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Taylor Mcclintic & Lowe Börjeson

Dynamics of Groundwater Access and Use for Smallholder Tanzanian Farmers

Taylor McClintic received a Bachelor's degree in Feminist Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies from from the University of California, Santa Cruz.


The case study of Tanzania presents many interesting problems which occur at the site.  After interviewing Lowe Börjeson and reading work written by scholars working on this project I have gained a better understanding of the different actors and forces in play in Tanzania.  The primary actors are small holder farmers and corporate farmers. Each group faces different problems in terms of water access, but the small holders are the ones who face the most challenges.  In Tanzania particularly what is called the Lower Moshi valley there is no shortage of water, their focus is not on sustainably but on access. The large corporate farms which are in the area have more money available are able to drill with heavy machinery and access the groundwater aquifers in ways that the small holders cannot.  During the interview Lowe discussed how the different actors have been in conversation, “the smallholders saying you should, you can, you have the resources, you can get that water and then leave the surface water for us. And then the imaginations there are of course that these are completely separate; there is no conflict around it, and that this just a way of leaving us in peace with the water that they can have. Uh, but you don’t know maybe you know, they pull up all the deep groundwater if those water aquifers are connected, the water levels drop, right?”.  The quote brings up two important issues that I mentioned before. The lack of understanding about the possible connectivity of the water sources and the monetary inequality that is experienced between the small and large holder farmers and how that impacts their access to resources. The ground water in Tanzania tends to not be very deep in the ground, maybe only a couple of meters in some places, and even at that depth it is very difficult for small holder farms to access it. In some cases farmers are able to buy small petrol pumps on order to access groundwater but that does not allow them to access water that is very far in the ground, making surface water the best option for these farmers.  


Surface water has always experienced scarcity in Tanzania during the dry seasons, the discovery of groundwater has been relatively new which has been exciting for farmers but it is not yet regulated.  During colonization small holders were encouraged to reduce their usage so more would be available for the commercial interests while ground water belonged to those who were able to access it. “During this period gaining groundwater access was only mediated by the technology and knowledge of its availability.  The colonial authority only put limited resources and efforts in groundwater exploration activities and almost ignored regulating groundwater use” (Komakch & de Bont, 627). Through this quote it becomes clearer that management of groundwater has never been a priority. Historically groundwater management has been difficult since there are instances of people with enough money digging wells without the permission of the state, allowing them to essentially access this water in secret.  Another factor which has contributed to a lack of management is the way that groundwater as a resource is viewed. In a way groundwater has been seen as an infinite resource that requires no management and can sustain the area without much effort. There have not yet been problems of water scarcity, as groundwater is still a considerably new resource, but there have been reports of aquifers being drained in significant enough ways that the people pulling the water notice the drop in depth.  No one yet has enough information to make real determinations about the status of groundwater, and thanks to the runoff from Mount Kilimanjaro there does not yet seem to be a shortage. Tanzania is such an interesting case for many reasons, but the recent introduction of ground water makes it an interesting study as they are currently starting from the ground up when it comes to utilization.



 Komakech, Hans C, and Chris de Bont. “Differentiated Access: Challenges of Equitable and Sustainable Groundwater Exploitation in Tanzania.” Water Access, vol. 11, no. 3, 2018, pp. 623–637.

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