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  • Cultivating Success in Uganda: Kigezi Farmers and Colonial Policies
  • Pauline E. Peters
Grace Carswell . Cultivating Success in Uganda: Kigezi Farmers and Colonial Policies. London: The British Institute in Eastern Africa; Oxford: James Currey; Kampala: Fountain Publishers; Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007. xii + 258 pp. Photographs. Maps. Tables. Figures. Notes. Appendix. Bibliography. Index. $59.95. Cloth. $26.95. Paper.

Kigezi is the site for an exploration of what "success" meant to the colonial architects of agricultural development projects. The play on words in the [End Page 205] title illuminates a main theme: that whether they adopted methods promoted by the British or not, Kigezi cultivators had more adaptable and successful forms of agriculture than outsiders often assumed. The lessons drawn from the colonial period are still relevant. While the cash crops promoted by the colonial administration failed to catch on in Kigezi, the British failed to see that for the Bakiga food crops were also cash crops sold in national and regional markets. Kigezi proved receptive to soil conservation policies because the promoted methods were adaptations of longstanding practices. Similarly, a major "resettlement" scheme was successful largely because it drew on well-established patterns of mobility. But attempts to promote land titling and consolidation were avoided by the Bakiga because they entailed too large deviations from existing successful practices, including gendered rights and responsibilities. Contrary to the assumption that titling and privatization of land were necessary for the development of land markets and commercial agriculture, tenure had long been "individualistic" and there were longstanding land markets and active crop markets (a lesson still to be learned). The book is also an anti-Malthusian argument about densely populated areas like Kigezi which, despite cries of pending disaster from the 1920s on, remains able "to maintain agricultural production and. . . avoid serious environmental degradation" (8).

Following an introduction, four chapters examine the main thrusts of colonial agricultural policy—the promotion of cash crops falsely opposed to food crops, soil conservation, efforts to modernize "customary" land tenure, and the significant role of chiefs vis-à-vis land. Each chapter sets colonial actions against the actual practices and principles of the Bakiga as evidenced by archival sources and the author's field interviews. Land was inherited mainly within clans, but there were also longstanding methods of obtaining land through patronage, marriage, and work on a land-owner's fields. During the course of the colonial period chiefs acquired more authority over land, and the means of gaining land, both then and since, have increasingly become cash-based (through purchase and rentals). Drawing on studies conducted in the earlier period (1930s–'40s) and the present (1990s–2000), the following two chapters look more closely at changes in the agricultural practices and livelihoods of the Bakiga. The agricultural system has served Kigezi well over the past fifty years. However these changes are associated with increased commodification and social differentiation.

The presence of diverse income strategies—a recent focus in research in Africa—has long typified Bakiga livelihoods. Over time, waged agricultural labor has increased: rich and poor both work as and hire casual labor, but richer households hire others disproportionately and the poorer livelihoods depend much more on performing agricultural labor. Carswell explains that to earlier commentators some of the agricultural work for others was unnoticed because it was engaged in not for wages but for food [End Page 206] and (particularly for incoming migrants) land. What has happened more recently is complex. On the one hand, far more casual agricultural work is being compensated with money than "in kind": there has been a noticeable commodification of labor. On the other hand, some older forms remain, with a few people receiving food or access to land in compensation for their labor. But because these forms of engagement have come to signal an unwanted dependency, they are no longer talked about in the same Kiga terms; people told Carswell that there was no need for these old relations because "now there is money." Nonetheless, the case data show that such dependent relations still connect the wealthier with the poorer, even though they may be not referred to as such. Economic differentiation is also manifested through increased inequality in...


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