Zanzibar is a top holiday destination scattered with luxury hotels, but most of the communities living there are poor. VSO is working with local communities to ensure that they too can reap the rewards of tourism. Training in business skills has helped one rural women’s group take action and benefit from the islands tourism industry, by selling fattened crabs to top hotels.
A personal account
Sada Juma, chairwoman of Kisakasaka Women’s Group, tell us, “We buy small mud crabs from fishermen for 500 shillings. We keep the crabs in rearing pens close to the sea and we feed them on fish scraps every day. After about six weeks the crabs are big – they can weigh one or two kilos. Then they are ready to be sold to a hotel for up to 5000 shillings each.
It means we can send our children to school and buy food and medicine. Having an income means we can get credit – we can buy school uniforms and books on credit knowing that in a few weeks we can pay the money back. That empowers us.
Crabs are popular with tourists and before, the hotels imported them from the mainland. We agreed that if we could give them a steady supply, they would buy from us. So when the crabs are ready we ring the hotel and take the crabs up to the main road by bicycle. The hotel manager meets us and buys all our stock.
We share the work. It is a long walk from our village to the crab pens but we have a rota so we take it in turns to go and feed the crabs. We meet every Tuesday to discuss our schedule, share problems and come up with solutions together. VSO has taught us democratic values and encouraged us to work more closely as a team, because that means we are in a stronger position to bargain with the hotels.”
Making markets work for the poor
Crab fattening is just one project the women are working on in order to diversify their means of income. They are also producing soap, rearing chickens and making ornaments for Zanzibar’s tourists. Before, they were dependent on their crops.
“When there is a lot of rain, agriculture here virtually comes to a standstill,” says Kenyan VSO volunteer Maurice Kwame, who been working with the group for over a year, “so the women’s income goes up and down. That’s why it’s important to get them involved in other activities like the crab fattening.”
As well as training the women in business skills like bookkeeping and budgeting, Maurice is helping them gain access to markets for their products. In Zanzibar’s hotels, the majority of produce is imported. VSO wants hotels to buy locally so that the island’s poorest communities can also benefit from the tourist industry.
“Because the women are working as a group, they have stronger bargaining power. And so far it is working well. The market chain works,” says Maurice. “And that is really the gist of what we are doing here – making markets work for the poor.”
New relationships and hopes for the future
“We want to expand. We need more pens and more crabs in time for the next tourist season. We’d like to get our own transport so that we can go and sell to more hotels. Our aim is to bring more wealth to our village, to eradicate poverty here.” says Sada.
VSO has introduced the Kisakasaka Women’s Group to the Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (ZATI), an organisation promoting sustainable tourism who can encourage its members - including many top hotels and restaurants – to buy their crabs from the group.