Women sorting paddy in Mbeya

 

An empowered woman is a productive woman. In Africa, women play a large role in agriculture, with female labour in Tanzania’s sector pegged at slightly above 50%. Women in the southern corridor of Tanzania, like their counterparts across the globe, continue to face challenges in accessing tools and inputs for production and critically access to market opportunities.

 

An NGO consortium, supported by the UK government through the FoodTrade ESA programme, is helping farmers secure new markets for their surplus staple food. The consortium, led by Farm Africa, is improving post-harvest handling and storage of staple crops among beneficiaries. Other consortium members are VECO East Africa and Rural Urban Development Initiative (RUDI).

 

Haika Hussein, a member of Mbeya-based Mbalali Women’s Group gives us insights into the life of a female farmer. “The majority of women are mothers with children, and in many instances we have to travel with our young ones to the field. Multitasking makes it difficult to work effectively,” she explains. “In addition to that, we have to travel a significant distance to the market or to store the crops and these costs become expensive.” Their productivity is further affected by limited access to finance to invest in farming, land ownership, decision making and asset control by men. These barriers compromise the productivity of women farmers.

 

Food Trade ESA recognises that women and men are not equally benefiting from regional agricultural value chains. A gender gap analysis was conducted, and gender inclusion guidelines were cascaded to grantees. These recommendations included key actions that are increasing participation of women farmers in programme activities. Through technical assistance, women are increasingly participating at all levels of the staple food value chains supported under the programme. Shalem Investments, a FoodTrade ESA programme grantee, has set up 78 aggregation; 40 of these are owned and managed by women. In addition to this, the recipients of trainings and extension services focused on improved inputs had a 49% representation of women farmers in the first half of 2017.

 

RUDI builds strategic partnerships and strong business associations within farming communities, and has invested heavily in equipping women such as members of the Mbalali Women’s Group. Tangible results from this investment are seen in their improved livelihoods. Trainings provided on grades and standards have enabled them to produce higher quality crops that can be marketed regionally. “Previously, we used to yield 7 to 10 bags of rice per acre,” recalls Mariam Issaa, a member of Mbuyuni Rice scheme in Mbeya. “However, following the post-harvest handling and good agricultural practice trainings provided by RUDI, we now yield between 30 to 40 bags of rice per acre, each weighing 100kgs,” she added.

 

RUDI has also empowered women’s groups by providing them with equipment such as moisture meters, weighing scales and tarpaulins to mitigate post-harvest losses and sustain produce quality for sale in the market. Smallholder farmers need to produce specific quantities and quality of produce to access large buyers and regional markets. “Working with RUDI has been helpful; they contracted Raphael Group Ltd. who buy our rice at source, saving us transport costs,” said Olivia Maya, the Secretary of Mbalali Women’s Group. Additionally, by networking with other projects which promote land ownership for women, members who acquired title deeds are now in a position to access credit for inputs from banks, and to hire additional land for rice growing.

 

The improvements in the livelihoods of smallholder farmer beneficiaries recently motivated two women groups, Upendo and Maendeleo, to proactively participate in the project. Challenges such as the lack of reliable day care still prevent women from reaching their optimal productivity. Some water systems in the irrigation scheme see some farms receive water at night, preventing access by women. Deliberate effort is needed to ensure programme resources from various development partners reach women, who are easily left out in accessing resources.