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Beans were being harvested during the weeks we were there (the month of July). Grass for the cattle has to be cut every day of the year. Firewood has to be found several times a week all year round. In the afternoons it turned out to be as difficult to find women as it was in the mornings. They were at the market, selling vegetables or looking for vegetables to sell, out cutting grass again, or in a savings group meeting. Men take the animals out to graze, and do heavy tasks such as ploughing with oxen and digging the ‘RIPAT holes’ for bananas, but women do practically all the rest of the work in both the home and the fields; this pattern is found in many other places in Tanzania (Swantz, 1985).
Vegetables (Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions) are an important source of cash for women in Marurani. They have authority over vegetables, as opposed to most other crops, meaning that they can decide to grow, consume, or sell the vegetables and use the money themselves. Some have plots with enough water for vegetables to be grown. Others cannot grow vegetables at all due to lack of water. But everybody can do business with vegetables all year. ‘We move with the water,’ they say. Due to the great variation in the local ecosystems and in access to rain and/or irrigation channels within a manageable distance, it seems to be possible throughout the year for women to find a place where vegetables are grown and another where there are none at that time of the year and where vegetables can thus be sold. Access to water is desirable, but it is not expected to result in major differences in income. Those who do not have water are more involved in trading – and often they can earn even more by being the second link in the marketing chain rather than by being the first one.
In Kwa Uguru the women did not mention vegetables as a main source of income. We instead noticed many small shops where sugar, small bags of salt, soda, beer, kerosene, and other everyday necessities were sold. Women explained that this was a common way for them to make extra money, since the bigger shops were far away and people had no means of transportation. Thus, women usually supplement their income from agriculture with some kind of commercial business in order to be able to pay for everyday items, clothes, utensils, and school fees, but the villages differed in terms of the predominant type of business carried out by the women.
In Marurani all the 23 women interviewed were members of a savings group – with the exception of one, who had had to withdraw her money a couple of years previously.
Many used the savings group simply as a savings scheme, and placed their money there with the sole purpose of getting interest at the end of the year (see Box 7.2). Others borrowed money for their vegetable businesses; or rather, like Zefania in the case study in Box 7.1, they seemed mostly to borrow money in order to pay school fees or hospital bills, but managed to repay it thanks to their vegetable businesses. The fact that they all, no matter what their age, had managed to save up at least some money every week shows household dynamiCs and gender politiCs the bananas, the vegetables, and all the other agricultural outputs? Or, more generally, what are the gender politics in relation to cultivation and the marketing of crops? Some of these questions will be discussed in the next section.
What we learn from women’s everyday lives is that small-scale trading is part and parcel of being a female farmer, but it takes very different forms in different villages, and some forms of commerce may be better than others for keeping the cash flow within the village.
7.5 Gender politics: ‘who owns the bananas?’ Some agricultural products are the preserve of the man. Other products are under the woman’s control. But again, there is local variation and continuous negotiation over these matters. In Marurani, women have full authority over vegetables and chickens.
These are for the women to sell, and they can spend the money as they wish. Usually, money from vegetables and chickens is used for utensils for the house, clothes for the children, and cooking oil, for example. Increasingly, women say, they also have to find school fees themselves, although this used to be the responsibility of men. Women have no authority over livestock – but they have authority over the milk from a milk cow.
They have no authority over beans or maize; less so over beans than maize. If the man wants to sell maize, the woman can stop him if she thinks there is not enough to feed the family until the next harvest. As a woman in her thirties said: ‘Sometimes they have to make a compromise, but yes, the woman has something to say over the maize because it is the food of the family.’ There is general agreement that a man has the right to sell beans and keep the money for buying cattle, corrugated iron sheets, or other larger and more durable items, or for paying school fees.
One of the most time-consuming and strenuous tasks for women is cutting grass for indoor animals (i.e. milk cows and goats). Usually men take the Maasai cattle out to graze, but goats and cows for milking have to be kept indoors. According to the plans for RIPAT, the improved breeds of goats and cows were supposed to reduce the workload of a domestic unit. But in reality the opposite is the case from the women’s perspective.
The thinking in the RIPAT model was that, since these animals produce much more milk than traditional cattle, it is possible to manage with fewer animals and yet have a higher income. Elephant grass was also introduced in RIPAT 1 and subsequent RIPAT projects;
this can be grown near the house, grows fast and abundantly (when rains are adequate), and should make the job of cutting grass for the animals much easier. Elephant grass is indeed spreading in Marurani, but women claim they cannot grow enough to feed the indoor animals on it exclusively. Even more importantly, no man voluntarily reduces the number of animals he owns. His status as a man is closely associated with the number of animals he has, and he will always keep the traditional ones even when he gets new animals of improved breeds. Thus, women gain milk from improved animal breeds, but they also acquire an extra workload in an already busy day.
It is unclear – or rather, it is negotiable – who has the rights over bananas in Marurani.
There seems to be an agreement that men have any rights related to the improved varieties of banana – the type that can bring the most money when sold. One woman said: ‘It is like a cow. It is too expensive. It belongs to the man.’ But otherwise ‘it depends on the family’. There is a difference, though, between bananas and the other crops.
One woman explained: ‘It is very difficult for him to refuse a child school fees, or refuse to help a child who is sick, as long as the bananas are out there in his garden. When a 86 Farmers’ ChoiCe man sells his beans once a year then he has to keep that money in order to buy those permanent things for the home. But sometimes he ends up spending it instead. Or he can say that he has spent it and that he has nothing for the woman when she needs it.
But the banana is there in the garden until it is sold and you cannot refuse to help when it is just there.’ Traditionally, bananas have always belonged to women all over northern Tanzania.
Women would grow them, decide to cook or sell them, take them to the market, and decide how to spend the money from the sale of bananas. Bananas also play an important role in rituals and as symbols of female fertility and reproduction (Weiss, 1996). In Kwa Uguru, we did indeed note that bananas were under the authority of women. Observations from Tengeru market (the biggest market for bananas near Arusha) also showed that women were in charge of selling bananas. Many people still consider bananas to be the woman’s crop – but it is also clear that men are challenging this in the light of increased opportunities for marketing and income generation from bananas.
As the above discussion shows, there are continuous negotiations over rights and responsibilities. It is possible to identify certain trends in who has authority over which crops, but these change over time and may differ from one village to another. The negotiations taking place over the right to bananas are an example of how the introduction of new technologies may have unexpected consequences, and it is not clear what will happen in the years to come. Will new and improved bananas give women new opportunities and power? Or will the men manage to take over the banana crop?
7.6 Negotiating roles and rights: ‘when the project is behind it’ Participation in a project (such as RIPAT) is one of many factors – albeit an important one – influencing negotiations over rights and responsibilities. There are two main reasons for this. First, groups provide a good network for women who do not already have one in the village where they marry. The women also all agreed that it gave them a certain authority to be a member of a project such as RIPAT: ‘Men don’t like to see that women have more money than they do themselves, but they respect the project.’ Women also appreciate that the groups are mixed, ‘so that men hear the advice of the project, or at least hear that they should leave the women to do the work’.
Second, new crops are good for women, not only for the reasons that RIPAT suggests, but also because new crops do not fall into the traditional categories of female and male authority. The person who receives them and introduces them has authority over them, as illustrated by the case of Zefania. Or rather, a new crop gives women an extra card to play in their negotiations with others. In Zefania’s case, the fact that the project was behind her helped her keep authority over the new things that she introduced in the home, even though her husband’s return meant the loss of her authority over the crops they had always grown together. When a new crop becomes a major source of income – and is therefore no longer so new – the man may challenge the woman’s authority over it, as we can see happening with certain banana varieties. Still, the introduction of new crops demonstrates that it is possible to provide women with new opportunities and to think of ways to support them in their efforts. While the adoption among non-RIPAT farmers of RIPAT crops and technologies may not have the backing of the ‘authority of the project’, as was the case for the RIPAT farmers, a new crop is still an extra asset in women’s ongoing negotiations with their husbands.
88 Farmers’ ChoiCe place. Women, in contrast, are far more mobile in terms of agricultural experience. In every village there are women who originate from many different clans and villages. Due to the large variation in ecosystems and thus in crops and agricultural practices within short distances (the mountain, the slopes, the plain), women may have experience with other crops and agricultural practices that they can use in the locations where they marry – and a new crop introduced into that area may not be new at all to the woman. In addition, after marrying, women continue to visit relatives in their home village and elsewhere (e.g. sisters married in other villages). Therefore they often come into contact with other agricultural practices and crops. During these visits, gifts are exchanged, and usually people try to find something to give that they know the recipient does not have, e.g. a crop grown in their area that is not grown in the visitor’s village. This is another means by which knowledge of new products is spread.
Women often have little or no network in the area where they marry. Throughout their adult lives, they work both on keeping alive their networks in the village where they were born and on building up new networks where they marry. WaMeru women in particular continue to invest heavily in their parents’ homes even after marrying. If women get access to livestock, they will never leave the animals in their husband’s home when they are away but will make an agreement with other relatives, e.g. a sister and her husband, for them to care for the animals. The situation where a wife is caring for a ‘borrowed’ animal is different from that when a man cares for his own wife’s cow (which he would consider to be his). In the former case, the woman does not have disposal rights (one never does when caring for someone else’s animals); the animal is not hers, and if her husband took and sold an animal that was in his wife’s care, it would leave the man open to accusations of theft, and even a police case. In contrast, police and local leaders would be reluctant to hear a theft case brought by a wife against her own husband.
Another example of women’s attempts to keep alive networks in the village where they were born is that mothers try to influence the choice of marriage partners of their sons, so that the mothers can draw women away from their own homes to their present home villages. Women are also more eager to join project groups, church groups, or groups of any kind, and RECODA knows from experience that when a RIPAT group is disintegrating it is the women who struggle to keep it together. Women’s involvement in business is important not only for economic but also for social reasons. Moving around, buying vegetables, selling tea or rope, and going to the market are ways of keeping in touch with other women and of building networks – and possibly sometimes of seeing lovers (as Zefania’s husband feared). The restrictions he placed on her movements not only had economic consequences for Zefania and the family but also had social consequences.
Both women and men are involved in economic activities that their spouses are not aware of, and invest both in and outside their common home. It therefore may be difficult to say what impact RIPAT has had on households as a unit. But the RIPAT basket of options has provided both those who have been in the groups and those who have not with additional tools for ‘doing their own thing’.