Reports of a shortage of land for agriculture in some rural areas are surprising, to say the least. A few years ago it was reported that hundreds of youth in Arumeru District, Arusha Region, were relocating to Kenya because of a lack of farmland in the area.
This state of affairs is surprising because it is quite unusual for rural residents to complain about a shortage of farmland in their areas, where agriculture is supposed to be the mainstay of the local economy.
Tanzania has an estimated population of 58 million and an area of 945,087 square kilometres, with most of the land being arable.
Whereas it is understandable when Tanzanians complain about unemployment, it is absurd for people to claim that they have no land to till, particularly in rural areas. It shows that something is wrong somewhere, and needs to be fixed as a matter of urgency.
Part of the problem is the transfer by village governments of huge tracts of land to “investors”, who usually use it as security to secure bank loans instead of cultivating it or using it for other economic activities.
Such land is, in most cases, idle, but strictly out of bounds to local residents who may wish to cultivate it.
It is not uncommon for investors to lease land to local residents for agriculture at anything up to Sh100,000 per hectare per farming season.
The arbitrary and often secretive transfer of vast tracts of land to people with deep pockets in rural areas should stop, otherwise Tanzania will find itself with no land for its millions of smallholders in the near future.
Of course, there are investors who are genuinely intent on putting rural land to good use, with some of the benefits trickling down to the local population. These should be accorded all the support they need.
Land should be readily available to all Tanzanians who wish to be involved in agriculture in rural areas.