A History under Siege: Intensive Agriculture in the Mbulu Highlands, Tanzania, 19th Century to the Present

By Munson, Robert | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, May 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

A History under Siege: Intensive Agriculture in the Mbulu Highlands, Tanzania, 19th Century to the Present


Munson, Robert, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


A History under Siege: Intensive Agriculture in the Mbulu Highlands, Tanzania, 19th Century to the Present By Lowe Börjeson. Stockholm Studies in Human Geography 12. Stockholm: Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, 2004. Pp. 188; 56 figures, 1 table. SEK 246 paper.

In this short study, Lowe Borjeson publishes the results of his dissertation research into the history of intensive agriculture in the historical homeland of the Iraqw in the Mbulu highlands of northern Tanzania. Borjeson contends that the Iraqw historiography has traditionally been constrained by the siege hypothesis. In this hypothesis population pressure, as a result of encirclement by the unfriendly Maasai, is taken as a prerequisite for initiating and perpetuating a process of agricultural intensification. From his research results Borjeson makes a convincing case that, at least in the example of Iraqw, intensification and expansion of agriculture have occurred in parallel and that intensification is its own driving force, based on incremental change. This full monograph comes in the wake of a shorter article on the same theme which he published in Widgren and Sutton, eds. Islands of Intensive Agriculture in Eastern Africa (James Currey, 2004). This collection compares several cases of intensive agriculture-past and present-in the region.

Börjeson begins the study with a substantial theoretical introduction, taking into account not only anthropological and geographical studies but also environmental history. In this way he relates his work to the relevant academic questions while also addressing the work to policy makers so they can better understand the development that has occurred in this area. He puts forward the standard Malthusian and Boserupian development narratives, but believes Iraqw illustrates something different than either, as mentioned above. This initial chapter introduces the next three, each of which deals with a different kind of evidence and perspective on the region.

In Chapter 2 Börjeson constructs a detailed, contemporary map of one ridge (about 12 ha) in his study area. His goals here were to learn why intensive farming was adopted in the area and how the process has developed and changed over time. He combines interviews and field walking with farmers along with his own detailed survey work to create a detailed picture of the land and its uses (e. …

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