Tanzanian Farmers Are Paying for “Conservation” With Their Land and Lives
Rice weeding in rice fields in Tanzania's Mbeya region
By Global News Service
Located in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands, the district of Mbarali in the Mbeya region has long been considered the country’s “rice basket.” However, since October 2022, smallholder farmers in the area have been unable to cultivate enough 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.
There is a history of displacement of communities along the Great Ruaha River, which runs through Mbarali. But what is unfolding now in the district dates back to a government notice (G.N. 28) issued in 2008 when the government initiated plans to expand the area of RUNAPA. Local villages were among the areas demarcated for this expansion, as well as the Usangu Game Reserve and the Ihefu wetlands.
Speaking to Peoples Dispatch, Esther (name changed), who has been at the forefront of the struggle in Mbarali, stated that at the time, residents of one ward as well as one village and two hamlets in a separate ward in the district were slated for removal. She said those removed were not given compensation and were left to fend for themselves.
“Over 90 percent of elders [among the displaced] have died since 2008 because it was difficult for them to move and adjust to a new environment,” Esther said.