and financers. It provides practical guidance on identifying and addressing community land conflicts to prevent them escalating into disputes between the project and local communities.

FAO’s guide Safeguarding Land Tenure Rights in the Context of Agricultural Investments: A Technical Guide for Government Authorities Involved with the Promotion, Approval and Monitoring of Agricultural Investment

This guide provides detailed guidance to government authorities and others on actions they can take to help them to create an enabling environment for responsible and sustainable investments.

FAO and IISD’s guide Responsible Investments in Agriculture and Food Systems – A Practical Handbook for Parliamentarians and Parliamentary Advisors

This Handbook provides a comprehensive overview of the role that Parliamentarians and Parliamentary Advisors can play in the creation of reliable, coherent, and transparent “enabling environments” in a range of areas related to investment in agriculture and food systems.


Related themes 

Community preparedness; Grievances & redress; Legacy land issues; Due diligence; Transparency & anti-corruption  


About the Blog Series

This blog is part of the ‘Navigating the challenges of land-based investment’ series, which is jointly edited by Land Portal and IIED, with funding from FCDO, as part of the ALIGN project. Other blogs in the series can be found here.

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