Tanzania: Female farmers, once excluded, expected to benefit from new irrigation canal

| September 18, 2017

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Catherine January Otto hunches over a notebook, drawing stick figures and a square house to represent her family a few years from now. She’s imagining what life might be like once engineers have completed an irrigation canal in Dirim, the village in northern Tanzania’s Manyara region where she grows maize, garlic, sunflowers, beans, and peas.

A few months ago, the mother of seven was convinced that women in Dirim would not benefit from the irrigation project at all.

She says, “We women were concerned because we were kept apart from the project. We were excluded.”

Tanzania’s national farmers’ network, called MVIWATA, and its Canadian partner Uniterra are fixing up and extending an irrigation canal in the community. The initial plans called for the canal to bring water mainly to commercial garlic and onion crops farmed primarily by men.

But after community members came together to talk about the project’s impacts on men and women, the local government representative agreed to allocate a plot near the canal to women. With their own plot, women can also benefit from the steady supply of water.

Mrs. Otto is thrilled to be included in the project: “I will be involved in the construction, using my energy to carry stones and sand. I will also contribute some money for the construction.”

In her drawing, Mrs. Otto’s family is living in a new house. A simple rectangle with a roof represents the school where she will send her children. This is how she plans to spend the additional income she expects to earn once her crops benefit from a regular water supply.

Elen G. P. Ami is a mother and grandmother, and a member of Dirim’s irrigation scheme committee.

She feels the project will benefit the whole community, not just commercial farmers with crops along the canal. She says: “Before the irrigation scheme, we had problems. The men would disappear for three days to go looking for water. After the irrigation canal is built, water will come at the right time, even at the right hour.”

Mrs. Ami says that, before the canal was built, only a minority of farmers had regular access to water. She adds, “Before, the crops would dry up so we got less income. This year, we’re sure we will grow more produce.”

Fadhili Lucas is thinking about how to best spend his farming income. He grows maize, beans, and garlic, both for sale and for his family of eight.

Initially, he thought only about the irrigation canal’s impact on cash crop farmers like himself. But now he sees that women too can profit from this opportunity.

He explains: “I have learned that within the irrigation scheme, women can also benefit, not just from garlic production but also from growing vegetables, tomatoes and so on that will help them. Also I realized that women can plant trees because there will be enough water for them.”

But more produce means more work, and in communities where women do much of the harvesting, this will place an additional burden on mothers who already have many responsibilities at home as well as in the fields. In many families, women traditionally have little say in how to spend the family income.

Mr. Fadhili is learning to make spending decisions as a family, rather than on his own. Since the first part of the canal was built, his farm’s productivity has doubled. He plans to buy a vehicle and expand his business.

Local farmers and Canadian engineering students are working on the canal from September until December. MVIWATA expects the canal to benefit 1,200 residents of Dirim and Getagujo.
Mrs. Otto is excited to be one of those beneficiaries.

She says, “Before, the women were excluded. But they talked and advised each other. As women, we can organize ourselves.… I have learned the meaning of collaboration.”

Uniterra Tanzania provided support for this story. 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. This work is done with 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

Photo: Catherine January Otto shows her drawing.