Anti-Rastetter group meets in Cedar Falls; talks strategy

By JON ERICSON, | Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:00 am

CEDAR FALLS Iowa — Last weekend Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement protested at the homes of Gov. Terry Branstad’s staff to remove agribusiness leader Bruce Rastetter from the Iowa Board of Regents.

On Tuesday night, the group met in Cedar Falls to talk strategy to oust Rastetter from the board which governs the state’s public universities.

CCI filed an ethics complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign board in June over Rastetter’s involvement with Iowa State University and AgriSol Energy, a business led by Rastetter working to buy and develop farm land in Tanzania.

Representatives for Rastetter and Branstad have denied a conflict of interest between Rastetter’s work on the board and AgriSol. However, Rastetter recused himself from discussing issues of AgriSol and Iowa State last September.

More than 40 people turned out at the Cedar Falls Recreation Center for the “Fire Rastetter” session. Some were longtime CCI members, others were involved in Occupy Cedar Falls or groups that fought against the closure of the Malcolm Price Laboratory School.

Critics of AgriSol, including CCI, Food and Water Watch and the Oakland Institute, say the Tanzania project will uproot 160,000 refugees from Burundi, some of whom have been farming in Tanzania for decades. AgriSol investors have said the project has components that will help small local farmers improve their methods.

Iowa State was brought on board with the project to provide services and training to farmers in the area. The university cut ties to AgriSol in February. Rastetter made a $1.75 million donation to the entrepreneurship program of Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Speakers at the Tuesday event said the Rastetter AgriSol controversy is just one example of how corporations are taking more control of universities in Iowa and across the nation.

“Bruce Rastetter is a real egregious example of what you see as far as corporate influence at our public universities,” said Tim Schwab of Food and Water Watch. His watchdog group also has signed on to CCI’s ethics complaint.

CCI and Food and Water Watch gave out petitions to those in attendance to encourage people to sign on to remove Rastetter from the Regents.

The group started planning to be present at the Aug. 3 Board of Regents meeting in Cedar Falls as well as the Aug. 23 meeting of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, where that board will decide whether to further investigate the Rastetter ethics complaint.

“We’re really facing issues of the encroachment of corporate power into our institutions. We are seeing more and more of that in higher education,” said Joe Gorton, a criminology professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

More anti-Rastetter sessions are planned Wednesday in Iowa City and Thursday in Ames.


Take action

  • Join hundreds of other Iowans calling on Gov. Branstad to fire Bruce Rastetter –  the man unable to separate his role as an Iowa public Regent from his personal financial interest. Click here to read more and add your name.
  • Dig on this issue with other Iowa CCI members and guests from Food and Water Watch at meetings in Cedar Falls, Iowa City and Ames the week of July 16. Find details on our calendar page.

Join the fight

Here’s another great response to the Daily Iowan‘s editorial “AgriSol profits don’t make the company at fault” that ran July 12.


Rastetter and Tanzania response from the Oakland Institute

True, not all businesses are cruel, and not all profits mean greed. After spending more than 18 months researching AgriSol’s land deal in Tanzania, this conclusion could only apply if one failed to read company’s internal documents or chose to ignore the reality on the ground that our field research yielded.

It appears from your editorial that you are fine with the forced relocation of 160,000 people who have grown their own food to feed their community and others in the region. Where will they go, how will they survive, what happens to their livelihoods seems to be of no concern to the paper.

The paper is impressed by AgriSol’s ability to rake in immense profits secured through demands of “strategic investor status” – including exemption from corporate tax, import duties, right to grow GMO crops and biofuels, a rail link be built using scarce government funds, and an irrevocable guarantee for an export license, in addition to land secured at throwaway prices. Is forcing 160,000 people to leave their homes and make such demands of a developing country as the gateway to immense profits ethical?

Issues raised by the AgriSol land deal, including influence of money in politics, (Bruce Rastetter’s large campaign contribution that preceded his appointment to the state Board of Regents), lack of transparency and accountability, and denial of the right to freedom of expression to the affected communities, require continued vigilance and investigation. The Oakland Institute has investigated more than 70 land deals. Our work, including documentation on the AgriSol’s land deal, is available on our website. Please check it out.

Failure to do so and take action will only allow hog barons to get richer while the poor in poor countries get poorer.

Anuradha Mittal & Jeff Furman
Oakland Institute


Take Action

  • Join hundreds of other Iowans calling on Gov. Branstad to fire Bruce Rastetter –  the man unable to separate his role as an Iowa public Regent from his personal financial interest. Click here to read more and add your name.
  • Dig on this issue with other Iowa CCI members and guests from Food and Water Watch at meetings in Cedar Falls, Iowa City and Ames the week of July 16. Find details on our calendar page.

Join the fight

On July 14, more than 200 CCI members converged in Johnston for a day of workshops, connecting and action to confront corporate power.

Thanks to the fine Twitter and cell phone skills of our organizers and guests throughout the day, we were able to compiled a great play-by-play of the day in pictures. Take a look and plan to join us next year!

Take Action

  • Join hundreds of other Iowans calling on Gov. Branstad to fire Bruce Rastetter –  the man unable to separate his role as an Iowa public Regent from his personal financial interest. Click here to read more and add your name.

Join the fight


Click LIKE and TWEET to share the action with your friends and ask them to join.

Two great letters slam the Daily Iowans bad editorial on Rastetter and Agrisol.

Two great letters to the editor from CCI members appeared in the July 13 Daily Iowan in response to their editorial “AgriSol profits don’t make the company at fault” that ran the day before.

Read the letters to the editor online here:

Rastetter and Tanzania

We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. The Daily Iowan‘s July 12 editorial “AgriSol profits don’t make the company at fault” makes an ideological argument about the value of so-called “free markets” and “feeding the world” without any critical analysis of the actual facts on the ground, much less the perspectives of the poor refugees directly affected.

These are the facts. Bruce Rastetter is a hog and ethanol baron and vulture capitalist who gave Gov. Terry Branstad’s re-election campaign $160,000. Branstad returned the favor by appointing Rastetter to the state Board of Regents. Rastetter spent months abusing his power as a regent to leverage Iowa State University to provide cover for a corporate land grab in Tanzania that could displace as many as 160,000 refugees.

Rastetter’s deal with Tanzania could allow his corporation to lease 800,000 acres of land for 25 cents an acre. The subsistence farmers on the land — who currently grow a variety of crops and account for 40 percent of the region’s food on just 4 percent of the land — will be forcibly displaced and moved to urban slums, where they will no longer be able to feed themselves or their families.

With the land cleared, Rastetter will bring in Monsanto, Smithfield, and all the major corporate ag titans and build factory “farms without farmers.” Rather than employ local people, they will bring in migrant workers from South Africa — a classic colonial divide and conquer tactic.

The products produced will not feed local Tanzanians. They will be sold on international grain and ethanol markets. The livestock will go to Southeast Asia. Rastetter and his investors stand to make up to $300 million a year.

Local people don’t benefit when corporations extract all the natural wealth of a region and take it out of the country with them.

Misty Rebik
Iowa City resident

Rastetter has conflict of interest

Food & Water Watch respectfully, yet completely, disagrees with The Daily Iowan Editorial Board’s assessment of Bruce Rastetter (“AgriSol profits don’t make the company at fault,” July 12). While suggesting the preposterous — that Rastetter’s operation in Tanzania is actually a humanitarian cause that will cure “mental retardation” through providing cheap eggs to poor people in Africa — the Editorial Board completely ignores a long paper trail showing the ways in which Rastetter has deeply compromised both himself and Iowa State University through his Tanzanian land grab.

Rastetter has acknowledged his conflict of interest — serving on the Board of Regents while also working with the school on his for-profit project AgriSol — but only after media attention embarrassed him.

The AgriSol project has created additional conflicts for administrators and professors in the College of Agriculture, who eagerly decided to put the personal interests of Rastetter above those of the students, farmers, and consumers in Iowa.

The public deserves a Board of Regents and a university that are forthright, upfront, and honest; that serve the public at all times, and Rastetter’s presence in Ames would appear to make this impossible.

Matt Ohloff
Iowa organizer for Food & Water Watch


Take Action

  • Join hundreds of other Iowans calling on Gov. Branstad to fire Bruce Rastetter –  the man unable to separate his role as an Iowa public Regent from his personal financial interest. Click here to read more and add your name.

Join the fight

On July 9, the Oakland Institute, a California-based human rights think tank, released an explosive report with Iowa CCI detailing potential human rights abuses that are occurring on the land where AgriSol CEO and Iowa Regent Bruce Rastatter plans to build his factory farms.

You can access the full report here.

What the Oakland Institute’s new report adds to the story is not that Bruce Rastetter’s collusion with Iowa State University for an attempted landgrab in Tanzania threatened thousands of refugees with forced displacement. That’s been the crux of the story for the last year, despite his company’s official denials.

What this new report demonstrates for the first time is that this landgrab is still moving forward, and that actual human rights violations are happening right now on the ground in the refugee settlements, including:

  • The burning of refugee homes and crops by state security forces,
  • Widespread intimidation,
  • Arbitrary arrests,
  • Lack of free speech,
  • Inequities in social services,
  • Loss of culture, and
  • An inability to plan and build for the future.

AgriSol reps are trying to spin this report away.  Their language is very crafty because it denies the claims in the report while still leaving loopholes big enough to drive a manure spreader through.  But as Anuradha Mittal, the executive director Oakland Institute, said, “This is not a case of our word against their word.  This is case of their word against their own documents.”

AgriSol moving forward with Tanzanian development

Rastetter and AgriSol Energy have claimed from the beginning that their land grab project in Tanzania is not responsible for any displacement of refugees from their 40 year old communities and that what the Tanzanian government does has nothing to do with them.

In the Daily Iowan July 9 :

“AgriSol has absolutely nothing to do with the refugees in Katumba and Mishamo,” said Henry Akona, AgriSol Tanzania’s director of communications.  “We were considering those areas a few years a few years ago, but we have suspended any plans because the land is occupied.”

This begs the question, what happens after the land is no longer occupied?  A critical reading of Akona’s statement leads to only one conclusion:  AgriSol still intends to move forward with its landgrab, the only thing standing in the way are the refugees.  As soon as they are displaced, the project will move forward.

Akona’s statement is even more revealing for its similarities to a statement posted on the AgriSol website FAQ, under the question “In what part of Tanzania will the AgriSol project take place”:

With the camps closed, the Tanzanian government wanted to restore the land, which has been depleted by decades of use, to a more productive state once the refugees were resettled.  However, that process has been delayed at Katumba and Mishamo and, while AgriSol has an open memorandum of understanding in place, it has halted active development efforts for those sites until the situation is resolved.”

Refugees only roadblock to AgriSol’s landgrab

If you read between the lines, AgriSol is clearly stating that they intend to take the land as soon as the refugees are displaced.

In addition, the Oakland Institute already rebutted this attempted whitewash last December 2011 in their fact sheet “8 Myths And Facts About AgriSol Energy in Tanzania”:

Myth #2: AgriSol Is Not Involved in the Displacement of Burundi Refugees

“…the decision to repatriate those who wanted to return to Burundi and naturalise those who wanted to become citizens of Tanzania was made before AgriSol ever became involved, and we were not involved in the decisions or subsequent activities.” – from a 2011 public statement by AgriSol


The Tanzanian government began a naturalization process in 2008 with a plan to grant citizenship to 162,000 refugees in April 2010. Yet, while the Tanzanian government has been celebrated internationally for this generosity, the refugees’ citizenship is contingent upon a coerced move from the places they have called home for the past 40 years.

A feasibility study for the investment in Katumba and Mishamo refugee settlements was commissioned and conducted on behalf of AgriSol USA as early as July 2008. This discrete study was done almost simultaneously with the announcement of the government’s plans to close down the camps.

AgriSol through its MOU and other demands has played a key role in determining the future of the current refugee inhabitants.

The former Minister of Home Affairs, Lawrence Masha, who was in charge of the refugee camps when the relocation plan was decided, has since been hired as a “legal advisor” to AgriSol.

The Oakland Institutes’ newest report also takes up this question and adds new evidence:

Based on an examination of AgriSol’s documents and OI’s fieldwork in 2012, it is clear that the agreement for the proposed land investment takes advantage of the ambiguity around the status of refugees and relocation plans. It is likely that AgriSol referred to the proposed site as an abandoned settlement knowing that their investment proposal would influence or accelerate the relocation.

The abuses happening on the ground in Tanzania today were set in motion in the last few years by the partnership between AgriSol, Iowa State University, and the Tanzanian government. Rastetter is set to make millions from the forced displacement of these refugees, plain and simple. He bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for the human rights violations that are being conducted on his behalf.

The question Iowans should be asking is, “is this the kind of person we want serving on the Iowa Board of Regents?

Iowa CCI members call for Rastetter’s immediate resignation or termination from the Board of Regents.

Add your name to the petition calling on Branstad to Fire Bruce Rastetter:

  • Join hundreds of other Iowans calling on Gov. Branstad to fire Bruce Rastetter —  the man unable to separate his role as an Iowa public Regent from his personal financial interest. Click here to read more and add your name.


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Basu: Is help from corporate agriculture beneficial?

AgriSol deal would have benefited American investors at Tanzanians expense

Photo caption: Bruce Rastetter, a Hubbard businessman, is serving his first term on the Iowa Board of Regents. / Register file photo

Written by Rekha Basu

Iowans are regularly reminded of our role in helping to feed the world’s hungry, and from a technological perspective, we have certainly played an important role. An Iowan launched the so-called Green Revolution, and the World Food Prize that he created annually honors others who have made important innovations in agriculture. Iowa today is in the vanguard of the biotech revolution.

So it may be hard to contemplate the paradox that even as we have helped block world hunger, we might also inadvertently be contributing to it. There is growing evidence around the world that high-yield technologies that require costly and potentially harmful chemical fertilizers and other inputs squeeze small farmers out in favor of large conglomerates, resulting in impoverishment or suicides.

Recent weeks have brought a few occasions to think about this. Members of the Des Moines Occupy movement announced plans to protest the World Food Prize events this fall. Instead of “pro-corporate agribusiness recipients who support GMO crops and the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals,” the prize should honor people “who advocate sustainable, safe, local agriculture in the U.S. and abroad,” the group said in a statement.

Occupy also noted that corporate agribusiness has gone beyond controlling food supplies to also controlling “governments, laws, and patents.”

That might sound like a conspiracy theoryuntil you consider the Tanzania land deal negotiated by an Iowa Board of Regents member, which was the subject of a recent complaint to the state ethics board. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed the complaint, alleging that Bruce Rastetter, the founder and managing director of AgriSol Energy Corp., had a conflict of interests with a deal involving Iowa State University.

AgriSol would have paid the Tanzanian government a mere 25 cents an acre for the right to cultivate 800,000 acres, by evicting some 160,000 Burundian refugee farmers. For decades, they had been growing a variety of crops, producing more than 40 percent of the district’s food on just 4 percent of the land. Under the AgriSol deal, they would be given $200 apiece and the land would be turned over to corn and soybeans.

AgriSol stood to make $300 million. And the corn and soybeans wouldn’t necessarily feed Tanzanians.

AgriSol’s consultant was advising the company to seek a guarantee from the government that it could export all the food it produces — even if there were a food shortage in Tanzania.

Critics, including former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, called it a “land grab.” Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement alleges Rastetter used his status as a regent and big donor to get Iowa State University involved, falsified a financial disclosure statement with the state ethics board, and didn’t disclose the land deal to the regents until six weeks after joining the board — after it was reported in the press.

If the theory is accurate, Rastetter’s $1.75 million gift to ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences may have opened some doors for him there. In 2007, officials traveled to Tanzania with him. Even the person who had been in charge of the refugee camps was evidently co-opted into being a legal adviser to AgriSol.

Rastetter was appointed to the Board of Regents by Gov. Terry Branstad after being his largest 2010 campaign contributor. Rastetter recused himself from the project last September, and ISU later said it would stop advising AgriSol on the project. But Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement asked for Rastetter’s resignation from the regents.

All this points to the broader potential for U.S. companies, with compliant or even corrupt governments, to exploit small farmers in the developing world under the guise of helping them. We may not be able to control what their governments do, but we should take a closer look at what our own companies pass off as “help.”

Rastetter and others had claimed the deal would help Tanzanians improve their food production techniques. But the large-scale, high-yield, monoculture model would not have suited the farmers it displaced in order for American investors to get rich.

Many Iowa small hog farmers lost their livelihoods when corporate agribusinesses like Heartland Pork displaced them. Now, in the face of skyrocketing prices, some of the same principals have turned to Africa, where land can still be had cheaply. Rastetter previously owned Heartland Pork.

It is hard to challenge corporate agriculture in this state. It’s promoted by targeted state university research, and its principals fund the political campaigns of elected officials — who might return the favor with plumb appointments.

So it falls to grassroots groups like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement to call for an investigation. Some of its members lost their own hog farms to Heartland Pork.

Branstad won’t even wait until the outcome of the state ethics board complaint to voice his confidence in Rastetter’s judgment — a clear signal to the board. But the board should show its independence by conducting a thorough investigation.


Add your name to the petition calling on Branstad to Fire Bruce Rastetter:

  • Join hundreds of other Iowans calling on Gov. Branstad to fire Bruce Rastetter —  the man unable to separate his role as an Iowa public Regent from his personal financial interest. Click here to read more and add your name.


Join the fight


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