Originally published on June 3, 2014.
Watching the vivacious 58-year-old Anna Ismael Dally dancing joyfully with European eco-tourists on her property after selling them cheese and honey, it is hard to discern the immense challenges she and the other members of her group faced for decades to achieve this level of success.
But, thanks to the tenacity of the woman known by most as Mama Anna, and the support of groups like Land O’Lakes, her group AGAPE has been able to transform gender paradigms and vastly enhance women’s economic opportunities in this small village, located near the windy, verdant peak of Mount Meru in northern Tanzania.
When Mama Anna with her longtime friend Ambora Nasari first endeavored to form AGAPE back in the early 1980s to address what they called “the problem of doing nothing,” they had no choice but to affiliate themselves with a wing of a local political party. Mama Anna explained, “Women at that time had nothing – no income – we were depending on men, and they would take the wealth we accrued. We didn’t have the ability to do economic activities on our own without their support.”
The group collapsed in 1992, largely as a result of too much interference from local government officials. “Our group was strong and the members had good feelings for one another. But political affiliation created external interference from village leadership.” The group collapsed a few years after its inception.
Afterwards, Mama Anna spent many years receiving training on her own to become an entrepreneur, collecting and selling raw milk. But, in 1997, when Land O’Lakes International Development first began working in Tanzania, they helped her to reestablish AGAPE as an independent community-based organization. “We were the same women, but we were finally free.”
One of the most important things we’ve learned from Land O’Lakes through TDDP is how to function as a business, keeping accurate records of what we receive and what our expenses are, how to become a viable enterprise, and how to increase our incomes.
With support from Land O’Lakes’ earliest Tanzania-based programs, which were funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), AGAPE was able to begin processing dairy, and received technical training on animal husbandry and cooperative development. The group also started connecting with other development agencies to diversify their income-generating opportunities, including beekeeping, baked goods, cultural tourism, and establishing a larger milk production group in, called Kyuta Malala.
Beginning in 2011, through Land O’Lakes International Development’s three-year USDA-funded Tanzania Dairy Development Program (TDDP), AGAPE was finally able to register as a cooperative, while the women honed their skills in animal husbandry. “One of the most important things we’ve learned from Land O’Lakes through TDDP is how to function as a business, keeping accurate records of what we receive and what our expenses are, how to become a viable enterprise, and how to increase our incomes.”
Although the support AGAPE currently receives from Land O’Lakes focuses mostly on production and processing, TDDP is also enhancing market linkages and improving access to input supplies across northern Tanzania. The women of AGAPE will benefit from the customized business plan that TDDP is working with them to develop, and they are also excited about the nationwide media campaign Land O’Lakes initiated to build consumer demand.
The real reason I decided to join AGAPE was that I saw that women were the most successful when it came to money and business. This attracted us to join the women and to learn from them.
In addition to roasting coffee and producing honey, the women of AGAPE are making Gouda, cheddar, mozzarella and smoked cheese, which it largely markets to the foreign eco-tourists who come to visit. However, since cheese isn’t regularly consumed by Tanzanians, Mama Anna has already tried out some innovative ways to build demand in her community.
“The women of AGAPE and I started our own local campaign to enhance consumption, by putting cheese in some makandi (a bean and maize dish) and it was a hit! Now, some locals are now buying small pieces of cheese, too,” she beamed. In order to better manage price fluctuations and their raw milk supply between wet and dry seasons, the women of AGAPE will be benefiting from a cheese aging room that Land O’Lakes is providing through TDDP, as well as a milk cooling tank that will help their producer group Kyuta Malala bulk and chill its milk.
While most of AGAPE’s members are female, several men have now joined the cooperative. According to an elderly man named Simon Kilutna Mbise, it wasn’t just shifts in the rural economy that drew him and other Tanzanian men away from cash crops and towards dairy. “The real reason I decided to join AGAPE was that I saw that women were the most successful when it came to money and business. This attracted us to join the women and to learn from them.” Mama Anna gets emotional when she ruminates about how the women of AGAPE have moved from a place of utter economic isolation to one of real financial leadership. “The opportunities Land O’Lakes provided us elevated women – not just as a group – but as individuals. In our group, whether you’re male or female, you have equal economic rights. But the changes we’ve achieved through our cooperative have also resulted in remarkable changes at the household level, too.”