Does sunflower commercialisation empower women in Singida, Tanzania?

Written by: Devotha B. Mosha, Aida Isinika, John Jeckoniah and Gideon Boniface 

This blog explores the findings of APRA Working Paper 59, which investigates the influence of sunflower commercialisation and diversity on women empowerment in Singida region, Tanzania. This study assesses the assumption that women engagement along Tanzania’s sunflower value chain empowers them socially, economically, and politically, and its contribution to their sense of individuality, self-respect, and confidence.

Sunflower commercialisation trends in Singida, Tanzania

Over the last two decades, sunflower has increasingly become an important source of income not only in Tanzania’s Singida region but also across the country. This can be attributed to efforts by the government, non-governmental organisations, and development agencies to transform the sunflower subsector, to improve livelihoods, and reduce poverty through the promotion of agronomic practices aimed at increasing yields. Importantly, these efforts also aim to promote sustainable agricultural commercialisation and the involvement of women and youth.

Women in Tanzania experience gender inequality in access to, and control over, production resources such as land, which limits their engagement in sunflower commercialisation and leads to minimal benefits from sunflower production and less empowerment for the women. This calls for strategic efforts to narrow the gender gaps in the agricultural sector to ensure that both men and women benefit from sunflower production and commercialisation.

There are gender gaps in sunflower production and commercialisation

The study found that there are gender gaps in sunflower production and commercialisation, as illustrated by unequal sex-based division of, access to, and control over productive resources and benefits, leading to challenges such as limited women empowerment.

Access to land in this case means the power of women to acquire land and their rights to use and decide how to use that land, as well as benefit from income, food, fuel (wood and timber) which is produced from the land. Control over land is the right to exclude a person from land, and ownership is the right to transfer land rights to members or non-members of a family through bequests, gifts, selling or renting. Transfer enables someone to use the land as collateral to acquire a loan, and to use resources from the land.

Even though men and women in Tanzania have equal rights to land, the enforcement of such rights depends on the socio-cultural context enshrined in the country’s customary land rights, which favours men. Therefore, women’s participation in decision-making on productive resources and ensuing benefits depends on how much they are empowered and how they agitate for these rights.

The study revealed that sunflower yields amongst men are higher than that of women. These low yields limit opportunities for women to engage in sunflower processing and commercialisation, and this also constrains their social and economic benefits. There is also unequal division of labour between women and men on agricultural activities, and cultural norms exclude women from decision-making on marketing and income from sunflower commercialisation.

Women empowerment in the sunflower value chain

The study found that women’s control over land is low at 22.5 per cent, and their collective action is also low at 17.8 per cent. Women are more empowered in decision-making on agricultural production, and they spend more time on sunflower production. Importantly, women’s rights to agricultural productive resources are important for their socio-economic empowerment and progressive livelihood.

One of the most important findings from this study is that traditional land ownership by women is highly valued in some villages because of sunflower commercialisation, as women strive to increase income for household improvement and production of sunflower cooking oil which is healthier. However, some men oppose this practice as they are unsure of outcomes of land ownership after divorce or separation in which women continued to own previously-allocated pieces of land. As a result, men’s adoption of traditional land ownership by women depends on marital stability.

Women empowerment is related to the benefits that they get from engaging in sunflower commercialisation, which enables them to engage in income-generating activities such as re-processing of crude oil (ugido) to extract oil for personal use or for sale to their neighbours. Other women gain employment by providing winnowing and sorting services prior to sunflower seed processing. The study found that income from sunflower commercialisation increased food availability, and opportunities for diversification of livelihood options in both on-farm and non-farm activities. This relationship between diversified livelihood options, such as production of other crops and other income-generating activities, shows that the concerned women were more empowered.

Conclusions and recommendations

Women derive fewer benefits from their engagement in sunflower commercialisation compared to men due to cultural norms. These norms exclude women from decision-making on marketing and spending of income from farm proceeds, and access to and control of land resources.

Although sunflower commercialisation contributes to women empowerment, diversification into other economic activities is essential for their empowerment. The study recommends that the government and other sunflower value chain actors should increase support for women initiatives and create awareness on the importance of women’s right to access, and control land. This will enable women to benefit equally from social and economic empowerment to improve family livelihoods. Such efforts will eventually weaken negative cultural norms which undermine women participation in sunflower commercialisation and related economic activities.