Originally published on December 4, 2014.
Along the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, cultural norms have long dictated that men’s livelihoods center on coffee farming, while women earn their money through dairy. Given the challenges many smallholder dairy farmers faced in earning viable incomes independently, a group of 98 women decided to join forces in 1997 and form the Marukeni Women’s Cooperative.
Establishing the cooperative was an important first step, but the women still faced serious constraints to their success. Lacking a milk collection infrastructure and a cooling tank, they could only collect milk once a day. They would milk at midnight, and then directly trek on foot to the market in order to sell their milk before 6 a.m., which left them exhausted and unable to do much else the rest of the day. The women’s limited knowledge of animal care, feeding, milk handling and hygiene also severely impeded their production potential. Worst of all, their cooperative was poorly managed, with some of Marukeni’s leaders misappropriating the women’s hard-earned funds.
Milk delivery at Marukeni Women's Cooperative
In 2001, under an earlier program funded by USAID, Land O’Lakes began providing Marukeni’s members with training on cooperative governance, farm level production, milk handling and financial management, which led to the removal of its corrupt leaders. Land O’Lakes also facilitated the purchase of a new 1,400 liter milk cooling tank, which enabled them to begin milking twice a day, grow the cooperative to over 300 member, boost collection volumes from under 250 to over 750 liters a day, and greatly expand members’ profits. With the additional money, the women were able to purchase the building that houses their cooling tank and serves as the cooperative’s meeting point. “Before we received help from Land O’Lakes, I didn’t have time to take my children to school, build a proper house or enough food to properly feed my five children,” explained Aquierdo Dorsey, who, like approximately half of Marukeni’s members, is a widow. “But now I’ve been able to help get my children through high school, and even have time to spend at home with my grandchildren.”
Local agricultural official Mr. Umago Chifurai explained that the cooperative’s growth has also played a formative role in improving gender parity and women’s leadership roles in the community, particularly now that men are struggling to make ends meet through coffee farming. “Men are now moving away from the coffee culture. They are helping their wives to plant grass for the cattle, women are more respected in society, and they also have greater economic power.”
While Marukeni Women’s Cooperative has made tremendous inroads since they first received Land O’Lakes assistance, the members are extremely excited about the additional help they will receive through the USDA-funded Tanzania Dairy Development Program. They are looking forward to receiving additional training on animal feeding, health and medicine, and improving breeding services. “We are also hoping to learn how to process independently, or get connected to a processor that will buy our milk, so that we can overcome transport issues and ensure we can still profit when there is a glut of milk during the rainy season,” explained Chair Stella Kileo.