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My Female Food Heroes diary – part 3

Joyce, at home in Iguguno. Photo: Maisha Plus 2012
Joyce, at home in Iguguno

I’m travelling around Tanzania meeting the 15 finalists of this year’s Female Food Hero competition. The next stage of the journey brings us to the homes of two more inspiring women:

“A husband should be a partner, not a master”

A 331km drive from Arusha, in northern Tanzania, takes us to Iguguno – a village named after a spelling mistake. In colonial days, “Miguguno” was the name of a local tree prevalent in the area, and a source of complaint for the settlers, who struggled to uproot all the heavy trees to turn the land into plantations. They couldn’t pronounce the name properly, and so “Iguguno” was born.

Years since those settler plantations, this region – called Singida – is famous in Tanzania for its sunflower production and chicken breeding. It is also the home of “Wanyiramba” and “Warangi” ethnic groups. Like many cultures in Tanzania, men are the owners of the means of production – and here that includes the women, who are treated like cheap labourers to generate income and care for the family. Land and all valuable resources are transferred from one male generation to the next.

A public forum in Iguguno. Photo: Maisha Plus 2012
A public forum in Iguguno

“We (women) toil for months to prepare the farm, while men are so busy with nothing,” Zena Habibu said at a public forum we held in the village, which would become one of the most heated exchanges of our trip. “Every day they invent excuses to not farm – then come harvest season, they are our darlings again, all close and understanding. They make all the decisions on where and how to sell (the produce), and they end up owning all the income.”

Zena said many husbands spend the income their wives earn on other women – “the more you produce, the faster the other woman spends the money. Our hard work became our curse.”

Numerous men at the forum admitted that they spend the income generated by the hard work of their wife on other women. But they blamed the women, who they said set out to seduce married men. If the wives are unhappy with the situation, they should confront the other women rather than blame their husbands, one man said.

The women hit the roof at that comment and it took some time for us to calm people down.

Joyce in her shop in Iguguno. Photo: Maisha Plus 2012
Joyce in her shop

This is the kind of context that Joyce Noel Nicodemo, another Female Food Hero, is coming from – and it makes me appreciate her success all the more.

Aged 35 with only primary education, Joyce is a mother of four. When she got married she had to move to a new village. But, despite the extremely patriarchal culture, she was determined that her husband should be her partner, not her master.

Joyce proved the local men wrong when she managed to own a three acre farm on which she cultivates maize and beans, and breeds 20 chickens. Producing 30 bags (100kg) of maize and one bag of beans, Joyce’s family is now food secure for the whole year. While her husband works as a carpenter in the village, Joyce leads all the family’s farming and livestock.

Joyce’s family also benefits from her entrepreneurial spirit. She buys sunflower from another farmer, processes it and sells it as cooking oil. She owns a small shop and is a reputable tailor. Joyce told me that if she could farm 365 days a year she wouldn’t need any other work – but that drought and unreliable markets means she needs an alternative to ensure a stable income. With her husband’s support, the family now has a modern house.

In male-dominated Iguguno, Joyce is a symbol of change and an inspiration to young girls.

Courage and credit

I met Dorah Alberto Myinga in Iringa region, in the southern highlands of Tanzania. Dorah is many things – a mother of three children, a farmer, a caterer, a livestock keeper, a tailor, and now a Female Food Hero. Her journey has not been easy. In 2005 she lost her husband, and she suffered another blow when her in-laws started a row over the inheritance of her late husband’s land and property. Facing the threat of becoming landless, Dorah stood firm. With the help of the local authorities she managed to retain her land and livestock – though at the expense of her relationship with her in-laws.

Dorah on her tractor. Photo: Maisha Plus 2012
Dorah on her tractor

Dorah took up farming after she finished her primary education and realized that her parents could not afford to pay fees to send her to secondary school. She began by tilling the land with a hand hoe, but – armed with a determination to increase her produce and a desire to cultivate more land – she managed to buy a plough and has since upgraded to own a tractor.

How did Dorah manage to grow from using from a hand hoe to getting her own tractor – a rare thing for a female farmer here – which is worth up to $25,000? She says this was down to her decision to join a local Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (SACCO), which has helped her get credit to pay for the tractor in installments.

“Cooperatives are important,” she says, “for they are more vocal than individuals are. Being part of it has helped me realize my dreams.”

Dorah with her livestock. Photo: Maisha Plus 2012
Dorah with her livestock

With her tractor, Dorah now cultivates 12 acres of land, from which she reaps 14 bags of maize per acre. The food she grows helps her pay back the loan from the SACCO, but she also hires the tractor out to other villagers, and further across the region. Her success is down to determination and perseverance, but also the advice she got from local agricultural extension officers.

For me, Dorah’s story shows the incredible courage of a widowed small-scale farmer to take a chance and improve her production.

As inspiring as Dorah’s story was, it was not all good news in Iringa. Villagers lamented that in past there was enough rain to harvest food for everyone to eat. Recently they say the rains have become unpredictable and their produce has declined considerably.

“Climate change threatens our very existence,” Haroun Malubu told me. “A few years ago this village’s granary used to be full to the brim. Today the village is a recipient of government food aid.”

Read the previous entry of Mwanahamisi’s diary

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Written by Mwanahamisi Salimu

Mwanahamisi Salimu

Mwanahamisi is the Tanzania coordinator of Oxfam's GROW campaign for a fairer food system

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