Farmlands, or agricultural landscapes, captures the interest of a number of researchers based at the Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University. On this blog we share information about research findings, activities, events and comments related to our work.

Our interest in farmlands has three roots: farming, landscape and society.
Farming as a practice, including farmers knowledge and labour investments
Landscape as society-nature relations, congealed history, and as space and place
Society as a short form for institutions, gender relations, political economy and scientific relevance

Most Welcome to FarmLandS!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Swedish public costs for failed SEKAB/EcoEnergy more than 200 million SEK

Norwegian based journal Development Today is always well informed about news on Nordic devlopment projects. Two articles in today's issue deal with the failed SEKAB/EcoEnergy sugar plantation in Bagamoyo (see my previous posts on this blog Green economy  and Swedish agrobusiness abroad fails)

From the article IFAD days away from cancellling Bagamoyo sugar loan we learn that Tanzanian government must confirm the status of the Bagamoyo sugar and ethanol project to IFAD before the end of this month. IFAD (The International Fund for Agricultural Development - an agency of the UN) has guaranteed huge loans and grants for the development of outgrower schemes in Bagamoyo together with the African Development Bank.

From the article SEKAB never recovered losses from Bagamoyo we learn that the losses of SEKAB when they sold their Africa-based companies to Per Carstedt for 400 SEK were written off early. The chances of getting small pieces of that back through buying cheap ethanol from Bagamoyo according to the agreement from 2011 now seems to have disappeared into thin air.

So it is now possible to start looking at the losses of public Swedish money..

SEKAB is a public-owned energy company where municipalities (local districts)  in the north of Sweden have put in money for the Africa plans. According Swedish television investigative program Uppdrag granskning 500 million SEK disappeared from taxpayers money into the SEKAB Africa companies. This and other problems with their energy company took a heavy toll on the economy of Örnsköldsvik town according Uppdrag granskning in August 2014 .

According to Development Today the losses from SEKAB when selling the company to EcoEnergy were 158 million SEK that were written off  long time ago.

On top of that Swedish International Development Agency Sida, has a claim of SEK 54 millions on EcoEnergy, according to Development Today.

It seems safe to say that losses of Swedish taxpayers for this land grabbing adventure amounts to much more than 200 million SEK.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Green economy, Scandinavian investments and agricultural modernization in Tanzania

New publication in Journal of Peasant Studies
Here a qoute from the NORAGRIC website:

Abstract: ‘Green economy’ is a broad concept open to different interpretations, definitions and practices ranging from the greening of current neoliberal economies to radical transformations of these economies. In Africa, one emerging and powerful idea in the implementation of the green economy seems to be to use a green agenda to further strengthen development as modernization through capital-intensive land investments. This has again reinvigorated old debates about large-scale versus smallholder agriculture. Influential actors justify large-scale ‘green’ investments by the urgency for economic development as well as to offset carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. In this contribution, we discuss the case of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) to give examples of how the green economy may materialize in Africa. SAGCOT is presented by the Tanzanian government as well as investors and donors as a leading African example of an ‘investment blueprint’ and as a laboratory to test green growth combining profitable farming with the safeguard of ecosystem services. In particular, we discuss three Scandinavian investments within SAGCOT, their social implications and their discursive representations through the public debates that these investments have generated in Scandinavia.

Read the article

Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania
Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania

Mikael Bergius is a PhD Fellow at Noragric focusing on agricultural development and food sovereignty in Africa (specifically Tanzania).  His doctoral project is: ‘Turning Towards a Corporate Food Regime in Tanzania –  Drivers, Impacts, and Responses’.

Tor Arve Benjaminsen is a Professor at Noragric. His main areas of interest are land tenure; environmental narratives; political ecology and environmental history.

Mats Widgren is a Professor Emeritus in geography, especially human geography, at the University of Stockholm.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Swedish agrobusiness abroad fails - SEKAB and Black Earth Farming

In the last week we have been reached by the final confirming news that two Swedish agro-business ventures abroad have failed totally.

Black Earth Farming, a Swedish owned company that have been operating in the chernozeme black earth region in Russia recently  announced that they are selling the company to a Russian oligarch.
  The Swedish owner Kinnevik will lose about 400 million SEK when they sell the company. I have been following Black Earth Farming since at least 9 years (see my blogpost in Swedish Svartjord på börsen from February 2008) .  Through modest 10 shares which I bought for 800 SEK when they were close to their peak I have been able to follow the general assemblies here in Stockholm. Successively I have got a more and more clear picture of their operations, how they bought the the shares of former kolchos workers, accumulating a "land bank" and more lately trying to make some profits from the agricultural operations. Throughout these meetings the company has tried to convince us shareholders 1) that the shares and the land values were undervalued and 2) that profits from successful farming operations were just around the corner, if not last years weather would have created unforeseen problems... Brian Kuns and co-authors have followed shareholders meetings more systematically and also interviewed key actors. They analyse in detail the performance of different Swedish owned agrobusiness companies in the paper The stock market and the steppe: The challenges faced by stock-market financed, Nordic farming ventures in Russia and Ukraine  . They point to the contradictions between the expectations and the actual operations. In short: far too high expectations from returns to scale, partly fueled by the expectation from the stock market  + a totally unrealistic understanding of the vagaries of farming the steppe seems to explain the failures. My 800 Swedish crowns have boiled down to some 60 or 70 Swedish crowns when I will finally be reached by the offer from Volgo-DonSelkhozInvest to buy my ten shares..... That is a small loss compared to the former kolkhos workers who have once and for all sold their shares of the land to the foreign companies and whose lands will now be in the ownership of a Russian oligarch.

Parallel to this development the Swedish company Agro-Eco-Energy in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, have now finally declared their closing down. They have been criticized for  almost the same time  - at least 9 years now, by Swedish and Norwegian researchers, by Action Aid, scrutinised by Swedish investigative TV Uppdrag granskning etc etc and their grandiose plans for a large sugar cane plantations have not materialised in spite of a decade of planning and misuse of money from Swedish publicly owned energy companies and from Swedish aid through Sida. The land which the Swedish company claimed to have leased has now been confiscated by the Tanzania state -- see my blogpost from November  . Now this has finally also been confirmed from the owner see Sugar project: Swedish investor calls it quits .

It is of course just a mere coincidence that these two total failures of Swedish agro-busíness plans have reached news media the same week. But there is some logic to it. Both projects started druing the financial crisis in 2007-2009 with surging food crop prices in 2007. The expectations for investments in farmlands and for agricultural production were at a peak. It has taken almost ten years for investors and in the case of Agro-Eco-Energy donors to realise that this was an exceptional situation and that realities on the ground were more complicated. Far too high expectations to returns to scale have also played a role. In the case of Tanzania the political realities of the contentious land issues and protest from villagers losing their land have also played a role. .

Friday, November 18, 2016

Has the Tanzanian state confiscated the land of Ecoenergy?

Ever since 2009 we have been a group of concerned Swedish and Norwegian scholars that have followed the plans to establish a Swedish sugar plantation outside Bagamoyo in Tanzania, by the Swedish SEKAB company, later reorganised as Agro Ecoenergy. We wrote an opinion piece in 2009 the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. The involvement of Swedish municipalities and of Swedish aid has one very important reason for raising awareness in Sweden about this case of land grabbing that would force a large amount of smallholders to leave their land. The case has also been the target of Swedish investigative journalism in TV program Uppdrag granskning.

Previous posts on this site are:

june 2016: End of road for Ecoenergy?
March 2016: Sida critised by National Audit for their Ecoenergy support
March 2015: Time running out for Ecoenergy?
April 2014: More iconic farming images
April 2014: Funny pictures about farming
March 2013: Swedish land grab in Tanzania causes protests

On two previous occasions we have almost declared the death of this project first following the withdrawal of Swedish Sida support in 2015 and then in June 2016 following the declaration by the prime minister in Tanzanian parliament that the environmental concerns for wildlife would stop the project.

It will be a future research task to find outwhat has really happened with this project since president Magufuli took over from Kikwete in November 2015. It now seems that the environmental concerns against this project voiced by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa in parliament in June may just have been a smokescreen for other things going on. According to Daily News in August the president offered 10 000 hectares of land in Bagamoyo to Cuba for a sugar plantation. Since then there have been press reports that the president has offered 10,000 hectares of land in Bagamoyo for sugar plantations to the Tanzanian Bakhresa group.

In todays edition of East African Business Times the circumstances around the 10,000 hectares of land in Bagamayo are reported like this:

“The ministry has opened dialogue with existing sugar producers in a bid to address the challenges farmers face in a bid to increase production through government support,” says Mwijage, adding that the ministry is currently implementing a presidential directive to set aside land in Bagamoyo District for local investor Bakhresa Group of companies to set up sugar factory. The plot of land was offered to the company after the government confiscated it from its previous owner who failed to use it for the benefit of the country."

Although Ecoenergy is not mentioned in this article I can only find this to mean that the Tanzanian government has indeed confiscated the land to which SEKAB/Ecoenergy had a long-term lease on the former RAZABA ranch. If this is true it means that the Tanzanian government is not so concerned about neither the wildlife nor the local smallholders, but is ready to give the land to national agrobusiness interests rather than to Swedish.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hot off the press: Is it possible to survive on a deserted farm?

Finally published: A long term project covering a long period.  Investigating deserted farms in Sweden to understand tenure, lordship, social relations and farming systems during the Middle Ages:

Is it possible to survive on a deserted farm:  Manors, tenants and farming systems during the Middle Ages in the Lägerbo area, Östergötland.

This study approaches the late medieval farm desertion from a landscape perspective. It focuses on the area of a former medieval estate in southern Östergötland, Sweden. Based on a retrogressive analysis of cadastral maps and historical records the medieval settlement is reconstructed. In this process three formerly unknown deserted farms were identified, with abandoned field systems and building remains.  The volume provides the archaeological documentation of field systems and settlements at these sites. These data provide the background for investigating the shifting social and ecological circumstances that once made it possible for tenant families to survive on these farms. During the height of the manorial system the small farms were specialised units in a redistributive system.  In the late 14th century the estate and all tenant farms were donated to the convents of Vadstena and Vreta.  Rents were no longer paid in labour but in butter.  In the fifteenth century several farms were abandoned and turned into meadows under the surviving farms. The new tenurial relations prevented the recolonization of the farms. The study is the result of an interdisciplinary project involving medieval archaeology, historical geography, palynology and medieval history.

Buy the book (in Swedish)

Or read a very preliminary (and old) report from the project in The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape

Thursday, May 26, 2016

End of road for EcoEnergy?

Remember the Swedish company Sekab that cheated three public energy companies in northern Sweden into investing substantially in ethanol production in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, some fifteen years back? The company secured vast tracts of land, which allegedly was unused. However, it turned out that people were in fact living on the land, and cultivating it, and that it also was important grazing land for pastoralists who had been forced off their grazing areas in Hanang District by commercial grain production.
The ethanol project never got off ground and the Swedish tax payers’ money went down the drain.
Sekab’s Tanzanian wing reappeared as a new company EcoEnergy. Now ethanol was no longer on the agenda. Instead EcoEnergy wanted to start conventional sugar production in Bagamoyo, promising increased land productivity, sustainable livelihoods, and a growing local economy.  However, soon reports appeared (from ActionAid, Oxfam and others) that local farmers lost land and water without being aware of what was happening and that they did not understand the loan agreements they became tied to. Despite considerable criticism against the company’s plans EcoEnergy managed to get Sida to issue a bank guarantee for this project at 120 000 000 SEK.
The Tanzanian daily The Citizen (20 May 2016) now reports that Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa has told Parliament that the government has shelfed the plans for the sugar plantation project in Bagamoyo to safeguard Wami River and the Saadani National Park, which borders on the proposed 20 000 ha sugar project.
Is this the end of EcoEnergy’s decades of attempts to exploit the disputed land in Bagamoyo? Will their investors, now that no incomes for the company are to be expected, secure their money by claiming Sida’s bank guarantee? This would mean that Swedish tax payers have once more lost very substantial sums to a project that from start was heavily criticised by Tanzanian and international researchers and by environmental organisations.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

PhD defense "Ecosystem Services and Disservices in an Agriculture–Forest Mosaic: A Study of Forest and Tree Management and Landscape Transformation in Southwestern Ethiopia"

On May 20, 2016 from 10:00 Tola Gemechu Ango will defend his PhD thesis titled: Ecosystem Services and Disservices in an Agriculture–Forest Mosaic: A Study of Forest and Tree Management and Landscape Transformation in Southwestern Ethiopia

Opponent Tobias Plieninger, Associate Professor

Supervisor Lowe Börjeson, Associate Professor
Venue: De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Frescati, Stockholm


The intertwined challenges of food insecurity, deforestation, and biodiversity loss remain perennial challenges in Ethiopia, despite increasing policy interventions. This thesis investigates smallholding farmers’ tree- and forest-based livelihoods and management practices, in the context of national development and conservation policies, and examines how these local management practices and policies transform the agriculture–forest mosaic landscapes of southwestern Ethiopia.

The thesis is guided by a political ecology perspective, and focuses on an analytical framework of ecosystem services (ESs) and disservices (EDs). It uses a mixed research design with data from participatory field mapping, a tree ‘inventory’, interviews, focus group discussions, population censuses, and analysis of satellite images and aerial photos.

The thesis presents four papers. Paper I investigates how smallholding farmers in an agriculture–forest mosaic landscape manage trees and forests in relation to a few selected ESs and EDs that they consider particularly beneficial or problematic. The farmers’ management practices were geared towards mitigating tree- and forest-related EDs such as wild mammal crop raiders, while at the same time augmenting ESs such as shaded coffee production, resulting in a restructuring of the agriculture–forest mosaic. Paper II builds further on the EDs introduced in paper I, to assess the effects of crop raids by forest-dwelling wild mammals on farmers’ livelihoods. The EDs of wild mammals and human–wildlife conflict are shown to constitute a problem that goes well beyond a narrow focus on yield loss. The paper illustrates the broader impacts of crop-raiding wild mammals on local agricultural and livelihood development (e.g. the effects on food security and children’s schooling), and how state forest and wildlife control and related conservation policy undermined farmers’ coping strategies. Paper III examines local forest-based livelihood sources and how smallholders’ access to forests is reduced by state transfer of forestland to private companies for coffee investment. This paper highlights how relatively small land areas appropriated for investment in relatively densely inhabited areas can harm the livelihoods of many farmers, and also negatively affect forest conservation. Paper IV investigates the patterns and drivers of forest cover change from 1958 to 2010. Between 1973 and 2010, 25% of the total forest was lost, and forest cover changes varied both spatially and temporally. State development and conservation policies spanning various political economies (feudal, socialist, and ‘free market-oriented’) directly or indirectly affected local ecosystem use, ecosystem management practices, and migration processes. These factors (policies, local practices, and migration) have thus together shaped the spatial patterns of forest cover change in the last 50 years.

The thesis concludes that national development and conservation policies and the associated power relations and inequality have often undermined local livelihood security and forest conservation efforts. It also highlights how a conceptualization of a local ecosystem as a provider of both ESs and EDs can generate an understanding of local practices and decisions that shape development and conservation trajectories in mosaic landscapes. The thesis draws attention to the need to make development and conservation policies relevant and adaptable to local conditions as a means to promote local livelihood and food security, forest and biodiversity conservation, and ESs generated by agricultural mosaic landscapes.

Link to the thesis is available here