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Three sides of Kilombero evictions drive: Rare species, cattle burden, foreign investments

“you will not get your right here on earth; rather you can only get it on the sun.”

Mathias Ligelele said that in the past, when he was growing up, all the residents had norms and customs. They used to keep their environment from degradation, but with the coming of livestock keepers and other external tribes into their lands, they crushed the tradition ways of life, thus causing massive degradation.


While the government move to evict farmers and pastoralists from the Ramsar site in the designated Kilombero valley flood plain enters its second week, there is a deadlock regarding over 3,000 Kilombero villagers, farmers and livestock keepers rendered landless as a result of the operation.

While a few of them commend the government initiative, large number of villagers have described the operation as inhuman because it has violated an earlier agreement reached three years ago on exact points of the beacons.

 

Veronica Bombambili (39), a widow and mother of six children from Miwangani village, Idete ward in Ifakara division within Kilombero district has become landless after being evicted from her 10 acres of land she used to farm and feed her family, without relocating her to another place.

 

The Ramsar convention was signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971, and provides for the conservation and good use of wetlands, the government of Tanzania ratified the Convention in August 2000 and officially declared the Kilombero Valley Flood Plain a Ramsar site in 2002. The valley is located in the two districts of Kilombero and Ulanga in Morogoro region, covering an area of 596,908 acres.

 

From her 10 acres, Veronica could grow rice, and get more than four million shillings per year. The money could be used for food, buying clothes and paying school fees for her children.

 

Veronica is not opposed to the government operation, but she is crying ‘foul’ on how it was implemented, saying the government violated the earlier agreement reached with the villagers in March 2010, and as a result it has rendered herself and her six children landless and in an abject condition.

 

Like many other villagers in the 31 villages earmarked for the first phase of the operation, she is also blaming the government for eviction without allocating her a place to farm.

 

The government says the villagers are degrading the Ramsar -designated Kilombero valley flood plain which is rich in ecology and biodiversity.

 

The Kilombero district game officer, Madaraka Amani made this assertion said in an interview with reporters in a visit sponsored by the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute or Hakiardhi. They went to investigate circumstances of the operation, where Amani said that in the past the valley had more than 38 rivers but today there are only 28 rivers due to farming and grazing activities.

 

He said that the valley contains one of the world's key populations of the wetland dependent Puku antelope, scientifically known as Kobus vardonii, a rare species, and a number of rivers, which make up the largest seasonally freshwater lowland floodplain in East Africa.

 

Before the operation, the district government in collaboration with land use experts from the two districts, conducted a sensitization campaign and the villagers were explained the importance of the valley. During the process, those living in the Ramsar site were told to vacate, while cattle were branded and beacons were put.

 

But Veronica, whose claims represent the voices of many victims of the operation, says when the government was conducting the sensitization campaigns in March 2010, the government and the villagers agreed on the demarcations (beacons).

 

However, on 25 August 2012, she was shocked to learn that the government had shifted the beacons from their original place agreed earlier and taken all her 10 acres of land against the earlier agreement and without her knowledge.

 

Miwangani village chairman Abdul Mtiwangondo said that hunger was looming due to removal of the villagers from the land on which they used to grow crops. Food security would be compromised because some of the oxen ploughs they used for agriculture were seized, he said, noting that most farmers have no ability to buy power tillers.

 

He said that food security and the Kilimo Kwanza initiative would be compromised because some had taken loans from financial institutions which they can’t pay now that they have no land on which to farm.

 

Mtiwangondo noted that when he sought clarification from the Kilombero district authorities on the sudden shifting of the beacons, he was shocked to hear that the villagers had no right to use that land and that it was better they vacated.

 

He adds: “you will not get your right here on earth; rather you can only get it on the sun.”

 

He said if the district government knew that they had no right, what was the meaning of reaching the earlier agreement on beacon points, conducting land use plan, mobilizing the villagers and conducting seven days seminars,” he demanded.

 

Ikule village executive officer Ledgard Mnyenya said shifting the beacons from the earlier agreement has affected 74 farmers and livestock keepers because it was done against the land use plan and agreement reached between the two parties on the beacons.

 

He said that in 2010, the government and the village authorities agreed on points where the beacons should be put. However, this year, the government shifted the beacons and extended the area within the beacons further into farmers’ land without their knowledge, a situation likely to cause food shortage as land for farming is reduced.

 

“We have reported this situation to the district commissioner without any response,” he said.

 

Mkangawalo village acting executive officer Twaili Mkuruma said that the operation left more than 100 farmers landless following the placing of the new beacons which was not agreed upon with the government.

 

About livestock keepers


According to the latter group, when implementing the Ramsar project, the government conducted a sensitization campaign that was followed by a land use plan. The herders were given areas for grazing their cattle, while others had their cattle branded for Tsh.10, 000 per animal as a condition to keep their cattle in the area agreed upon.

 

Elias Shilunga from livestock keeping communities of Mgudeni Hamlet at Mkangawalo village, said that pastoralist communities were shocked to hear that the agreement had been violated because even the branded cattle had been seized pending a fine (penalty).

 

“Where cattle were branded, we were given receipts and we have them in our pockets, but the same cattle that had been branded were seized without telling us where to go,” he said.

 

Sinai Kibiriti also from Mgudeni Hamlet in Mkangawalo village said that seizing the cattle that were branded was contrary to the agreement. He said they use cattle as their bank, so arresting them was to subject them into abject poverty.

 

However, the government through the Kilombero district commissioner Hassan Masala has dismissed their claims saying they are baseless and unfounded, vowing to continue with the exercise of removing them from the 7967 square kilometers Ramsar site.

 

In an interview with the Guardian, he said that the once been very rich in ecology and biodiversity Kilombero valley is now witnessing high level of degradation which has reduced the number of both animals and bird species.

 

He said as a result of farming and grazing in the valley, the Kilombero river is now experiencing low levels of water, and disappearing of rare animals like the Puku antelope.

 

Fish, birds and more recently, increased heaps of sands where if the situation continued unchecked, the rare species would perish altogether, he said.

 

He rejected the villagers’ complaints on shifting the beacons saying the government in collaboration with the village authorities conducted awareness creation campaigns. A land use plan was done and the villagers were given enough time to cultivate, harvest and leave but they ignored the directive.

 

“I am telling you that this operation has followed all the required processes and procedures. We identified legal cattle, branded them, and we put beacons, ” he said.

 

Citing figures, he said 3546 cattle were fined, each at Tsh10,000 while 2560 cattle were evicted, 21,371 auctioned to businessmen, and 52,000 cattle are expected to be removed from the district.

 

He said that after the operation, the districts authorities of Kilombero and Ulanga would assess and evaluate the exercise and put in place sustainable strategies, including stationing game wardens to work with village leaders to monitor the situation and make sure that the farmers and livestock keepers do not go back.

 

Asked if the operation would compromise food security in the district, the DC said that the problem was not food security. Keeping large herds of cattle was a burden to the farmers and also to the many rivers that had started drying up, he asserted.

 

He cautioned that the government would not go back on the move and that it is better the evicted farmers and livestock keepers look for new places to start a new life.

 

In another development, other villagers living close to the valley have commended government initiative to remove invaders from the Ramsar site, saying that would restore the environment and increase food security.

 

Florence Mlyuka, a resident of Njage village said that the eviction of livestock keepers would relieve him of the pains he has suffered for so long because at times the pastoralists could graze their cattle in his farm and destroy crops.

 

Mathias Ligelele said that in the past, when he was growing up, all the residents had norms and customs. They used to keep their environment from degradation, but with the coming of livestock keepers and other external tribes into their lands, they crushed the tradition ways of life, thus causing massive degradation.

 

“We had strong norms and customs. Nobody was allowed to trespass or dirty the rivers. If women were in their periods, they were also not allowed to go and do any activity in the rivers, but the building of the TAZARA railway line has brought many foreigners who have contributed to this degradation,” he said.

 

However, other villagers sympathized with evicted livestock keepers saying this would contribute to food shortage because of lack of milk and meat they used to get at cheap prices.

 

Eviction associated with big investors


Some analysts say that given the large number of foreign investors looking for land in Morogoro region especially in Kilombero and Ulanga districts, this could partially explain the recent eviction.

 

Analysts who preferred anonymity pointed at the drumming up of investment into the region during the recent AGRAF meeting held in Arusha.

 

A major area of focus is the Southern Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCT) and other initiatives targeting the region, which might have compelled the government to expedite eviction of farmers and livestock keepers, citing the need to restore the environment and protect rare species in the Ramsar site.

 

However, when sought for comments on the foreign investments, the DC acknowledged the presence of some investors but he dismissed the idea that evictions were linked with foreign investments.  

 

 

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