Neema Joseph | April 30, 2018
It’s eight o’clock in the morning. Wearing a pink dress with a blue kitenge [printed cotton cloth] wrapped around her waist, Lucia Shiwa kneels in her field to check her watermelons. She says, “This is my work … we make sure that the farm is attended to before everyone goes on to their other responsibilities.”
Mrs. Shiwa is 38 years old and has nine children. She lives in Nyakabare village, about 30 kilometres from Geita town in northwestern Tanzania. Most mornings, she walks four kilometres from her home to her three-hectare farm where she grows vegetables, watermelons, and other fruits.
After eight years searching for work, Mrs. Shiwa joined other farmers in her area in 2006 to form the Environmental Group. Their goal was to expand their farming businesses by farming collectively as well as individually. She explains, “Through farming [together], we are able to do business with different people and get income that allows us to improve our living standards.”
As a group, the farmers grow and sell fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, spinach, cabbage, zucchini, green beans, watermelons, and cucumbers.
Mrs. Shiwa says the group provides employment for women and youth. She adds that it is now easier for the farmers to get financial assistance and receive training from institutions such as governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Mrs. Shiwa says that people who want to learn more about farming are eager to join the group because of the training opportunities. She adds, “We have demonstration plots where we train other farmers.”
She says seed suppliers have provided training. Group members learned about preparing the soil, using pesticides, and spacing the plants for improved yields. She says, “Now we plant watermelon 20 centimetres between one row and the other, and 10 centimetres from one plant to another.”
Masunga Daniel is an 18-year-old watermelon farmer from Nyakabare and a member of the group. He says, “Farming is an opportunity for youth with no employment. I farm as a business just like any other businessman, even though it is not easy.”
For example, Mr. Daniel explains that getting produce to market is one of their main challenges: “There are no cars at Nyakabare village. Sometimes we are forced to use motorbikes and bicycles to go to town, searching for markets.”
Despite a disappointing harvest last season, Mr. Daniel and his group continue to farm and believe that their hard work will pay off. He says, “It is not an easy task to encourage youth to engage in agriculture. Most of them still believe that farming is a job for poor people.”
Hamis Mchenye is the secretary of the Environmental Group. He encourages unemployed women and youth to start growing fruits and vegetables. He says that selling collectively allows group members to sell more produce. But the group still struggles to find buyers and get good prices.
Mr. Mchenye adds: “It is difficult to find the market. Sometimes we sell our produce at very low prices. We have no options but to sell [because] we cannot leave the produce to rot in the fields.”
Although lack of markets remains a key challenge, the farmers’ group was able to connect Mrs. Shiwa with a buyer for her watermelons. She sells the fruits to a mining company in Geita for 3,000 shillings (US$1.30) each as a retail price, and 750 shillings (US$0.33) per kilogram as a wholesale price.
Last year, Mrs. Shiwa invested 800,000 shillings (US$350) in seeds, fertilizer, and labour in order to grow fruits on one hectare. She harvested four tonnes of fruit and sold it for 3,200,000 shillings (US$1,400).
With the money she made selling fruits and vegetables, Mrs. Shiwa built a corrugated iron sheet house and paid school fees for her kids. She hopes to inspire other women and youth in the area to take up farming as a business.
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 funding 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