Timber farming: domestic investors of Tree planting, land transactions and implications on gender relations in southern highlands, Tanzania

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sokoine university of agriculture


In Africa, land has been more of a liability than an asset. Land use has been an ultimate cause of unrest through borders and boundaries conflicts between nations and communities, a reason for lamentations and grievances of family members within households. The contemporary rush for African land has witnessed both national and wealthy international investors acquiring all types of lands: unused, used, underutilized, occupied, fertile, barren, and irrigable and claimed whichever land, which was deemed fit for investment. Similarly, timber farming in the Southern highlands of Tanzania has attracted attention of both industrial foreign investors and domestic non-industrial investors. Although access to land by the former is controlled by existing laws, transactions of village land by the later are more complex than what the literature on land- grabbing shows. This study focuses on tree planting investments as emerged post global environmental crisis of 2007-2008, especially the involvement of domestic investors in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. Following the urbanization growth, the regional demand for construction materials i.e. poles and timbers from Eucalyptus and Pines tree species piled up, exceeding the capacity of supply from Sao Hill plantations, by then the only largest supplier. To cover the deficit, the construction industry resorted to few existing private woodlots. These sold their trees at high prices, which connoted tree planting as a lucrative business. This in turn attracted different people, companies and institutions to purchase land for tree planting. Land is a finite resource. The operating system of land transactions has demarcated a significant change in land holdings among rural communities, with much land going to the hands of few domestic investors leaving smallholders land scarce. Since land has been turned to a commodity with uncontrolled transactions and that domestic investors are unregistered hence unknown and that the implications of rampant transactions of family lands are unknown, the study aimed at characterizing domestic investors of tree planting and their mechanisms of accessing village lands. The study went further analyzing motives for land selling and processes of land transactions between smallholders and domestic investors. Most of the Southern Highlands societies practice the patriarchal system of human relations where women voices and agency are muted. Since land has become a commodity in the family, the study investigated the social relations between parents in families involved in land sales, hence assessed the impacts of land transactions for tree planting on land accessibility by women in selected villages. The study was conducted in selected villages of Kilolo, Mufindi, Njombe, Makete, Songea and Wanging’ombe Districts. In total, fourteen villages namely Isaula, Usokami, Kibengu, Mapanda (Mufindi), Ndengisivili (Kilolo), Lupembe, Itunduma, Kifanya, Iyoka, Ngala (Njombe), Mhaji (Wanging’ombe), Ifinga (Madaba) and Ludihani and Maliwa (Makete) were involved in research work. The selection of villages was purposive with the main criteria being tree planting surge hence transaction of village land between smallholders and domestic investors. The research work is qualitative that aimed at in-depth understanding of the timber rush processes in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. Further, the study aimed at exploring perceptions of different groups of people in the study communities on such a tree-planting surge. The study employed a qualitative case study design. Data were collected from 85 respondents. These included in-depth interviews with 11 key informants i.e. 6 Chairpersons of Village Councils and 5 District Forest Officers, semi structured interview with 34 domestic investors, 26 land sellers, 4 middlemen and 10 women. In addition, 4 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with women were conducted. The study identified five major types of domestic investors: urban-based investors without local ties, urban-based investors originating in the area in which the investments are taking place, resident villagers, local leaders and government and religious institutions. Each category uses one of three different access mechanisms, namely capital, social identity, and authority. Apart from capital as their main mechanisms, urban-based investors use middlemen as a mechanism of access. Middlemen bridge the gap of information on villages where land is plenty and specific sellers on one hand, linking them with investors on the other. In general, access to land for domestic investors in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands is facilitated by the state to a lesser extent and with limited use of force. Further, the vast lands in villages, the Mahame lands, are ill defined in statutory land laws. This incapacitates the village land administrator’s control over Mahame, making their management complicated. Land transactions are motivated by several pull and push factors including the growing local capitalism, income poverty, and commodification of lands when smallholders succumb the monetary baits from local elites and other domestic investors. Since they are labour intensive, tree planting activities have generated multiple employment opportunities to locals albeit low paid daily jobs. Tree planting surge has led to crumbling of family lands with appropriation of women’s land ownership and control. Land transactions have perpetuated gender inequality within families, marital stress and symbolic violence, with women being subjugate to men’s whims. The misogynistic practices have downgraded women hence they cannot own land or co-own with their husbands or receive a share of money from land sales in their families. The involved families are rendered landless with dwindling crop production, a dawning indicator of food insecurity and sustained rural poverty. Generally, rampant land transactions are unjustifiable and the current transactions of village lands need to be either controlled or stopped altogether to avoid impending destitute conditions.




Timber farming, Domestic investors, Tree planting, land, Gender relations, Transactions implications