Tanzania: Fifty years of farming cooperatively – an experiment in agricultural production

Pius Hayuma holds soil from his shamba

Pius Hayuma checks the soil on his shamba

Pius Hayuma bends down and uses his bare hands to dig in the soil of his shamba, or small farm. Beans and maize plants are sprouting all over his one and a half hectares of land, which border northern Tanzania’s Ngorongoro forest and the Rift Valley.

Mr. Hayuma, 54, says: “I remember when this land was extremely fertile. We had modern farm machinery here at Upper Kitete village. We used combine-harvesters for our wheat crop and tractors to plough contours into the soil.”

Upper Kitete village was once a model agricultural co-operative. Located in Karatu district, about 160 kilometres from Arusha, it was created by the government of Tanzania under founding President Julius Nyerere.

Tanzania achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1961. President Nyerere’s vision was to move rural Tanzanians into collective villages to provide better social services. Agricultural extension services were included under the village settlement program.

Antony Ellman is a British agriculturalist. He was involved with Upper Kitete during the first years of its existence. The co-operative was the first of its kind in Tanzania.

Mr. Ellman says: “It began in 1963, eighteen months after independence. I selected the villagers and helped set up the co-operative. I stayed until 1966 and have been back to visit a few times since.”

In 1974, President Nyerere issued a government directive which forced small-scale farmers and pastoralists who had not already collectivized into co-operative villages like Upper Kitete. This created a major strain on the village of 100 households. Upper Kitete grew exponentially; by the mid-1980s, the village housed more than 400 households.

Mr. Ellman says: “Life was improving at Upper Kitete up to this point. [But] The added population caused an organizational and environmental impact which continues to this day.”

Agriculture remains the backbone of Tanzania’s economy fifty years after the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society was established. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Tanzania’s farmers contribute about 95 per cent of the country’s food supply, over a quarter of economic production, and account for over 75 per cent of employment.

Amon Z. Mattee is a professor at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. Professor Mattee says: “A majority of Tanzanians depend on farming for their livelihoods, including their daily food requirements. Without agriculture, most Tanzanians would not survive, as there are no alternative economic activities in the rural areas.”

Today, many farming communities in Tanzania face a common problem. Socialist ideals have given way to a market orientation. Many farmers think the government does not provide them with sufficient resources.

The population has increased but the amount of arable land has not. At Upper Kitete, like much of Tanzania, every possible square metre is cultivated. Soil erosion is becoming a major problem, caused by poor land management. The co-operative’s fields were originally farmed collectively, but were divided up among its members and are now managed individually.

Mr. Hayuma attends village assembly meetings to advise his fellow farmers how to overcome soil erosion. He says: “Last year, too much rain retarded the growth of crops. I encouraged farmers to use ox ploughs to create contours. This prevents waterlogging by reducing the speed of water and letting it flow slowly through [the] shamba [field], instead of washing nutrients out of the soil.”

The recent increase in hillside contours around Upper Kitete is proving beneficial for farmers. This season’s harvest is shaping up to be a good one for the members of the co-operative.

Mr. Hayuma sees a future in which Upper Kitete village is a resource for tourists and farmers from across Africa. He says, “They can visit to learn about the history of agriculture and co-operatives in Tanzania.”

Published online @ Farm Radio Weekly

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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