A Bright Future for a Woman Farming Coffee in Tanzania

Dedicated women discover new opportunities in life through the power of coffee farming. Solidaridad is working in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda to help women succeed in business and as coffee growers.

Dorothy Masaki is devoted to her farm in Tanzania

Dorothy Masaki is setting the trend for coffee farmers in Tanzania. The 54 year-old wife and mother of six began farming over 35 years ago as a young woman working on her father’s farm with her parents and her siblings. After many years of hard work Dorothy joined Solidaridad’s Practice for Change: Coffee Resilience Programme in East Africa (PfC Coffee), and the success of her coffee farm is leading to new opportunities for herself, her family and her friends.

I am hopeful for a brighter future as a coffee farmer.

Dorothy Masaki

A difficult beginning

When she married in 1990, Dorothy Masaki found herself in yet another family business—her husband’s coffee farm. Like many other smallholder farmers, theirs was a journey filled with trial and error. With limited knowledge of good farming techniques, she and her husband invested in what she now considers an overcrowded farm with low potential for high yields and profitable returns.

Dorothy describes their first farming attempts: “At the time, we did not have a good understanding of proper coffee establishment, spacing, intercropping with other crops and climate change mitigation and adaptation practices. We also lacked a reliable source of water for irrigation.”

Dorothy and her husband struggled to keep their family coffee business afloat. Pests and diseases, including coffee berry disease (CBD), necessitated the increased use of pesticides. This brought additional challenges for the couple, who struggled to make their farm profitable and sustainable. She says, “Our farm’s cost of production declined sharply due to increased pesticide use. Limited knowledge on proper pesticide application significantly increased our exposure to harmful chemicals resulting in health complications such as eye irritation”

In 2014,  Dorothy Masaki made the tough decision to abandon coffee farming,  which had become an unrewarding, yet labor-intensive undertaking for her family. The plan was to invest more time in animal husbandry while farming other crops.

As she says, “I gave up on coffee.”

A new start and new success

However, she began to realize that coffee was a high-value commodity. In 2018 Dorothy Masaki returned to coffee farming. Only one year later, she was selected as a promoter farmer by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, which has funded Solidaridad’s PfC programme since its start.

Dorothy Masaki promotes Solidaridad’s coffee resilience programme

Solidaridad, through PfC Coffee, equipped me and 15 other promoter farmers with knowledge on good coffee farming practices – pruning, pests and disease management, proper spacing, coffee farm establishment, proper fertilizer application, coffee picking, and intercropping. We also received training on financial management and literacy, Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) and on- and off-farm diversification.

Dorothy Masaki
Dorothy Masaki cares for her coffee trees

The training and practical demonstrations provided by the Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI) enabled Dorothy Masaki to revive her coffee business. She improved her farm’s productivity by planting 600 seedlings of a compact Arabica variety developed by TaCRI that is more resistant to pests and diseases, and fast maturing and high-yielding.

“My farm’s production rose from 70 kilos in 2020 to 410 kilos 2022 and is projected to reach 2000 kilos upon maturity of the newly established coffee trees,” she says.

A close look at the coffee harvest

A bright future in coffee

Given that coffee is a seasonal crop, Dorothy has also embraced diversification. She currently grows maize and bananas, while keeping chickens, pigs, goats and dairy cattle. She produces food for her household’s consumption while selling the surplus to generate a regular income. Diversification, she noted, has allowed her to exploit both the local and international markets. Additionally, Dorothy has joined a women’s business group that establishes micro-businesses which share profits among group members.

Optimistic and reenergized  by her future prospects, Dorothy Masaki plans to plant even more coffee to reach her growth target of 2,000 kilos of coffee. Additionally, she plans to borrow money to purchase a water tank to harvest rainwater for irrigation during the dry seasons, and improve water conservation on her farmland to improve her coffee and banana productivity.

Dorothy Masaki is succeeding as a farmer. With the help of Solidaridad’s PfC Coffee programme and her own dedicated efforts she has launched a successful coffee farming business which helps to support her household, while also providing for her children’s education. The future looks bright.