“I love my work”, says Suzanne Jinyange (54) a married mother of 6 from Nhobora village in Kishapu, Northern Tanzania. “I process sisal.”
Not until recently was sisal production considered as an income generating opportunity. For many years, the crop has been grown along roadsides and hedges to demarcate farm boundaries with exception of a few who used it to produce fiber ropes for home use and occasionally for sale. The story has changed now. Sisal is of high demand. Small-scale producers are jumping aboard the value chain and some like Suzanne have significantly increased their incomes.
Before embarking on sisal farming, Suzanne was growing sorghum, maize, potatoes and groundnuts. “I was farming but not getting enough income to sustain my family. My life was very difficult.”
Her typical day was; wake up at 5am, prepare breakfast for the family then walk to the farm work until 1pm before a break to prepare lunch. After a meal with the family go back to the farm and work until 6pm then walk home again to prepare dinner. “It was really not worth it doing all this work and still not be able to afford buying my own cloths when I want to.” She says. “I still work as hard now but it is worth the effort.”
Even with the demand for sisal fiber increasing, the constraints for starting trade were still too large for small-scale producers. In 2009 Oxfam working with a local company Katani Ltd came in with ideas to improve sisal quality and market access. The project started a sisal brushing and buying centre, linked small-scale producers to financial services by training market association leaders on business and leadership skills. Small-scale producers were encouraged to form market associations which enables farmers to sell collectively, control quality of produce and thus enhance their bargaining power.
The project also introduced the so-called ‘raspadora’ sisal processing machines to entrepreneurs in Kishapu through a loan scheme, they were also provided with a starting capital. Suzanne clearly remembers the date 13th of May 2013 when Oxfam provided her with a raspadora. “That was a turning point for me.” She says. Suzanne started a sisal processing business; she would trim hedge sisal and sell the fiber to a local company for ‘brushing’ which is merely a process of removing impurities.
Suzanne currently employs 3 people who she pays on cash for work basis. “I feel happy to be able to employ people.”
In a year, she sells 10 tones of sisal earning her an average of 10 million Tzshs, approximately USD 4,500.
Suzanne says; “I have seen a lot of benefits since I started this project. First of all, I can afford to take my daughter to a private hospital in Dar es Salaam twice a year for bone cancer treatment.“ She also pays for her school fees at a private school. “I can now afford to buy clothes whenever I want to. I don’t think I would have managed all this without this project.”
Suzanne has also bought 2 acres of land that she plants sisal and intercrops it with other cash and food crops.
“I have also fixed my teeth gaps.” She laughs.
Sisal thrives under very drought conditions such as the climatic conditions of Kishapu. The leaves used for fiber production can be harvested throughout the year and for roughly a 12-year period.
The Oxfam funded project has generated a serious smallholder sisal industry in Kishapu District within a few years. It is generating significant incomes, in many folds, for producers and processors like Suzanne. There is still a lot of hedge sisal underutilized in Kishapu and neighboring districts. In fact, the Tanzania sisal board estimates that over 10,000 tones could be produced in Northern Tanzania alone using this source.
Azimio Mbegu, a sisal value chain advisor working with Oxfam said, “The Sisal Value Chain development project aims to achieve changes in the Lake Zone sisal market system to work more effectively and sustainably for the poor, particularly women, to improve their livelihoods and consequently reduce poverty.”