Rastetter Tried to Use Taxpayer Funding for Tanzanian Land Grab
Newly Released USDA Documents Reveal AgriSol Sought International Food Aid Funds
DES MOINES, Iowa – Just days after the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board refused to investigate Iowa Regent Bruce Rastetter for conflict of interest violations, newly released documents reveal that he attempted to use a partnership with Iowa State University (ISU) to get U.S. government funding to establish his controversial agribusiness project in Tanzania.
Working with ISU faculty, Rastetter’s company AgriSol applied in 2011 for more than $7 million in taxpayer dollars as part of an international food aid program run by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board may not get it, but it’s clear that Rastetter has tried to pull every string he can to get his corporate land grab off the ground,” says Lori Nelson, a CCI Board Member from Bayard, Iowa. “It’s outrageous that he tried using the good name of ISU to get U.S. taxpayers to pay his start-up costs.”
The $7 million AgriSol sought from the USDA program would be in exchange for supplies of food aid, which AgriSol or its affiliate would sell in Tanzania. The AgriSol application explains that the proceeds from the food sales would help with infrastructure and start-up costs for an industrial agribusiness project in Tanzania, which could displace thousands of refugees.
Emails obtained by Food & Water Watch through the Freedom of Information Act show that some inside USDA were concerned about the application: “In fact it reads very much like an investment prospectus, as you can imagine,” said one email by an official of USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service.
The USDA ultimately denied AgriSol’s application for funding in fiscal year 2012.
Presenting the project as a humanitarian effort to develop agriculture in Tanzania, documents obtained by Food & Water Watch show that AgriSol promoted the involvement of ISU in the application and involved ISU agronomy Professor Mark Westgate in —even though ISU had already officially backed out of the USDA application process in mid-September 2011, citing potential conflict of interest concerns with Rastetter. Professor Westgate personally met with the USDA on AgriSol’s behalf then helped submit the USDA application, using his official ISU email address.
“It’s bad enough that an Iowa Regent keeps trying to drag ISU into his business enterprises,” Nelson said. “But now, even though Rastetter describes himself as a self-reliant farmer, these documents show that he wanted U.S. taxpayers and poor Tanzanians to foot the bill for setting up his profit-making enterprise.”
“This latest revelation is just one more reason it’s time for Rastetter to be held accountable,” said Matt Ohloff, Iowa organizer for Food & Water Watch. “CCI and Food & Water Watch members will continue to call for Rastetter to resign from the Board of Regents.”
Copies of select documents obtained from the USDA can be found here: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/FWWFOIAUSDARastetter.pdf (cannot be downloaded from Safari). For access to additional documents obtained by Food & Water Watch’s Freedom of Information Act request, see contact information below.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a group of everyday people who talk, act and get things done on issues that matter most. With thousands of members from all walks of life — urban and rural, black and white, immigrants and lifelong Iowans — CCI has been tackling tough issues and getting things done for more than 35 years. www.iowacci.org
Anna Ghosh, (415) 293-9905, aghosh(at)fwwatch(dot)org
Adam Mason, (515) 282-0484, adam(at)iowacci(dot)org