by IPS Correspondence -
Dar es Salaam - Women in Tanzania, as in the rest of Africa, are the
backbone of rural communities. They work the fields and maintain the home
- and get scant reward.
Now a scheme is attempting to help them plough some of the little money
they have saved into income-generating projects.
The idea is simple - to support credit schemes among women cooperative
Women, who make up more than half of the country's population of 28
million people, find the first hurdle to setting up a business is access
Getting a loan from a commercial bank is a nightmare of form-filling and
"One has to have collateral before he or she gets a loan" explains
Laura Maro, a widow and mother of three children benefiting from a
programme tailored by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).
Maro is among 30,000 women in TanzaniaUs northern region of Kilimanjaro
who are being helped by the ICA to set up savings and credit associations
to raise capital for their businesses.
The ICA offers training in book-keeping and savings and credit
management for women in cooperative development, the ICAUs priority area.
Maro and her 50 colleagues contributed a total of 200,000 shillings
(about 400 dollars) two years ago to form the Masasa' women's credit
"The money we contributed acted as shares. Each member is allowed to
borrow not more than half of what she has contributed" she adds.
"I had to repay the loan with an interest rate of only two percent and I
am very happy that I have repaid my loan" says Maro, now a tailor in
Moshi, a town on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain.
Commercial banks, unlike the savings and credit associations, charge
interest rates of up to 30 percent on their loans, far too much for
"Women can work and improve their lives if they are helped on how to go
about setting up the associations" says the ICAUs project manager for
Eastern and Southern Africa, Labourn Minishi.
"Our aim is to give women an orientation so that they can run their work
efficiently without problems. We visit them regularly to see their
performance" he adds.
The ICA is a non-profit making organisation founded in 1895 with the aim
of uniting, representing and serving cooperatives in the world.
The regional work of ICA includes research and planning and the
regional offices and project offices act as consultants in co-operative
development in the different regions.
Other credit associations helped by the ICA in Tanzania are among
subsistence coffee and maize growers who use their loans to buy
fertiliser, pesticides and to make improvements to their farms.
Coffee is a leading export crop for Tanzania and earns the country some
100 million dollars each year.
Agriculture remains Tanzania's main economic activity, contributing 50
percent of GDP and representing 70 percent of the country's hard currency
Growing unemployment is a serious headache for the authorities. Job
creation in the formal sector has dwindled from 30,000 a year in the
1970s to a current low of 9,000.
On-going donor-backed economic reforms have resulted in 50,000 public
service workers being laid off in the past few years as the government
attempts to cut its spending.
In addition, the army of unemployed is increasing with 600,000 school
drop-outs annually who join the jobless queue.
A labour force survey conducted in 1991 showed that nearly 2.4 million
Tanzanians are engaged in the informal sector. This represents about 22
percent of the total employed.
The majority of informal sector workers are based in rural areas engaged
in activities such as fishing, quarrying and charcoal making. In the
towns they are artisans. Their numbers are almost certainly now far more
than the four-year-old labour survey first revealed.
The government has ignored the importance of developing this part of the
economy. Tanzania had run a heavily state-regulated system which had
virtually guaranteed employment in the public sector until a U-turn in
the late 1980s provoked by an economy on the verge of collapse.
The ICA credit scheme is attempting to provide support to small-scale
businesses struggling to get a foot-hold in the market.
The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) can be contacted
via email at - firstname.lastname@example.org