Tanzania adopts irrigation law to help farmers battle climate change

by Kizito Makoye | @kizmakoye | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 4 September 2013 19:09 GMT

The speaker of Tanzania’s National Assembly, Anne Makinda, and her assistants enter the discussion chamber on Aug. 30, 2013. PHOTO/Parliament of Tanzania

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Provisions to protect villagers from land grabs in the name of irrigation projects were tightened after legislators raised concerns

DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In a bid to protect Tanzania’s farmers from the growing stresses of extreme weather and climate change, the country’s parliament has passed a new law to promote better use of irrigation, hoping it will improve food security and reduce poverty.

Analysts say the National Irrigation Act 2013 - which was approved at the end of August, but must be signed by the president for it to come into force - should give the country’s agriculture sector a new lease of life, in the face of shifting weather patterns.

Agriculture is the backbone of Tanzania’s economy. It accounts for more than one quarter of gross domestic product (GDP), provides 85 percent of exports and employs about 80 percent of the workforce. The country has 29.4 million hectares of land that could be irrigated, of which only 589,245 are under irrigation now.

Tanzania’s minister for agriculture, food security and cooperatives, Christopher Chiza, told the National Assembly the new law would pave the way for the country to use its available land resources for the sustainable development of irrigation.

“We would like to tap every single drop of water available in our country and use it productively for irrigation purposes - by 2015 at least 25 percent of food production should come from irrigated land,” he said.

In its introduction, the law says irrigation development is crucial since rain-fed agriculture is affected by drought and floods that will be exacerbated by climate change, impacting significantly on both the national economy and smallholder farmers’ vulnerability to food insecurity.

“To combat the effects of climate change we need integrated strategies. One of them is investing in sustainable irrigation that recognises the role of farmers and the challenges they face in developing the sector,” said Damian Gabagambi, who teaches agriculture at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro.


Despite government efforts to bolster agriculture, Tanzania’s food and cash crop production has been undermined by a lack of irrigation infrastructure and poor management of existing irrigation schemes.

The National Irrigation Act strengthens the National Irrigation Policy of 2010, which had remained toothless as there were no legislative tools to implement it. That should now change.

The new law, among other things, establishes the Irrigation Commission, a national body with the mandate to coordinate, promote and regulate irrigation activities across the country.

The legislation also paves the way for the formation of an Irrigation Development Fund to help irrigation schemes, many of which are mired in financial woes. The fund’s monies - to include both government and other sources - will be used to finance irrigation activities carried out by individual farmers and investors, through loans or grants.

The minister said the government is now implementing 39 irrigation schemes on 16,710 hectares, using drip irrigation technology at a cost of Tsh 677.5 billion (around $400 million). But once the Irrigation Commission is up and running, it would like to establish more than 1,000 new schemes, depending on the availability of funds.

The law will also put in place a system to enable farmers’ groups, private individuals, associations and companies to own government-built irrigation infrastructure. Investors who set up their own irrigation schemes will be expected to pay service fees to the commission.


Some amendments were made to the act after strong criticism of the original proposal from a cross-section of legislators, who expressed fears it might fuel land conflict. They argued it would allow the state to acquire village land without due process.

The law still gives power to the minister holding the agriculture portfolio to declare any specified piece of land an irrigation area. 

“Where it is necessary for better achievement of  objectives of this Act, the minister may, upon consultation with the minister responsible for land and local governments, advise the president  to acquire, subject to the provision of Land Acquisition Act, any land or any estate for  the purpose of irrigation development," the legislation states.                                                                       

But before the bill became law, legislators across political affiliations urged the government to amend contentious sections they said would encourage foreign land purchases at the expense of villagers.

Christopher Ole Sendeka, a legislator from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, charged that sections 17 and 18 of the law would create loopholes for unscrupulous investors to negotiate directly with local people in an effort to “grab ” their land. He said communities must be “key stakeholders not mere spectators”.

Recent land conflicts between farmers and pastoralists have been caused by shortages of land, he argued, and if the bill were to sail through unchanged, many poor people would become victims of land-grabbing orchestrated by state institutions in collaboration with investors.

“If the government tells investors that there was enough land for irrigation, why on earth can’t it distribute some of that land to the people in areas where land conflicts between farmers and pastoralists persist?” Sendeka asked.

The opposing lawmakers said villagers should be made shareholders in irrigation projects if their land falls within the designated sites for irrigation.

And they also rejected a provision in the law for compensation to be paid to villagers whose land is acquired by investors.

“Don’t bring here the issue of compensation, because by doing so the land will be sold, thus rendering villagers homeless (and) turning them into slaves in their own country,” said Lugano Mpina, an MP from the ruling party.


As a result of the issues raised by the members of parliament, the government inserted a provision permitting villagers to be shareholders in land deals, as wells as being entitled to thorough consultations with investors.

The MPS also managed to secure the addition of a provision stating that decisions on applications for investment in land should be made by the village assembly.

According to the Tanzania Investment Centre, a government agency, the process of land acquisition requires that investors submit their proposals to the village council via district officials. The village assembly is called to examine the proposals, and when a piece of land is approved for investment, ownership is transferred to the government, which can then lease it out for a maximum of 99 years.

Minister Chiza attempted to allay fears of land grabbing. Villagers’ rights to land would be safeguarded by the constitution and existing land laws, and no one would be allowed to confiscate it, he said.

“I would like to assure my fellow Tanzanians that, under no circumstances in this law, will a foreign investor be an alternative to a local farmer,” he said.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam, who focuses on climate change, governance and women’s rights issues.

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