ISU administrators may have been seeking more in Tanzanian land investments

Kaleb Warnock

Despite statements made by ISU administrators, Iowa State may have been interested in a more involved role in land investments in Tanzania. These investments have been criticized as “land grabs,” as some of the initial sites are home to more that 160,000 refugees.

The Iowa State Daily recently acquired a PowerPoint presentation co-authored by an ISU professor that shows that Iowa State was aware of the state of refugee settlements in the areas, and AgriSol was testing them as potential areas for the project in 2010. Iowa State did not scale back its involvement in the project until November 2011 after criticism of the project surfaced.

The Tanzania project is a partnership between the AgriSol Energy, the Tanzanian branch of the Iowa-based company AgriSol, which was co-founded by Iowa Board of Regents President Pro Tempore Bruce Rastetter. The arrangement has been under scrutiny by media outlets and NGOs as a “land grab,” in which the company would be taking land out from under rural farmers. It was also criticized for the conflict of interest regarding Iowa State’s role, as Rastetter is also a major donor to the university.

A statement issued by the Office of the Dean of the College of Agriculture said, “The reason we did decide to step back from the project was solely about the involvement of a member of the Regents,” and that “Iowa State never would have considered any effort that included displacing people from the land. No effort like that was ever proposed or considered.”

The PowerPoint presentation, titled “Climate, Landscape and Soil Characteristics of AgriSol Sites in Tanzania,” was co-authored by ISU professor Andrew Manu and includes maps of the refugee camps and mentions facilities within the camps at Katumba and Mishamo.

Manu played a role in the initial studies of potential sites in March and November 2010. He was part of the team of scientists that traveled to Tanzania to study the land and its potential for agricultural development.

Manu did not wish to comment on his experience with refugees during his visit.

David Acker, associate dean of Global Agriculture Programs, originally spoke to the Daily in December 2011 about the project, but he declined an interview through the agriculture communications department. However, in December, he claimed that Iowa State was not involved in the areas that were home to refugee settlements.

“All I can say is from Iowa State’s point of view is that we have never considered working in those areas and would never consider it,” Acker said.

However, despite the evidence that the refugees had not yet been relocated by 2010, Iowa State did not withdraw to an advisory role until 2011, after the publication of criticism of the project from the Oakland Institute — an independent group focused on environmental and social issues — and the weekly television show “Dan Rather Reports.”

Iowa State is still playing an advisory role in the project and even sent ISU staff to Tanzania in the fall of 2011.