By Ruth Smith, Jonas Cromwell, and Susannah Sallu (University of Leeds), Maureen Miruka, Nedjma Ouerdane and Caitlin Shannon (CARE USA), Haji Msangi and Betty Waized (Sokoine University of Agriculture), Lenka Suchá (Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

August 1, 2023

Women play an integral role in the agricultural sector across much of sub-Saharan Africa where 66% of  women’s employment is in agrifood systems. Considering the current calls for transformation of these food systems to tackle widespread structural inequities in the production, distribution and consumption of food, understanding the role of women within such transformations and leverage points for their empowerment is important. In Tanzania, a commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment has gained salience within national policy frameworks over recent years. A key focus has been on the economic empowerment of rural women – integrating female farmers into market systems with a focus on their productivity and productive asset gaps, business skills and employment opportunities.  Pertinent to Tanzania's development agenda, the FoSTA-Health project will explore the relationship between women's empowerment, food system transformation and engagement in markets through empirically grounded research in Tanga region, northeast Tanzania.

Focusing on emerging commodity value chains in Tanga, the FoSTA-Health team will unpack women’s empowerment at different points in the food system - from the resources needed to enter emerging value chains, to the production and marketing and sale or different commodities.  FoSTA-Health's preliminary findings have identified the following emerging commodities in Tanga region: vegetables (green peas and carrots), fruits (oranges and avocadoes), and spices (cardamom, cloves, vanilla, and ginger). The team will focus on spice value chains given that despite a long history of spice cultivation in Tanga region, recent evidence suggests the export focus is emerging only recently. This offers an interesting case study to explore whether and in what capacity women are engaging in emerging commodities and at which points in the value chains, how the introduction of standards and regulations within export markets shape gendered agricultural livelihood dynamics, and the relationship between market engagement and women’s empowerment. Guided by a conceptual model of women’s empowerment (Kabeer, 1999), the analysis will include consideration of women’s resources: both material and institutional; their agency: from autonomy in decision-making regarding agricultural practice to market engagement; and their achievements: their different roles and responsibilities across different points in the value chain.

Initial findings highlight key knowledge gaps regarding where and in what capacity women are able to engage in emerging commodity value chains, the drivers and barriers that shape such engagement, and the leverage points for improving women’s empowerment and more equitable transformations of food systems. Key questions remain regarding how women’s empowerment is conceptualised and operationalised within measurement, and how such data is used to fill in these knowledge gaps and shape policy and programmatic decisions.

More research is needed to explore how women’s empowerment contributes to food security and One Health outcomes, and to test the assumption within development practice that increased market engagement will result in empowerment of rural female farmers. Within this context we need to develop grounded and intersectional understandings of gender equality and women’s empowerment to enhance equity in emerging markets so as to close the gaps related to production, distribution and consumption of food. Such questions will guide FoSTA research going forward.

In the coming months, FoSTA-Health will explore the increased attention given to gender and the framings and approaches to women’s empowerment across Tanzania’s policy frameworks. Findings will be presented to key stakeholders for discussion on the role of women within food systems transformations during a two-day National Dialogue event in November 2023, where FoSTA-Health colleagues will also introduce the wider project and discuss plans for future research in Tanzania. Following the consultations, the methodology and research questions will be finalised, and desk and field research will commence in full swing.   

(Photo Courtesy: Mousum De on Unsplash)

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