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March is Women’s History month in Australia and the United States. So in the spirit, we want to explore how our trees have impacted the lives female farmers in Kigoma.

Last year we completed a comprehensive survey of our farmers, over 700 of them. The survey included questions about current income, crops, and the size of their household. Preliminary results show that, while Seed Change helps everyone, our impact on women is more pronounced.

Female headed households have lower incomes, less assets, and fewer palm trees than male headed households. Therefore any initiative that equally help both genders will disproportionately benefit women – they are coming from a lower base. This is especially important because research has shown that women spend a higher percentage of their incomes on their family and children. An investment in women has a greater impact on the entire family.

Survey Finding 1: Our farmers typically have low incomes, but female heads of household are lowest of all

The data from the survey showed that our farmers have lower incomes than the per capita income of Tanzania. And fitting a common pattern of urban/rural poverty, the farmers also are poorer than average in the Kigoma Region (which is already the poorest region in Tanzania). A majority of farmers (56%) make less than $100 (USD) each year and a sizable portion (29%) have no cash income, surviving on subsistence farming alone. Other incomes might include labouring for other farmers, having a small shop, or fishing. See the graphic below.

Survey Finding 2: Women owned fewer palm trees before Seed Change was established

Women owned far fewer existing local trees (meaning not the hybrid trees supplied by Seed Change). It is likely that they had not had the opportunity to access oil palm trees in the past. They are clearly interested in palm oil because they took advantage of the opportunity once Seed Change arrived. In fact, 38% of female recipient heads of household had no local oil palm trees until they acquired some from Seed Change (compared to 26% of male heads of household in the same situation).

Farmers reported almost equal numbers of Seed Change tree ownership compared to vastly unequal rates of local tree ownership. Put another way, by acting in a gender equal manner, Seed Change provided women the opportunity to own more many more trees and afforded men the opportunity to own slightly more trees.

Survey Finding 3: Palm trees are more correlated with high incomes than any other crop

The correlation between oil palm and high incomes is stronger with oil palm trees than with any other surveyed crop. For example, 45% of respondents with no income reported growing peas compared to 44% of farmers in the highest income bracket ($500+). Compare this to oil palm where only 41% of farmers with no income reported growing local trees compared to 96% of respondents who grow oil palm if they earn $500+. Growing palm pays and moves you up the income brackets.

In effect, farming oil palm trees the best way to become a wealthy farmers in Kigoma and Seed Change is helping women to grow the most valuable crop available. Men still control the majority of resources (money and land), but Seed Change is contributing our small part to provide access for women as well.

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