International Research and Theory in Human Ecology

Vol. 18, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM, Vol. 18, No. 1. 
1546-2676. Editor: Dorothy I. Mitstifer. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 2009. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

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Kappa Omicron Nu


An Emerging Partnership for Addressing Chronic Conditions
in the Ukerewe District, Tanzania

Sharon Y. Nickols, Jeffrey D. Mullen, Lioba Moshi,
University of Georgia


A collaborative international program focusing on leadership, economic development for women, education and personal goals for girls, maternal and infant health, and a sustainable natural environment is the focus of this article. The partners are residents of the Ukerewe District of Tanzania and University of Georgia (UGA) students and faculty. The impetus for the program is the visionary leadership of the Honorable Gertrude Mongella and the study abroad experience of UGA’s African Studies Institute. Demographic and economic data on Tanzania are indicators of the need for a human capital approach to development. Various development strategies provide a theoretical and historical context for developing program goals and focus. The authors summarize our assessment of local initiatives and the potential for collaboration. A service learning program is being designed to engage Tanzanian partners with students and faculty from a variety of disciplines.


Many African nations face a multitude of serious problems. Rates of population growth outstrip the ability to train teachers and build schools; pre-natal and infant health facilities are often inadequate; gaps exist in food production and distribution; communication and transportation infrastructure is inadequate; and environmental degradation persists. To address these issues in Africa and other parts of the world, the United Nations created the UN Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, 2005). The goals are as follows:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education for all girls and boys
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop global partnerships for development

Meeting these goals will require sound policies, leadership, and collaboration between groups from developed and developing nations. An example of such collaboration is service learning in which university students and faculty from the United States become engaged with communities abroad.

This paper focuses on an emerging partnership between the Ukerewe District in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, and the University of Georgia’s African Studies Institute. The purpose of the paper is two-fold:

  1. present a framework of international human development consistent with the human sciences philosophy of a holiistic, integrative approach to the relationships between people and their environments—natural, economic, and social, and
  2. illustrate the principles of collaboration and empowerment with examples from the emerging Mongella-UGA partnership for the Ukerewe District in Tanzania.

To set the stage, information about Tanzania and the Ukerewe District is provided.

Tanzania and the Ukerewe District

Tanzania’s Ukerewe District represents 38 islands in Lake Victoria. Fifteen of the islands are comprised of villages and rural areas populated by farmers, small merchants, and specialized service providers such as traditional birth attendants, tailors, and repair shops. The other 23 islands serve primarily as itinerant fishing villages. A district hospital and local clinics provide primary health care. There are 41 elementary schools and 19 secondary schools. The islands are accessed by ferry or private boat. Local transportation is by cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, and on foot.

Issues of human and economic development and the environment facing the Ukerewe District include:

  1. limited opportunities for youth, especially girls, to develop marketable skills,
  2. remoteness from the mainland and access to markets,
  3. frequent births and large family size,
  4. depleted soils,
  5. poor roads and limited transportation,
  6. dependence on fishing as a source of immediate income generation.1

These limiting factors, however, do not diminish the residents’ aspirations for a more secure economic situation, better health, and educational opportunities for their children. Although pressed to meet current basic needs, many residents are aware that long-term measures are needed in order to restore the soil and provide resources for the future. Indigenous leadership for local village efforts is a resource for addressing challenges in the Ukerewe District.

As an integral component of its broad policy framework, Vision 2025, the Government of Tanzania formulated a National Poverty Eradication Strategy. Quantitative data on key indicators of the human condition were compiled as a part of this initiative (RAWG, 2002). A qualitative study of the circumstances and concerns of 6,000 people across Tanzania was conducted through the Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPA) (Narayan, 1997). Although Tanzania has made great progress in many aspects of infrastructure development and is one of the safest countries in Africa, the following discussion provides information about continuing concerns.

Poverty. Poverty measures for Tanzania have shown modest improvements since the early 1990s. From 1991-92 to 2000-01, food poverty declined from 21.6 percent to 18.7 percent of the population, and basic needs poverty declined moderately from 38.6 percent to 35.7 percent (RAWG, 2002). Ironically, food poverty is higher in rural areas—the place where most food is produced—than in urban areas, and rural areas also reported higher basic needs poverty rates. Subjective judgments about economic trends indicate that with the exception of the very well-to-do, the majority felt they were better off in 1995 than 1985, but worse off than they had been in 1991 (Narayan, 1997).2

Employment. Approximately 76 percent of the population of Tanzania 15 years of age and above was employed during the decade of the 1990s with nearly the same percentage of women employed as men (RAWG, 2002). About 81 percent of those employed work in traditional agriculture. Participation in the “informal sector” is estimated at between 8.5 percent (RAWG, 2002) and 16 percent (World Bank, 2002). African women play a major role in the small-scale sector as employees and entrepreneurs (Carr, 1993). Luvanga (1997) advocated for government policy to encourage the development of the informal sector, as it can partly offset declining formal employment and the erosion of real wages.

Illiteracy rates. Literacy status was surveyed for Swahili, English, and other languages. In aggregate, 28.6 percent of adults cannot read and write in any language (RAWG, 2002). The illiteracy rate among adult women is about four times higher in rural areas (41.2 percent) than in Dar es Salaam, and almost twice as high among rural women compared to rural men. Low literacy rates are of concern because illiterate parents are less likely to be able to provide support for their children’s formal education. Educating women and girls has been shown to be the most effective investment in the developing world both for its direct and collateral benefits (e.g., better health for children, lower birthrates) (Skard, 2003).

School Enrollment. Following independence, Tanzania aimed for universal primary enrollment, resulting in a rapid increase in school enrollment during the 1970s. In the early 1980s, enrollment peaked, then fell back and stabilized at a level that was more or less maintained throughout the 1990s (RAWG, 2002). In 1999, primary school enrollment was 57.1 percent. As a result of abolition of fees for primary education in 2000 and a drive to enroll younger children as they reach the appropriate age for Standard I (seven years of age), primary school enrollment rates jumped to nearly two-thirds in 2001.

Overall, gender parity was achieved in 2001 for boys and girls in primary school enrollment (girls: 65.2 percent; boys: 65.8 percent); however, enrollment is lower in rural compared to urban areas (RAWG, 2002). Dropping out of elementary school is also problematic. During the 1990s about one-third of the pupils who entered Standard I did not complete Standard VII. Gender equity in enrollment becomes an issue at the secondary school level. In 2001, the girl-boy enrollment ratio at primary school was 0.97; however, enrollment of girls later drops off such that in some areas boys outnumber girls by 2 to 1 or even higher (RAWG, 2002). Gender issues in education reach beyond the realm of attendance and academic performance (Assié-Lumumba, 2005). Social and cultural values towards girls and young women, especially at or after puberty, and the attitude that a girl will get married and leave home are deeply rooted in traditional African gender roles. Therefore, investing in her education is not worthwhile for her family (Narayan, 1997; RAWG, 2002; Skard, 2003).

Tanzania’s enrollment levels for secondary education are among the lowest in the world (RAWG, 2002). Part of the problem is the availability of schools, and this is being addressed. The Government of Tanzania has mandated that additional secondary schools be built in each district in anticipation of the increased qualifications of students and demand for secondary education (P. Kiroya, personal communication, December 11, 2006).

Health of young children. During the 1990s no substantial progress was made in reducing infant and under-five mortality. There may even have been a slight increase in recent years, probably related to HIV/AIDS (RAWG, 2002). Infant mortality ranged between 80 and 100 and under-five mortality was between 120 and 150 per 1,000 births during the 1990s. Infant mortality was 21 percent higher and under-five mortality was 13 percent higher in rural compared to urban areas. In addition to HIV/AIDS, health risks of particular concern for young children are posed by malaria and other infectious diseases (RAWG, 2002).

Furthermore, very little progress was made in improving the nutritional status of children in Tanzania during the 1990s (RAWG, 2002). In 1999, 42 percent of children under five were moderately stunted, indicating chronic under-nutrition. Ironically, children in rural areas were almost twice as likely to be stunted as those in urban areas. Acute nutrition problems were found in 5 percent of the under-fives with the incidence similar in rural and urban areas. Gender differences in nutrition indices were slight, indicating that both girls and boys are equally at risk.

Life expectancy. Life expectancy has been declining in Tanzania during the 1990s, and is estimated to be somewhere between 46 and 49 years in the majority of regions. The Research and Analysis Working Group (2002) speculated that the 2002 Census findings would indicate a drop in life expectancy as a result of HIV/AIDS; however, there was no consensus on how many years of life expectancy have been lost as a result of the pandemic (RAWG, 2002).

Environmental issues. Many areas in Africa, including Tanzania’s Ukerewe District, face environmental challenges, such as deforestation, unsustainable use of land and water resources, and loss of biological diversity (Economic Commission for Africa, 2001). Steep slopes and heavy rains cause considerable soil erosion in the Ukerewe District, which leads to sedimentation of streams and deltas and serves as a vector for the transport of nutrients, pathogens, and chemical pollutants, all of which can have consequences for ecological and human health.

In the PPA study, some respondents attributed the process of becoming poor to land exhaustion that results in low production of both cash and food crops (Narayan, 1997). For Tanzania as a whole, approximately 20 percent of farmers used fertilizer, agrochemicals, and improved seeds. Use of these inputs was highest among the very rich (30 percent) and lowest among the very poor and poor (11 percent). In the Ukewere District, the low levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in the soils are augmented through the application of animal manure (Integrated Plant Nutrition Information System, n.d.). Manure applications increase the organic matter and water-holding capacity of the soils. Optimal timing of these applications, coupled with controls for soil erosion, would help maintain (or enhance) crop production and reduce the impact of agriculture on the area’s water resources.

Dranzoa (2005) identified five challenges in natural resource management for the countries of East Africa: population growth, awareness of and education related to natural resource conservation, poverty and its concomitant issues of insufficient capital for adopting advanced technology and techniques, cultural influences on household roles and family economic decisions, and low capacity due to few people trained in natural resource management. These challenges are especially relevant to women because the vast majority of women in East Africa depend upon land for survival. In the struggle to provide for their families, women often unintentionally erode natural resources (Dranzoa, 2005; Skard, 2003; Turshen, 1995).

The preceding information on the human and environmental conditions in Tanzania illustrates the interrelatedness of human, social, and environmental elements to be addressed when undertaking sustainable development efforts. An understanding of development strategies also is needed as universities design partnerships in developing countries.

Models for Development

Faculty and students need to understand the various approaches to development that have evolved over the years. Griffin (1999) identified the following six distinct strategies for large-scale development that were prevalent in the past:

  • Monetarist: concentration on markets, monetary and fiscal policies as guides to resource allocation;
  • Open Economy: reliance on market forces with an emphasis on foreign trade, financial institutions, and technology transfer;
  • Industrialization: rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector through infusions of capital and technology;
  • Green Revolution: focus on agricultural growth to increase the supply of food and employment opportunities in rural areas, using improved crop varieties, fertilizer, and irrigation;
  • Redistribution: addressing high levels of poverty through resource redistribution;
  • Socialist: state and collective ownership of productive assets accomplished by central planning of most economic activities.

Debates about alternative development strategies during the mid-twentieth century were often about how to best accelerate the production of goods and services (Griffin, 1999). By the 1990s, there was less emphasis on GNP and physical capital (e.g., plant and equipment); and priority was given to developing human capital. Economics Nobel Laureate Theodore W. Schultz, whose work focused on education, basic health, nutrition, and new knowledge and technology, was a major contributor to this change (Griffin, 2000).

The limitations of various models identified above are well-illustrated by the case of the Ukerewe District. The monetarist, open economy, and industrialization approaches have limited applicability, in part, because the islands comprising the Ukerewe District are not easily accessible. The fish export industry, including the Nile perch that is very popular in the United States, is currently located in the populous mainland town of Mwanza and largely controlled by international businesses. Attempts to replicate large-scale industry for fish or other products on the islands would require great expenditures for transportation to ship many of the inputs, and then the products, to and from the islands. Small-scale food processing industries for fish and agricultural products, however, could be viable and would link the Ukerewe District to external markets. Emphasis on production for local markets would promote self-reliance and sufficiency as well as encourage youth to stay on the islands rather than migrate to Mwanza and other cities. Local development approaches require investment in education, health, and rural development jobs in order to be successful, thus the focus on human capital, and more broadly, human development.

Human capital (i.e., people’s knowledge, skills, experience, energy, and inventiveness) is a fundamental resource for human development, but like physical and natural capital, human capital can deteriorate if not maintained and replenished (Griffin & McKinley, 1994). Alkire (2002) defined human development as “ . . . human flourishing in its fullest sense—in matters public and private, economic and social, and political and spiritual” (p. 182). The human development approach is also about empowerment of local people to identify their own priorities and to implement projects that directly benefit them (Green, 1998; Griffin & McKinley, 1994). An example of gathering input from the potential beneficiaries of development schemes is the Voices of the Poor study undertaken as part of the United Nations and World Bank’s 21 st century attack on poverty. This qualitative study of more than 60,000 poor men and women in 60 countries, described their realities and desires for improving their circumstances (Narayan, Chambers, Shah, & Petesch, 2000; Narayan, Patel, Schafft, Redemacher, & Koch-Schulte, 2000; Narayan & Petesch, 2002). Alkire (2002) organized the respondents’ descriptions of “well-being” and “ill-being” into a taxonomy of six “human development dimensions” as follows:

  • Material well-being: having enough food, assets, work.
  • Bodily well-being: being and appearing well in health and appearances, adequate physical environment.
  • Social well-being: being able to care for, bring up, marry, and settle children; self-respect and dignity; peace, harmony, good relations in the family/community.
  • Security: civil peace, a physically safe and secure environment; personal physical security, lawfulness and access to justice, security in old age, confidence in the future.
  • Freedom of choice and action.
  • Psychological well-being: peace of mind, happiness, harmony (including a spiritual life and religious observance).

This taxonomy captures the essence of what human sciences and other professions refer to as “quality of life.” It is consistent with the eco-systems approach of human sciences. The human eco-systems model is appropriate for addressing the inter-related issues in the Ukerewe District. Another feature of the human development approach consistent with human eco-systems is the importance of complementarities among the various kinds of human capital investments. For example, expenditures on women’s education and health affect their fertility rates, life expectancy, and labor productivity (Griffin & McKinley, 1994; Skard, 2003). Expansion of small enterprises and expansion of human capital are complementary—returns to both activities together are greater than separate gains (Griffin, 2000). Similarly, the introduction of labor-saving techniques can slacken the household labor constraint to allow children greater educational opportunities, thereby increasing future household income, while simultaneously reducing the role of labor considerations on household fertility decisions.

These and other complementarities support the ecological concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The key here is to design programs that identify and exploit potential complementarities at the household, village, and regional levels. This is one of the philosophical underpinnings of the Mongella-UGA Initiative.

The Mongella-UGA Initiative

The Mongella-African Studies Institute (ASI) Initiative was seeded by the vision and dedication of Mrs. Gertrude Mongella. “Mama” Mongella represented the Ukerewe District in the Parliament of the Republic of Tanzania. She was the first woman from the Ukerewe area to attend and graduate from college. She is a former Ambassador for her country to India and was the UN Special Representative for the Beijing Women’s Conference. The Honorable Gertrude Mongella currently serves as the President of the African Union Parliament. She is the recipient of the Delta Prize for Global Understanding, the honorarium from which she funded the NGO, Advocacy for Women in Africa.

Sharon Nickols, Lioba Moshi, Ambassador and member of Parliament Gertrude Mongella, District Commissioner Peter Kiroya, and Jeffrey Mullen

Figure 1. The authors met with local officials (left to right), Sharon Nickols, Lioba Moshi, Ambassador and member of Parliament Gertrude Mongella, District Commissioner Peter Kiroya, and Jeffrey Mullen.

The ASI has been escorting students to Tanzania on study abroad and service learning programs for nine years; however, no previous groups have gone to the relatively remote Ukerewe District. As an initial exploration of the feasibility for a collaborative project, the authors (i.e., “the team”) visited the District in December 2006. Plans were developed for a multi-disciplinary service learning program in summer 2008 in which students and faculty from various departments of the University would partner with each other and with local organizations to assist in capacity building among Ukerewe District residents.

The goals for the Mongella-UGA Initiative were developed collaboratively based on Mama Mongella’s vision for improving the well-being of residents in the Ukerewe District (G. Mongella, personal communication, December 8-12, 2006) and the potential to engage students and faculty at the University in specific areas. The goals follow:

  • facilitate the development of local leadership;
  • enhance the economic opportunities for women;
  • contribute to the development of girls’ educational achievement, career awareness, and personal development;
  • support agro-forestry projects that promote environmental sustainability and food production;
  • enhance maternal and infant health and parenting.

The next section reports the observations of the team.

Leadership development. Throughout the team’s visit, examples of local leadership were apparent. Visionary leadership came from Ambassador Mongella. A local school teacher and mother of four children arranged the logistics for the meetings held with adults and youth, as well as visits to the District Commissioner’s office and the District Hospital. The abilities of young elected leaders of a women’s business endeavor and of many girls in a youth program were apparent during meetings and conversations. At the Bure Gardens project, a young woman who is blind served as the reporter for the group and read the report of their activities from a Braille script.3 Government officials (e.g., the District Commissioner, the Director and staff of the District Hospital) also evidenced strong leadership abilities and commitment to their constituents. For example, at the hospital visit, data on births, medical procedures, HIV testing and HIV cases were well organized and presented to the team. Nursing staff supervisors identified the gaps in service from the patients’ perspective and explained goals for improvement. Local leadership forms a sound basis for future collaborative initiatives.

Girls’ educational and social development. “Girls Talk” is an organization with goals of developing girls’ life skills and decision-making abilities, increasing their educational aspirations, informing girls about potential careers, and providing adult guidance. Thirty-five girls and one boy, ages 11 to 16, and six leaders met with the team. The girls reported enjoying activities pertaining to life skills and most expressed their goals of completing secondary school and avoiding pregnancy while still young. They expressed interest in a variety of careers including teaching, computer services, tailoring, and farming. Continued engagement with supportive adults and reinforcement through group activities are needed to facilitate the girls’ achievement of their goals.

Environmental issues. Bure Gardens is an integrated program focused on the production and distribution of seedlings for forestation and oil nut production and plants for erosion control and on raising milk goats and chickens. The program is run by a group of seventeen women and three men. The group exhibited a cohesive and well-organized endeavor. The coordinator is a retired Tanzania Forestry Extension Agent who has donated his own land to the project. Bure Gardens participants embrace an extension philosophy dedicated to the transfer and practical implementation of knowledge. They gain agricultural and organizational skills, recognize linkages between human activity and environmental degradation, and learn techniques for mitigating adverse environmental impacts.

Fostering women’s economic development. A high proportion of Tanzanian women are “economically active” in either the formal or informal sectors (e.g., food vending, kiosks, eating places) (Stichter, 1995). These activities contribute to the economy’s total output of goods and services, but they need consumers with money in sufficient numbers to assure their viability. Twelve women in Nkilinzya village described to the team their pottery making and canteen operation, as well as their savings and loan endeavor. The narrow margin of survival that characterizes many African countries was apparent as the women explained that their kiosk has few customers with resources and their major problem with the savings and loan plan is late repayment of loans. Given the circumstances they faced, it was appropriate that they had named their group “Endure.” Despite the obstacles, they were not giving up.

Tanzanian women are economically active in farming and the informal economy.

Figure 2. Tanzanian women are economically active in farming and the informal economy.

As future efforts unfold to work with the women of Endure, the activities will be guided by the principle that there must be “African solutions to African problems” (Smith, 2001). An example of how these women had found their own solution to a problem in their community was shared with the team. Members of Endure provided food and school items for the children of three women in Nkilinzya who had tested positive for HIV/AIDS and were unable to perform their normal work and provide for their families. Such community cohesiveness is a strength that meets an aspect of the “social well-being” criteria in the quality of life measure explained in this paper (Alkire, 2002).

Maternal and Infant Health. Concerns regarding maternal and infant health were discussed with the District Commissioner, District Health Officer and staff of the District Hospital maternity ward, and a Traditional Birth Attendant. Women of child-bearing age number approximately 58,000, and there were approximately 7,500 births in the District during the previous ten months (E. Sangawe, personal communication, December 11, 2006). There is a major need for additional facilities to serve prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care of mothers and infants. Strong staff commitment to meet the needs of families was apparent in the team’s visits. Part of Ambassador Mongella’s vision is to develop facilities that will provide comprehensive care for expectant mothers including parent education, with an emphasis on first-time mothers.

The programmatic themes of the Mongella-UGA Initiative embody the human capital approach to development and exhibit the complementarity underlying the human eco-systems framework. Projects with goals to enhance women’s economic opportunities and leadership capacity, girls’ social and educational development, and maternal and infant health are all mutually reinforcing. Through these programs, the Initiative is striving to catalyze a positive feedback loop that is internally sustainable.

Addressing the Initiative’s Goals with Service Learning

The mission of service-learning programs is to promote student learning by engaging students in experiences that address community needs together with structured opportunities for reflection (Mitstifer, 2004). Furthermore, the community needs should be defined by the community. In addition to linking research and theory to applications in the “real world,” service learning also can sensitize students to social issues and civic responsibility (Robinson & Harrist, 2004). The intersection of service learning as a teaching strategy, the University’s aspiration to increase students’ international experiences and global understanding, and Ambassador Mongella’s goals for the Ukerewe District represents a unique opportunity for cross-continent collaboration to impact Tanzania’s development challenges.

Opportunities for collaboration through the Mongella-UGA Initiative are abundant. The University has expertise in child development, nutrition, forestry, agricultural sciences, social work, public health, business, and many other relevant fields. Plans were developed for summer 2008 with the focus on faculty and undergraduate and graduate students working with the Bure Gardens project and a summer day camp for girls to help sustain their educational progress during the school holidays and to reinforce their personal and social development goals.

Students will study and critique the various development models. For example, those working with Bure Gardens will have the opportunity to experience the short-term and long-term planning needed to sustain the green revolution approach to development and the efficacy of Tanzania’s environmental campaign “cut a tree, plant a tree.” Students working with the girls’ and women’s groups will have the opportunity to reflect on all elements in the Voices of the Poor well-being taxonomy as they evaluate the outcomes of their engagement with the community. As the collaboration continues to develop, the other goals for the Ukerewe District will be addressed.

Summary and Conclusions

This article presents the conceptualization of a collaborative international project. It incorporates a theoretical understanding of development strategies, the eco-systems framework of human sciences, the mission of service learning, and commitment to the principles of collaboration as applied to the challenges of the Ukerewe District of Tanzania. The implication for other institutions considering international projects is that all elements are essential to a well-designed project.

Adherence to Green’s (1998) commandment is also germane: “A participatory model of research and development program design means that it is by and for African women, not merely participatory research in Africa on African women” (p. 77, emphasis added by the authors). Implicit in any university’s approach to community engagement both at home and abroad should be an acknowledgment that a successful, mutually-beneficial collaboration requires an equal partnership throughout the process of defining challenges and needs, identifying appropriate strategies to address these challenges, and implementing sustainable programs that have long-term impact.


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1. The traditional fishing industry based on individual entrepreneurs using dug-out canoes and nets is likely to be negatively impacted by the encroachment of the large-scale global fishing industry into the Lake Victoria area. 

2. Targets for the reduction of income poverty have been set in terms of the proportion of the population that lives below either of the two poverty lines. In the context of Tanzania’s population growth, the actual number of impoverished people may increase even as the proportion of people below food and/or basic needs poverty declines. 

3. In contrast to other situations in which persons with disabilities are reduced to begging for a livelihood in many developing countries, this woman was incorporated into the leadership of the community.