Tanzania: Women switch from farming to selling at Tengeru market

| July 2, 2018

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It’s nine o’clock in the morning in Tengeru market, at the base of Mount Meru in northern Tanzania. The dirt road leading into the market is dotted with puddles from last night’s rain. Women pour out of minibuses called dala dalas. Young boys hop on the rooftop of the dalas to untie lumpy bags stuffed with fruits and vegetables. Women fix barrels on their heads, and slosh through the muddy market entrance.

Rows of mats stocked with apples, oranges, and mangos line the market streets. Garlic, ginger, and cassava are piled high next to slouchy sacks of maize and pungent little fish.

Embracing multiple roles is crucial to women’s success at the market. Transitioning from farmer to vendor can help maximize earnings by avoiding slow periods between harvests. And for women who don’t have access to land, selling for someone else may be the only option.

Inside the market, Bozana Ndelilio Kaaya sits on a brightly coloured bucket. She is a banana farmer from Kimundo village. Twice weekly, she travels more than 30 kilometres to the market.

Mrs. Kaaya says: “It’s better if I sell the bananas here in the market than to a shop where I won’t get as much money. When I take the bananas to a shop, I’m not paid right away.” She explains that she will not receive payment until after the shopkeepers sell her bananas—which could take days. She says, “When I sell here in the market, I am paid immediately.”

She offers a customer eight bananas for 1,000 Tanzania shillings (US$0.44). As the day goes on, her prices will drop so she can avoid throwing away unsold bananas.

Ndefisiwa Daniel also grows bananas in Kimundo. She travelled one hour by bus with ten bunches of bananas, then sold all her bananas by 10 a.m. Arriving early is the key to success, so she makes sure her bananas are ready to be sold at 6:30 a.m. In this way, her customers receive the best quality bananas and she gets top price.

Other vendors, such as Mama Joshua, buy produce from farmers and sell it at higher prices to make a profit.

Mrs. Joshua says, “If you come tomorrow, you’ll find me here. If you come the next day, you’ll find me here.” Even on Sundays, she comes to the market after church to sell fruit.

Mrs. Joshua learned how to be a vendor from her mother. Despite her successful business, she will not teach her daughter how to work in the market.

She says, “I don’t want my daughter to sell. I want her to study. I want her to stay in the office and write.”

Mrs. Joshua says each season presents its own challenges. During the rainy season, it’s difficult to get to the market; at other times, she has to battle the sweltering heat.

Market days are often a race against the sun. When food stays out all day, it becomes wilted and less appealing. Rotten or unsold food can be devastating for the women’s families, as most women in Tengeru market use their earnings to support their children’s education.

A vegetable vendor named Flora is from Mbuguni village, about 25 kilometres south of Tengeru. She says, “If you don’t sell everything you buy, it’s a loss. That’s a hardship.”

She gets the best prices in the morning, selling a bunch of peppers for 1,000 shillings (US$0.44). In the evening, she sells the same peppers for 300 shillings (US$0.13). She throws away what she can’t sell.

She says, “I would rather plant [vegetables] by myself, but I don’t have land.”

Rachael Zefania Abraham is from the nearby village of Shimbumbu. As the seasons change, she switches from farmer to vendor. In January, she planted maize, potatoes, and beans. While she waits for the harvest, she sells bananas. She says this ensures that she will make money year round.

In a few weeks, Mrs. Abraham will change roles. She’ll bring her own crops to the market, and sell them to vendors.

Whether as farmers, vendors, or a mix of both, women find year-round employment at Tengeru market.

Ash Abraham is a Uniterra volunteer based in Arusha, Tanzania. She worked with Abraham Godwin on this story. Uniterra helped support the reporting of this story.