Esselborn, Stefan: Environment, Memory, and the Groundnut Scheme
Britain's Largest Colonial Agricultural Development Project and its Global Legacy. - In: Global Environment, 7 (2013)11, S. 58-93 In the late 1940s, the British state embarked on an attempt to convert about 12,000 km┬│ of bush land in remote regions of colonial East Africa into a peanut monoculture. The project, which became known as the "Groundnut SchemeΓÇş, constituted one of the largest colonial agricultural development initiatives in history, as well as possibly the most spectacular failure in this field. While the technical reasons for this are relatively well known, the article focuses chiefly on perceptions of the Scheme, trying in particular to trace the different functions that were assigned to the social and ecological landscape of Tanganyika by historical actors over time. As the Scheme was from the outset targeted as much at Western discourses and representations than at the actual situation in Tanganyika, three layers of context are distinguished, corresponding broadly to different geographical scales as well as specific groups of actors. On the imperial level, the project's entanglement in British politics tended to obscure its geographic and historical specificities, transforming the transformation of Tanganyikan landscape into sets of statistical numbers, and ultimately into a largely decontextualized political buzzword. Secondly, in the framework of the international expert community, technological enthusiasm depicted East Africa as an "emptyΓÇş region formable at will, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Ironically, the at times grotesque mistakes made as a consequence permitted to avoid a more general questioning of the basic tenets of agricultural development. On a "localΓÇş level, the Groundnut Scheme needs to be understood in the context of attempts to reform the (post-) colonial social order through the modification of agricultural practices and the refashioning of the physical and ecological environment. In this sense, the project became a forerunner of the even larger Tanzanian "villagizationΓÇş campaign in the 1970s. Different strands of memory of the Groundnut Scheme persist today, although their connection to the physical site(s) of the project is strenuous. On the other hand, the Scheme did transform the social, physical and biological landscape of Tanganyika, albeit in different ways and in a much more limited scope than intended.