Gender and development People

Posted December 1996

Project for Women in Irrigation Development, Tanzania

IN TANZANIA, rice is a major cash crop and the second most important food crop after maize. In 1985, the Government of Tanzania initiated the Usangu Village Irrigation Project to upgrade traditional rice irrigation schemes in the Usangu Plains, an area with approximately 20,000 inhabitants. The project assisted 2,125 households in 17 villages through the irrigation of 3,500 hectares of land.

Maize was usually grown on family plots and women had much of the responsibility for this major staple food. A major constraint for maize production was that the land used for cultivation by women was often marginal and lacked irrigation.

Although men had primary responsibility for rice production, the irrigation project for the cultivation of paddy rice increased the workload of women. Women did most of the construction work and, in some areas, were also heavily involved in the transplanting, weeding and harvesting of rice grown on the increased acreage. When women cultivated rice, the profits were handed over to their husbands.

There was concern that the increased involvement of women in rice production would be at the expense of maize cultivation and mothers' childrearing duties which could cause nutritional problems. To complement the irrigation project, the Women in Agriculture (WIA) project began in 1988 to assess the potential impact of the rice project on household food security and nutritional status on a subgroup of the population.

Household food security

After the assessment, a 4-year WIA project began in 1991 with the goal of improving household food security and nutritional well-being of all household members through the specific involvement of women in agricultural development. The goal was to have a sufficient supply of food year-round and to increase the amount of time available to women for food preparation and child care.

As of 1995 the project had provided agricultural inputs to farmers with irrigated maize production and farmers with rainfed maize. Economic assistance was given for rice and maize (both rainfed and irrigated), this led to a substantial yield increases of both maize and rice. Horticulture packages were distributed to women and households which were vulnerable to nutrition problems. Despite low rainfall which severely affected food production, the project had a positive effect on improving productivity and diversity in the food available.

The Women in Agriculture project attempted to compensate for the increase in women's work, brought about by rice irrigation, by introducing new techniques to simplify food processing and preparation. Rice-husk burning stoves were introduced to save fuel and allow women to simultaneously cook food and carry out other household and food production work. Milling machines for their maize and rice processing were introduced.

Monitoring and nutrition education

Children's growth patterns were monitored to determine the effects of changes in household food stocks, labour demands for both men and women, and frequency of child feeding. Later, Village Gatherings for Food and Nutrition (Health Days) were initiated to mobilize the community. During these gatherings, growth monitoring took place and malnourished children were identified. Nutrition education was provided at these events.

To promote increased consumption of more nutritious foods, men and women were given instruction by the District Nutritionists on ways to prepare more nutritious weaning food mixtures by adding pumpkin leaves and groundnuts to their main cereal dishes. Women were taught techniques for drying pumpkin, cassava, and bean leaves for use later during the dry season, thereby helping to ensure food security during the lean period of the year.

Gender issues

Men participated in the WIA project, particularly those within the households at risk of malnutrition. They assisted in the preparation of foods and some brought their children to health clinics for weighing and measuring. Male village leaders and other district and regional government officials supported the efforts to reduce the workload of women and recognized the

importance of women in agricultural and community development. Village Women Irrigation Committees were formed to encourage the women's participation in community development and to give them greater confidence to be more involved in decision-making.


The project activities had a very positive influence in terms of improving the availability and diversity of foods at the household level through production increases and reductions in post-harvest losses, reducing the time spent by women on household chores, and reducing women's workload.

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