Gender and development People

Posted June 1996

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Fact sheet: Women, Agriculture and Rural Development

United Republic of Tanzania

Population: 26 million
Growth rate: 3.0%
Fertility rate: 6.3
IMR: 115/1,000 births
GNP/head: US$110 (mainland)
Source: "World Bank Atlas", 1994

Importance of agriculture in the economy

Agriculture is the predominant sector of the Tanzanian economy. In 1992 it contributed 62% of the GDP and employed 79.8% of the labour force. The major cash crops produced by subsistence farmers are coffee (20.3% of export earnings), cotton (18.7% of export earnings), tobacco and cashew nuts. Sisal and tea are grown on large estates. Farmers have also been encouraged to produce essential food crops, especially cassava and maize. Subsistence farmers produce a large proportion of the agricultural output, which accounts for 75% of agricultural export earnings and 80% of grain marketing. One of the major economic objectives of Tanzania is to increase self-sufficiency in food.

Role of women in agriculture

ILO estimates that in the mid-1980s women comprised 54% of those economically active in agriculture. Approximately 98% of rural women classified as economically active are engaged in agriculture. Women farmers also contribute substantially to both commercial and subsistence agriculture, including livestock and fishing, as casual labourers and unpaid family workers.

Division of Labour by Gender

Women carry the major responsibility for both subsistence agriculture, especially food crop production, and domestic work. Time use studies consistently show that women spend more hours per day than men in both productive and reproductive activities. Traditionally, women are responsible for almost all livestock activities of dairy husbandry (feeding, milking, milk processing, marketing, etc.). In addition, a 1992 labour force survey in Zanzibar showed that women comprise 74% of the labour force in agro-enterprises. In Zanzibar, women also predominate in on-shore fisheries, while men perform almost all the work in off-shore fisheries except for some cleaning and processing.

In crop production, both men and women participate fairly equally in site clearance, land preparation, sowing and planting, while women carry out most of the weeding, harvesting, transportation, threshing, processing and storage activities. Women are also responsible for food preparation, fetching water and gathering firewood. Gender Relations in Decision-making in Farming Activities Decision-making at the household level continues to be male-dominated in all farming-related activities, even in those where women contribute the majority of the labour. However, joint decision-making is commonplace.

Sharing of power and decisionmaking

Members and Officers of Agricultural/Rural Organizations

There is a lack of data on women's participation in agricultural and rural organizations. Information from Zanzibar, however, indicates a gradual increase in women members of Cooperative Agricultural Organizations, from 30% in 1980 to 44% in 1993.

Women in Decision-making Positions in Ministries and Government Bodies

Women hold only a small percentage of decision-making positions in ministries and government bodies and are particularly under represented in the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.

Mechanisms to promote the advancement of women

National Machinery

The Department for Women and Children was established in 1985 in the Ministry of Community Development, Women and Children, on the Mainland, with the mandate to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the Women and Development Policy, specifically addressing: ways and means of reducing women's workloads, improving their health and increasing productivity; promoting education and training; identifying strategies for women's economic empowerment; advocating the development of gender-sensitive statistics; and ensuring that women's experiences and concerns are more fully integrated into the planning process and that adequate resources are allocated for such issues.

The Ministry of State for Women and Children was established in 1992 in the President's Office, Zanzibar.

WID Units or Focal Points in Technical Ministries

The Union Government Ministry of Agriculture WID Focal Point was established in 1985, with the mandate to: liaise with regional focal points and other agencies responsible for women in rural development; participate in training rural women in agricultural credit and enhancing their entrepreneurial capacities; collaborate with other interested institutions in organizing village-based seminars for women's groups; ensure female participation in and benefit from national extension programmes; and encourage female leadership in agricultural sciences.

The Zanzibar Ministry of Agriculture, Unit for Women and Youth, Office of the Commissioner for Research and Farmers Education, was established in 1992 with the mandate to: promote women's and youth agricultural, livestock, fishing and forestry activities; encourage formation of women's and youth groups; impart nutrition eduction to women so as to eliminate malnutrition among children; raise the economic status of women and youth; and ensure equitable distribution of income based on one's labour contribution.

Accomplishments of the WID Units
While some gender-sensitivity training programmes have been carried out, the main focus has been on activities in the areas of irrigation, food productivity, nutrition, dairy production, and support of credit mobilization, agricultural extension, animal traction and oil processing.

Inadequate personnel and finances to carry out substantive analysis and action on agriculture-oriented gender issues; a top-down planning and administrative approach which does not promote innovative initiatives at the grassroots; and heavy dependence on donor funding.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Since 1985, both local and international NGOs have increased support to rural women in agriculture, due especially to the formation of WID Units at NGO headquarters and an increase in community based organizations (CBOs). Under the Tanzania Non-Governmental Organization Umbrella (TANGO), many local NGOs are addressing agriculture, livestock and environmental issues, and a growing number are also emphasizing women's empowerment. Grassroots women's groups are also increasing. For example, in Same District Kilimanjaro Region, between 1980 and 1993, 43 women's groups in agriculture and horticulture were formed, 8 in livestock and poultry, 8 in bee-keeping, 4 in fishing and 10 milling groups.

Women's rights

Tanzania is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Women's civil rights are limited by the existence of a dual legal system which includes both statutory and religious and customary laws. In addition, the 1971 Marriage Act includes discriminatory provisions in respect to women's property and inheritance rights.

Dimensions and determinants of rural poverty

Structural adjustment programmes have forced many households to adopt survival strategies, with detrimental effects on women. Removal of government subsidies for agricultural inputs and food stuffs, dismantling of state-controlled marketing systems, reduction of public investment in extension services and credit, and rising interest rates of bank credit are affecting poor women farmers in particular.

Intensive exploitation of natural resources aimed at increased supply of primary export commodities and incomes has led to soil erosion, deforestation and increased threat of desertification. There is a heavy dependence on fuel wood energy in the absence of better alternative energy sources.

Pressure to grow cash crops is diverting labour and land away from food crops and forcing poor households to sell part of their food reserves. Fall in prices of traditional export crops is affecting the food sector in particular and attracting males to commercial food crops such as maize, beans, horticulture and dairy products, traditionally controlled by women.

Food imbalances are estimated to have affected 40% of the population. 28.7% of the population is chronically food insecure as landholdings are too small to provide sufficient food for subsistence. More than 25% of the population suffers from protein energy malnutrition, 32% from nutritional anaemia, 6.1% from Vitamin A deficiency, and 25% from iodine deficiency. Women and girls suffer more as they tend to eat less in times of food shortage.

The rising cost of living and raised production costs has increased women's workload. Female-headed households, which are generally associated with increased labour constraints, simpler farming systems, inadequate services and meagre incomes, are increasing.

Access to agricultural resources and services


There is a great disparity between women and men in the size of landholdings, as well as an overall trend of increasing landlessness and decreasing size of holdings due to population pressure. About 84% of the land is cultivated by human labour, which limits the amount that can be cultivated.

Livestock. Data collection needed.

Forestry. Data collection needed.

Water. Data collection needed.


In 1992, women comprised only 15% of the total membership of formal rural savings and credit associations. Women's access to formal financing is limited by the small size of their agricultural enterprises, high rate of illiteracy, predominance in the subsistence sector, and lack of land as collateral. Women's access to loans has tended to be confined to donor-supported special grants.

Extension services and agricultural training

Data collection is needed on the numbers of women farmers reached by extension.

Selected programmes in support of women in agriculture, fisheries and forestry

Legal and Policy Reform

Access to Agricultural Resources and Services

Many Ministry of Agriculture and donor-funded projects are directed, or have a component, to increase women's access to agricultural resources and services, including animal traction, irrigation, extension, small livestock, and small credit schemes.

Areas to be strengthened

Legal and Policy Reform

Redress inequality in land rights.

Access to Agricultural Resources and Services

Efforts should be made to increase women's access to: appropriate technology to reduce workload, extension and training, improved water supply, alternative energy sources, irrigation, credit, agricultural inputs, and cooperatives and rural associations.

Prepared by Women in Development Service (SDWW)
FAO Women and Population Division

Source: "National Sectoral Report on Women, Agriculture and Rural Development", 1994.

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