3. Seminar Questions

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  1. What was the colonial view of Africa and African agriculture?
    What were the environmental reasons for colonial land management policies?
    To what extent were these reasons real or imagined?

-       African agriculture was destructive, unscientific and backward. The colonial view of Africa as a whole in terms of environment was that it was a savage but beautiful place. However, the idea of bringing order to chaos which resounds throughout the colonial period was very much a part of their aim in the conservation of African plains and soils. For the Gogo in Dodoma, colonialists pitted ‘modern’ against ‘traditional’ and deemed their farming methods including shifting cultivation as backwards and wasteful.

-       Due to overpopulation which was birthed from improved healthcare and nutrition, the land had been overgrazed and pushed to its limits. Soil was becoming sterile and the demand for more food in order to sustain the population was pressuring the land further. Also, with the increased population of people came an increase in the numbers of livestock. The land was struggling to recover from the significant increase in grazing periods. Colonialists argued that current methods of conservation and land management were simply not acceptable and were damaging the environment: they could bring new methods which would be more effective, so they thought. They wanted to avoid erosion on the scale that had been experienced in Europe and America, for example the American Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Their two main methods of preventing the soil erosion were tree planting and land terracing. Land terracing in particular was very labour intensive and there were many flaws with its management. Local Africans in Tanzania (Uluguru) resisted both colonial and local authorities who were acting on their behalf. Colonials enforced changes in the crops that were grown, mostly resorting to cash crop production as these were easily grown and in demand. In addition to this, people could sell extras to gain the money to pay their taxes. In Tanzania, 3 out of 5 if the conservation programs did not succeed: cultural ignorance by the British, and disregard for tradition, the increased work load did not bring increased rewards, as well as betrayal by their local authorities.

-       Migration was a real issue: for example, the Uluguru spoke of parents and families that had had to move down the mountain in search of water and land which they could grow food on as the overgrazing and overpopulation had resulted in famine in the highlands.
Colonialists generated crisis narratives, using science as their explanation for problems. They showed soil erosion as a political issue (lack of land management on the part of authorities)


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