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Shamte Seif, symbol of struggling smallholder farmer’s daily lives of uncertainty

“We are tired of corrupt police officers who are backing pastoralists whose herds have been destroying our crops,” said Aisha Mohamed, a farmer whose paddy rice farm neighbours 60 year old Shamte Seif who was killed by pastoralists while trying to force them off his farm, destroying crops in the process. 

Farmers at Ikwiriri rampaged because they failed to get justice from corrupt police officers in the township who colluded with pastoralists who thanks to their financial prowess managed to convince the law enforcers ignore the farmers’ grievances.  “We are fed up with these corrupt police officers who disregard our numerous complaints against pastoralists,” said Ms Mohammed as remains of burnt houses, cattle carcasses, logs and rocks littering the surrounding environment including part of the Dar es Salaam to Mtwara main road.

But pastoralists denied allegation of bribing law enforcers and instead blamed Deputy Health Minister, Dr Selemani Rashid who is also Rufiji member of parliament of inciting the violence. “The Minister has been telling people that all pastoralists should shift from Rufiji delta voluntarily or risk eviction,” said Chacha Masanja who also accused politicians in the area of fanning the flames of hatred. 

But Dr Rashid distanced himself from the controversy saying what he had said actually is that before end of this year, all herds of cattle in the delta should relocate to avoid environmental destruction. “It’s not true that I ordered anybody to attack the pastoralists as alleged,” Dr Rashid said in a statement. 

Soon after the attacks, Agriculture Council of Tanzania issued a statement reminding government of the need to identify agriculture land with clear boundaries for farming and pastoral land backed by legislation  ACT said in a statement that rampant land conflicts in the country are a result of government failure to clearly identify land for crop cultivation and pastoralism backed by relevant laws. 

“For a long time now, ACT has been advocating for land use plans with allocations for farming and pastoralism because of lack of such an arrangement which has caused conflicts countrywide,” said the statement signed by ACT’s senior official, Cleophas Rwechungura.  The statement named Kilosa, Babati, Simanjiro, Hanang and Rufiji districts as some of the places which have experienced land conflicts pitying farmers and pastoralists in recent years. 

“Despite repeated government confessions that agriculture is backbone to the country’s economy, there is no land officially recognized as farming or pastoral land,” the statement added.  Recent skirmishes which left one man dead, Shamte Seif and several dozens wounded at Ikwiriri township of Rufiji district, pastoralists who were forced out of Ihefu valley in Mbeya region over two years ago, allowed their herds of cattle to trample paddy rice and maize farms attracting anger from the owners.

“ACT is very concerned by this latest conflict which could be avoided. Such kind of incidents not only endanger people's lives but also destroys property,” the statement added as police struggle to contain angry Ikwiriri farmers who accuse some of the law enforcers of entertaining bribes to defend pastoralists. 

“This matter is sensitive and therefore ACT urges authorities to put in place laws that will demarcate land for farming from that for livestock rearing,” Mr Rwechungura’s statement noted. With only a tiny fraction of the country’s over 44 million hectares of prime land currently under cultivation and with the lowest population density in the region, legislating farming and pastoral land is a proper way to address regular conflicts relating to the vital resource. 

ACT has also been at the forefront in pushing the government to speed up and streamline the process of issuing title deeds to few farmers who have managed to survey their land. ACT Chairman who is also Katani Limited Managing Director, Salum Shamte has often deplored bureaucracy associate with the process of issuing title deeds for farming land which has badly affected smallholder rural based farmers who cannot afford.

Because of such bureaucracy, few title deed holders pay hiked land related taxes while the majority especially smallholder rural farmers who use it informally don’t pay taxes which denies the government revenue. “The process of getting land for farming is very bureaucratic and as a result most rural farmers simply cannot afford,” Mr Shamte said  He also argued that land should be used as capital which will enable rural communities own shares in joint venture projects with investors so that villagers can have sustainable income other than the current arrangement which allows investors to build schools, roads and hospitals once and for all as part of deals to obtain land for between 33 and 99 years. 

“In most cases these charity offers in construction of infrastructure are piece meal which only last briefly while investors leap benefits from the land for several years,” the ACT chairman argued.  Sokoine University of Agriculture Director of Centre for Sustainable Rural Development, Prof Deogratias Rutatora argues that there is need to have legislation recognizing agriculture land which should clearly stipulate farming, pastoralism and fisheries land portions. 

“Agriculture land is not recognized legally as conservation land or forest land or wetland which works against investment in the sector,” Prof Rutatora noted at a recent ACT meeting to discuss amendments needed to improve 1999 Village and National Land Acts. He urged stakeholders to carefully study the existing two pieces of legislation and make constructive input so that the amended laws play a bigger role in ensuring that agriculture is a commercial business with land as main factor of production.

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