DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It’s almost noon at the bustling Tegeta bus station in Tanzania’s largest city and Olivia Mbiku is busy preparing ugali – a popular maize meal – a beef stew and vegetables for its customers.
“I get up early, light the fire and rush to the market to buy meat, cooking oil, tomatoes and whatever else I need for the day,” the mother-of-two said. 25 years.
Wrapped in a cloud of smoke and with a traditional colorful ‘khanga’ tied around her waist, Mbiku takes maize flour from a sachet and sprinkles it in boiling water while stirring briskly with a stick to make it firm. .
“I cook ugali every day because most of my customers like it,” Mbiku told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It’s not a lucrative business, but I earn enough to feed my family.”
Mbiku is one of dozens of food vendors trying to make a living amid the hubbub of the Dar es Salaam bus station, where drivers boo and shout to attract customers.
She works eight hours a day and earns about 45,000 shillings ($20) to supplement her husband’s income as a mason.
But unlike licensed hawkers who work from rows of wooden stalls, Mbiku cooks outdoors and is often harassed by city militias for selling food without proper paperwork.
“They often seize my pots and sometimes lock me up. I have to pay some money to be released and get my things back,” she said.
Mbiku and other women with unlicensed businesses finally have a glimmer of hope after the Tanzanian government announced last month that it would recognize them as part of its broader women’s empowerment policy.
Maria Ezekiel, 31, who has a stall serving chicken soup, chapati and tea every morning along the busy Bagamoyo highway, said the decision to formalize micro-businesses like hers was an important step for small entrepreneurs.
A license would allow her to apply for credit to improve her business, she said.
“I think this is a very good opportunity for me. As soon as the ID cards are issued, I will start processing my bank loan,” Ezekiel told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“I want to borrow at least 500,000 shillings ($225) to modernize my kitchen business.”
The roadside chef wants to buy better equipment and switch to a gas stove to replace the smoky firewood she now cooks on.
Operating in the informal sector leaves women unprotected and unable to access credit, experts say.
“Selling food in urban areas can be a good tool to create livelihood security for the urban poor, but to achieve this, there must be better policy initiatives,” said Haji Semboja, professor of economics. at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Presenting the annual budget in June, Tanzanian Finance Minister Philip Mpango said that all food vendors – most of whom are women – would be integrated into the traditional sector.
The government will work with regional authorities to identify informal businesses and license them before 2020, he said.
“We will issue them identity cards and designate special premises for them,” the minister told parliament.
Margareth Chacha, a banker and former managing director of the Tanzania Women’s Bank which supports women small-scale entrepreneurs, said women are held back because of the strict lending conditions imposed by banks.
“Most women don’t have access to loans because the conditions are too harsh,” she said. “But if the government can act as a guarantor, I’m sure the banks will be willing to lend.”
The benefits of successful women-led businesses are felt across the economy, she said.
Back at the Tegeta bus station, Olivia Mbiku says she now hopes for a more stable and prosperous future.
“I would love to get a bank loan and start a big restaurant business,” she said.