DAR ES SALAAM, May 7, 2012–In Bagamoyo, 75 km north of the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam, 46-year-old Fatuma Iddi Msilo is smoking fish to sell in the local market. Fishing is one of this coastal town’s main activities, alongside cashew nut production and handcrafts, all of which are energy intensive, requiring fuel and electricity.
Recently, Bagamoyo’s rapid urbanization and population growth have made it harder for workers like Msilo to keep their businesses afloat and feed their families. Alongside rising electricity costs, the wood most people use for their household and business energy needs is becoming scarcer.
Msilo however, is one of 21 local people who has been able to turn her situation around and increase her business profits, following training from the government’s Rural Energy Agency (REA). Thirteen women and eight men were instructed on how to produce fuel alternatives to charcoal, using agriculture and crop residues. These residues include rice and cashew husks, wood shavings, coconut husks and shells – all of which can be fashioned into briquettes, whose growing use addresses the shortage of charcoal and other wood-based fuels.
“I’m using the money I’ve made to buy more fish and run my family,” said Msilo. “Without this boost in business I am not sure I could have coped.”
Msilo’s neighbor, Mame Cidosa, attended the same training session, and is now using the cleaner, cheaper briquettes as an alternative to charcoal to make tie-dyed textiles for sale to tourists.
“Without this training I would have quit my business, like many other women, because of the costs and the challenges of getting charcoal or firewood,” Cidosa said “Today I won’t go hungry because of lack of money to buy fuel and I’ve found I have more time for other income-generating activities.”
“Initiatives like this, which take into account the different energy needs and concerns of men and women, can ease the classic double-burden borne by many women: a lack of sufficient energy and grinding poverty,” said Adriana Eftimie, task team leader and Gender coordinator for Oil, Gas and Mining in the World Bank’s Sustainable Energy Department. “It is still primarily women who gather wood fuel in most of Sub-Saharan Africa and women also do the majority of cooking over traditional wood-fired stoves, which is detrimental to their health and the environment.”
According to Eftimie, practical training offers both education and opportunities to generate income, which in turn allow women to improve their social and economic status while raising the living standards of their families and communities.
The gender-sensitive training, part of a World Bank-supported pilot program, is becoming part of the REA’s core business and mandate. The Agency’s goal is to promote rural development through the provision of modern, reliable and affordable energy solutions. Its approach has been to include gender considerations in its national frameworks and to encourage staff attendance at training related to gender. Some key staff have been supported to attend conferences and learn from the experiences of gender mainstreaming overseas.
A community-level ‘training for trainers’ that encourages entrepreneur groups in villages to share what they’ve learned with other local business owners has now reached seven districts of mainland Tanzania, including Bagamoyo.
“Our Rural Energy Agency is committed to making gender considerations an integral part of everything we do,” said Lutengano U.A. Mwakahesya, director general of the Tanzanian REA. “This allows us to benefit from a diversity of experience, and to fully maximize the benefits from our human resource base.”
Lighting Rural Tanzania 2012 competition
The Tanzanian government’s growing recognition of the importance of gender was evident in the recent announcement of the 2012 Lighting Rural Tanzania competition, which was advertised in national newspapers. This year’s competition specifically encourages applications from women’s groups, with the REA offering to assist them in preparing proposals for financing, which could enable winning groups to scale up energy access.
“The Tanzanian REA is an example of how a young and relatively small organization is poised to make the necessary adjustments in its structures and programs so the issue of gender is effectively reflected,” according to Katie Heller, Tanzania program leader on Gender and Energy at the World Bank. “While there is still a lot to learn before this practice becomes more institutionalized, I am encouraged that staff are committed to making their REA a gender champion, and consequently a role model for the energy sector and beyond.”
New businesses are born
Back in Bamagayo, a local farmer, Ally Sudi, grows rice and cashews for sale and to feed his family of five. He too attended the REA training on preparing briquettes and was prompted to set up a cashew processing business with five other men. Previously, one bag of charcoal costing US$30 would have processed 100 kg of raw cashews into dried nuts, but now using half a bag of charcoal and the rest husk briquettes, he makes the same amount, and keeps business profitable.
“This training came at the right time - I cannot tell you what we would have done without it,” says Sudi. “Firewood and charcoal have become much harder to come by, because land is being converted to other uses as more people arrive into the area.”