A warm wind carries the smell of garlic, earth, and steel throughout the Didihama Amcos factory in Tanzania’s Manyara region. Seven women enter the cool, damp factory. As they walk, the soles of their shoes stick lightly to the concrete floor where garlic particles linger.
One of the women is Lilian Konki, a garlic processor from the nearby village of Diomati. For most of her life, Mrs. Konki worked on other people’s farms. That all changed after her husband left her and their ten children.
She says, “My husband is an alcoholic, and he abandoned our family. He didn’t take care of us.”
Without her husband, Mrs. Konki worried about providing for her children. Working on a farm all day took too much time away from her family obligations.
But after hearing about garlic processing through a friend, she decided it was time to start a new career.
Mrs. Konki recalls, “After the first day of work in this factory, I felt so good. I felt like a rich woman of tomorrow.”
The women grow or buy garlic and bring it to the factory to be processed. They pay a fee to cover the cost of electricity, a depreciation charge for the machinery they use, and sometimes pay experts for training. They can earn more money from selling the processed garlic than selling raw garlic.
The factory is only open in the morning, which means Mrs. Konki and the other women can work in the morning and tend to their home life in the afternoon and evening.
With her new earnings, Mrs. Konki built a bigger house for her family. She says, “I was in a very hard situation, but now things have changed.”
Processing the garlic into pastes, powders, and oils extends the shelf life of garlic and increases the price farmers can sell their garlic for. A bunch of garlic sells for around 500 Tanzanian shillings ($0.22 US). But a jar of garlic paste fetches 8,000 shillings ($3.50 US).
Marsela Disderi Mmau is also from Diomati. She describes how garlic is processed: “First, I buy garlic from farms and dry it in the sun for about three weeks. Then, I bring the garlic to the factory, weigh it, and put it through the kupukuchua [machine to remove skins].”
Mrs. Mmau says that, after the skins are removed, she washes the peeled garlic several times. Then the garlic cloves are combined with sodium, lemon, and salt. Afterward, the garlic is packaged. The women sell finished products like garlic paste, oil, and powder in neighbouring villages and in a small showroom at the back of the factory.
Catherine Peter is from Bashay, a village in the Manyara region. Before becoming a garlic processor, she was intimidated by factory work.
She says, “I was so scared when I saw the different machines that were so big. I did not know how to use any.”
The national farmers’ association, called MVIWATA, linked the women to the garlic factory and provided training on how to use the machines.
After a few days, Mrs. Peter gained more and more confidence with the machines. And in time, she sold enough paste to purchase a new home for her family.
Factory work also allowed Mrs. Peter to meet new people and learn new skills. She says, “I mix honey, garlic, and ginger together. That is an idea I took from a person here who is a mixer.”
For Mrs. Peter, working with machines is easier than working by hand. Several health-related surgeries make manual labour nearly impossible for her. But machines such as peelers and grinders do most of the demanding physical work.
She says, “I had four operations. This surprises people who see me work at the factory.”
She adds, “My hope for the next five years is to own a big factory and make pastes. I think women can do anything. All we need is a daring spirit.”
Sunshine brightens the faces of the seven women as they exit the factory, walking by a heap of purple-tinged garlic peels outside the factory entrance.
Like Mrs. Peter, Mrs. Konki also hopes to own her own factory one day. But for now, she will continue working as a garlic processor to provide for her ten children.
She says, “Single mothers should not lose hope in their struggle. Let’s devote ourselves to work.”
Ash Abraham was a Uniterra volunteer who was based in Arusha, Tanzania. Reporting for this story was supported by Eliakunda Urio, a Farm Radio International project officer.
Uniterra Tanzania works with local partners in the fruit and vegetable and tourism sub-sectors to help young people and women access better economic opportunities. Uniterra provided support for this story. Uniterra receives financial support from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca. Learn more and follow Uniterra Tanzania on Facebook at: facebook.com/wusctanzania