Saturday, March 23, 2013

Africa: On the ground #5...  


This is the deal: Wallie' Hardie's investment group, Aslan Global Asia (AGA), stumbled into this property of 100,000 acres of largely untouched savannah west of Morogoro, TZ. I think they spent about $6M for 80% of the land, since the government requires a local owner of at least 20%.The farm will be split into both cattle and crop production.

It is located on the main road going west from Morogoro, next to a huge game preserve. I think this (below) is the location, judging from how long we traveled west from the city.

Wallie said Morogoro was about 1M population, but like some other numbers he rattled off, that doesn't match with facts I could find. The population of urban Morogoro is about 200K.

A good series of photos from the city here. Suffice it to say, like every Africa city we visited it was full of people and traffic.

The road to the property was surprisingly good,  especially in retrospect compared to waht we were to endure in MZ. This is a major plus for the farm future. The city lies in the Morogoro mountains, which are quite lovely.

The "farm" is little more than a camp with bulldozers equipment brought in from Dubai where they were on sale due to the recession. Good looking machines, but idle as they waited on final ownership paperwork. The "ownership" is good for 99 years, and Wallie didn't know what happened after that.  Given the country has mediocre corruption and governance scores from and the Economist Intelligence Unit, there are several government related risks.

  This is the son of the former owner, who will be involved in developing the farm.

 One charming aspect for farm boys like me from the Midwest was the presence of real African wildlife. We were told (and I found it credible) that elephants had passed through the day before (footprints at the river below), and lions were heard in the night. Since a huge national park/preserve is adjacent to the property, I could swallow this, but more reflection made me ask how such wildlife would be managed.

It seemed not to be problem they had worried much about, but here's my logic. If you have serious carnivores like lions on site, doesn't that imply a large population of grazing herbivores? Why wouldn't they be attracted to this green postage stamp of irrigated plants? Won't a herd of domestic cattle look a big-cat buffet table? I realize elephants don't eat soy or maize, but they could do some damage wandering through.

These concerns were met with vague assurances of fences which seems like a considerable expense and effort to maintain. Similarly Masai herdsmen have wandered though this 15 square miles for millenia. (The gentleman was passing through when we were there). Will "no trespassing" signs work for them?

 A small portion of the property had been cleared a few years before, so the fields could be huge and flat.

 Also the property would be studded with these (below) - baobab trees. These enormous specimens are symbolic of Africa, and as I wandered up to one to check it out closely, I was told casually to watch out for a black mamba. The subsequent photos/video were shot with zoom from much farther away.

One curious aspect of most of the subsistence farmers is the difficulty understanding the population density of the arable land. Along the road, there appeared to be a hut about every 500' of so with maize plots around it. The immediate and obvious conclusion was that once the road was built natives moved to homes along it for ease of transportation - there were people of all ages walking along virtually every mile all the time - day or night.

Only if you looked closely out past the roadside, you could pick out huts just as densely situated all over the rolling hills. In other words, I think you could have built the road anywhere and ended up with a hut every 500'.

The development of the TZ property is to occur concurrently with the MZ farm. Production will be hauled to Morogoro, where feed mills are anxious to buy the oilseeds and maize. Th first crop is planned to be sunflowers, since combining high is probably a good idea immediately after clearing the land.

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