Dan Brockington is leading an ESRC/DFID project exploring long-term livelihood change in Tanzania to revisit sites first surveyed in the 1990s. We try and talk to the same families that were visited in the original surveys, conducting re-surveys and then sharing results and findings with community members. One of the features of this work is that we also visit these sites with the researchers who conducted the first work. Here we have re-blogged a series of entries and reflections about these revisits in which researchers consider what changes they have seen and what they might mean.
The third blog in the series is from Olivia Howland, Post-Doctoral Research Associate on the project. In April 2016, Olivia and Esbern Friis Hansen, from DIIS in Copenhagen, visited villages in Njombe region where Esbern has conducted fieldwork over the past three decades.
The first village that we [re]visited was not unlike the villages I have worked in up to now. It is located in a semi-arid area and after an introductory discussion with the village chairman, it seemed that the wealth categories were also very similar.
More surprising for me however was the second village. Mamongolo is located around 3.5 hours drive from Njombe town on terrible mud roads. It has rained here since January with very little let up. Climate change is really visible here. In fact, all of the villages that I have visited across Tanzania have complained that the rains are now less predictable than they used to be, and that either drought or flooding is commonplace, with more extreme weather events than in the past.
Njombe is in the southern highlands and at an altitude of 1800 meters, and the village of Mamongolo is even higher. It is cold, wet, mountainous and very green. It looks in places very similar to parts of northern Scotland, or the English Pennines. In Mamongolo, pine trees have become a major investment for many people, and even the poorest have planted them. Much of the more marginal land or poor soil is planted with trees, and even the more fertile areas are full of trees intended for timber. The other major cash crop in the village is potatoes. A large proportion of people are able to irrigate their potatoes and so can produce all year round, even out of season, and so have a very strong market with traders coming and purchasing constantly.
On the road to Mamongolo are huge tea plantations and it is very clear that this area is affluent, with a climate suited to growing many and varied cash crops. Traders’ lorries full of timber, tea and potatoes, limp and slither along the potholed road, slick with mud, and full to the brim with their cargo.
Mamongolo is in a beautiful setting: a small cluster of brick and iron sheet roofed houses on the side of a mountain valley, with an ancient church at its centre. There are pines everywhere, and goats and dogs wear bells around their necks. The mist is thick and the air is damp with drizzle. On the day we visit, everyone has gone to a funeral in the next village, so Mamongolo is eerily empty and quiet. It strikes me that this village is so marginal that I am amazed they have such a strong market for timber and potatoes.
We sit and talk generally about the recent history of development and change in Mamongolo with the village chairman, and ask a little about possible wealth groups. He says that there are three groups: the wealthy, the middle farmers, and the poor. So far, this is commensurable with all of the other study sites. However, he then explains that those who actually live in the village are from the middle farmers and the poor categories: the wealthy people are not resident in Mamongolo. They are those who inherited land here but who actually live in Dar es Salaam or other urban areas. They are non-resident investors.
Those belonging to the wealthy group have shops or businesses in urban areas, but retain a home and land here in the village which they visit occasionally, leaving their family to take care of the shamba. Mostly, he says, these shambas are for pine trees, and when they harvest (which takes about ten years for a decent sized tree) they will get huge payouts. Some have recently had their first harvest, and the large sums of money they made has encouraged others to plant trees. Having these timber shambas is like a bank account, he explains: they can make ‘withdrawals’ as and when they need to. And even for the poorer people who have trees, harvesting is a rapid and direct route out of poverty. Just one harvest can send children to secondary school, build a modern house, and invest in other key assets.
Furthermore, when we ask about the poor people, he says that no one in Mamongolo is really poor. Everyone, he explains, is food secure.
This is something that I have not heard before in any of our study villages, and we question his further on this. He says that there are fewer than ten houses which remain with grass roofs, and that almost everyone has an acre or more planted with pine trees. Everyone grows potatoes and even some of the poor families are able to irrigate, meaning that they have a year-round harvest and can make the most of the higher prices these will fetch. He says that relative to other places, they are not so poor and no one ever goes hungry.
Esbern last revisited Mamongolo in 2011 and did not see this level of development. In the last 5 years, he says, people seem to have become much more affluent. The villages around Njombe from his original study have indicated to Esbern that in the last 10 years there has been a huge rush of development and he hypothesises that this is also the case across Tanzania as a whole, even in the most marginal locations. Esbern’s hypothesis is that there has been rural transformation, not agricultural transformation – that people are making money and increasing welfare from (on the whole) off farm activities. However Mamongolo seems to be an exception to this. Whilst his hypothesis seems to fit for the majority of our study so far, this area does seem to be different.
Perhaps Mamongolo is an exception? However, Ikuwala too has seen rapid transformation due to the tomato revolution, although this is just one aspect of change there, and indeed many people have seen development because of off farm activities and businesses. The area around Njombe has certainly seen something of a new green revolution in recent years, with increased market access, improved access to inputs and better prices for crops. Whether or not yields have increased seems to depend on the ability of farmers to irrigate.
It will be fascinating to see if this ‘pine revolution’ has brought greater wealth, wellbeing and equality to marginal villages like Mamongolo, but until farmers have had their first harvests, it will be difficult to tell for sure whether pine is an assured route out of poverty.