Clean Cookstoves and PHE Champions on Tanzania’s Northern CoastNovember 5, 2012 By Sean Peoples
As our ferry slowly made its way across the Pangani River along the northern coast of Tanzania, I sat next to a woman whose child held her hand tightly. The boy and I exchanged smiles, but we mainly admired the view. The late morning sun was behind us as the royal blue river met the cloudless sky.
The ferry trip, although short, was the first chance I had to really absorb my surroundings – the districts of Pangani, Bagamoyo, and Saadani National Park. The beauty of the region and the coastal culture is infectious. But there are serious challenges to maintaining that beauty and improving the lives of those living there.
I went to Tanzania to talk to coastal community members who are taking part in population, health, and environment (PHE) projects that focus on addressing development in an integrated fashion, conserving natural resources while simultaneously improving the lives of people, especially women and children.
In this first installment of a series of videos showcasing integrated development there, we focus on the BALANCED Project’s efforts to combine sustainable livelihood generation, natural resource conservation, and empowerment of women through the provision of clean cookstoves.
Joining me for a week of travel and interviews up the northern coast was cameraman Michael T. Miller, as well as two indispensable guides: Ricky Hernandez of the BALANCED Project and local Pangani Hospital physician Dr. Ole Sepere. Our goal was to observe and share how local leaders, non-government organizations, and international funders are working together to implement unique, integrated PHE approaches that address the region’s development challenges.
The Case for Integrated Development
Each village we visited reinforced the complex nature of the challenges in Pangani and Bagamoyo. The region is rich in natural resources – abundant fish stocks and forests with great biodiversity – but those resources are being consumed at an accelerating rate by growing demand, fueled in part by local and regional population growth.
Tanzania’s overall total fertility rate (TFR) is 5.4 children per woman, but varies widely between the urban and rural areas as well as the eastern and western parts of the country. In the east, where we visited, the TFR totals 3.9. The UN’s medium variant population projection, which takes into account a gradual fertility decline, puts Tanzania at seven times its current size by 2100.
The remote coastal villages we visited have extremely limited access to quality healthcare and reproductive health services. According the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey, 31 percent of married rural women are likely to use a family planning method compared to 46 percent of their urban counterparts. Education and access to those services make the difference in rural areas such as Pangani and Bagamoyo.
Although consumption is minuscule compared to Western standards, the rapidly growing number of people dependent on the extraction of local natural resources – trees for fuel, fish for subsistence – is unsustainable in the long term, both economically and ecologically. According to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, there has been a notable decline in Tanzania’s near-shore fish catch, which is “exacerbated by increase in human population and demand in fish protein.”
Climate change further complicates the situation. A village vulnerability assessment conducted by The Pwani Project and Tanzania Coastal Management Partnership, predicts that the coastal zones in Tanzania will experience increasingly unpredictable precipitation, sea-level rise, and greater ocean acidification.
A BALANCED Approach
For development interventions to be successful in this region, they must address multiple issues at once and coordinate with other local, regional, and international organizations whenever possible.
In Pangani and Bagamoyo districts, BALANCED is working with the Coastal Resources Center at the University of Rhode Island, as well as the Tanzania Coastal Management Partnership, to integrate health and environment interventions, with support from USAID as well as PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). Training community members is one of the most important tools for BALANCED and its partners. They train local villagers to become PHE peer educators who can discuss the linkages of conservation and health with their neighbors. PHE training is also given to small shop owners and community-based distributors who provide condoms and additional family planning services. By leveraging these points of contact for health services, information about PHE is delivered directly by fellow community members.
Mahija and Rukia
As we heard from local community members, PHE as a concept quickly became PHE as a practice. Two women we met particularly symbolized the benefits of adapting PHE tools for their families and village.
Mahija from Mkwaja Ward is a pillar of her community. In the little restaurant she owns, Majiha runs the show, managing each of the employees with ease. After a short time, she began directing our film crew and showing off the clean cookstoves her village uses.
Mahija led the charge to adopt those clean cookstoves, now totaling 142 in her small ward. The stoves have clear benefits: They reduce household exposure to indoor air toxins, help lower reliance on firewood from the surrounding forests via better efficiency, and provide an income-generating tool by turning the stoves themselves into commodities.
The entrepreneurial Rukia, who we met the same day as Mahija, demonstrated how the cookstoves can generate extraordinary income. Rukia bakes bread with her stove and has sold enough to be able to afford one of the only corrugated roofs in her village.
The stoves are a symbol of the symbiosis between the efforts of PHE integration within Rukia’s community. By using less firewood, she reduces deforestation in the area and protects valuable biodiversity. As a member of the savings and credit co-op in her village, she has been able to put the money she’s earned to good use. As a peer educator, she galvanizes her experience for others, providing an example of a sustainable income-generating alternative.
Rukia also gains a measure of empowerment that is difficult to achieve in a traditionally male-dominated society. She is self-sufficient, profitable, and helping her community take the long view on their environment and livelihoods. “I can boldly stand even before men and educate them and also express myself without fear,” she told us.
Dynamic Solutions Need Dynamic Personalities
For generations, women like Rukia and Mahija have served as the glue for rural villages in Tanzania and around the world. Their strength and ingenuity developed out of necessity; they make the most out of the resources they have, but they are always mindful of the next generation – mindful of sustainability.
For PHE to work in these communities it’s vital for these women to have the resources and support to become PHE champions. Their experience and expertise makes these vital connections a reality, and dynamic development projects, like PHE interventions, need these dynamic personalities to serve as symbols for empowerment and to illuminate the path to improved livelihoods.
Sources: Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, MEASURE DHS, The Pwani Project, Tanzania Coastal Management Partnership, UN Population Division.
Photo and Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center and Michael T. Miller.
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