Women farmers in Tanzania: We do the work, we are in charge

Rose on her newly-terraced hillside farm in Vudee village, northern Tanzania

I’ve already learned that the terrace will help retain water, and hopefully I’ll be able to grow more because the water won’t just trickle away. Before, the land was just a slope – so the water would wash away.

When I meet 32-year-old Rose Ibrahim Mchombu, she is standing on a plot of land just behind her house, where she has been growing tomatoes, onions, and maize since she moved here five years ago. She lives with her husband and two small children in Vudee village, a small village tucked into the mountains in northern Tanzania, accessible only by winding roads that weave through thick green forest.  

Rose’s plot is special. It’s been chosen as the showcase plot for the Farmers’ Field Business School – a key part of CARE’s Help Her Live Learn and Earn project funded by UK aid.

The two-year project is supporting small-scale farmers and their families by giving them the training they need to improve their farming in the face of climate change and to increase their income from their crops.

A few days before I met her, the Farmers’ Field Business School transformed her plot into terraces, which will make it easier for her to retain rain water and manage irrigation to more effectively grow her crops.

Rose tells me that periods of drought have affected her crops ever since she started farming. Onions, which rely on wet soil to grow, have been particularly affected. Rose said that when there is drought, her yield is reduced by two-thirds:

If the rains come, I can produce 10 big sacks of onions. But if the rains don’t come, in the same amount of time and at the same time of year I get only three sacks.

As well as providing terracing, the CARE project will also fund a water system that will channel water from the top of the mountain to Vudee village, supporting Rose’s crops. “I hope water will come to the farm all the time after this,” she says. She adds:

Hopefully I’ll get a bigger yield, and my income will increase. At the moment we rent our home, but I’d like to build my own home as it’s more secure. I’d also like to have a place to keep livestock, as we can’t in our current house.

“When I only harvest three sacks, it’s hard to get enough money to contribute to my son’s school. The school asks for the money in yearly instalments. Luckily, investments I make in my VSLA [Village Savings and Loan Association group, supported by CARE] mean I can then take out a loan to pay for these school fees.”

Rose joined her VSLA four years ago and said it has made a big difference:

The VSLA has helped us a lot. There’s no bank around here, so it was difficult to save before I joined. But now, when I sell tomatoes or onions, I can go to the VSLA and save the cash there. Sometimes, if I want to invest in something, I can do that, too, and I get interest back on it.

Growing up, Rose watched her parents farm. Her father was a local government officer and her mother a nurse, but they both grew their own food. “How can you train farmers without farming yourself?” she laughs.

Portrait of Rose, a farmer in Tanzania

Rose also said that watching her mother work as a nurse was incredibly important for her sense of independence:

“Seeing my mother get a salary at the end of the month as a nurse, and also farming and investing her money, was so important. My mother was in control of our family finances.

In my village, most of the farmers are women. Women go to work and then they are in charge of the children. It’s common to see them working on the farm, doing household chores and looking after children alone.

“Not with us though – my husband and I work together, we have an equal relationship. With both our incomes [Rose’s husband is a government officer], we sit together and agree on where the money goes.

I’ll never depend on my husband – I don’t want to wait for the man.

Interviews and story by Emily Wight, CARE International UK

This two-year project in Tanzania is funded by the UK government through UK aid match, where donations by the UK public to CARE’s Help Her Live, Learn and Earn campaign were doubled by the UK government, with the matched funds going towards the project in Tanzania.

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