Changing the Face of Rural Tanzania: Ecological Entrepreneurship for a Sustainable Future

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Kilimanjaro. The highest peak on the African continent is a place of breathtaking beauty that ascends through a variety of climates and ecosystems to over 19,000 feet of elevation. As I landed in Tanzania in early September, I was one of few people on the plane who was not preparing for the strenuous climb up the mountain. Instead, I came to one of the poorest countries in the world to meet some of the local women and marginalized communities who, with the help of our Greengrants, have built successful and sustainable livelihoods that protect this precious environment.

“Poverty in Tanzania has two faces—a rural face and a woman’s face,” says Professor Ruth Meena, chair of Women Fund Tanzania. The majority of Tanzanians live a rural subsistence life, dependent on small-scale farming. Women make up 90 percent of Tanzanian farmers, but rarely own land. This inequality runs deep and affects all aspects of a woman’s life in Tanzania, making it less likely for them to have access to education, electricity, or water.

However, local women in rural Tanzania are striving to reverse this trend and create economic independence through ecological entrepreneurship. I was lucky enough to meet some of these women during my visit and was impressed with their determination and ambition. Women like Anna Shirima, who, along with the UMANGU Women Group, has been producing Nyori honey from bees in her local village on the slopes of Mount Meru. The honey, well known for its medicinal purposes, is so popular for its taste that the group has attracted the interest of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. Today, the honey is distributed worldwide. With a recent $5,000 grant, the women have also started cultivating local plants such as jathropha to harvest seeds used to make soap. By developing these eco-industries, the organization hopes to reduce the impacts of climate change while increasing local economic stability.

It is not only women who face inequality in Tanzania today. About 1.4 million people in Tanzania have HIV/AIDS, making up a staggering 4 percent of people living with HIV globally. KYEKIMA, a grassroots group of men living with HIV/AIDS, received a grant in 2012 to help them obtain sustainable sources of income and improve their nutrition. Using $5,000, the group planted 1,000 avocado trees and built 240 beehives. Today, the standard of living of the men and their families has markedly improved—four avocado trees alone yield roughly $100 per season, allowing the men the resources to create a health insurance cooperative. Furthermore, the nutritional value of the avocados and medicinal purposes of the honey have had a positive impact on their health.

I left Tanzania believing more strongly than ever in the importance of enabling local economic entrepreneurship. Seeing first-hand the impact our small grants have in tackling poverty, empowering women’s economic independence and addressing societal injustices left me hopeful that development in sync with nature is possible, even in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Words and photos by Eva Rehse, Director of Global Greengrants Fund / UK & Europe

Eva Rehse

Eva Rehse

With a background in human rights, civil society development and social action, Eva brings over a decade of experience in project management and resource mobilisation. Previously, Eva worked for Amnesty International as an International Projects Advisor, and for CIVICUS World Assemblies. Eva also worked with the Scottish Biodiversity Forum where she was part of creating Scotland’s first biodiversity strategy. Eva has a M.A. from Bonn University in Political Science and Sociology. She is a member of the European Steering Group of the EDGE Funders Alliance and the Alliance Magazine Editorial Advisory Board, and an alumni of the Oak Foundation and Resource Alliance’s Future Leaders Programme.