Developing countries are increasingly looked to as potential feedstock growers for the international biofuels market. Foreign investors are lured by available land and cheap labour, and courted actively by governments. There are expectations about producing so-called “sustainable biofuels”, and these expectations assume that effective governance mechanisms are in place to oversee production. However, in order to critique the performance of such governance measures there is a need for empirical data on the impacts experienced by people who live in or near areas targeted for biofuels production. Such data would help to establish how successful the ambition to produce sustainable biofuels is, both domestically and further along the demand chain internationally.

Tanzania is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa that is attracting growing interest from foreign investors as a location to cultivate biofuels. This paper highlights the experience of local people in the areas of Rufiji and Bagamoyo, and its main objective is to provide empirical data that can be used – along with data from other case studies – to critique how effectively different governance mechanisms ensure sustainable and responsible production of biofuel feedstock.

Overall, there are some considerable discrepancies between the stated national policy on local land use planning and the situation on the ground, which create ambiguities that are prone to exploitation. It appears that the national government’s drive to encourage investors has run ahead of the capacity of local people and communities, and even the government itself, to implement the measures needed to ensure that local interests are protected, and a vastly different process is unfolding for village-led planning than the one envisaged under the TIC. Thus, the objectivity – and hence credibility – of the process is brought into question.

These circumstances present an urgent challenge to the Tanzanian government to improve its safeguards for citizen’s rights and interests; clearly, more attention is needed to the effectiveness of current national policies and institutions. Furthermore, the lessons from this study also play into a wider debate on the extra-territorial obligations of governments in countries looking to import Tanzanian biofuels or feedstock, and in which corporations operating in Tanzania are domiciled. The findings also evoke the important role that governments of the “home countries” of investors and foreign companies could play to encourage private sector actors to respect and support effective land use planning and resource management objectives in Tanzania.

Download the working paper (PDF: 1.39MB)