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2015-01-05 | Peer Reviewed

Land Acquisitions in Tanzania: Strong Sustainability, Weak Sustainability and the Importance of Comparative Methods

Purdon, Mark. 2013. “Land Acquisitions in Tanzania: Strong Sustainability, Weak Sustainability and the Importance of Comparative Methods.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 26:6: 1127-1156.
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This paper distinguished different analytical approaches to the evaluation of the sustainability of large-scale land acquisitions—at both the conceptual and methodological levels. First, at the conceptual level, evaluation of the sustainability of land acquisitions depends on what definition of sustainability is adopted—strong or weak sustainability. Second, a lack of comparative empirical methods in many studies has limited the identification of causal factors affecting sustainability. An empirical investigation into the sustainability of land acquisitions in Tanzania that employs these existing concepts in a methodologically rigorous manner offers an opportunity to more clearly addresses ethical questions surrounding international land acquisitions. My findings indicate that it should not be assumed that sustainability necessarily hinges on issues of strong sustainability, particularly that all village lands represent critical natural capital. As a result of its unique history of Ujamaa villagization, Tanzania villages often have ownership of significant tracts of unused land that mitigates the risk of violating conditions of strong sustainability. Issues of weak sustainability appear to be more important to villagers—particularly the degree of man-made capital benefits derived from projects. While compensation rates for lands acquired were low and the process lacked transparency, low compensation rates are not sufficient grounds for rejecting land acquisitions as unsustainable. When projects deliver significant man-made capital benefits, low compensation rates were not a politically salient issue amongst villagers. Finally, results suggest that some prioritization of man-made capital over biodiversity can be ethically defensible when the decision-making process goes through legitimate village government bodies and benefits reach poor villagers.