Letter to the editor: Assistance in foreign countries should include the people impacted

Annie T. Huescher

I’m writing in response to Zach Boss’ March 26 letter to the editor. In case you don’t sleep with old editions of the Iowa State Daily under your pillow, let me bring you up to speed.

Zach’s letter was a response to an earlier column about AgriSol, a corporation run by the president pro tem of the Iowa Board of Regents. AgriSol is involved in a land grab in Tanzania, and unfortunately, until a few months ago, Iowa State was on board too.

Zach argued that the project is a good example of helping “needy” communities through positive international “development.”

In contrast to the pretty picture painted in Zach’s letter, AgriSol’s land grab has many negative implications for the people who live there. First, to rent the land to AgriSol, the Tanzanian government will have to remove more than 150,000 refugees who have lived on the land for as long as 30 years.

Unlike the U.S. government’s Homestead Act, which honored the work that settlers had put into the land by allowing them to legally own it, the Tanzanian government will remove the current farmers so they can rent the land (almost 800,000 acres) to AgriSol for 25 cents per acre for the next 99 years.

Can you imagine that? Not only are the refugees being booted, but the land is being practically handed to someone else. Ouch.

Of course, this isn’t arid, caked-earth desert. This is good farmland. The people who live there grow more than they need: pineapples, peanuts, vegetables and more. (For clips of the villages, search for “Dan Rather Reports Trouble on the Land” on YouTube.)

Although the agribusinesses like to tell us it’s our responsibility to feed the world, those people have been feeding themselves. Shocker, I know.

But AgriSol would kick them off the land so they could grow — corn and soybeans. So the people who are always saying we need to “feed the world” are clearing out productive farm — to produce pig food and corn syrup? Does this really sound like a great way to “help a local population lead a better life”?

In his letter, Zach says that “Iowa State would be a vital asset to Tanzania by implementing modern agriculture farming techniques.” Who asked the Tanzanian farmers if that’s the kind of help they want?

Those of us who question the project and Iowa State’s role want to be proud of our university’s work. We want to ensure that if we are going into foreign countries and offering our assistance, we don’t go in with the bullish, big-headed pride that might have us assume that just because we know how to produce a lot of corn, we know what’s best for Tanzania. A little humility is a good thing to have.