For over a year we’ve been working closely with communities in Kisarawe, Tanzania to investigate UK biofuel company Sun Biofuels. Today an expose appeared in The Observer, revealing that Sun Biofuels has grabbed more than 8,000 hectares of land and broken a range of promises to the communities surrounding their Tanzanian plantation.
I was in the villages in Kisarawe for the third time a few weeks ago and the impacts of the Sun Biofuels plantation are shocking. Many villagers now have to walk for hours to collect water and skip meals because there’s less food. People have also taken a massive hit in terms of income so parents can no longer afford to send their kids to school or to buy medicine.
The story of Sun Biofuels and Kisarawe
Sun Biofuels came to Kisarawe, just 70km from Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam, in 2006. They established an 8200-hectare plantation (that’s the equivalent of11,000 football pitches) growing a biofuel crop called jatropha.
In return for giving up their land, Sun Biofuels promised local communities they would build schools, clinics and wells and provide decent jobs for local people on their plantation. With the added promise of full compensation for the land, the communities, who had very little even before Sun Biofuels arrived, jumped at what seemed to be an amazing opportunity.
Sun Biofuels’ slick corporate video makes much of their commitment to working with local communities but the reality on the ground couldn’t be more different. From looking around the villages and talking to local people, it becomes painfully clear that the company hasn’t built a single well, clinic or school. They have paid a few individuals for part of the land they’ve taken but the amount has been too little and villagers have not been consulted. As for the thousands of hectares of communal land – land that was used by entire villages – the communities haven’t received a shilling. The company did provide some jobs for local people but the pay was only 100,000 shillings (around £40) per month.
In August 2011, in the midst of our investigation, Sun Biofuels went into administration and immediately fired 650 of their 700 workers.
With no idea who the new owners are, the people of Kisaware have been left stranded.
But a bit of digging by ActionAid and The Observer has revealed that the shares in Sun Biofuels Tanzania have already been bought by a consortium headed up by former Goldman Sachs banker, Christopher Egerton-Warburton. Along with Alan Mayers, the new CEO of Sun Biofuels Tanzania, these are the men with the power to improve the lives of the people of Kisarawe by granting them their rights.
And it must be done soon as the communities have already been waiting since 2006. As one local councillor I spoke to put it, ‘the company must pay for the land they’ve taken and build the social services they promised. Otherwise, they must give us our land back'.
What next for the people of Kisarawe?
We are determined to hep the communities in Kisarawe get justice. Watch this space for details of how to email the new owners of Sun Biofuels and demand that they make good on their promises.
Unfortunately, the Sun Biofuels story is far from unique. Driven by government-set biofuel targets (including the UK’s), foreign companies have already grabbed more than 6 million hectares of land in Africa alone. Stand alongside the people of Kisarawe. Take action by signing the petition below.