Tricia Barnett recently spent some time in the participanting communities of our ground-breaking #FarmForTheFuture project near Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Here’s her account.

Happily, after days of torrential rain, the sun is out. I am with our project team evaluating our women’s farming project #FarmForTheFuture after two years. We’ve been training impoverished, marginalised women farmers to come out of poverty by growing and selling directly to the highly successful hotel industry in Kilimanjaro. Yesterday, with the rain sheeting down, we went to meet the women in the village of Namwai to inspect the plot of land that was to be their new demonstration farm.

Women farmers in Namwai, Tanzania, with Tricia Barnett

Namwai, the second village to be involved in the project, is on the slopes of west Kilimanjaro. Here, the women can grow year-round crops like potatoes, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and papaya for the hotels that the women in Mailisita, the first participating village, cannot. Mailisita lies at the foot of Kilimanjaro, where it’s hotter and drier, and the farmers are limited to seasonal crops such as spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. For the first time though, they are growing butternut squash – a vegetable the hotels want, but which no one has ever grown or cooked before. Hotels also want non-endemic vegetables such as beetroot, cauliflower and broccoli, all of which the women are being trained to grow as well.

Proud achievements and high aspirations

Our evaluation with the women of both groups has been wonderfully positive. 120 women are now trained in new methods of farming, business processes and entrepreneurship, but – importantly – also their legal rights and women’s empowerment. Sixty farmers from two villages have created a cooperative, Wamboma: Women Farming for the Future.

Incomes have improved – and in some cases has doubled and quadrupled. The women are saving for the first time in their lives through their new coop’s microfinance scheme. Some of them can now afford to save as much as £3-5 a week, whereas before, some were hard put to save 30p a week. Food security has also improved dramatically because they regularly produce a surplus in vegetables, which then feed the family. Importantly too, they have self-esteem for the first time in their lives and are sharing their learning with interested neighbours who come to them for advice.

Edwina told us that, “As a sole breadwinner of my family, after my husband got mentally ill in 2004, I have been struggling with paying his medical bills and managing the family. After joining the project I have found a group of women who also struggle with similar issues in their families, and together we have found comfort in each other. We also work on a demonstration farm together, and generate income together through our own farms. This has helped me double my income, and also created a saving spirit in me, which I never had before.”

Nice John, Wamboma’s chair, told me that she is now earning four times the amount she did before. Instead of investing the money into her familys simple home, she has invested it in her daughter’s education. This has already paid off, as she has done so well, she is now starting university and will train to be a teacher. With a big smile on her face, Nice John proudly told me that she will be able to fund all of it.

Wamboma also now has a distribution point: a shop in Moshi town. Three of the project participants have been trained to manage it in shifts. Locals, too, are coming in to buy the quality vegetables.

Teddy Chuwa, manager of Stella Maris, a partner hotel now being provided with produce by the co-op, has told us how proud she is to be the first hotel to be trialling the project. She is delighted with the scheme, in part because it saves her going to market or paying high prices to middlemen. The hotel has always greeted guests with a glass of mango juice. Now it’s carrot and passion fruit juice, all provided by Wamboma.

Other women are being pragmatic and have invested their savings in tiny business schemes that will support them if their crops fail. Chicken rearing and goat herding are both popular.

Challenges we need to overcome

Needless to say, however, there are challenges. Tanzanians never talk about problems. Just challenges!

Climate change is having a serious impact on the project and its growth potential. During my visit it rained heavily almost every day, when it was not yet the rainy season. Changing weather patterns are curtailing production and preventing the project from supplying the many hotels which have expressed interest in buying from the co-op.

The snows of Kilimanjaro, which have watered local farms with abundance for generations, are disappearing. It is tragic looking up at this iconic mountain and seeing how sparse the snow cover is. What water there is also goes to the trekkers and porters, whose numbers are multiplying year on year. The weather is also becoming more unpredictable. Namwai, the West Kilimanjaro village, now has a water maintenance committee. The women pay an annual 10,000 Tanzanian shillings each to be a member – just over £3 – but they say that sometimes they are only allowed one hour’s use of water a day in the dry season. Their crops whither and die with so little water. In the rainy season, seedlings and plants in both villages have been washed away by flash floods on several occasions. The consequence is not only insufficient production to expand to the many hotels interested in working with the co-op, but the women then do not have the income to reinvest in new seeds.

A commercial sized greenhouse in each village would protect their crops and resolve the problem. Drip irrigation, pumps, tanks and a well are also critical. The co-op also currently borrows a vehicle – it would be more cost-effective to purchase and maintain their own. Until the women can increase their crop production, our mission to fulfil the project’s objectives will be at risk.

Our second challenge is funding. More than two years ago we were approached by the World Bank, and invited to submit an application for funding from their new Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund. The uniqueness of our project meant we were successful, and were offered even more funding than we had requested, paid out over four years. We were constantly assured the funding would be coming, when, suddenly in May, the World Bank redrew the goalposts. With these newly redrawn requirements, it was decided that the #FarmForTheFuture women were too poor to be recipients of the WB funds. Sometimes there are simply no words…

Stuart Nathan project leader with participants
Stuart Nathan with women participating in the #FarmForTheFuture project

Our grand ambition was always that the Kilimanjaro region would pilot the project, and that we would then share our learnings with other communities living close to tourism hubs.

We have delivered much on a tiny budget. We will deliver more. Stuart Nathan, our dedicated and ambitious project manager from our Tanzanian women’s empowerment partner organisation, KWIECO, is now working with me to find new funding for our valued and path-breaking project.

Moving forward

Because the project has been knocked off course with the ravages of climate change and the urgency of the funding situation, we have decided to crowdfund. The first time we did this two years ago, it was truly life changing. We hope very much that you will be able to support these determined and hard-working women farmers again.

Please will you donate and help these intrepid women secure their future.

Donate today.

Asante Sana from all of us for your continued interest and support.