A Popular History of Maryknoll’s Development Work in Africa

Maryknoll and Development

by Herbert Gappa

This chapter gives just one example of the many efforts that have been made by Maryknollers to improve the material well being of the Tanzanians with whom we have worked. It is the story of the agricultural programs of the Diocese of Shinyanga from 1965 to 1974. There have been approximately Shs. 3,830,000/- put toward four successive Agricultural and Livestock programs in the Shinyanga Diocese in those ten years. There have also been endless hours of work by both Europeans and Tanzanian employees and cooperators. There have been the shared joys of astonishing yields and beautiful livestock as well as the shared pain of hail, drought, and the loss of animals. There have been successes as when an innovation gets a ‘yes’ from the farmers who then themselves adopt it, practice it, and add it to their skills – their way of living and farming. There have also been stand-offs and ‘noes’ – then the innovation goes begging. It is ignored.

Bishop Edward A. McGurkin of Shinyanga met Frans van de Laak in late 1963. This was the beginning of formalized development programs in the Shinyanga Diocese. Frans van de Laak is a Dutchman, builder by trade, who first came to Africa in 1956 to teach at Mawego Technical School in Kenya. He taught there until December.

Bishop McGurkin saw the potential in Frans’ proposals and sent him to Ndoleleji Mission to study the situation there and report his findings. Father Thomas Keefe was pastor of Ndoleleji. He encouraged Frans to size-up the possibilities. Ndoleleji, situated in an extremely fertile though fragile (ibushi) soil area on the far side of the Mangu River, was then opening-up to immigrations of large numbers of subsistence peasants. They were coming to farm cotton.

In July 1964 Bishop McGurkin, in answer to a Misereor questionnaire “Employment of Experts” began a process of negotiation with Misereor which gave birth to the Ndoleleji Rural Community Center Project, NRCC. In July 1965, Josef Rott arrived in Tanzania to be the Agriculturalist attached to Frans’ NRCC. He was on a 1965-68 volunteer contract.

The Ndoleleji Agricultural Scheme (NAS) envisioned this:

– a tractor service: not simply plowing as other tractors were doing, but putting in contour lines and ridging. This was a water and soil conservation method critically needed as large tracts of light ibushi soil were being opened to cultivation under the Government’s then operative block-farm policy.

– an extension service: to visit, advise, and to introduce new seed, fertilizers, insecticides, and techniques in the cultivators’ own fields or entire blocks.

– a training school: half theory and half work in the school’s fields for standard seven leavers on a two year course basis, and for older farmers on a short course basis.

The NAS achieved the aims given above. Of special note was the success of the contouring and ridging cultivation. This was provided cheaply, at Shs. 33/- an acre, to block-farms of 10 acres or more and, though initially subsidized, ended-up more than paying for itself as well as replacing the tractors and implements. The extension service also went well and introduced some weeding by both tractors and oxen as well as successfully initiating new and improved maize and sorghum seed for food crops. Chicken breeding found a ready market for seven week old inoculated purebred crosses and thus paid for itself. Frisian cattle were also introduced as pure breeds and for crossing purposes. This did not catch on quickly because Ndoleleji has no milk market and is drought prone, nevertheless, there are about fifty crossed cattle in that area today from this small beginning. It also provided experience in tropical husbandry of exotic breeds for us as well as for the students in training.

The training school was a mixed success. The school fields worked well as demonstration, experiment, and production sites, but the students did not go on to change the farming practice in the area nor in their own families. This has been the case with all adolescent agricultural trainees. They come; they learn; they leave for the town or submerge locally. The short courses planned for the older farmers proved impractical due to lack of co-operation in enrolling these men.

The difficulties of initiating and establishing the NAS during the years 1967-70 were many but they proved surmountable by enthusiastic hard work. At that period block-farms were still operative policy and the people’s response was positive and enthusiastic. There were good and bad years but the cotton price was fairly attractive. There was work, harvests, money, and hopes. The net evaluation of the project is that it was a very beneficial one indeed for the people of the area as well as for the trainees even though they did not meet expectations as to their effect on local farming practice.

In early 1970 it was obvious that Josef Rott would not be replaced by a Tanzanian so a German Volunteer replacement was sought. Josef had agreed to go into a Diocesan level Agricultural Program after his leave. In June 1970, Jurgen Feldhaus arrived with his wife Rosa to take over the NAS from Josef Rott. The project had been extended to cover the years 1970-73.

The Government had by this time taken over the training school and had posted two teachers. Father Daniel Ohmann of Ndoleleji gave considerable private financial backing so that the school could be changed into a boarding school. The trainees had the full co-operation of Jurgen Feldhaus in their school fields and in use of the project’s machinery and breeding stock.

This NAS Extension was not as successful as the original NAS had been during the 1967-70 period. This was mainly due to the disruption of the block-farms caused by the villagization policy which was being pushed during the 1970-73 period. In June 1973 Jurgen Feldhaus returned to Germany to work his father’s farm and the NAS Extension was officially ended. Thomas Borer was assigned to Ndoleleji under a new program and also under the assurance of the District TANU Chairman that block farms were to be re-introduced.


Josef Rott returned from Germany in October 1970 to join forces with Father Michael Duffy who was at that time covering Shinyanga Town Parish.The aims of the Agriculture Program, Shinyanga Diocese were to work an effective extension program in co-operation with Government Agricultural personnel who seemed to be a large but somewhat ineffective network of field agents. The time (the program was written in 1969) seemed ripe; cotton was doing well, the 5 year plan called for doubling production and land pressure indicated that both the opening of virgin mbugas and the shift away from extensive farming toward more intensive farming was near at hand.

The locale of extension efforts was seen to be local farmers’ groups formed by free association which could be bases for demonstration, work, and instruction in the farmers’ own fields or in small communal demonstration fields situated among them. The results of this work, which continued through the 1968-69 season, were mixed:

– mbuga cultivation was a great success

– agriculturally, the cotton and maize fields were also very successful, but so much so that the common Sukuma cultivators involved refused to a man to continue the methods they had learned and even the crop (cotton) in the next season.

– to work an effective extension program in co-operation with Government proved difficult. An extremely difficult Director of Agriculture was posted in Shinyanga during the beginning years of the program.

Finally, cotton ceased to be an attractive crop. It stagnated and even lost ground because of a low buying price. This, in turn, was exacerbated by the fact that there was little that the farmers could buy or wanted to buy in rural dukas or in Shinyanga Town even with their cotton money in hand. The supply of popular consumer items and building materials was practically nil. These very things are what caused an extra acre or two of cotton to be planted or improved husbandry to be practiced on existing acres. Because these things were simply not to be bought, extra cotton was not planted nor were husbandry standards improved.

Also, the ‘more intensive farming seemed near at hand’ did not happen during the 1970-73 period. As with the supply of popular consumer items, so also the very inputs needed as the sine qua non of more intensive farming were simply not available to the majority of Sukuma farmers. No seed and no insecticide was the rule. Some fertilizer was sometimes available but fertilizer ‘works with’ good seed and the proper insecticide and is waste of money without these inputs. During the project period the Nationalized organs of agricultural supply were in disarray. We ourselves were able to get some supplies in Tanzania, mostly from Kenya, but the average farmer could not get them.

Another aim, ‘to work with farmers’ groups’ met with some success but not to the degree anticipated. The pressure behind the Kijiji cha Ujamaa scared people away from any efforts which required association.

A seed multiplication farm (for sale and demonstration use) was started with Government cooperation; it was their land and they are our biggest single customer. The cultivation of virgin mbugas to assure surface drainage through a ditching and camber bed system was very popular. They added an extra new tractor, a Maryknoll gift for Shs. 35,000/=, and several new moldboard plows to meet the demand. This work was done at Shs. 60/- per acre paid by local farmers, thus it was the quality of the work not the price which was attractive. Some local tractor drivers copied this system which means that fields prepared by us were observed throughout a growing season by the people and then they were convinced and demanded it of local operators. This spells success for an innovation which will make tens of thousands of acres of mbuga ‘good’ in the sense that they will no longer be prone to water-logging, thus eliminating the major risk involved in farming them.

Ox cart introduction went very well. At the beginning we moved the Ndoleleji two wheel ox cart into the West Shinyanga area. These carts are well made, sturdy, and expensive (Shs. 1,200/- to 1,300/-) yet there is now a steady demand from rural buyers who see them as a family investment. These carts are now built in Shinyanga Town itself. The tractor implement fund has been well used. It has brought in mould board plows, spring tooth and disk harrows, ridgers, etc. all of great benefit in local cultivation. By and large, however, the examples have not caught-on with local tractor operators.

The small stock program, chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, has been very successful. Pure or crossbred chickens are the leader, popular and in demand far beyond our ability to supply the chicks. The other animals are being ‘watched’. They will prove themselves. Chickens were introduced years ago, these were introduced recently. It simply takes time. The shallow-well subsidy fund was largely unspent. The originator and driving force, Father George Cotter, was not able to spread his vision to others except in a few instances so few wells were installed.

Breed cattle have been introduced. They were subsidized or sold outright to Sukuma farmers who have a ready and profitable milk market in Shinyanga Town plus a fine Veterinary staff available. Many of these men had a ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ view of improved cattle husbandry . . . you turn on the beast’s udder like a faucet and the milk comes out. Through trial and error, dead animals actually killed by mismanagement, they are learning improved cattle husbandry. No alternative way of learning this complex art is possible, so the introduction of improved cattle hopefully will prove a great blessing to the area.

The Diocese bought the remaining 13 years of a lease on a small farm site near Shinyanga Town to facilitate the animal breeding program. It is becoming a center of interest to local people and the offer to breed their cows, sheep and goats with a purebred male is a standing one. It is being taken up by some.

In summary, the Agriculture Program, Shinyanga Diocese: 1970-73, has been an effective program to advance Agricultural and Livestock knowledge, skills, and practice among the people of the area. There has not been, however, the level of groundswell toward more intensive farming that was anticipated when the program was written in 1969. It must be said in all honesty that Government land, crop, and supply policies during the period in so far as they touched the emerging Sukuma farmer have been disastrous.


In early 1972 at the initial urging and encouragement of Father Daniel Ohmann it was decided that an attempt should be made to get the Africa Region to agree to an Agricultural Lay Volunteer Program which would key into the Agricultural Program, Shinyanga Diocese. In this way, it would assure competent Lay Volunteer personnel for various development locations in both the Shinyanga and Musoma Dioceses.

Fathers Daniel Ohmann and John Lange worked on recruitment of Agricultural Lay Volunteers tentatively during the summer of 1972 in the United States. After Misereor’s agreement in principle in October, John Lange signed-up three men. The program had been written for seven Lay Volunteers but was held to three at this time by the insistence of Bishop Rudin and Father Joseph Glynn, Regional Superior, who felt it best to go slowly. The three men, Thomas Borer, Alan Hagen, and Jerome Hansen, entered Language School at Makoko in February 1973. They are stationed at Ndoleleji, Shinyanga Town, and Old Maswa, respectively. During July 1973 Josef recruited two more Lay Agricultural Volunteers in the United States: David Ramse and Charles Wortmann. These two men began Language School in September 1973 and were assigned to Komuge and Iramba, respectively, in January 1974.

The Lay Agricultural Volunteer Program had the following aims:

1. That these men should cooperate with Maryknollers and implement their respective Diocesan Development Programs: e.g. the introduction of graded milk cattle in Musoma; virgin soil cultivation, crop production, small stock and some milk cattle in Shinyanga.

2. That they should, according to their respective posting, continue on a full time basis what has already been initiated and proved successful at those locations, e.g.:

– at Old Maswa, Father Paul Fagan’s work in maize production

– at Ndoleleji, Josef Rott and Jurgen Feldhaus’ work in crops, small stock and cattle.

– at Shinyanga Town, Josef Rott’s work in mbuga cultivation, extension on cotton and food crops, seed farms, small stock breeding, and milks cattle

– at Iramba, Father James Conard’s work in cattle up-breeding

– at Komuge, Fathers Arthur Wille and Joseph Masatu’s work in food crops and cattle up-breeding.

These Agricultural Volunteers were under the coordination of Fathers Conard and Duffy in Musoma and Shinyanga, respectively, and under the technical direction of Josef Rott in both Dioceses. Most simply stated they were agents of Maryknoll Development work which due to its successes had out-grown us. On the level of demand it required full time persons; on the technical level it required more skills than most of us possessed.

This short summary of a very particular period and place has been given as an example. This type of work has continued both in Shinyanga and Musoma and many of the same people mentioned in this summary continue to be active in it. Besides Maryknoll, the Church as a whole has contributed greatly to the development of Tanzania and this led then President Nyerere himself to affirm that:

the Church has an invaluable corps of selfless, disciplined and committed people–the sisters, the brothers, the priests and the lay men and women who have undertaken to serve God through their service. These individuals and groups are often more highly educated and trained than those among whom they dwell and work; they are honest, truthful and highly motivated, and they believe that service is its own reward. In Tanzania we have much evidence of the great value of the work they do and of the way it spreads outward . . .