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Community in the North; Arusha, Tanzania.

While it is true that cash-cropping as an agricultural development paradigm in SSA, provided small holder farmers with a much needed avenue to flex their productive muscles, it is also true that  it was primarily a macro-economic growth strategy aimed at aggregating productive capacity, capitalizing on economies of scale, breaking into global markets and shoring-up foreign exchange reserves. However, the wildly successful instances of commercialization-via-cash-cropping were equally instrumental in emphasizing the chasm that divided those that were able to capitalize on the cash-crop wave and those that were not.  On its best day, cash cropping as a method of agricultural development, did not do very much to improve the state of the everyman at his most elemental level, and I think it is fair to say that any system of development that leaves groups of people behind is at best, unsustainable and at worst, a hot mess.

Community Development (aka participatory development, aka integrated rural development), at its broadest basic level was about getting the people in a community involved in their own education as a way to improve their own life circumstances through health, agriculture, civic education and mass literacy schemes. Early 18th century socialist thinkers like Robert Owen looked to community planning as a way of creating a perfect community, and this ideology became important in the 1920s and 1930s in East Africa, where the idea of community development was perceived as a way for local people to improve their own lives with the indirect help of the colonial authorities.

Illustration by Leslie Gilbert (1902-1979) – Daily Mail, 17 February 1943

A somewhat unanticipated spillover from the Second World War was a clear and monumental shift in the relationship between state and society. In November of 1942, Sir William Beveridge laid bare the deplorable welfare status of the colonial states themselves before British parliament by way of the Beveridge Report, which in pertinent part provided a summary of principles, and a system of state-sponsored social security necessary for the banishment of poverty from Britain following the cessation of the war. What followed was the introduction of the welfare state in Britain. What is more interesting for our purposes however, is that this turn of events echoed through Britain’s African colonies and precipitated the establishment of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act (1940-1945). And so the age of state-sponsored social welfare initiatives was born in Africa, and while it was first described as mass education, by 1948, it became more commonly known as community development.

The 1950s saw community development programs move into full implementation. At this time, African nationalist sentiment was in full bloom, and the official strategy for community development began to take hold and function as a means of preparing the colonies for independence. While a great deal of administrative effort aimed at instituting community development schemes was frustrated, and in some instances thwarted by the burgeoning independent spirit that ruled this time in African history, and despite the triumphant end of the colonial empire which closely followed in the 1960s, community development remains one of the most resilient legacies of the colonial government.

As a system, community development utilized various channels and approaches, but as a means of bringing about agricultural development, the key elements were essentially the same, and typically involved a package of rural social services and the promotion of cottage industries. Oddly enough, the financing of these schemes usually derived from profits taxed from export oriented crops. So, even though community development as a system was geared primarily towards the development and promotion of human capital, in the agricultural context, it was still heavily dependent on cash cropping and commercialization. In fact the only real difference was the added dimension of emphasizing the necessity for quality human labor input in agricultural production strategy; which could only be achieved with improved social and welfare service provision (better schools, skills and health). This singular dimension, however made all the difference.

Let us take a moment here to explore an example of community development as it concerns agricultural growth in Africa; let’s take a trip to Tanzania.


The United Republic of Tanzania was born in 1964 out of the marriage of two East African sovereigns; the mainland of Tanganyika and the Isle of Zanzibar which had gained its independence the year before. Tourists from across the globe are drawn in droves to her multiple natural wonders. Those that are not traveling the endless plains of the Serengeti are scaling the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro, basking in the sun-warmed waters of the Zanzibar Archipelago, or are splayed across the welcoming shores of lakes Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa.

Tanzanian sea coast

Perched on the very edge of the Continent, facing the Indian Ocean, Tanzania’s climate is warm and sunny by day, and cool and balmy at night. Tanzania is one of the largest countries in East Africa, but despite being one of Africa’s premier tourist destinations, it is also one of poorest countries in the world with many of its people living below the World Bank poverty line.

Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) - Gregory Rift, Lake Natron - Arusha Region

Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) – Active volcano near Lake Natron; Arusha

Tanzania at the time of its inception had very few minerals and a primitive agricultural system. Suffering from a severe foreign debt burden, a decrease in foreign aid, and a fall in the price of commodities, her first president Julius Nyerere, in an attempt to stimulate growth and development, called for the collectivization of agriculture. His plan; laid out in the 1967 Arusha Declaration, essentially focused on a system of rural community development that encouraged people to live and work on a cooperative basis in organized villages or ujamaa (meaning familyhood in Kishwahili). The idea behind this socialist system was to build a nation state in which all members had equal rights and opportunities, and in which all had a gradually increasing basic level of material welfare.

Nyerere on the cover of Time Magazine on March 13, 1964

Nyerere on the cover of Time Magazine on March 13, 1964

In his mind agricultural development occurring within a community had to happen in a way that did not ignore the connection between freedom, development and discipline. According to Nyerere, development had for a very long time, involved spending large sums of money on agricultural production, modern equipment, and a management hierarchy, all with the promise of quick gain and wealth. The objective was always increased output and the provision of subsidies and services, but nothing was being said about the development of the people themselves. Therefore, his major objective was not the development of things in a vacuum, but primarily involved the development of people who were innately interested in their own personal growth and development. Nyerere asserted that; “…we are trying to overcome our economic weakness by using the weapons of the economically strong – weapons which in fact we do not possess. By our thoughts, words and actions it appears as if we have come to the conclusion that without money we cannot bring about the revolution we are aiming at. It is as if we have said, “Money is the basis of development. Without money, there can be no development….”. The development of a country is brought about by people, not by money. Money, and the wealth it represents, is the result and not the basis of development”.

And so agricultural development in Tanzania by way of community development turned the cash-cropping paradigm on its head, by de-emphasizing financial gain, and fostering the idea of education for self-reliance i.e. education that works for the common good, fosters co-operation and promotes equality. Nyerere’s education for agricultural development reforms met with some success, and some failure. They were never fully implemented and were constrained by a lack of resources, and a global sentiment that gave a greater degree of recognition to more individualistic and capitalistic understandings of the link between education and production.

By the early 1970s, community development at the urging of the United Nations Agencies and the World Bank, had evolved into Integrated Rural Development (IRD) schemes with central policies incorporating adult literacy, youth and women’s groups, community business ventures, compensatory education, dissemination of alternative technologies, village nutrition and water supply programs. While African IRD projects emphasized sweeping social development, cash cropping remained the true engine of growth and majority of the IRD projects tended to be concentrated in export crop-growing areas. Soon after, the criticisms of this merger of the community development social agenda and the cash driven ag commercialization paradigm became too loud to ignore and what happened next is a story for another day.

Happy New Year dear friends; there are few things quite as inspiring as the promise of a new beginning. Let’s give this one our best shot shall we 🙂

Next up; “Feeding Souls”.


The Tanzania High Commission: http://tanzaniahighcommission.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=54&Itemid=28

The BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14095776


R. Smyth. 2004. The Roots of Community Development in Colonial Office Policy and Practice in Africa. Social Policy & Administration, Vol. 38, No. 4, pp. 418-436.

Msuya J.M. & Kinabo J.L. 1999. Expecting Too Much From the Rural Development Projects: A Case of the Iringa Nutrition Project. Proceedings of the FoA Conference, Vol. 4. Department of Food Science and Technology, Sokoine University of Ag. Morogoro, Tanzania.

Culture & Public Action: http://www.cultureandpublicaction.org/bijupdf/mansurirao.pdf

Infed: http://infed.org/mobi/julius-nyerere-lifelong-learning-and-education/