Name ID 1298
Ubwani, Zephania Babati land conflict
Page Number: 1
Extract Date: 1997
Who was a behind the recent farm clashes in Babati district pitting the local villagers against the Asian large scale farmers? Correspondent Zephania Ubwani who lived in Babati in the early 1970s, during which time he visited nearly all the farms in the Kiru Valley recalls his last visit to the area in 1997. His report.
Seated under the shade of large tree outside his hillside residence in Kiru Valley, the then 60 year old Asian farmer Chagan Modhwadia appeared both an optimistic farmer and a worried businessman.
He was happy that his sugar cane production was poised for a brighter future because of the huge market demand, and fertile land, but he was worried about taxation and the threats to estate land.
On that particular sunny day at the height of the dry season in August 1997, he had three types of visitors, two of whom were types to his day to day business. In the morning he had visitors from the now dis-established Institute of Production Innovation (IPI) of the University of Dar es Salaam led by Dr. Abdallah Chungu.
IPI was installing prototypes of mini-sugar plants it had developed in various large-scale farms in the Kiru Valley where the Asian farmers have opted for sugar cane production instead of the coffee plantations and fruit orchards that were planted when the farms were first opened up by white settlers in the 1950s.
The IPI experts were coming to see the performance of a sugar processing plant they had installed in his compound, but the outspoken Asian farmer amused them when he said the mini-sugar plant was too small for him.
"This plant has the capacity to produce 700 kg of sugar a day. Thatís too small for our operations," he said, adding that he would be comfortable with bigger plants that could produce many tonnes of sugar in order to make huge sales and profits.
Shortly before noon, Mzee Chagan was to play host to a journalist. To him that was strange. He had not seen such visitors to the farms before but was soon to settle down after being told that the reporterís visit was linked to the IPI-support project.
Then sometime after 4 pm, when the sun was pushing westwards behind the Mbulu highlands, an old Land Rover with two passengers arrived at the farmerís noisy compound almost unnoticed.
These were officials of the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) from Babati, the district headquarters which is barely 20 kilometres from the rocky bottom of the Kiru Valley. He took time to talk to them but was later to complain as is always the case with businessmen.
Mzee Chagan was (and probably still is) the owner of the 3,000 acre Dudumera Plantations Limited which is roughly ten kilometres off the Arusha-Babati road..
There are about a dozen other farms in the neighbourhood.
According to the villagers, the present Dudumera Plantations, which Mzee Chagan owns under a 99 year lease, was formerly run by a famous Greek settler called A. P. Matsis, who later settled near Arusha and died in the 1980s.