‘The Evolution of Rural Policies in Tanzania’ or ‘Can a Government Bureaucracy Bring About Development?’ – PART 1


At independence Tanzania inherited a peasant economy.  In order to get minimum cash incomes peasants cultivated cash crops, but in the world division of labour, these cash crops could not be the basis of a sustained rise in living standards.  Peasants realised this most of the time, and therefore resisted growing cash crops.

Government staff and politicians tried to persuade them to grow more crops, sometimes using force, and sometimes the promise of higher incomes.  But mostly the staff was ignored, often their advice was technically unsound, and when peasants did decide to grow more crops it was not usually because of staff.

Since independence Tanzania has used these same staff to try and increase production, and in 1972 their potential power to use force was much increased by the decentralisation measures.  Moreover the implementation of ‘ujamaa’ has gradually come to use more and more force.

But, as pointed out by Mwalimu Nyerere himself, force is bound to fail, since it regards those on whom it is used as less than human being, alienates them and discourages them from growing more.

To liberate productive forces and increase production and enthusiasm people have to plan things for themselves, and to believe that a better life for themselves and their children will come if they work harder.

This cannot happen without a struggle which puts the workers and peasants in power in place of the bureaucratic class.  All other policies – i.e., the use of even more force, are an attempt to re-establish individualistic production – and in the present situation bound to fail.

A Peasant Economy

At independence in 1961 Tanzania inherited a peasant economy which was a rather unimportant appendage of the world capitalist system. That is to say that most of the 95% of its people who lived in the rural areas grew most of their own food, built their own houses, collected their own fuel, maintained most of their own roads, and in as many ways as possible tried to be independent of the market economy.

But (and this is true of all peasant economies) they were not independent.  One of the first actions of the Germans had been to force some of them to grow cotton. The Germans and later the British had imposed taxes to be paid in money and this had been designed to force the local people to sell products (cash crops) for money. Later they had encouraged Asian and Arab traders to go into the remotest areas selling consumer foods in exchange for money, and by the time of independence the colonialists had realised that in many parts of the country the desire for consumer goods and education could provide the motivation to earn money by growing cash crops. As the peasants became accustomed to imported textiles, aluminium cooking pots, paraffin lamps, salt, sugar, tea, etc., and bus and lorry transport, so they became more and more dependent.  To maintain their way of life they had little alternative except to grow some cash crops.  They were trapped within the world capitalist system.1

The production of cash crops led to a relative prosperity in certain regions. This was especially true in certain periods of times – e.g., the coffee farmers of Kilimanjaro, Bukoba and Tukuyu in the 1950s (and to some extent today), and the cotton growers of Sukumaland again in the 1950s.

But this apparent prosperity was totally dependent on the state of the world capitalist system.  When this all but collapsed in the late 1920s and the 1930s, and world prices fell, the Mwanza cotton farmers got less than 10 cents per lb. of seed cotton, and the Bukoba coffee farmers less than 25 cents per lb. for their robusta coffee.  At the time of writing (October, 1974) the world capitalist system has been thrown into disarray and few commentators think that a collapse similar in scale to that of the 1930s can be avoided.2If this happens, coffee, cotton, sisal and other world commodity prices (at present held artificially high by speculative pressures in the world markets) will come crashing down.  Tanzania will then be as bankrupt and defenseless as Bangladesh is today.  The peasants will have no say in the matter.  He will not be consulted, nor will he be able to challenge the system – he will simply suffer a drastic cut in his living standard.  But he will survive.  As a recent commentator put it:

It was this basic self-reliance which allowed overseas buyers to lower the prices for the colonial farmers products beneath their labour value, which permitted an expensive transport system to be built with foreign materials to carry the produce to town and which made sure that the farmer would still carry on with his cash crop production after every economic crisis in the capitalist centres.  In the case of such a crisis the colonial peasant could be expected to wait patiently until his labour was again demanded, ‘subsisting’ in the meanwhile from what he could produce by himself.3

In any case much of the short-term prosperity was confined to a few relatively richer individuals.  Mount Kilimanjaro to this day supports some of the worst malnutrition statistics in the country.  For many Chagga farmers the coming of coffee has meant a worse diet and more work as their cows produced less milk and as the grass to feed them had to be carried from farther and farther away.4  But meanwhile a few who were related to chiefs and who therefore had more land than the majority have been able to hire labourers to pick their coffee.  Others who invested early in education have been able to build grand houses with the money sent back by civil servant relatives – but this has been possible because of the rate of expansion of the civil service and the parastatals more than because of the production of coffee!

For the majority of the people of Tanzania, the coming of colonialism and cash crops did not mean much of a change in their standard of living.5 It is true that some children went to school, that transport and communications and the possibility of travel increased, that imported textiles replaced traditional clothings, and that medical facilities increased.  But the people still mainly lived in traditional houses, and in most parts of Tanzania many of them were still under-fed.  Indeed in many areas they were worse fed than they had been in (say) the 1870s – for the coming of the rinderpest deprived areas as far apart at Handeni, Kigoma, Karagwe and Songea of cattle, and thus reduced the protein content of their diets and made them very vulnerable to any failure of the rains. The tsetse fly was then able to invade these areas and make it very difficult for cattle to come back.  In such places the people today are more poorly fed, and have to work harder for less food, than they did in the days before the German conquest of Tanzania.6

The apparent relative prosperity of the coffee, cotton and cashew nut areas of Tanzania and the ideology of ‘progressive farmers’ which supports it, has tended to hide the hopelessness of a development strategy based on a further development of these crops.  For the system of ‘unequal exchange’ between the developed and the underdeveloped world makes it impossible for these cash crops to provide sustained growth.  For example, if coffee or sisal cultivation becomes very profitable, what can we expect to happen? There will be a rapid expansion of acreage in Tanzania and elsewhere, and this will lead to world over-production.  The coffee and sisal prices will therefore be forced down and the period of prosperity will end.  The overseas demand for these products is limited so that they cannot provide the basis for a sustained expansion.

The local market is equally unable to provide the basis for a sustained expansion.  The peasant sector is, and will remain, so depressed that it will not provide wide markets for more than a few industrial goods.  In this situation industrialists can only profitably establish a small range of import substituting and processing industries.  They cannot profitably establish capital goods industries.  The whole economy can therefore never expand in a self-sustaining way.  It will always be dependent on outside manufacturers.  Because of the need to keep taxes high to support an ever-expanding bureaucratic apparatus it will be impossible to raise farmers’ prices.  The peasant economy can therefore only be depressed – a docile appendage of the capitalist system.

Peasants and Staff

The colonial Government hired ‘agricultural assistants’ to ensure that farmers grew cash crops.  These people enforced the Government’s rules and regulations:

The various regulations related to every conceivable aspect of farming practice and land use. ...Basically, however, they could be grouped together into three categories: those dealing with anti-erosion measures…, those aiming at improved methods of cultivation… and of animal husbandry … and those designed to prevent famine… .7

The peasants naturally opposed these rules, however well-intentioned or technically sound they were (and many were not technically sound), for they interfered with their freedom to decide what they would grow and how they would grow it.  Shortly after the founding of TANU, the rules became unenforceable. Thus the policy of using rules and regulations to bring in better agricultural practices totally failed – and indeed it was by opposing these unpopular measures that the TANU politicians obtained the support of the peasants and united the country to fight for independence.8

The colonial government switched to using the desire for consumer goods as the main motivation to persuade farmers to give cash crops.  The staff who had been policing the rules and regulations now became ‘advisers’ who were supposed to teach the farmers better agricultural methods.

Government staff have, however, been exceedingly ineffective as means of teaching the farmers better methods.  On the one hand many changes that have been enthusiastically taken up by farmers have not been introduced by Government staff.  On the other hand most of the things the staff have tried to persuade peasants to do they have not done.

Here are some of the innovations in Tanzanian agriculture successfully introduced with little or no help from government staff:

  1. The irrigation furrows on Mount Kilimanjaro.
  2. The agricultural system on Ukara island in Lake Victoria.

These two are included here as the peaks of pre-colonial agricultural innovation in Tanzania.  The Ukara island system involves at least the following innovations:

  • animal manure is carefully collected and carried to the fields – every part of the unirrigated arable land is provided with manure frequently and regularly.
  • green manure – leguminous crops are deliberately grown to be ploughed in before they are ripe to improve the soil. Leaves, household wastes and fertile soil from the lakeside is also carried to the fields and dug in.
  • in upland areas furrow irrigation is carried out from streams.
  • in lower areas a ‘closely inter-woven network of embankments, terraces and canals’ is used to irrigate rice fields.
  • by the lake-side ‘water meadow farming’ is carried out in long pits flooded by the lake when the wind blows the water in. In the water meadows elephant grass and other fodder crops are grown to be hand-cut and fed to the cattle.
  • weeds and crop residues are also used as fodder for stall-fed cattle, as are the branches of 39 types of trees and shrubs.
  • stone walls lessen rain and wind erosion.
  • cattle paths are raised up to prevent cattle trampling on crops on their way to the fields, and the cattle wear special muzzles to prevent them eating crops on their way to the fields.

In this system the farmers have to work hard all the year round and (since they have no cash crops) by conventional standards they are poor. Yet the system supports a population density of 537 inhabitants per sq. mile (i.e., the density of population on Kilimanjaro) on soil like that of Sukumaland.9

  1. hedge sisal in the Lake Regions.  Production of this crop grew ‘spontaneously’ against the wishes of the chiefs and the Government staff once a market for it had been established in 1949, and in 1950 it provided almost as much income as cotton: (Cotton at the time had been encouraged by staff and chiefs for over 30 years!).10
  2. cardamon in the East Usambaras was taken up following the initiative of a private capitalist. Government staff could not initially support the crop, since most of the land used was in forest reserves.
  3. the cocoa crop in the Kyela area has grown rapidly with little emphasis by the staff.
  4. cashew nuts in Southern Tanzania, the export of which did not become significant until the 1950s, spread largely without the help of staff, since there were very few staff posted to the South.

Conversely, one can find some instances where staff does seem to have had some impact on the introduction of new crops.  Tea and the very high prices, so that peasants were highly motivated towards growing them. They also involved considerable technical problems, and therefore depended on the staff to teach them the relevant skills.  In such cases staff may have an impact – because the initiative comes from the farmers rather than from them – this situation is discussed further below.

But we can also find many studies of this ineffectiveness of Government agricultural extension staff.  The most devastating study concerned cotton and was carried out by Hulls as part of the Sukumaland Interdisciplinary Research Project.  It involved interviewing a cross-section of the peasantry in various Districts of Sukumaland.  Hulls found that the peasants were not accepting the better methods which the extension staff was trying to promote:

Considered overall only 38% of the cotton was planted during the recommended period… The average plant population was about half (50.8%) of the recommended… .  Only seven farmers used fertilizer or insecticide, that is 3% of the sample. ...There is no evidence that contact with the bwana shamba [extension worker] has any influence on the numbers of farmers who planted at the recommended time. ...In short the failure to communicate modern agricultural technology to the vast majority of the farmers in Sukumaland appears to have been almost total.11

He then carried out another test.  He obtained some improved maize seed, and provided mimeographed instructions to explain how to use it.  He and a student from the University of Dar es Salaam then set up 26 small groups of farmers who were very enthusiastic to try out the new seed and who were given it on the understanding that they would cultivate it together on a small communal plot, and follow the instructions of the extension worker. Again his conclusion was very depressing:

This is probably the only time in the careers of any of the Bwana Shamba that their effectiveness in communicating new techniques has been critically examined.  The performance of most of them leaves much to be desired.  Each Bwana Shamba was given clear, written instructions on how to grow the crop.  That so many groups failed to follow these instructions is the inescapable responsibility of the Bwana Shamba in charge.12

An important recent study by Gerhard Tschannerl13 has shown how in at least one important case (rural water supply) the way that the Government staff and foreign aid donors have organised themselves leads them to actively discourage the peasants from offering self-help labour (arguing that self-help is unreliable and unpredictable and that it is simpler and quicker to hire labourers).  Thus the peasants participate fully in neither the planning nor the implementation of the water supply projects.  When the projects are finished they expect the government that built them to maintain them, and in any case because they did not participate in building them they do not fully understand how to repair them, and they are therefore compelled to depend on the government.  Tschannerl describes all this as ‘technique in command’ and contrasts it with the alternative of ‘politics in command’ and under which it would have been the peasants who liberated themselves in which case their first concern would have been to discover techniques which they could manage themselves and they would have certainly used self-help.

All the studies of Government staff have noted that they tended to serve the richer kulak farmers first.14  This is hardly surprising when one considers that until recently it was government policy to give preferences to such kulaks (they were called ‘progressive farmers’).  These are being influenced to become small capitalists – with the mentality of using the money they have to make more money.  Such people have an obvious interest in learning better methods and often educated a little, and richer, and therefore good drinking partners for the staff.

The wealthy peasants and the penetrators (staff) cooperate with each other in so many spheres.  In fact reciprocal forms of assistance between the two groups are so numerous by comparison with the bonds that exist between government staff and the mass of the peasantry, that we may rightly consider the kulaks and the staff people to form a coalition.15

Finally we cannot avoid noting that time and time again the technical advice given by staff to peasants was technically wrong – due to failure to take account of the conflicting aims of a peasant farmer, or to try our research station results in local areas before recommending them. Here are just a few examples:

  1. early planting of cotton conflicted with the need of the Sukuma farmer to secure his food supply by planting his maize first.
  2. the advice to plant in pure stands was often only valid if insecticide was to be used. Otherwise mixed stands [planting two or more crops together in a field] saved weeding and made better use of plant nutrients and moisture in the soil.
  3. the spacing recommendations for cotton were only valid if fertilizer was used.
  4. fertilizer was recommended (and forced on farmers) in parts of Ukerewe where the soil had been used over and over again and had thus gone acidic. The acid prevented the fertilizer having any effect.
  5. fertilizer has been recommended on cotton and maize crops without awareness that it would also fertilize the weeds, and therefore require more weeding.
  6. cotton has been recommended as a cash crop in the ‘Eastern Zone’ where paddy, cashew nuts, and various pulses provide much higher incomes for less work.
  7. fertilizer has been recommended in dry areas such as Dodoma, where in a bad year the crop fails anyway, so that in the very years when a peasant of village needs money to buy food, if it uses fertilizer he finds himself in debt.

One could go on with this list indefinitely, and many more examples can be found in the paper of Belshaw and Hall.16  But it should be clear that only one such mistake in an area will destroy any trust that peasants might have in staff.  It was inevitable given the history of the staff that the relationship between them and the peasants would be antagonistic. These failures re-enforced this already inevitable fact.

Are Peasants Lazy?

When peasants will not do what the staff think they ought to do the staff react by calling the peasants lazy.

It is also objectively true that most peasants in Tanzania do not work as hard as peasants in India or China, and that they could work harder if they wanted to.

But the question is: why should they work harder?  A peasant in the coastal areas of Tanzania can get a very reasonable income (by the standards set by other areas of Tanzania) by planting cashew nut and coconut trees, by growing cassava and by a little fishing.17  Why should he do more?  Why, for example, should he grow a crop like cotton which will require a lot of work for rather a small additional income?  And what use is that extra income to him?  Life goes on much as ever.  If he has more free time and chooses to use it playing bao, dancing ngomas and discussing politics can one blame him?  Provided that he is not parasitic on others can one accuse him of doing wrong?  Presumably if he could see some point in working harder he would do so.  So if he does not work terribly hard it is presumably because he sees little point in doing so.  If he works harder he notices that somebody else gets most of the benefit – the corrupt cooperative official, the salaried staff member, or (very correctly) the foreign consumer who buys his cash crops.  He thus does not think that more work can significantly change his life.  And the historical record suggests that he is right.

A person who says that peasants are lazy cannot be a socialist.  He is not asking why they do not work.  He is not working among the people, or with them, for if he was he would have more sympathy with exploited peasants.  Instead he dissociates himself from them, and blames them rather than himself for the problems of the country.  If he was a socialist he would start by showing them how they are exploited, and he would then show them how they can combine to throw off the exploiting classes, and build a new life.  He would not talk about lazy peasants, he would talk about class struggle.

In fact a staff member who complains that peasants are lazy is a typical petty-bourgeois – sitting in security supported by a salary, not dependent on his own labour, and complaining about other people.

Paradoxically, if anyone is lazy it is the staff, as an important study by the Social Science Research Committee showed.  The staff worked an average of only 31¼ hours per week, and visited on average only ten farms per week, and the study concluded that:

the performance of the field contact staff is often characterised by several weaknesses or limitations.  They work fairly short hours, miss work days, make few visits, are diverted onto a wide range of duties, spend much time on travel, wage payments, reports and other activities not directly productive.  In addition we have seen that most fieldmen work in a fairly ad hoc way, calling on farmers and visiting areas almost at whim… .18

The President has often argued that development cannot come from outsiders, that people can only develop themselves:

The ujamaa village is a new conception, based on the post-Arusha Declaration understanding that what we need to develop is people, not things, and that people can only develop themselves. ...No-one can be forced into an ujamaa village… .  For if these things happen - that is if an outsider gives such instructions and enforces them - then it will be no longer be an ujamaa village.19

Department of Economics,
University of Dar es Salaam,
8th November, 1974.


  1. For a definition of peasants see John Saul & R Woods in Teodor Shanin (ed.), Peasants and Peasant Societies, London, 1971 p. 105.  For the way in which the peasantry in Tanzania was integrated into the world economy and trapped see Brian Bowles, Export Crops and Underdevelopment in Tanzania 1929-1961, E. A. Social Science Conference Dar es Salaam, 1973, p. 3.
  2. Anyone reading the British financial press (Observer, Economist, Financial Times, etc.) can see that nobody in the West knows how to handle the situation created by the rise in oil prices.  Company bankruptcies have already started in Britain.  The Guardian Weekly, in an editorial of 21 September, 1974, says that the following are “possible or probable” in Britain: inflation at above 20%, a million or more unemployed next year, bankruptcies including some big companies, pension funds in trouble, farmers forced out of business in spite of food shortages, no settlement of the oil deficits and another international payments breakdown, imports restricted by more countries and a downturn in world trade.
  3. Michaela von Freyhold, ‘Rural Development through Ujamaa Vujijini’, mimeo, Department of Economics, Dar es Salaam, 1971, pp. 3-4.
  4. Tom Zalla, ‘Herd Composition and Farm Management Data on Small-holder Milk Producers in Kilimanjaro: Some Preliminary Results’, Economic Research Bureau Seminar Paper, Dar es Salaam, 27 August, 1974, p. 2.
  5. The result may be seen in the 1969 Household Budget Survey, Government Printer, Dar es Salaam, 1972, by comparing tables on pp. 26 and 74.  In all but the richest regions the average household consumption including subsistence was less than Shs 1,500/- per year, and for the first two income groups on p. 74 expenditure on Housing, Furniture, Household Durables and Other Household Equipment is negligible.  This may be taken as confirmation of research published by Ian Livingston in 1971 which suggested that a very high proportion of Tanzanian households owned the absolute minimum of tables, chairs, mats, beds and other basic household items.
  6. Helge Kjekshus, ‘Ecology Control and Economic Development’, History Seminar Paper, Dar es Salaam, 1973, p. 46.  Also Michaela von Freyhold, “The Potential for Ujamaa in Handeni”, mimeo, 1971, pp. 1-7 for the story of the decline in Handeni.
  7. Lionel Cliffe, ‘Nationalism and the Reaction to Enforced Agricultural Change in Tanganyika During the Colonial Period’, in John Saul & L. Cliffe (eds), Socialism in Tanzania, Vol 1, Nairobi, 1972, p. 17.
  8. An amazing editorial in the Daily News of 5 October, 1974 claimed that the system of rules and regulations ‘enabled the colonialists to get an abundance of whatever they wanted to milk from our country in any one year or years’.  This is clearly a rewriting of history to suit the interests of the present ruling class.  The editorial concluded ‘it must be underlined that for “wajamaa” there is no such thing as producing as one wishes’.
  9. H. D. Ludwig in Hans Ruthenburg (ed), Small-Holder Farming and Small-Holder Development in Tanzania, Munish, 1968, p. 877 ff.
  10. Adolpho Mascarenhas, ‘Resistance and Change in the Sisal Plantation System of Tanzania’, Ph.D. Thesis, U.C.L.A., 1970, p. 153 ff and especially p. 167.
  11. Robert Hulls, ‘An Assessment of Agricultural Extension in Sukumaland, Western Tanzania’, Economic Research Bureau, University of Dar es Salaam, 1971, page 4, 9, 12, 15 and 23.  Cotton of course spread very rapidly in Sukumaland in the 1950s and early 1960s – but the implication of this research is that it did not spread because of Government staff.  It spread because peasant farmers suddenly decided they wanted to grow cotton.
  12. Hulls, p. 40.  Anyone not convinced by the arguments in this paper should read that of Hulls.
  13. Tschannerl, Gerhard ‘Rural Water Supply in Tanzania: Is “Politics” or Technique in Command’, Social Science Conference, Dar es Salaam, 1973, e.g., pp. 4-6.
  14. Hulls, ibid., T. van Velsen, ‘Staff, Kulaks and Peasants’, in Saul and Cliffe, op. cit., Vol 2, p. 156 ff., Michaela von Freyhold, ‘Government Staff and Ujamaa Villages’, Social Science Conference, Dar es Salaam, 1973, passim; F. Petrini and Others, ‘An Evaluation of Some Farmers’ Training Centres in Tanzania’, Nordic Project, Mbeya, for the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, 1970.
  15. Van Velsen, p. 162.
  16. Derryk. Belshaw & M. Hall, ‘The Analysis and Use of Agricultural Experimental Data’, Mimeo, Department of Rural Economy, Makerere, n.d.
  17. See Michaela von Freyhold’s report on Chakachani Ujamaa Village (Mimeo, 1971).
  18. Rural Development Research Committee, Rural Development Paper No. 5 ‘An Interim Report on the Evaluation of Agricultural Extension,’ University of Dar es Salaam, 1968, p. 5 and p. 14.
  19. J. K. Nyerere, Freedom and Development, OUP, 1973, p. 67, my emphasis.


  • He worked in Tanzania from 1967-1976, as an economist in the Ministry of Agriculture and a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam. His early papers were about corrupt deals and the exploitation of Tanzania by international companies and aid agencies. He continues to write about agriculture in East Africa and the political economy of Tanzania.