Making markets work for women smallholders in Tanzania

Posted by Martin Walsh Global Research Adviser

27th Mar 2013

As we launch the findings of our research on Women's Collective Action in agricultural markets, Global Research Adviser Martin Walsh, who helped to develop the methodology for the case studies, summarises the results and recommendations of the Tanzania study.


Women are, quite literally, the backbone of agriculture in Tanzania. But all too often they don't own the land they work on and struggle to get fair access to markets and fair prices for their produce. Over the last two years our Female Food Heroes competitions have worked to bring women smallholders the national recognition that they deserve, and have acted as a springboard for campaigning on their behalf.

The good news is that working collectively can help women to overcome some of these barriers. Our research showed that women's collective action (WCA) group members in Tanzania earn almost 70 per cent more than comparable women working outside of the groups; in Mali and Ethiopia this figure is even higher, at around 80 per cent. The less good news is that traditional barriers still limit WCA members' engagement in markets, and that women's income gains don't always translate into broad-based empowerment at household level, though they do have some positive impacts. 

The importance of working together, and how

During the final phase of research in Tanzania we studied vegetable production and marketing in Lushoto district. It's a sector that has grown rapidly since the colonial period, and Lushoto has become one of the principal suppliers of fresh vegetables to markets in the capital, Dar es Salaam, and other urban centres, including some outside of Tanzania.

But women's share in the benefits of this trade hasn't matched their contribution as producers. This is because individual women often lack the land and other resources to invest in irrigated vegetable production. To compound matters, they are often prevented from trading over long distances by their domestic responsibilities and traditional attitudes about their place in the home.

Working together in groups gives women a much better chance of escaping these constraints. We identified and analysed three different models of collective action in Lushoto, associated with different levels of external intervention or, in one case, its absence:

  • Large marketing association and mixed gender sub-groups
  • Small women-centred production and marketing groups
  • Informal collective action and marketing collaborations

We found that each of these has both advantages and limitations for women's participation and empowerment: there was no 'one size fits all' model of collective action that made the markets work for women.

Making markets work and making a difference

While government and donor support has created a positive enabling environment for collective action and market development in Lushoto, there is evidently a lot more that can be done both here and elsewhere to promote women's engagement and empowerment. On the basis of our analysis, we can make the following general recommendations:

  • Improve the co-ordination of external support. Better co-ordination by development actors on the ground should be backed up by a more coherent policy framework to counter the current disjointed and piecemeal approach to supporting WCA in agricultural markets.
  • Adopt a gender-aware intervention framework. Interventions should be gendered and address issues of women's leadership and empowerment in collective action rather than merely providing technical training and inputs to the women (and men) in groups.
  • Support women-centred groups. Small women-centred groups should be promoted because they are often better able to ensure women's participation, leadership, market engagement, and the delivery of lasting benefits.
  • Develop marketing associations which work for women. Umbrella associations should be developed to link and empower smaller groups, and women's interests should be safeguarded within them. The potential for women-only or women-managed associations should also be explored.
  • Recognise and learn from informal collective action. Development planners and practitioners should pay much closer attention to women's own informal collective initiatives and collaborations, and identify ways to facilitate or build on these.
  • Prioritise interventions which target marginalised women and address barriers to their group participation and market engagement. In Tanzania, there is a need to design interventions that specifically target marginalised women and help them overcome the obstacles facing them. Our Ethiopia case study illustrates some of the ways in which this can be done.

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Blog post written by Martin Walsh

Global Research Adviser

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