In 2008, Tunsi was selected to be a founding member of the Lufumbi Village Maize Cooperative. She was destitute and defeated. Her husband had died earlier in the year, leaving her to care for three young children. She was living in a small one-room mud hut.
There were challenges with the first maize crop; the rainfall in 2009 was poor. However, Tunsi and the other 11 members of the co-op persisted. The abundant rains in 2011 made for an excellent crop. Her family began to flourish—the children went to school every day, they ate three meals a day, they built a bigger house and could afford luxuries such as oil and lamp light in the evenings.
After the monthly co-op meetings, the women would continue discussions on their own. They began to realize that they were growing better quality maize than the men with higher yields. Tunsi said they said to themselves, “If we can grow maize better than the men, then we can do anything better than the men.”
Tunsi’s next venture was a huge step for a village woman with no experience outside of her immediate domain. She started a banana trading business. She rented large trucks to transport plantains to the markets Mbeya 50 miles away. Then she widened her scope to Iringa, 200 miles away and then Dar-Es-Salaam, 550 miles away. This was phenomenal. Trading of this nature had always been a man’s world. She had much to negotiate—truck rentals, drivers, loaders, overnight security, and dealing with buyers. This seemingly frail woman from a small village was breaking the mold.
Tunsi built a modern house just outside the village. In 2014, her brother-in-law took possession of the house claiming that the land she had built the house on had belonged to her husband; hence, legally it was his. Rather than fight her brother-in-law, Tunsi bought land in the nearby town of Tukuyu and built a better house there, near a good secondary school and all the amenities of the town.
All her children are doing well. Her eldest daughter has graduated from college as a teacher and her other children go to good secondary schools.
What I enjoy most in my spare time is to sit with other women and discuss how we can be successful at business.”Tunsi Belega