This study is about the social and productive dynamics of small farmers in a semi-arid part of Tanzania. The farmers’ mode of production has not been sustainable and their yields are declining. Yet, some farmers manage to maintain their harvests and increase their incomes, while others have still lower yields and smaller harvests and incomes. It is necessary to differentiate between farmers with much and little “uwezo”.
This Kiswahili term signals the ability or power to do things. It encompasses not only real capital, but also personal ability and social networks. Farmers with much uwezo are not only better able to maintain their harvests and yields, they also have more diversified livelihoods with incomes from more sources. They make the most of the opportunities that exist. So the “Matthew principle” applies: those that have much gain, while those that have little lose. This way, a certain differentiation is taking place. Moreover, the more powerful do more to maintain their soil and engage more in conservation. The powerless cannot do this, and they can get caught in a low productivity and low income trap. Powerlessness is a cause of degradation.
Population growth in Africa has been a cause of much concern. It seems that while yields are low in villages with scarce land, it is also in villages with much population that most measures are taken to conserve the soil and the environment. This gives ground for some optimism. Population is not just a problem; in conjuction with other factors it can be a stimulus for change.