Agricultural schemes

As far back as 1923, an imperial conference had been organized to chart the way forward on agrarian development policies in the colonies. However, the British Treasury was not enthusiastic about this step, preferring to fund research as opposed to development programs. They claimed that without proper coverage of the region by Meteorological Services—that has direct influence on agriculture, it would be risky to expand agricultural schemes.86 On the other hand, the colonial governments were pushing for schemes even in absence of the ‘science,’8' an approach which initiated competing land-use processes. The first process was separating land occupied by European settlers from the African reserves (mainly in Kenya); this created the ‘white highlands’ as islands, surrounded by African reserves. The second process involved the expansion of plantation agriculture. For example, the booming production of cotton by African farmers in Uganda and Tanganyika found ready global markets after the failure of the cotton crop in the USA. However, after 1925, when American production tripled, the prices in East Africa collapsed. Thus, the colonial policy on commercial crops—intended to enhance food sufficiency—turned out to be misplaced.88

In the drier grazing lands in East Africa, the governments experimented with large-scale agricultural production. One such crop was sisal. A marketing initiative called the Sisal Growers of East Africa was established, on the assumption that large-scale sisal plantations would potentially supply global market demands. In Tanganyika, sisal exports increased from 22,000 tons in 1923, to 62,000 tons in 1929,89 but by 1938, the global price of sisal had slumped.90 Furthermore, the climate variability and collapsing markets had a crippling effect on cotton grown on a large scale to serve competitive global markets.91

During the Second World War, the colonial governments took control of marketing agricultural products.92 In particular, the governors of the three East African colonies embarked on war-time development programs by promoting regional collaboration for improving the agricultural economy.9’ In Tanganyika, after the 1940s, agricultural exports by African peasants increased in value and were estimated at £150,000 per annum; by 1948 this had increased by 50 percent. In particular, the export of maize from African farms was valued at £400,000 over the same period.94 These increases in production were achieved without necessarily modernizing African peasant farming methods.

Post-war planning was concerned broadly with social and economic development, so researchers were encouraged to prioritize the problems they were working on according to the two policy directions (i.e., social and economic).9’ The challenge for practical research was the variety of problems that existed, which limited possibilities for investigating and solving within reasonable time frames.96 With funding enabled by the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1945, the colonial office was able to support several large-scale projects.9. However, the expansion of cash crops98 required radical policy changes, particularly a move from traditional land tenure practices99 to commercial agriculture requirements. The African Land Development (ALDEV) project that had invested heavily in soil conservation schemes during the post-war years extended support to agricultural production schemes. Under the British Labour Government in 1945, an amount of $12 million per year was put at the disposal of the colonies, and about £3 million was allocated to the development of African agriculture. Given these opportunities, African farmers successfully applied their own knowledge and low technology to expand agricultural production.

The colonial policy was to transition peasant farmers from subsistence production to commercial crops such as cotton. In this venture, the Sukuma of Tanganyika were willing to move from subsistence to cash crops, buy more stock, and over time, strengthen their mixed economy. By using tractors they increased their capacity to cultivate larger pieces of land.100 They found that cotton (output estimated at 500,000 bales per annum) was an important source of income, and the second most important export crop in Tanganyika.101 However, by 1953, the cotton agriculture had declined due to infestations by pests and drought.102 Between 1954 and 1962, ALDEV provided loans totaling £271,000 to over 3,800 individual farmers in the three East African colonies.101 These so-called ‘model farmers’ adopted government farming technologies and soil conservation methods on their farm plots.104 The most ambitious agricultural project was the groundnut schemes.

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