Overpopulation and Girls Education

Recently there was a cholera outbreak in Nainokanoka Ward, which is the location of the Maasai Harmonial project village of Emburbul. We were concerned, because we knew that men from the village had been taking their cattle up into Olmoti crater, the source of the area’s water, and defecating near the water.

As it turned out, we learned that the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) authority had ordered that cattle could no longer be taken into the Olmoti crater, because of the impact on the this wildlife area from these cattle.

Luckily, Emburbul had no cholera, but neighboring villages were affected, so the quarantine was in affect for every village.

Population may become too big for the area

The NCA authority has previously threatened to remove people and their cattle from the NCA and recently we heard that a cap of 110,000 may be placed on the number of people allowed. Currently there are 87,000 people in the NCA, and the numbers have been growing due to a high number of births per woman. So a population of 110,000 could be easily reached within a few short years.

In the NCA, wildlife and cattle compete with each other for grassland. During drought, which happens frequently, both cattle and wildlife suffer. Earlier we had been advised not to go on safari during drought because the wildlife would look terrible. The Maasai living there are affected because, during a drought, their scrawny cows will not sell in the market and they have few other sources of income. Formerly they were allowed to take their cattle into Olmoti crater and other areas to fatten them up, but no more.

We have an overpopulation problem

We talked to the Maasai members of our team about this and they were well aware of the population problem. It is one of the reasons a Maasai woman was allowed to asked us for family planning in front of the village assembly before the Maasai Harmonial project was started.

When the population cap is reached and the Maasai are pushed out of the NCA, there will be very little the Maasai can do it. Many of the younger men have already left the village to work at jobs, such as night watchman, in urban areas. This leaves a large number of women behind to take care of their children and scrabble for food.

In other parts of the world, Nepal for example, men have left their families to get jobs elsewhere, and often the Nepali women are often able to compensate by stepping into their husband’s shoes as farmers.

However, cultivation is not allowed in the NCA, and even if it was, once people are removed from the NCA, they could not afford to buy land elsewhere for farming.

In other parts of Tanzania, the Maasai are being pushed off their traditional land to allow wealthy businessmen from other countries to build game resorts.

Family planning a partial solution to overpopulation

Once we helped upgrade the dispensary to a health clinic with reproductive and other health care services, and after we developed and presented a family planning video enlightening women on the various family planning methods and the benefits and side effects of each, women started showing at the clinic for family services. Most of the women using family planning methods are using contraceptive (hormonal) implants that prevent pregnancy for 3-5 years. 

The two men on our Maasai team are well aware of the population problem and they are actively promoting the family planning video in their area. But there are still many men who will would beat their wife when they find out she is using contraception. We are hoping that health care classes for women and men — which teach gender equity and birth spacing, and the fact that childbirth is the leading cause of death for 14-19 year olds — will change these patriarchal attitudes.

However, married girls are usually many years younger than their husbands and unable to refuse sex; they know little or nothing about family planning; and are too dependent on their husbands to access family planning behind their husband’s back.

People concerned about overpopulation are too focused on birth control

Those in the developed world who are keenly aware of overpopulation and its impacts are seldom aware that family planning is not the only solution. It has been known for decades that girls education reduces fertility rates, but most population-concerned folks have ignored or overlooked this fact. Perhaps it is because — in the early days of population concern, in developed countries, women were already educated and contraception was the best solution — that now they remain fixated on birth control.

Girls education an important part of solving overpopulation

Recently the Brookings Institute reported that a woman in school 12 years will have four to five fewer children than a woman with little or no schooling.

Typical birth rates in rural parts of Tanzania are over 6 children per woman. Thus a woman with 12 years of education will have only one or two children, on average.

In Africa, which is expected to double its population to 2.4 billion by 2050, the highest fertility rates and population growth are in remote areas, where people do not speak the national language, and health care is difficult to get.

These barriers – plus the fact that there are not enough classrooms built close to communities and that patriarchal attitudes favor boys over girls — are the ones that are being overcome at Maasai Harmonial.

When our partner organization built preschools near communities, children started learning Swahili from volunteer Maasai teachers prior to going to primary school.

In 2016 the pass rate from primary to secondary school at one school increased from 10% in 2011 to 67.5%, and in other village it ranged from 58% to 79%.

The percentage of girls from Emburbul going to school rose from 38% in 2015 to 47% in 2016, 50% in 2017, and 82% in 2018, due to our emphasis on education and women’s empowerment, school uniforms and sending girl role models to English Boarding schools.

When girls go to school they usually delay marriage and childbearing

At the same time girls education went up, the percent of married girls under age 18 in our area dropped from 55% in 2015 to 50% in 2016, 44% in 2017, and 31% in 2018.

Education and improved gender equity will help girls rise up and fend for themselves, moving away from the traditional trap of forced motherhood and male domination. It may help them to plan for an alternative Maasai future where Maasai communities can live sustainably and deal with climate change in the best way possible.

We are also working on adult education for numeracy and learning Swahili, and microloan programs and beekeeping to help adults and married girls who have don’t have sufficient education to make a decent living, so that they don’t have to rely on unsustainable means to survive.

For more on population, see our blog on Girls Education, Health, Sustainable Development Goals, and Population.