Audio postcard: Empowering women to make a living from farming

Upendo Sylvester sits on a chair near the village office, turning up the volume on a yellow wind-up radio as workers at the mosque next door hammer away. The 44-year-old farmer does not own her own radio but keeps her community listening group’s radio for their weekly meetings on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

This Hissa group is unique. It started in 2011 to give widows living in Makiba village, about 40 kilometers northeast of Arusha, Tanzania, reasonable loans. But it is now empowering its 30 female members with advice over the radio.

Upendo says, “Since we’ve started, I’ve seen a difference. I now see that widows regard themselves as other women. They can now make their own living from farming.”

She has experienced the difference herself. Upendo lost hope after her husband died in an accident. The rain was slowly destroying her home and her children were sleeping on narrow beds, without a mattress. She was growing maize, beans and cassava on her three acres of land with very few crops, and even less money, to show for it.

Each week her listening group tunes in to Radio 5 for an agriculture program called Fahari Yanau (My Pride). It is one of Farm Radio International’s impact programs that discuss growing, cooking, storing and selling vegetables.

Upendo used to prune her vegetables with her fingernails and would only harvest the crops once a year. The program introduced a technique to prune with a knife or sharp object so the stem can regrow. She harvests her crops two or three times a year this way.

She says, “So now I grow a small patch of land but get a lot, a lot of vegetables.”

Another challenge in Makiba is selling the crops. Many farmers are unaware of market prices. Friumence Shayo is the ward extension officer. In some cases, he sees farmers selling the vegetables for less than half of their value.

He says, “By having the information when the middlemen come to buy the crops, the farmers have power to negotiate because they know a good price.”

Upendo remembers the first time she received better prices for her crops. She took the money and bought land to start building her new house. She sent all four of her children to school and bought them comfortable, bigger beds.

She says, “I am so, so happy and I don’t have to sit down and complain that, ‘I am a widow. I am a widow. I can’t do anything’.”

Once her children are finished with school, she will continue to expand her farming business and support the other women in her group. Upendo also hopes the radio show will expand.

She says, “I would like to see others benefit from this program, the same way I have benefited.”

Radio 5’s Fahari Yangu program is part of our “Developing demand-led interactive farm radio services” project, supported by Irish Aid.

Beth White
About the author  
Beth White is a recent journalism graduate of Carleton University. She is spending the summer working in Arusha, Tanzania as a Communication Research Assistant, where she will evaluate FRI’s programs. Beth has worked in print, television and online news but aspires to work in communications for a charity organization.

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