Grass: from local pastures to global energy markets in eastern Tanzania

Photo: Gunilla A. Olsson

Grass: from local pastures to global energy markets in eastern Tanzania

Book chapter about local consequences of biofuel production in Tanzania

Authors: (1) The focali researcher Gunilla A. Olsson & (2) Lennart Bångens
(1) Human Ecology, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
(2) Energy and Environment, Chalmers Technical University, Gothenburg
The article was recently published as a book chapter in “Ecology and Power Struggles over Land and Material Resources in the Past, Present and Future” Edited by Alf Hornborg, Brett Clark, Kenneth Hermele 
The eastern region of Tanzania, the Bagamoyo and Rufiji areas, is characterized by dry semi-open bushlands dominated by grass vegetation with scattered shrub and tree species. Parts of the region harbour the unique Miombo ecosystem with high biological diversity. The ecosystem and its vegetation types are shaped by the dry regional climate and by long-term grazing and browsing from wild and domestic herbivores. The land use in this region is predominantly rangeland grazing by herds of domestic cattle, sheep and goats herded by local ethnical communities with semi-nomadic life styles. The ecosystem has also been used for collection of a variety of local resources such as fuel for cooking, medicinal plants for peoples and livestock etc. 
Lately parts of this region were offered to foreign investors as potential land for the production of agrofuels – ethanol from sugar canes. The traditional land uses by local peoples was banned but prospects of economic wealth from work opportunities in the sugar cane plantations were given. The new crop demands high water and nutrient availability and triggered extensive reorganisation and constructing activities such as channelling of the Rufiij river, shrubland clearing etc. The effects on the ecosystem and on the ecological services are unknown. However, due to the global economic recession and volatile markets for ethanol the project collapsed and installations on the land were withdrawn although already performed land changes such as channelling of rivers, still persist. The region is now awaiting further activities. 
The paper outlines this development as a change of perception of use values related to a change of perspectives, from local subsistence perspective to a globalised market perspective. This is directly linked to changing power structures and the loss of land use rights by local people. Land scarcity and increased market value of land have also contributed to changing land use. Implications on the sustainability of the ecosystem under the different land uses are discussed.


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