Back in 2012, I spent a very brief day and a half visiting a new small project that had just been set up in Tanzania. It was called Kuwaki, and had the aim of supporting women in the cultivation of vegetables. I was visiting a different project, and could thus only gain some first superficial impressions of Kuwaki, in the vicinity of the district town of Singida. It’s a place of stunningly beautiful scenery, with a large saline lake and huge granitic boulders – but challenging cultivation conditions. If I am very honest, I was rather concerned by the problems we were having in staff recruitment, with the partner supplying water pumps, and some start-up issues in choice of farmer groups.
This week we in the Bern office had the opportunity to attend a lunch time meeting hosted by a young woman, Janine Rüst, who has just conducted an evaluation of Kuwaki with a senior colleague, Jens Soth. For Janine, this represented the practical element of her Certificate of Advanced Studies. Both evaluators were broadly enthusiastic about what they had found. There are now some 40 farmer’s groups growing vegetables with Kuwaki support. Each group has 20 – 30 members, mostly women, although in some cases husbands are allowed to be members to avoid family disharmony. No group has more than 30% male members, and the leader of all groups is a woman. Some of these groups were formed by the project; others were already in existence but for other purposes, their members having little or no experience of vegetable cultivation. In each case, the woman lead farmer has been trained in improved vegetable cultivation methods – especially efficient use of scarce water resources, and pest control. The groups are supplied with treadle pumps, for which they must pay although the cost is subsidised by an NGO partner named W3W (not the original partner, which dropped out). They also receive support in marketing their vegetables locally, and in setting up savings and credit activities within the group.
We had a lively discussion. Janine was convinced from her evaluation that women’s lives have been improved through the project; all the women she met had told her that they had improved their vegetable production, had better knowledge, and had enhanced the nutrition of their families. Some added that they now have a greater role in decision-making in the household, and greater self-confidence in negotiating with outsiders – indicators of real empowerment. Yet praising a project in front of a group of development professionals is a perilous occupation. We wanted to know more about how the membership of the groups was decided; why it was that most of the women were literate whereas according to official figures, women’s literacy rates in rural Tanzania average around 40%; why planned training sessions discussing gender issues have not been conducted; whether the treadle pumps are affordable if not subsidised; whether there will be a drop in groundwater if many pumps are brought into use…. The answer to the latter seems to be no, but the other issues are more complex. Gender relations, for example, are very important to discuss if focusing an intervention explicitly on women – as is nicely illustrated by a little seven minute video produced by another of our projects in Tanzania.
Fortunately, there will be plenty of opportunity to work further with the women and their vegetable plots, and especially to focus more on working with particularly vulnerable women who own very little or no land (and would thus need to lease it). This is because we have just been awarded by the European Union a new three-year project to build on the results of Kuwaki, expanding to some 100 farmer groups and reaching approximately 2’500 households. Good news to start the year.