Since independence peasant farming has received great emphasis in Tanzania at least at the rhetorical level. In his inaugural address to the Republican Parliament on 10 December 1962 President Nyerere said that “Tanganyika is in fact a country of peasant farmers… for this reason, in drawing up our Three Year Development Plan, Government decided to lay the greatest emphasis on agriculture. But it is ridiculous to concentrate on agriculture if we are not going to make any change in our old methods of cultivation and our old ways of living. .. The hand hoe will not bring us the things we need today.” He realised, as he does today , that peasant agriculture was operating under enormous cultural and technical constraints associated with the mode of life, traditions and customs of the peasantry. He envisaged this change taking place only if rural people stopped living in scattered homesteads in the countryside and started living in nucleated villages.
“For the next few years Government will be doing all it can to enable the farmers of Tanganyika to come together in village communities … Unless we do we shall not be able to provide ourselves with the things we need to develop our land and to raise our standard of living. We shall not be able to use tractors; we shall not be able to provide school s for our children; we shall not be able to build hospitals, or have clean drinking water, it will be quite impossible to start small village industries.”
Nyerere’s concept of village community life was not limited to the advantages to agriculture from the use of tractors and oxen, or the provision of social services which he regarded as essential prerequisites to the improvement of t he quality of life in the countryside, but he also envisaged villages as providing the basic units of participatory and democratic government.
“If the people are to be able to develop they must have power. They must be able to control their own activities within the framework of their village communities. And they must be able to mount effective pressure nationally also. The people must participate not just in the physical labour involved in economic development, but also in the planning of it and the determination of priorities.”
Thus, Nyerere’s ideas for improving the life of people in the rural areas embraced a wide spectrum of objectives – political, social, economic and cultural. These aims were encapsulated in the philosophical concept of ‘ujamaa’, a vision of rural life that would give substance to his beliefs about human development.
However, early attempts to promote the resettlement of the rural people in villages proved abortive. It was only after the publication of the Arusha Declaration in 1967, which set out a new national development strategy based on socialist principles, that the peasants began in any numbers to move into villages, known popularly as ‘ujamaa villages’. The key elements of this new policy were education and persuasion, resulting in voluntary movement into village communities. Even so, by the middle of 1973 it was evident that villagisation was proceeding at a pace much slower than expected and in October 1973 the Party directed the Government to ensure that all rural people were living in villages by the end of 1976. In 1973 there 5,628 villages in mainland Tanzania with a total population of just over two million representing about 15% of the total population of mainland Tanzania, but by 1976 the number of villages had increased to 7,684 embracing a population of over 13 million, or 81% of the total.
Nyerere’s concern for the welfare of rural people stems from the fact of his own peasant origin and his continuing close links with village life. He is a full member of Butiama village, the home of his birth, and delights to visit it whenever he can spare time away from the burdens of party office. He participates actively in village activities and works on the village farm alongside his fellow villagers. It is common knowledge in Tanzania, especially among the bureaucratic elite , that when it comes to working with the hand hoe or machete it is not advisable to stand close to Nyerere. You just cannot match up with his zeal and vigour and will only end up in shame and dejection !
It would however be misleading to attribute Nyerere’s concern with the welfare of the peasantry solely to his own close links with the countryside. His belief that poverty is incompatible with social justice and human dignity underlies the emphasis that he has placed on increased agricultural production by the adoption of modern methods of cultivation as the key to individual fulfilment.
After independence the Ministry of Agriculture’s extension services were entrusted with the task of providing training in improved farming practices and exercising a measure of supervision over the application of modern methods of crop management and animal husbandry. Extension staff were also expected to concern themselves with the timely procurement and distribution of agricultural inputs as well as giving advice on their proper use. The field extension worker – the Bwana Shamba – was, and still is, a key Government agent of grassroots development in the rural economy. There were of course difficulties arising from traditional practices and the natural conservatism of peasant populations. But the central problem lay with the extension workers themselves. There was truth, if also a measure of exaggeration, in President Nyerere’s remark in October 1985, that he could dismiss all the extension staff in the country and there would be no change in agricultural production.
Critics of the Tanzanian extension services have listed the following causes of their relative ineffectiveness:
-the presence of poorly trained or untrained and unmotivated staff;
-lack of close and effective supervision;
-lack of planning;
-ill-defined responsibilities and accountability;
-rigid bureaucratic procedures;
-lack of transport facilities and equipment; and
-poor links between research and extension, with the result of poor or no dissemination of research findings to the peasants.
There were also serious pedagogical shortcomings, which Nyerere was quick to recognise. Himself a trained teacher, he realised that old-fashioned didactical methods were almost useless.
“Agricultural progress is indeed the basis of Tanzanian development … We have to make it understood and meaningful. There is now only one way we can do that. We have to demonstrate by actions that better agricultural methods are possible… We have to show and not say; we have to act, not talk.”
Thus Nyerere put his faith in the demonstration plot, in working with and alongside the peasants. To communicate new methods to the peasantry it was necessary to provide objective proof that the new technology worked.
In the past Government allocations of resources to agriculture have fallen short of the rhetoric. Between 1976-77 and 1981-82 the agricultural sector received an average of only 10.1% of the development budget at central and regional level. Only after the President’s address to the National Conference of CCM in October 1982 did the Government begin to raise the budgetary allocations to the agricultural sector. In 1983-84 the allocation was 23.4% of the development budget, in 1984-85 28.4% and for 1985-86 30.7%.
But the problems of Tanzanian agriculture did not flow from inadequate capital allocations alone. Other causes were the poor distribution of inputs, inadequate rural credit, late cash payment of peasants by the crop authorities, poor marketing organisation, erratic pricing policies, wastage caused by pests and vermin and inadequate warehousing facilities. Agricultural research was inadequate and often irrelevant and information poorly disseminated. Above all there was the unreliability of the weather.
Although, therefore, agriculture has been recognised as the mainstay of the Tanzanian economy at least as far back as 1967, in practice peasant farming, which is by far the largest component of agricultural activity, has been neglected but this situation is now changing and there is a greater awareness of the crucial role of agriculture. Substantial increases in producer prices have been a signal to the peasants of the importance now attached to their work, even if the shelves in the village dukas, where money is converted into things, remain relatively bare. Above all, the atmosphere in which agricultural activities are undertaken is now changing and as the obstacles in the way of production, distribution and marketing are mastered one by one there is now real hope that the agricultural potential of Tanzania will be realised and that the long term goal of self-sufficiency in foodstuffs will at last be reached.
Ndugu JUMA NGASONGWA is on the staff of the Sokoine University in Morogoro dealing with Development Studies.