How venturing into agribusiness helped Suzana beat hopelessness

Suzana Ngombe (left) displays jam she made from guavas and strawberries she grows at home. PHOTO | ALAWI MASARE

What you need to know:

  • After being connected to the US government-funded programme called DREAMS, Suzana Ngombe’s ‘hopeless’ life has changed for the better

Iringa. When Suzana Ngombe was sitting for her Form Four examinations in 2018, she was already pregnant, and chances for her to pass were minimal.

At the age of 17, she had no clue of becoming an entrepreneur in agribusiness, where she is making her life today.

After delivering, there were no plans to continue with studies but to remain a “hopeless” mother with neither a job nor husband.

“I knew the economic situation of my family, which could not afford to take me back to school. There was no even an idea to enrol in any education programme,” she says in an interview.

Last year, Suzana met a community development officer who connected her with a US government-funded pro-gramme that trains vulnerable adolescent girls and young mothers to become self-reliant.

The programme called DREAMS, standing for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe, is funded by the US President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and targets girls aged between 15 and 24 across the country.

Suzana, who lives in the Don Bosco Bwawani area of Iringa Region, was trained on how to make cakes and jam, a sweet food made from fruit and sugar, often eaten with bread.

She makes jam from strawberries that she grows on her plots and guavas from her family farm.

“I started with one plot of strawberry, but today I have eight,” she said, adding that she has another land to expand strawberry farming.

“I want to expand strawberry farming so that I sell both the fruit and the jam,” she said.

According to her, the jam-branded SN Products is now available in two supermarkets in Iringa, and the future is promising.

“My dream is to own a jam manufacturing factory so that I can employ more young women from vulnerable environments,” she said.

Suzana is among many girls who are either earning a living from agriculture or aspiring to join the sector, saying there is more potential. Some girls, under the Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project, aspire to agribusiness as their main economic activity.

EpiC is an eight-year (2019–2027) global initiative, funded by PEPFAR and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), that provides technical assistance and direct service delivery to achieve control of the HIV epidemic among key and priority populations and strengthen global health security.

EpiC is led by FHI 360, a nonprofit human development organisation.

“I dropped school in Form Two after conceiving. I stayed home, and after some time, I conceived again. My family decided to kick me out of home,” said Ms Rehema Msogoya, 22.

The mother of two is also engaged in farming as her main economic activity to raise her two children.

“I aspire to become a serious farmer,” she said.

Another beneficiary of the project, Ms Restituta Mpande, 20, said the training and skills she acquired through the initiatives have not only made her economically independent but also inspired her to train others.

“I have managed to own farms where I grow maize and tomatoes,” she said, adding that she has employed fellow young women on the farm. “I used to live in a very vulnerable environment where one depends on men to give you money for sustaining life. Farming is really giving me a better and more promising life,” she said.

“I have also decided to engage in poultry farming, and now I have 100 chickens. I collect about two trays of eggs every day,” said Ms Margaret Chang’a, 22.

Agribusiness has come to the attention of USAID, which now plans to invest $100 million in the programmes linked to the government’s Building a Better Tomorrow (BBT) initiative, which seeks to increase youth participation in the agriculture sector.

“We would want to expand our support from health projects to agriculture programmes, which are important opportunities for youth. You are in a special position to benefit from the projects through your groups. Your children, who are the future generation, will be stronger than now,” said the mission director for USAID Tanzania, Mr Craig Hart, after listening to the girls who benefited from the PEPFAR-funded initiatives.

“Having listened to your inspirational stories, we are proud of the DREAMS programmes that are yielding,” he said.

One of the challenges raised by the girls includes difficulties in accessing funds to develop their projects and markets.

“I would suggest we set up some sort of annual exhibition in every district or region to showcase the products generated by girls who benefited from DREAMS initiatives,” said one of the beneficiaries, Ms Margaret Chang’a.

However, the head of the community development department at Mufindi District, Mr Robert Sungura, said the girls should wait for the government to review the loans provided by local government authorities.

The local councils allocate 10 percent of their revenue from their own sources as loans to youth, women, and people with disabilities.

However, the loans were suspended early this year due to non-repayment by the groups and suspicion of mishandling the issuance.

“These groups qualify for the loans provided by local governments. Once the government reinstates the loans, they will be in a position to borrow as youth and women. Most of you are already in groups with economic activities, and therefore you will qualify,” said Mr Sungura.

“Some of the girls have visited different places for study tours. They have learned what other groups are doing, and that’s important for them to be successful,” said Iringa Municipal community development officer, Ms Mwatumu Dos-si, during a session to mark 20 years of PEPFAR in Tanzania.