Improving Livelihoods Through Dairy: Women’s Empowerment in Tanzania

In the winter of 2012, I joined TechnoServe directly from a management consulting position in San Francisco. Four months and more than 100 stakeholder interviews later, what was once a side note on a scope of work now has great impact on how TechnoServe looks at dairy interventions.

Christine joined TechnoServe’s Volunteer Consultant Program (now the TechnoServe Fellows Program) in Tanzania in 2012. She previously worked as a senior associate consultant with Bain & Company in San Francisco, where she focused on strategy for clients in the technology, retail, and consumer goods industries.

Gung ho about living in Africa, I was excited to use my skillset and create a value chain analysis of the dairy market in Tanzania. At the same time, I needed to better understand the development landscape, in order to identify pockets where TechnoServe could play a role. After landing in Dar es Salaam, a small third piece was added: to incorporate gender research into the market analysis.

Four months and more than 100 stakeholder interviews later, what was once a side note on a scope of work now has great impact on how TechnoServe looks at dairy interventions.

In traditional Tanzanian culture, masculinity takes a front seat. A common belief runs deep through this nation: men are the breadwinners, while the woman takes care of the family. Among the numerous dairy farmers we interviewed, males were the head of the household and exercised control over the family’s money. Sons, rather than daughters, are seen as investments and assets to the family.  The government of Tanzania has made significant improvements in gender issues, particularly in education, employment and legal rights. However, in a country where women’s land ownership is as low as 6 percent in some regions, equality is still a distant goal.

In this male-dominated society, however, there are still flashes of female empowerment. For example, in the northern Tanzanian regions of Arusha and Kilimanjaro, due to Maasai tradition, a Maasai woman can own the milk produced by a cow, despite the cattle and land being owned by the husband. Consequently, she is allowed to sell the milk and keep the money for herself. In Morogoro, the woman (who performs most farming labor) milks the family’s cattle twice a day. She can take the morning milk to the market, using the proceeds to buy food and other necessities for the family. Though these earnings are meager, they provide occasions where a woman is in charge of finances.

An easy and obvious answer to increasing the dairy market value in Tanzania is to increase milk production, which would seemingly increase female empowerment as well as farmer incomes. However, there lies a hidden complication in this solution. We met a few women who feared that if milk incomes grew too much, then the small milk money would become a family’s subsistence. This almost guarantees that dairy will move from a woman’s work to a man’s business, thus eliminating what little power a woman holds today. Similarly, we saw in Uganda that the advent of milk collection centers, meant to offer better market access for families, had a comparable effect: The small portions of milk owned by women were now being sold by men to these bulking centers.

There are no easy answers to these challenges. How do you increase a woman’s income when faced with the social constraint that any significant amount of money belongs strictly in a man’s domain? A few groups of Tanzanian women, who have successfully commanded respect and forged careers in spite of entrenched economic and social barriers, might have a solution. Through cooperatives in the Northern regions of Arusha and Kilimanjaro, these women have used their collective power to alter gender roles, livelihoods and future prospects for girls.

For example, the Kalali Women Dairy Cooperative Society started in 1988 with the goal of improving the livelihoods of women. The society began with 160 members and has since surpassed 250. Another famous example is the Nronga Women’s Cooperative in the Arusha-Moshi area. Pioneered in 1987 by Helen Usiri, the cooperative collects more than 1,000 liters of milk per day and pays the women directly. These women cooperatives not only provide access to markets, but help develop skills, offer a safe environment for collaboration and provide the power of a group to each member.

I came to Tanzania to analyze the dairy market, and what I came away with are stories of women deeply empowered by each other. It has been illuminating to see that the impact of development assistance can resonate in ways we hadn’t previously understood. And though Tanzanian women have made great strides in a country where women traditionally have no autonomy or access to income, I am excited at the prospect of TechnoServe and other partners working to further their cause.