Inspiring tales of women in Regrow project

MOROGORO: IT’s around 3pm, the temperature is fairly cool and approaching sunset, a crew of journalists arrives at Mikumi village, in Mikumi District, Morogoro Region. As ordinary procedure, the journalists, alongside officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism make their first leg at the village office—to notify the village officials over their arrival and sign visitors’ book.

The mission is to meet women in the area who are beneficiaries of the Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project.

Their stories are inspiring. The World Bank financed project, which is implemented by the government, seeks to strengthen the management of protected areas and promote nature-based tourism in Southern Tanzania.

Acting Mikumi Village Executive Officer, Method Msimbe says the project has managed to benefit many women in his village. “Many women have taken advantage of the project when introduced here at the village, as the result they have economically been empowered after engaging in livestock keeping,” Mr Msimbe states.

“At the family level many of them have turned into being breadwinners, they pay for school expenses for their children. Therefore, we commend President Samia for her efforts in ensuring the project is implemented,” he says. He notes that at the Mikumi Village the project has benefited 15 registered Community Conservation Banking (COCOBA) groups. The groups now run poultry projects and others. “The REGROW has raised some women from zero to heroines, President Samia has really helped women here,” he stresses.

Speaking over the impact to the village, he says, the benefited women now contribute to village development by paying various levies for their businesses. One of women at Mikumi Village, Ms Mgeni Mfalingundi, explains that the project has injected funds into their Pamoja Cocoba group and enabled them accessing loans.

“We thank the President for enabling us accessing the loans. Our group was established in 2022 when the shares were very few, hence we were struggling getting loans, but later on when the Regrow came in our shares became many,” she said.

“Through our group one can access loan amounting up to three million shillings,” she said.

The 28-member group has also used the funds to construct a facility for a poultry project at which they grow hybrid chicken for meat. The group has started with 172 chickens and look forward to increase the number to 300. “Personally, I have changed my life after the project boosted my income.

I can now meet family needs. I own pharmacy which earns me over 500,000/- profit per month and I have bought five hectares. Another member, Ms Yusta Komba, says: “the Regrow project has taken me far.” Narrating her story, she admits that previously she was struggling to pay for school expenses for her children as she was depending on her petty trade just for survival.

“Through the loan I have managed to boost my capital and increased profit. We congratulate the President very much because we had no idea how to access loans from the government,” she explains.

The project, by giving soft loans to COCOBA groups, have enabled the women to start up income generating activities, mainly in live- stock, poultry, agriculture and businesses. While some have secured seed capital to start businesses such as food vending services, others ventured into poultry and agriculture.

Tupendane Chekeleni is another Cocoba group at the Mikumi village which was also established in 2022 after its 21 female members had gone through training. It started with only 111,000/- capital, then the Regrow provided it a seed capital amounting to 11.1m/-. After getting the seed capital our group has increased its capital to over 26m/-.

A member could now be given more than 3m/- loan while in the past it was hardly getting even 200,000/-.

The group has a plan to engage in sunflower farming and processing to produce edible oil. The sunflower edible oil factor is currently at final stages of construction at the village. One of its members, Ms Catherine Haule, a trader and livestock keeper, says the Regrow has helped her boosting her capital, hence fulfilling her goals.

“I thank President Samia, she has empowered us to the extent that we no longer depend our husbands economically. I urge other women countrywide to support President Samia,” she remarks.

In Mvomero District, members of one of COCOBA groups called Mkata wildlife protection group also share their success story. Community Facilitator at Mkata Village in Mvomero District, Ms Deborah Nassoro, says there are 10 COCOBA groups that have been given over 140m/- for seed capital and another 259m/- for running economic projects such as poultry and farming. The groups have allocated over 180 hectares for agriculture and livestock.

“The economic activities have made residents, especially women to abandon cutting trees for making charcoal in the reserved forest,” Ms Nassoro states.

Ms Hadija Said, a member, says REGROW has really helped them, noting that she personally secured a loan of 1m/- last year to boost her business capital.

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“My capital has now grown up to 6m/-, which makes me earn a monthly profit of 500,000/-,” she says.

Ms Ajuta Mwenda, another member of Mkata wildlife protection group said initially her shop had a capital of 15m/- but after getting loans from the group her capital has grown to 17m/-, as a result she was able to build two new houses and the third one is under construction.

Dr Aenea Saanya, REGROW project manager from the ministry, says participation of the women in the economic activities, including controlling means of production enhances development and reduces poverty while improving gender quality. Dr Saanya pointed out that 36 per cent of project staff in all implementing institutions are women, pointing out that at the district level four out of 11 staff are women.

At the village level, the project is supervised by 61 Community Facilitators (CFs, among them, 22 are women, which is equivalent to 36 per cent. By last February, COCOBA groups’ capital has been increasing by four per cent from 61m/- in January 2023 to 1.3bn/- in January this year, thus making total number of members who qualify to get loan reaches 3,496 from only 483.

The project objectives include strengthen management and improve infrastructure in priority protected areas, strengthen alternative livelihoods for targeted communities in proximity to the priority protected areas, strengthen landscape management and infrastructure investments in and upstream of the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA) as well as the project management, institutional strengthening, quality assurance and control and monitoring and evaluation.

Part of the project activities is to improve protected areas’ infrastructure, strengthen management capacity and infrastructure maintenance of protected areas, strengthen Destination Southern Tanzania, improve the governance framework of conservation-related community-based initiatives and enhance alternative community livelihoods by improving economic opportunities and linking them with the conservation of wildlife and landscapes.

It also seeks to improve skills development for locals to have access to jobs in tourism and conservation, assess and implement infrastructure measures to augment dry season flows to the RUNAPA, improve the efficiency of irrigation systems, catchment conservation activities in selected sub-basins and support the consensus-building process for land and water management and climate change adaptation in the Usangu plains.

Just in its mid-stage, the REGROW project has started to count the chicken, following massive improvement of tourism infrastructure such as roads, tourists bandas, entry gates, revenue collection centres, walking trails and airports to provide conducive environment for game drive, walking safaris, bird viewing, hunting and photo tourism.

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