Monthly Archives: April 2008

A desktop rapid rural appraisal by an ignorant white man…

I’ve spent the past few days perusing a series of land use reports stemming from a series of Participatory Rural Appraisals conducted on villages in the Ruaha region in the late 1990s. Given my lack of connection to these places and cultures, and the difficulty in understanding village society from my desktop, I have decided to exercise my creativity and put together a wholly fictional account of rural life among agro-pastoralists in the Ruaha region of Tanzania. Anyone looking for real ethnography or science should now click back to their search engine and leave me alone. This is simply me hemorrhaging onto the page in an attempt at synthesis and productivity. I assure the public that I do not mean any offense, and apologize for offense taken in advance. And now, presenting:

Hypothetical Land Use Report for M. Village

Introduction. M. Village is large central village initially established in the early 20th Century. The original inhabitants consisted of I. and X., but recently significant numbers of Z., N., and Q. livestock keepers have arrived. M. Village consists of several sub-villages with a total of 785 households and a population of 2,140.

surf village

For the record, this is not really M. Village. It’s the Smurfs, stupid.

Livelihood. Livelihoods in M. Village are largely dependent on agriculture and livestock production. In the past, much of M. Village consisted of uncultivated swampland, and local peoples cultivated maize, sorghum and cowpeas on the higher dry areas of land. In the 1960s, hunters migrating inland from the coast imported rice, which is now cultivated in the wetlands. Maize continues to be cultivated, however, on relatively fewer higher patches of ground. Along the river’s edge, maize, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and other vegetables are cultivated, along with bananas.

Crop and cereal grain production in M. is not easy. Irrigation is a significant issue, and following the El Nino rains of 1997-1998, the river changed direction. There are various explanations for this according to local people, including increased sedimentation from intensive crop production along the river bank by Z. In general, water is a limited resource, as the majority is utilized for irrigating rice. Constraints to crop production include water availability, labor, and land, all of which are interconnected. Soil fertility is also a concern, with limited land due to increasing village population decreasing time fields are in fallow, and increasing the intensity of field production. In general, manure is not utilized as a resource despite its relative abundance, due to the amount of labor involved in application.

Livestock in M. Village belong mainly to Z. and N., who spend the dry season on the rice fields following harvest. This prevents the use of these fields for cropping by local people. Fines for inappropriate grazing are rarely enforced, with suspicion that the wealth of livestock keepers is used to influence village officials. Local attempts at dissuading Z. from grazing their fields often result in physical altercations, in which Z. are often victorious. This seems to really piss people off and cause a serious amount of tension between Z. and N. and the agricultural community.

cows and maize stover

Cattle and maize stover: sourced from FAO:

M. Village is in essence hungry. Reasons for hunger boil down to drought, pests, small areas for production, and the lack of cultivation of fields in the dry season. Cue Z., N., and conflict. The real bugger, is that Z. also cultivate, and cultivate year round. They cultivate so much that local people say they grow potatoes as big as their heads. They also keep livestock. There’s a correlation here between livestock, crop production, and food security. Because Z. keep livestock they have manure, which they apply to fields, as they have livestock to help in the transport. They also plant year round, allowing them to harvest year round. They also work year round. This means that they don’t have a rest season, which is extraordinarily valued by local M. residents. In conclusion, M. residents cultivate small plots in isolated areas and do not cultivate them intensively with use of inputs, etc., resulting in small harvests and hunger. M. residents, though complaining about the hunger problem, say they are used to it, therefore have not altered production or management strategies.

Forest Management. There is forest around M. Village, though it is dwindling in size. Timber is used for construction and fuel. Reasons for the decline in forest area are attributed to increasing population, and the arrival of Z., who are blamed for raising large areas of forest for homesteads, pastures, and fields. Trees are not planted in M., due to bedrock. Conditions are dry, hot, and dusty, and trees were looked as an alternative to improving village conditions. However, this was not investigated further.

Wildlife. Wildlife are no good. They eat all the crops, they stomp over the fields, they’re scary when they’re crocodiles and lions, and M. residents are not allowed to kill enough due to the proximity to the national park. Wildlife consist mainly of baboons, hippos, crocodiles, wild pigs, buffalo, and porcupines. They prevent dry season cultivation of the fields. To get animals away, people make a lot of noise. They also build fences, but with a dwindling supply of timber and lack of access to funds for barbed wire, etc., what are you gonna do? Shoot em. Too bad there’s a national park there.

damn hippos

Damn Hippos. Original Image at:

Conflict. Basically, and to oversimplifying things, Z. moved into town and nobody’s happy. They own cattle and shoats, therefore have capital, they work hard in both wet and dry seasons, and so have better food security, they don’t assimilate, and they’ve started buying up the place and occasionally hiring residents as laborers on their fields. What a throat punch! And when other people in the village try to build up stock, they get stolen. This sucks. Even worse, when you try to appeal to village council for justice, they don’t listen. Maybe because they’ve been bought off like a Chicago cop. Seems all too familiar really. So what do you do? I don’t know. And neither does anyone else by the look of it….


Z. beating a resident:

And now to what’s really important: Water. In M. everyone drinks the river. It’s permanent and not too far of a walk. Piped water was suggested at some point in time, but basically a pipe dream if you will. Wells are dug in the dry season by each tribe, and Z. and N. use too much for their livestock. Imagine that.

So what do we do with all this information? Good question.  How about guide the design of potential hypotheses?  Or inform the development of a questionnaire to test said hypotheses?  Or we could just enjoy them.  They are quite a nice snapshot into another world.

Jim Ellis Award = End of Pipedream

I walked into work today and saw a letter on the Steelcase desk. I never get mail at work. Except for W2s, pay stubs, and the extraordinarily entertaining and well-written UC Davis Dateline Newsletter for faculty and staff. It’s great bathroom reading.

But alas! It was the old Jim Ellis Award notice. I am now funded for the first component of this project, and can actually get some project activities off the ground. The award letter is attached here as the first in what I hope becomes quite a funding trophy case. Like the St. Clare de Montefalco trophy case back home in Detroit, where the had a shoe from Dave DeBusschere. It was enormous. They also had a football helmet, but we didn’t have a football team. How strange.

My Jim Ellis Award Letter!