Women Get Shortchanged in Commercial Land Deals—Despite National Commitments to Gender Equality

Kuluthum Mbwana remembers the day that biofuel investors arrived in her village Vilabwa, just 70 kilometers west of Tanzania's capital. In exchange for more than 8,000 hectares (19,800 acres) of land across 11 villages, including Vilabwa in Kisarawe District, she said they promised to bring much-needed jobs, schools and health clinics to her community.

Mbwana felt certain her life would change for the better. Children across her village would finally be able to study in a real school. Sick neighbors would receive care from trained nurses or community health workers. New jobs would pump money into the local economy.

But after finalizing a land deal with the Tanzanian government in 2009, Mbwana said that British company Sun Biofuels abandoned its commitments to her and the rest of Vilabwa. Families who sold their farms to the company did not receive fair payments for their land. Wages from the new Sun Biofuels jobs were too low to offset the income villagers lost after selling their farms to the company. Apart from a shallow well, a dirt road and few portable classroom blackboards, Sun Biofuels failed to bring social services to Mbwana's village and nearby communities in Kisarawe District. Unfortunately, stories like Mbwana's are common across Africa.

Date published: 
March 2018
Celine Salcedo-La Viña and Sophie Boehm