A current picture of the countryside in Musoma District.
In 1966 the US Peace Corps assigned me to Rwamkoma Settlement Scheme in northern Tanzania just east of Lake Victoria. Due to the enthusiasm of independence Tanzania decided to jump into modern commercial farming with the establishment of a number of “settlement” schemes. The idea developed by “experts” was that farmers would move together into a compact village with schools, health clinics, piped water, and (maybe) electricity. The schemes would be mechanized so that tractors plowed the fields for the settlers. Each one would be given acreage to grow food crops and a commercial crop to repay the debts from joining the scheme and reimbursements for plowing, seeds, fertilizer, and other costs.
The Rwankoma Settlement Scheme grew cotton as its cash crop. People were given two acres for food crops and two more for cotton. These were marked off in large fields. Each settler was given a small plot in the village where they could build a house and grow vegetables and minor crops. I was posted to the settlement scheme and in time I became the cooperative secretary that recorded the cotton harvests of each settler. Consequently I had first-hand knowledge of what each settler was producing.
The scheme was a disaster.
First, the number of settler slots were not filled because the local people did not want to live in villages and cultivate fields outside their own plot. Those settlers that were there all kept their traditional homesteads and came to the scheme in the hope that there might be some advantages for them.
Second, if the settler grew two acres of good cotton, all the proceeds would be taken to pay for the plowing, seeds, and fertilizer plus the considerable overhead of developing the scheme and paying the settlement scheme staff (manager, assistant manager, coop secretary, mechanic, and tractor drivers).
Third, at that time there were few tractors in Musoma District and, whenever a tractor broke, spare parts were hard to get as they sometimes had to be brought all the way from Dar es Salaam, the capitol over 1000 kilometers (625 miles) away over poor roads. As a result the tractors were often out of commission with the result that plowing was often late.
Fourth, due to its altitude of about 1525 meters (5000 feet), cotton growing was marginal and conditions had to be perfect for the farmer to obtain a good yield. Even if he/she did, the yield would just cover the costs so that the settler, after doing the work of planting, weeding, and harvesting the cotton, would remain with no cash income. So what would be the advantage to the farmer from growing the cotton?
Fifth, the experts looked at the average rainfall which was sufficient for cotton, but ignored the variability in the rainfall patterns. Consequently, as happened during one year I was there when rainfall was considerably below normal, the farmers were unable to pay off their debts and had to carry them forward to the next year. As a result all the farmers had considerable debts that they couldn’t pay off.
Sixth, there was considerable corruption. Farmers themselves would carry some of the cotton off the scheme and put it with their homestead cotton and take it to the ginnery to be paid cash, therefore getting at least something for their efforts. More important was the fact that the manager of the scheme was stealing in every method he could. He sold seed, fertilizer, diesel, and other inputs and pocketed the proceeds. At night he took cotton from the settlement store and sold it the next day at the ginnery. And so on.
It was clear to me that the scheme was unviable. So I wrote up an analysis of the economics of the scheme and sent it to one of my contacts in Dar es Salaam. I don’t know if this had any effect on the scheme as I will describe below, but I did see the paper cited in a study of the settlement schemes.
The situation for me came to a head when the manager went on vacation. He gave the key to the safe to the assistant manager, but clearly kept another one for himself. He counted the money with the assistant manager that was in the safe, but, after he left, when the assistant manager opened the safe, he found all the cash missing. So we went to the local sub-chief to report this theft plus the other methods of embezzlement that the manager was doing. I wrote a letter to the Peace Corps concerning these developments. As soon as they received my letter, they removed me from the settlement scheme. I will have to admit that I was happy to leave since I didn’t really want to be part of a sinking enterprise.
By this time in late 1967, relations between the United States and Tanzania had deteriorated. It seems so puerile now. In 1964 Tanganyika joined with Zanzibar to form the new country of Tanzania. Tanganyika had recognized West Germany and Zanzibar had recognized East Germany. President Julius Nyerere decided that Tanzania would then continue to recognize both West and East Germany. This made Tanzania an enemy of the United States. As a result the Peace Corps was being removed and so I finished out the last eight months of my tour in Kenya where I had been transferred.
To finish the story, about a month after I left, some of the settlers attacked the manager one night and told him that, if he did not leave the scheme, they would kill him. He left the next day. Within six months to a year later, the Tanzanian Government realized that the Rwamkoma Settlement Scheme was a failure and turned it into a beef cattle scheme with few or no settlers. Within the next few years all the other capital intensive settlement schemes were closed down.
President Nyerere though, didn’t learn. He continued to promote the policy of “villagization” where the farmers would be consolidated into villages, but without the costly overhead that the settlement scheme had. This policy was one of Nyerere’s big failures since the local people, who had never been consulted, preferred to live in their own homesteads with their fields adjacent to their house.
What are the take-aways from this experience:
- The “experts” don’t have sufficient knowledge of local conditions to develop a viable agricultural development.
- A top down agricultural program will not work.
- The local farmers must be consulted in any innovations and these innovations will only succeed if the farmers see its definite benefits.
- Changes must be in accord with local culture – villagization in Tanzania was contrary to the local culture.
- The timeline for agricultural development cannot be compressed into a set scheme, but will take years of experimentation and fine tuning before it will be successful.
- “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”
- Commercialization of agriculture as practiced in the United States and elsewhere is not viable in a small farming community context.
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