In the small village of Ruponda in southern Tanzania’s Lindi Region, Joyce Mtauka has become something of a legend.
As a “trainer of trainers” for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development agency, her work to educate farmers on better agricultural practices has made her an important local figure. As a farmer who has been able to transition from subsistence farming to commercial farming, she has become an example of the kind of improvement in food security that is possible with the right resources and training.
It wasn’t so long ago, however, that she was just another farmer, eking out a difficult living from the land.
“[Hunger] was a major problem before the program, because food insecurity was common in most of the households,” Mtauka recalls, speaking through an interpreter. Many families only had enough food for one meal a day, but she notes, “nowadays, at least it is between two-three meals a day.”
In 2012, PWRDF partnered with the Anglican diocese of Masasi on a five-year nutrition and food security program, known locally as the Community Health Improvement Program, or CHIP.
Mtauka was one of the first beneficiaries, receiving better seeds to improve her operation (other beneficiaries received dairy cattle, chickens and goats). But the more significant component for her was education about better farming practices.
Her training through the CHIP program equipped her to use improved seeds more effectively, and also taught her about the importance of crop rotation and diversification.
In 2015, Mtauka travelled to Canada with the Rev. Geoffrey Monjesa, development officer for the diocese of Masasi, to attend a conference at the Sorrento Centre, an Anglican retreat centre in British Columbia’s interior.
During a weeklong intensive course on food security, she shared with Canadians about her experience farming in southern Tanzania, and learned from Canadian farmers about their own agricultural practices.
Upon returning to Tanzania, this training helped her start growing maize and cassava commercially. She reinvested her profits into the farm, purchased more land, and now hires many of her male relatives to work it alongside her.
She has also taken an active role in caring for the women and children in her extended family.
With her own daughter currently away from home studying at university, Mtauka has also used her newfound prosperity to help her sisters support their children by taking them into her home, and is also caring for some local orphans. All in all, she now has six children living with her, none of them her own.
Her work has not, however, been without its challenges.
According to Mtauka, some farmers in Ruponda resent her success, chalking it up entirely to her good fortune, rather than the new practices she has adopted.
As a woman, she has also dealt with a certain degree of skepticism from her male peers. The culture in Ruponda, as in much of southern Tanzania, tends to see ownership and entrepreneurship as being the province of men.
Still, nothing argues like success, and she says she is beginning to see a change in attitudes.
“Those ones who want to transform their lives through agriculture, they accept what I say—and they improve their lives,” she says, wryly.