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New Hope on Africa’s Horizon – Rising Attention Paid to Women Farmers in Tanzania

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A common trend in African agriculture is the lower attention paid to women farmers and the significant hurdles in their paths to contributing their quota to reducing the hunger and poverty common to the continent. The realization however, that all hands must be on deck in combating these twin plagues has increased the attention paid to women farmers, with several initiatives, international bodies, charitable organizations and even national governments joining hands to reduce some of these barriers, raise feminine stake in agriculture, by this means empowering these women to contribute much more significantly on a household and community-wide level.

Tanzania is a country famous for the growth of sunflowers and production of sunflower products. The crop has gone through a growth trajectory, rising in importance over the years to become a core of the East African nation’s agriculture portfolio. However, this has come at the cost of stripping women of their participation and subsequently reducing the level of income that accrues to them in the production process.

Early on in the production of sunflowers, women dominated the production. Women carried out the farming and processing. Pounding the seeds and boiling the powdered form were used to extract the oil, and the role of men was more limited. The homemade extracted oil was majorly for consumption purposes, and excess sold for profit. This had the effect of ensuring women contributed to their families and the community. Nevertheless, the role of sunflower shifted from being a relatively obscure crop to a far more important product, earmarking it as a tool for acquiring foreign exchange, and this led to men taking a more dominant role in the industry. Modernization in the processing shifted control of the sunflower industry from women to men. From being a cottage industry, rapid commercialization made sunflower a cash crop. As opposed to the homemade processing techniques, men were needed to carry bags of sunflower seeds to processing facilities with motorcycles and trucks. Consequently, this had the result of disempowering women, as accordingly, there was a loss of control of income from sunflowers. The change in production trend reduced women from fully participating in and enjoying the development process. A number of foundations and bodies have sought to change this narrative, by empowering women in the sunflower industry and repositioning it for a better performance.

Farm Africa, a UK-based charitable international organization, is based in a number of countries across Africa, including Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo. Raising the agricultural development of rural areas by boosting harvests and income and private and public sector partnership is their aim. The organization currently has their sights set on equipping women in Tanzania’s sunflower industry with vital agricultural skills needed in cultivating sunflower, and acquisition of quality input required for planting such as seeds. It is expected that these twin efforts would have the end result of boosting their production and subsequently raising their incomes.

In the district of Ikungi, where cultivation of sunflowers is rife, Farm Africa has the intention of raising the participation of women in 3 agricultural marketing cooperatives (AMCOs). These AMCOs are highly valuable in assisting farmers gain access to resources, transport, packaging and distribution of market agricultural products. Women comprise 68% of the Tanzanian sunflower industry, but only 17% of members in cooperatives. Raising this figure is considered key if access to required input is to be procured. Earlier this year, in January, Farm Africa in collaboration with UN Women embarked on this project, having identified the lower access of women to markets and continued usage of rudimentary production and processing methods. 1 kg of hybrid sunflower seeds valued at 30,000 Tanzania Shillings (TSh) will be distributed among women farmers, and this is expected to result in 117,000 kg worth of sunflowers, worth an estimated market value of 93.6 million TSh. Furthermore, to reduce post-harvest losses, building a storage facility is in the plan, with a sunflower warehouse expected to be erected in Mnang’ana village in Ikungi district.

Another initiative along the lines of this is the joint program between UN Women and UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The program, titled “Raising Gender Equality through Empowering Women and Adolescent Girls” kicked off in September 2020, and aims to provide support to raise output of women farmers and increase the rate of sunflower oil processing, thereby driving income up at all levels. Though the commercialization of the sunflower industry has lessened the impact of women, lack of access to and ownership of land has further exacerbated the problem. The 3-year program received a donation of US$5 million from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) which is expected to impact as many as 2,350 smallholder women farmers located in Shinyanga and Singida regions. Moreover, training on newer agricultural practices and drip irrigation would be given to ensure a higher level of agricultural produce every harvest season.

Conclusively, these initiatives point to the growing awareness that Tanzania’s sunflower industry can reach greater heights on 2 fronts – sunflower production and oil processing – if women are involved rather than ignored in the planting and processing stages. However, the level of success from these agricultural empowerment schemes is something to keep a keen eye on in the future, if the country would be able to reap the fruits of these programs.

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