The World Employment Programme (WEP) was launched by the International Labour Organisation in 1969, as the ILO's
main contribution to the International Development Strategy for the Second United Nations Development Decade.
The means of action adopted by the WEP have included the following:
- short-term high-level advisory missions;
- longer-term national or regional employment teams; and
- a wide-ranging research programme.
Through these activities the ILO has been able to help national decision-makers to reshape their policies and plans with the
aim of eradicating mass poverty and unemployment.
A landmark in the development of the WEP was the World Employment Conference of 1976. which proclaimed inter alia
that "strategies and national development plans should include as a priority objective the promotion of employment and
the satisfaction of the basic needs of each country's population". The Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action
adopted by the Conference will remain the cornerstone of WEP technical assistance and research activities during the
This publication is the outcome of a WEP project.
WORLD EMPLOYMENT PROGRAMME
lessons from the field
Technical Co-operation Report on the ILO/DANIDA Project
on Identification of Successful Projects for Improving
the Employment Conditions of Rural Women
International Labour Office Geneva
Copyright International Labour Organisation 1985
Publications of the International Labour Office enjoy copyright under Protocol 2 of the Universal Copyright Convention. Never-
theless, short excerpts from them may be reproduced without authorisation, on condition that the source is indicated. For rights of
reproduction or translation, application should be made to the Publications Branch (Rights and Permissions), International Labour
Office, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland. The International Labour Office welcomes such applications.
ISBN 92-2-105152-8 (Volume I)
ISBN 92-2-105154-4 (Set of two volumes)
First published 1985
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material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the International Labour Office concerning
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publication does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office of the opinions expressed in them.
ILO publications can be obtained through major booksellers or ILO local offices in many countries, or direct from ILO Publications,
International Labour Office, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland. A catalogue or list of new publications will be sent free of charge
from the above address.
Printed by the International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VOLUME I: WOMEN IN PRODUCTION AND MARKETING AND THEIR 7
ACCESS TO CREDIT
Chapter 1 Irrigated Gardens, Molepolole, Botswana by William Duggan 7
Chapter 2 Chikuni Fruit and Vegetable Producers' Co-operative Society, 21
Zambia A Case Study by Mabel C. Milimo
Chapter 3 Palm-Oil Production and Fish Trade at Ujiji, Kigoma Region, 37
Tanzania by Zubeida Tumbo-Masabo
Chapter 4 Women's Work in Rural Cash Food Systems: The Tombo and 47
Gloucester Development Projects, Sierra Leone by
Filomina Chioma Steady
Chapter 5 The Kubang Pasu Timur Wanen's Multi-Purpose Co-operative, 71
Kedah State, Malaysia by Tai Yoke Lin
Chapter 6 Fambirayi Mberi and Kusimudzira Zimbabwe Co-operatives for 85
Female Ex-Combatants by Patricia Bwerinofa
Chapter 7 Women in Production and Marketing in Bangladesh, their 97
Linkages and Development: The Cases of (i) The Munshirhat
Mahila Samabaya Samiti and (ii) The Bangladesh Hasta Shilpa
Samabaya Federation Ltd by Hameeda Hossain
Chapter 8 Initiatives for Improving the Employment Conditions of Rural 117
Women: The Cases of Shah Kot Training and Income-Generating
and the Sungli Income-Generating Projects for Women, Pakistan
by Nighat Said Khan, Farida Shaheed, Yameema Mitha and
Chapter 9 The Production and Marketing of Women's Handicrafts in 137
Swaziland by Margo Russell
Chapter 10 Saving Clubs: The Mobilisation of Rural Finances in Zimbabwe 161
by Ruvimbo Chimedza
Chapter 11 Gampubuduwa Organisation at the Ralahamywatta Village, 175
Sri Lanka by Hema Goonatilake and Rex Casinader
ANNEX 1 The Contributors to Volume I 189
ANNEX 2 Contents of Volume II 191
The World Employment Conference in June 1976 noted that women in developing
countries are particularly disadvantaged in respect of poverty, education, training,
employment and status. With regard to rural women, the Conference recommended that
measures be taken to relieve their work burden and drudgery by improving working and
living conditions, as well as providing more resources for investment. In 1979, and
again in 1983, the ILO's Advisory Committee on Rural Development urged the ILO to
continue and extend its work concerning women in rural development.
Within the International Labour Office, the Programme on Rural Women constitutes
one of the ILO's attempts to translate these recommendations into action. In view of
the inadequate research done on employment patterns and labour processes, poverty and
organizations of rural women, the main focus of the Programme has been on studies and
field research in these areas sub-contracted to experts in the Third World. The
general approach of the Programme is to move gradually from a substantial conceptual
and information base to the dissemination and exchange of information through seminars
and workshops, followed by the planning and implementation of technical co-operation
projects to assist the poorest strata of the rural women, in close consultation, where
possible, with rural women's own organizations.
Through a multi-bilateral project funded by the Danish International Development
Agency, "Identification of Successful Projects for Improving the Employment Conditions
of Rural Women", the ILO has sought to understand the mechanisms of rural poverty and
how some women are themselves improving their situation.
This particular effort arose from a perceived need to bring to light information
on those initiatives which have been "successful" in order to provide constructive
examples to encourage more effective approaches, policies and projects. Through
extended contacts with people concerned with rural poverty and/or active in project
development and organizations in rural areas, nearly 50 initiatives, of which more
than half are published in these two volumes, were identified in Africa, Asia and the
Pacific, ranging from small-scale and locally initiated projects, sponsored and
"interactive" projects and even popular movements which took on dimensions important
to women's economic roles as a result of women's participation.
The studies undertaken have focused on those initiatives/programmes/projects
which are working successfully in some important respects in improving the employment
and living conditions of the poor rural women and men. Important features in the
success of many of the identified initiatives were women's access to and control over
the productive resources land, labour, capital, technology, marketing; control by
women over the product of their labour; the development or strengthening of an
organisational base among disadvantaged women; and sympathetic attitudes by the
community, including husbands, and/or other external forces such as the government and
aid agencies, or at least individuals within them.
The reports on the identified initiatives generally confirm a premise that far
from alleviating their problems, development processes seem to marginalise the rural
poor and particularly women among them. One of the reasons is that the economic and
political power is not shared with women. The findings reveal that a number of
programmes aimed at supporting poor rural women have failed primarily because they
were not situated in the appropriate socio-economic milieu as well as the fact that
women themselves were not involved in the decision-making processes.
The ILO has disseminated reports on these initiatives through regional and
interregional workshops and publications and direct liaison with other agencies and
workers' organizations. It is hoped that the essays published in these volumes will
contribute to strengthening rural women's efforts, particularly their organisational
base, and that lessons drawn might help those working with poor rural women to better
meet their needs.
These essays come out at an opportune time after a a decade of focus on women by
universities, governments and non-governmental circles, by donors and
project/programme implementors. 1985 marks the end of the United Nations Decade for
Women when a stocktaking of accomplishments and problems of the last decade is taking
place. It is hoped that the lessons from the field which these essays convey will
contribute to the post-UN Decade for Women strategies and concrete activities with
women to overcome rural poverty, hunger and marginalisation.
Rural Employment Policies Branch
Employment and Development Department
Many individuals and organizations are to be thanked for their support for the
overall project out of which these essays resulted and for the publication of these
essays. The Danish International Development Agency funded the project. Many
governments and party officials, field workers and universities in Africa, Asia and
the Pacific together with international and national NGOs and IGOs made the
identification and documentation of successful initiatives possible. Zubeida Ahmad,
Martha Loutfi and Rounaq Jahan of the Rural Women's Programme at the ILO gave
invaluable assistance to the editor in many different ways and at different stages, as
did Keith Rennie. Cheryl Wright, Barbara Jouve and Linda Pond gave the logistical
support, typing the manuscripts and liaising with the relevant sectors within the ILO.
"Men have always been going for [agricultural] training. Very few of us went
between 1964 and 1970. Never before that date. What they taught cannot help us
much. Our friends (men) were taught piggery, etc. We were taught how to make
scones. How can that help us with our farming".
"There is no food chain without women".
"That we [extension workers] left out women when we approached producers in our
efforts to increase rural productivity was our greatest mistake".1
The above quotations show the awareness that grass-roots women have of
themselves as vehicles of rural development. There is also a growing realisation on
the part of government officials and others concerned with the predicament of a large
component of the world's population resident in Third World countries of the crucial
position women hold in providing sustainable livelihoods for the rural dwellers and in
contributing to rural development.
This realisation has emerged out of a long, post-World War II process of
interest in and debates on women, rural development and rural poverty. Gradually,
some governments and other groups and.individuals have accepted that women, themselves
the worst victims of under-development and poverty, may possibly provide some answers
and solutions to rural poverty. Alongside this has been an appreciation that to
realise a meaningful and sustainable effort, affected women themselves have to be
active participants in activities aimed at ameliorating their situations, at all the
levels from decision-making to implementation.
The essays in these volumes both enrich our understanding of rural dynamics and
provide insights into what women are themselves attempting to do to cope with
poverty. The ILO project of which these essays were a result, was initiated in 1982
at the height of the debates on women, rural poverty and development. It grew out of
a dialogue between women in Africa and Asia concerned with the role of researchers in
improving the conditions of poor rural women in their regions and the need for
cross-fertilisation of experiences. The project which emerged following the
discussions between such women and ILO officials aimed to: build an information base
or catalogue of initiatives and programmes which have helped significantly in
improving the conditions of rural women; illustrate to policy makers, women'
organizations and trade unions ways of effectively responding to and supporting
grass-roots initiatives; draw lessons of strategies and policies which can prove
effective in improving rural women's conditions; share constructive knowledge and
understanding, particularly between and within Africa and Asia, and at all levels
including the grass-roots, about appropriate initiatives to achieve sustainable
remunerative employment for poor rural women; develop and strengthen lines of
communication between the educated, committed men and women from Africa and Asia and
their organizations so that the may become more effective agents for beneficial change
for the rural poor; and help exchange experiences of success between organizations of
poor rural women in Africa and Asia.
The project's most significant feature was its shift from the focus of the
research of the 1970s, emphasising why poverty, why deteriorating conditions for the
poor and why high rates of project failures to why and how success. Success is an
ambiguous term, and its applicability in this instance may be questioned. However, it
must be seen from the perspectives of development, itself a long-term process of
change. The documentation gathered under the ILO project pertained to identified
initiatives which have advanced this process among poor rural women in some important
way. This included improvement of women's material conditions of life along with an
increase in their economic and social independence and autonomy; enhancement of their
access to production resources and their access to and control over household income;
effective participation in the initiative at all levels especially in the
decision-making process together with enhancement of their confidence and solidarity
and/or principles of equality between the sexes; capacity to demonstrate the value of
women's work; and the initiative's potential for sustainability and replicability. It
is acknowledged that success is seldom, if ever, complete. The illustrations reveal
possibilities within different socio-economic contexts by different agents of change,
particularly the women themselves.
The case studies identified some fundamental problems which sometimes cause the
difficulties for rural populations, particularly women, and at other times hinder
progress or completely frustrate the women's efforts. Some of the identified problems
(a) the constrained national economies in most of the countries covered by the
(b) problems inherent in the "project approach" to development which tend to
disregard the international and national socio-economic framework generating
factors with which women are not equipped to deal. Connected with this has been
the concept of income generation which, while providing some financial gains for
families, tends to reinforce women's seclusion and invisibility. In some cases
a few individuals or families progress through their participation in the
projects while the majority do not, sometimes even achieving success at the
expense of others. Projects also tend to increase women's workloads as they do
not always take into account other factors save the one with which they are
(c) the attitudes found in the male-dominated institutions resulting in less
attention being paid to women's efforts. Some of these attitudes have resulted
in non-appreciation of women's involvement in and contribution to popular
movements and liberation struggles. Thus, for example, despite their roles in
land and labour struggles in some parts of India, women's access to land and
decision-making in trade unions remains very limited;
(d) persistent tendency by women themselves to undervalue their capabilities
vis-a-vis men or the upper and middle classes in general;
(e) inadequate skills; limited control and access to the means and factors of
production: land, credit facilities, labour, technology, marketing, etc.;
higher levels of illiteracy among women;
(f) some societal norms inhibiting women's full control of their own labour and the
products of that labour; and
(g) lack of facilities to lighten women's burden and increase their participation:
lack of day care centres, water supplies and fuel within reasonable distances.
Recognising some of these fundamental constraints, women have been tackling them
in different ways. One underlying and recurrent trend seems to be that of
organisation. Whether spontaneous or sponsored, the most effective way of dealing
with the situation seems to lie in organisation. The following have emerged as some
of the ways in which women are responding to the problems of rural poverty:
(a) rural women are organising themselves either on their own initiatives or through
interaction with outside promoters to gain access to the factors of production:
land, credit, skills, etc.;
(b) women are organising themselves in loose groups or registered co-operatives to
initiate projects to create/increase their income and generate employment;
(c) they are gradually becoming aware of their disadvantaged socio-economic position
on the macro and micro levels and within the frameworks of formal trade
unionism; some are reacting by setting up organizations specifically for poor
women. These act both as organs for increased productivity, as machineries for
conscientisation and channels for expressing, conveying and lobbying for their
views and interests;
(d) some national institutions are beginning to see women as a means to the solution
of rural poverty and underdevelopment. These are developing ways to support
women's efforts: conscientising women in realising their economic roles and
capabilities; working with them in developing programmes for integrated rural
development; assisting to bring services essential to effective implementation
and sustainability of initiatives;
(e) international agencies and non-governmental organizations continue to play an
important role in the development and continuity of women's initiatives.
However, it is recognized that the most effective way of accomplishing this
seems to be participatory, in which the intended beneficiaries are involved from
needs-identification, through project formulation, project implementation,
evaluation and reviews;
(f) some middle-class women have emerged as agents for change and are working with
poor rural women in identifying, formulating and executing projects. In some
cases, these women also act as intermediaries between women's groups and
national institutions or international agencies/organisations to help with
skills training, credit, marketing, etc. But caution has been indicated.
Unless they genuinely identify themselves with the working women or they are
very conscious and therefore careful of this, unsound relationships of
dependency may arise. Furthermore, middle-class women may see their involvement
as a way to justify their own existence and kill boredom. Therefore, the
important factor to bear in mind is knowing when to withdraw.
The essays in the two Volumes have been selected because they illustrate some of
the above problems as well as providing useful lessons on some of the strategies. The
essays fall in two Volumes. Volume I deals with women in production and marketing and
their access to credit. The essays bring out women's efforts to gain access to the
means of production: fertile land, and their endeavours at organising themselves for
production. They illustrate women's attempts to increase productivity of agricultural
and other produce and/or the volume of processed food. They show women organising
themselves to gain access to, if not control over, the market and their efforts to
improve the quality of produce. Given women's limited access to institutional credit,
the essays offer lessons on how women in some situations have been attempting to
obtain credit on reasonable terms or to provide an alternative to institutional
credit. Problems of women in integrated initiatives are clearly addressed. Finally,
the essays pose a challenge to catalysts and others who dismiss out of hand handicraft
activities, and question the alternative to dire poverty and destitution in which some
rural women and their families find themselves.
Chapter 1 makes reference to ecological poverty over much of Botswana, as a
result of which rain-fed agriculture is becoming more and more precarious for poor
peasants especially women. Under the project poor women in Molepolole gained access
to irrigated gardens for vegetable gardening. The all-year cultivation has enabled
them to meet the demands of the cash economy and improve the nutrition of their
families. As a group, they have more easily gained access to technical information
and have been negotiating for formalisation of their land leases and possible
Chapter 2 demonstrates the advantages of placing initiatives within the overall
socio-economic milieu and/or strengthening existing activities. Agriculture has been
the main economic activity in the Southern Province of Zambia and it has been found
that rural development can best be achieved through agriculture. Recognising this a
catholic-initiated nutrition group shifted its emphasis from welfare distribution of
food to supporting poor farmers, of whom women form the majority, through formation of
a producers' marketing society. Through the society, women have sought to acquire
land independently of husbands and have access to production skills and markets.
How women in poor households, holding limited land cope with their production,
processing and marketing constraints, competing as they are against better-off
peasants with more efficient production and processing technology is addressed in
Chapter 3. Such women can obtain the minimum for their livelihoods by engaging in
more than one activity and by organising informal savings and credit groups. The
importance of women retaining a firm control over their organizations as a means of
relating to the realities of their specific locations is reflected in Chapters 4 and
5. These chapters illustrate how women as members of a group and building on the
activities which are more sustainably supported by their socio-economic milieu,
successfully struggle for access to the means of production, to technology and to
technical information. Through their efforts, women bring to the neighborhoods some
necessary facilities as well as providing employment to some of the youths.
Chapters 4 and 6, raise the question of dependency and the value of
collaborating with men who have enjoyed longer exposure to skills; also whether "aid",
international or national, is really achieving what it sets out to accomplish, given
that women's organisational talent is not allowed to develop. The Tombo project in
Sierra Leone is subjected to foreign "experts" while the ex-combatants in Harare are
being patronised and matronised by missionaries and government officials. The lessons
provided by these two cases are very pertinent at this point in time when there is a
proliferation of "aid" projects.
Chapters 7 and 8 raise interesting questions concerning the role of
middle-upper-class catalysts. In both cases, it is clear that these have an important
role to play. In Shah Kot, Pakistan, the project was able to emerge and expand
because of the linkages provided by the initiator who was also a landlord and, later,
a politician. In Bangladesh, middle-class women played a role in the rehabilitation
of the 1971 war destitutes. In Bangladesh, the form of the project allowed a measure
of poor women's participation in decision-making while the Shah Kot project passed
under the domination of another single woman (although from amongst the poor) when the
The above two chapters and Chapter 9 show the importance of access to and
control over markets. The two cases surveyed in Chapter 7 clearly demonstrate this
since project participants experienced difficulties when the market for which their
benefactor had negotiated collapsed. In Bangladesh a national, non-governmental
co-operative federation, KARIKA, encouraged a new organisation of work among the
members in response to the pressures of the external market and stimulated
improvements in production skills. In Swaziland, women have independently and
individually seized opportunities offered by their geographical position to exploit
the markets in two neighboring countries, buying from one and selling in the other.
These three chapters also raise the question of the place and value of handicrafts in
rural development. Doubtlessly, handicraft can, and in some countries actually do,
reinforce the seclusion and isolation of women. However, the paper from Pakistan
suggests that given the existing socio-religious norms of some rural societies,
handicraft may be the only way of introducing women into the cash economy and
therefore providing their families with a means of livelihood. In Bangladesh, the
choice facing landless households is indeed limited and cash realized from handicraft
provides the bare minimum for existence while in Swaziland, women themselves decided
on the choice of activity. The question is: what options are there in some milieu?
As suggested by the cases from Bangladesh and Swaziland, should the focus be on
skills' upgrading and base organisation so that -the activity is elevated from a
household, domestic to a commercial, factory level? What are the social and economic
implications for this?
Chapters 10 and 11 provide information and lessons on women's access to credit.
The case from Zimbabwe (Chapter 10) illustrates attempts by poor rural women to find
alternatives to institutional credit, to which they do not have easy access. They
have found an answer in savings clubs which although open to both men and women the
latter have come to dominate. Aside from financial advantages, through these clubs
women have access to technical services, labour of other women and markets. In
Sri Lanka (Chapter 11), women positively responded to a Roman Catholic-initiated NGO
dedicated to rural development through people's own efforts. The Gampubuduwa
organisation provides collateral and negotiates with banks on behalf of the illiterate
rural poor. In the case surveyed, women founded a society which, through
Gampubuduwa's initial support, negotiates for small loans for its members, thus
undercutting the moneylender so that benefits accrue to the women themselves.
Volume II is sub-divided into two sections: Organisations and Participation and
Women in Popular Movements and Ideological Conflict. In the cases discussed in
Volume I, in the majority women belong to organizations but the focus is on what the
women are doing. Essays in Section 1 of Volume II examine what women are doing with
particular attention to the organisational structures and the process and mechanisms
of participation by all members at all levels of the activity. They bring out the
necessary interlinkages and chains to these interlinkages. The bargaining strength
provided by members is clearly demonstrated while those who give support sometimes
find it easier to deal with groups instead of individuals.
Section 2 brings out the conflict in participation, in its narrow sense, and
ideology. The cases show that women have mobilised themselves behind class
struggles. Yet, when the struggle is over or partially over, male strategists
overlook women and do not wish to share power with them. In some cases, class
struggles have overlooked women's specific needs. Is the answer to be found in women
forming their own unions? Would this not weaken working-class struggles? The five
studies in this section provide data and pose questions for those concerned with
issues of equity and organisational development for poor rural women.
1 E.R. Nyirenda; Mbaita Shamulanga: Oral interviews by S. Muntemba, 1976 and
1981; Action Week, central day theme: "Hunger Is Not Necessary", Utrecht, the
Netherlands, April, 1985.
VOLUME I: WOMEN IN PRODUCTION AND MARKETING AND THEIR ACCESS TO CREDIT
IRRIGATED GARDENS, MOLEPOLOLE, BOTSWANA*
Irrigated gardening in Botswana is proving its ability to deliver cash and
improved nutrition to the poorest class of rural women. The Molepolole experience is
a story of poor women and men positively tackling problems connected with the process
of monetisation they have been exposed to over the last 100 years or so. Here is a
group of poor peasants unable to meet their cash needs through arable agriculture
because of many factors, including climatic and socio-economic, as discussed below.
They took advantage of the opportunity offered to them in 1981 when the Kweneng Rural
Development Agency (KRDA) gave up their gardening schemes. Thirty-six villagers, of
whom the majority were women, took over the land previously irrigated by the KRDA.
The land was divided into individual plots. They formed a farmers' group the
Tshwaragano Vegetable Production Group. However, although gardeners have to abide by
group rules such as yearly dues, eviction regulations, etc. and also benefit from the
Ministry of Agriculture's technical assistance, each member has a plot which she/he
tends in ways dictated by labour availability and also has absolute control over the
produce and income it realises. Thirty-three producers, of whom 29 are women, have
been adequately and profitably cultivating the gardens. However, because of
Botswana's flat topography and semi-arid climate, the few good irrigation sites,
yielding fresh produce for home consumption and sale to local villagers, have begun to
attract the interest of larger entrepreneurs with cash to invest. But as yet the
poorer women who first took advantage of the sites enjoy secure tenure.
The Botswana Government encourages the development of irrigated gardens and
group organizations to work them. The largest and most successful garden group in the
country is found in Molepolole, a village 50 km west of the capital, Gaborone. In
August 1983, 29 women and four men cultivated plots irrigated from a village dam.
They consume some produce but sell most of it to a nearby shop, supplying about
one-quarter of Molepolole's fresh produce. The rest is imported from South Africa.
The Molepolole gardens came about without direct government supervision. The
site was prepared for irrigation in 1979 by the Kweneng Rural Development Agency
(KRDA), a non-governmental organisation in Molepolole. KRDA ran the irrigated gardens
as a single estate, covering 1.25 hectares, with a manager, foreman and six wage
labourers. After losing money for two years, it donated the site to Kweneng's
District Council. It sub-divided the estate into individual plots of 280 sq m each.
Two government extension workers, a Group Development Officer and an Agricultural
Demonstrator, assisted this transition.
The Ministry of Agriculture now promotes similar schemes at suitable sites in
other parts of the country, planning individual plots of 500 sq m. Each of the
Ministry's three active sites (Mogobane, Manyana, Mankgodi) has only ten to 15
gardeners, again overwhelmingly poor women. Molepolole's larger membership yields
less land and thus less income for each member. The garden group hopes to expand its
site and thus give each group member a larger plot. Despite the low income from the
smaller plots, the gardens are well maintained and turnover among members has been low.
Because the garden group faces simple, practical problems, the researchers found
that the most important questions were already a matter of group debate. The
gardeners constantly discuss how to improve the project through expansion, reducing
theft and pests, procuring fertilizer and watering cans. Therefore, group interviews
were held but the individual profiles were the most revealing. The researchers paid
daily visits to the gardens both to talk with women and observe what they did and
* The author carried out field research with the assistance of Ms Thongadi Ntsima,
to whom he is grateful.
how. To understand the problem of small farmers and value of irrigation within the
context of national constraints and plans, the researchers also talked to KRDA
officers and members of the MoA officials in Gaborone and in Molepolole.
Generally, the women who accepted KRDA's offer to take up garden plots were poor
enotun to have the freedom to do so. They were not tied down to more lucrative
economic pursuits. Botswana's characteristic settlement pattern, following closely
its geographical demands, features women who drop out of agriculture to become
permanent residents of larger villages where they can tend a garden year round. On
the other hand, farmers move out each summer to tend their distant fields.
Patterns of Settlement and Wealth
Map 1 shows the main geographical features of Botswana. The hardveld comprises
patches of hills and open savanna with bedrock close to the surface, whereas sandveld
refers to a deep bed of coarse sand covering the surface. When rain falls on the
hardveld, it soaks the topsoil above the bedrock, then runs off, forming streams in
the summer which dry to sandy beds in winter. A few of the larger sandy river beds
hold water all year, if only in stagnant pools and most beds yield water below the
surface. The first wells in Botswana were pits dug to reach this sunken river water.
The rocky hills also hide a few fresh springs.1 In the sandveld, summer rain sinks
and disperses through the layer of sand. The dry winter wind pulls the water back up,
to evaporate into the air. In the Kweneng, potential evapotranspiration exceeds
precipitation in every month of the year.2 Where the sandveld wrinkles to broad
valleys, enough water drifts down to a central spot to soak the surface through the
winter. Here, wells also yield water.3 Before colonial rule, inhabitants in both
soil types dug for their water in winter, the hardveld offering more stream beds than
Map 2 shows hills running west and east from Molepolole, cutting the hardveld in
two. The Metsemotlhaba River and its tributaries (Kolobeng, Gamolele) cut through the
Southern Hardveld. These are typical hardveld streams, flowing occasionally after
summer rainstorms, yielding a few open pools and many well sites through the dry
winter. Before the South African wars of the nineteenth century forced them into
Molepolole hills, the Bakwena (the dominant ethnic group in the region) had their
capital village along the Metsemotlhaba. Molepolole has been their capital for more
than a century. Today, it is the capital of Kweneng District and has 21,000
residents, 18 per cent of the district's population.
To the northeast of Molepolole stretches the Transitional Hardveld. Here, the
bedrock is farther below the surface. More porous, heavy soils are interspersed with
sand. The two major river valleys are barely recognisable. The water creeps down
their gentle slopes and seldom moves eastward, sinking instead into the grassy valley
floor. There are fewer places to dig for water in winter. To the northwest, sandveld
covers the rest of the Kweneng. Molepolole sits at the junction of all three natural
regions. A century ago, before the plough replaced the hoe, the Bakwena kept to the
Southern Hardveld, watering their cattle there in winter, cultivating in summer.
Adventurous herders drove their cattle onto the sandveld and Transitional Hardveld
pastures, where in winter herdboys dug exploratory wells. In this way, permanent
herding posts spread slowly beyond the Southern Hardveld.
In 1981, a national census reported a district population of 117,000.
Households were distributed as follows: Southern Hardveld 39%, Transitional
Hardveld 26%, sandveld 36%.4 Once, schools, clinics, shops, churches and
village water supplies were concentrated in Molepolole and one or two other villages
in the Southern Hardveld but gradually these modern services extended even to the
smallest sandveld village.5
BOTSWANA: RAINFALL AND HYDROLOGY
BOTSWANA: RAINFALL AND HYDROLOGY
"/ mean annual
mean annual rainfall (mm)
... = Kweneng District
- 10 -
/; river beds
,- -. ,
b I SOUTHEI
- 11 -
When the plough arrived at the end of the nineteenth century, the larger cattle
owners from the Southern Hardveld hitched their oxen to wagons and drove to the
Transitional Hardveld where they ploughed larger fields. Plough fields and pastures
here remained spacious and uncongested. Moreover, their mobility allowed them to
search more carefully for good water while dynamite enabled them to blast wells in
previously inaccessible areas. Smaller cattle owners remained in the crowded Southern
Hardveld as their previously tiny hoe gardens expanded to plough fields of several
After World War II, cheap internal combustion engines allowed trucks to venture
farther into the sandveld, drilling deep into the sand for water. Small diesel pumps
poured water into small metal reservoirs for cattle's year- round needs. Deep-bore
wells dotted the sandveld. Half of these were government-funded and therefore of
public use. Cattle from the hardveld were brought to them. As human and animal
populations grew, water holes in the Transitional Hardveld and later even in the
sandveld crowded with cattle. These also stripped bare the surrounding pasture. Only
those wealthy enough to own private wells avoided the growing overgrazing.6 From
the mid-1970s, the Government has been turning the private cattle posts, each
self-contained with a herd of 500 1,000 cattle, into modern fenced ranches.7
Regarding cattle owned by poor peasants, the Government suggested grouping
several herds into ranches but formation of group ranches proved impossible.8 Each
participant needed the flexibility to sell off an animal easily or, most important, to
yoke it to a plough.9 In ranches, cattle are not worked so that they may benefit
from modern veterinary services since if they plough or walk long distances for water,
they grow and reproduce more slowly and easily contract disease despite veterinary
treatment. Furthermore, the Government subsidized smallholders to purchase draught
animals and farming equipment. Mechanical planters and cultivators had been in use
for decades but only about 5 per cent of better-off farmers adopted them, expanding
their herds and acreage. Smallholders were not keen to adopt this equipment because
of the extra strain on the animals for dubious returns. Moreover, small farmers
prefer to plough as wide an area as possible since crops stand a greater chance of
catching some rain in a wider than smaller, though better- prepared, field.10
Ownership of cattle determines ploughing success but even the Government's
draught subsidy scheme bypasses the truly needy. Cattle cost money or time to herd
and sicken quickly in the hardveld where they compete fiercely for scarce pasture.
Women On and Off the Land
The most recent national rural survey, conducted in 1977-78, reports the
following profile of Botswana's rural households which make up 84 per cent of the
Table 1: Profile of Botswana's Rural Households
Female-headed (%) Male-headed (%)
Own or herd cattle 18 44 (62)
Cattleless 18 20 (38)
36 764 (100)
Source: Central Statistics Office: Migration, Vol. 3
For the purpose of this study, the most important group in this table is the
18 per cent of rural households that are cattleless and headed by women.
Female-headed here includes two types of households: (a) households in which a woman
claims to be head, even though adult males are present; (b) households in which a
woman claims a man is head but he is absent from home, usually as a migrant worker.
Although individual cases violate strict definitions, in general, this group is the
- 12 -
poorest, with less access to income from male wage employment, livestock or crops. In
Kweneng District, these households are concentrated in the Southern Hardveld, where
villages with permanent water supplies are close to the crowded fields.11 As
deep-bore wells spread everywhere and small government dams add to the hardveld's
water supplies, densely ploughed areas become villages themselves (such as Medie and
Gakgatla, Map 2).12 There are some households whose fields are located several
kilometres from their homes and some form of transport is needed to reach them.
In Molepolole, most residents travel long distances to plant their fields. Poor
farmers who are squeezed out of production have three options: work on someone else's
field or herd; seek other paid work in the village; or go to town. For young men,
going to town has usually meant contracting with South African mines for a specified
period after which they are expelled. In 1980, 4,000 Kweneng men were away at the
mines; 2,600 held formal wage jobs within the district, of which 1,500 were government
posts; and 1,000 were in Molepolole. Men who do not find wage employment seek work in
the village often as builders assembling concrete and iron-roofed houses which are
gradually replacing mud brick and thatch. Women, forced out of agriculture but who do
not try their luck in Botswana's new towns, take even more casual work such as washing
laundry and building mud walls. Cattle-poor men and women come to Molepolole to work
for village wage earners.
How are the poor forced out of agriculture in the first place? Technically,
they are not landless. By law, every adult male or female Kweneng citizen has a right
to an arable plot. In summer, all uncultivated land is an open commons, free for
stock to graze. In winter, harvested fields revert to the commons as well.13
However, the poorest farmers congregate around public water for their cattle to
drink. The surrounding pasture becomes overgrazed. When summer rain falls, new grass
revives the cattle but sometimes the new grass disappears within a month or two before
the fields are ploughed and the cattle begin to weaken. Consequently, a smaller field
is ploughed, while there is poor cow fertility and a high death rate among calves.
Only larger cattle owners can afford private water holes situated well away from
public ones so that other herds cannot reach the surrounding pasture. These private
water owners sometimes allow other cattle to drink but always in exchange for a calf
or a cash fee. Thus, because their animals weaken and harvests shrink, many poor
peasants give up and seek other work.
Women are especially vulnerable because they inherit fewer cattle than men and,
historically, men do the herding. Before the plough arrived, women had primary
responsibility for hoeing fields while men drove cattle in search of fresh summer
pasture. Men sometimes helped hoe but women never helped herd. There was no legal
sanction against women handling cattle but most probably, a woman building a brush
cattle pen and handling the herd alone would have faced hostility from her fellow
herders, intent on preserving herding as a male domain. In any case, men herded.
Cattle herding in Botswana, except around recent private bore wells, always entailed
lending and borrowing of animals, labour and even water. Disease or erratic rainfall
could decimate a herd. To avoid this catastrophe, cattle owners scattered their
animals among the cattle posts of their friends and relatives, lending and borrowing
cattle, keeping careful track of which calf came from whose cow. Scattering a herd
through many cattle posts also took advantage of a wide range of pasture and water. A
herder tending someone else's cattle always received a female calf as payment. Today,
some women herd alone on the crowded Southern Hardveld but their cattle are weak and
no longer in demand. Thus, though women have always had a legal right to own cattle,
men have herded them, taking female calves as payment.
Networks of lending and borrowing still exist but mostly for ploughing.14
Poorer farmers lend and borrow cattle and labour to make up a plough team. If women
own their own cattle, they can plough by themselves but lending and borrowing
increases their chances of a good harvest. Typically, only a few short weeks from
November through December are suitable for ploughing. As farmers do not know when or
whether the showers will come, poorer ones make elaborate arrangements to assemble six
- 13 -
or eight oxen and three or four workers to make a. plough team. Poor farmers might
help plough an oxen-owner's field in return for the oxen. If this helper is a man,
the oxen might plough an equally big area but the later date usually reduces yields.
If the helper is a woman, who is not allowed to handle the plough or the oxen, the
field owner usually broadcasts the seed, the helper being relegated to cooking for the
team. When the oxen go to plough her field, the total cultivated area is only
one-third that of the owner of oxen. Women, thus, can handle their own cattle as they
please but when hired or borrowed to help plant another's field, they are relegated to
the lower-paying job. This subtle discrimination makes grain farming difficult
without a man.15
Cattle inheritance also works against women. A young boy is quickly sent out to
help herd the family cattle in return for which he immediately receives a female
calf. When he marries, he takes the herd accruing from that calf. Girls herd their
mothers' goats for the same sort of reward a female kid but goats are much less
valuable than cattle. A woman might save grain and trade it for a cow, allocating the
offspring to a daughter but surplus grain has always been a rarity in semi-arid
Botswana. Boys inherit more cattle than girls as payment for services rendered. The
subtle discrimination of sending young boys to herd, young girls to cook, hoe and tend
goats, has kept cattle in male hands.
Generally, self-sufficient farming is a thing of the past. In 1980, half of the
8,700 households ploughing in Kweneng District used their own cattle; 1,700 hired
while 1,750 borrowed. Yet the Kweneng has not succumbed to hired tractors on the same
scale as the country as a whole: more than 20 per cent of households nationwide used
tractors in 1980 while the figure for the Kweneng was only 5 per cent.16 However,
as in the rest of the country, hiring is replacing lending and borrowing. As poorer
farmers have less and less to lend, they encounter difficultly when trying to borrow.
Women occupy several positions in this socio-economic scheme. They are well
represented among government salaried employees, although senior posts are dominated
by men. There is comparatively little pressure to keep girls out of school to work in
the fields because cattle and wage jobs, domains of boys, account for so much of rural
income. In 1980, girls numbered 55 per cent of Botswana's primary school students,
52 perl ent of secondary students but only 39 per cent of Form V, the highest
grade. Even while attending school, girls spend more time on household work than
boys. Women who acquire education and gain wage jobs can help support their
relatives, often providing cash for farming tools and inputs. On the whole, the wage
labour market for people without much education is overwhelmingly a male preserve.
Women with government jobs, then, often have the means to set up households
without permanent husbands. Yet a salary also makes a woman an attractive wife or
partner for a man, thus in return giving her some access to a man's wage income. A
second category of a successful woman is that of one who has had some luck in her
'traditional' role. The mother, wife or daughter of someone with a fair cash income
or cattle can make out quite well tending a compound or a field or both.18
A third category of rural women has no access to cash income or sizeable cattle
holdings. Most of the Molepolole gardeners come from this category. Generally, they
do not have permanent husbands. Many men depend on their own cash wages and come and
go from woman to woman, never investing in a permanent family. Women bear children
because of poor birth control services but also to provide more hands to work and
possibly, through education, a cash earner. Children also offer them companionship.
Compounds of women of three generations are common: a mother, her daughters and their
children. They struggle to plant a field, find jobs and send the kids to school.
With the rise of wage employment in the villages and the overcrowding of the
Southern Hardveld ploughlands, Molepolole now houses a sizeable population of women
with no permanent means of support. Most have some rights to a cleared field
somewhere but usually they do not own cattle or have enough cash to hire them. These
- 14 -
women work for others. In the past, when a family fell on hard times, women and
children would help work on someone else's field in return for a portion of the crop,
men herding cattle in return for a heifer. Thus, they would slowly try to rebuild
their fortunes. Now, as agricultural productivity decreases, there is little demand
for this form of labour.
Overgrazing makes it harder for cattle-poor families to sustain a plough-herd.
They turn from working for themselves to working for others. Men seek wage jobs while
women work in fields are around the villages. Some manage to join more prosperous
compounds as cooks and child-tenders. Their children miss meals and rarely taste
meat, milk or vegetables.
Female-headed households have emerged in a legal environment which grants their
members a measure of economic freedom. Because cattle herding and wage labour are far
more lucrative than cropping, female field labour is not a resource that men insist on
controlling. Women still work hard whether or not in compounds ruled by men.
Nevertheless, they enjoy a legal right to establish their own compounds.
Male-less compounds should not be viewed as such because men are temporarily
absent. Increasingly, women reject marriage for lack of a suitable, stable mate.
They remain in their parents' compounds and bear children. Their daughters might
follow the same path. When her parents die, a woman rules the compound, now comprised
of herself, her daughters and her daughters' children. Boys grow up and move away to
seek work, using the compound as a periodic home base. Such compounds do not lack
men. Few women go through life without a single marriage proposal. More often, they
judge their potential partners as bad risks, wary that many men might drain more
resources than they contribute to the household. Such female households do not need
men but jobs. Female-headed households with a wage earner are often able to keep
girls in school and encourage them to succeed, thereby spawning a wage earner for the
The large concentration of population in Molepolole gives poor women more
chances to work for others. Those who brew beer for sale or collect and sell firewood
find more customers. The village organisation of compounds helps smooth the
transition to female-headed households. Historically, a married son built a new
compound, adjacent to his parents'. A married daughter left to live in her husband's
compound. The youngest child, or anyone who remained unmarried, inherited the
parents' old compound, whose handful of thatched mud buildings would have deteriorated
over the years. In recent years, more and more unmarried daughters remain at home,
adding new houses to their parents' compounds.
Thus, in Molepolole, a poor class of women find themselves on their own, in
command of compounds, with rights to land but neither the cattle nor the cash to work
it. It is against this socio-economic background and the position of women within it
that irrigated gardening is to be appreciated.
Official Rural Employment Policy
Upon Independence in 1966, the Government gave priority to mining projects and
the urban infrastructure in the mining centres and in the newly built capital,
Gaborone. In the 1970s, need, mining revenue and an influx of foreign aid encouraged
the Government to deliver extensive rural health and education services, water
supplies and agricultural assistance programmes.
Nevertheless, the Government has not succeeded in promoting productive rural
employment. The potential for manufacturing is minimal, given the open customs border
- 15 -
with South Africa, flooding Botswana with cheap manufactures. In agriculture, a more
likely source of employment, the Government has been hampered by the absence of an
appropriate technical package for increasing smallholder productivity. In 1980,
farmers planted an average of 3.1 hectares with grain yields of approximately 210
kg/ha. The average farming household produced enough to feed only three of its six
members. In fact, 83 per cent of farmers did not plant enough (6 ha) to feed six
The Government's ranch programme bypassed smallholders completely, as did other
advances in the cattle industry. The efficient export abattoir, 60 km south of
Gaborone, operates on a quota system by which cattle sellers must contract a sale
months ahead. Small owners struggle not to sell, so as to build up a decent beef and
draught herd. However, emergencies constantly force them to sell. The abattoir does
not grant emergency contracts which would interfere with its well-planned flow. Thus,
small owners sell to middlemen at a lower price. Technical advances in cattle
management which promise large cattle and, thus, higher prices, work only under the
controlled conditions of a fenced ranch.
Botswana's failure to create rural employment is well known but even among
critics, good suggestions are scarce.20 As men drop out of agriculture, they often
find occasional work while women have a harder time. The drift of population out of
agriculture cannot be absorbed by wage employment. Raising agricultural employment by
raising produce prices is very difficult with the open customs border that lets
South African prices reign. These South African prices are a boom for beef but a blow
for local sorghum, maize and fresh produce.
The Kweneng Rural Development Agency was founded in 1969 as a vocational
training centre for primary school leavers. It was under the district and controlled
by a board elected by the village. By 1980, the Agency had an annual budget of
approximately PI million (P1: US$1). It employed 210 Kweneng citizens but needed
constant subsidy to meet recurrent costs. Since 1975, the Government has paid some of
the costs of the training centre while the rest of the deficit was met by writing new
In 1981, KRDA departed from this operational policy. It abandoned some projects
and trimmed its budget. One of the projects thus abandoned was horticulture. The
first experiments began in 1976. on 0.5 hectares with nethouse, polythene and open
gardens, irrigated from a borewell. The aim was to test which methods and crops were
most suited for local production and profitable for sale. In 1979 the operation moved
to a larger site of 1.25 hectares with water from the Molepolole dam. The dam was
deepened and a pump and sprinkler system installed. Six workers and a foreman were
hired and the International Volunteer Services (IVS) provided a manager. The IVS
manager was also part of a horticultural extension project whereby he accompanied a
Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) extension agent around Molepolole to promote school and
For two years the KRDA operated the gardens. In 1981, it sold off the
sprinklers and pump and donated the site to the District. It offered plots initially
to its former garden employees. The remaining space was offered to other villagers.
Three former employees plus 33 others expressed interest. Consequently, the available
space was divided into 36 plots. This allowed each plot to be only 28 sq m. KRDA
also donated its supply of tools and fertilizer. KRDA followed a MoA Horticulture
Unit policy in seeking gardeners who would stay at the site all year round and who
would not hire workers for cash to work their plots. A few of the first dam gardeners
abandoned their plots when the rains fell, moving out to plough their grain fields.
The eviction rule, spontaneously adopted by the group, removed these plot holders. As
of August 1983 there were 29 women and four men.
- 16 -
The gardeners were constituted as a formal Ministry of Agriculture Farmer's
Group and called themselves the Tshwaragano Vegetable Production Group. Each gardener
pays P2 per year in dues. A MoA Group Development Office (GDO) helped with the
initial organisation while the local Agricultural Demonstrator (AD) kept weekly
contacts. Both the GDO and AD are women. An elected Growers' Committee meets each
week and a general meeting is also scheduled once a week, although the amount of
business seldom merits such frequency. The individual gardener completely controls
her/his plot. She decides what to plant, organises her/his own work and enjoys full
ownership of the produce. The value of group formation, then, lies in the fact that
gardeners have an organisation structure which secures and protects their land and
negotiates with external structures for technical assistance, marketing arrangements,
Water runs by gravity through a pipe from the dam to the gardens. Two pipes run
alongside the perimeter of the site and from these run seven feeder pipes to seven
concrete vats. A gardener opens a spout to let water run into the nearest vat. She
dips in her bucket or watering can and walks to her plot. The most popular crops are
cabbages, onions, beets, spinach, carrots, tomatoes and lettuce. KRDA provided the
first seeds but now the members buy them, usually from the KRDA produce shop. The
gardeners cultivate collectively the margins of the site inside the fence and the
income from the sale supplements the yearly P2 dues. Two years ago they made more
than P200 from a collective pumpkin crop. They buy tools and fertilizer, once hiring
a truck to bring cattle manure. However, they prefer chicken manure because it
carries no weed seeds. Household members provide the necessary labour. In some
cases, women work alone while their older children look after the younger ones; in
others, friends and relatives who may not belong to their households help out. Often,
they get rewarded through produce.
Members eat some of their produce and distribute some to friends and relatives
who help them in their work. Villagers come to the gardens to buy but most sell
primarily to the KRDA's shop which promises to buy whatever they produce. Other
Molepolole shops import produce from South Africa. KRDA's present manager estimates
that the dam gardens supply one-quarter of Molepolole's fresh produce.
To date, the group has operated smoothly for nearly three years. There has been
some turnover in membership, mainly because of an eviction rule in the group's
constitution by which the members continue to swear. In actual fact, it resembles
typical Southern African arable land tenureal rules. If a gardener fails to look
after her plot, she is evicted after two warnings. In this way, the group ensures
that the plots do not lie idle, for they are a trust from the district rather than the
gardeners' private property. The group has applied for a formal lease for the land;
the District Council is in the process of approving it.
Theft of another's produce is punished by the thief planting and tending a
replacement crop. Theft is difficult to catch, though. Sometimes, outsiders steal
despite a barbed-wire fence. The gate has a lock which one member is designated to
open and close every day.
The success of the gardens contradicts the wisdom of a national horticulture
survey which wrote off southeastern Botswana for horticulture. The report argued that
South Africa was too close, transport from which was too cheap. Only the remoter
areas of the country could compete with South African produce. Southeast Botswana,
however, features large villagers (demand) and poor women willing to work hard for
The poor, immobile women of Molepolole are most willing to dedicate hours of
hard work to gardening which is their major source of cash income, only source for the
majority. A profile study of the gardeners revealed that 20 of the 29 female
- 17 -
gardeners were the effective heads of households, .while in the case of three, the
women support their households as much as the husbands or other household adults.
Although husbands may be the de jure heads in two households, they are not in wage
labour nor do they plough the large fields in which case the wives provide for the
household cash needs. Twenty-one of the 33 gardeners do not cultivate rain-fed crop
fields so that gardens are the major, sometimes sole, source of cash. Long distances,
lack of cattle and labour have been the major reasons for this. Income from the plots
can only be estimated as none of the gardeners keep records or accounts and most spend
their earnings as soon as they can. Their families have constant cash needs that the
gardens only partly satisfy. The AD reports an average cash income of P20 per
gardener per week with a fair amount of produce consumed by the household. One
gardener reported a recent cabbage crop, one-fifth of a plot, yielding P25 and
requiring three months to grow. Our yearly cash estimate is thus somewhere between
P240 and P500. Some gardeners are more skilled than others, others work longer hours,
some eat less of their produce. For most of the women, this is their only income.
The gardens also give the women a more reliable living than grain farming. 1983
was a drought year with a nearly total failure of the grain crop, whereas the
Molepolole dam continues to hold enough water for the gardens. Those Kweneng citizens
who plough regularly, however, have a chance to maintain a small herd and thus a
chance to accumulate more cattle. For most gardeners, horticulture marks a final
acceptance of their failure as mixed farmers. A few women, however, manage both.
A wage job, any job, usually pays more than the gardens. Government minimum
wage regulations, for example, guarantee a full-time construction worker well over
P1,000 a year. The South African mines pay nearly P2,000 a year.21 Yet any income
figures must be balanced by a reckoning of how many persons are supported and many
households have more than one source of income. We thus took the opportunity to
compile brief profiles of all the gardens. The profile study showed that gardens were
feeding compounds totalling 281 members, an average of 8.5 per household. As already
mentioned, in cash terms, gardens were the major source while in a few cases they
supplemented wage incomes.
Our estimate of P240-500 per plot per year works out to P28-59 per person.
Hence, the consensus to reduce the number of members and increase the area per
person. There is an alternative which the group prefers but sees no way of
implementing: to expand the site. This would allow larger plots for each gardener
without reducing their numbers. The dam has proved its reliability and there is
plenty of water in the riverbed below it, alongside the gardens. The extra work would
not pose a problem for the small plots now do not fully occupy the women. There are
seldom more than a dozen gardeners at work at any one time. Friends and children lend
a hand and keep each other company.
Aside from the small size of the plots, the gardeners have nothing but praise
for the irrigation project. KRDA's loss was their gain; their conditions of tenancy
are generous; they are all happy to earn some cash and have fresh vegetables to
consume. Those who dropped out of grain farming are proud to be back in agriculture,
working for themselves. They are satisfied with the group organisation which mostly
leaves them alone to tend their plots. They would like more watering cans and
especially lengths of hose to direct water right to their plots and so save them the
drudgery of carrying buckets of water from the vats. These are minor complaints
reflecting a desire to reduce capital and labour expenditures. Transport is adequate
at present for the surrounding village demands more produce than they can supply.
In sum, then, the Molepolole gardening scheme has benefited poor women by
affording them an avenue for access to cash, to better nutrition and has engendered or
reinforced their self-esteem.
- 18 -
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Molepolole gardens have helped poor rural women through their own hard
work. No specific policy favouring women led to the creation of the gardening
scheme. Since 1979 a Women's Extension Officer in the MoA has lobbied for women's
projects but, as an extension planner in Gaborone, she has worked mainly on
educational tools. Indeed, most projects that have helped rural women have not been
aimed at women in particular: village water supplies and health facilities have
perhaps been the greatest boom for rural women. Further, the large volume of food aid
that Botswana receives in bad years goes mostly to women and children.
As for productive projects, crafts co-operatives have employed women at several
sites in the country. Kweneng District had a large but now defunct pottery workshop
at Thamaga and KRDA tried a pottery and beadwork shop for a few years in the
mid-1970s. Basket work in northwest Botswana and a few weaving projects are the only
Because the Molepolole gardens can yield little insight into planning projects
specifically for women, the recommendations arising from this evaluation are practical
ones. The success of the dam group is encouraging. Their own concerns are specific,
focused on the development of their productive haven, a valuable resource in their
Most important, irrigation in Botswana deserves attention as a means of
employing poor rural women. The Molepolole site deserves expansion, as the group
itself hopes, and sites elsewhere in the country should be developed more quickly than
at present. The MoA Horticulture Unit takes three years to bring a site to
production, mostly because to form a group, they first seek 10-15 villagers willing to
pay P10 each. PO1 is a lot of cash for most women. Moreover, they wish for the
freedom to move freely in search of wage employment or to get to fields. Few are
willing to commit themselves so far in advance. Equally, it is not easy to arrange
regular meetings over Botswana's great distances with a horticultural officer from
Gaborone, the regional Group Development Officer, the local Agricultural Demonstrator,
a district land board officer, the local chief and interested members.
The KRDA experience is a good lesson. After gaining district approval, KRDA
prepared the site and only later did the garden group form. Excluding the time KRDA
ran the garden itself, the process of site preparation and group formation took less
than a year. Speed is especially crucial in the first stage of site selection, for
individual entrepreneurs are noticing the commercial potential of small-scale
horticulture. Already, two sites in Kweneng District at Thamaga and Kumakwane have
been claimed by individuals. In general, such initiatives should be applauded but
horticulture needs to be reserved as an enterprise of the poor. District land boards
allocate land on a first-come, first-served basis. The MoA Horticulture Unit gives
extension advice to larger entrepreneurs although it initiates projects only for
groups. Local and national authorities should zone all potential sites immediately
for group cultivation, on the Molepolole model, rather than waiting for specific
project plans. As first-come users, the Molepolole gardeners cannot be evicted from
their site but the adjacent site into which they hope to expand might be claimed first
by someone else. If sites are zoned for division into 500 sq m plots, only poorer
people, mostly women, will apply for them.
Once a suitable site is zoned for a garden group, the site should be prepared
for irrigation before a group is selected. Demand for plots can be estimated from a
quick count of the poor women who stay year round in the village. With a truck to
transport produce, gardens could be started at permanent dams in small ploughland
villages. Above all, it must be recognized that the poor cannot commit PO0 to a
promise which might take three years to materialise. To poor people, speed is of
- 19 -
The experience of the Molepolole gardens also reinforces the lesson that
self-employment in agriculture yields greater productivity than wage employment. The
profiles of the gardeners gave some insight into the workings of Botswana's
female-headed households. Some of the gardeners show that the presence of a husband
does not necessarily mean that he is the head or breadwinner. A household should not
be considered headed by a woman only if there is no adult male to claim that he is a
head. Increasingly, a woman is the head of the household, regardless of whether a man
Moreover, 'female-headed' households are implicitly judged to be missing
something: a male head. In Botswana, a woman has a large measure of responsibility
for domestic life partly because her labour is worth so much less than a man's cattle
or wage income. Nevertheless, women seem to be the heads of households even when men
are there. Are they better off without men? More than it needs a man, a woman's
compound needs a regular income. The Molepolole gardens give a few women that.
CSO Central Statistics Office
KRDA Kweneng Rural Development Association
MoA Ministry of Agriculture
MFDP Ministry of Finance and Development Planning
MLGL Ministry of Local Government and Lands
NIR National Institute of Economic and Cultural Research
NMS National Migration Survey
RB Republic of Botswana
RIDS Rural Income Distribution Survey
1. M. Bawden and A. Stobb: The Land Resources of Eastern Bechuanaland (Surrey,
2. J. Pike: 'Rainfall and evaporation in Botswana' (Gaborone, 1971).
3. C. Boocock and 0. van Straten: 'Notes on the geology and hydrogeology of the
central Kalahari region, Bechuanaland Protectorate', Transactions of the
Geological Society of South Africa, 65 (1962).
4. W. Duggan and L. Ellsworth: 'Communal area development in the Kweneng' (MLGL,
5. R. Silitshena: 'Changing settlement patterns in Botswana' (Ph.D. Thesis, Sussex
6. E. Roe: 'Development of livestock, agriculture and water supplies in eastern
Botswana' (Cornell University, 1980).
7. RB, MoA: 'Planning for development: Western Kweneng District' (1979).
8. M. Odell: 'Botswana's First Livestock Development Project' (Gaborone, 1980).
9. W. Duggan: 'The economics of ploughing in Botswana' (MoA, 1981).
10. C. Lightfoot: 'Broadcast planting in perspective' (MoA, 1981).
11. D. Eding: 'Report on village studies' (MoA, 1972); D. Eding and M. Sekgoma;
'Kweneng resource survey' (Gaborone, 1972).
12. R. Field; 'Patterns of settlement at the lands' (MoA, 1980).
13. I. Schapera: Native Land Tenure in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (Lovedale,
14. D. Curtis: 'The social organization of ploughing', in Botswana Notes and
Records (1972); 0. Gulbrandsen: 'Agro-pastoral production and communal land use
in Botswana' (MoA, 1980).
15. C. Kerven: 'The effects of migration on agricultural production', in RB,
CSO, Migration, Vol. 3; L. Fortmann, 'Women's agriculture in a cattle
economy' (MoA, 1981).
16. RB, MoA: Agricultural Statistics (1980), p. 104
17. T. Nkwe: 'Institutions and women in Botswana' (Harare, 1982), pp. 14-15.
18. S. Kossoudji and E. Mueller: 'The economic status of female-headed households
in rural Botswana' (Gaborone, 1979).
19. RB. MoA: Agricultural Statistics (1980), pp. 16, 61
20. D. Jackson: 'Income differentials and unbalanced planning', Journal of Modern
African Studies, 8 (1970); M. Lipton, 'Employment and labour use in Botswana'
21. E. Egner et al.: 'KRDA' (NIR, 1980), p. 5
CHIKUNI FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PRODUCERS' CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY, ZAMBIA A CASE STUDY
Mabel C. Milimo
Many rural women in most Third World countries are employed in the informal
sector such as in beer-brewing and fish selling. The majority are in subsistence
agriculture. In 82 developing countries outside Latin America recently surveyed by
the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), for example,
42 per cent of the agricultural labour force was female. The proportion ranged from
46 per cent in Asia to 40 per cent in the Caribbean and 31 per cent in North Africa
and the Middle East.1 In Africa, women play a particularly important role in
agricultural production. The above survey estimated that they contribute two-thirds
of all hours spent in subsistence agriculture and three-fifths of the time spent in
In Zambia, women form the majority of the adult rural population. Developments
under colonialism have greatly contributed to this situation. The migratory labour
system obtaining then resulted in males migrating to the South African and
Southern Rhodesian (today's Zimbabwe) mines and settler farms and later to
Northern Rhodesia's (as Zambia was then called) copperbelt. This initiated a process
in which the labour of women became the basis for rural production. This trend
persists in most rural areas today. Adequate statistics are lacking, but it is
estimated that women represent more than 53 per cent of the adult rural population.
The age group in which they are mostly represented is between 15 and 59 years, where
the ratio of males to females is 18 to 24. This indicates that the most productive
age group is mostly comprised of women.2
As a corollary, the needs of women employed in the rural sector are mostly
agriculture-related. These needs are many and may vary from region to region but
generally include access to and control over the means of production, such as land and
labour; appropriate techniques of production; various inputs, credit, extension
services and training; marketing facilities; and control over the product of labour.
Efforts and policies aimed at improving the employment conditions of rural women,
indeed of the rural poor generally, must strive to meet these and other needs inf order
to raise their productivity and increase their incomes.
Unfortunately, however, this important portion of the workforce is the most
neglected in development plans and projects. Both women's needs and their potential
contribution to the development effort are not fully realized and met. This is partly
due to the fact that much of the baseline data on which development plans and projects
are based ignore women's activities in the informal sector and subsistence
agriculture, which activities are not regarded as work or employment. As
Barbara Rogers observes: "Women who are not paid for their work are defined as
non-productive and in this case they are seen quite differently from men in a similar
situation."3 Since planners rarely plan for women in the informal sector and
subsistence agriculture and their needs, most government schemes aimed at improving
the conditions of rural workers are overwhelmingly directed at men even though it is
women who do most of the work.
This paper attempts to discuss and analyse the role of the Chikuni Fruit and
Vegetable Producers' Co-operative Society (hereafter Co-operative Society) in
promoting employment opportunities for women in a rural setting, especially in the
light of the problems highlighted above. The author decided to look at this
Co-operative Society's activities specifically because of its great potential to
achieve this. Particular attention will be paid to the way in which it is trying to
treat and solve some of the needs of women engaged in subsistence agriculture in the
bid to improve their productivity. Women's position will be compared to that of the
male members to see whether they are making any progress or whether the conditions
continue to favour men.
- 22 -
Chikuni, the location of the Co-operative Society, is an agricultural area and
the activities of the Co-operative Society are agriculture-related: production and
marketing of fruit and vegetables; preserving vegetables through sun-drying; making
and marketing marmalade and jam; distribution of the products; importing modern
methods of production; assisting in gaining access to credit. All these activities
are crucial to a rural community.
This is not to suggest that the Co-operative Society does not face problems.
Like most young organizations, especially rural ones, the Co-operative Society has its
problems. However, these are few and solvable. Once they have been sorted out, the
Co-operative Society would be a tremendous success in improving the employment
conditions of women. The author, therefore, hopes to make recommendations which can
be adopted by the Co-operative Society and in some way by the policy makers.
For a more comprehensive assessment of the Co-operative Society's activities and
its impact on primary sources, both written and oral, were relied on greatly. This
latter involved field work in which personal interviews were carried out with both
members and non-members at their work places, i.e. in their vegetable or fruit plots.
Thus the information was augmented with observation. The author also visited the
factory to talk with members and employees and to observe both the marketing
transactions and the food-processing activities. Finally, questionnaires to quantify
certain aspects of the Co-operative Society's activities and members' positions were
The Chikuni Fruit and Vegetable Co-operative Society is located in the Monze
District of Zambia's Southern Province. The district is situated on the Southern
Plateau and the inhabitants belong to the group commonly known as "Plateau Tonga".
The Tonga are matrilineal, thus descent and inheritance are traced through females.
Traditionally, theirs was an acephalous society where political organisation (as is
generally known), with an orderly relationship between groups or statuses mediated
through a set of official positions, does not seem to have existed. There was no
hierarchy of authority although there were a few prominent men who could be regarded
as chiefs but their control extended only over a few villages.
Rights in land were confined to arable land, members actually holding rights
only *in land under cultivation. The rights to graze stock, hunt or fish were
unrestricted. Arable but uncultivated land within a neighbourhood could be tilled by
anyone who, by so doing, acquired the rights. The users retained the rights until
death or removal from the village when, unless claimed by a family member, the land
regained its previous unclaimed status. The right to land was not determined by sex.
Men and women were equally eligible and many women had considerable holdings. Women's
rights in land became seriously affected under colonialism. The majority of them were
dispossessed as their families were pushed into reserves to make room for settler
farming. The size of land allocated to reserves was calculated on the basis of
households, the man obtaining land on behalf of his household. Although the old
social organisation is supposed to have been retained, soon, pressures on the limited
arable land led to more strict land administration in which more men than women
obtained the rights in land. This trend persists today. In the settlements which
have been set up on formerly European settler lands, title is usually given to the
husband who is regarded as head of the family.
The chief occupation of the Tonga people is agriculture and the Southern
Province is generally referred to as "the Grain Store of Zambia". The Province has
had a relatively successful agricultural history unlike other peoples in the southern
African region, including parts of Zambia, whose agricultural productivity suffered
under colonial development.
The Plateau Tonga prospered during this era. They emerged as a formidable
peasantry who began to compete for the local market with European settler farmers, a
development which was frustrated 'by the colonial Government committed to protecting
- 23 -
and promoting settlers. Albeit, Tonga peasants remained sufficiently productive to
curtail a high rate of labour migration from Plateau Tongaland. This ensured a
reasonably steady supply of labour for agricultural production. In the early 1950s, a
leading anthropologist was able to comment:
The Tonga have been fortunate among the peoples of Northern Rhodesia in that
they find themselves in a position which permits the continued presence of the
husband and father as an active member of the family unit ... and that ... over
the years there has been a steady decline in the length of time that men spend
in employment, and an increase in the number of men who have never been away to
Another important contributory factor towards the emergence of a peasantry was
the fact that the Plateau Tonga were able to innovate and improve their methods of
production. Of particular importance was the adoption of ox-drawn implements which
enabled them to cultivate more efficiently and to transport their produce. A number
of Christian missions located in the Province facilitated this process by teaching the
people modern methods of agriculture. Chikuni Mission, founded in 1905, was foremost
and influential in this respect. The Mission priests introduced the plough and
actively campaigned for its adoption and diffusion among the Tonga. According to
extant testimonies, "the plough was appreciated at once" and was diffused quite
rapidly.5 In the early 1950s, more than 50 per cent of the Plateau Tonga population
These factors greatly helped to offset effects caused by land and marketing
constraints. Thus, the peasant productive capacity continued to increase. Tonga
peasants were even able to meet the post-World War II imperial demand for agricultural
produce.7 In independent Zambia, they have continued as a prosperous farming
community. Their contribution to food production has been tremendous. Maize,
Zambia's main food crop, remains the chief cash crop grown in the area. Southern
Province's contribution to national food requirements can be seen from the following
Table 1: Maize Intake by Official Marketing Organisations by Province
(90 kg bag)
PROVINCE 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981
Lusaka 413336 253715 180603 191813 327183
Central 2510052 2785588 2844008 3948236 2865385 2163965 1233917 1518583 2673693
Southern 1171595 1969822 2335657 3073459 3076981 2910824 1554874 1554452 3038845
Copperbelt 132467 24530 33330 71872 70116 51308 41790 35188 37435
Luapula 15596 16105 17644 25216 32288 34286 18407 19209 30044
N.Western 25728 29372 28567 38091 40055 34051 31549 15541 41540
Western 14660 30123 74418 80419 85733 39456 33605 13611 42551
Eastern 509937 612161 769576 912122 942089 771628 517371 739743 1184235
Northern 58984 66632 113255 183607 212364 203034 120763 159264 328273
TOTAL 4435019 6534333 6216455 8333022 7738347 6462847 3732879 4247404 7703794
* Then part of Central Province
Source: Republic of Zambia, Central Statistics Office: Annual Agricultural
Statistical Bulletin, 1981
- 24 -
The process of peasantisation described above gradually led to the emergence of
two main types of farmers: the emergent and subsistence or traditional cultivators,
only few peasants having developed into large-scale farmers. Emergent farmers are
defined as "significantly involved in market transactions and farming in the 10-40
hectare range". They have adopted some modern methods of production. Traditional or
subsistence farming is defined as "under five hectares with no or few cash sales and
no or low purchase of inputs".8 The cash sales are also irregular. There are no
statistics on the number of farmers belonging to each of these categories. The
Province as a whole still harbours a substantial number of subsistence farmers, some
of them actually on the plateau Tongaland, albeit fewer than elsewhere.
Women have emerged as the most underprivileged group of farmers. They form the
largest proportion in the lower ranks of the emergent farmers while they are the
largest single group among subsistence cultivators. Their productivity in
pre-capitalist agricultural production had in many cases been higher than that of
men. But twentieth century developments affected them adversely. Above, we have
referred briefly to the changes to women's rights in land brought about by the land
developments. Muntemba has ably demonstrated that, in fact, women's ability to
produce and supply food has deteriorated partly as a result of the developments taking
place in the land tenure systems. Policies and schemes aimed at improving peasant
agriculture, in fact, have been directed at male farmers.
THE CHIKUNI FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PRODUCERS' CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY
Historical Background; The Chikuni Nutrition Group
The Chikuni Fruit and Vegetable Producers' Co-operative Society was initiated by
the Chikuni Nutrition Group (hereafter Group) in 1977. Therefore, in order to
understand clearly the origin and objectives of the Co-operative Society, it is useful
to appreciate this mother body. The Group was initiated in 1970 by a local Zambian
nun, Sister Lwanga, mainly for disadvantaged and poor women. This nun was moved by
the high incidence of malnutrition in the area. Thus, the Group's aims and objectives
a) encourage the objective study of problems regarding nutrition and related
problems in Zambia;
b) arrange lectures, talks, courses and demonstrations on the subject of
c) make use of such visual aids and other educational materials as are
available and arrange an exhibition at a convenient time to impress on the
general public the urgency of the problem of malnutrition;
d) assist in the creation and distribution of educational material in the
field of nutrition;
e) sale of nutritional foods at the cheapest rate possible.
During the first three years, the Group's main activity was to market and sell
nutritionally useful foods which it purchased from the National Food and Nutrition
Commission (Commission) based in Lusaka. High protein foods such as dried kapenta
(dry fish), tinned fish, beans, milk and other items such as salt and cooking oil were
sold very cheaply to women's clubs and under-five clinics. In order for these foods
to reach as many people as possible, the Group had, by 1978, established 31 women's
clubs which were scattered over a radius of 160 km from Chikuni. The clubs were
mainly welfare oriented where nutrition, child care and some sewing were taught.
Women who came to these clubs were given courses in babycare, cookery and sewing.
Those who successfully completed the courses received certificates.
Between 1973 and 1977, the Group began to shift its emphasis from re-selling of
imported foods to that of encouraging production and marketing of locally produced
foods especially fruits and vegetables. Several factors seem to have contributed to
- 25 -
this shift. Firstly, the success of re-selling.of foodstuffs depended on their
availability at the Commission in Lusaka which in turn depended mostly on outside
agencies for donations in kind or cash. When the Commission could not provide, the
Group experienced shortages. Secondly, since the Group was a non-profit-making body,
it soon encountered financial problems. As noted, the Group used to buy foodstuffs
from Lusaka and sell them to women's clubs at very low prices. The little profit
which was realized was hardly enough to pay staff. Thus, to maintain its staff, it
depended on donations from the Commission, the Government and Oxfam (UK). Same of the
contributions, especially those from local sources, were erratic and insufficient.
Between June 1971 and August 1977, the most consistent source of income was Oxfam. In
1971 Oxfam had agreed to assist by making a grant of K2,046 (then Kl.0 =cUS$1.24)
annually for the salaries of the organiser and an assistant organiser and for meeting
part of the running costs of the Group's vehicle.10 By 1977, however, Oxfam had cut
its contribution by half in a bid "to phase out its support for Nutrition
Groups".11 This move affected the Group's finances very badly. As the Group's
Honorary secretary commented in 1978: "The Group's financial position is
deteriorating steeply ... unless money is found urgently to keep the Group's work, the
valuable contribution which has been rendered to the people of this part of the
country will have to be folded up".12
It was, thus, largely due to shortage of nutritious foods at certain periods and
financial constraints that emphasis began to shift from reliance on food stuffs bought
from outside to handling locally produced foods.
During this period, the Group introduced a programme to produce the required
foods, in particular, fruits and vegetables. It started a fruit nursery from which
seedlings of banana suckers, guavas, oranges, mangoes and lemon trees were sold to the
villagers. With the help of the Chikuni Mission and outside aid, some wells and a few
small dams were built in selected areas to enable production during the dry season.
Local peasants, including married and unmarried women, took advantage of this
opportunity and began to grow vegetables and fruit for sale. The Group provided the
market and in turn sold the vegetables to institutions and surrounding villages. Men
began to take an interest and to participate actively in the Group's programmes
because of the prospect of a market for their produce.
By 1974, more vegetables were being produced than could be distributed. The
Group decided to start a vegetable sun-drying project. In this way, vegetables could
be preserved for sale during the scarce months to ensure an all-year round
supply.13 With the help of the Commission, modern technology for drying vegetables
was introduced. This enabled substantial improvements in the quantity and quality of
the final products. Between September and October 1974, about 100 kg of cabbage and
rape were experimentally dried. The vegetables were sold in small plastic bags of 100
to 200 g. By 1975, the project had improved appreciably and from mid-September to the
end of October that year the Group processed about 100 kg of fresh vegetables each
working day. The scheme proved popular with local farmers. It provided a market for
about 3,300 kg of fresh vegetables which might otherwise have gone to waste.
The dried vegetables were sold to the surrounding villages, thus providing them
with relief during the dry months when their own production was deficient. The
vegetables were also sold to the local secondary school, to a nearby teachers'
training college and to the Mission hospital at Chikuni.
In 1975, too, the Group embarked on a second project: jam and
marmalade-making. The idea was to preserve surplus fruit. Jam and marmalade were
produced from citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons which grow quite extensively
in the Chikuni area. Other fruits, such as gooseberries and guavas were also used in
jam-making. In the early days of the project, the Group produced 10 to 15 kg of jam
per day, most of which was sold to the local secondary school. The quantity increased
quite appreciably by 1977.
- 26 -
During the initial period, the executive committee together with the help of
some Mission staff ran and organised the projects. By 1977, however, the emphasis had
shifted corresponding to the shift in the Group's orientation. Then, the village
people themselves participated in running the projects. This called for a different
type of organisation. It was decided to form a Society in which the Group would hold
shares: "... the project is to provide a base for a village type agro-industry and to
involve the village people in running such a project. The (Nutrition) Group feels
that for the people to feel really involved and be part of the project, it should be
turned into a co-operative in which the Group will hold shares."14
Thus, in 1977, the Group, together with some villagers, formed a Fruit and
Vegetable Marketing Producers' Co-operative Society.
The objectives of the Co-operative Society were to:
(a) provide a market for vegetable produce when there is a glut;
(b) establish agriculturally based industries;
(c) provide a local supply of nutritious foods;
(d) provide employment, especially for young people who have not found a place
in secondary schools.
According to available data, the Group's final goal was to hand over the running
of the business and the Society's affairs to the farmers. For the first two years
after the Society's formation, the Group worked together with its Executive Committee
until the Society was formally registered in 1979.
Membership and Organisation
The Co-operative Society's major decision-making body is the Executive
Committee. The Group is represented by only one member on this Committee, the rest
are farmers plus the Manager of the jam and vegetable factory at Chikuni.
Membership in the Co-operative Society is open to both men and women and is not
restricted to former members of the Group although these may join as individuals.
Each member is required to pay a fee of K100 which entitles her/him to the status of a
shareholder in the Society. K100 is an unusually high figure for a primary
co-operative society's capital shares, especially in view of the fact that it admits
mostly small-peasant farmers. Elsewhere in the country, shares are much lower at
K20. However, because of the financial problems experienced by the parent body, the
Group felt that the Co-operative Society should start off on firm ground, allowing it
to be financially self-sufficient. Moreover, belonging to farming communities, it
was felt that would-be members should be in a position to raise the required amount
through sales of agricultural produce.
Several categories of membership have emerged since the Co-operative Society's
inception. Although presently (September 1984) there are 70 paid-up members, the
number of people participating in its activities is much higher. This is because
spouses of paid-up members can become members by virtue of their association although
shares are paid to full members only. A large proportion of members have brought
their spouses along. Out of 73 respondents, 25 had spouse members through
associations, 15 were men who had joined without their spouses while eight women had
joined independently. The main reason given for membership through association was
that it was cheaper since such members are not required to pay. Those joining by
virtue of their spouses do not have to pay the K100 fee. In 1984, all members through
association were women.
- 27 -
Membership is restricted primarily to subsistence and small-emergent farmers in
order to encourage the poorest to produce a surplus for sale. Large-scale farmers do
not qualify for membership.
Eight per cent of the members obtained lower primary school education (1-4
years); about 10 per cent acquired upper primary school (5-7 years) while the
remaining 10 per cent never even attended school. That there has been mission
activities in education in this area since 1905 explains why at least 90 per cent of
respondents have been to school, be it only for one year.
The Executive Committee runs the affairs of the Co-operative Society. It
consists of seven office holders; chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, vice-secretary,
treasurer, manager (currently a Dutch volunteer) and an official from the Development
Office of the Diocese of Monze. The Agricultural Extension Officer sits on the
Committee as an observer. All the seven members are men. The only woman on the
Committee is the Agricultural Extension Officer. The Executive Committee makes all
policy decisions. Ordinary members participate in the affairs of the Society at the
Annual General Meetings and also through meetings with Committee members when they
visit members in their villages. It appears that women do not participate in this
high policy-making body mainly for social reasons. Women had not participated much in
areas of wider social responsibilities, such as those of political and ritual
leaderships. Less women than men had received education. Moreover, their domestic
responsibilities, whether as wives or household heads do not leave them sufficient
time for activities required of Executive Committee members.
At its inception, the Co-operative Society took over the activities of the Group
- vegetable production and marketing; jam and marmalade-making and vegetable drying.
a) Vegetable Production and Marketing
The Co-operative Society encourages both male and female members to grow fruits
and vegetables. They grow fruits like oranges, guavas, mangoes, grapefruit, bananas
and a few others plus vegetables such as rape, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, carrots and
chomolia. Members grow these on their own pieces of land in their villages. Land in
the sample area is obtained mainly as gifts from relatives and through inheritance.
Approximately 51 per cent of the respondents obtained land as gifts from relatives -
fathers, uncles and brothers; while 34 per cent claim to have obtained the land
through inheritance. A smaller number (18 per cent) obtained the land from the
headman. No member claimed to have bought the land.
An interesting situation exists among the female members. Only three
(9 per cent) of the 33 respondents claimed to have obtained the land on which they
cultivate their vegetables from their husbands. We shall discuss the reasons for this
trend later but it is important to note that the majority (60 per cent) grow the
vegetables on land independently obtained from sources other than their husbands.
About 12 per cent grow the vegetables on family plots together with their spouses.
Generally, family labour is used. However, a substantial number of the members
(63 per cent) claim to hire labour for short periods, normally at peak periods. This
labour force is small, ranging between one and ten. Hired labour is paid mostly in
cash but also in kind. The implement used in vegetable cultivation is mostly the
hoe. This is largely because vegetable plots are much smaller than, for example, the
maize fields, often less than a hectare in size. A few members who cultivate a
hectare or more use the ox-drawn plough. The vegetable gardens are nearly always
located near a river or in damboes (water-logged depressions characterized by black
soils) to ensure an all-year round water supply. The fruit gardens, on the other
hand, are usually situated near the homesteads.
- 28 -
Members sell their produce to the Co-operative Society which in turn resells it
to the local boarding school, local college, the hospital and villagers in and around
Chikuni. The Co-operative Society owns a van by which produce is collected and
distributed. The surplus fruit is made into jam and marmalade while surplus
vegetables are dried. These activities take place at the Co-operative Society's
factory situated at the Mission. The factory is run by a manager. It employs six
school leavers who process the fruit and vegetables.
b) Jam and marmalade-making
In the jam and marmalade production project, basically the same ingredients as
were used by the Group are adopted. These are citrus fruits like oranges and lemons,
guavas and gooseberries plus additives such as citric acid, pectin and benzoate. The
quality of the jam and marmalade is as good as any produced by larger industries. The
jars used for bottling are purchased from a glass factory in the country. The jam has
now reached a much wider public than in the pre-1977 days. It is sold in the Chikuni
area to the local boarding school and college and village stores. It is also sold in
large quantities to the big parastatal shops (semi-independent enterprises in which
the Government has a controlling interest) in Lusaka and to stores in other parts of
Zambia. It is largely from jam sales that much of the Co-operative Society's income
is derived. For example, in 1978 the Co-operative Society realized a profit of
K34,000 mostly from jam sales.
c) Vegetable Drying
Another income earner for the Co-operative Society is the vegetable drying
project which was also inherited from the Group. As already noted, the project was
initiated to respond to the situation of vegetable wastage. The main vegetables that
are thus preserved are cabbage, rape, tomatoes, onions and carrots, using a simple but
effective method for preserving vegetables. The vegetables are first cut into fine
slices, then washed thoroughly. They are then dipped in boiling water for about 60
seconds. Blanching helps to prevent rotting or deterioration during drying and helps
the vegetable to re-absorb moisture when it is about to be cooked. After blanching,
the vegetables are spread on wooden frames covered with plastic fly-screens for drying
in the sun. The dry vegetables are sold mostly to local institutions like schools,
the hospital and college and to the villagers. Dry vegetables last much longer. In
Zambia, they are known to last up to two years. It is therefore possible for the
Co-operative Society to stock-pile for sale during the months of scarcity.
Land Ownership and Control
Because of the production orientation of the Co-operative Society's activities,
one of the conditions for membership is land ownership. This poses a big problem for
most women who normally do not own land. We have noted above how colonial and
post-colonial land developments have resulted in the dispossession of women's land
rights. When women have obtained land, it has been mostly through their husbands.
The produce from the women's garden is used mainly to feed the household while men
have concentrated on cash crops.15 Among the sampled households, however, a new
situation seems to be emerging. Partly because of the requirement for land ownership,
the majority of female members have sought to obtain land, independently of their
husbands, from relatives or through village officials. Seventy-eight per cent of the
female respondents obtained land as gifts from relatives, through village headmen with
the help of Co-operative Society officials and by inheritance. Only a small number,
9 per cent, have acquired land through their husbands. The other 13 per cent
cultivate household land with their spouses which land is controlled by the husband.
A possible explanation for the large number of women obtaining land from
relatives and sources other than husbands is that they have become increasingly aware
of the limitations on control over land use and produce this imposes. The husband
decides how much land is to be allocated to which crop. If a wife produces a surplus,
- 29 -
she may sell it only with the husband's consent and he may insist upon a division of
the proceeds often taking a larger portion. If the husband dies or the couple
divorce, she abandons her claim to the land. But if the woman obtained land through
sources other than the husband, she has absolute control over it, deciding what to
grow. She may sell the surplus without consulting the husband, determining the
distribution of the proceeds. On death of the husband or a divorce, her rights in
land are not interfered with.
The requirement that members should be in possession of a piece of land for
vegetable production is particularly speeding up the process. The table below
illustrates means by which female members of the Co-operative Society have acquired
Table 2: Women's Source of Land
No. of women out of 33 Percentage
Given by husband 3 9.1
Given by uncle/father/brother 12 36.3 )
Given by headman 6 18.2 ) 78.7
Inherited 8 24.2 )
Bought 0 0.0
No response 4 12.2
A number of women seem to have reasonable control over the produce and the
income realized from the sales. Women who have joined the Co-operative Society
independently seem to be in a stronger position regarding control over this income.
The sample of women who have joined the Co-operative Society independently included
married, single, widowed and divorced women. All the fully paid-up female members,
irrespective of marital status, sell what they produce in their own name and
separately from their husband if married. They are able to make decisions over the
income realized without consulting their husbands. An interesting and encouraging
situation also exists among couples where one is a member through association. Both
husband and wife seem to have joint control over the income realized. This is
particularly the case among couples where the wife cultivates land independently
obtained even though produce is sold to the Co-operative Society, together with the
husband's who is the fully paid-up member. On the other hand, that they sell produce
through the husband tends to limit the degree to which women who are members through
the spouse can control the income independently of the husband. The encouraging
factor, however, is that they are at least able to make decisions over the income
together with their husbands. About 13 per cent of the female members still depend on
the husband for decisions over the income realized from the sales. These are the
women cultivating the land jointly with the husbands who own the land and therefore
have the ultimate control.
- 30 -
Table 3: Decision over Income realized from Vegetable Production
Who Decides Total Men Women Percentage
out of 73 Men Women
Self 35 25 10 34 14
women who are
Spouse 10 0 10 0 13
Self & spouse 26 13 13 18 18
ation but where
women own land
No response 2 2 0 3 0
73 40 33 55 45
Production skills are one of the benefits farmers gain from membership of the
Co-operative Society. The Co-operative Society has its own extension officer who
assists the farmers. The officer was seconded by the Ministry of Co-operatives. This
extension worker, presently a female, is much more mobile than the average extension
officer who experiences the perennial problem of lack of transport. The extension
officer was provided with a motor bike which enables her to move easily over the rural
terrain. She meets each farmer at least once a month. All the members agreed that
she visits them regularly, usually more than once a month. That she is female has the
added advantage of her being able to communicate easily with both men and women. In
some cases, women are reluctant to talk to strange men in the absence of their
husbands, while male farmers seem to welcome any source of useful information,
Farmers learn how to prevent and control disease in plants; how to use
fertilisers and pesticides; they are taught how to select seeds and how to improve
yield generally. The Co-operative Society owns and cultivates a vegetable garden
outside the factory. This is used for demonstration purposes to the farmers. They
grow and care for their plants in order to obtain the best results possible. The
Co-operative Society also sells seed to the members, packaged in small enough
quantities to enable farmers with less cash to meet the cost. Thus, members are
assured of seed when they need some. Seed inavailability or the long distances
- 31 -
involved in getting to the store has, in some cases, affected productivity. The
extension worker helps the Co-operative Society in both obtaining and distributing
The extension services seem to be yielding positive results. Seventy-one per
cent of those interviewed stated that they have advantageously changed their methods
of production since joining the Co-operative Society. One female member commented
excitedly how before she became a member, she used to experience a lot of problems
with her cabbages and tomatoes. Now, she is able to deal with the problems. Of the
33 female respondents, 63 per cent claim to have improved their methods of production
due to the extension services which they receive.
Table 4: Effects on Methods of Production
Have methods of No. of Percentage No. of No. of % of % of women
production members men women men women out of 33
improved out of 73 interviewed
Yes 52 71.4 31 21 43 28.6 63.6
No 14 19.1 6 8 8 11.0 24.3
Not sure 7 9.5 3 4 4 5.4 12.1
73 100.0 40 33 55 45 100.0
Credit availability is an important factor in improving farmers' productivity.
It is particularly important in the purchasing of inputs. Unfortunately, women
producers find it difficult to obtain credit. Most sources of credit for small-scale
farmers demand conditions which are hard to fulfil by the majority of female farmers -
as applicants' previous loan history, the viability of the proposed enterprise,
applicants' agricultural experience (experience being always judged by adoption of
modern methods and participation in the wider market), the applicants' ability to
utilise the inputs and proof that they would repay the loan. For most women, it is
hard to prove their agricultural competence since they usually work for their husbands
in the first place or they grow subsistence crops which seldom reach the market.
Rarely do they have a private savings account and thus no previous business
connections with banks. Neither can most female farmers meet the requirement of
collateral security for their credit. The result is that most female farmers do not
qualify for credit facilities and hence very few are able to borrow from banks. The
national total number of female applications for credit to the Agricultural Finance
Company in 1982/83, for example, is given as 945, to the value of K144 004, compared
with 45 853 applications from men amounting to K260 551 279.16 Yet the number of
women engaged in farming in the country is higher than that of men.
The Co-operative Society does not yet have lending facilities. However, it
works closely with the local Credit Union, the Chikuni Credit Union (Union), and
encourages members to join it. The Union was initiated help to small farmers iq the
area. Therefore, it has much softer terms than the banks. Forty-nine per cent of the
Co-operative Society's members have already joined the Union while 37 per cent had
joined the Union before becoming Co-operative Society members. Union members claim to
have borrowed cash ranging from K83 to K5 000 at any one time.
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BENEFITS TO MEMBERS AND INDICATORS OF SUCCESS
The activities of the Co-operative Society have great potential for success
because of their benefits to members of both sexes. This is particularly the case
with the fruit and vegetable production projects described above. The Co-operative
Society recognizes the employment needs of both men and women in a rural setting.
Chikuni, as already noted, is an agricultural area where people's employment needs are
mostly agriculture-related. Their needs include land and control of its produce,
services, markets and inputs. In the past, and indeed in most development projects
today, schemes which strive to improve farmers' yields have concentrated on male
farmers. Women are left to struggle on their own even though they spend more time in
agricultural activities than the men. The Co-operative Society on the contrary tries
to provide services and conditions for improving the farmers' productivity to both men
and women. Furthermore, the services are given to the people who need them most the
poor subsistence farmers of both sexes.
Perhaps the Co-operative Society's most attractive feature to the farmers is the
availability of a market. Nearly all the respondents gave "market availability" as
their main reason for joining the Co-operative Society. When asked to assess the
merits of the Co-operative Society's activities, the overwhelming response was
marketing and market availability. Currently, there does not seem to be any danger of
flooding the market in the area, credit going largely to the jam and dried-vegetable
projects which absorb much of the surplus. Similar projects are known to have
collapsed because the market was flooded with vegetables soon after the inception of
vegetable-growing projects. The Chikuni area is advantageously situated, in close
proximity to other relatively populous centres like Monze, Pemba, Chisekesi and Gwembe
Boma. These places are located on some of the best all-weather roads in the
district. Should the market at Chikuni become saturated, the Co-operative Society can
always explore the possibility of capturing the markets in these areas. It can easily
transport members' produce because it owns a van. These alternatives exist in its
Another important factor which ensures the Co-operative Society's great
potential for success is that it enables members to raise income. Members sell their
produce to the Co-operative Society, keeping the income so realized. The majority are
realising quite a reasonable income from these sales. In 1983, members fetched an
average of K142 while a number hit the K2,000 mark. In addition to income realized
through sales, members are each year given a percentage of their original share
capital (6 per cent in 1982/83) of the profit realized by Co-operative Society. They
make another 7 per cent bonus on all produce sold to the society. Members are free
either to take away these annual payments or to leave them in the society to increase
their share capital. A good number of the women (44 per cent) feel that the income
realized from the fruit and vegetable sales has made them less dependent on their
The initial objective of the Co-operative Society's mother-body, the Nutrition
Group, was to combat malnutrition through importing and re-selling nutritious foods at
cheaper prices. The Co-operative Society has fulfilled the Group's shift from
importing and re-selling to production and marketing. Therefore, it continues to
achieve this initial objective of combating malnutrition by enabling production of
nutritious foods locally, making them available to the local community; and also by
increasing women's income which is generally used for the benefit of their families,
especially children. It is difficult to quantify the effect of the Co-operative
- 33 -
Society's activities in combating malnutrition but. it should be emphasised that an
indigenous answer to the problem of malnutrition is emerging. Dependence on aid and
imported food stuffs has been lessened. It may soon be eliminated.
CONSTRAINTS AND PROBLEMS
The Co-operative Society is a relatively young organisation. It is faced with a
number of constraints and problems which need to be resolved to enable full
participation by all members and to ensure its smooth running.
One of the main constraints is the women's lack of representation on the
Executive Committee. This limits their participation in the decision-making process,
affecting the Co-operative Society's direction. As noted, all the seven Committee
members are men, the only woman who attends the meetings being the extension worker in
her ex officio capacity. This is an unfortunate situation especially when remembered
that the Group's initial target was women. Since the inception of the Co-operative
Society which took over the activities and objectives of the Group, men have
outnumbered women and they are virtually running the organisation. Women only
participate in the General Meetings, while decision-making has become the preserve of
men. Although women are benefiting from the services of the Co-operative and the
income realized from the sales, the overall success of the Society will be fully
determined by their participation in the decision-making process.
Another constraint is the non-participation of members of both sexes in the
processing of jam and marmalade and in the drying of vegetables. The Co-operative
Society employs a manager and a few school leavers. These carry out the jam and
marmalade-making and vegetable sun-drying projects. Members simply provide the fruit
and vegetables. They have no idea of how the final product is made. As far as the
two projects are concerned, therefore, there has been no successful transfer of
skills. Left on their own, members would not be able to run similar enterprises nor
operate the technology used. In fact, even among the factory workers, critical skills
such as quality control are only possessed by the factory manager. As far as the
production process in the factory is concerned, neither male nor female members
benefit through new skills and employment. In this respect, then, the major value
lies in market provision and employment opportunity for some youths who would
otherwise remain unemployed.
Thirdly, members complained of late payments for their produce. Normally, they
are not paid on the same day as they deliver the produce. Instead, they are given a
receipt showing the amount owed. Sometimes, farmers wait for as long as a month or
more for their payments. This is an unfortunate situation since timely payments are a
very important factor towards farmers' productivity. For instance, the buying of
inputs can only be done in good time if the payments are made on time.
High membership fee is another constraint which restricts participation by some
producers. It discourages interested people from joining. As mentioned above, women
who have joined through their husbands' membership are not able to benefit fully from
the activities of the Co-operative Society. For example, they can only sell their
produce alongside their spouses. This restricts their full control of the income.
Further, the only paid-up member only receives the shares. The woman has absolutely
no control over this income. If the fees were to be lowered, more women would join
independently as well as other producers in the area.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This paper has argued that as agriculturists, the employment needs of people in
the Chikuni area are most agriculture-related. The activities of the Co-operative
Society are a potential success because they recognize these needs and attempt to tap
them by providing facilities such as extension services, marketing and distribution of
produce, purchasing of inputs at reasonable rates and encouraging land ownership by
- 34 -
both sexes. In most development schemes these facilities have been the preserve of
men but the Co-operative Society provides them for the benefit of both sexes. It has
further been pointed out that the Co-operative Society has been quite a success in
encouraging local production of nutritious foods. This has helped in finding a local
answer to combat malnutrition and, therefore, lessening dependency on outside agencies
The paper also considered the constraints and problems, such as high membership
fees, late payments for members' produce and lack of participation at the executive
level. Among these, the most urgent are the lack of women's participation in the
policy-making body and late payments. The Co-operative Society's work would be a
greater success if these and other constraints and problems were resolved.
For the Co-operative Society to be regarded as a complete success, therefore, we
suggest the following steps aimed at improving the situation:
(i) Women must be encouraged to participate in the decision-making body. This will
ensure full participation by both sexes in the affairs and direction of the
(ii) The Co-operative Society should continue to encourage women to acquire land in
their own right. This will ensure women's rights in land, their control over
such land and its produce, control over their own labour as well as control over
the income realized from its produce. Women must also be encouraged to join the
Co-operative Society independently of their husbands and to sell what they
produce separately in their own name. This can be done by lowering the
membership fees, probably to K20, as is the case with other primary societies in
the country. Women would then gain greater control over the income realized
from their sales.
(iii) A formula for timely payments for members' produce must be worked out as soon as
possible to enable members to plan for the following agricultural season's
activities in good time.
(iv) All members, irrespective of sex, must be encouraged to participate in the
food-processing projects. This will ensure the successful transfer of skills in
those agroi-industries and increase employment opportunities for members who
wish to establish similar small-scale agroi-industries.
(v) The Co-operative Society should diversify its operations by encouraging the
production of a greater variety of nutritious foods, such as soya beans and
poultry. This would greatly help to meet the original objective of combating
(vi) Certain features of the Co-operative Society's activities could be adopted by
policy makers at the macro level. Foremost of these is the provision of
facilities directed at both men and women as equal participants in the
workforce. For example, extension services, credit, land ownership and its
control, etc. should be directed at both men and women farmers in all government
schemes. This would ensure increased productivity for all sections of the
farming community. In a country like Zambia where the majority of the
population in most rural areas are women, such a move would help greatly in
improving the food situation. Such a policy would go a long way in meeting the
Government's policy of diversifying the economy and lessening the dependence on
- 35 -
1. FAO Feature: "Woman Tops House Work", in Sunday Times of Zambia, 16 September
1984; see also Barbara Rogers: The Domestication of women: discrimination in
developing societies (London, 1980), Ch. 7; Jean M. Due and T. Mudenda with
Patricia White: "omen's Contribution made visible: from farm market women to
farming systems and household income in Zambia", University of Zambia, Rural
Studies Developing Bureau Report, 1982 (Lusaka, mimeographed).
2. National Food and Nutrition Commission: "Report on the situation and needs of
food suppliers: women of Zambia" (Lusaka, 1982).
3. Rogers: op. cit., p.62.
4. E. Colson: Marriage and family among the Plateau Tonga (Manchester University
Press, 1967), p.66.
5. J. Moreau: "The Chikuni Mission: How it came to be started in 1905",
(mimeographed), cited in K.P. Vickery, "The making of a peasantry: imperialism
and the Tonga Plateau economy, 1890-1939" (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University,
6. T.S. Trent: "Colonial Social Accounting: an appreciation of Phyllis Dean's
Colonial Social Accounting, Part 1: The Economics of Northern Rhodesia and
Nyasaland", in The Rhodes-Livingstone Journal (Lusaka), No. 18, 1955.
7. Vickery: op. cit., p. 390.
8. A. Chilivumbo et. al.: "Demographic Impact of Agricultural Modernization",
University of Zambia, Rural Development Studies Bureau Report, 1983 (Lusaka;
9. S. Muntemba: "Women as Food Producers and Suppliers in the Twentieth Century:
The Case of Zambia", in Development Dialogue" (Uppsala), 1982, 1-2, pp. 29-50.
10. Fr. Moriaty to Vamoer, 18.1.77, No. 40, in Chikuni Nutrition Group, file held by
the National Food and Nutrition Commission, Lusaka.
11. A.P. Vamoer to Assistant Field Director 10.2.77, ibid.
12. Hon. Secretary, E.H. Michello to Executive Secretary, National Food and
Nutrition Commission, Lusaka, 13 March 1978, ibid.
13. Most of what follows is based on information extracted from interviews; The
Chikuni Nutrition Group file, ibid.
14. A.P. Vamoer, to M.T. Young, (Oxfam), 15 June 1977, ibid.
15. Colson: op. cit., p. 70; W. Allan et. al. Landholding and land usage among
the Plateau Tonga of Mazabuka District: a reconnaissance survey (Manchester
University Press, 1968).
16. Bank of Zambia: Agricultural lending policies in Zambia with special reference
to women (Lusaka, 1983).
PALM-OIL PRODUCTION AND FISH TRADE AT UJIJI,
KIGOMA REGION, TANZANIA
This chapter examines the agricultural labour processes at the household level,
relating it to women's participation in different kinds of employment. Specifically,
it looks at the division of labour and output distribution in the farming and
non-farming activities, including palm-oil, fish and petty trading.
To gain a deeper insight into the area and activities, different research tools
were used: archival sources for the relevant socio-economic background and history of
palm-oil production and fish trading; and in-depth cross-sectional interviews. Ujiji
society is highly stratified and interviews reflected the three categories poor,
middle and rich households. (Land ownership was used as the variable. Poor
households were those owning less than five acres for year-round palm-oil
production, this is the least required acreage; middle households owned five to ten
acres; and the rich owned an average of 41 acres.) Interviews also represented the
various occupations: producers, fish and petty traders in other items.
Ujiji occupies a rare break in the high wall of hills which fringe the
north-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. As they approach Ujiji, these highlands
subside into low plains through which Lwiche and Malagarasi rivers pass to spill into
the Lake.1 The fertile lowlands are called Luanda and have provided the traditional
farming area for the peasant population of Ujiji.
Ujiji was founded in the eighteenth century as a small fishing village by the
Wajiji (from whom the name is derived). In the nineteenth century, it started to
flourish as a crossroads-trading town. There was an influx of settlers from the Congo
while thousands of people moved from the western shores of the Lake to the east. A
flourishing trade developed between the eastern and western shores of the Lake. The
chief commodities exchanged were salt, dried fish and palm-oil. Palm-oil ranked
second only to salt as the main item of trade from the east. The west provided ivory
and slaves. Traditionally, palm-oil extraction was women's activity. Therefore, it
is likely that women participated in this trade. As local skill and occupational
specialisation proliferated, the Jiji emerged as professional middlemen. Ujiji became
an important base and acted as a depot for long-distance trade to Katanga and
Angola.2 Today, the area still maintains the history of being in a single trade
zone with Zaire, Burundi, Rwanda and Zambia. It has a population of 39,507 and a
growth rate of 8 per cent per annum.3
Despite its rich commercial history, Ujiji remains mainly an agricultural area
and enjoys a good rainfall of between 100-140 cm. A variety of yams, vegetables,
maize, beans, manioc, cowpeas, groundnuts, banana plants, sweet potatoes and citrus
fruits are grown. In addition, goats are kept. The Western Research Station,
situated at Ukiliguru, about 30 km south of Mwanza, is responsible for carrying out
agricultural field trials in Kigoma Region. However, the region has received little
attention in the field of crop research; since 1966 it has not been included in any
district crop trial programmes. As no comprehensive research to test variety and
yield responses has been done throughout the region's agro-economic zones, the Western
Research Centre's published trial results that refer to Kigoma are not representative
of the region as a whole.4 Furthermore, agro-economic activities in the region face
other problems such as lack of well-organised markets, unsuitable prices and
insufficient credit facilities for peasants. Food is marketed locally and there is no
promotion of any kind of export crops. There have never been any strong co-operative
- 38 -
The high population growth has led to land scarcity in the traditional farming
area at Luanda. It is now difficult to acquire more than five acres of land at a
stretch. This compels part of the population of Ujiji to secure land at Tongwe along
the south-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika as far as 300 km from Kigoma Town. Here,
those with adequate cash and labour resources can acquire as much land as they wish.
Some of them have established "estates", of 50 acres and more. Besides farming, they
also engage in large-scale fishing and usually establish a second home there.
Kigoma has a high potential in irrigation, hydro-electricity, navigation, animal
husbandry and fishing from Lake Tanganyika and Lwiche valley. However, this potential
has not been exploited. There is no large-scale industry and very limited
opportunities for permanent wage employment. Land scarcity and limited opportunities
in agriculture for most peasants have compelled men and women to look for employment
outside the region. Moreover, there has been minimal state investment in education,
as illustrated by the existence of only one secondary school for the whole region.
PALM-OIL EXTRACTION AND TRADE
Palm-oil extraction has traditionally been women's activity, mainly for local
consumption within the extended family structure. However, some oil is sold either
from the household or in the market. But as palm-tree farming expands, many more
people specialise in palm-oil extraction for commercial purposes.
The extraction of oil is usually done weekly. First, the fruits are set aside
for three to four days to ripen, then they are boiled and pounded by a mortar and
pestle (if manually done) or put in a manually operated machine made of two drums, a
pole and iron bars. Firewood and husks from previous extractions usually provide the
fuel. This gives out a lot of smoke and oily soot. This latter is very hard to get
rid of when cleaning the utensils used to boil the fermented fruits. Moreover,
constant blowing (by mouth) is required to get the fire going. Amidst tears and a
running nose, the woman has to see that the fruits do not burn. The boiling goes on
for between one-and-a-half hours to three hours depending on the intensity of the
fire. After boiling, the fruits are pounded. This is done by all the women in the
household taking turns. The activity is very tedious for monogamously married young
women, especially if there is no female relative to give a helping hand. In
polygamous households, usually all the wives take part in the pounding. Young girls
do not like the job as they consider it dirty. The smoke and soot and the oily spills
from the pounding are not easily washed off and compels one to wear a black wrapper
known as kaniki or some other type of unappealing garment.
After pounding, the mixture of the oil, husks and kernels is put in a wooden
trough known as mtumbwi (canoe). It is then tilted to let the oil flow to one side
while the husks and the kernels remain at the other side. The husks and kernels are
washed with warm water to rinse out any remaining oil. The oil is then boiled to get
rid of the water. After that, it is cooled and stored in jars or tins. The whole
process takes at least eight hours. To have one tin of oil (about 25 litres), one
needs a drum of the capacity of 200 litres of fermented fruits. This is usually from
12 to 15 bunches. It takes six to ten palm trees to produce one tin of the oil.
The cutting of the bunches is done by skilled men who can climb the tree and
know where to cut without damaging it. Some trees can be as high as five to six
metres. Neither ladders not slits on the side of the trees are used. As a family can
extract at least four tins per month and the largest household the author visited used
only one tin of palm-oil per month, that leaves an excess of at least three tins per
month which were sold at the retail price of 20 shillings per bottle (0.75 of a
litre). Each tin has about 28 bottles which gives a total of T.Sh.560 per tin. The
gross total earned could be T.Sh.1,680.
- 39 -
The palm-oil extractor incurs some expenses, however. One needs five acres of
palm trees to have a constant supply of four tins per month for the whole year. If
one has to hire labour to weed the five acres, that will cost T.Sh.500 per round of
weeding. It is necessary to weed at least three times a year: twice during the long
rains and once at short rains. The cutting of the fruits costs T.Sh.10 per bunch,
giving a total of T.Sh.120 to T.Sh.150 for the production of each tin. After the
costs have been deducted, the extractors earn an average of T.Sh.1,020 per month.
This is used to buy daily consumer goods such as kerosene, salt and meat.
Most of the households of Ujiji Town grow palm trees in the lower part of the
Lwiche Valley (see below). It is also a common custom for each household to have at
least two palm trees and a lemon tree round the houses. This makes Ujiji look like a
palm tree estate when seen from the air. As more land has been opened up for
commercialised palm tree planting and palm-oil extraction, men have entered the
industry. They have even transferred technology from Burundi, a neighboring country,
to increase productivity. Instead of pounding by mortar and pestle, they use a
machine made out of two drums, one full drum inserted into a half drum. Small holes
are pierced at the bottom of the full drum to make a sieve. A pole is attached to the
centre of the drum; iron bars are attached to the sides of the pole. As the pole is
turned, the iron bars crush the fermented fruits and the oil passes through the sieve
to a tube which leads to a container which collects the oil (see figure 1).
By using this machine, one can extract up to five drums per day giving an
average of ten tins of oil. Instead of one tin of oil per drum of the fruit acquired
by manual pounding, machine extraction gives between one-and-a-half to two tins of oil
per drum. However the turning of the machine needs muscle power. Usually men turn
the machines while women collect and boil the oil before it is cooled and stored in
jars and tins.
If women used draught animals to turn the machine, they could run the machines
themselves. While manual extraction by women is conducted at the house, machine
extraction by men is done at the fields. The oil is transported to town for T.Sh.50
per tin from Luanda to Ujiji. The machine-extracted oil is cheaper because of high
production. Most of it is sold at the market at a wholesale price of between T.Sh.450
and T.Sh.500 per tin. In comparison, nearly all the oil produced manually is sold
retail. The wholesale oil trade, which realises a better profit, is in the hands of
men; the retail trade at the market is dominated by women. On 26 June 1983, out of 25
retail palm-oil traders, 18 were women. It takes a maximum of T.Sh.200 to process and
transport one tin of oil which sells at between T.Sh.450 and T.Sh.500. These prices
may vary as there is no proper price control mechanisms and a lot depends on how good
one is at bargaining. In contrast, the retail price is controlled by the market
authorities and is fixed at T.Sh.20 per bottle which gives a total of T.Sh.560 per tin
of 28 bottles. As it usually takes a day or two to sell one tin and T.Sh.5 is paid
per day as market levy, the retail trader is left with a net profit of between T.Sh.25
and T.Sh.50 per day.
Women palm-oil traders do not put their earnings into the bank. They pool the
money in groups informally, allocating it to each group member in turn and at agreed
intervals. This type of pooling and distribution of money is commonly known as the
upatu system. A group of four to ten women, usually in the same occupation, e.g.
palm-oil traders, or those living in the same street, join together to pool their
money. A leader is chosen from among the members and age is often the determining
factor. At the market, the author identified two groups of five and eight members
each. The group of five comprised women between 25 and 40 years of age; the other had
comparatively younger members all being less than 35 years of age. Moreover, it had a
mixture of palm-oil and petty traders in household utensils.
Figure 1: Improved Oil Extraction Machine
- 41 -
The group of five contributed T.Sh.200 each. Members took turns to collect the dues
every month. It therefore took four months before one had another turn. The members
said that when the trade went well, they usually spent the profit on personal
clothing. Most of them bought khanga (a decorative piece of material one wraps around
oneself). Only one said that she sometimes used the savings to buy her two children
some clothing. However, such a savings programme was not common with palm-oil
extractors. Each one preferred to keep her own savings a secret.
In addition to palm-oil extraction, several women grew food crops on plots which
were separate from household fields. The crops included yams, beans, sweet potatoes,
vegetables, maize and occasionally banana plants. Five of the eight respondents in
the second group rented the land from men outside the extended family relations. The
others had inherited land from their natal families. The clearing was either done by
the owners of the plots, in case of rented land, or by hired labour in case of land
which was owned by the women themselves. The women had become bitter about the
irrigation programme initiated by Kigoma Integrated Rural Development Programme
(KIRDEP) which led to floods due to poor construction. Most of their crops,
especially beans and vegetables, were washed away, which led to scarcity of these
items as from June 1982. Women also complained that the fertile top soil had been
washed away and they anticipated poor harvest in maize, beans, yams, etc. later in the
Women cultivated on such plots only after ensuring that the household plots were
ready and there were no household chores. In polygamous families, co-wives took turns
performing the latter. In the one monogamous family which the author visited the
woman worked on her private plot when she had finished the work in the household
plot. She did not receive help from her husband despite the fact that produce from
her plot was used to supplement the subsistence of the entire family. She had planted
cassava, sweet potatoes and groundnuts on a two-acre farm which did not even meet the
full annual subsistence needs of her family. In polygamous families, the produce from
individual plots was also used to supplement the family needs, even if the work on
these plots was an individual woman's concern. There was usually some surplus
production, however, because there were more producers. Women singled out salt and
kerosene as the most common commodity they spent their money on. They considered the
non-availability of sugar a forced mechanism to save extra expenditure, though they
agreed that the hiked price which at that time was T.Sh.100 per kilogramme was too
much anyway. Co-wives had also worked out a productionsystem which ensured themselves
some "maternity leave" when they were breast feeding. Then, a breast-feeding mother
worked shorter hours on her individual plot instead of on the household plots. After
weaning, she resumed an active role in maintaining the household. Women took turns to
work on individual plots. Each one had a turn to stay at home to take care of the
It used to be a common sight in the 1950s and early 1960s to see women at the
shores of Lake Tanganyika, catching sardines in the shallow waters by using a piece of
material. This type of fishing was overtaken very fast by canoes which even then were
used by men to fish in deeper waters and bring in bigger catches. Today, fish
catching is predominantly a man's activity. Fishing activities start in the afternoon
at around 4 p.m. by preparing and mending the nets. The hurricane lamps are cleaned
and kerosene is put in the lamps. The boats or canoes are checked for any slits and
minor repair work to be carried out. Major repair work begins in the morning and is
usually done by apprentices rather than the fishermen themselves. The fishing trip
starts at 6 p.m. By 8 p.m. the whole lake shore is alight with hurricane lamps from
the fishing boats, making it appear like there are fallen stars on the lake.
Though many boats are motor powered, there are still a substantial number of
paddle-rowed canoes. Motor boats can go further to deeper waters and hence can
guarantee bigger catches; while the canoes do not usually go very far. Fishing is a
- 42 -
very tedious and sometimes dangerous job. Because of travel risks and the obligation
to work at night, fishing is usually done in groups of not less than three people:
the owner of the boat with labourers or with friends who then share the catch. The
tendency is towards hiring labour if one can afford it. Fishing is carried out
throughout the night over a period of 15 days during the full moon.
At 4 a.m. the shores become lively again as fishermen return with their catches
for sale. Voices of individual fishermen can be heard auctioning their catch,
resulting in quite an uproar. Sub-wholesalers pass here and there looking for a good
bargain. The retail traders call out to the sub-wholesalers to buy the fish early so
they can start arranging their stalls at the market. One kg of sardines sells at a
wholesale price of between T.Sh.30 and T.Sh.50 and one boat can bring in up to
T.Sh.300. Hence, a sub-wholesaler needs working capital of not less than T.Sh.9,000.
At the time of fieldwork, the sub-wholesale price was between T.Sh.60 and 70. As one
could buy a minimum of 10 kg, the retail trader could survive with a working capital
of T.Sh.600. But the retail trade was fixed by the market authorities at T.Sh.80 per
kg of sardines.
While the wholesale trade is done by the fishermen themselves, the sub-wholesale
trade is in the hands of male traders. Women complained that they could not engage in
this trade because they did not have enough capital. Contrary to the palm-oil traders
who got their capital from their husbands, most of the women engaged in fish trade
were divorcees. The author contacted three women who had taken up the trade after
divorce. They had raised the initial capital from agricultural activities and could
now afford to hire labour. Because of the pricing policy, need for working capital
and losses incurred if fish go bad, the profit realized is usually very low. This is
more so during peak fishing seasons.
A substantial amount of the sardines are dried. The dried sardines last longer
and are sold to distant places like Tabora and Dar es Salaam and over the borders,
particularly in Zambia, Zaire and Burundi. Dried sardines from Kigoma are famous
throughout eastern and Central Africa. In the 1960s and early 1970s, women were
engaged in dry-fish mongering to far-away places. Most of them claimed the terms to
have been favourable then: one did not need large capital and the charges for train
transport were lower. The soaring prices of fish and rising transport costs by
railway have forced women to give up the trade. Moreover, long-distance trade has
become too dangerous as the expansion of towns has led to an increased number of
robberies and harassment. They complained of the increasing amount of red tape in
obtaining licences and felt that their concerns were not treated favourably because
the authorities were all men. One of the women was very bitter because most of the
men she went to see for her licencing problems asked for money which was not recorded
anywhere. As a result, she incurred a loss of T.Sh.5,000 which consequently
undermined her commercial power because of reduced initial capital.
The ruling that one cannot engage in the fish trade without a license was
adopted on 1 July 1983. This was probably intended to implement the Human Resources
Deployment Act which called for all people to be gainfully employed. At the same
time, the Government was tightening up collection of tax revenue. But women felt that
these measures were meant to eliminate them from the fish trade. The cumbersome
process of filling in forms and having to take them through a number of offices can
easily confuse a person who is not familiar with the procedure. It is even more
difficult for women among whom the illiteracy rate is still very high. As shown by
the 1978 census, only 56,976 of the 223,965 women in the region were literate.6
Moreover, women do not have sufficient time to deal with the bureaucracy because of
their household chores and child-care responsibilities.
- 43 -
Besides agricultural activities, palm-oil extraction and trade, fish and other
petty trading at the market place, women also engaged in petty household trading.
They sold firewood or charcoal, processed food stuffs such as maize and manioc flour
and also cooked foodstuffs such as rice buns. Women considered this type of trade as
a way to get extra money to buy what they called personal needs, such as soap, hair
oil and body cream. These activities increased their work burden so that in most
cases their day started at 4 a.m. The rainy season was particularly burdensome as it
was the time for cultivating and planting. Women traded their wares most actively
during the dry season, from August to October, when the farm workload was lighter. At
this time, they also engaged in handicrafts, such as making mats, food covers, baskets
and they spent more time plaiting hair. Plaiting hair was a social activity and a
form of relaxation. Thus, women engage in many activities for their families'
A few case studies are presented to effectively demonstrate this. The cases are
taken mainly from the poor household category but one case of a rich household is
presented as a contrast. The people in the poor households usually worked on the land
themselves. All of them had to engage in other businesses such as manioc-flour
selling, firewood and charcoal trade and any other petty business. They lived in
thatched huts, where neither a radio nor a bicycle was to be seen. All of the members
of the household were poorly and inadequately dressed for the cool season which
prevails from the end of May to September. In this group of five women, there was a
single girl of 20 years who had finished Standard 7 education. Her mother was dead
and her father had remarried and her father had given her two acres of land at Kagera
on the outskirts of the town where she planted cassava, sweet potatoes and
groundnuts. She also engaged in selling firewood which she collected from the
fields. She led an independent life as she could not get along with her step-mother.
Another respondent in this category was a widow of 62 years of age who had two
grown up sons, each with his own family. The sons worked as labourers in palm-fruit
cutting which did not earn them enough to support their mother. She had two acres of
land at Luanda left to her by her late husband. This land was planted with palm trees
but did not bring her regular income throughout the year. She was forced to rent a
one-and-a-half-acre farm at Kasuku, another part of the Lwiche Valley where she
planted rice, yams, beans and sweet potatoes. Her sons had also given her capital to
engage in charcoal trade.
Another household with less than five acres of land was a polygamous family with
three wives. Each wife had her own plot. The respondent from this household had
one-and-a-half acres of her own on which she planted rice, yams, beans, sweet potatoes
and groundnuts mainly for subsistence. There was also a three acre palm-tree plot of
the household which was used for palm-oil extraction for family needs. The respondent
stated that the oil produced was not enough for the whole year. Whatever was sold,
therefore, cut into subsistence requirements. Sometimes, especially during the dry
season, they could get an extra two to five tins which they sold to get some clothing
for the family. She herself collected firewood for sale which provided her with some
ready cash to buy salt, kerosene, sometimes sugar, maize or manioc flour and fish.
The husband repaired thatched roofs which did not bring him a regular income. He also
helped in the cultivation of their three-acre farm of palm trees.
The fifth poor household owned two acres of palm trees and two acres for
cassava, sweet potatoes and ground-nuts cultivation. Extra income was derived from
fishing in which the husband and two sons took part. The sons had their own families
but lived nearby and ate jointly with the parents. The three men usually worked as
labourers but sometimes they hired boats to go fishing for themselves. Three other
sons worked outside the region, one in Mwanza and two in Tabora, and they remitted
money. The parents' house was made of mud walls but had a corrugated iron roof. They
had furniture and equipment such as chairs, a radio set, which was not found in the
- 44 -
other poor families, and also owned two bicycles. They used the bicycles to transport
the fish from the lake shore to the market and palm fruits from the field to their
house. The manual extraction of the oil was done by the three women in the family:
the mother and her two grown-up but unmarried daughters, one of 17 years and another
of about 15.
1 All of those interviewed in the middle group of four households were visibly
better off than the poor households. Their houses had iron roofing and mud walls.
They had more adequate clothing and some of the children wore shoes. All of them had
radio sets, at least the two-band radio commonly known as "277". Some had bicycles; a
chair or two; and relied on charcoal for fuel more than firewood, except for boiling
palm-oil which needed a hot fire for a long time. Charcoal is much more expensive
than firewood: one bushel of charcoal which is enough for one fill of a medium-sized
charcoal stove costs T.Sh.6 and two bushels are needed to cook a common meal of ugali
(stiff porridge) and beans. To cook a similar meal, firewood costs between T.Sh.2 and
T.Sh.3 or can be collected free of charge from nearby woodlands. Women took part in
farming the palm-tree plots and in palm-oil extraction. No household had less than
three acres of palm trees but those with lower acreage also engaged in other
businesses. The women sold firewood, charcoal and manioc flour while men got jobs
such as re-roofing, masonry, carpentry and tailoring.
The rich household provided a striking contrast to the poor cases. The first
wife was commonly known as "Mama Karenga", after the name of the first son of the
second wife. She was an old woman of about 79 years of age who had emigrated from
Burundi at an early age of 12. She married when she was 14. At the time of the
marriage, her husband only had a three-acre farm planted with palms at Luanda and a
modest house. While he engaged in fishing, she undertook palm-oil extraction for
consumption and a little for sale and also collected firewood, selling the excess. By
pooling their resources, they were able to expand their plot of palm trees at Luanda
to ten acres which they divided into five-acre plots each. This was after the husband
realized that Mama Karenga could bear no children and she had allowed him to marry
another wife so he could have children. He subsequently, married more women.
Through the wives' labour power and his fish trade, the husband was able to
acquire some 45 acres of land at Tongwe. Twenty-five acres were used for food crops
and palm trees were planted on 20 acres. Most of the oil was sold. The husband built
three houses, two at Ujiji and another at Tongwe. One of the houses at Ujiji was
given to Mama Karenga which she leases to two families.
A division of labour had developed among the co-wives to the definite advantage
of the senior wife who took care of all the household children above the age of two
years. As she also had her own plot of five acres on which she had planted palms, the
other women took turns to work on this plot. She supervised their work and did the
palm-oil extraction with the help of the grown-up girls. Nonetheless, the other wives
did not benefit from the income accrued from this plot because it was an exchange of
services whereby she took care of their children while they took care of her plot.
From the sale of palm-oil, rent from her house and her trade in rice buns,
Mama Karenga was able to have enough money for subsistence and contribute to three
groups of upatu and is leader of two. When she was asked why she did not have an
account with the bank, she said she preferred upatu as there was no need for
signatures, filling forms or any formality such as the long and cumbersome court
procedures which would be required to get rid of an unwanted member or members. This
feeling was shared by many respondents who were afraid of saving with government
institutions. Through the money she got from upatu, Mama Karenga was able to build
her own house and to buy herself expensive clothes and jewellery.
- 45 -
Women face a number of constraints in nearly all their money-generating
activities of palm-oil extraction, palm-oil trade and fish trade. Firstly, women's
needs and capabilities have not been taken into consideration in the development of
technology. They have lagged behind in developing appropriate technology themselves
because they are too over burdened with work to be innovative. Because of the tight
programme of their everyday activities, women have got to be sure of what they are
doing with speed, leading them to act automatically like machines. Also, they do not
have or take the opportunity to travel and see the experiences of others which they
could use for their own benefit as was the case with the palm-oil extraction machine
which the men copied from Burundi. It is important to note that the women who talked
with interest about the possible adoption of the machine were those who had travelled
widely within Tanzania, as well as to Burundi and Zaire.
Another constraint has been the inadequacy of banking facilities in Ujiji.
Kigoma Town has only one branch of the National Bank of Commerce. It operates an
agency at Ujiji between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. when most of the Ujiji people are already
engaged in other activities in the fields or still selling their fish at the lake
shore. The most appropriate time to go to the bank for most people would be after
11 a.m. In any case, women usually cannot save enough income as most of it is used up
in buying everyday consumer goods or paying for the running costs of their activities
such as agriculture or palm-oil extraction. Their actual economic gains remain
small. Consequently, women engage in a variety of activities, instead of specialising
in one and they have to satisfy themselves with small projects yielding very little
income. Thus, men have taken over even those activities which traditionally belonged
to women. Commercial palm-oil extraction has started to get into the hands of men and
women are losing their grip on the fish trade and petty trade except for food stuffs.
On top of this, women and Kigoma Region as a whole lack a history of
co-operative organisation which would have helped the population, especially women, to
develop towards a common goal.7 Traditionally, Kigoma economy has been organised on
an individual basis which undermines their bargaining power, especially in pricing.
There is, hence, a need for the formation of strong women's co-operative endeavours,
especially in palm-oil extraction which would also enable the nation to alleviate the
shortage of cooking oil and Vitamin A deficiency which has been notable in recent
years (palm-oil is very rich in Vitamin A).
The tendency up to now has been to organise needlework groups and co-operative
shops which are all service oriented rather than income-generating activities. These
usually fail because women do not see any direct increase in income, nor do they
improve their employment opportunities. Shops tend to employ men while usually they
also predominate commercial tailoring. Moreover, both activities take a whole day and
do not leave enough time for women to attend to household chores and their child-
rearing duties. Another constraint is the lack of agricultural research facilities.
The region differs in soil, vegetation and climate from the nearby regions served by
the Western Agricultural Research Centre. There is a need to establish a sub-station
within the region. This could contribute to increasing women's productiveness and
land productivity, if properly oriented.
1 B.B. Brown: "Ujiji: The History of lakeside town 1800-1914", (Ph.D.
dissertation, Boston University, 1973) p.l.
2 B.B. Brown: ibid., p.l; H. bin Muhammed El Murjebi: Maisha ya Hamed bin
Muhammed el Murjebi Yaani Tippu Tip, (East African Literature Bureau, 1959).
3 Kigoma/Ujiji Town Council File: "1983 Town Council Census".
4 United Republic of Tanzania: "Kigoma Integrated Rural Development Programme
(KIRDEP) phase I (Annexes)" Ministry of Regional Administration and Rural
Development (Dar es Salaam, 1973; mimeographed).
5 V.G. Cedillo and G.H.E. Mwinama: "An Abstract from a Study of Kigoma Rural
Development Programme", Ministry of Regional Administration and Rural
Development, (Dar es Salaam, 1969; mimeographed).
6 United Republic of Tanzania: 1978 Population Census Vol. IV, Bureau of
Statistics, (Dar es Salaam, 1982).
7 V.G. Cedillo and G.H.E. Mwinama: "An abstract from a study of Kigoma Rural
Development Programme", Ministry of Regional Administration and Rural
Development (Dar es Salaam, 1969; mimeographed).
WOMEN'S WORK IN RURAL CASH FOOD SYSTEMS:
THE TOMBO AND GLOUCESTER DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS,
Filomina Chioma Steady
This chapter looks at a locally-initiated Agricultural Project and a sponsored
Fisheries Project as two examples of successful projects for improving the employment
conditions of rural women in Sierra Leone. Both can be defined as "open projects" in
that any female village member may participate. It is a mark of success that women
from the lowest socio-economic strata dominate the activities and proceedings in
both. The Gloucester Village Development Association Project (VDA) has operated
largely through the local initiative of the village residents, particularly women, and
the Tombo Fisheries Pilot Project is jointly sponsored by the Government of Sierra
Leone through the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), and the Federal Republic of
Germany through the German Agency for Technical Co-operation (GTZ). The Gloucester
project is essentially a self-help venture with a budget of Le.500 (Le.2.47=US$1); the
Tombo project has received 12.11 million Deutschmark and Le.900,000.
It must be pointed out at the onset that the nature of the success of projects
generated from external agencies is conditioned by the reality and limitations of
dependency. Therefore, success has to be defined in qualitative rather than in
absolute terms. It also has to reflect local perceptions and evaluations.
The two projects have successfully taken initiatives to enhance women's economic
role, increase their decision-making as well as improve their status and the value of
their work. In addition, they have introduced social and public health measures to
improve living conditions, lessen the labour intensity of women's work and improve the
general quality of village life.
The Gloucester project sought to improve farming techniques and marketing
conditions, as well as the social, cultural and environmental conditions of the
village. As in the case of Tombo, the village has a long tradition of intense female
economic participation. The myriad activities involved in food production, processing
and trading are predominantly in the hands of women and link these villages to the
city in a dynamic flow of food and other resources. The success of any project in
these areas would depend in large measure on its ability to recognize and strengthen
this vital economic role of women and promote the integration rather than isolation of
women within the larger social framework of the village. Much of the project's
success is due to it inherently participatory structure growing out of the network of
social relations and the traditional mechanisms of co-operation that exist among the
women of the village. Personal contacts are intense and frequent, facilitating
identification of women's problems and needs as well as mobilisation.
Important aspects of the Tombo project's success include the care and caution
with which technological innovations aimed at improving the fish-processing activities
of women were made. The sponsors valued baseline studies, carrying out a preliminary
investigation of the infrastructural and demographic profile of the village which
informed the project's subsequent design and implementation. The women's co-operative
society which emerged has helped to develop opportunities for collective
decision-making, has created credit facilities and articulated the women's needs and
A participatory research methodology was actively pursued. This was facilitated
by the fact that in both villages, there are a number of self-help women's
associations based on the traditional women's secret societies and rotating credit
clubs. By custom, these identify women's problems through regular discussions,
leading to action on issues of vital social and economic importance, such as improved
- 48 -
farming, processing and trading conditions and health and childcare facilities. The
researcher participated in such discussions, reviewing the women's activities and ways
to improve them, including liaison with national structures. Group and in-depth
interviews were conducted mainly at women's'working places, when women were at work.
This also allowed for participant observation. Where a household forms the production
unit, discussions involved all household members except children who usually do not
participate in adult discussions. Government officials, managers and committee
members were also interviewed. Secondary sources were used for information on
history, demography and village infrastructures and statistical details.
The 1974 census showed a population of 2.75 million with almost equal numbers of
men and women representing 18 ethnic groups. Two universalistic religions of Islam
and Christianity are widely practised with Islam having the greater number of
followers. For the majority of muslims, women's positions are influenced more
profoundly by economic forces and by African versions of polygamy than by Islamic
law. For the majority of Christians, women's positions are influenced by English
statutory law, Christian morality as well as by economic and social forces. African
belief systems and norms continue to be meaningful for both Christians and Muslims.
Sierra Leone gained its independence from Britain in 1961 and attained
republican status in 1974. There are four main administrative areas the Northern
Province, the Southern Province, the Eastern Province and the Western Area.
Gloucester and Tombo villages fall within the Western Area.
The country is classified internationally as one of the least developed
countries in the world with its economy subject to substantial foreign control. There
have been attempts to nationalise foreign companies but progress has been slow. One
of the most ominous aspects of the economy concerns diamond mining, the country's
major resource and main source of foreign exchange. Diamond mining is on the decline
and gradually approaching exhaustion,1 causing a shortage of foreign exchange. The
Government is now intensifying the cultivation of cash crops such as coffee, cocoa,
palm kernels and tobacco for export. However, this trend towards intensification of
cash crops for export could lead to the allocation of the best land to cash-crops
cultivation, which is usually the men's economic activity, at the expense of food
production, the domain of women. Agriculture's contribution to the GNP in 1975-1976
was 38 per cent, which is quite high.2 Consequently, any new policies which are
counter-productive to agriculture would greatly threaten the livelihood of 1.4 million
rural people to whom agriculture is the main source of livelihood.
In most of Sierra Leone, land is communally owned and distributed according to
usufruct rights. Families and households provide the main production units.
Therefore, landholdings for subsistence agriculture are small, averaging 4.5 acres per
household. In Freetown and the Western Area, land is scarce and privately owned
resulting in restricted access to it for the majority. Technology poses the major
constraint to productivity since most producers still use a simple technology. Added
to this is the problem of post-harvest storage and problems resulting from
seasonality. In both farming and fishing communities, productivity is highest during
the dry season and lowest during the rainy season.
Despite political independence, the colonial economic structure has survived
intact, creating serious problems of underdevelopment and inequality at all levels of
the social structure. Macro policies pertaining to fiscal, pricing and development
issues are strongly influenced by international trade agreements producing a system of
chronic inequities. For example, most of the natural resources are located in the
rural areas and 40 per cent are extracted primarily for export. Generally, the taxes
gained from the agricultural and mining sectors are mostly spent in the urban areas
resulting in the concentration of social facilities, amenities and economic
institutions in Freetown, the capital city. The current linkages between the rural
- 49 -
and urban areas are unfavourable to the rural areas, giving rise to migration,
especially of the young, to the city. The growth rate of Freetown, due mainly to
rural-urban migration, is 5 per cent.
Urban areas continue to provide markets for food produced in rural areas.
Because of the increased need for cash in the rural areas, this trend is creating a
shortage of food in the rural areas where it is produced. This has serious
nutritional implications for rural people and may call into question any further
attempts to increase the flow of foodstuff from rural to urban areas. The Western
Area consists of a number of villages with historical, structural and economic
linkages to Freetown. These linkages are important in understanding the dependent
relationship of both villages to Freetown and their subsequent vulnerability to
macro-level and international policies and processes. The problems are exacerbated by
the very weak administrative structure of the Western Area and the lack of adequate
Due to the depletion of diamonds, its major export resource, Sierra Leone is
facing serious shortages of foreign exchange leading to scant supplies of vital
commodities, notably petrol. The shortage of petrol critically affects the livelihood
and survival of fishing villages like Tombo where petrol is needed for the propulsion
of boats and for transporting the processed fish to outside markets. Furthermore,
commercial fishing by international companies has been on the increase in Sierra
Leone. In the bid to attract foreign investment, many of them receive tax exemptions
and other concessions. These concessions, for example, allow a company to operate for
a period of five to ten years or longer without paying taxes or sharing profits with
the host government. On the other hand, small fishermen receive no such incentives
and are in fact expected to pay taxes. Moreover, highly developed commercial fishing,
using trawling methods, is causing a serious ecological problem since it disturbs the
breeding grounds for some fish. Trawlers have to venture farther out to sea, thereby
creating a need for even greater fuel consumption.
Profile of Rural Women in Sierra Leone
The position of women in Sierra Leone is variable, influenced by their level of
economic independence. In rural areas, women are actively engaged in production.
They have access to land and generally operate in separate economic spheres from men.
In most cases, they have control over the products of their labour in so far as they
determine what to produce, the market prices for their surplus and how to spend the
money earned. This is due in part to the tradition of separate spheres of economic
activity and to a measure of female autonomy and freedom. Among some ethnic groups,
women together with men control labour, capital and land and have access to religious
and political power. Women also head households and sections of ruling descent groups
and serve as trustees for land and other communal property.3
Maternal kin can assume importance in women's economic activities by providing a
woman with her first capital for trade or for the purchase of capital goods. This
often gives women greater control over their income and higher decision-making
authority regarding its dispensation. Difficulties are usually encountered in
situations where a woman receives little help from her maternal and paternal kin and
has to depend entirely on her husband. In these cases, male control over the products
of a woman's labour are more evident.
According to the traditional practice of most groups, men are responsible for
providing staple foods and shelter for their families. But the majority of men are
not better off economically than women, and many women have to contribute to the
household budget. In situations where a wife earns more than her husband, she is
expected to make a greater contribution to meeting the family's material needs.
Women's incomes are becoming increasingly vital in meeting these needs as a result of
- 50 -
Women's productive and reproductive roles are highly valued for a number of
reasons. In most farming and fishing communities, the household is the unit of
production while the productive process requires both male and female labour at
different stages to complete the cycle. Women often work longer hours and their work
involves the more tedious areas of production. Reproduction as a component of
production is probably the most highly valued aspect of 'women's work'. In most rural
communities, reproductive and productive roles are complementary, often reinforcing
each other. A woman's supervisory role increases with each additional child. When a
surplus is produced, it is often women who market it. Women control the marketing of
foodstuff by generating and sustaining a system of long-distance trade involving
wholesalers, semi-wholesalers and retailers. Marketing of farm produce from
Gloucester and processed fish from Tombo are therefore part of a female tradition.
Sierra Leonean women have been active in traditional and modern politics. In a
number of the peninsular villages in the Western Area, women have been elected
headmenn" on several occasions. In the traditional political system. Sierra Leonean
women have held executive political offices as chiefs and paramount chiefs.4 In
1970, women headed ten of the 81 chiefdoms in the southern part of the country.5 A
number of political and legal positions give women the authority to settle disputes
and establish them as heads of women's affairs bearing the titles of 'Yapposseh' and
'Yabonkapri'. There are also powerful religious secret societies for men (Poro) and
women (Sande/Bondo). Both are initiation societies which socialise children into
adulthood and serve as regulatory mechanisms with powerful rules, sanctions and
behavioral guides for both men and women. Each has its hierarchy of leaders with
authority to sanction the behaviour of members of the opposite sex. As a result,
Sande has served as an institution for the promotion and protection of women's rights
and has given women considerable freedom to run their own affairs and to develop
solidarity with each other. Most Sande leaders are also important community heads and
have the authority to regulate .disputes. In many rural communities, Sande has served
as the main source of obligatory mobilisation of women, providing a basic foundation
for the creation of more secular types of women's associations.
In addition to the secret societies, there are a number of traditional savings
and credit institutions, osusu, popularly known as 'rotating credit associations'. A
group of people contribute simultaneously to a collective fund but withdraw
individually and by rotation. Many women participating in income-generating
activities belong to these osusu clubs which are usually informally and democratically
run and are popular because of their social as well as economic function. The
operation of most osusu clubs require minimum bookkeeping and red tape. Members
usually meet once a week in an atmosphere of conviviality to make their regular
contribution and congratulate the member whose turn it is to 'draw'. The operation is
based on social relationships of goodwill and trust which help to sustain an
obligation to save regularly.
There are also a number of indigenous women's associations with religious,
cultural, economic, mutual-aid and political functions. A number of them promote
women's issues and provide avenues for the development of female leadership. Some
have served as auxiliaries to the Government in the implementation of several
development projects, particularly in the field of education and training.6
TOMBO VILLAGE FISHERIES PILOT PROJECT
Tombo is a vibrant and highly productive maritime fishing village located about
30 miles from Freetown on the Yawri Bay in the southern area of the Sierra Leone
peninsula. According to the survey of the village conducted by the pilot project,
Tombo had more than 7,000 inhabitants in 1981 during the peak fishing season from
January to April and 5,300 during the off season from July to September.
- 51 -
Small-scale fishing, using labour-intensive catching techniques, is the main
economic activity. It provides the main means of employment and livelihood to
90 per cent of the population engaged in fish production, processing, marketing,
boatbuilding, repair and maintenance of equipment and provision of fuel. Most of the
men are fishermen and most of the women fish processors. According to one report,
38 per cent of the 182 fishing households own one or more boats, one or more outboard
engines and three or more smoking bandas.7 In spite of the productivity of the
Tombo economy, the operating costs of fishing are quite high and the economy of the
village extremely vulnerable to national and international market trends.
The village's fishing tradition goes back to over a century and a half when the
village was first established.8 The hook and line, bow and arrow, trapping,
poisoning and spearing techniques were prevalent in pre-colonial times. The dug-out
canoe was the main vessel used. Nets made from leaf-based cords were widely used to
capture and retain the fish. From the fifteenth century, the technology underwent
changes due to contact with Europeans. This influenced net designs and the
construction of boats and processing technology. The division of labour was by sex
with fishing being mainly a male enterprise and processing a female activity. Female
participation in fishing was limited to inshore areas. Among the most common
processing methods were smoking, solar drying, cooking (grilling and frying) and
salting. The smoking oven, banda, was simple in construction and had a high rate of
depreciation since it was mostly made of combustible wood. By 1928, wire mesh with
greater durability was introduced. Processing was highly labour-intensive and
required a great amount of time. It also involved a lot of risk since fish is a
highly perishable product and excessive heat from the banda could easily lead to
spoilage. Solar drying, often combined with salting, was used for processing tiny
The most significant socio-economic change in Tombo fishing came about in the
1950s with the immigration of Mfantse fishermen from Ghana. The Mfantse were renowned
throughout West Africa for their expertise in fishing. They brought innovative
techniques in fishing and in the organisation of fishing activities. As profits
increased, more and more fishermen became boat owners. Large numbers of migrants were
attracted to the village and the population and size of households grew. Tombo's
social organisation was also altered. Fishermen entered a new relationship with their
crew which was semi-industrial in nature. The processing of fish by women also
assumed this semi-industrial structure since the volume to be processed was greatly
increased and required more labour. There were innovations in processing. The
Mfantse introduced the present banda design of mud or bricks supported by iron or wood
pools and covered with a wire-meshed grill layer. Though the smoking capacity was
increased, the risk from burning the fish as well as the operator of the banda also
increased. In order to meet the demands of increased smoking, some households
constructed multiple bandas :
The Mfantse fishermen were expelled from Sierra Leone in the 1960s by which time
Tombo fishermen had acquired the necessary expertise and secured the new technology
for intensive fishing.
Tombo fishery production increased significantly between 1955 and 1965. It
created new long-distance markets at Makeni, Sefadu, Kenema and Koidu. Fish-trading
women from Freetown and Waterloo travelled to Tombo to buy fish in wholesale
quantities. New immigrants arrived to fill the need for new specialties and
products. For example, the Fullah from Guinea provided the wood for smoking and set
up small miscellaneous retail shops for basic household and personal necessities.
Present day Tombo is made up of 265 households divided into six residential
areas: Tombo Central, Sherbro Town, Krio Town, Newtown, Kassi and Gbanko. Sherbro
Town has the largest concentration of residents and Central Town the next largest.9
Households are usually composed of fishermen, their wives, children and kinfolk and in
some cases also include members of a fishing crew and their families. Taking the
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village as a whole, men outnumber women by 1.49 to 1.00. This is considerably higher
than the sex ratio of other peninsular villages and has been attributed to the
migration of fishermen into Tombo during the peak fishing season. Tombo has a young
population with 70 per cent being between the ages of 15 and 49 and 25 per cent under
15. Only 6 per cent of the population is over 50. Social organisation and economic
production for the majority of residents emphasise the sexual division of labour with
separate economic activities for men and women. The household is the basic unit in
terms of residence, socialisation, production and consumption.
Despite its close proximity to Freetown, Tombo village lacks adequate
infrastructural facilities such as good roads, transportation facilities, water supply
and electricity. It is also grossly deficient in social amenities. Because of its
bad roads, many transport operators are reluctant to go to Tombo, leaving only a
couple of companies to establish monopolies and resulting in exceedingly high prices.
Although money is generated in Tombo, the cost of transportation, fish
production, processing and marketing are very high. In addition, Tombo villagers pay
high prices for social services and amenities which are often located outside the
In terms of community services, Tombo has one primary school, no secondary
schools and health services. A mobile health service visits Tombo fortnightly for
curative as well as preventive health service. A government-approved dispenser visits
once a week and a private clinic was set up in the village in 1982 charging Le.5.00
consultation fee for adults and Le.2.00 for children. A western-trained midwife is
based in the neighboring village of Kent and there are five traditional birth
attendants who deliver babies through the use of traditional birthing methods. One
traditional healer and a handful of Muslim leaders also provide special medicines with
curative as well as preventive properties based on Islamic and traditional beliefs
Several factors have influenced the position of women in Tombo. An interplay of
many ethnic traditions, economic factors and modern developments and needs have
affected women's positions, of which economic factors appear to be more important. In
many instances, husbands and senior wives operate as a team but still maintain
separate accounts. It is not unusual, however, for women to invest in their husbands'
fishing operations. The economic independence of women in fishing has greatly
modified customs and beliefs which traditionally emphasised the role of the man as
head of household and guardian of land and property. Women ensure the flow of cash to
the village through the processing and marketing of the fish caught by men. At times,
women's economic activities have provided a buffer for men who might have been unable
to fish for a number of climatic and logistic reasons. Fourteen per cent of the boat
owners are women. Many of them are widowed and all female boatowners receive equal
treatment by their male counterpart.
Seventy-nine per cent of marriages in Tombo are polygamous with most men having
two or three wives. The position of women varies according to seniority. The first
wife, as senior, usually enjoys a higher status, authority and responsibility and
controls the household. She is also the 'foreman' of the labour force in fish
processing. She makes all decisions and owns the equipment and capital for
processing. In addition, she organises the household, assigns responsibilities and
directs the day-to-day domestic activities. She is responsible for providing all
maintenance and medical needs of the co-wives and the children of the household.
Polygamy has been effective in the organisation of marketing so that in cases
involving long-distance trade, one wife may be based permanently in other provinces to
manage the sale of fish away from home. Others may be set up in petty trading by the
senior wife to supplement the household income.
Differentiation exists among wives within the polygamous households. There is
greater equality among junior wives but even in this group, the order of marriage
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still determines one's position within the household. As long as the senior wife is
not oppressive and provides equally for all, the co-wives do not usually resent her
higher position and authority. However, a junior wife may wish to exercise some
leadership and financial authority herself. In this case, she can divorce her husband
and remarry as a first wife, or set up her own independent household. This guarantees
her seniority and the status of supervisor of household production and domestic
In general, Tombo households are quite large compared to the national figures.
According to the 1976-1977 household survey, only 3 per cent of the households in
Sierra Leone have a population of 20 or more. Tombo households average 26. The
average number per household in some densely populated quarters is 54. This often
includes members of the crew and their families for whom the boatman has some
responsibility. All members of the household contribute to its maintenance through
labour and/or income. Some households are female-headed, mainly headed by divorced or
widowed women. Food, clothing, transport costs, medical and school fees and supplies
are the main items of household expenditure.
The Fish-Processing Cycle
Fish processing in Tombo is an economic activity as well as a social system and
an art. In view of the perishable nature of the product, processing is a brisk
activity done by smoking the fish on the banda a large table made of iron rods, two
layers of wire netting of different sizes, wooden sticks, corrugated iron sheets or
mud blocks. The sizes vary from 1.5m 7.5m in lenth to lm 2.5m in width. Each
household has at least one, usually owned by the senior wife. The banda is housed in
an area adjacent to the house or a short distance away. On the average, bandas can
last up to five years.
Three-quarters of the village women in Tombo are engaged in the smoking of
herring and bonga. Most women have buying arrangements with boat owners. Each woman
can only buy from the boat owner (usually her husband) assigned to her but may also
buy from two or three others as part of a special arrangement.
Labour is assigned to the various activities as follows:
Buying fresh fish Senior wife
Washing fish at the beach Co-wives and older children
Transporting fish to banda Co-wives and older children
Layout of fish on banda Young men (hired) and co-wives
Transporting wood to banda Children of any age
Arranging wood and lighting fire Senior wife assisted by co-wives
Watching fish and adjusting fire Senior wife assisted by co-wives
Packing fish Young men (hired)
Transporting fish to market Men (hired help)
Supervision of the whole process Senior wife
Most bandas have a large capacity and can hold 400-1200 dozen herrings. About
12 hours of continuous work is spent on processing 600 dozen herrings (400 kg.).
During the dry season, the majority of women can spend 75 hours a week on processing
for five days. Table 1 shows the cost involved in fish processing:
Some of the work involved in banda-smoking can be hazardous especially when
women have to crawl under the oven to adjust the fire. The smoke released from the
open fire irritates the eyes and pollutes the air. Considerable heat is lost due to
the open nature of the fire and the oven's construction (see Figure 2).
- 54 -
The Marketing Network
Processed fish is marketed throughout the country and as far as Liberia and
Guinea by professional market women from Freetown, Waterloo, Lumpa, Hastings and the
Provinces. Each Tombo processor has about four or five regular customers. This
guarantees processors a fairly regular income.
Table 1: Monthly Pre-Project and Post-Project
Net Income Estimates
Processing No. of Wives
Trading Processing Trading
* Women who own ovens.
SMembers of the Women's
Ninety per cent of the traders are Temne and a number of them have kinship and other
primary group ties with their customers. This patron/client relationship fosters
female solidarity which ensures a certain measure of female economic independence.
A marketing women's organisation, comprising 200 fish trading women was
established in 1976 to set up sales policies regulating the sale of fish and to
establish rotating schedules to control the supply of fish and regulate the prices.
This was to ensure that all women are guaranteed some profit for their labour.
The Tombo Fisheries Pilot Project started in 1980 as a bilateral co-operation
between the Republic of Sierra Leone and the Federal Republic of Germany. It is being
implemented by the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and by the
German Agency for Technical Co-operation (GTZ). It was planned to run for six years
in two phases from 1980 to 1983 and from 1983 to 1986.
The objectives of the project are:
1. To increase the supply of low-cost protein through improved and appropriate
technology in the fishing, handling, processing, storage and marketing of fish.
2. To reduce the current high cost of operation and investment in fishing,
processing and marketing.
3. To improve the living conditions of the village.
- 55 -
The proposed beneficiaries are the men and women engaged in fishing and fish
processing in Tombo village and ultimately the low-income population of Sierra Leone.
The total amount of financing of the project for the period 1980-1986 is 12.11 million
Deutschmark from the GTZ and Le.9.000.000 from the Government of Sierra Leone. The
GTZ provides three technical staff, one accountant, short-term consultants, one
trainee, one part-time socio-psychologist (paid according to local salary scales) and
about half a dozen locally-employed staff. Thirty-three technical experts, including
boat builders, mechanics, master fishermen, engineers, construction workers and
general service staff from the Sierra Leone Ministry of Natural Resources are seconded
to the project. In addition, various international, bilateral and national agencies
have had small inputs from time to time.
As the project evolves and incorporates new measures, various other Ministries,
namely the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Energy and Power, Co-operative
Department, are becoming involved. The project collaborates with other fishing
projects as well as with the Institute of Marine Biology as is necessary. The aim is
for the Government of Sierra Leone to eventually take over full management of the
Project with German Technical Experts serving as advisers and later as consultants.
The Government hopes that similar fishing projects based on the Tombo pilot model will
be set up in other fishing villages throughout the country. Already, the Project has
initiated a plan to strengthen the fish-processing activities of small-scale fish
processors in neighboring Mama Beach village.
In 1980 and 1981, the project conducted a demographic and infrastructural survey
which identified problems related to fishing, fish processing and marketing. This
survey employed a participatory approach through which the target group was involved
in identifying problems and seeking solutions. As a result of the survey, the
original project design was extended to include infrastructural and public health
measures aimed at increasing the water supply, improving sanitation facilities and
providing preventive health care facilities for the village.
Separate co-operatives were set up for men and women, these having been
identified as necessary institutions for mobilisation. The Boatowners and Fishermen's
Society and the Tombo Women's Co-operative Society are developing strategies for
collective decisions and actions that would advance the economic development of the
village. The need for training is also being emphasised and will become operational
in the proposed Fisheries Vocational Training Centre to be set up in Tombo.
Improvements in Fishing Techniques as a Result of the Project
Various initiatives have sought to improve the technology and reduce the
high-operating costs for fishermen. These have included improvements in fish gear
technology, boat building, propulsion and marine engineering. A prototype boat using
an in-board diesel engine is being used experimentally. The diesel engine will reduce
fuel consumption by almost 50 per cent. Sails are being introduced as a fuel-saving
measure in view of the shortage of petrol since fishermen need 15-20 gallons of petrol
per trip. When easily available, petrol costs Le.5.00 a gallon in Tombo but this
price is grossly inflated to Le.7.00 or more during periods of scarcity.
Much sceptism was expressed by the fishermen concerning the 'purse seine' net
because it catches young fish prematurely. This concern seems to outweigh its
time-saving advantage of instantly releasing the fish from the net in one motion. The
ring nets in current use require two to three hours to dislodge the fish.
Changes in fishing technology affect women in processing since both activities
are mutually interdependent and guarantee the livelihood of Tombo villages.
Consequently, women are keenly interested in the changes in fishing since this would
affect their workload and the balance in the production cycle. For example, women
express concern over increasing the productivity if this will disturb the
fish-breeding grounds. They prefer a well-regulated operation which ensures regular
KHe2ad:::n and Boat Owners and Boat Improvement of Waste Health
Tr.bal Chiefs Fishermen's Society Building Marine Engineering Disposal Centre
Tombo Women's Latrine Water
Cooperative Society/ \ Improved Fishing Program Supply
VILLAGE COMMITTEE VOCATIONAL TRAINING HEALTH EDUCATION
TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE Health Inspector
/ \ Fish Catch
Self Help Social 0
Contribution to Communication Improved Improved Improved Health
Village Improvement Facilities Handling Processing and Sanitation 0
Fish Produced 1
Mobilization of Improved
Self-Help Potential Increased Income Living Conditions
- 57 -
fish supply since this will ensure a regular income. However, the major problems are
connected with the high petrol costs and the marginalisation of many small-scale
fishermen who cannot catch as much as fishermen with engine-propelled boats who
consequently are capturing the fish-processing market.
Improvements in Fish Processing and Benefits
The main strategy of the project to improve fish processing involves the
introduction of the Altona-type oven as an alternative to the banda which has
economic, structural and operational disadvantages as already mentioned. Preliminary
pre-project discussions had identified three major areas of improvement: reduction in
fuel costs; reduction in the cost of repairs; and reduction in human-energy
expenditure. The new technology also had to be appropriate in terms of availability
of materials and manpower locally or from Freetown.
The Ghanaian model of the Altona-type oven was considered the most appropriate
technology. The project staff in consultation with the women modified the design and
the oven was then gradually and cautiously tested. A prototype was used for
demonstration and experimentation which gave the women time to test the equipment.
Although the prototype was cheaper than the ovens then in use, the women altered the
design by lowering the height, expanding the width and using trays made only of iron.
This made it more expensive but resulted in an oven that was easier and safer to
The oven can be constructed in three weeks using local manpower and materials.
It is made of brick, iron, aluminium and wood and stands about 127 x 214cm high. It
holds 14 iron mesh trays each measuring 122 x 75cm. A wooden table, providing a
working area, is usually erected in front of the oven and shielded from the sun and
rain. (see Figure 4).
The oven's most obvious advantage is the saving in fuel costs of about
60 per cent. Another advantage is its greater durability, having a life span almost
twice as long as the banda. The project increases women's earnings by cutting down on
operating costs. For example, cost/benefit analysis done by project staff shows that
on smoking 1000 dozen herring daily for 200 days, the banda method would cost
Le.14,600 compared to the Altona oven's of Le.6474. About Le.160-200 per month on
running costs is saved, reaching about Le.8,126 in five years. However, the initial
capital outlay for the banda is lower ranging from Le.50 to Le.400, according to the
methods of construction. The cost of the Altona oven ranged from Le.900 to Le.1200 in
1983. Its cost had doubled to Le.2400 in 1984. Half-sized mud brick ovens costing
Le.450 were being introduced to help meet the challenge of inflation. In spite of
this, women have benefited financially from the project.
The Altona oven's processing time, including laying, is shorter and it does not
necessitate constant direct watching of the fish. The smoke released from the oven is
more contained, increasing the intensity of the smoking flavour and resulting in more
even distribution. Charring is also reduced due to better control of the fuel. The
temperature in the oven varies from 1500c (bottom tray) to 108*c (top tray) and
requires the changing of the position of the trays at fairly regular intervals to
The project has also introduced fish-drying techniques by use of simple solar
energy technology experimentally. Other experiments in fish-processing technology
include smoking of larger fish and pre-test smoking treatments such as gutting,
filleting, splitting and salting. Tentative plans are also underway to introduce
cooled-fish storage facilities.
Despite the obvious advantages of the Altona oven, there are a few
disadvantages. The operation of the oven is not as easy as was presumed. The
handling of the trays requires two people and the frequent changes of the position of
- 58 -
the trays necessary to adjust to temperature changes within the oven increases the
work load of junior wives. The handling of hot trays, when loaded, can also result in
burns to the stomach. Frequent opening of the oven to adjust the trays exposes women
to an intense expulsion of smoke.
A number of these disadvantages can probably be overcome in time with more
practice and greater caution. Clearly, the women were enthusiastic about the oven and
welcomed it as an innovation that would reduce their high labour output and fuel
consumption as well as improve their processing operations. Discussions of the
disadvantages of the oven did not affect their overall appreciation of its advantages.
The advantages and disadvantages of both the Altona oven and banda can be thus
Advantages of the Banda Disadvantages of the Banda
Familiarity with its operation High fuel consumption
An important social space Uncontained release of smoke
Fish being smoked is constantly in view Difficult & hazardous operating conditions
Fluid is drained directly into fire Frequent repairs and frequent charring
Reduction in fuel consumption Requires two people to lift trays
Greater smoke intensity to flavour Variable temperature requires frequent
Reduction in charring rotation of trays
Generally easier to operate Fluid drainage must be more carefully
Greater durability controlled
Shifting of hot trays can be hazardous
Is not conducive to creating a social space
Higher initial capital outlay
The Tombo Women's Co-operative Society
Both the fishermen and the fish-processing women have been encouraged to form
separate co-operatives to better serve their special needs and to strengthen their
occupations. The Tombo Women's Co-operative, with a membership of 65, was formed in
June 1981 to improve fish-processing and trading; increase women's decision-making in
the economic development of the village; and to develop savings and credit facilities
for members. It is registered under the Sierra Leone Co-operative Law, has an account
with the Sierra Leone Co-operative Bank and receives supervision from the government
Loans of up to Le.250, payable in four months, are given to members who have
made regular monthly contributions of Le.4 up to Le.92. The interest rate is 2.5 per
cent. Members can buy ovens on 'hire purchase' schemes with payments of Le.50 a month
for 18 months. Members decide collectively on the giving of loans, and the signatures
of the president and treasurer are needed for withdrawals. To be eligible for loans,
a member has to maintain a savings account of Le.90. A standard rule is that the loan
should not exceed the amount saved by more than two-and-a-half-times.
There is an executive body consisting of a president, vice-president and a
treasurer. General meetings are held once a month on the second Sunday. Initially,
the German female project member and a Government female field officer or
representative of the Co-operatives Department supervised the minutes. The women now
conduct the meetings themselves with the officers usually leading discussions.
- 59 -
Figure 2: Mud Brick Smoking Banda
fish laid on
and mud plaster
Figure 3: Iron Smoking Banda
- 61 -
Figure 4: Altona-Type Smoking Oven
with doors removed to
show tray racks
with front handles
with doors closed
- 62 -
The Co-operative elected two committees: a General Committee and a Loans
Committee. Since most of the members are illiterate, great supervision is needed to
keep records and arrange loans.
The Co-operative has been making plans to secure a vehilce in an attempt to
tackle the transportation problems and it has been seeking ways of ameliorating the
THE GLOUCESTER VILLAGE DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION (VDA) PROJECT
Gloucester is one of the agricultural mountain villages on the southern part of
the Western Area. It is three miles from Freetown and has a population of 2,000
according to local estimates.10 There are few professional men and women in the
village, primarily in the teaching, clerical professions and in the ministries. The
majority are working class, commanding low income. While men are engaged in a variety
of occupations such as carpentry, masonry, woodcutting and coal burning, the majority
of the women are farmers cultivating vegetables, greens and spices for commercial
purposes on small plots averaging half-an-acre.
Gloucester village was founded in 1816 as one of the settlements for "liberated
Africans". Over time, the population grew on account of natural growth and
immigration particularly after 1940. A number of mutual-aid and benevolent societies
developed to provide relief for the villagers during times of hardship and for
specific needs. These institutions helped to establish a tradition of self reliance
through collective co-operation and to encourage fund-raising for mutual-aid purposes
and for community development.
Most of the houses are constructed with corrugated iron or wood and have pit
toilet facilities. The village has electricity, one elementary school, one nursery
school, three churches and one mosque. There are no permanent clinics or markets. A
few homes have running water but most villagers fetch water from four public taps and
use streams for laundering purposes. Generally, the village is poor and most of the
inhabitants have difficulties making ends meet.
Both men and women have access to land through either private ownership or
tenancy arrangements. Farming is organized on an individual basis with each woman
cultivating her own plot of land. The agricultural cycle commences with the clearing
of the land and the preparation of the soil for planting by men and teenage boys.
Women perform most of the tasks involved in farming. Widowed or divorced women
sometimes hire labour on a short-term basis and groups of women from related
households occasionally work together in rotating shifts. Small children help with
weeding, scaring away birds and pests and with harvesting. Production methods are
labour-intensive using simple tools such as the hoe, pick axe, scraper, watering can,
Ninety per cent of the food grown is sold. The women themselves transport it to
Freetown three times weekly on marketing days. Women sell in special areas allocated
to Gloucester village in the main market and at various points near major supermarkets
in the city. Profits range from Le.3 to Le.30 a day. Some women purchase crops from
traders from the Provinces and retail them in Freetown. These women can make up to
Le.50 a day. Because commercial farming predominates in Gloucester, women have to
purchase their staple foods. As a result, some of the money earned is used to
purchase food items in Freetown for household consumption in Gloucester.
Transportation facilities from Gloucester to Freetown are inadequate and roads
are in very poor condition. About two miles of the route is hilly and steep,
requiring great skill in driving. As a result, most public vehicles refuse to go to
Gloucester and women have to wait long hours for transportation. Those who walk run
- 63 -
the risk of falling down the steep hills. The cost of transportation to Freetown is
50c per person and 80c per basket, a factor greatly influenced by the high cost of
With regard to the social organisation of the village, both matrilineal and
patrilineal patterns exist depending on the ethnic group. However, men are the formal
heads of households among most of the ethnic groups and for many, residence is
virilocal. Polygamous marriages exist alongside monogamous ones and there are a
number of households headed by women. Households are extended and include non-kin
The household is not as completely a unit of production in Gloucester as it is
in Tombo but can also be viewed as an economic as well as a social unit of production,
consumption, and socialisation. Household labour is required for most tasks related
to farming and household chores, but many households have members who work for wages
outside the village. This helps to protect villagers from seasonal variations or crop
Women have wide-ranging opportunities for decision-making with regard to
household affairs. They are, however, much influenced by other women, particularly
the older ones, and tend to conform to the prevailing village pattern of consumption
and production. They are also influenced by friends and by the adult education
programme of the VDA. The women's economic position determines their access to land,
control over income and the extent of their decision-making authority within the
household. This makes it a highly variable situation since production is, for the
most part, on an individual basis.
As stated above, both men and women have access to land through private
ownership or tenancy arrangements. Most of the land is rented with each wife in a
polygamous household being allowed a plot of land. The rent is usually paid from the
produce and in general, women control the income from farming. Those whose
productivity levels are high generally have a higher income and more responsibility as
well as greater control over their income and greater decision-making authority within
the household. As a result, these women tend to rent more land area and hire labour.
In some cases, women do not have outright control over the income. Husbands can claim
some of the income if their labour input has been substantial. Failure to receive any
monetary compensation often results in tensions and conflicts between husband and
wife. These disputes are settled by special women 'Yaposseh' and 'Yabonkapri' -
assigned the traditional role of adjudicating disputes involving women.
Men's incomes are generally spent on housing, the buying of staple foods in
wholesale quantities, fees and furniture. Women usually buy other food items
necessary to complete a meal, other household supplies and clothing.
The VDA was founded in 1977 through the pioneering efforts of a former teacher
and resident of Gloucester with vast experience in community development and voluntary
work. The objectives of the Association are:
1. Improvement of the village through comprehensive rural development efforts.
2. Improving agriculture by introducing modern methods of farming.
3. Improving and increasing the village's water supply.
4. Raising the standard of living in the village.
5. Improving the economic, social and educational life of women who constitute the
majority of the members.
- 64 -
6. Fostering good relationships among members of the association.
7. Co-operation with national associations and international agencies in rural
The VDA has a membership of 100 women and 60 men. Membership is open to all
regardless of ethnicity and religious belief and incorporates people from the
neighboring villages of Leicester and Regent. The majority of the members are poor
and illiterate, earning their living as farmers, traders, artisans, domestic servants,
etc. They generally have incomes which are below adequate subsistence levels, live in
inadequate housing and are motivated to join the VDA in the hopes of improving the
quality of their life.
Members pay a small subscription of 20 c a month or Le.2.40 a year and are
guided by the following rules and regulations:
1. Members should attend meetings regularly and pay their subscriptions.
2. Debtors should not be allowed any benefits from the Association's credit union.
3. Members should assist each other in times of sickness, need or death.
4. Each member should contribute physically or financially to the Association's
5. Failure to comply to any of the above will result in loss of membership.
There is an executive committee of six offices: president, vice-president,
organiser, secretary, treasurer and social secretary. The most important position is
that of organiser. The executive committee meets every Wednesday and is responsible
for the special projects of the association.
Special committees are set up from time to time to oversee and implement the
special programmes. These are headed by programme co-ordinators selected by ballot.
These programmes deal with various development projects aimed at improving
agriculture, public facilities, health services, employment conditions, food supply
and access to farming tools, land and credit. Members articulate the needs of the
village and its inhabitants as well as influence the direction of the Association
The Association has a credit union which provides small loans to members,
thereby enabling them to strengthen their production activities. It works closely
with national voluntary associations in order to fulfill some of its objectives and as
a result has built up a useful network with several organizations in Freetown. The
linkages with national organizations are maintained through affiliation.
The project has been successful in making comprehensive rather than piecemeal
improvements in women's working conditions in the following areas: improvements to
living conditions; improvements to employment conditions; providing institutional
support to working women; expansion of women's skills and resources; enhancing
women's individual and collective decision-making capabilities; and encouraging
a) Improvements to Living Conditions
The VDA installed two additional public taps in the village to alleviate the
problem of water shortage and reduce the need to use streams. Money for this was
raised through fund-raising activities and from subscriptions. The members are
currently raising funds for equipment for two more public taps.
- 66 -
Gloucester has suffered from insufficient health facilities necessitating
residents to travel to a neighboring village or Freetown for medical care. The VDA
made frequent requests to the Ministry of Health and as a result, a mobile clinic
visits the village fortnightly.
b) Improvements to Employment Conditions
Direct improvements to the employment conditions of women were made through the
garden and the stalls programme. Women were introduced to more efficient methods of
farming and were also encouraged to plant more nutritious foods. Another extremely
useful programme of activities involved the setting up of stalls in Freetown markets
and securing especially assigned market locations for Gloucester women. Through the
help of a former female Mayor of Freetown, the Association was able to lay permanent
claim to an area traditionally used by Gloucester women but being usurped by traders
from other areas. Twenty-five stalls were built by Gloucester carpenters, mainly
through fund-raising efforts. Plans are now under way to install more permanent
c) Providing Institutional Support for Women
Through the support of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the VDA
started a nursery school, at a fee of Le.15 per month. The nursery provides a hot
lunch for the children and employment for six women who serve as head teacher,
assistant teacher, children's helpers and cooks.
Other institutional supports are provided through schemes aimed at procuring
food items from Freetown at wholesale prices and for easing some of the burdens of
transportation. At the same time, the VDA is encouraging members and other female
farmers to cultivate more subsistence crops in addition to commercial oines.
d) Devloping Human Resources
The Association promotes the development of human resources by improving women's
skills. It has worked closely with adult-literacy groups such as the People's
Education Association of Sierra Leone (PEA), a non-formal adult education association
sponsored by the Extra Mural Department of Fourah Bay College. The PEA's primary
objective is to provide opportunities for life-long education and training for people
who have had formal education as well as for those who have not. The VDA has also
participated in adult-literacy classes run by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Rural
Development and by the YWCA branch of Gloucester. Lessons include literacy,
agriculture, dress-making, nutrition, home management and social studies.
e) Enhancing Women's Decision-Making
Women's decision-making is enhanced through two main activities of the VDA a
family welfare counselling service and the traditional institution of dispute
settlement. Counselling seeks to influence decision-making by women within the
household and in relation to women's control over their incomes. Issues relating to
household budgeting are also dealt with. Traditionally, settlement of certain
disputes involving women has been handled by the 'Yaposseh' and 'Yabonkapri'. Both
these women are members of the VDA and have been concerned with improving women's
f) Encouraging Cultural Expression
The VDA seeks to improve village life by encouraging cultural expression.
Through co-operation with the PEA, a cultural group was formed which provides regular
activities featuring folk songs, dances and story telling. In addition, films, shows,
concerts and sporting events have been presented by the VDA.
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In some instances, particular problems of the village have been dramatised in
order to emphasise their importance and urgency. For example, the problem of poor
transportation is the most vexing to Gloucester villagers. Attempts to improve the
situation through appeals to the Government have repeatedly failed. The VDA produced
a play which was a satire illustrating the Government's indifference to the problems.
Officials from the Ministry of Lands, Works and Social Welfare were invited to the
show. The villagers enacted the problems faced in transporting their goods to market
and in going to work and received follow-up action from the Government.
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS
The most important impact of both projects has been their success in attempting
to strengthen the economic activities of low-income women in the respective villages
through a multi-dimensional rather than a singular approach. Women are involved as
social actors in social transformation and technological innovations and are making
decisions regarding the type, scale and functional capabilities of the technologies
introduced. They are also attempting to increase their income and their
decision-making capabilities within the household and in the community as well as
developing mechanisms for collective decision-making.
Both projects are different in origin and structure and affect the communities
in different ways. The Gloucester project is an example of an organic change whereas
the Tombo project represents change that is externally stimulated. In Gloucester, the
VDA grew out of felt need for village advancement and for the improvement of the
employment conditions of women. The Tombo Project is only one of the many foreign aid
development projects run by the GTZ and similar agencies in industrialized nations.
In considering the impact of the projects, it is important to realise that
specialisation rather than diversification is what characterises the Tombo economy.
The project's reason has been started as:
It cannot be the policy of the project to teach fishermen and their families
farming and farmers how to fish as is a tendency in some development strategies
oriented to subsistence needs. From a global economic point of view, additional
farming activities of women in Tombo would necessarily lead to a reduction in
fish processing and marketing activities.
The group approach promoted by the project enabled women to move processing
beyond the limits of the household into the wider village economy. On the other hand,
the technological innovations were being made on an individual basis following the
pattern of household production rather than a co-operative model.
Several positive steps have been taken to strengthen women's economic activities
through the Co-operative Society. Large-scale fish-trading activities are in the
hands of professional female traders not resident in Tombo. By becoming organised,
ultimately Tombo women will be in a better position to market the fish themselves at a
fair price. The success or failure of the Co-operative rests entirely on the degree
of participation of the members.
Developments in the area of mobilisation of the self-help potential of the
village are commendable. Both the Boatowners and Fishermen Society and the Tombo
Women's Co-operative Society have been growing in membership and financial resources.
A co-operative ethos is necessary in view of the formidable problems posed by
shortages in petrol supply. It may be necessary in time to evolve a new division of
labour involving a number of households in co-operative fishing and processing.
- 68 -
The introduction of the Altona oven has modernised female technology and
upgraded the system of fish processing. Thus, women's work has been elevated.
Successful fishing in Tombo has implications on a wider global scale. About
30 million people in developing countries make their living from fishing and related
activities and over one-third of the fish produced in the world is through
small-scale, labour-intensive fishing techniques such as is characteristic of Tombo
fishery. Tombo villagers must, however, reduce their dependency if they are to reduce
their operating costs. The Tombo project has pointed to some contradictions resulting
from the macro-economic framework which influences the Tombo economy. For example,
the Government requires that small-scale maritime fishermen pay taxes up to
40 per cent. They are also subjected to high prices of equipment, petrol and
lubricants. On the other hand, foreign industrial fishing fleets receive concessions
of all kinds and pay lower rates for equipment and fuel. Sponsored projects,
particularly the externally supported ones, often entail high administrative costs
which absorb most of the funds. Although the Tombo Project aims to reduce operating
costs and improve small-scale fisheries, it will increase rather than reduce
dependency. The new purse seine nets, the diesel inboard engines as well as the
materials used to make the sails and parts of the ovens, are imported from overseas.
Moreover, racial and cultural tensions often surface in the interaction between
expatriate staff and the local people.
One is compelled to ask a fundamental question: Why foreign projects? Are not
local people equally capable of producing the same results? Might foreign-sponsored
projects not in fact hinder the work of local experts and relegate local talent to an
inferior position? Are not foreign projects in fact producing underdevelopment in the
long-run? If they were really effective, why are they proliferating rather than
decreasing? Such questions need to be addressed by the external sponsoring and
receiving agencies and by the project participants.
The sustainability of the Tombo Project would depend on a number of factors.
The administration has to be reduced, a Sierra Leonean female counterpart has to be
recruited. Already, the price of the ovens has increased by 40 per cent and more,
causing the installation of large ovens to be suspended temporarily. The
sustainability of the technological innovation may be jeopardized by the fact that it
involves capital outlay and incurs debts at a time when productivity is threatened.
The Tombo project is a pilot one intended to serve as a prototype for
small-scale fishing in other villages in Sierra Leone. Its replicability is therefore
possible as long as forces at the macro level do not continue to threaten the
viability of small-scale fishing communities. In an attempt to replicate the Tombo
prototype project, mud-brick ovens are being introduced to neighboring fishing
villages, such as Mama Beach whose fishing and processing operations are on a smaller
Tombo villagers could not really criticise the project once it had come into
operation. Although a preliminary participatory research programme was conducted, no
provision was made for an evaluation by the villagers at specific intervals to
determine whether the next stage should be embarked upon. In 1983, a team comprising
mostly of university professors were sent from Germany to evaluate the project. Even
before their arrival, an extension of the project had already been approved and a
contract signed between the Government of Sierra Leone and the GTZ.
The Gloucester project represents a progressive indigenous process of
development and growth and is organically linked to social processes of mobilisation
and participation within the village. Its impact is indicative of the type of success
inherent in a village's ability to initiate and implement self-propelled development.
- 69 -
As a result of its organic nature, the VDA's success is more far-reaching, affecting
not only the lives of the low-income women who are the direct beneficiaries but also
the whole community.
The VDA represents an attempt by low-income women to become organised. to speak
for themselves, to gain visibility, to try to improve their material conditions and to
run their own lives. This was done with the co-operation of men which in this case
represents the co-operative ethos of the village rather than male dominance. Male
input was necessary for several reasons: more men than women are literate and have
been exposed to new ideas and techniques since many development schemes tend to be
male-oriented. The process of decision-making with regard to planning and
implementation of programmes has involved men. To a large extent, men serve as
catalysts for programmes intended to benefit women and are therefore accepted as
partners in development.
Due to the absence of strong powerful chieftaincies in this area, there is a
lack of the political clout characteristic of the larger chiefdoms to which many of
the rural villages in the provinces belong. Rural development programmes therefore
tend to overlook villages like Gloucester. Without the VDA, many women would be
seriously impoverished not only in an economic sense but also in social and personal
Perhaps the most important aspect of the project is the very low cost of its
operation, at Le.500 per annum. This effort can be viewed as exemplary of rural
development initiatives and can be repeated in other communities.
Despite its success, there is room for improvement in a number of areas. The
project needs to address the issue of labour intensity in farming with a view to
increasing the use of labour-saving technology and developing production co-operatives
to better organise the use of labour. At present, there is no co-ordination regarding
the crops produced. As a result, women tend to produce the same products and compete
with each other in the market place. The VDA could organise production centrally so
that women take turns in producing different crops and also experiment more regularly
with new crops.
1. Quarterly Economic Review, 1st Quarter, 1978, p.13.
2. Bank of Sierra Leone: National Accounts of Sierra Leone, 1976 Annual Reports.
3. I. Kaplan et. al.: Area Handbook for Sierra Leone (The American University,
F.A.S., Washington, D.C., 1976), pp.91-92; Also K.L. Little: The Mende of
Sierra Leone (London, 1951); and C. Hoffer: "Mende and Sherbro Women in High
Office", in Canadian Journal of African Studies. vol.6, np.2, (1972), pp.151-164.
4. M.C.F. Easmon: "Madam Yoko, Ruler of the Mendi Confederacy", Sierra Leone
Studies (Freetown, 1958), pp.166-167; Also C.P. Hoffer, op.cit.
5. Kaplan: op.cit., p.91.
6. F.C. Steady: Female Power in African Politics: The National Congress of Sierra
Leone (Pasadena, California Institute of Technology. Munger Africana Library
Notes, 1975); Also F.C. Steady: "The Structure and Function of Women's
Voluntary Association in an African city: A study of the associative process
among women in Freetown" (Unpublished D. Phil. Thesis. Oxford University, 1974).
7. G. Walter-Deuhert: Report on the Socio-Economic Study for "Fisheries Pilot
Project Tombo" in Sierra Leone (Konstanz, 1981).
8. See M.K. Hendrix: "A Developmental History of an African Maritime Fishery:
Tombo, Sierra Leone", Occasional Paper Series, African and Afro-American Studies
(Kingston, University of Rhode Island).
9. A. Kotnik: "A Demographic and Infrastructural Profile of the Tombo Fishing
Village, Sierra Leone, Report No. 1" (Freetown, Government of Sierra Leone,
1981). Most figures are based on this survey and on interviews by the author.
10. The 1974 Census gave the figure of 817 for the population of Gloucester but this
was strongly disputed by the residents.
THE KUBANG PASU TIMUR WOMEN'S MULTI-PURPOSE
CO-OPERATIVE, KEDAH STATE, MALAYSIA
Tai Yoke Lin
The last two decades have witnessed an emergence of organizations in Malaysia
aimed at uplifting the social and economic position of women in the country. Many of
these efforts have concentrated on rural women, in part because of the rural basis of
Malay political power; and in part because of the poverty that is apparent among the
rural population. Kubang Pasu Timur Women's Multi-purpose Co-operative (hereafter
Co-operative) was one such organisation. It won the 'Most Progressive Agricultural
Co-operative' award in the country in 1976, 1979 and 1982. This popularised it within
the country. It is the author's contention that while there are problem areas, as
shall be discussed in the paper, the Co-operative incorporates certain elements which
can contribute to the success of rural women's efforts.
The Socio-economic Setting
The Co-operative operates in a rural setting of small scattered villages, dirt
roads and low incomes. Members are mainly from families wholly dependent on paddy
farming and/or rubber-tapping for their livelihood. Incomes average M$120/- a month
per adult earner per household (M$2.50 = US$1).1 Forty per cent of household heads
are paddy farmers; 39 per cent are rubber-tappers (see Table 1). Approximately 8.1
per cent of the households I surveyed are female-headed, mainly divorced or widowed
women. A high proportion of paddy farmers and rubber-tappers work in husband-and-wife
Women could and did own land although statistics on the ownership of land in the
area showed that their holdings were smaller than the men's. For the various types of
land (rubber, fruit, rice, etc.) "the ratio of one-third to two-thirds in favour of
men appears to be constant".2 This is partly the result of customary and religious
practices relating to inheritance. According to the Syariah Laws, a female inherits
half what a man inherits while the Adat Laws provide for equal division of property
among male and female heirs. In this area both practices are equally common. The
landholdings of the majority of both men and women are small. Approximately 70 per
cent of the holdings are under 1.5 acres.3 Literacy is low. Only two-fifths of the
adults (over 18 years) have had primary education; and about the same proportion have
never been to school. Most of the men and women of over 40 years are hardly
literate. The area has experienced high mobility. About 50 per cent of the
population have moved residential areas once, although it has been within the
district. 72.6 per cent of the respondents indicated the wish to move to better
placed areas (see Table 2).
THE CO-OPERATIVE: ITS BACKGROUND AND DEVELOPMENT
In the mid-1950s, a group of 48 women in Kampung Banai village formed an
informal 'Savings Fund'. They were encouraged in this by a local village elder. For
about ten years the group encouraged and collected savings, lending out small sums.
Then, it decided to expand its activities. In part this was prompted by an increasing
awareness of its advisor and some of its committee members as to the limitations of
rubber-tapping and paddy farming to improve the material quality of village life.
Women also wished to emulate the Chinese who completely dominated small and
medium-sized businesses at the village level. In early 1966, Pa' Ramli, the advisor
- 72 -
Table 1: Main Occupations of Heads of Households and Spouses
Occupation Head of household Spouses
Farmers 40.3% 30.6%
Rubber tapper 38.7% 30.6%
Labourer 9.7% 0.0%
Housework 1.6% 22.6%
Others 8.1% 3.3%
Unknown/not applicable 1.6% 12.9%
TOTAL 100.0% 100.0%
Source: Kanita's Baseline Survey, University of South Malaysia (USM), 1980,
Penang, pp. 19 and 20
Table 2: Reasons for Moving
A better source of income 16.1%
Obtained new land 6.5%
Followed family 3.2%
Joined a new land scheme 1.6%
Transfer/change of job 1.6%
Not applicable 54.8%
Source: Kanita's Baseline Survey, USM, Penang, p.24
(who was himself a successful entrepreneur) and a few committee members, organised a
series of campaigns and a meet-the-people drive in various surrounding villages. Pa'
Ramli, "full of spirit and indefatigable", played a crucial role in these campaigns,
encouraging and training women in public speaking and imbueing them with a sense of
purpose. He built up confidence in the women. In March 1966, a pioneer group of 200
shareholders formed a Co-operative. Each shareholder contributed M$5/-. An
organising committee was elected to run the Co-operative. This task was given to some
of the few women with some education and experience, no matter how limited these
were. The Co-operative's objectives were to:
1) encourage Malay participation in business;
2) help members improve their agricultural production and raise their productivity;
3) do away with middlemen;
4) provide employment to daughters of members;
5) encourage members to save and invest;
6) provide loans to members in difficult times;
7) service households through the Co-operative's buying and selling functions.
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During the first few months, the Co-operative did not carry out any activities
which the shareholders had expected. Instead, it continued its money-lending
activities. Lack of visible projects soon led to rumours of fund mismanagement by the
committee. The rumours were neither substantiated nor openly introduced at meetings.
It seems that this initial "lack of progress" was due more to inexperience and limited
working capital. In any case, the committee realized the need to embark on profitable
They set up a retail store. Women were helped in this by their husbands and other
male supporters. Committee members claim that some of them parted with their
jewellery to raise the necessary funds.
Over the next 16 years, the Co-operative added more than a dozen businesses and
activities to its retail and savings functions. These included trading in rice, sand
excavation, tailoring, cattle rearing, tobacco growing, poultry farming and food
catering. Of these, some have been successful, others have failed. Even if failure
has been experienced, women have persisted in their efforts to look for profitable
ventures throughout the years. Undoubtedly, help in the form of advice, technical
expertise and subsidized inputs from its advisors and government organizations have
been invaluable to the Co-operative's growth. With every new activity, help (loans,
advice, also utilising some members' access to politicians) was actively sought and
obtained, if possible. Among the organizations which have aided the Co-operative's
efforts may be included various government bodies such as the Farmers' Organisation
Authority, the Fisheries Department and the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development
The Co-operative's existing projects include the rice and rubber trade and the
retail store, these three being the mainstay projects, rubber smallholding, sand
excavation, tobacco growing, food catering and a coffee shop. Unfortunately, the
animal husbandry projects have not been successful. This is to be attributed largely
to their insufficient knowledge of disease control. However, the Co-operative's
overall performance has been commendable (See Table 3). In each year of its operation
(except 1970 and 1977) it has turned in a profit. In 1981, profits were around
M$20,000. In January 1982, the Co-operative's assets had grown to an impressive
M$500,0005 of which M$64,595 was members' share capital.
Membership and Organisational Structure
The Co-operative's membership has been growing steadily and stood at 412 in
January 1982. Table 4 shows the occupational background of a sample of its members.
The figures show a slightly higher proportion of professionals, mainly teachers and a
lower proportion of unemployed women than that which actually exists in the
community. Approximately 40% are agricultural workers, earning incomes of about
M$90-150 a month. About the same percentage are housewives. The number in
professional and clerical occupations is small, reflecting the low level of literacy
among women in the village community. Even among the committee members only three are
able to read and write.
Table 3: Performance of Wmnen's Co-operative, Yubang Pasu Timur, 1967, 1969-1982
INCOME 1967 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982
Retailing Business 2606 1210 1251 6401 308 5851 3414 17227 3160 (4096) 8618 1633 (2028) (4206) 2140
Buying & Selling of Rubber 4364 8386 (8134) 3196 5382 14263 8513 798 12727 9471 18245 20968 28681 17264 3238
Land Excavation Project 14293 18602 816 2485 9821 4967 6092 1902 2690 522 1966 (999) 5272 6745
Tailoring (330) (582) 2902 (410) 25 -
Textile and Crockery Shop 108 754 717 369 100 763 (702) 5543 358 -
Lorry and Tractor Rental 537 310 21 (43) (429) (269) 7420 63 237 -
Rice Trade (267) 746 (222) 537 8159 (665) 18999 15868 (3742) 143389 74000
Furniture and Fittings 228 (1454) 5293 1403 2671 2510 4263
Cattle Rearing (1411) (17211) (2036) (3196) (2892) (4900) (8668) 832 222 -
Rubber Smallholding Scheme 256 24 (1947) (1147) (156) 1344 (1126) -
Poultry Project 552 6321 (3017) 4528 -
Goat Bearing (1802) -
Tobacco Project (686) 13849 (30457) NA
Tapioca Project 919 -
Fish Project 7500 (114) (214) 142 -
Other Income (Dividend ) 418 489 784 497 7009 2812 5152 18700 13816 6889 25220 25369 18859 NA
Interest, Shop Rental, etc)
Total Net Income from ) 21789 28858 (8427) 10913 14646 30796 20211 41901 45682 7950 76831 71324 57220 65029 NA
Headquarters Administrative NA 7688 8143 9571 12807 6803 16395 10035 23903 22791 50151 28975 29805 44497 47317
PROFIT/LOSS NA 21169 (11570) 1341 1839 23991 3815 31027 21778 148411 26680 42349 27415 20532 NA
Sources: 1967-1976 Audited Accounts of Wamen's Co-operative, Kubang Pasu Timur
1977-1980 Annual Reports, Women's Co-operative, Kubang Pasu Timur
1981-1982 Farmers Organisation Board, Kedah State
- 75 -
Table 4: Age Distribution and Occupational Status of Members
Age group Professional Agricul- Clerical Housewife Unemployed
10-20 -3% 3% 3%
21-40 7% 15% 3% 29%
41-60 3% 12% 12%
61 and above 7% 3%
Total 10% 37% 6% 44% 3%
Source: Compiled from survey data and available records at Women's Co-operative,
Kubang Pasu Timur.
The Co-operative is run by a committee of 12 women, five of whom in 1983 were
members of the first committee of 1967. It appears there has been a very strong
element of continuity regarding the organising committee, co-operators normally
choosing to maintain at least two-thirds of the committee members from one year to the
next. Elections are held once a year at the annual general meeting and, in good
weather, a turnout of approximately 40% has been normal.
The chairman appears to play a crucial role and is aided by the secretary, the
treasurer and one or two other committee members. These few have typically met often
to discuss the activities of the Co-operative. In most cases, they discuss the major
issues and problems before the whole committee meets. Meetings of the organising
committee have varied in frequency from three to ten per year. These meetings are
normally attended by the representatives of the local Farmers' Association, an
organisation that seems to have stepped up its advisory role in the Co-operative in
recent years. Figure 1 demonstrates the Co-operative's organisational structure.
The Co-operative's Performance
The Co-operative has faced problems in some of its activities, as shall be
discussed below. However, over a period of time it has delivered certain benefits to
members and the community as a whole.
Financially, it has managed to turn in modest profits for almost all its years
of operation (See Table 1). From the small sum of M$3,000/- in the 1960s, the
Co-operative has grown to own no less than 60 relong of land (approximately 40 acres)
in the community, a shophouse and its premises in the town of Jitra; a tractor, and a
van. Clearly, the Co-operative has increased the wealth-holding of women within the
The Co-operative has afforded employment and independent incomes to women. Over
50 women have been employed in its projects on a part-time or full-time basis; another
30 or more are involved (with their husbands) in the tobacco-farming project carried
out under the Co-operative's supervision. Some of these are owner cultivators, while
others are hired workers. Twenty-nine per cent of the interviewed 35 female workers
expressed the view that they would have been unemployed but for the Co-operative.
Indeed, this may have been the case, especially with regard to the older women of over
50 years old and the recently school leavers. The Co-operative has provided jobs to
women with secondary education whom it has employed to keep simple accounts and as
clerks in its office. Through the Co-operative, then, some educated women, albeit a
- 76 -
small number, are retained within the village, reducing the need for them to move to
the towns, while they in turn provide some necessary skills to the community. For
some women, the Co-operative has been a means of augmenting their income through
part-time work. For the elderly, it has been the only source of wage work. About 54
per cent of the women reported earning higher incomes as a result of their being
employed by the Co-operative or participation in its activities. For example, incomes
of the tobacco growers are reported to have increased by between 50 to 100 per cent
during favourable years.
Regarding skills improvement among women, the Co-operative has helped in small
but significant ways. Since its inception, three of the committee members have taken
short courses in accounting, office administration and basic business skills. A
handful of the members have actually started their own business. Borrowing from the
Co-operative, with land as collateral, one has started a restaurant, one is learning
to be a building contractor and yet another has opened up her own store. Admittedly,
the number is small. But women running their own businesses (besides the traditional
cake-selling and mat-making activities) is an extremely unusual phenomenon in the
setting of Kubang Pasu so that the efforts of these women should be seen as breaking
important new ground. The secretary, often seen as the entrepreneur of the
organisation, admits to have "learnt all I know about business just from working here
and trying things out".
All farmers involved in the tobacco project have learnt more efficient methods
of tobacco cultivation. The Co-operative employs a male manager, one of the few local
people who had been conversant with efficient techniques in tobacco growing. No women
in the community had the expertise previously. The manager imparts the necessary
knowledge and sometimes arranges for members' participation in government-sponsored
training courses. However, since participation is usually in husband-and-wife teams,
husbands have tended to dominate decision-making and in the training programmes. (The
fact that the manager is male might be partly responsible). A handful of women plant
on their own, and have been very successful in their efforts. All the men and about
half the women engage in other activities, mainly rubber-tapping and paddy farming,
where they hold smallholdings.
Young women have received training through the Co-operative's tailoring
project. Training has been in sewing and embroidery. Most of these young women have
been the daughters of older members. Many have secondary education but without other
job prospects within the neighbourhood. Upon marriage, they leave the village to join
their husbands elsewhere in the country. This has contributed to one of the problems
the project has experienced insufficient staff and high turnover. Another problem
has been that of inadequate working material and therefore work. Nevertheless, while
the project is not fulfilling its income-raising objective, it has imparted useful
skills to women through its training programme.
The Co-operative offers credit facilities to its members. It also extends
interest-free emergency loans to all workers, whether male or female. Each village
appoints a member who investigates and guarantees cash loans of less than M$400.
Tables 4 and 5 show the number and size of loans extended to the members for various
years and emergency loans given to employees between 1980 and 1983 respectively.
Clearly, the average size of loans has risen with time while the number given out by
the Co-operative is fairly large. Offering these facilities has been one of the
Co-operative's more notable achievements. Through them, it has made strides towards
reducing the middleman's role. Prior to the availability of the facilities, a paddy
farmer, borrowing from a middleman at the start of the planting season would
typically, at harvest time, pay 50% interest on his loan. A loan of a bag of
fertilizer (costing M$10/-) would be repaid with a quantity of rice which fetches
twice or three times more than the cost of fertilizer. The Co-operative has not
eradicated the role of the middleman/money lender. Nevertheless, it is clear that its
lending functions (at 1% interest a month) has provided an important alternative
source of funds to its members and farmers.
STRUCTURE AND ACTIVITIES OF WOMEN'S CO-OPERATIVE, 1983
Activities with rpeci fic
Activities under direct
supervision of secretary
Note: Figures under dotted linen in boxes Jrdicate number of Male (M) and Female (F) c-neral workers employed.
Asterisks* denote members/employees within the co-operative in the Organtslng Committele and Mannqrinal
and Administration functions who are related to one another.
- 78 -
Another useful venture has been the Co-operative retail store. This sells a
wide range of household goods and groceries. Co-operative members normally make
purchases on credit. Credit terms are more flexible than the middleman's. In
addition to providing a much-needed supply of household items, the store has also
reduced the villagers' previous travelling time to purchase necessary items. Eighteen
of 20 customer respondents reported travelling a shorter distance.
The Co-operative has also become an important buyer of rubber from the
neighbourhood smallholders. In 1980, it purchased over M$550,000 worth of rubber,
from which it made a profit of over M$28,600. Rubber sheets and scrap rubber are
brought to the store for sale, in contrast to pre Co-operative days when tappers
cycled three miles or more to sell their produce. The prices the Co-operative pays
for rubber are not very much better than previous ones, based as they are on prices
paid by rubber-processing factories. However, a case can be made in favour of the
Co-operative. Instead of the profits accruing to the middlemen, they have, with the
Co-operative's varied functions, added to the wealth of the women and through them the
Table 5: Loans to Members
1966 1973 1981
No. of loans 179 201 263
% of loans $1 $100 100% 91% 48%
% of loans $1 $400 100% 100% 84%
Table 6: Emergency Loans to Employees 1980-1983
1980 1981 1982 1983
No. of loans 68 232 190 116
Average size of loans $64 $97 $84 $72
% of loans $5 $100 86.7% 72% 64% 66%
Source: Kubang Pasu Timur Women's Co-operative.
Note: *Figures for first seven months of the year only.
While it is indisputable that, generally, incomes have risen for the
participants, it is not clear if these benefits have improved the women's power and
role in the family vis-a-vis their husbands. Eighty-nine per cent of the respondents
indicated performing as many household tasks as before their association with the
Co-operative. But many reported support from mothers or daughters. Except in two
isolated cases, no husband helped with the cooking or other forms of housework. About
the same proportion of the women reported having less leisure time as a result of
their work in the Co-operative. However, 95 per cent of the respondents expressed the
view that the money they earned contributed to their own or their families' resources
An interesting development has been the extent to which members of the
organising committee have been allowed into positions of political leadership within
their communities. They themselves attribute this to their positions in the
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Co-operative which have lent prestige and provided them experience in dealing with
large groups. Political loyalties within the Co-operative are split some committee
members are the local women's representatives of UMNO Wanita (The Women's Wing of the
Malay ruling party); others belong to the Malay opposition party, PAS. Divisions
between these women leaders have been sharp during the elections as each group
campaigned actively for the villagers' votes. However, they have shown a remarkable
ability to bury their political differences after the elections. Most have attributed
this to the unifying role of the Co-operative, which surprised even themselves.
The above discussion shows that the Co-operative is in many respects fulfilling
its objectives. However, this in no way means that the path has been without its
difficulties. Serious problems appear to have emerged from the very beginning and
with its financial success have come others, especially over the last few years.
One of the more frequent criticisms directed at the Co-operative is the lack of
more widespread decision-making within it. As early as 1968, the lack of
participation was discussed at committee meetings. But the situation has shown little
improvement over the years. The moving forces within the Co-operative have numbered
no more than four or five during any period of time and the general opinion seems to
be that without the secretary and the treasurer, "the Co-operative will collapse".
The involvement of ordinary members has normally taken the form of voting at the
annual general meetings. It does not appear that real efforts have been made to
promote more active participation from them. Organisers cite the women's lack of
education and business knowledge as major obstacles to greater participation. The
initial years were rather painful and challenging to the active organizers. An
overriding sense of "the Co-operative must survive" prevailed among them. This
engendered a commitment to the Co-operative above the issues of women, which
commitment has persisted over the years. Furthermore, the Co-operative's success is
taken as a reflection of the organizers' own integrity and worth. The question of
uplifting the status of women in the community and the issue of increasing their power
vis-&-vis men, then, do not seem to surface. In any case, it is not clear if these
issues have ever been the driving force behind the Co-operative's existence and
operation. Partly as a result of that, efforts to mobilise women to help themselves
and to participate in the organisation's decision making have been lower than should
have been the case.
Related to the above problem is the lack of change of leadership. The same few
people are elected into office each year. Thus three-quarters of the committee
members in 1983 were over 50 years old. Many of these are the women elders, who had
initiated the Co-operative in the 1960's. They are "simple" village women who
undoubtedly care for the Co-operative. However, the "respectful" practice of
returning them to their positions year after year has led to the inevitable shutting
new blood and talent out of the management team. The question of succession to
committee positions is a sensitive one within the organisation, complicated by the
fact that committee members receive small annual allowances. It is possible that the
abolition of these allowances, small as they are, may improve the stagnant situation.
Growing prevalence of appointment through kinship ties is causing some concern.
In an organisation with 19 managerial and administrative posts, 13 are filled by the
members of an extended family (See Figure 1). While this must be seen in the light of
the extensive network of kinship ties within any rural village, the closeness of these
relationships has invited criticism. The situation may have arisen in part from the
need to meet one of the Co-operative's aims: to provide employment for the daughters
of members; in part to meet a need as explained by Committee members: "it is 'better
to hire your own people because you are surer of whom you can trust". Perhaps it has
to do with the better level of education and talent within one extended family in an
area where few are educated. In a culture where kinship ties are strong, not to help
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a relative in need of employment poses a social and moral difficulty. Whatever the
case, vague feelings of unease over the situation have been evident among some members.
There are also indications that the profitability and prestige of the project
have in the last five years led to an influx of relatively richer women into the
Co-operative. Investigations show that all shareholdings in 1966 were less than M$100
for 64 per cent of the total share capital. In 1981, the situation was quite
different. Then, the small contributors (M$1 M$100) accounted for only 8 per cent
of total share capital, but they accounted for 50 per cent of the membership. Those
holding shares of over M$1000 (10 per cent of the membership) accounted for 43.4 per
cent of the Co-operative's total share capital, (Tables 7 & 8). Policies biased in
favour of this relatively wealthier group of women have begun to surface (for example,
rebates on purchases over M$300 per month at the retail store).
Table 7: Size of Contribution of Shares taken up by Members
Year $1 $100 $101-200 $201-500 $501-1000 $1000+
1973 63.9% 24.7% 11.4% *
1981 7.9% 11% 22.2% 15.4% 43.4%
Source: Based on records on share ownership, Kubang Pasu Timur, Women's
Note: Each figure above states the value of shares in the given range as a
percentage of the total value of shares in the co-operative.
Table 8: Distribution of Members by Size of Shareholding, 1966, 1973 & 1981
Year $1 $100 $101-200 $201-500 $501-1000 $1000+
1973 90.5% 7.5% 1.5% 0.5%
1981 47.5% 16.7% 21.3% 4.9% 9.5%
Source: Calculated from records at Women's Co-operative Kubang Pasu.
The Co-operative which earlier rode on the support of the poorer families now
appears to be shifting its base away from them. Since the shares yield dividends
every year, the larger contributors obviously enjoy a higher proportion of the
benefits. Furthermore, there is no awareness of the idea of paying a premium for new
shares in the Co-operative. Therefore, the pioneers and original risk-takers
essentially lose out in the sharing of benefits with the influx of new capital.
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CONCLUSIONS AND LESSONS FROM THE FIELD
Having observed the working of the Co-operative and discussed its more positive
and negative features, let us ask: what underlying elements have actually made for its
success; how can this success be further enhanced; and is the success replicable in a
It appears that a project that fulfills a felt need within a community,
providing a service which is desired and kept alive by the community has a greater
sustaining force than one whose source of existence is externally based, making little
impact to the social and economic functioning of the community as a whole. The retail
store and the rubber-trading functions of the Co-operative are cases in point. The
magnitude of the felt need for trading services on more favourable terms by the whole
community clearly increased the likelihood of success of the retail and rubber
trades. By contrast, the tailoring project affected few people in the community and
was dependent on the uncertain availability of work. Aside from providing some skills
to the workers, it hardly touched the lives of the people in the village. Its own
narrow horizons contributed to its non-success. It is to the Co-operative's credit
that it embarked not on handicrafts and cake-making but moved into previously men's
domains with broader bases in the context of rural problems and development.
Aside from its prudent efforts to involve itself in activities with high
returns, the Co-operative may be commended for always ploughing back into the
organisation the maximum amount of profits available. Not only did it do that, but it
wisely used excess funds and loans to anchor itself to a growing base of physical
wealth. It thus strengthened and consolidated its position over the years by amassing
for the Co-operative what matters most in a poor agricultural community-land. With
the knowledge of a steady income from its landholdings, the Co-operative has been able
to venture into various other activities more confidently.
Part of the success of its projects is attributable to the fact that the
economic and employment opportunities provided have not sharply interfered with the
women's domestic roles. In an environment such as Kubang Pasu, where the inferior
position of women is woven inextricably into the fabric of life but their oppression
not overt, projects which do not initially threaten to completely upset the sexual
division of labour seem to have a higher degree of success. Our attitudinal survey
showed that Muslim women need their husbands' permission to pursue various
activities. None of the respondents could deny that they would cease working if the
husband so desired. Under such circumstances, projects which aim to reduce the
domesticity of their roles in gradual stages appear to have higher chances for
success. Unfortunately, this may mean that in the initial stages, the women would
have to bear a higher burden of work.
The Co-operative has profited from the involvement of dedicated mentors. Many
of its early business ventures were carried out under the advice of the village elder
who had earlier inspired the women's savings' group. There may be reservations
concerning the ability of women's organizations to be independent of such mentors.
But it is probably helpful to take a more realistic yet dynamic view of the situation
and see the 'dependent' stage as transitional. The key factor is that an organisation
should eventually be weaned from its mentors, whether they are male or female.
During its period of growth, the Co-operative has exploited quite fully the
Government's willingness and commitment to rural development. Initial government
loans and grants as well as technical information played an important part in its
success. The importance of seeking out, locating and using these sources of support
to a project's advantage cannot be over-emphasized, especially during its crucial
growing years. The entry of its organizers into the local political arena has also
opened up new networks and opportunities which appear to be fully utilised by the
Co-operative to its advantage.
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Its function as a "bank" adhered closely to informal lending and borrowing
practices common in the village communities. The lack of paper work, the lack of
necessity for collateral in the case of loans under $400 etc. have contributed to the
villagers' ease in using its facilities. Unlike the commercial banks, the
Co-operative has been more like "the shopkeeper next door" whose loans in bad times
are a much valued service to the Community. Undeniably, issuing loans has been a
problem, given the number of people who need them and the limit on funds. But the
Co-operative has sought solutions through encouraging small loans and instituting
village loan investigators and guarantors. It appears that these solutions at the
village level have been fairly effective and speak well for the women's ability to
solve their own problems. The Co-operative has attempted successfully to weave its
functions around local practices and customs. Each year, it allocates a portion (not
more than 7 per cent) of its profits to the Community's welfare services; in cases of
death, it donates generously to the bereaved families etc. These practices,
incorporating the more positive elements of local customs and values have helped
enhance its image in the community.
An interesting feature of the Co-operative has been the extent to which it has
succeeded in modifying procedures and getting around bureaucratic requirements to suit
its level of operation and competence. This raises questions regarding the
suitability of the co-operative framework for rural development. The Co-operative
discussed in this paper has solved the problem in its own ways. Given the low level
of education of most of its administrators, it has merely devised a 'money-in,
money-out' system in place of a more complex accounting system. It leaves the final
sorting out of profit and loss and balance sheets to an accountant who is 'loaned' to
them once a year. Minutes are brief. In many cases, a literate representative from
the Farmers' Association, capable of recording, is invited to meetings. In short,
there may be ways around co-operative procedures.
Some general and practical considerations emerge from the discussion. Most of
these are not new but in the light of the Co-operative's experience, may warrant
reiteration. The most important of them are:
1) Leadership change is desirable. Wherever possible it may be prudent to build
into the electoral process a systematic renewal of leaders over time.
2) Once leaders or potential leaders are identified, there is a need to improve
their skills so that they can carry out their functions effectively. One of the
greatest stumbling blocks to rural women's participation in non-traditional
activities must be their lack of management skills.
3) Attitudinal changes among women may be facilitated by spending some of an
organisation's efforts on educating their spouses. This is especially so in
cultures where men have the final say over the activities of their family
The applicability of these 'lessons' from the field are no doubt dependent on
individual circumstances. Nevertheless, it can be generalised that in rural
situations where women operate under the usual constraints of low education,
isolation, incomplete information and subjugation, the above discussion and
suggestions may be relevant considerations in assessing and planning a project's
1. From author's survey data on workers. However, weight given to members and
workers may have caused some bias in sample so that figures should be seen as a
2. Marie-Andrd Couillard: "Survey of Kedah State", Working Paper for the Kanita
Workshop, Malaysia, March 17-19th, 1980.
3. Ibid., p. 32.
4. Ibid., p. 34.
5. Kubang Pasu Timur Women's Multi-Purpose Co-operative: Audited accounts, 1982.
FAMBIRAYI MBERI AND KUSIMUDZIRA ZIMBABWE
CO-OPERATIVES FOR FEMALE EX-COMBATANTS
When Zimbabwe attained its Independence from Britain in 1980, one of its major
predicaments was the fate of the thousands of combatants who had fought in the
liberation war. About 10,000 female combatants had operated from Mozambique.
Clearly, the large numbers could not be absorbed by the new Zimbabwe armed forces.
The majority did not hold adequate academic or technical qualifications. The
Government established a rehabilitation fund out of which each ex-combatant was to
receive Z$ 180 per month over a period of two years (Z$1.45=US$1). But this offered
short-term solutions. The Government adopted three long-term strategies to integrate
and rehabilitate these ex-combatants: integrate them into the national army; expand
their employment opportunities; or extend educational programmes to them.
During the liberation wars, a group of exiles based in London and supported by
the Bethlehem Fathers, Switzerland, formed an organisation, the Zimbabwe Project, to
sponsor projects for the combatants. After Independence, the organisation moved to
Harare and was encouraged to promote rehabilitation projects. Zimbabwe Project
started to achieve this by setting up producers' co-operatives, giving them grants and
loans. Despite these attempts, a significant number of ex-combatants remained
uncatered for. The challenge to find appropriate programmes for them persisted.
In 1981, the Government established a Ministry of Community Development and
Women's Affairs. This Ministry set up an umbrella organisation, the Zimbabwe National
Women's Organisation (ZNWO), to co-ordinate activities of the country's various
women's groups. Soon after ZNWO's inception, it became involved with the question of
female ex-combatants and the existing programmes to integrate them. The organisation
acknowledged that circumstances were particularly difficult for female ex-combatants
who could be more easily overlooked unless there was some intervention on their
behalf. ZNWO feared this because female ex-combatants had lower educational
qualifications than their male counterparts. The idea of setting up a training centre
was thus conceived. Yet ZNWO was in its infancy and without sufficient means.
Therefore, it embarked on a fund-raising campaign to enable it to realise its goal.
The Netherlands Organisation for International Development Co-operation (NOVIB)
offered to purchase the premises for a training centre and to provide funding for two
years, 1981 to 1983, after which period the training centre was expected to have
attained self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The ZNWO purchased Melfort, a farm about
40 km east of Harare and 108 acres in extent. Within a short space of time, the farm
was transformed into a training centre. The original programme was to train literacy
tutors. This was quickly abandoned in favour of a programme which would yield quicker
results to benefit the ex-combatants economically. A skills training programme was
proposed in its place. This programme included courses in: tailoring/dressmaking;
bread baking; tie and dye; poultry; literacy; sewing and gardening. The rationale
behind this programme was that the trainees would come out equipped to venture into
the employment market. Literacy, sewing and gardening were made compulsory.
Pressure to restrict the training programmes to ex-combatants only has since
ceased. Now, recruits come from all around the country. Whereas ex-combatants are
recruited mainly through the demobilisation directorate, that of other women is
decentralised to the district level.
Out of the initial group emerged the two groups which set up Fambirayi Mberi
Co-operative in Wedza and Kusimudzira Zimbabwe in Mutare. This development set a
precedent which influenced recruitment policies fundamentally. It was realized that
the chances of absorbing the Melfort trainees into the formal employment sector were
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minimal. Establishing co-operatives offered an option. Therefore, it has been
recommended that recruits should be taken in groups of at least six so that at the
end of their training, they can go back and form a co-operative.
Melfort is run by an administrative staff comprising an administrator, an
assistant administrator and teachers. The administrator and her assistant are in
charge of the training centre and manage its affairs. One of their primary
responsibilities is to draw up a budget and a programme aimed at eventual
self-sufficiency for the centre. Presently, the centre runs a poultry unit and a
vegetable garden which are also used for training purposes. These bring in some
revenue but no breakthrough has yet been made to formulate and implement any other
projects. Courses run for six months. The administration designs the course
content. Of the courses offered, tailoring has proved the most popular because it
yields quicker returns in a rural economy. Generally, clothes are more expensive in
the rural areas because of the distances from the manufacturing centres and the
transport costs this entails. Because businesses are fewer, prices are not as
competitive as they are in the urban centres. The original intention had been to
prepare the trainees for formal wage employment. But even as the first group of
recruits were graduating, it was clear that the clothing industry for which they were
equipped could not absorb them. It was itself suffering setbacks. Therefore,
trainees were to be equipped and assisted in ways which could establish them outside
the wage employment sector. Thus, the graduates were encouraged to start
The method employed to examine and understand the way the two co-operatives are
functioning involved intensive discussions with the Government, ZNWO and Zimbabwe
Project officials as well as administrators and teachers at the training centre.
Group and in-depth interviews with the participants were also conducted. One group
discussion involved Zimbabwe Project, Mission officials, district administration
officials and co-operative members. Over a one-year period, the author also lived
with the co-operators, observing them at work and talking with them casually.
Opportunity was taken to introduce discussions which would make the co-operative
participants assess themselves and their performance. This way, it was hoped
qualitative and quantitative improvement could be introduced by the project
FAMBIRAYI MBERI COOPERATIVE
The Political Socio-Economic Setting
Fambirayi Mberi Co-operative is located in Wedza, one of the 55 district council
areas of Zimbabwe. Its chief occupation is peasant farming. Farmers make their
incomes by producing surpluses which are sold to the Grain Marketing Board, although
this is subject to the vagaries of the weather. Peasant farmers have limited access
to credit to purchase inputs because they cannot raise the security required by the
lenders. Since Independence, the Agricultural Finance Corporation has improved the
situation for them. Soon after Independence, the Government increased producer
prices. Productivity rose. 1980/1981 saw a bumper harvest throughout the country and
everywhere were signs of prosperity. The peasant buying power was enhanced but
drought struck in the 1981/1982 agricultural season. Wedza experienced a depressed
harvest. A more devastating drought set in in the 1982/1983 season to the extent
where food aid was introduced to save the district. These disastrous effects hit the
whole country. Central Government's efforts to deal with the situation were strained
because the world recession was biting deeply into the national economy.
Wedza suffered a developmental setback as a result of the drought and the world
recession but it has continued to benefit from Government's policy of directing the
thrust of its programmes to the development of the rural areas. The Agricultural
Finance Corporation has stepped up loan facilities to peasant and small-scale farmers,
from $13.6 million in 1981/1982 to $35 million in 1983/1984. This remains inadequate
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for the needs of this group of farmers. However, it must be seen as recognition by
the Government of the need for more assistance, although the question of women and
credit in their own right is yet to be addressed.
There is a rapid expansion in the provision of educational facilities. A per
capital grant is given to district councils to enable them to meet textbook, stationery
and other administrative costs. But parents are expected to pay for their children's
school uniforms. To wear uniforms is not compulsory and in times of economic
hardship, peasants give the buying of uniforms very low priority. However, employed
urban-based members of the extended family are obligated to help. Generally, the
infrastructure has been developed, resulting in better roads, communication and an
increased number of clinics and other health services.
Wedza District Council, a local authority, is the popularly elected institution
whose function is to provide the local administrative machinery. All the councillors
are men in spite of the fact that, theoretically, the electorate comprises an equal
number of men and women. In actual fact, women voters are likely to be in the
majority because of male migration to the urban areas in search of wage employment.
The absence of women on the council means that issues affecting women are not likely
to be given the importance they deserve. Fambirayi Mberi Co-operative is affected by
this because, to some extent, its success depends on the Council's support, although
this support should not in any way compromise the control members have over the
direction of their Co-operative. Primary schools fall under the jurisdiction of the
Wedza District Council. Therefore, all arrangements relating to the purchase of
uniforms by schools can be facilitated by Council's position.
The History of Fambirayi Mberi Co-operative
In October 1981, Melfort Training Centre enrolled 20 ex-combatants as its first
trainees in dressmaking. As the course period of six months drew to a close, the
question of placement occupied the Melfort administration because of the limited wage
employment opportunities. They started to search for alternatives. Mrs Ravel, the
Administrator provided by NOVIB, heard about Zimbabwe Project's work in assisting
ex-combatants to set up co-operatives of different types. Zimbabwe Project had
earlier been approached by Father Pascal Slevin of Mount St. Mary's Mission in Wedza
District for a possibility of setting up a uniform-making co-operative. There were,
at the time, 45 schools in Wedza District with a total enrolment of 30,000 pupils of
whom 1,700 belonged to Mount St. Mary's Mission. This presented a potential market
which a uniform-making co-operative could tap.
Mrs Ravel raised with the Zimbabwe Project and Father Pascal the possibility of
selling the idea of a uniform-making co-operative to the 20 Melfort trainees.
Although Mrs Ravel found this option appealing, she was faced with a fundamental
predicament of how to sell the idea without appearing to impose it. The young women
had to make the final choice. Morris Mutsambiwa, an officer with the Zimbabwe Project
who himself was an ex-combatant, introduced the co-operative concept to the young
women, presenting the proposals for setting up a uniform-making co-operative. He
arranged that the group visit an agricultural co-operative which female and male
ex-combatants had set up at Shamva. The Melfort trainees found the Shamva
co-operative very interesting. They felt they could also rise to the challenge as
their fellow ex-combatants. On the other hand, it was clear to them that the success
at Shamva had been achieved through a tremendous effort and hard work.
At the end of the course in April 1982, Fambirayi Mberi Co-operative was born
with the 20 young women as its founding members. Father Pascal offered a large room
on the Mission premises. It was provided with electricity and was to be used )as a
factory. The young women were also offered sleeping accommodation. Zimbabwe Project
made an input of Z$13,000 in the form of sewing machines and cloth, of which 50 per
cent was a grant and the remainder a loan. Until the factory facilities were ready
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for production, the young women produced vegetables for their consumption from a piece
of land donated by the Mission. The factory went into production in May 1982 and the
first order was for the 1,700 Mission pupils.
A management structure was set up to run the Co-operative's affairs. This
comprised an executive committee of six persons: a chairperson, vice-chairperson,
secretary, vice-scretary, treasurer and production manager. The chairperson and, in
her absence, the vice-chairperson, is responsible for convening meetings, chairing
them and generally for overseeing and ensuring the good running of the Co-operative.
The secretary and, in her absence, the vice-secretary, is responsible for keeping
records of the meetings and any other records. The treasurer is in charge of the
finances. The production manager is responsible for formulating production schedules
and ensuring that targets are met. She monitors production targets and is expected to
keep a time register which would form the basis for paying dividends to members.
However, pressure of work has never been so great as to demand strict observation of
the time register. The above structure also provides a framework for maintaining
discipline within the group. The executive committee is elective; hence, there is no
question of an imposed leadership.
The Co-operative has grown since its inception. Three new members have joined:
two males and one female. One of the male members is a disabled person of many years'
experience in the clothing industry, having worked in the main cities of Harare and
Bulawayo. He lost his job because of the clothing industry's retrenchment. The
Zimbabwe Project put him in touch with Fambirayi Mberi Co-operative. The other
members accepted him because of the skills he brought with him. With his vast
knowledge and skills, he has been able to carry out minor machine repair work. He has
contributed to directing the Co-operative toward profit-making practices. The other
male was also accepted on the merits of his experience. His expertise lie in cutting
and designing. The training provided at Melfort did not give sufficient attention to
these important areas. Therefore, his membership is highly valued. The new female
member was recruited because she was trained in book-keeping. This was deemed crucial
to the efficient running of Fambirayi Mberi Co-operative. The Zimbabwe Project
assisted in her recruitment. In fact, Zimbabwe Project had sponsored her training in
In October 1982, the members decided to set up a tuckshop in their factory.
This was prompted by the very slack picking up of uniform production. Members were
not fully occupied which tended to lead to boredom. The main patrons are the
students. So far, the tuckshop has proved satisfactory to the girls, averaging a
gross turn-over of about $55 per day. This project was initiated after some
discussion sessions with the researcher. These sessions had emphasised the importance
of proper record keeping of both meetings and accounts. Now, accounts books are well
maintained and a close watch of the stock is kept. Some problems were encountered
because the Mission administration had not been informed about the project,
particularly as the hours of operating if not well regulated could disrupt the
discipline of the school.
After discussions between the two sides, an amicable agreement was reached. The
tuckshop has been running smoothly ever since.
The line production method had been in use but when subjected to examination, it
was found to present problems in terms of quality control. Without the necessary
sophisticated equipment, the variance in the work produced was found to be great. The
group then decided that each person should start and complete an item singly. Each
person's production levels have been measured by the amount of completed items.
Initially, the Co-operative worked with ten ordinary zig-zag machines. In
October 1982, the Zimbabwe Project provided them with an industrial sewing machine
whose cost was covered in the Z$13,000 capital outlay made to the project. This is a
vital investment with respect to the quality of work that can be produced by the
Co-operative. Competition from the clothing factories is stiff because these enjoy
the advantage of having sophisticated equipment.
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Problems and Analysis
By the end of 1982, the Co-operative's quality of production was still at low
levels. In competitive markets where better-quality urban-produced uniforms were
still being imported, this created a threat to the saleability of the Co-operative's
uniforms. As a result, the Co-operative was not making sufficient profits to
regularly pay dividends to its members. In fact, often they had to contribute Z$60
each per month towards the Co-operative's running costs. They were able to do this
because of the demobilising allowance ex-combatants were entitled to until the end of
1983. Although this indicates commendable determination by the young women to keep
their effort going, it posed a serious challenge to the viability of the Co-operative.
Another problem resulted from the women's insufficient training. After six
months at Melfort Training Centre, the young women were equipped with the dressmaking
technique but in order to run an independent co-operative venture, they needed other
skills, such as book-keeping and management. The result was excessive dependence on
Father Pascal of Mount St. Mary's Mission for the Co-operative's financial
management. During the author's first meeting with the members, she could not get a
clear picture of their financial position. The women did not have a clue regarding
the amount the Co-operative had in the bank. The author was advised to contact Father
Pascal instead. The Co-operative members made and sold the uniforms without an idea
of the cost of inputs, so that this could provide a basis for determining the price
The Zimbabwe Project recognized this weakness. The arrangement to have Father
Pascal keep their accounts was seen as an interim one. For long-term solutions, the
Zimbabwe Project recommended recruitment of an additional member and assisted in
fulfilling this goal. She was to work with the treasurer. The Co-operative members
welcomed this recommendation. Her contribution plus the training given by the
Ministry of Local Government and Town Planning and a self-assessment resulting from
the discussions the author held with them, have accounted for a significant
improvement. The Co-operative has demonstrated its ability to take the initiative to
formulate its own system of record keeping. Its management of the tuckshop is quite
outstanding. The first male member to join the Co-operative brought with him
invaluable knowledge and experience about what improvements could be made for the
venture to become more profitable. His fellow members accepted his contribution with
appreciation. As the members consolidated their skills and knowledge, the
Co-operative's dependence on Father Pascal weakened. Undoubtedly, this is of
long-term advantage. Through a process of self-analysis, the women realized that no
matter how good their tailoring skills could become, without good management, their
project would be likely to fail. Also they realized that good management meant
Moreover, the Co-operative has also experienced difficulties with payments.
Schools buy the uniforms from the Co-operative. They in turn sell to the parents who
often get the uniforms on credit. The worse the economic situation among these rural
producers becomes, the longer the Co-operative has to wait for its payments. The
implications of this for the Co-operative are that often, it runs out of working
capital and hence the reliance on members' contribution before the end of 1983. At
one time, the Zimbabwe Project had to advance the Co-operative Z$3,000 worth of cloth
which has since been repaid.
Another problem concerns the social environment. Accommodation arrangements
whereby members share bedrooms do not allow spouses to join the few married members.
Except for the very young, even children cannot live with their mothers. They are
often left in the care of grandmothers or other relatives. It is not clear how this
problem will be resolved or its impact on the future of the Co-operative. It is
possible that some husbands will not allow their wives' continued membership. The
prospects to improve the situation rest on the ability of the members to operate a
viable project. The District Council has expressed interest in assisting the
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Co-operative to set itself up in the district growth point. This would provide a
better location for access to the market, but this might not be easy to achieve as
further capital outlay would be required. On the other hand, the fact that the
Co-operative operates under the circumstances described has its advantages. On a day
to day basis, pressure from family and marital responsibilities do not interfere with
the running of the Co-operative. Compared with other women's groups, there is a vast
difference in the time they are able to allocate to their co-operative effort. Other
women's groups are able to devote only a day or two per week to such ventures. Viewed
in perspective, the increasing pressure on land reinforces the importance of such
efforts. Successful implementation of this type of activity could contribute to the
diversification necessary to the rural economy.
From its inception, the Co-operative has been supported by various agents,
especially the Zimbabwe Project and the Mount St. Mary Mission. There has been the
potential support of the District Council and the District Administrator. However,
little thought was given to the importance of having the different contributions
co-ordinated. This is regrettable because it delayed the Co-operative's full
development. There was a lack of appreciation of the necessity to develop all
possible relationships that would reinforce this development. Suspicion existed
between the District Council and the Mission regarding each other's intentions about
the project. Consequently, for a long time the only order received was the one from
Mount St. Mary's Mission and smaller ones from a few other schools. The process of
networking has been a slow one, but it is ultimately achieving tremendous results.
Although the initiative was made for the group, they did not lose their role as the
main actors. They have been very outspoken about what their goals and objectives are
and how they perceive the strategies for achieving them. In sessions where all the
main parties assisting them were represented, the members have demonstrated their
ability to see the project in perspective, leaving no doubt about the need for a
co-ordinated approach. Moreover, suspicion between Council and Mission no longer
exists, the former having come forward to play a more active role. Now, the Council
ensures that the Co-operative gets all the orders it can handle. The Council wishes
to see the Co-operative as part of the district's development strategy. Consequently,
the Co-operative has been invited to participate in district planning-team meetings.
This is the main instrument for achieving co-ordinated development in the district.
This discussion of some of the obstacles encountered by the Co-operative
demonstrates that solutions to its survival do not rest upon a foolhardy attitude to
remain isolated in order to prove that a women's initiative can succeed. The strength
of the group is seen in its discerning ability. Additional members were recruited to
enrich the necessary skills. Although some success has been achieved regarding
networking, its consolidation will depend on the group's ability to fit into the
system and work with both men and women. Their self-perception is broadening, taking
into account their objective to earn an income as well as the need for them to play a
facilitative role in development for the benefit of the entire district community.
The District Council has expressed a wish to see Co-operative members contribute to
the district training centre by imparting skills they have acquired in the process of
setting up the Co-operative.
If the strategies which have evolved during the life of the Co-operative are
persistently implemented, the chances of success look bright. A market among the
peasants has been located. Yet peasants are suffering the effects of drought and the
recession, affecting their ability to meet their monetary obligations. Therefore, one
cannot determine how well the Co-operative will fare until these ease off. Meanwhile,
there is a need for a practical method for prompt payments for the uniforms.
Negotiations are currently underway to examine what provisions could be made to
achieve this. If this is successful, a healthy cash-flow would result.
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KUSIMUDZIRA (UPLIFTING) ZIMBABWE CO-OPERATIVE
The most favourable conditions for setting up this Co-operative were found in
Mutare, the fourth largest city in Zimbabwe, with a population of 69,600, a
sophisticated commercial and industrial infrastructure and is a leading tourist
centre. This location suggests some difficulties that a business would encounter
while in the process of becoming established. Competition, in all aspects, is rather
fierce. Production and quality standards have to be high in order to match those
already on the market. A strategic marketing approach is required, calling for
promotional and advertising work. For Kusimudzira Zimbabwe Co-operative the
competition has been softened by the fact that tie and dye is new in the country.
The Co-operative's urban setting provides a strong buying power. Despite the
recession, incomes are higher and more regular than those in rural areas. The minimum
wage for domestic workers is now fixed at around Z$55.00 per month and that of an
industrial worker at $105.00, while tourists also provide a potential market.
However, the Co-operative is housed away from the town or suburban centres where most
shops are located and shopping activities take place. As a result, it is not easily
accessible to customers.
History of the Co-operative
Out of the first group of Melfort trainees, six young women were trained in tie
and dye. There were only these few because tie and dye was a new area in the country;
the women's employment prospects were rather uncertain. As in the case of the women
who initiated Fambirayi Mberi Co-operative, Mrs Ravel discussed with the Zimbabwe
Project the imminent predicament of those who had received training in tie and dye.
The latter took up the matter with the City of Mutare. This City responded by
offering premises for sleeping accommodation and a workshop.
The idea was to interest the tie and dye group in setting up a co-operative.
Therefore, they were taken on a visit to an established co-operative. The concept of
co-operatives was then discussed with reference to what had been observed at this
co-operative. The women were encouraged into initiating a co-operative as an answer
to their limited opportunities to break into the wage labour market. A viable
co-operative would underwrite their economic independence which would be otherwise
disrupted after termination of demobilisation allowances.
The six young women formed Kusimudzira Zimbabwe Co-operative. They recruited
two more women and five men since it is the Country's statutory requirement that a
co-operative be composed of at least 12 members. The Co-operative elected a
chairperson, secretary and treasurer to form the organising committee. This
Co-operative has not faced serious management problems partly because of its small
In recruiting the additional members, consideration was given to skills
enrichment. There was need to strengthen salesmanship. Male membership was sought
for this reason. One of the men has made a considerable contribution towards the
standard of work by combining tie and dye with printing.
The Co-operative has concentrated its marketing effort in Mutare. The main
items produced are tie and dye skirts and T-shirts. Complacency set in at the
beginning because of the substantial demobilisation allowance. But since its
termination, a keener awareness to raise the level of profits has developed. 'They
adopted a strategy of approaching businessmen in Mutare to get them to stock the
Co-operative's products in order to increase the number of outlets. This has brought
some success and the market appears to be growing.