Fiona Imbali

When Ms. Anna Samwel wakes up each day all she thinks about is her tree garden; coloured in variety of species of trees as she endeavours to conserve the environment. “There is always something to do in my garden. I ensure that it is properly weeded, well watered and the seedlings are properly taken care of,” she notes.

Mother and daughter (Kitula's) keen on conservation.

Mother and daughter (Kitula’s) keen on conservation.

Often, many ask Ms. Anna what her occupation is and when she informs them of her nursery, some sneer as they consider it a low-cadre occupation whilst others opine that it’s a waste of time for someone who has studied up to University level. Some argue that the returns are meagre but this doesn’t deter her as she is keen on conservation more than the monetary gains as she understands too well the adversities caused by the climate change phenomena.

A tremendous increase in natural calamities; high temperatures as well as floods are occurrences that are currently viewed as normal as they are frequent. The havoc caused is a reminder that Mother Nature is unhappy with the treatment she receives due to human activities.

Data from the World Bank indicates that global estimates of the number of people dependent on forests keeps increasing annually. Moreover, of the 1.2 billion persons living in abject poverty, 90% of their livelihoods is directly linked to resources from forests. With increasing deforestation activities, the climate change phenomenon continues to afflict especially the lives of the most poverty – stricken in communities across the world. Forests largely help to reduce carbon emissions and are thus critical for the well-being of humans and play a key role in poverty eradication and should be protected at all costs.

Anna understands that her tree nursery is part of the big picture. She tends to her seedlings passionately and is widely knowledgeable on the different species of trees and what the people in Tanzania prefer in order to conserve their environment. She is the leader of the women’s section of OAIC Tanzania chapter from the Pentecostal Evangelistic Ministries (PEM).

A section of Ms. Kitula's tree nursery in Igoma.

A section of Ms. Kitula’s tree nursery in Igoma.

This group has been steadfast in its ventures to empower themselves and their communities through conservation. “We started doing tree nurseries in 2012 and after several trainings conducted by OAIC on the importance of conservation; we expanded the project which has benefited a lot of women. From their sales, many have been able to feed their families, construct houses and even pay school fees for their children from primary school to colleges,” they note.

Despite Tanzania having the highest forest cover in the East African region at 40%, conservation measures still need to be well thought through. Between 1990 – 2005, it was estimated that deforestation was approximately 1.1% of the total forest area in Tanzania. Major causes have been linked to reliance on wood fuel, clearing land for agriculture and grazing. Kenya’s forest cover stands at 30% while Uganda is at 21%.

During a recent visit to Tanzania, the women were grateful to the OAIC team for concerted efforts to empower their community. Currently, a majority of the women in the group own tree nurseries and have ensured that their compounds are full of trees to serve as examples to their communities. Their biggest buyers are from Musoma, Geita, and as well as Mwanza. “It may not be possible to clearly state the returns from this venture as it varies a lot. During the rainy months, a lot more seedlings are bought and this also depends on the type of tree. One species could cost from Tshs 500 upto Tshs 2,000 and one could sell thousands of trees. During the dry seasons, we could go for days without selling any as people may not be able to afford frequent watering.”

Ms. Anna Kitula (Right) leading the way in conservation.

Ms. Anna Kitula (Right) leading the way in conservation.

Apart from owning tree nurseries, the women recently started a table banking initiative in order to enhance their purchasing power. They are currently 30; a small number which they say is manageable as it purposes to enhance women’s capabilities in finances for better livelihoods. The group has a constitution which is read to any new member and penalties for breaking the group’s code applies.

The women meet each Monday during which each member is expected to contribute Tshs. 6,000, approximately 3 USD. Tshs. 5,000 is for the rotational events where members with needs are allowed to take loans after putting in a request a week in advance. Tshs 1,000 is put aside for emergencies such as deaths, diseases and other sudden occurrences. Absentee members are required to contribute Tshs 7,000 instead of 6,000. For a group of 30 women, each has an annual contribution of Tshs 72,000 which is approximately 36 USD. This totals to about 1100 USD for the entire group.

On inquiring about the viability of table banking and if there was real impact on the lives of these women considering that some of them are in more groups than they can manage, a challenge with many of such groups. “It’s true there are some women who are in several of such groups. This may not be helpful as they borrow from one to take to another. But for efficacy in this venture, I would advice than one doesn’t engage more than 2 groups,” shares Ms. Anna.” The women haven’t received any trainings on savings and entrepreneurship, something that they would love to have.

One is also allowed to make contributions for up to a year to avoid the weekly payments. In December they all meet and everyone is given their share. However, defaulters, get less shares according to their payments. In 2016, however, the plan is not to share the savings but to invest in land where they intend to plant trees as future savings. They hope to start by first purchasing a 3 acre piece of land in the outskirts of Mwanza town at a place known as Kanindo.

Money is lent at a 10% interest rate.  Having started with Tshs. 240,000, three years ago, their current savings stand at Tshs. 20,000,000. The women benefit from interactions that enable them to learn from each other on how best to invest and save for their future; imparting skills and knowledge on starting small business. Spiritual nourishment is also part of their growth curve. Each week they have sessions for bible study; visit each other and offer moral and spiritual support.

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