by Martin Walsh
Martin Walsh has taken over as editor of the TA reviews section from John Cooper-Poole. The editorial team would like to thank John again for the wonderful job he has done since 2002. Correspondence about past, pending and future reviews should now be addressed directly to Martin (kisutu
COTTON IN TANZANIA: BREAKING THE JINX. Joe C. B. Kabissa. Tanzania Educational Publishers, Bukoba, 2014. 338 pp. (paperback). ISBN 9789987070077. Available from African Books Collective, £24.95.
The right strategy for cotton in Tanzania has been a key issue for the agricultural sector both before and after independence. The question is complex and many observers and participants have contributed analyses which were specific to their time. Dr Joe Kabissa has now written a comprehensive account of the growth of the industry since German times up to the present day. Kabissa is uniquely qualified for this task, being an entomologist who has served both as head of cotton research at Ukiriguru and Ilonga and as Director of the Tanzania Cotton Board, retiring in 2012, He has a very broad knowledge of the global cotton sector and is also that rare ex-civil servant who is prepared to criticise in public his former political masters.
The challenges facing the industry have always been both scientific (pests, viruses and yields) and institutional. Alongside these has been the critical issue of farm-level cropping options: what are the relative margins of cotton, maize, and rice in an ever-changing world and domestic market? These issues have not prevented nearly half a million small farmers growing cotton in a ‘good’ year, such as 2005/6 when a record total of 376,000 tons of seed cotton was achieved.
The potential value of the crop to the national economy was first recognised by the German colonial government which saw the eastern belt (Moshi to Iringa) as the principal home of the industry, with plantations linked to compulsory labour. The British government pushed the industry into the Lake Zone, focusing research at Ukiriguru, managed by the British (later Empire) Cotton Growing Association. In the1950s, with high commodity prices, this policy was largely successful, with rising yields and an increasingly viable institutional structure in the Victoria Federation of Co-operative Unions (VFCU). This owned its own ginneries, exported most of the crop to the UK and was led by luminaries like Paul Bomani.
For the first decade after independence this format was preserved and production continued to rise. However, the big changes mandated by CCM in the structure of co-operatives in the 1970s proved immensely debilitating to the VFCU (now the Nyanza Co-operative Union, NCU). The donor-led ultraliberal reforms of the late 80s and 90s reduced the NCU to a rump organisation and created destructive competition between about 30 ginners, eventually leading to a five per cent discount on the world price for Tanzanian cotton lint. A parallel history had taken place in textile manufacturing, with substantial investments in joint ventures by the National Development Corporation and seven foreign companies, nearly all of which were privatised in the 1990s with similarly disappointing results. However, at least two new private companies have emerged and perform impressively.
Kabissa deals with both the detail and the broader policy issues in an impressive way. He is very clear that high quality research in the 1950s and 60s facilitated the development of improved varieties with resistance to the critical pest and viral threats from bollworm and Fusarium wilt. This created a potentially powerful springboard for the sector. However, the national co-operative reforms of the 1970s were disastrous for the NCU and its members and underinvestment by government in research and development from the mid-1970s was grossly negligent. The lack of a policy on genetically modified cotton, embraced by Tanzania’s competitors, was an opportunity lost (for the time being). He shows how the cotton growing and textile manufacturing sectors have not been developed in recent years with any form of real interdependence in spite of a long-standing goal that 70 per cent of cotton should be spun and woven within Tanzania. In practice the low quality of lint supplied by the ginners and with its implications for yarn quality has locked the three or four weaving companies into production of kanga and kitenge cloth for a largely captive market.
Kabissa’s central point is that the huge potential of the cotton sector both from the point of view of farmers and the national economy has not been realised over more than a century of opportunity. With regard to the recent past he blames the lack of an effective strategy on government with its failure to build up the Tanzania Cotton Board as a regulator and driver of change. In particular he shows how repeated changes in the system for distributing inputs has created disillusionment among farmers who depend on an efficient system and for whom this a matter of economic survival. His conclusion, captured in the book’s subtitle, is that there seems to be a ‘jinx’ on real change, although he sees major possibilities in recent shifts to contract farming. Cotton in Tanzania is not only a courageous book, but sets an excellent precedent for seasoned professionals in Africa to take apart the failures of agricultural policy which continue to hold back output and rural security. This is a pioneering study, which deserves to be replicated in other sectors and countries.
DISTRICT OFFICER IN TANGANYIKA: THE MEMOIRS OF DICK EBERLIE. PART 2: 1956-60. Dick Eberlie. Privately printed, 2014. 309 pp. (paperback). Available from the author (email@example.com. co.uk).
This book about Dick Eberlie’s colonial service in Tanganyika is the second volume of his memoirs (the first was about his early life). He attended the Oxford Devonshire Course in 1956 when there were eight of us on the course, and towards the end of the year we held a riotous dinner in Oriel College at which we gave ourselves the whimsical name Haidhuru, ‘it doesn’t matter’. What none of us knew then was that Eberlie was minutely recording his daily life, and from this he has skilfully put together a coherent and interesting narrative of the period up to 1960 and the work that he did as a young District Officer.
We sailed to Tanganyika in July 1957 before dispersing to our various districts. Eberlie spent some months in Handeni District, where he had an amusing encounter with Governor Twining. He describes the extraordinary responsibilities given to him as a new DO when he was left on his own at district HQ. He then moved to Nzega District, where his work included the development of local water supplies, trading centres and the development of local government.
Then his health began to fail and he was moved to Ocean Road Hospital in Dar, having been diagnosed with TB. From this point on his account reads more like pages from the Tatler than that of a recovering patient. He began to get involved with Government House, and describes his first meetings with Lady Turnbull and later the Governor. When pronounced reasonably fit, he was posted to Kisarawe District, 1,000 feet higher than Dar and healthier. Reading about his safaris there I particularly admire the thoroughness of his work, which makes me feel quite idle. At different times he and I were presiding officers in the national elections at Shungubweni. In 1958, I waited all day for the twelfth registered voter to turn up and read the whole of Robert Graves’ Good-Bye To All That; Eberlie had much more usefully employed himself dealing with the sub-chief and local people.
This book will have a much wider appeal than to those of us who served together (only five of our original group of eight Overseas Service Course students now survive). It has been printed privately, has an attractive wrapper depicting palm trees, and includes excellent maps and numerous photographs.
CAPITALISM AND CLOVES: AN ARCHAEOLOGY OF PLANTATION LIFE ON NINETEENTH-CENTURY ZANZIBAR. Sarah K. Croucher. Springer New York 2015. 256 pp (hardback) ISBN 978-1-4419-8470-8. £90.00.
Nineteenth-century European visitors to Zanzibar were wont to wax lyrical as they described the approach to Unguja (Zanzibar) by sea. First the scent of cloves, which had the explorer Richard Burton quoting from Milton’s Paradise Lost (“Sabaean odours from the spicy shore”); then the verdant island itself, which in the words of the second British Consul, Lieutenant-Colonel Rigby, “presented the appearance of an unbroken forest of cocoanut, mango and other trees, with the clove plantations on the hills forming the background”. Rigby continued to enthuse over the beauty of the rural landscape, though he left no doubt that this was a man-made scene in which the “country-houses of the Arab proprietors, and the huts of their slaves, are thickly dotted over the surface”. The larger part of his Report on the Zanzibar Dominions (1860) was about the iniquities of the slave trade and the need to suppress it. Happily, this was eventually achieved, though slavery has left an indelible mark on the society and politics of Zanzibar as well as the agricultural landscape of the islands. The smell of cloves still lingers around Zanzibar’s wharves.
As the Zanzibar government struggles to revive the fortunes of a crop that once dominated the economy, this is as good a time as any to begin digging into its past. Sarah Croucher’s Capitalism and Cloves is a brave book. It is based primarily on a surface survey of clove plantations in four areas of Unguja and Pemba islands, and the excavation of an Arab plantation owner’s house near Piki on Pemba. Chapters describe the regional context, Zanzibar’s plantation landscapes, the archaeology of slavery, plantation households, and the global trade and local ceramics associated with them. Croucher’s central argument is that the plantation economy of Zanzibar has to be understood on its own terms, not least because of the way in which slaves assimilated into Swahili society.
Croucher found that slavery is now relatively invisible in the archaeological record, while the presumed descendants of slaves have mostly forgotten the fact, and can only recite generalised narratives about the bad old days. As a result, she had far too little material to work with: the archaeology is thin, its interpretation often too speculative. The book is padded out with more information (and jargon) about the archaeology of the Atlantic world than many readers will be comfortable with. The author might have made much more use of recent anthropological and agricultural research on the islands. I was also surprised to find no reference to historical sources like Henry Stanley Newman’s Banani: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom in Zanzibar and Pemba (1898), or Robert Nunez Lyne’s Zanzibar in Contemporary Times (1905), which includes a nice description of the house of one of his Arab neighbours in Dunga. That said, Capitalism and Cloves is an original study that has much to recommend it. It raises important questions about Zanzibar’s past and its interpretation, is replete with interesting observations, and will no doubt be consulted by students and researchers for many years to come.