William Ostberg, THE KONDOA TRANSFORMATION: COMING TO GRIPS WITH SOIL
EROSION IN CENTRAL TANZANIA. Research Report no. 76, Scandinavian Institute of Agricultural Studies, Uppsala, Sweden. 99p.
The problems of land degradation and conservation have been brought into the international limelight by the recent famines in the semi-arid regions of Africa. It is a matter of concern that there appears to be so little to show for the amount of effort that has gone into soil conservation. This is often because ‘the ideas and the techniques involved have not been taken up, or have even been actively opposed by the local farming population. It is thus very encouraging to read of a programme that has been successful because it has won the support of the farmers.
Kondoa became notorious in Tanzania for its extreme examples of soil erosion. Spectacular gullies scarred the hillsides, while broad sand rivers spilled over the agricultural land of the plains. The present soil conservation project, known as HADO (Hifadhi ya Ardhi Dodoma) began in 1973, but the transformation of the landscape dates from 1979 when cattle were excluded from the most severely eroded land; since then the vegetation has recovered rapidly, soil erosion has been greatly reduced, and formerly devastated land is being turned into productive farmland.
The author undertook a socio-economic study of the Kondoa eroded area during February and March 1955, and this report relates his findings to the history of the area and of the project. His analysis of the historical background takes us back to the 19th Century, and the demands placed on the countryside by the caravan trade. Since then the cultivated land area has increased with the growing population, and in particular, the “expansionist” agriculture of the dominant Rangi people. But perhaps the most serious problem has been the livestock that traditionally have been allowed to graze freely over all the land. Attempts at soil conservation during Colonial times led to the adoption of improved cultivation methods and rotational grazing schemes, but attempts at reducing the livestock population failed.
The HADO Project started on conventional lines. Land which was to be rehabilitated was closed to grazing. Then contour banks and check dams were built, and trees and grass were planted. Machines were used initially, but these were soon replaced by hand labour. By 1979 the project management realised that this job would take a hundred years, and it was expensive. The major benefit of all the work had been in fact the increased vegetation cover once the livestock was excluded. Therefore, why not exclude livestock from the whole eroded area for a limited period?
This was done. It succeeded despite the reluctance of the local people to part with their livestock, and there were confrontations; in one incident a HADO worker was killed. Other operations were also opposed. Plantations were sited on eroded land that had been cultivated previously; resentful farmers have burnt some of them. Gradually, however, people have come to see the advantages of the measures. Cultivators find that they can plant more land, some of which was formerly reserved for grazing, and with the improved vegetation cover and reduced runoff the lowlands have been restored to productivity. The plantations are becoming more popular as poles can be bought cheaply and firewood is free.
Now the project is considering how livestock can be re-introduced to the area without undoing all the progress that has been achieved, If this can be done there will be lessons in the HADO Project for soil conservation in many parts of Africa.
The report is well structured and easy to read. Sadly, it lacks a summary, though one can be obtained separately. As so much literature on development problems is not published by commercial publishers, it is important that work such as this is presented in a form which can be entered into the specialist databases that now cover the subject – a summary would therefore be invaluable.