The site of this study is the West Usambara Mountains of northern Tanzania. The time frame begins in the mid-1920s, when land was more plentiful than at any other time in the twentieth century, and continues through the late 1970s. Comments will also be made on agriculture in 1890 (as German conquest was beginning). There are by now many local studies on agriculture in the West Usambara Mountains. All describe agricultural production under conditions of extreme land scarcity; all agree that the land is incapable of carrying the number of people who live on it given current technology; and all conclude that the problem gets worse with passing years because of erosion, the impoverishment of the soil, and population growth ( Attems 1967, 1968; Heijnen 1974; Egger and Glaeser 1975; Schönmeier 1977; Fleuret 1978; Glaeser 1980, 1984; Sender n.d.).
In the 1950s the British district authorities attacked the agricultural problems head on by requiring that peasants take vigorous measures for erosion control. This provoked intense peasant resistance that made agricultural improvement after that time more difficult, for there was a history of what looked to peasants like oppressive intervention and successful resistance.
The resistance to erosion control aimed at protecting the right of the poorest people to land for subsistence. The erosion-control measures took land that was available rent-free for use by the poor and, through improvements, made it permanently subject to rental. Resistance to erosion control was therefore a battle to retain an existing system of social security. The peasants of Usambara made a collective choice, through