Women take the lead in protecting Tanzania’s trees with forest-friendly businesses
The Nou Forest in northern Tanzania covers 320 square kilometres. It is a source of 28 permanent rivers and directly affects the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, making its conservation vital.
Yet to cope with low productivity of land, farmers in Tanzania still turn to forest clearing to meet demand for food production. In the case of the Nou Forest reserve, this has led to soil erosion, silting and bank erosion of streams. Various tree species have also been threatened.
Joyce Lali, a 45-year-old mother of seven from Erri village, is working to ensure that the forest she derives her livelihood from stays intact.
She is the Secretary of the Erri Jigegemee Beekeeping Group that produces a wide range of food, health and beauty products from honey.
“Formerly, we didn’t know about the value of forests. We were cutting down trees and didn’t realise how important trees were. But then we started beekeeping and now we realise it is important for us to preserve the forest for the bees. Now we earn an income from forest products,” says Joyce.
Historically in this village, women were not economically active and were largely dependent on their husbands. While men have been involved in honey production in this area for years, they used traditional beehives suspended high in trees. Women were not able to take part as it was culturally unacceptable for them to climb trees.
The NGO Farm Africa has been working with the community in Erri village to earn money from the forest while protecting its resources for future generations. They introduced Langstroth beehives that sit on the ground, so women are now able to engage in honey production too.
“Before, we couldn’t speak in community meetings, but now we do,” says Joyce. “Before, we were oppressed by men and we didn’t earn any of our own money, we just stayed at home and looked after our children. Now women can participate in various meetings in the community, we have different groups and we learn from each other. Previously, it was chaos in the family because as a woman if I needed anything, even something really small, I had to request it from my husband. Now, I have my own money and I can buy the things I need myself.”
The group focuses on adding value to their honey, making products such as sesame and honey cakes, honey medicine, dried mushrooms, water, sesame tea, beeswax candles and face creams made from honey and seeds.
“The money I earn means I can send my children to school and I also save money by making products like soap, so I don’t have to buy them in the shops any more. We have been able to renovate our house. Previously we lived in a house with a thatched grass roof. Now we have a roof made from iron sheets. The major thing is that now we are able to pay our children’s school fees.”
The co-operative has constructed a marketing stall, which they take to exhibitions to market the products. Following discussions with Farm Africa about how certification of products can add value and open up access to wider market, the group is now investing in the construction of a new processing centre for their honey, so they can meet the standards set by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards and the Tanzanian Food and Drugs Authority.
Their entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t stop there. Building on the success of the marketing skills they have learnt, Joyce and her team have now also started filtering and marketing mineral water. They have bought a water filtration system, which they use to filter water from the Nou Forest and sell locally to people needing water for events and celebrations such as weddings and communions.
“I send special appreciation to Farm Africa as an organization for making us women seen. Before, we were invisible in the community. They have helped us increase the value of females in the community,” says Joyce.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
“In Tanzania, it is estimated that the agricultural gender gap costs US$105 million annually,” comments Natalie Kostus, Executive Vice President of the International Alliance of Women.
“Across East Africa, women like Joyce are impacted every day by practices and beliefs that limit their access to productive opportunities and natural resources. They are perceived by the community to lack knowledge, skills, and strength to participate in forest programs.”
“In many cases, even if the national law grants land rights to women, traditional and customary practices preclude women from accessing, owning, and inheriting the land in this region. This puts women at risk of losing resources and benefits, such as payments for environmental services.”
“Women like Joyce need to have clear ownership rights to forests and forest land, necessary for the active socio-economic participation of women in forest management, conservation of biodiversity, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and emerging opportunities, such as carbon trading.”
“It is also crucial they have productive work and financial security; raising their voice and power in household and community decision-making, organizing women’s groups supporting and learning from each other, accessing technology, and sending their children to school, benefiting the whole community. A needed initiative is training on women’s rights for women and men in the village, including traditional leaders. This will go a long way to closing the agricultural gender gap in East Africa.”
Farm Africa / Jon Spaull