What follows is a brief description of the oil palm issue in Tanzania. After reading it, we invite you to send us comments.
Oil palm in Tanzania
Tanzania is not (yet) a palm oil producing country. However, the government is preparing conditions for entering the agrofuel business, mostly involving sugarcane, jatropha and oil palm.
In 2006, the Government of Tanzania created the National Biofuels Task Force to promote development of the sector. The goals of the taskforce include:
• Designing biofuels policies and regulations suitable for Tanzanian conditions (e.g. mandate, obligation, tax breaks, enabling fuel standards)
• Ensuring co-operation between Ministries involved in the development of biofuels policies
• Acting as an information channel between Government and biofuels stakeholders
• Designing financing options (e.g. capital allowances, tax breaks) and set-up incentives for (local and foreign) investors
• Securing international funding for biofuel development, such as the EU Partnership Dialogue Facility, the FAO International Bioenergy Programme, and the G8 Global Bioenergy Partnership.
One year after the creation of the Task Force, the investment promotion manager of the Tanzania Investment Centre, informed that more than 160,000 hectares suitable for oil palm and jatropha production had already been identified.
In 2009, an IIED report found that over 4 million hectares of land had been requested for biofuel investments, particularly for jatropha, sugar cane and oil palm, of which 640,000 ha had already been allocated and of these, some 100,000 ha had been granted formal rights of occupancy.
Regarding oil palm, this crop is only popular to the west of the country, particularly in Kigoma District, where local farmers have cultivated this palm for the production of edible oil since the early 1920s. More recently, additional uses for this crop have developed, such as local soap production using palm oil. Oil palm production in Tanzania is carried out primarily by smallholder farmers living in Kigoma Region (Kigoma Rural District), as well as in Mbeya Region (mostly Kyela District) and some parts of Tanga Region.  In the case of Kigoma, the local cooperative collects about 150,000 litres of palm oil annually and sells this to local refineries and soap producers in Dar es Salaam. At the local level, women are in charge of boiling and milling of palm oil as well as in selling palm oil products (oil, soap). 
Things began to change in Kigoma in 2005, when FELISA Ltd planted its first hybrid palm seedlings in the region. The company has 24 (majority Belgian) shareholders and started operations at a 100 hectare oil palm plantation 75km from Kigoma town. They later obtained another 4,258 hectares of land 150km from Kigoma, where they plan to plant oil palm. FELISA also aims to purchase fruits from local small-scale farmers as part of a proposed outgrower scheme. The company is targeting production of 10,000 ha of oil palm in the region; roughly half of this is expected to come from local smallholder outgrowers and half from its nearly 5,000 ha plantation.
More recently, the company African Green Oil Limited has applied for a land-lease to the Tanzania Investment Center (TIC) for more than 10,000 hectares of land in the Rufiji river delta in south-east Tanzania for oil-palm plantation. African Green Oil Limited has been granted a land lease for 250 hectares as a trial investment and the area will be increased depending on their performance. The company aims at producing palm-oil for selling to different buyers including biofuel producers. According to the company’s web page its aim is to establish “a 20,000 ha oil palm plantation by 2020. AGO current annual planting is 800ha with the aim of reaching 2,500 ha by 2013. AGO had already acquired 5,000 ha and planted 435ha by 31st May 2009.”
Two other oil palm projects identified by IIED’s report are Tanzania Biodiesel Plant Ltd, with 16,000 hectares acquired in Bagamoyo and InfEnergy Co. Ltd, with 5,818 hectares located in Kilombero. Additionally, a report commissioned by Oxfam (2008) mentions further projects: TM Plantations Ltd, a Malaysian company planning plantations in Kigoma; Sithe Global Power, LLC (US), with plans to develop 50,000 hectare of oil palm plantations and refineries in Tanzania; InfEnergy (UK) which has optioned a 10,000 hectare site for an irrigated oil palm plantation; an unknown “palm oil group” from Malaysia, planning to plant 40,000 ha in the Kigoma area. 
According to a paper presented in 2009 in Nairobi by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (“Tanzania Government Perspective On Biofuels”), the “Areas Earmarked for Biofuels Crops Production” include oil palm in Kigoma and in Ruvuma, near the border with Mozambique. However, the above-mentioned projects appear to show that oil palm plantations will be established in a large number of locations throughout the country.
The promotion of investments in agrofuel production (including sugarcane, jatropha, sunflower and oil palm) can result in serious social and environmental impacts, among which the following:
– increased pressure on food supplies further eroding food sovereignty
– rise in food prices, leading to hunger and malnutrition
– eviction of small scale farmers
– forcing farming communities out of their territories
– forcing pastoralists out of their land
– conflicts over use of water
– human rights violations related to monoculture expansion
– environmental pollution
In spite of the above threats, the government is pushing forward for the development of agrofuels, with support from agencies such as the Swedish SIDA (which provided the funding which enabled the National Biofuel Task Force to conduct initial meetings), and the German GTZ (that commissioned the first ever comprehensive study on the prospects of biofuels (for the transport sector) in Tanzania).  In such context, it is crucial that civil society organizations and local communities involve themselves in the issue to influence both corporate practice and government policy in positive ways.
As Abdallah Mkindee of Envirocare, Tanzania explains: “With Tanzania routinely dependent on imported food aid as drought occurs with increasing frequency, the policy of producing fuel for export instead of food for Tanzanians, will deepen poverty and food insecurity in Tanzania in the years to come.”
 The Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) plays a key role in identifying land which is available for investment, which it has organised into a so-called ‘land bank’ comprising over 2.5 million ha to which investors may apply. http://www.iied.org/pubs/pdfs/12560IIED.pdf
 Abdallah Mkindi (2007).- The socio-economic and environmental impacts of a biofuel industry in Tanzania