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CHAPTER 4 The context for RIPAT: taking regional history and development policy into account in the interpretation of project processes and success Quentin Gausset, Steffen Jöhncke, Eva Kaas Pedersen, and Michael A. Whyte, Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen 36 Farmers’ ChoiCe In this chapter, the local historical, demographic, and political contexts of RIPAT 1 are described. It is stressed that there is an ever-present need for farmers to be responsive and adaptive to the changing political and climatic conditions that they face. The role of crops and livestock in the long history of exchange between ethnic groups is described. The authors find that the integration of different approaches to agricultural development, the provision and careful composition of the basket of options based on local context, and the ability to adapt to and engage with local conditions and realities, leaving the farmer with a genuine element of choice, have all been instrumental in the achievements of RIPAT.
4.1 Introduction The context and adoption study (see Chapter 3, Section 3.6) in the RIPAT 1 area began in the summer of 2011.1 In the course of our fieldwork we both saw and heard about the genuine accomplishments of the RIPAT 1 intervention. Interpreting this success correctly is crucial, not least because the RIPAT intervention is supposed to serve as a model for support to rural communities that can be applied elsewhere in Tanzania and in the broader region of Sub-Saharan Africa. Clearly, RIPAT 1 cannot become the sole template for future work in other regions. Nevertheless, there are important lessons to be learned from the first RIPAT project, as its success seems to be tied to both an efficient project implementation design and an ability to engage with local realities and variations. In this chapter, therefore, we attempt to understand these two particular circumstances.
After a brief introduction to the RIPAT 1 project area, i.e. northern Tanzania in the vicinity of Mount Meru, we consider its changing demographic, political, agricultural, and economic features, with the specific intention of reminding ourselves that RIPAT plays into ongoing and complex social changes rather than marking any simple and radical shift from one static situation ‘before’ to another one ‘after’ the project. The point is that any given RIPAT project will always be influenced by the specific historical, economic, and demographic situation of the area in question. Consequently, the main lessons to be drawn from RIPAT 1 are not about the particular crops and techniques, but rather about adaptation to local conditions.
In the second part of this chapter we outline an interpretation of RIPAT in terms of the changing discourses and practices of development policy, both generally and in the specific Tanzanian context. Overall, we make a distinction between a top-down approach that focuses on the implementation of a set of centrally predefined best practices imposed from outside, and a bottom-up approach that favours flexible adaptation to local conditions and preferences. These two approaches are involved in all levels of policy, from general development and national policies right down to – as in the case of RIPAT – the introduction of certain recommended agricultural products and procedures. We suggest that one of the secrets of RIPAT’s success may lie in a pragmatic handling and flexible integration of the two approaches. New technologies and new crops and animals were presented to farmers as part of the RIPAT packages, but there were also elements of choice and opportunities for farmers to satisfy their own self-interest.
The ConTexT For riPaT
4.2 The study area in brief The eight villages involved in RIPAT 1 are all situated to the east of the city of Arusha, in what was then called the Arusha District on the southern plains of Mount Meru.
There are three major climatic zones in the district: the upland, midland, and lowland zones. The villages involved in RIPAT 1 are all situated on the border between the middle and lower belts. The area where the RIPAT 1 villages are situated can generally be described as a semi-arid region with irregular rainfall, and as consisting of bush and open grasslands; however, farming conditions vary immensely from village to village and even from farm to farm because of differences in soil structure, access to water, and annual rainfall. Agriculture is the main economic activity in the villages, with maize, beans, vegetables, pigeon peas, and sugar cane as the main crops. The majority of farmers are subsistence farmers with an average of 2 acres of farming land for cultivation per household. None of the villages have electricity installed, and only a few villages have access to piped water. Water for the cultivation of crops is mainly obtained from rainfall or by means of irrigation systems, with water being taken from rivers and canals coming from the upland area. However, because of the erratic rainfall, irrigation water is not available throughout the year, and access to water is thus a constant struggle. All the villages in RIPAT 1 are situated south of the main tarred road between Arusha and Moshi, but access to the villages themselves is by dirt roads that are maintained only to a certain extent. For several decades now the area has seen substantial population growth. The annual growth rate in Arumeru District during the last 50 years is estimated to have been around 3 per cent. It is estimated to have had a population of 460,000 in 2000, with an average population density of 159 people per square kilometre, making it one of the most densely populated areas in Tanzania (Arusha Regional Commissioner’s Office, 2000). The population density varies, however, from that of the closely populated fertile highlands on the slopes of Mount Meru to that of the lowlands, which still have only a scattered population.
4.3 History: people, power, and produce in the RIPAT 1 area Whereas the Mount Meru midland and lowland zones are semi-arid, the Mount Meru upland, with its rich soil and plentiful rainfall, is one of the most fertile areas in Tanzania.
Due to its fertility, the area has a long history of migration flows and competition for its attractive but limited land. The people around Mount Meru have therefore been part of wider systems of exchange for centuries, and they have been selecting crops and developing technologies for just as long. It was into this historical setting that the first RIPAT project was introduced in 2006. In order to understand the current social context as well as the scope and variety of RIPAT 1’s successes, it is useful to take a look back at the history of the region, since past experiences always tend to influence current options and choices.
History of agricultural exchange In the latter half of the 19th century, the area which was to become Arumeru District was inhabited by long-established highland farmers, the WaMeru, as well as by pastoral WaMaasai and a mobile group of farmer-pastoralists, the Arush WaMaasai. The RIPAT 1 area 38 Farmers’ ChoiCe is still primarily inhabited by the three ethnic groups – WaMeru, WaArusha, and WaMaasai – but, in contrast to the situation today, the groups used to live within fairly separate social spheres in distinct agricultural zones. On the lower plains, pastoral activities dominated.
On the upper plains, the WaArusha specialized in irrigating their crops, and provided the pastoral WaMaasai with key resources in times of drought or disease. Higher up still, on the well-watered and fertile slopes of Mount Meru, the WaMeru carried out intensive cultivation of bananas and grain (Spear, 1997: 21–31 and 35–8). In the 19th century, European demands for ivory and sugar brought the people of both Mount Meru and the plains into far closer interaction with the wider world. As the trade in ivory and sugar developed, the WaArusha supplied the trading caravans that travelled up from the coast. A wide range of products were noted by travellers in the region: maize, cassava, sorghum, beans, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, bananas, millet, tobacco, and yams, all generally cultivated in irrigated plots. This list of produce (Spear and Nurse, 1992) deserves our attention. Over half of the crops (maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, and tobacco) came originally from the Americas, and were thus relatively recent arrivals in East Africa. Sugarcane and bananas point to older connections with South Asia, while millet, sorghum, and yams are part of well-established African crop mixes. This variety of crops is significant, marking the existence of a dynamic exchange economy and indicating willingness to experiment with new crops and their associated agricultural technologies. So, in the context of history, the current basket of options of crops and strategies in the RIPAT projects, as well as people’s willingness to take up a range of the options available, should be seen as a continuation of a long agricultural development process involving experimentation and adoption of new crops and technologies that can be traced back for centuries.
History of social interaction The WaArusha evidently did well from their 19th-century niche. They expanded both down into the plains and up onto the mountain, and soon came into direct conflict with the WaMeru population. Over the next few decades, isolated raids turned into an invasion of sorts. Soon both the WaArusha and WaMeru were living side by side on the slopes of Mount Meru, where both groups further developed intensive agriculture.
However, despite the increased interaction between the two ethnic groups, they remained culturally distinct. As Spear notes (1997: 57): ‘Arusha and Meru thus continued to pursue similar [agricultural] objectives in fundamentally different ways as each continued to order its own world according to its own cultural values and perceptions.’ There are two major points to observe from this. First, we should note that development and change in the Arumeru District has been a continuous process of exchange and adoption, not only of crops, goods, and livestock, but also of people and traditions. This is also evident in the RIPAT villages today, where WaArusha, WaMeru, and WaMaasai live side by side, with no clear-cut distinction between the ethnic categories in terms of livelihood and social relations.2 However – and this is the second point – despite their long history of interacting and adapting to changes, ethnic identity remains important, and there are noticeable differences in orientation and preferences in terms of livelihood strategies and traditions which still make ethnic variation one of the keys to understanding some of the complexity of the society of the area (see Box 4.1 and Chapter 7).
The ConTexT For riPaT policies replacing and overlapping each other over time. In line with international trends in development policy, one may speak in broad terms of a general shift from a top-down policy approach – i.e. centrally defined and usually large-scale programmes that are implemented across whole nations – towards a bottom-up approach that (it is claimed) favours local participation and involvement in the design and implementation of development projects (see Box 4.2).
In its pure form, the top-down approach advocates the replacement of the existing agricultural, social, and cultural organization by another model. Accordingly, local participation is regarded as the participation of local people in an externally designed project, and imperfect adoption of the project elements is understood as a sign of imperfect local participation in an otherwise perfect project. This approach takes as its point of departure the assumption that local practices are problematic or deficient and that change must be transferred in a top-down manner from scientists and developers who know what is best for local farmers (Ellis and Biggs, 2001: 440). What is advocated is a shift in local agricultural practices and, by implication, also in mindsets, culture, and social organization.
Ideally, the elements introduced should be adopted evenly, at the same pace, everywhere – as if everybody had the same problems and were in need of the same solutions to escape from poverty. An incomplete adoption of the package would be seen as a semi-failure; one could try to understand why people resisted or failed to do as they were told or taught, and then try to identify obstacles to change (in people’s mindsets, tradition, culture, poverty, ignorance, and so on) in order to overcome those obstacles.
An example of this approach is the national government extension system in Tanzania, which is based on trained extension officers and specialists visiting preselected contact farmers. It is expected that the contact farmers will take on the recommendations from the extension officers, and then spread the messages to other farmers in the communities.
The bottom-up approach, by contrast, views farmers as knowledgeable and able to decide on their own best future course of action. It takes as a point of departure the fact that farmers must have very good reasons to do what they do, however ‘imperfect’ or ‘irrational’ this might seem to an outside observer unfamiliar with the local context.
Local participation is thus taken as the participation of project staff in local lives, working with people to find solutions to their problems, and adoption is then a measure of how well the project or staff have understood the local problems and how appropriate their proposed solutions have been in the local context. The approach assumes that what farmers do is right for them given the local constraints, but also that what they do may in many cases still be changed and improved, and that farmers are interested in doing this if it is to their advantage. Change may come from the outside, but must build upon local knowledge, needs, and constraints in a bottom-up manner, and in a strong collaboration between local farmers and scientists or developers (Chambers, 1983; Ellis and Biggs, 2001: 443). It recognizes that farmers are individually different and have different needs: some engage only in agriculture, others also in marketing or business; they adopt different agricultural strategies, and they change their strategies over time; and so on.