Dodoma’s Women in Agriculture and Business Initiative – DWABI

There are many good reasons to run an agriculture and business project specifically for women. The most striking one is that women play a crucial role in effectively reducing poverty, which will benefit their community in general. To understand this, one needs to have a closer look at the situation of women in rural areas. How do certain norms, values and structures make them prone to poverty? In what respect does climate change worsen the situation? Which ways are there to empower these women? How are their communities going to benefit from this empowerment? The stories of Mary Milambo, Fides Ndeya, and Mariam Jonas provide answers to these questions.

“Despite the challenges I had with my first kitchen gardens, I could not stop myself from establishing a fourth one. Water was scarce, and the domestic animals in the neighbourhood found the vegetables attractive too. So, I decided to start a small kitchen garden close to my home, where it’s easier to manage the water and to prevent animals from uprooting the plants. Now, we don’t lack vegetables anymore, and the meals for my family have improved. In addition to that, I was able to sell some of my harvest on the market.”

Mary Milambo, 50, Chololo Village
Neighbours visiting Mary Milambo (50) in her garden

Mary’s story is exemplary for many women’s situation: They farm to provide food to their families. Because of the scarce rainfalls in Dodoma Region, it is challenging to get surplus products to sell on the market. Moreover, the yields from the fields vary considerably according to the season. Climate change and unsuitable farming methods worsen the situation. Often, women are trapped in the struggle to nourish their families.

With her kitchen garden, Mary has experienced self-efficacy. The methods she learnt have improved the drought resilience of her vegetable garden. In addition to that, Mary grows a larger variety of crops. All this has contributed to better nutrition in her family, which is a vital step to escape poverty. Well-nourished children have better chances to learn successfully and to acquire the skills they will need later in life. In the next stories, we will see what a tremendous impact proper knowledge can have.

Fides Ndeya in her kitchen garden
Through proper soil and water management, Fides Ndeya (19) meets the challenges of Dodoma’s drylands.

“Since I completed primary school six years ago, I’ve been trying hard to find opportunities to make my life better. I felt I need more education. So, when I heard, there would be a women’s group for empowerment in our village, I took the chance. I have made big steps. Producing and selling baobab sweets is very profitable. Then, I learnt how to save money and to get loans for further business activities. In the meantime, I have bought three acres of land, and groundnut seed and my kitchen garden produces enough to sell vegetables on the market. When I got sick, my group assisted me through the social security fund to which we all contribute.”

Fides Ndeya, 19, Kingiti Village

The story of Fides teaches us that appropriate education and know-how can make a big difference. Women acquire business strategies through the DWABI project. Producing baobab sweets is one example of value addition. But they also learn how to make soap, batik cloth and woven bags. All these activities ensure that more money flows into the communities than if they just sold row goods.

Simultaneously, the women diversify their production. Fides, for example, sells vegetables, baobab sweets and starts producing groundnuts. Such diversification ensures a more stable income throughout the year, which is essential since yields in rainfed agriculture vary considerably in Dodoma’s drylands.

But it is as crucial to manage this additional income wisely. Fides saves as much money as she can afford in her saving and lending group. Then, she takes loans and invests in further business activities. SAT facilitators introduce this successful system to every DWABI group. The rural population otherwise lacks access to financial services. Banks are often far away, and their conditions to open an account, let alone to get a credit, are unfavourable particularly for women. Very rarely, do female farmers possess land or any other security, which would make them creditworthy.

Through her saving and lending group, Fides, on the contrary, has become a landowner, which is a breakthrough indeed. The skills to farm more productively and more sustainably she has acquired in the training that is part of DWABI. The organic farming methods that these women learn are labour and knowledge-intensive. But they allow effective water and soil management and, therefore, meet the dryland farmers’ challenges very well. In addition to that, SAT supports the women groups with the necessary equipment.

Like Fides Ndeya, Mariam Jonas has also been successful in farming, saving, taking loans and reinvesting. Not only does her story show that DWABI effectively empowers women to escape the poverty trap. This example also reveals how beneficiaries contribute to scale up these positive outcomes to many more people than SAT could reach alone.

“With what I earned from farming this year, I bought one male and three female rabbits. Two of them already gave birth to nine bunnies, and the third one is pregnant. I consider this and my other activities as long-term projects. After two years, I expect to have enough income and savings to construct a new house, and to enable my daughter Jane to study further. Through the training that I attended in Morogoro, I have become a farmer-to-farmer facilitator. I’m excited to form, train and manage a new group in 2020.”

Mariam Jonas, 29, Kikombo Village

Mariam ensures that her daughter will have more than primary education. This aim she can only achieve through long-term planning, which is a way of thinking poor people usually cannot afford. Mariam’s livelihood has clearly improved. She is not struggling anymore to satisfy the most basic needs at home. Rather, she has become a self-determined person who takes important decisions for her family and in her business.

Women like Mariam are convincing leaders. They play the leading role to scale-up the DWABI and to reach as many as 1,500 additional female beneficiaries facing the typical challenges, we have come across above. Sixty women from the DWABI took a specialised training at the SAT Farmer Training Centre to become peer-to-peer facilitators. In addition to their skills in rainfed agriculture, kitchen gardening and entrepreneurship, they will pass on priceless experience they made themselves.

DWABI women during facilitator training
Mariam Jonas in a practical training session at the SAT Farmer Training Centre. She is one of 60 women trained on peer-to-peer facilitation.

DWABI is kindly supported by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, and ICEP.