World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue

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Overview of Tanzanian materials

TanzaniaThis page provides a summary chronology of the numerous soil and land use surveys carried out in Tanzania over the period from the 1930’s and is based on a number of key reference sources. The best introduction to early Land resource history in Tanzania is to be found within the excellent and authoratative book Thin on the Ground, Land Resource Survey in British Overseas Territories (Young, 2007). Further to this, there is also an excellent account of the work of the work of the Land Resource Division (LRD), in Developing Countries (Makin et al, 2006).

This account is not meant to be an essay on the history of land resource assessment in the Country and is certainly not a comprehensive coverage of all the work. Rather it provides an introduction to the materials held within the WOSSAC archive, within a structured framework. This is important to the Tanzanian Case Study as it:

  • Firstly sets into a chronology the surveys and reports. This allows individual reports to be linked as part of larger survey initiatives for example the work of the UK based Land Resources Division (LRD), in the Tabora area, and also traces the changing approaches and methodologies.
  • Secondly, also points out the central role played by Tanzania in the development of soils and land use mapping not only in the East African region, but internationally. In order to provide a framework for this brief account the chronology has been sliced into a number of time periods which are useful for description, but are essentially arbitrary.

Materials for Tanzania held in WOSSAC may be retrieved via the website search tool - use the 'advanced text search' option and enter in Tanzania as the country to see the records.

The Colonial Surveys

The earliest record within the WOSSAC collection is a colonial document which describes a soil reconnaissance 1935 and 1936. These notes were made by Geoffrey Milne, an agricultural officer in Tanganyika, who became a one of the outstanding figures in soil science. His early records made during his travels in Tanganyika, provided the basis for his subsequent development of mapping soils in relation to the landscape and his concept of a soil catena which links soil development to the topography has provided the foundation for soil surveying since the 1930s. In Tanzania this relationship of soils and topography was being utilised in soil mapping up until the 1960s when a soil association and topography map was published by Scott (see below). This catena concept was essentially constructed during field work Milne and others conducted in Tanganyika, and reflects the understanding these early surveyors brought to field work. They utilised the very local, indigenous but sophisticated soil classification of farmers who had an intimate knowledge of soils which was based on topography. Milne’s initial ideas are set out in a paper published in 1947 in the Journal of Ecology. Milne was also the primary author for the ambitious 1936 Provisional Soil Map of east Africa at a scale of 1:2 million, which covered Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar (not currently held in WOSSAC). He also published notable summary papers which are held in the WOSSAC archive (Milne, 1935, 1937; 1938a; 1938b) By the 1950s Tanzania was producing national soil survey maps at a scale of 1:3 million.

Another area where Tanzania contributed pioneering studies was in ethnopedology, and Morsion (1948) following the pioneering work of Milne produced one of the first and best soil surveys that took detailed account of farmers’ perceptions of soils and their management, and included a description of the indigenous Sukuma system of soil classification. The other fundamental principle which contributed to the development of the study of soils and which was also rooted in the colonial experience in Tanganyika was the failure of the ambitious East African Groundnut Scheme immediately after World War II. This embarrassing experience which failed to produce any meaningful quantities of groundnuts, which were to be used for precious edible oils in the period of post war shortage in Britain, was to influence how all subsequent commercial agricultural schemes in Africa were planned. Sites considered to be suitable for groundnuts were identified in 1946, but multiple problems including unreliable rainfall and most importantly the largely infertile soils which also had the problem of being stony and difficult to cultivate with machinery, led to the collapse of this ambitious endeavour. The failure of this scheme, abandoned by 1949, implanted the requirement for rigorous land assessments before embarking on any agricultural scheme into the thinking of all subsequent planners and boosted the status of soil surveys and also evaluation in the decades which followed. One outcome from this initiative however is a Survey of the Soils in the Kongwa and Nachingwea Districts published in 1957.

As early example of the importance of land evaluation is provided by the work of the surveys charged with mapping the proposed route of the Central Africa Rail link during the early 1950s, which is also held in the WOSSAC papers. The value of soil investigations was now firmly established in the mindset of the colonial officials and funds were found for remarkably comprehensive national reconnaissance surveys in this period. An Experimental Pedological Map of Tanganyika (scale 1:4m) was produced in 1954 by Godfrey Milne, followed by a Soil Map at a scale of 1:3m in 1955. There was in addition a reconnaissance level survey of the Rufiji Basin in 1961 which deserved inclusion in this category of reconnaissance mapping. In 1956, the Survey Division of the Department of Lands and Surveys produced an ‘Atlas of East Africa – Tanganyika’ including in its Physical Section maps for the themes Physiographical, Physical, Geological and Soil.

Post-Independence Soil Mapping

An important contribution to soils and land resources work in Tanzania was made by two early agricultural scientists both called Anderson, who began work prior to independence but published maps and reports post 1961. Brian Anderson was appointed as a soil fertility specialist in 1947. He commenced his soil survey activities in 1951 conducting local surveys throughout the county. He was joined in 1958 by Gordon Anderson. Using Milne’s reconnaissance map as a basis the two slowly increased the knowledge base via a series of local surveys throughout the country. In 1963, Brian Anderson produced, Soils of Tanzania. Ministry of Agriculture Bulletin No. 16, and in 1967 Gordon Anderson produced a further refinement of the Soils Map of Tanzania in the 4th Edition of the Tanzania Atlas. Also during this important period for land resource work, R.M. Scott produced a, Soil Topography Association Map in 1963. Soils information compiled by the Andersons and their colleagues provided the country input to the Soil Map of Africa published by the Inter-African Pedological Service under the direction of J.L. D’Hoore in 1967. This use an international classification system based on soil physical and chemical characteristics.

Following Independence in 1961, the new Government commissioned a number of surveys such as the Lower Mgeta survey of 1965, funded by the UK Ministry of Overseas Development (ODA). These surveys typically encompassed the complete spectrum of natural resources including soils, and vegetation, land use and forestry. The aim of such surveys was to stimulate regional or district level development through integrated programmes and the mapping of the resources was viewed as a foundation for any planned developmental initiatives. In 1967, the Food and Agriculture Organisation seconded Robert Baker to the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives as Senior Soil Surveyor and provided the funds to undertake a full reconnaissance soil survey of the entire county. The country was divided into four quadrants with a team of surveyors placed at a research institution in each quarter. The field survey commenced in September 1967 and was completed in July 1969. These four reports formed the basis for R.M. Baker’s 'The Soils of Tanzania' which was prepared in 1970 but not published. A map however was produced at a scale of 1:3,000,000.

Much later the work of the Land Resources Division, (LRD) an agency of the UK government, produced a great volume of land resource material for the Tabora region and Mtwara/Lindi regions, during the late 1970s and 1980s. These surveys which were carried out large teams of expatriate and local surveyors typically produced soils and land use information, but extended this to generate village planning, and farm management level documents. These surveys provide valuable insights into specific areas in great detail. However the expense and manpower involved in these very detailed assessments began to be questioned and this era of surveys is now consigned to the historical record. By 1980 the focus was again of central planning and the ambitious, Soil Atlas of Tanzania includes 49 map sheets at a variety of scales. This edition of the atlas was published in 1983 by S.A. Hathout. This is a valuable edition as the atlas includes the earlier maps of Milne, Scott, and Carlton and the Andersons. This phase of externally resourced and executed land resources surveys produced an interesting international comparison of methodologies in the coastal regions, with the British mapping the south, the Canadians the centre, and the Germans the north. All three were high quality efforts and are compatible.

Thematic Assessments

Parallel to these large scale surveys were a number of thematic assessments designed to provide limited information or the suitability of land for a specific undertaking, and carried out in the period from 1960 to the late 1980s. A significant number of these surveys have been archived within WOSSAC. The earlier experience of the Groundnut Scheme had underlined the need for this detailed information to prevent over ambitious commercial agricultural investment in the absence of proper surveys. Surveys for Sisal production (Kwamdulu); tea estates (Bulwa and Mufindi (a project undertaken by Silsoe College staff from Cranfield University); Navy Beans (Maramba); cocoa (Maramba); and cotton (Rufiji Basin) are typical of these surveys at a variety of scales often less than 1:50,000. There are multiple surveys to encourage the tea industry in southern Tanzania at this time for example.

Other specific examples of land assessments are early surveys to understand the unique nature of the Tanzanian wildlife areas. Surveys of the Serengeti Plains (1965); Ngorangoro Crater (1973); and the Mkomazi Game Reserve (1967), are archived. There are also later documents relating to the resources of the Serengeti plains produced in 1992.

River Basin and Forestry Resource Assessments

The archive holds material from an early assessment of the Rufiji Basin from 1961 and this was followed by evaluations of the Pangani (1962), the Kagera basin (1976), which also contains useful material on Rwanda; and the Maharunga drainage basin in 1977. A decade later this fashion for Master plans using river valleys as the unit of survey was renewed and in 1988 the Tango Master Plan study was produced, with accompanying sets of maps.

Concern over environmental pressures and the supply of fuel wood also led to surveys being commissioned which evaluated the Catchment Forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains and also the Pare Mountains in the 1990s.

National Land Cover Mapping

The most recent comprehensive assessment was the ambitious Tanzania land Cover Mapping Project carried out by Hunting Technical Services for the Government of Tanzania in the late 1990s. This satellite based assessment with rigorous ground checking resulted in map sheets at a scale of 1:250,000, and the archive holds over 50 map sheets from this survey. Parallel to this national effort there also exists the results of a National Reconnaissance Level Land Use and Natural Resources Project, completed in 1997, for which documents are archived.

Natural Resource Surveys in Zanzibar and Pemba

Unsurprisingly, the documents held for these two islands mirror the natural resources work carried out on the mainland. In the late 1940s soil surveys were carried out by W. E. Carlton who conducted a reconnaissance soils survey of of both Zanzibar and Pemba and in 1954 published a simplified map of both islands. A land evaluation of both islands, commissioned by FAO, Evaluation of Land Resources in Zanzibar, reports published in 1990 are a comprehensive record of the main island. One further report by HTS in 1994 addressing the need for an Integrated Environmental Management Project completes the collection.

The Beginnings for Land Information Systems in Tanzania

There has been a history in Tanzania of attempts to centralise and consolidate land resource documents, including materials which reach back to the 1960s when scientists at the University of Dar es Salaam set up the Bureau of Resource Assessment and Land Use Planning (BRALUP). This effort was supported by international donors including the UK Overseas Development Administration and staff was seconded to Tanzania from the Land Resources Division. One significant output from this centre of excellence was the Rukwa Project, the final report for which is archived.

The Bureau later was re-launched as the Institute for Resource Assessment (IRA) and this agency is now the home of the Tanzanian Resource Information Centre (TANRIC), which has at its core the Tanzania Resource Information System (TANRIS).

The Tanzanian Natural Resources Information Centre (TANRIC)

In the early 1990s, much of the existing information on land use, natural resources and environmental degradation in Tanzania was out of date, general in nature, at small scale, and scatterd in coverage. Against this background a Tanzanian Tropical Forest Action Plan (TFAP) was established and, in 1991, the Forest Resources Management Project (FRMP) was initiated with funding provided by the World Bank. The Tanzanian Natural Resources Information Centre (TANRIC) was proposed as a component of FRMP and The Institute of Resource Assessment (IRA), University of Dar es Salaam, was selected to house the Centre.

Under World Bank Project IDA CR2335-TA, the Cranfield University Soil Survey and Land Research Centre (now incorporated in the National Soil Resources Institute (NSRI), was contracted (1994-97) to develop TANRIS in close consultation with the IRA and the Forest Resources Management Centre, of which TANRIC is a part. The IRA is located at the University of Dar Es Salaam and the aim of TANRIC was to establish an information base on resources, land-use and environmental conditions in Tanzania, capable to assist with development planning, resources management and environmental monitoring.

Another component of FRMP, closely related to TANRIC, is the National Reconnaissance Level Land Use and Natural Resources Mapping Project undertaken by Hunting Technical Services Ltd. (HTS), UK. This project produced a total of 64 maps, at a scale of 1:250,000, based on Satellite imagery 1994-96. The maps show general classes of land use (forest cover, agricultural land, grazing and settlement) and were available for deposit at TANRIC in April 1997.

The objectives of TANRIC were to collect and organise both point and spatial data on natural resources and the environment, to develop a computerised Information System to store, manipulate, retrieve and maintain such data, to act as a repository for publications on the natural environment for Tanzania, and to make natural resources information available to policy makers and other users. The three major components of information management by the Centre had been established by 1997:

  • TANRIS the Tanzania Natural Resources Information System, a PC-based system for the storage and retrieval of relationally structured data;
  • TANRIC GIS, a Geographical Information System (GIS) for the digitisation, processing, storage and manipulation of geographic (spatial) data; and
  • TANRIC Reference Library of reports and books, including a Map Collection, about the natural resources of Tanzania’.

Data at TANRIC were organised into a number of broad categories - climate, forestry, infrastructure, population, soil, vegetation, water and wildlife; data for other categories such as archaeology, crops, fish/marine life and livestock were considered to be appropriate for addition later (than 1997).

On completion of the 1994-7 contract, TANRIS contained natural resource information together with software to query, update the data and produce reports. Six modules constituted the system: Metadatabase, Bibliography, Population, Expertise Profile, Meteorology and GIS Catalogue. A wide range of projects had been completed at the Centre during the short period that the GIS had been operational. These included: a population study of Dar es Salaam; Agro-economic zones; Rainfall and Soils for Tanzania; water resources in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area; and vegetation changes in the Pugu and Kazimzumbwi forest.


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