A young spice farmer in Zanzibar is on a mission to grow her business and improve her future, one plant at a time.
Wearing a pink headscarf and a grey abaya, 24-year-old Khairat Suleiman Ame doesn’t look like your typical Zanzibari farmer. Don’t let looks fool you; she’s ready to get her hands dirty tending to her ginger, turmeric and hibiscus plants.
Although many Zanzibari women rely on their husbands for economic support, Khairat has other ideas.
“Most of my friends are married and stay at home. But I want to engage in farming to support my mother – and my future family,” she says.
“Even if I get married, I want to be financially independent.”
A tough place to grow
Many women in Zanzibar struggle to achieve financial independence. Early marriage confines many girls and women to their homes, stripping away their opportunities for economic empowerment.
73% of Zanzibari women earn less than their husbands, 89% of women do not own a house, and 91% do not own land. As a result, many women with little or no resources if their marriage ends.
Khairat’s parents divorced when she was young, leaving her mother with little to raise a family.
“I don’t want that,” she says.
It wasn’t just conservatism that weighed against her. Even with a bachelor’s degree, she struggled to find work. She wasn’t the only one with this problem: 31% of Zanzibar’s 15 to 35-year-olds are unemployed.
With all of these obstacles in her way, Khairat had to create a future for herself.
Sprouting opportunities in her community
It was through following her interest in agriculture that she found her direction.
“We are called the spice islands, but we actually import spices like turmeric and ginger,” says Khairat. “There is a great market for spices here. Many local women use turmeric for face masks and cosmetics.”
Despite the need for spice farmers and her passion for farming, her family and community were discouraging.
“My grandmother and others told me that I couldn’t do it. I felt so bad,” she says. “But as an entrepreneur, you can’t just give up.”
Her determination is certainly paying off, as she was recently awarded a grant to develop her enterprise.
While she tends to her plants with organic fertilizers, she also dedicates time and energy towards helping other women in her community become entrepreneurs. Twice a week, she teaches other young women how to overcome gender discrimination and start their own agricultural businesses.
Khairat knows how to challenge gender norms and push boundaries. Now, she wants others in her community to benefit from her knowledge and begin careers in farming.
“People say spice farming is mostly for men because it is hard work. But you don’t need muscles to do it. Knowledge is what matters.”