Poverty, Human Security and Sustainability: Tanzania Case Study

Posted on November 3, 2012 by


It is through addressing poverty and livelihood security that states then develop the capacity to capitalise on sustainable growth opportunities. On a global level, the imbalance between the environment and human activities are surmised under the Tragedy of the Commons concept, where common natural resources are effectively exploited by international power groups for profit (Griffiths et.al 2008, p. 319). This struggle for natural resources is problematic given that many impoverished communities depend on access to finite materials in order to maintain their traditional livelihoods (Hardin 1968, p. 1244). In order to safeguard these traditions and resources, this essay will assert that sustainable environmental practices are realistic only when issues of poverty are first addressed. This reality can be firstly seen through conducting an analysis into World Systems Theory which helps explain how states are divided according to their core, semi-periphery or peripheral status. Following this overview of global inequalities, an exploration into current and projected food security problems will be undertaken. This will then be followed by an assessment of the potential for civil conflict if poverty and livelihood security issues are not addressed in regards to policies designed to cater for environmental changes. These direct topics of food security, civil conflict and their relationship to poverty will be investigated using the case study of Tanzania, a country located in East Africa. By exploring Tanzania, it is hoped that this paper will highlight the necessity of addressing poverty and livelihood security when designing sustainable environmental strategies.

Illustration of world system theory

From using World Systems Theory, it is understood how current patterns of global poverty and inequality have developed. Devised by Immanuel Wallerstein, World Systems Theory works to explain how the capitalist world economy is dependent on core state powers (developed) placing pressure on countries in the periphery (developing) to maximise trade capabilities and profit (Wallerstein 1974, p. 402).This division of power, characteristic of modern economic growth, is traced to the sixteenth century when European powers sought the production of goods for exchange on the market rather than to provide for subsistent needs (Griffiths et.al 2008, p. 342). As a result of this sustained desire for material wealth, countries located in the periphery are exploited by core states, particularly in terms of agriculture where low-cost agricultural production is in most cases freely available. Wallerstein (1979, p. 28) demonstrates this exploitation by particular reference to the peripheral continent of Africa and how colonisation processes secured the land for both resource needs and cheap labour. However, for countries such as Africa, this exploitation of natural resources for the market economy has and continues to pose a number of damaging issues for the rural poor who depend on the natural environment to facilitate their survival. As a whole, the introduction of export-orientated economies by core powers has directly correlated in the displacement of communities from farm land as well as contributing to irreversible land degradation (Lopez 1992, p. 1140). Evidence of this pattern of inequality is seen on close analysis of the African country of Tanzania, whereby the depletion of natural resources has been exacerbated by sporadic climate events.

By investigating the Republic of Tanzania, the processes outlined in World Systems Theory are more clearly recognised. As a continent, Africa largely maintained its independence until the rise of British and European colonial rule in the late nineteenth century, when new trade stations were established across the land (Wafula 2008, p. 15). Composed mainly of agrarian economies Africa, with Tanzania in particular, formed part of the European expansion of the market system whereby raw materials would be exported to core states in order to secure their capitalist dominance on a global level. As a result, the intensification of agricultural production in Tanzania has in modern times contributed to issues of overgrazing and soil erosion (Dejene et.al 1997, pp. viii-ix). By sustaining the economies of core states, effectively Tanzania now faces a number of issues related to livelihood security, disease prevention and securing the necessary capital to develop state infrastructure. Linking back to the capitalist world economy, Godwyll and Malcalm (2008, p. 9) have indicated that the de-regulation of  Tanzania’s economy has subsequently de-mechanised the state’s agricultural activities leading to an increase in the price of technology such as tractors and other farm equipment. Without these technologies, Tanzania’s already impoverished communities face a number of challenges in dealing with the exploitative acts of core states, namely domestic food security. This difficulty is further heightened given the country’s current and predicted upcoming periods of extensive drought, ultimately devastating the agricultural production capacity of small and large operations.

Food security has and continues to be a paramount issue faced by both core and periphery countries in the twenty-first century. In particular, the advent of climate change has increased food system vulnerability given that changes to the natural ecosystem have not proved favourable to different cropping practices worldwide (Gregory et.al 2005, p. 2139). With destructive weather patterns nations, particularly in the periphery, have been forced to intensify agricultural production to not only meet the needs of their domestic population but also those of the core nations. This trend reflects what is known as Materialist Theory, whereby excess food has been produced in the past to cater for a rise in population numbers (Helms 2004, p. 380). Whilst introducing new infrastructures and technologies to secure food production has proved to an extent favourable in the immediate future, strategically these initiatives only work to increase the poverty of nations in the periphery. This generation of poverty is recognised through reviewing patterns of “trade liberalisation” where peripheral countries lose control of the crops they cultivate to international contracts and subsequently forfeit their coping strategies to environmental changes (McGregor 1994, p. 121).  Furthermore, intensified agricultural farming practices in these developing areas work to exceed nature’s “carrying capacity”, desecrating both local topography and soils that are relied on by impoverished communities to secure their lifestyles (Scherr 2000, p. 482). In the context of World Systems Theory, these unsustainable farming practices imposed by core powers demonstrate the dangers of the market economy in facilitating appropriate solutions to environmental problems. Through removing free access to crops and food reserves, peripheral countries are exposed to increased threats of disease including hepatitis, typhoid and other epidemics that have the potential to hold global repercussions (Gregory et.al 2005, p. 2141). This danger is surmised through a closer analysis of food security issues threatening Tanzania.

Through understanding the food security issues of Tanzania, the need to address poverty and livelihood security in strategies for the environment is evident. As a specific example, the northern Tanzanian city of Morogoro demonstrates how an increase in average temperature is set to significantly disrupt crop cultivation. By 2100, the region around Morogoro is expected to experience an increase in mean temperature of between two and four degrees Celsius (Paavola 2008, p. 647). Consequently, for the subsistence farming operations in these regional communities, temperature increases will lead to the minimal cultivation of rice and maize crops as well as the introduction of new pests which will threaten harvests (Paavola 2008, p. 647). To insure against these issues, local peasant farmers as well as major corporate interests have already begun embarking on a process of deforestation to increase available farming land as diversify current employment opportunities (Monela et.al 1993, pp. 250-251). Uneducated on the impacts of deforestation to the natural ecosystem, locals also rely heavily on flat cropping as a means of soil tillage which is contributing to dangerous levels of soil erosion (Paavola 2008, p. 650). Reliance on these farming practices as well as deforestation, according to Mwakaje (2009, p. 179), represents “unsustainable development” as ecologically these forests and wetlands are necessary for water storage, filtration and toxic retention. Contextually however, the need to secure more farmland in order to meet necessary food requirements again reflects the damaging consequences of dependency core nations hold over those in the periphery. For the farming communities of Tanzania, whilst they have a responsibility to feed their domestic population, binding contracts between Tanzanian farmers and core countries has meant they must find avenues to harvest enough surplus raw materials to honour these agreements (Watts 1992, p. 91). Therefore, in order to protect the natural environment from excessive farming practices, the food safety of poor farming communities in Tanzania must be protected initially from the outside influences of a capitalist world economy. This protection is again necessary to preventing the outbreak of domestic and international civil conflict.

For communities worldwide, changes in the environment pose a significant threat to the outbreak of violent civil conflicts, particularly in impoverished societies. In an effort to mitigate the impacts of climate change, affected populations seek to secure their livelihoods through adaptation measures including migration or diversifying into new markets in order to generate income (Warner et.al 2010, p. 691). However, for marginalised populations, these coping strategies are often limited given that macroeconomic processes typically restrict an impoverished person’s access to necessary human and social capital that alleviates vulnerability to climate change impacts (Barnett and Adger 2007, p. 642). In the result of climate induced migration, population displacement has the potential to burden nearby communities or nations with masses of refugees who are likely to disrupt the core economic and social functions of the state (Mabogunje 2002, p. 12). The possible effect of this disruption is increased resentment from the host community, the uprising of ethnic tensions and furthermore, the augmented depletion of natural resources to cater for the livelihood of the new arrivals. For under-developed societies who are already burdened by dominant market forces exploiting their native environments, the arrival of new settlers in auxiliary conditions leads to even scarcer resources and prone conflict (Reuveny 2007, p. 658). Overall, this conundrum poses a new challenge to Least Developed Countries (LDC) as they require intense foreign investments into new public infrastructure and education programs to facilitate for new employment opportunities that are less reliant on the natural landscape (Reuveny 2007, p. 669). Challenges to reduce the likelihood of violence are understood clearly on close analysis of the Tanzanian case study.

In the case of Tanzania, it is the development of effective national policies and legal mechanisms to cope with the impacts of climate change that will hopefully overcome situations of violent civil conflict. Like most nations in Africa and internationally, National Adaptation Plans for Action (NAPA) under the guidelines of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) seek to strategically plan for climate change impacts on a household and organisational level. In Tanzania, NAPA plans represent an ongoing process that seek to include the voices of all citizens, including the rural poor who evidently have disproportionate access to environmental resources on which they depend for their survival (Paavola 2006, p. 202). Relating to World Systems Theory, NAPA also seeks to an extent to advance local solutions to environmental change, overcoming the heightened level of dependency core nations have on the periphery. In addition to an overreliance on primary industry to accrue income, the Tanzanian state has and continues to be plagued by corrupt governance, damaging the prospects of fully meeting the objectives established under NAPA. As a whole, the state is comprised of a selection of ethno-political groups whereby political actions pursued can favour one demographic over another (Raleigh 2010, p. 73). These tensions are highlighted on viewing the political convictions of parties including Hizbut-Tahir, an Islamic party that has the potential to create factions in the rule of the leading and largely Socialist Democratic Party Chama Cha Mapinduzi. To date, the radical Sunni-Islamic political organisation has been linked to violence such as the bombing of the United States of America’s Embassy in 1998 (Aydin and Özen 2010, p. 548). According to Baber and Bartlett (2009, p. 459), the onset on these tensions will only exacerbate a “total” response to effective environmental strategies, to the detriment of communities who suffer from poverty. Furthermore, in regards to climate induced migration, the instability of domestic politics poses a significant risk to underprivileged societies in Tanzania securing necessary international aid. Whilst the UNFCCC prioritises aid provision to countries that are deemed “vulnerable”, the extent of this assistance remains undefined in accordance to Annex II Article 4.3 (Mace 2006, p. 63). Without these funds, poverty ridden communities such as Tanzania are likely to become inundated with situations of civil violence, only adding to the environmental and livelihood security issues that are set to exacerbate in the face of climate change activity.

Addressing poverty on an international level is necessary not only to achieving a greater sense of social justice, but importantly for capitalising on sustainable growth opportunities. Both in recent times and into the future, the onset of sporadic climate change activities is expected to disrupt the livelihoods of populations worldwide. For impoverished communities such as Tanzania, these impacts are anticipated to be even greater, with many disadvantaged populations relying on primary industry to supplement their incomes and guarantee their livelihood. In this essay, addressing World Systems Theory is important to understanding how current global market systems have led to the exploitation of periphery countries by core powers. These measures have, as demonstrated, intensified the irreversible destruction of natural ecosystems that has contributed to harmful climate change impacts. In effect, periphery countries now face immense difficulties in guaranteeing food security and preventing the onset of civil violence amid growing tensions for economic income as well as everyday survival. Without the necessary social and human capital, these regions potentially face a grave case of social injustice and iniquities on numerous levels. It is essential that these obstacles be remedied soon by both core and peripheral powers in order to encourage sustainable lifestyle choices that will protect natural resources for generations to come.


Aydin, M and Özen, Ç 2010, ‘Civilizational Futures: Clashes or Alternative Visions in the Age of Globalization?’,Futures, vol. 42, pp. 545-552.

Baber, W.F and Bartlett, R.V 2009, ‘Race, Poverty and the Environment: Toward a Global Perspective’, Public Administration Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 457-480.

Barnett, J and Adger, W.N 2007, ‘Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict’, Political Georgraphy, vol. 26, pp. 639-655.

Dejene, A, Shishira, E.K, Yanda, P.Z and Johnsen, F.H 1997, ‘Land Degradation in Tanzania: Perception from the Village’, World Technical Paper, no. 370.

Godwyll, F.E and Malcalm, E 2008, ‘An Analysis of Structural Adjustment Programs and Food Security in Two Selected Countries in Africa’, in F Godwyll and S. Young Kang (eds.), Poverty, Education and Development, Nova Science Publishers, New York, pp. 3-12.

Gregory, P.J, Ingram, J.S.I and Brklacich, M 2005, ‘Climate Change and Food Security’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, vol. 360, pp. 2139-2148.

Griffiths, M, O’Callaghan, T and Roach, S.C 2008, International Relations: The Key Concepts, Routledge, Oxon, Great Britain.

Hardin, G 1968, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Science, vol. 162, pp. 1243-1248.

Helms, M 2004, ‘Food Sustainability, Food Security and the Environment’, British Food Journal, vol. 106, no. 5, pp. 380-387.

Lopez, R 1992, ‘Environmental Degradation and Economic Openness in LDCs: The Poverty Linkage’, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, vol. 74, no. 5, pp. 1138-1143.

Mabogunje, A.L 2002, ‘Poverty and Environmental Degradation: Challenges Within the Global Economy’, Environment, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 8-18.

Mace, M.J 2006, ‘Adaptation Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: The International Legal Framework’, in W. Neil Adger, J Paavola, S Huq and M.J Mace (eds.), Fairness in Adaptation to Climate Change, MIT Press, Massachusetts, America, pp. 53-76.

McGregor, J 1994, ‘Climate Change and Involuntary Migration: Implications for Food Security’, Food Policy, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 120-132.

Monela, G.C, O’Kting’ati, A and Kiwele, P.M 1993, ‘Socio-Economic Aspects of Charcoal Consumption and Environmental Consequences Along the Dar esSalaam-Morogoro Highway, Tanzania’, Forest and Ecology Management, vol. 58, pp. 249-258.

Mwakaje, A.G 2009, ‘Wetlands, Livelihood and Sustainability in Tanzania’, African Journal of Ecology, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 179-184.

Paavola, J 2006, ‘Justice in Adaptation to Climate Change in Tanzania’, in W. Neil Adger, J Paavola, S Huq and M.J Mace (eds.), Fairness in Adaptation to Climate Change, MIT Press, Massachusetts, America, pp. 201-222.

Paavola, J 2008, ‘Livelihoods, Vulnerability, and Adaptation to Climate Change in Morogoro, Tanzania’, Environmental Science and Policy, vol. 11, no. 7, pp. 642-654.

Raleigh, C 2010, ‘Political Marginalization, Climate Change, and Conflict in African Sahel States’, International Studies Review, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 69-86.

Reuveny, R 2007, ‘Climate Change-Induced Migration and Violent Conflict’, Political Geography, vol. 26, pp. 656-673.

Scherr, S.J 2000, ‘A Downward Spiral? Research Evidence on the Relationship Between Poverty and Natural Resource Degradation’, Food Policy, vol. 25, pp. 479-498.

Wafula, R.J 2008, ‘Poverty in Africa: An Inherited, Created and Superimposed Epidemic’, in F Godwyll and S Young Kang (eds), Poverty, Education and Development, Nova Science Publishers, New York, pp. 13-19.

Wallerstein, I 1974, ‘The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 387-415

Wallerstein, I 1979, The Capitalist World Economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Warner, K, Hamza, M, Oliver-Smith, A, Renaud, F and Julca, A 2010, ‘Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Migration’, Nat Hazards, vol. 55, pp. 689-715.

Watts, M 1992, ‘Peasants and Flexible Accumulation in the Third World: Producing Under Contract’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 27, no. 30, pp. 90-97.


Martin Dickens is a third year Bachelor of Arts student studying at La Trobe University’s Albury Wodonga Campus. He is currently a member of the student-run People’s Action Club (PAC), is a founding member of the Albury-Wodonga chapter of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), and holds a strong interest in both Australian politics and international affairs.  He has served as an acting delegate for the United Nations Regional Youth Summits and was recently awarded the Deans Prize First Year for the most outstanding student in the Bachelor of Arts.  Martin is also interested in education policy and regional development in terms of infrastructure and service delivery.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.