Poorly governed, large-scale land acquisitions are a concern across sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania’s answer to land-grabbing is a plan for sustainable, socially-inclusive agricultural growth, which aims to raise the productivity of 350,000 hectares over the next 20 years. However, the question remains as to which business models and institutional arrangements are best to ensure that no one is left behind — especially women.
The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT) aims to develop through privately financed business schemes with outgrowers — farmers who contract to companies, but own their own plots.
In the frame of her postdoctoral research, Emily Gallagher, a Fellow at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), set out to produce three documentaries with two main goals: to capture the perspectives of both farmers and firms in the tea, rice and sugarcane industries; and to spur a dialogue about the future of the corridor through local and national fora.
Ultimately, the objective is to foster more equitable outcomes for women and men producing major commodities. “A number of farmers did not even know what SAGCOT is, although they sit right in the corridor,” Gallagher says.
The films, which represent a variety of livelihood trajectories in agricultural areas, were conceived as “launching pads to get people talking, thus initiating both a horizontal and a vertical dialogue” between farmers, companies and public authorities.
This is a key engagement if SAGCOT is to deliver on Tanzania’s Kilimo Kwanza (‘Agriculture First’) strategy to improve food security, reduce poverty and support climate-resilient livelihoods.
Over the past months, Gallagher partnered with the University of Dar es Salaam to conduct interviews with smallholders, civil society organizations and key actors and decision-makers from the public and private sectors.
She documented resource use, social networks and livelihood portfolios, including gendered distributions of assets, labor and time among three groups of outgrowers: those contracted with the Kilombero Sugar Company in Kilosa District, with Unilever Tea Tanzania in Mufindi, and with Mtenda Kyela Rice Supply in Mbarali.
For the films, she selected individuals who illustrated a range of stakeholder perspectives, environmental histories and aspirations for agricultural futures.
“The area had experienced research saturation, especially in the tea sector, and communities complained that scientists rarely came back to share their results,” says Gallagher.
“They asked what impact our research would have, and key to their decision to participate was learning that the films would be brought to the national level.”
Just as important, participants had the chance to review the narratives of the films through a transparent, collaborative process.
To this end, the project organized movie nights in the villages, followed the next day by discussions with female and male farmers, local authorities, company representatives and community representatives, on issues ranging from water to social affairs.
“We used this process as a communication and validation tool to discuss land issues further,” explains Gallagher, adding that input from participants would be incorporated in the final edits of the films.
This validation matters, she says, because during research interviews, individuals tend to “give socially appropriate responses rather than report what is actually happening in the communities.”
For instance, interviewees often said that land was equally divided between sons and daughters, although data shows most owners are men. This reality finally emerged when participants were asked to act out a land inheritance scenario. The trick? Women had to play men’s roles and vice versa.
In another activity, participants were tasked with jointly sketching out steps, actors and genders across the value chain. They also outlined a plan of what would need to happen at each stage to bring about the desirable outcomes they described in the film.
“We wanted communities to learn the language of supply chains so that they can join the conversation about SAGCOT, ” notes Gallagher.
The National Museum and House of Culture in Dar es Salaam will exhibit the documentaries, photos and storymaps resulting from this project from 22 to 28 November, following an opening with representatives of civil society organizations.
Additionally, a one-day national forum will bring together up to 15 actors from each value chain to address smallholder inclusion on 29 November. “The aim is to create actionable plans, describing specific roles and responsibilities,” Gallagher says.
A sustainable, socially inclusive SAGCOT is still in the works, but breakthroughs on all fronts — among communities, authorities and companies — have already come about during the research process.
Gallagher was struck by “how much the films had shifted the standpoint of district officers, who really empathized with communities.” Government representatives, for instance, admitted they had not realized how low farmers’ incomes were.
“What came out loud and clear in each of the case studies,” she adds, “was that farmers are in a very fragile relation with companies, and that it would not take very much for them to shift out of that cash crop” — a finding that resonated with firms.
Farmers also got to reflect on what land scarcity means for their future. “One of the stark things that came out is the need for communities to start pondering other roles that they might take in the supply chain if they want to stay in the agricultural sector.”
As awareness around this grows, it is now the turn of all stakeholders to plan for truly inclusive agricultural growth.
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