November 2016

The Promise and Peril of Africa’s New Development Corridors

Photo of Raymond Waweru

By Raymond Waweru

Raymond Waweru is a researcher at WWF-US Sustainability R&D, working on agricultural commodity supply chain risks. He holds a Master’s of Environmental Management (M.E.M.) from Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where he researched SAGCOT.

Many point to the potential of “corridors,” whether focused on trade, tourism, power, agriculture or transport to accelerate Africa’s economic growth, improve regional economic integration, increasing energy access, and boost food security.

One study estimates that a total of 33 development corridors are planned in Africa. 1 Several of these include, M’Balam railway, Douala-Bangui Douala-Ndjamena Corridor and the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopian Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor. 2 While corridors have become an essential part of the current development lexicon on the continent, their long-term operability and positive socio-economic impact will depend on sound ecosystem management, and social inclusion of the communities who are set to benefit from these projects. The associated social and environmental footprint of these corridors should not be ignored.

The Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) is an interesting example. The corridor was born out of the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the former Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, requested stakeholders involved with the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture Initiative to marshal investments from the private sector and foster public-private sector cooperation in supporting Tanzanian agriculture. 3 SAGCOT is promoted as an inclusive public-private partnership that seeks to bring together government, business, donors and farmers to deliver on inclusive growth, improve agricultural productivity and efficiency within Tanzania’s agriculture supply chain. 4

This 350,000-hectare corridor capitalizes on the ecological and social context of Tanzania’s southern region to implement Kilimo Kwanza (which in Swahili means “Agriculture First”), a strategy officially launched in 2009, aiming to transform the agricultural sector by creating jobs and developing efficient and effective value chains. 5 The SAGCOT corridor is hoped to be the instrument that will catalyze this transformation.

The corridor is located in the Rufiji Water Basin, home to five national parks and ten game reserves. These parks are biologically diverse, supporting lions, elephants, lesser and greater kudu, Grant’s gazelle, sable and the roan antelope, 6 yet SAGCOT threatens to undo the ecology that holds this landscape intact. Additionally, SAGCOT’s backyard is composed of small-scale farmers and pastoralists who may become victims of land grabs from investors with financial muscle.

SAGCOT’s ecological impact can only be addressed through a multi-stakeholder approach that unites regional and national governments, the private sector, civil society, non-governmental organizations within SAGCOT’s footprint. Such an approach will ensure that projects do not contribute to a narrative that pits economic development vis-à-vis sustainable development, without reconciling economic development and natural resource management.

There is more to multi-stakeholder approaches than meets the eye. On paper, these approaches paint a picture of willingness and institutional capacity (technical and financial) in the design and implementation of social and environmental management policies that will amend the resource curse that has plagued resource rich regions for a long time. Although social and environmental management policies have the ability to curb such ills, there is the perception that these checks and balances threaten or impede foreign investments, especially in Africa’s prospective development corridors.

Cultivating an environment that reconciles economic development with social and environmental wellbeing requires transparency.  Transparency between government, investors, citizens and civil society is a key ingredient to a process of inclusive development that reconciles each party’s interests. In SAGCOT, for example, the partnership forum is a space where participants collaborate to ensure a harmonized approach in driving inclusive economic growth.  The forum together farmers, local and national government, agribusiness, commercial banks and development partners. 7 Achieving harmony is hinged on communications and information sharing and development of shared objectives.

Although beneficial, the Achilles heel of those  motivated by SAGCOT are accountability, coordination and joint commitments from all stakeholders; in this case: the national government, Rufiji Basin Development Authority (RUBADA), Tanzania Investment Center (TIC), development partners such as the African Wildlife Foundation, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), private sector companies such as, Unilever, Syngenta and Yara International. 8 Fundamentally, it is up to local governments to assure sustainable development in Africa’s corridors. Collaborative efforts between the Ministries of Environment, Development, Trade, Energy, Tourism and Education would instigate a synergistic effect promoting holistic national socio-economic agendas.

SAGCOT presents a compelling private-public partnership model that could shape Africa’s economic development agenda for years to come. Proponents should view economic development at both the macro and micro levels, ensuring that the most vulnerable communities are not marginalized through loss of livelihoods, labor exploitation and land evictions.

1. Laurance, William F, Sean Sloan, Lingfei Weng, and Jeffrey A Sayer. 2015. “Estimating the Environmental Costs of Africa’s Massive ‘Development Corridors.’” December 21.
2. Ibid.
3. World Economic Forum, and A.T. Kearney. 2016. “Grow Africa: Partnering to Achieve African Agriculture Transformation.” January.
4. SAGCOT Centre, Mein. 2015. “Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania.” October 8.
5. Ministry of Agriculture Food Security and Cooperatives. 2014. “Tanzania: Agriculture Climate Resilience Plan, 2014-2019.” September.
6. African Wildlife Foundation. 2016. “Southern Tanzania.” Accessed October 21.
7. SAGCOT Centre. 2016. “Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania: Membership Principles and Obligations.” Accessed October 21.
8. SAGCOT Centre. 2016. “Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania: List of Partners.” May 5.