Shedding light on Tanzania’s breadbasket

Two colleagues and I took a trip last year to Tanzania’s Iringa, Mbeya and Rukwa regions to visit compact-funded project sites and meet with potential beneficiaries of the roads and power investments. We observed and assessed the progress of project implementation and the activities of groups that received training under Millennium Challenge Account-Tanzania’s Gender Integration Program (GIP). These experiences highlighted the relevance of the work undertaken by MCC in Tanzania and showed promising signs of impact.

Iringa, Mbeya and Rukwa are considered part of Tanzania’s breadbasket, but production constraints often prevent small businesses from reaching their full potential. We spoke with potential beneficiaries about their obstacles to economic growth, such as a lack of education and limited access to electricity and reliable roads. We talked to cattle owners who need electricity to refrigerate milk and share a long-term goal of building a cooling plant. We met farmers who hope for better roads to improve access to markets. Members of Umoja, a group of women specializing in poultry and tomato cultivation, told us that electricity would enable them to store their produce longer and to sell out-of-season crops. These needs reaffirmed to us the goals of our projects and the rationale behind the compact.

Throughout our trip, we visited saw firsthand the investment MCC is making in the energy and transportation sectors. We viewed new power extension and distribution lines in Iringa and Mbeya. We visited transmission and distribution sites in Kihorogota village, where we saw low-voltage lines soon to be energized and provide power to nearby villages. We also viewed road construction, including bridges and culverts, in Mbeya and Rukwa regions.

In the Kisinga trading area, we could see the installation of the area’s first electrical poles. In Mbeya, American company Symbion Power was busy building transmission and distribution lines and re-surveying communities to confirm locations of planned lines.

We were struck by community members’ positive reaction everywhere we went. People in Kisinga and Kihorogota spoke with excitement about the arrival of electricity, and they told us more than 80 Kisinga residents had already registered their interest to be connected.

During our trip, we met with members of Faraja Women Group—one of many skill-based groups (SBG)—who received training under the Gender Integration Program. SBGs are groups organized around specific business like handicrafts, food sales, animal husbandry, or sewing. They usually work together to tap into benefits like credit facilities or training.

The Gender Integration Program helps groups like these in the areas where the compact activities are implemented; the goal is to maximize their return from the compact through targeted training on the expected benefits of the new infrastructure, access to credit and business-related skills. We met with groups involved in diverse activities, including sunflower-oil extraction, timber processing, cow farming, pig farming, and vegetable cultivation.

Many of these groups have adopted innovative approaches to doing business. For example, Ushirika wa Wafugaji is a group of 52 farmers that is raising a herd of 150 cows; each member keeps his or her cows and works with other members to market their milk. The group has built an office where they meet to share experiences and support each other. They also have mandatory group savings and have already purchased a larger piece of land, where they plan to build a milk processing plant. Our team was excited about the increased potential that the new power and transport infrastructure would provide these dynamic groups.

A continuing priority in MCA-Tanzania’s work will be to fully engage and mobilize the energy behind the economic dynamism displayed during our journey. We want to ensure long-term participation in the expanded economic opportunities that we hope our projects will create so that impacts are distributed equitably throughout communities. It is important that we do not miss key steps in encouraging Tanzania’s producers, and these types of field visits and participatory discussions are crucial for identifying and mitigating gaps.

Back in our offices in Dar es Salaam, we are busy reviewing and compiling project data with the monitoring and evaluation team, as well as further refining the GIP training based on what we learned from the field. As we push forward with our efforts to measure and learn from the successes and challenges of the Tanzania Compact, we keep in mind the names and faces of the men and women we visited.

Our hope is that, in addition to introducing electricity and better connecting Tanzania’s breadbasket, our monitoring and evaluation efforts help us to learn and inform future investments for even stronger economic development.