MAJOR POLICY U-TURN: Govt to repossess over 90 privatized ranches -Formal announcement to be made during parliamentary budget session THISDAY REPORTER Dar es Salaam THE government has revoked the privatization of 94 out of 124 satellite ranches owned by the state-run National Ranching Company Limited (NARCO), that were controversially sold in 2002 to private investors. The exercise of privatizing the properties was conducted by the third phase government under ex-president Benjamin Mkapa, the main overseer being the then minister in charge of livestock development, Edward Lowassa. But THISDAY has learnt that, in a major policy U-turn, the current administration under incumbent President Jakaya Kikwete is now effectively reversing that decision. According to impeccable sources, the policy shift by the government of the day follows the discovery of gross irregularities in the sale of the state ranches. This is notwithstanding the fact that a number of senior officials in the Mkapa administration, including ministers and regional commissioners, are believed to have acquired most of the ranches in question. It is understood that the government is now keen to acquire individual title deeds of the repossessed properties for future development of the assets. There have been complaints that various livestock-keeping communities in the country, such as the Sukuma and Maasai, were denied access to these privatised ranches, while the people that were given ownership have failed to develop them, said a well-placed government source. The incumbent Minister for Livestock Development and Fisheries, John Magufuli, confirmed the governments move to repossess the ranches in an interview with THISDAY, but declined to give details for the time being. He said a formal announcement will be made during the annual National Assembly budget session beginning in Dodoma this week. The ranches to be re-nationalized by the government cover a total area of 289,069 hectares of land formerly under NARCO. Following the decision of the Mkapa government to privatize, NARCO was left with just eight ranches covering an area of 230,384 hectares. Magufuli revealed that the government has already sent official written notification to the private owners of the ranches targeted for repossession over their failure to develop the areas. Weve sent them letters and given them six months to explain themselves...there were irregularities in the privatisation of the ranches, said the minister. When asked by THISDAY to explain further, he remarked: This particular privatization exercise was done in an irregular manner...many of the individuals allocated the ranches at the time have not even raised a single cow. A large chunk of the privatised ranches were reportedly snapped up by senior officials in the third phase government. Magufuli further disclosed that some of the private owners of the ranches had illegally sub-leased the land to foreigners. All these details will be made public in parliament, he added. Although the minister declined to elaborate, it is believed that one of his predecessors in the ministry (Lowassa) was among those who snapped up the privatized state ranches. Lowassa is understood to have acquired a substantial amount of land from the formerly state-owned Mzeri ranch in Handeni District, Tanga Region. In March this year, the Monduli legislator and former prime minister under the Kikwete administration was quoted by a local tabloid acknowledging ownership of plot number 645/5 at the Mzeri ranch through a private company known as Olospa. He said there was nothing wrong with him buying the ranch. It could not be immediately established whether or not this particular ranch is also in line for repossession by the government. Under the sale agreements, the private owners of the ranches were required to invest in modern livestock development activities. NARCO, which is a parastatal organization, was established in 1968, its main activity being the ranching of beef cattle, goats and sheep. At present, NARCO sells an average of 12,250 cattle annually. Its ranches were established through a World Bank-funded, low-cost investment strategy that envisaged establishment of ranching infrastructure like dams, roads, fire breaks, and basic livestock structures such as dips and cattle handling yards. Following the 2002 privatization exercise, NARCO now operates nine ranches in seven regions, which together hold a total of 45,000 cattle and 3,000 sheep and goats. The ranches have a potential to carry up to 90,000 cattle. The Kongwa and Ruvu ranches have been retained as potential disease-free areas, and the remainder were sub-divided into core ranches of 20,000 hectares each to continue under NARCO management as models for medium commercial ranches to be established. The Usangu and Uvinza ranches have been sub-divided into 4,000-hectare units for the same purposes.