The population of Muleba district in Tanzania is made up mostly of poor peasant farmers who grow coffee, bananas, beans, maize, and keep a limited number of livestock. The other economic activities include fishing and small scale trading. The high cost of farming implements, persistent drought and low price for coffee, the main cash crop, has seriously affected the incomes in Muleba and the neighboring districts. The region has also been ravaged by the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic with an increasing number of deaths and AIDS orphans. Consequently, hunger and poverty are widespread in the region. Families find it difficult to meet their basic needs as well as social obligations.
In order to cope with the situation, some community members have initiated self-help projects. Uhunzi Asilia Mpya is one such project that specializes in training and producing art craft and blacksmith products. Uhunzi Asilia Mpya started in 1997 with a group of 3 women. Later in the same year they incorporated 2 men making it a 5-member group. All members brought their unique skills in art crafts and metal works using locally available resources and raw materials such as timber, seeds, clay soil and scrap metal to develop various products.
The main objective of Uhunzi Asilia Mpya is to improve the livelihoods of poor farmers in region. The group trains and facilitates other self-help groups in the Muleba and Bukoba districts of Tanzania. As a result, Uhunzi Asilia Mpya's activities benefit about 20,000 people in the region. Currently there are about 10 groups operating within the region that were trained by Uhunzi Asilia Mpya.
The innovation of Uhunzi Asilia Mpya is the use of locally available resources and skills to creatively produce farming implements and energy saving stoves to suit the demands of the community. The group activities also take into consideration the deteriorating environment conditions and declining incomes in the region. Through the use of animal hides, clay soil, used clothes, used plastic papers, iron scrappers, and bamboo trees, Uhunzi Asilia Mpya group have successfully produced irrigation pipes, sprinkler heads, energy saving stoves and cooking pots that have profoundly changed the living standards of the community.
Blacksmithing is traditionally a male dominated activity in Tanzania. But forced to seek a solution to the abject poverty they were facing, the older women of Muleba mobilized themselves and incorporated a few men who had skills in art and crafts and together formed Uhunzi Asilia Mpya. The division of roles among the genders and knowledge transfer is interesting to note. The older women with skills and knowledge in art craft make the products and train young people, while the young members informing the group about market demand and marketing the products.
In order to ensure that their creativity and skills benefits other people in the community and neighboring villages, Uhunzi Asilia Mpya have trained and facilitated the development of other groups doing either blacksmithing or other type of art craft. They try not to produce similar products so as to ensure market for each group. The result of this is the rejuvenation of the barter trading system, which is relevant for rural communities like Muleba where there are few financial transactions.
There is a general increase in crop production as a result of using irrigation pipes and sprinklers made by Uhunzi Asilia Mpya. The availability of implements within easy reach of peasants at an affordable cost has made a big difference in agricultural activities in the region. Peasants can now make use of the available water resources and harvest output has increased as farmers can now have two cycles of cultivation. The irrigation pipes and sprinkler technology has been adopted by other groups in the neighboring Bukoba district.
The energy saving stoves produced by the group has reduced the burden on women who walk long distances in search of firewood. This has reduced the time and energy women spend and allowed them to engage in other economically productive activities. There is less tree cutting and community members are more enlightened on environmental protection.
The activities of Uhunzi Asilia Mpya have improved cleanness and hygiene conditions in the area. Used plastic papers, iron scrapers, clothes, and sorghum husks are no longer discarded but are used for developing useful products. This has created employment opportunities for the youth who collect and sell used items to the groups. The group produces nails for bridge construction that has improved communication between villages in Muleba. Many youth in the region now use a heavy - duty bicycle carrier made by the group to carry water and bananas.
The proceeds from these activities have enabled group members to build decent houses, care for orphaned grandchildren and meet their health and education costs. Uhunzi Asilia Mpya has given the poor peasant farmers and petty traders in the district and the region at large access to locally made goods, which are in constant supply, handy, durable and affordable.
Women, who traditionally were employed to care for farms, have mobilized themselves to form self-help groups and they now manage larger farms using the locally produced farming tools. Women members with young children have access to day-care as the group barters farm implements to pay for the service. Young people who previously detested farming are now changing their attitudes toward agriculture and more of them are engaged in farming.
Uhunzi Asilia Mpya is a member of a network is known as Forum for Grass Root Organizations Tanzania (FOGOTA). The FOGOTA network links specialized skills, knowledge, markets, innovative projects and developmental initiatives for people in the rural areas. Through membership in FOGOTA, Uhunzi Asilia Mpya has access to a wider market and their technology can be replicated in other regions as far as the southern part of Tanzania.