This film is held by the BFI (ID: 11274).


INTEREST. The film shows a practical experiment to establish a new African settlement in tsetse-fly country.

The film opens with a local looking at a sign post 'To Kingolwira'. The African sets off in this direction and comes to a fly-post which checks the tsetse fly from entering the area. He meets an official who tells him to look around the area, and then meets a new settler building a hut with free materials. The new settler then takes the man to a settler who has already started farming. The land is cleared communally - with free beer offered as a reward - as locals play on drums and a girl dances. The film explains that an acre of cassava must be planted around each hut as a famine crop, while cotton growing and the principles of crop rotation are explained to the prospective African settler. He then visits one of the old settlers whose area has been sufficiently cleared to be free of tsetse fly. He sees the soil being tilled by oxen and manure being taken from the cattle shed by a communal cart. He visits the dispensary and finally decides to apply for a farm (306 ft).



African Peasant Farms – which was referred to in BEKE (Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment) material as ‘Peasant Holdings’ – was the eighteenth BEKE film produced and was filmed between 19 August and the end of September 1936 (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 130). A loan from the Tanganyika government ensured that filming was possible but, as part of the second batch of films produced by Notcutt and Latham, the film was not as widely exhibited as the group’s initial thirteen films. Indeed, in their 1937 report on the BEKE film experiment, ‘The African and the Cinema’, Notcutt and Latham stated that Peasant Holdings ‘has not yet been seen a sufficient number of times to judge its merits’ (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 56).

Notcutt and Latham explained that Peasant Holdings ‘showed a most interesting experiment being undertaken at Kingolwira, near Morogoro, Tanganyika Territory’ (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 55). The scheme was established in 1933 with the financial aid of the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation, in order to open up tsetse-fly infested lands, and to demonstrate large-scale mixed farming. The scheme ran three demonstration holdings ‘to provide a visual progressive objective’ for the locals, and a government report noted that by 1938 there were 55 settlers who had taken up holdings (Department of Agriculture Annual Report 1937, 33 and 1938, 48). A prison camp was also established nearby, which initially trained prisoners in mixed farming and in tsetse-fly clearing.

The scheme required that the locals closely follow European instruction. A government report explained that ‘when entering a holding the incoming settler enters into an agreement to follow the advice of the agricultural officer, and is on probation for a year’ (Department of Agriculture Annual Report 1937, 33). The report further noted that ‘in the beginning the peasants are virtually tenants of the department’ while a sessional paper emphasised that the locals must ‘abide by the decisions and directions of the officer in charge of the settlement regarding all matters affecting the good husbandry of the plot’ (Liversage, 1945, 128).

The scheme was based on traditional notions of the African and European. For example, according to one government report, it sought ‘to take advantage of the spirit of emulation which the African possesses in no small degree’ while it further stated that ‘it is expecting a great deal of the local natives for them to abandon their old primitive methods for the high standard demanded by mixed farming’. The government sought to direct and ‘educate’ the locals in modern agricultural methods, but promoted gradual change – ‘this project should be regarded as an experiment for some years to come’ – further arguing that ‘the slogan “Hasten slowly” must ever be kept in mind’ (Department of Agriculture Annual Report 1937, 33).

Although government reports emphasised the financial benefits of the scheme to the locals, they also claimed in 1938 that ‘so far propaganda to encourage increased settlement has not been made and somewhat fewer applications for holdings were received than in the year before’ (Department of Agriculture Annual Report 1938, 48). African Peasant Farms was intended to encourage new settlers, but its impact was evidently not widely noted.

The scheme reflects the colonial government’s promotion of mixed farming within Africa and, in particular, its emphasis on the production of ‘cash crops’ for export. A report in 1936 on the ‘experiment stations’ administered by the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation highlighted the continuing efforts to make cotton an ‘homogenous part’ of the local agriculture, incorporated as ‘part of a satisfactory rotation of crops’ (The Times, 17 February 1936, 9). However, Marilyn Little, writing in the Geographical Review in 1991, argued that the colonial government’s desire for export crops, most notably cotton, impacted upon the ‘quantity and quality of food’ available for local groups in Tanganyika and ‘contributed to chronic malnutrition and famine’ between 1925 and 1945. Little argued that the ‘colonial government forced reorganization of the planting schedule to the advantage of cash crops, which militated against the success of food crops’ and further suggested that the demands for continual cotton and cassava cultivation contributed to a ‘loss of soil fertility’ (Little, 1991, 375, 386). Indeed, while agricultural experts had extolled the virtues of mixed farming in East Africa and become ‘obsessed about soil erosion’ during the 1920s, historian John lliffe suggested that the 1930s witnessed a ‘shift in European thinking about African agriculture’ as some of the government’s proposals for crop rotation and soil conservation were jettisoned during the depression by an immediate desire for greater revenue from crops (lliffe, 1979, 348, 349).



African Peasant Farms follows an unnamed African protagonist – ‘He is on his way to apply for a farm. He comes to a fly-post’ – and encourages the audience to identify with this African character. However, this protagonist is, like the audience, merely undertaking a tour of the area and the film’s emphasis is on the details and processes of the scheme, rather than the desires and goals of the character. The film prioritises the industrial processes, such as the manufacture of bricks, and highlights the details within the scheme : ‘each holding is 14 acres’. This emphasis on the scheme is apparent in Notcutt and Latham’s account of the film, as they explained that ‘we filmed the three different stages of development of the holdings and endeavoured to bring out the main points in the scheme’ (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 56).

Although the scheme is viewed through the eyes of an African protagonist, in many respects the film appears to be directed towards British audiences. First, in its representation of the Africans the film contains a number of ethnographic scenes, such as an African in traditional costume dancing while others play drums and instruments, which were popular with British audiences. The intertitles also highlight aspects that may appear obvious to local audiences: ‘This settler is of another tribe and he has built his hut differently’. Furthermore, the language used – ‘this film shows a practical experiment to establish a new native settlement in Tsetse-Fly country’ – seemingly bypasses the largely illiterate local audience, and presents the scheme as evidence of the welfare work of the British in Africa.

The film addresses topics prevalent within other BEKE films, such as the construction of ‘compulsory’ pit latrines and the use of the cassava plant, but also represents a more modern Africa than in, for example, Tropical Hookworm (1936). This can be explained by the increased British presence within this film, which culminates with the British man, positioned on a step and looking down on the African, signing the African protagonist up to the scheme.

James Burns noted that the topics within these films ‘shared a common theme that the filmmakers described as “progress vs African methods”’ and this is apparent within African Peasant Farms (Burns, 2002, 27). An early intertitle explains that ‘the agriculture is adapted to native tradition, but improved methods are introduced by stages’ as the filmmakers, in accordance with governmental writing on the scheme, highlighted the gradual developments introduced by the British. The African man encounters modern developments as he walks past a car, sees new farming techniques and visits a brick-built house. Ultimately the film serves as an indication of the attitudes of both the filmmakers and the government, in seeking to direct and ‘educate’ the Africans, perceived as ‘primitive’ and impressionable, in modern European methods.

Tom Rice (May 2008)


Works Cited

Burns, J. M., Flickering Shadows: Cinema and Identity in Colonial Zimbabwe (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Research in International Studies, 2002).

Little, Marilyn, ‘Colonial Policy and Subsistence in Tanganyika, 1925-1945’, Geographical Review (October 1991), 375-388.

Liversage, V., Land Tenure in the Colonies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1945).

lliffe, John, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

Meek, C.K., Land Law and Custom in the Colonies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946).

Notcutt, L.A. and G.C. Latham, The African and the Cinema : An Account of the Work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment during the Period March 1935 to May 1937 (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1937).

Tanganyika Territory, Department of Agriculture Annual Report 1937 (Dar es Salaam: Government Printer, 1938).

Tanganyika Territory, Department of Agriculture Annual Report 1938 (Dar es Salaam: Government Printer, 1939).

‘Empire Cotton Growing: Native Mixed Farming in Africa’, The Times, 17 February 1936, 9. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
9 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
308 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company







Production Organisations