“When you give your light to someone else, the whole space becomes brighter,” says Dr. Magdalena Ngaiza. In living her philosophy, Ngaiza, a senior lecturer in development studies at the University of Dar Es Salam, has devoted much of her career to empowering Tanzania’s farmers – both men and women.
Raised in a large family that grew bananas and coffee near Lake Victoria, Ngaiza became interested in agricultural development at a young age. She pursued her passion in the academic world, completing a Ph.D. in Gender and Poverty, with financial support from Winrock, that allowed her to study for a year at Cornell University.
Ngaiza sees gender issues and poverty in Africa as inextricably linked. Until rural women are educated, own land and have access to financial resources, it will be difficult to break the cycle of poverty so many face, she explains. As her career progressed, Ngaiza’s interest in gender turned personal. “Women were invisible” in the male-dominated university environment in which she worked. “It was a challenge for a young educated woman of my caliber,” she says.
Then she participated in AWLAE’s Leadership for Change training. “It opened my eyes to an appreciation of what leadership is,” says Ngaiza, who grew more empowered herself as a result of the training. Unaccustomed to appearing before the media, she started accepting interviews to promote ideas and projects she was passionate about. One of those projects was the Tanzania Association of Women Leaders in Agriculture and Environment (TAWLAE), which Ngaiza helped establish. Over the years, Ngaiza and other TAWLAE members have lent their technical expertise to dozens of local communities. In the coastal area of Mkuranga, for example, TAWLAE members taught women farmers how to process and sell fruits and vegetables. Villagers learned how to dry cassava and turn paw-paw fruit into jam. TAWLAE tapped the United Nations Development program to help local villagers build a storage facility and promote their goods to outside markets.
“It’s critical to involve villagers in decision making every step of the way,” notes Ngaiza, emphasizing the importance of engaging men in efforts to empower women farmers. “You need to ask both men and women what their problems are and let them express what they want to do, respecting local wisdom,” she says. “Only then can you develop solutions that really work.”