Henry Lewis, Programme Manager, Feed the Minds
Feed the Minds and Society for Conservation and Development Empowerment (SOCODEE) implemented a one-year project, Trees for Life: Improving environmental practices and quality of life, to improve quality of life of 1,776 rural women and their families through increased productivity and improved environmental practices in Tanzania.
The recently completed project helped address the compounding problems of low agricultural productivity, ‘alarming’ levels of hunger (GHI, 2017), and poor environmental management in Tanzania. It mainly focussed on villages which experienced severe food insecurity exacerbated by pest infestations and the effects of climate change.
Poverty, agricultural production, and impact of climate change
Tanzania is ranked 160 out of 191 countries in the most recent Human Development Index (UNDP, 2022), putting it in the ‘low human development’ category. Across the population, 26.4% of people live below the national poverty line (UNDP, 2022).
Tanzania currently produces enough food to feed its population but widening inequalities restrict access to it for the poorest and most marginalised people. According to Action Against Hunger (2022), malnutrition is a serious issue facing communities with an estimated 440,000 children fighting life-threatening hunger. This particularly impacts rural families.
In Tanzania, the majority of the population (in employment) work in the agricultural sector (67%). Agricultural production – largely dominated by smallholder farming – is stagnant, while the population is expected to double by 2050 and the effects of climate change are increasing agricultural vulnerability (World Food Programme, 2018).
According to the World Bank, the poor and rural populations in Tanzania are particularly vulnerable to these extreme climates due to their heavy reliance on rain-fed sectors such as agriculture, livestock, and fisheries (World Bank, 2018). Tanzanians typically rely on wood and agricultural residues for their energy needs, causing deforestation and environmental degradation (WWF, 2017).
Literacy in Tanzania
Adult literacy rates for those aged 15 and above have increased in recent years from 59% in 1988 to 78% in 2015 (UNESCO, 2015). The national adult literacy rate for men is 83% compared to 73% for women. Furthermore, only 17% of men and 12% of women (aged 25 and older) have some form of secondary education and mean years of schooling are just 6.4 and 5.8 years respectively.
Improving environmental practices and quality of life in Tanzania
Last year, Feed the Minds’ Trees for Life project established acacia and fig tree nurseries in 12 villages in Bariadi (Simiyu region) and Magu Districts (Mwanza region) in Tanzania. Complementary training in environmental management and income-generating activities supported 1,776 women to increase environmental awareness, agricultural productivity, and subsequently quality of life for them and their families.
To address gender inequality in accessing economic resources, the project specifically supported 600 women (50 from each village) to participate in a month-long environment and agriculture education programme. The women disseminated learning to a further 600 women in their villages. These 1,200 women were provided with Faidherbia and Fig tree seedlings, enabling them to establish tree nurseries in each village and subsequently improve their agricultural productivity.
During the project period, 96 women (8 from each village) were trained in goat rearing and provided with goats, leading to increased income through the sale of dairy products. 480 women (40 from each village) were also trained in smokeless stove construction or briquette making, enabling them to increase their incomes and support their villages to reduce reliance on harmful indoor open-fire cooking.
In a short span of time, the project has shown a significant impact as it has enhanced the capacity of women in agricultural management and conservation, leading to sustainable improvements to their lives and communities. Additionally, the project has also contributed to the betterment of women and children’s health in the 12 villages with the introduction of smokeless stoves that helped reduce air pollution.
The project has played a role in enhancing women’s awareness of the impacts of carbon pollution, empowering them to adopt environmentally sustainable economic practices and take action against climate change. At the local level, their increased capacity in conservation and agricultural management led them to live in a healthier local natural environment.
The Trees for Life Project in Tanzania has been a remarkable success. This project applied conservation agriculture techniques, which helped women improve their agricultural methods that counter problems caused by droughts, deforestation, desertification, etc. All these new skills will not only support women in lifting themselves out of poverty today but also empower them with the knowledge and practices needed to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future.