Eating and talking food rights in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Eating and talking food rights in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Tuesday evening, the paper dosa arrived – a large sheet of crisp and thin folded pastry about 30cms high and longer – filling the large metal plate. In small containers on the plate were spicy dips and coconut to go with the dosa. 

My partner, Teresa, and 12-year-old daughter, Zora, were having dinner with two friends who are from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.

Swaad restaurant has good and reasonably priced food; it is three floors up on the roof of a building belonging to the Badminton Club and, yes, they do play badminton there. 

From our table we could look down on the end of Kisutu Street where most of the Hindu Temples in Dar es Salaam can be found. The food we were eating is another result of the community of Indian descent who have long been part of the society along the East African coast.

They have come as traders and later as labourers and administrators, especially when the British colonies in East Africa were administered from India. The lamb kadai and palak paneer were excellent, the Tanzanian rice typically tasty and we had to compete with Zora to get a piece of the garlic naan.

Our friends told us about the research they were doing on the sugar industry in Tanzania. It is an industry the Tanzanian government wants to expand and one involving a number of large companies like Illovo (one of the world’s biggest sugar producers) and numerous small farmers as well.

Sugar is one of the commercial crops in the controversial Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) public-private partnership scheme that Oxfam looked at in its research for the paper Moral Hazard: ‘Mega’ public-private partnerships in African agriculture.

Probably the biggest challenge this year has been the issuing of licences to import sugar into Tanzania. Now one finds sugar from India all over Dar es Salaam and local farmers who have increased their sugar production have not been able to sell their produce.  

The government of course wants to ensure that consumers can get sugar and at affordable prices, not least in the fast growing city of Dar es Salaam with its population of over 4 million people. On the other hand farmers, small and big, say that now they cannot sell their harvest, at least not at a price that covers their costs of production.

Without strong political and economic influence, it is the smaller farmers who are losing out more in access to limited processing capacity and markets.

During the day I had been at a popular tribunal-style event convened by the Tanzania Civil Society Forum on Climate Change (Forum CC) and Oxfam to hear community experiences of large land deals and the impact of climate change on their lives.

 

Photos: Top A schoolgirl addresses the crowd during the climate change march in Dar es Salaam. Bottom left: Eluka Kibona, Oxfam Economic Justice Campaign Manager in Tanzania, speaks to people at the climate change march. Bottom right: A woman joins the discussion at a tribunal-style event to hear community experiences of large land deals and the impact of climate change on their lives.

This was part of our Food and Climate Justice Campaign. A week earlier, while tens of thousands marched in New York and other parts of the world including Belfast and Dublin, young people also marched in Dar es Salaam to raise awareness of climate change in Tanzania and to add their voices to the global call for action on climate change.

The ‘tribunal’ was held in the historic Karimjee Hall in the centre of Dar es Salaam. This had been the seat of the first Parliament of Tanzania, back in the days of former leader Julius Nyerere when the tide of liberation from colonialism was sweeping across much of Africa. The hall with its parliamentary-style benches down each side and large seats for the presiding officers at the front created a fitting atmosphere to hear the serious stories that were shared. Judge Mizray of the land court led the panel hearing the cases. 

While the people’s tribunal was not a formal court and had no formal decision-making power, it was a rare opportunity for people from remote and impoverished communities to be heard and taken seriously. They reached not only the audience present in the hall, but also the public through the media – television, radio and newspapers – that covered the event.

Volunteers form ForumCC tweeted information (using #MahakamaYaWazi) from the tribunal and posted on Facebook. While they could not make binding orders, the judges were able to give advice to the communities on what they could do about their cases. 

We heard about local farmers who lost land they used to produce food on as a private school was built and expanded in their village. The school now controls over 500 acres of land. It was agreed that education is important, but if a school was needed people should be consulted and anyone who gives up land for the school should be compensated and receive alternative land.

None of this happened in this case and to make matters worse most of the land people have been removed from for the school is not currently being used.  

In another case a Dutch company acquired over 34,000 hectares with promises of community development and jobs. But the little support they started to provide, like school lunches in the local primary school, soon stopped and then the company ended all its operations, with the people who had gotten jobs losing them.

Despite the operations having been stopped, the company still holds onto the land and the community want it back. They have taken their case with the Ministry of Land and the Tanzania Investment Centre for some years, but with no success so far.

These were just a few of the cases heard on day one of the tribunal and many involved land rights violations and land conflicts. Land conflicts will become more common and harder to resolve as climate change affects rainfall, water availability and people’s ability to produce on the land, as evidenced by a video compiled for previous hearings. 

In my input to the tribunal I shared information on some of the international laws and conventions that our governments have all agreed to. The right to food is recognised as a fundamental human right. The right to land is also confirmed in international conventions and the violation of land rights is known to lead to other human rights violations, like violating the right to food for people who depend on the land to feed themselves. 

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa has committed states to ensure they “provide women with access to clean drinking water, sources of domestic fuel, land, and the means of producing nutritious food” and “promote women’s access to and control over productive resources such as land”.

Yet many of the cases presented at the tribunal highlighted the way women suffer more from the impacts of land grabs and climate changes.

The United Nations Guiding principles on business and human rights confirm that states must protect people’s human rights and business must respect human rights (that is not violate any one’s rights) and further that there must be remedy for victims of any violations.

Sadly we heard how, far from protecting people’s rights, the Tanzanian government has too often collaborated with companies that for their part have not respected people’s rights. And for those who shared their stories at the tribunal, there has been no remedy. 

Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has argued that climate change is a human rights issue as it is violating people’s right to food. 

The challenge is making these rights real in people’s lives, as Judge Mziray says: “The decisions of the courts need to be respected, the courts hear cases and make orders to defend people’s rights, but too often they are not implemented.”

Back to the restaurant, my daughter Zora was getting tired and bored with talk of agriculture, land rights and food security. It was time to go home. My family, friends and I were lucky enough to be able to enjoy the good food we did that evening, not something any of us should take for granted. 

Marc Wegerif is a South African, currently based in Tanzania, who has worked on development and human rights issues in a range of organisations for over 25 years and has a Masters in Land and Agrarian Studies from the University of the Western Cape. Marc has focused on land rights issues for much of his professional life and is currently Food and Land Rights Advisor with Oxfam Ireland. In this role Marc is involved with international advocacy and running several multi-country projects. He is married with two daughters. This blog is a personal reflection and the views expressed are not necessarily those of Oxfam.