Land (in)security for the Hadzabe of Tanzania


The Hadzabe (also known as Hadza) are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer groups in east Africa and one of four indigenous groups in Tanzania, together with the hunter-gatherer Akie and pastoralists Barabaig and Maasai. Although accurate numbers are hard to estimate, they are believed to be the smallest of these four groups – with only about 1000 members identifying as Hadzabe. Occupying the southern region of the Western Rift Block zone in Tanzania, the Hadzabe have survived for millennia in what is often referred to as one of the most geographically diverse regions of the country. The majority of Hadzabe continue to subside predominantly from hunting and gathering, although in recent years, some have diversified their survival strategies with small-scale farming and trade with neighboring groups.

Even though Tanzania voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, on a national level there are no laws or policies which recognize or address the rights and needs of these marginalized groups as indigenous. Strong nation-building policies and development initiatives aiming at the sedenterization, ‘modernization’ and agricultural development of these traditional cultures, without any recognition of the knowledge and strength they possess, have had a rather negative effect and have contributed to their further marginalization and impoverishment.

Problem statement

With increased insecurity over their land, and an increased dependency on government and NGOs support, the Hadzabe have reached a critical point in their survival as a people.

Over the past decade, climate change has caused visible and unpredictable climatic changes in east Africa, and the pressure on all different subsistence systems in the region – agriculturalists, pastoralists and hunter-gatherers – has increased dramatically. Within the last decade, the Hadzabe have experienced increased encroachment over their territories, mostly by neighboring pastoralist groups. Increased droughts, combined with extensive use of the soil for hunting-gathering harvesting, cattle grazing and agriculture, have resulted in severe soil deterioration and decreased wild food resources. Tourism and small-scale logging and mining also take place on Hadzabe land.

In addition to this, the government has put a lot of pressure on the Hadzabe communities to abandon hunting and gathering as a ‘primitive’ way of subsistence, and to transition into more ‘modern’ lifestyles, largely based on agricultural production. This villigization strategy, however, is based on the dominant recognition of agriculture as the only legitimate means for land use. Following this wide-spread assumption, the government has little recognition for the importance of the knowledge and expertise that the Hadzabe possess, and that might be crucial for nature conservation and in the fight against climate change. The development initiatives thrown at the Hadzabe have little relevance to their culture, values and way of life and have resulted in their frequent withdrawal and refusal to participate in them, thus reinforcing the stereotype of their ‘primitiveness’ and lack of appreciation for ‘modern life’.

Research ideas

  • There is an urgent need for a critical evaluation of the land security situation of the remaining nomadic Hadzabe communities. A potential research project can identify the territories of one or several Hadzabe communities; track the resources that are available on these territories; map existing uses of the territory by the Hadzabe; identify changes that the community has observed over the years; record practices that threaten the Hadzabe or interfere with their subsistence (encroachment by other groups, tourism, mining, etc.); examine the government initiatives and services provided for the community and critically analyze how these contribute or not to the group’s overall well-being and long-term survival. What is the legislative framework under which land and resource rights are being dealt with in Tanzania and how are these contributing to the Hadzabe’s empowerment or marginalization?
  • Another project could look at a sedenterized group of Hadzabe and examine the changes that have occurred in the community since their settlement. Have people resorted to new subsistence strategies and what are these? In the case of agricultural production, have these been sustainable during the recent drought years? Are people still resorting to mixed subsistence and if yes under what conditions? What services the government provides for the communities, and what is the effect of these services on the community? Has sedenterization provided any land ownership rights for the community in question or not?