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Women deprived of land ownership suffer poor health

Arusha, Tanzania – Alfred Mufuga, 63, a farmer living outside of the town of Iringa, a few hour drive from Morogoro, does not think it is good for women to own land.

“The man is the head of the household,” Mufuga said. “He ensures the prosperity of the family.”

He did not say that his three wives would maintain ownership of his plot if something were to happen to him. Lack of land ownership, one of many forms of discrimination against women, is not just an economic and cultural inequity. It can be deadly.

An estimated 20% of maternal deaths in Tanzania are due to anemia, caused by malnutrition and lack of an adequate diet.

As Humanosphere reported last week, gender discrimination against women and girls often translates into malnutrition, higher disease and death rates. With Tanzania and other developing countries taking a greater investment in food security, women and girls need to be at the forefront of the conversation, says a new report.

Mwanza Bora member. Morogoro, Tanzania.

Mwanza Bora member. Morogoro, Tanzania.

“The needs of agricultural and rural women workers must be taken into account in recognizing their rights as workers in the food chain and ensuring their right to adequate food and nutrition,” writes Sue Longley, international officer for agriculture and plantations at the International Food Union.

Her work is a part of a larger report by the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch Consortium, a body made up of a dozen civil society organizations, that illustrates challenges to ending hunger.

Addressing the problem of gender and nutrition requires a rights-based approach says the report. The problems are most apparent at the bottom, but there are changes that are needed at the top too. Women should be leading the decision making and training conversations at the international and national levels. The multi-layered problem affects rural women the hardest.

“Rural women remain anonymous, disempowered, have less esteem and not incidentally, earn less income,” write Annie Bellows of Syracuse University and Carsta Neuenroth from Bread for the World.

The USAID-supported Mwanza Bora program specifically targets the connection between food security and nutrition by working with health clinics to reach women.  The program’s stated goals are to reduce childhood stunting and maternal anemia by 20% respectively. Its staff knows that achieving both is done through women.

Fruit and vegetables are seen as food that are not meant for adults. Children eat the sweet fruit and vegetables, especially greens, are seen as a sign of poverty. Encouraging people to change their diets is challenging work.

“People feel that nutrition is not an issue,” said Alex Nalitolela, Agriculture and Food Security Specialist, Mwanzo Bora.

He works in the Morogoro region of central Tanzania. Community women were informed about nutrition for their children and themselves while visiting the government-run community center. Starting in 2011, Mwanza Bora worked with the government clinic to provide iron and folic acid supplements for anemic women, farm education and nutrition tips.

A community garden sits next to the clinic and is lined with vegetables such as tomatoes, orange sweet potatoes and various greens. The hope is that the farmers will take the techniques used on the plot back to their homes.

Mothers in the group say they are now exclusively breastfeeding their children longer and slowly introducing new food into their diets. However the farms are still dominated by maize. Dead maize stalks remain in the ground of the farm for Abdullah Yahya and Zanabu Mhuammad. The two participate in the program through Mwanza Bora saying that they now grow eggplant and cabbage.

Land rights remain insecure for farmers across Tanzania. Estimates put titles at around 20% for the population, but the government remains confident that it is being handled at the village levels. A lack of formality stands in the way for women.

Alfred Mufuga walked along the dirt road to attend a One Acre Fund meeting. The benches were clear as the men and women spoke to each other. As things started the men took their seats on the few benches while the women sat on the ground and to the back. The women are literally behind the men from the very beginning.

Tom Murphy reported this story in Tanzania as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). 


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]