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Gaspar Mathi is a 54-year-old farmer who, along with his wife, Flora Tlohhy, manages his farming activities a little different: the couple share farming and household chores—as well as decision-making.
The couple live in Bashey village, in the Manyara Region of northern Tanzania. Mr. Mathi grows beans, maize, and garlic, and uses cows to till his land. He has improved his bean yields recently, after switching from local seed varieties to improved seeds three years ago. His harvest had been poor and difficult to market. He adds, “We were not able to tell the different type of beans we were producing. It was a mix of varieties in one harvest.”
Now, he and his wife harvest five to eight 100-kilogram sacks of beans from one acre.
Growing beans is a family affair. Mr. Mathi and his sons prepare the land, plant, weed, and harvest together, while Mrs. Tlohhy helps to fertilize the plants. The couple has eight children, including two girls who are able to attend secondary school in Karatu, thanks to the family’s bean profits.
Mrs. Yustina Rahhi is an extension officer in Mbulu District. She says women and men work together to grow beans, although they generally have different roles.
She adds: “Women participate by transporting manure to the farm during land preparation—for families who have no other means of transporting manure. Women use bags called lakwanti, carrying these bags on their back. Other activities that women do include planting and harvesting.”
Although women participate in many important farming activities, Mrs. Rahhi says that women are still not usually involved in decisions about farming or about the income the family earns from their work. She says men decide when to harvest, even if the crop is traditionally a “women’s crop.”
“Women’s crops” are those which were traditionally seen as grown by women. In this part of Tanzania, it is generally the husband’s responsibility to grow maize, sunflower, and cowpeas, and women are not involved. Women typically grow pumpkins and beans. The income from these “women’s crops” is typically used to buy salt and other small household needs, such as condiments or soap. But Mrs. Rahhi says the situation is changing as beans become more of a market crop, and men increase their involvement.
While men usually make most of the decisions about harvesting and spending, Mrs. Tlohhy says she and her husband collaborate well in farming and decision-making, particularly when it comes to deciding which crops to plant. She adds that, while the government is struggling to educate and empower women, she is grateful for MVIWATA, a farmers’ network, because it has educated her on women’s rights. She says the situation is improving for women in rural areas, where many women are now members of women’s groups and some occupy leadership positions in their community.
This story was written with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, www.idrc.ca, and with financial support from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca
Photo: Flora Tlohhy in her field of beans.