Joining Forces in Tanzania to Empower Women in Agriculture

Posted on by on October 22nd, 2012 | 0 Comments »

How You and Your Organization Can Help Advance the Status of Women in Agriculture and Improve Food Security

By Giselle Aris, Land O’Lakes International Development

Last week, leaders from around the globe gathered for the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa to discuss solutions for combatting the hunger and malnutrition that more than 850 million people around the world confront on a daily basis. Much of the discussion focused on agriculture and the enormous potential it has – not only to feed the Earth’s rapidly expanding population, but also to propel economic growth in developing countries. For agriculture’s potential to be adequately unleashed, numerous studies confirm that the full integration of women along agricultural value chains is essential. The Global Harvest Initiative’s third annual Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) report, released at the start of the World Food Prize, further emphasized the vital role women play in ensuring food security. According to the report, women – especially African women – need access to credit, capacity building, and technology, and more secure rights to land in order to “make a significant impact on productivity, household income, and food and nutrition security.”

Women farmers in Tanga, Tanzania discuss the constraints they face in entering agriculture’s private sector, and their ideas for overcoming these obstacles.

From Des Moines to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it is well-known that women form the backbone of the global agricultural work force. They do this by playing multiple, distinct roles: they plant seeds, harvest crops, milk animals, bring products to markets, and prepare meals for their families. Yet, women face multiple constraints to full participation in agricultural value chains, and the costs of these gender inequalities are extreme. Data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank demonstrate that food insecurity and malnutrition rates climb in parallel with women’s inability to participate fully in the agricultural work force. This means that if women continue to lack access to land rights and productive assets, perpetually fail to obtain financial services, and remain unable to make important decisions about the crops they grow and the livestock they raise, then the chronic problem of world hunger will most certainly continue. Here are some important numbers to remember: if women were to enjoy access to the same productive resources as men, agricultural yields would increase by 20 to 30 percent, raising agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent. That’s enough to feed 150 million people!

Let’s not forget the impact this increase would have on the incomes of women, especially those who are sole income earners for their families. The domino effect of women having more income is almost immeasurable – especially since they spend, on average, 80 percent of their earnings on their families. Just imagine the possibilities in terms of a mother’s and her children’s health and nutrition, education, and employment.

So the question is: how can we better integrate women in agriculture?

Let me give you an example. I spent the past year working with the Tanzania Dairy Development Program – a program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development. The program focuses on improving commercial milk production, processing, marketing, and consumer awareness through interventions from cow to consumer. The program also focuses on integrating women in the dairy development process, which is a cornerstone of Land O’Lakes’ overall approach. Under this program, my colleagues and I convened men-only and women-only focus groups to better understand the constraints women in northern Tanzania face regarding full participation in agricultural value chains. The results of these focus group discussions reinforced the notion that women have relatively minimal access to resources such as land, livestock, labor, financial services, extension services, and technology. Lack of land ownership also restricts women’s access to credit, as land is the only collateral accepted by banks in Tanzania. Women are much less likely than men to own any assets, or to have decision-making power concerning when and how assets are bought and sold. As a result, while women generally devote significant labor to agriculture, they do not have control over their own labor or what is earned as a result of their efforts.

However, this can change – and the changes are already beginning to happen. The focus group discussions held while I was in Tanzania, in addition to identifying the obstacles women face in the agriculture sector, revealed that in certain circumstances increased women’s participation is welcomed by both men and women. For example, although cattle breeding service provision is traditionally a male-dominated field – with numerous cultural, educational, and financial barriers to women’s involvement – there is increasing recognition among men and boys that this should change. Why? The best cattle breeders are the ones that are punctual, give extra attention to hygiene, and form a strong rapport with customers. Focus group participants attested that male breeding specialists often fail to exhibit these traits. As a result, they explained, interest in the idea of women working as cattle breeders is growing.

Men from a rural community in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania discuss the determinants of who possesses power in their society, and their opinions on women taking up leadership roles in agriculture’s private sector.

The team leading the Tanzania Dairy Development Program was receptive to the input from the focus group discussions, and to the general need for more cattle breeders. The team spoke with representatives of different dairy cooperatives in northern Tanzania that Land O’Lakes has worked with since 2010, and requested that these cooperatives select a person – man or woman – to be trained by Land O’Lakes as an Artificial Insemination (AI) technician for their community. Women made up approximately half of the people selected to be trained to run AI businesses. These women are now working as some of the first female AI technicians in Tanzania. Issuja Ramadhani, a Breeding and Extension Specialist at Tanzania’s National Artificial Insemination Center, regularly liaises with the AI technicians Land O’Lakes works with, and monitors and evaluates their performance. Commenting on the female technicians, Mr. Ramadhani notes that he is “very impressed. These women are doing just as well and many times even better than the men. They submit their records on time, they have good positive pregnancy rates, and the customers are very happy with them.” In addition to their strong performance, these women are serving as important role models of change in the agriculture sector.

To more intensively help women in Tanzania overcome the obstacles they face in the agriculture sector, Land O’Lakes is launching the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Innovations in Gender Equality to Promote Household Food Security Program. This program will strengthen gender equality by harnessing the full capacity of the country’s rich array of public and private organizations that focus on agriculture and women’s needs. Based out of Dar es Salaam, Land O’Lakes’ team will gather these like-minded groups and individuals into a Coalition for the Advancement of Women in Agriculture in Tanzania (CAWAT). This multi-stakeholder coalition of public, private, civil society and nongovernmental organizations will carry out activities in three main areas:

1. Managing Women’s Agricultural Innovation Competitions, which will source innovations for testing productivity-enhancing technologies that address women’s needs. Competition winners will receive seed funding for product testing and promotion;

2. Building and promoting women’s leadership capacity through events and forums, and forming a grassroots movement for action; and

3. Assessing the ways in which laws and government policies may negatively impact women and their roles in agriculture, and working to improve the enabling environment.

CAWAT welcomes potential partners interested in working together on these activities! Together, we can build women’s leadership capacity, launch a platform for marketing women-friendly agricultural technologies, and promote policy changes for gender equality in agriculture across Tanzania. Representatives from organizations interested in joining CAWAT or learning more about this project can contact Giselle Aris, Land O’Lakes Enterprise Development and Gender Specialist, at

Giselle Aris is a member of the sixth class of Leland Fellows. The Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellows Program trains emerging leaders in the fight to end hunger worldwide. It is a unique two-year program that combines field and policy work. Each fellow works for an agriculture- and food security-focused organization. Giselle is working for Land O’Lakes International Development, which acts as a not-for-profit division of Land O’Lakes, Inc., as their Enterprise Development and Gender Specialist. Since 1981, Land O’Lakes International Development has improved the quality of life for millions of people in 76 nations through more than 275 projects worldwide that are generating economic growth, improving health and nutrition, and alleviating poverty by facilitating market-driven business solutions. Prior to becoming a Leland Fellow, Giselle worked in southern India, where she designed, managed, and scaled a women’s dairy social enterprise.

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