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Fighting poverty via self-help groups

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KUSAMALE —Lives are being transformed

It is a bright Thursday morning and Group Village Head (GVH) Chimbalanga of Senior Chief Nsakambewa in Dowa District, some 30 kilometres from Dowa Boma, cannot believe the achievements he has registered in the past three years.

Staring at his modern house fitted with solar power and two satellite dishes, Chimbalanga is living a dream life.

“Despite being involved in tobacco farming for the past years, I was really struggling. I could not afford decent accommodation and was struggling to get food,” Chimbalanga says.

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Tobacco used to be hot business for Malawi between the 1960s and 1990s but a global anti-smoking lobby has seen prices dipping sharply in recent years.

“Things took a huge turnaround for me around 2015 with the coming of Khwamba Sustainable Livelihood Improvement Project funded by the Scottish Government, which is being implemented by Tearfund through their implementing partner, the Ministry of Hope.

“The project encouraged us to form self-help groups through which we were taught saving, conservation agriculture, environmental protection as well as local governance,” Chimbalanga explains.

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He says through the self-help groups, communities were also trained to produce homemade fertiliser using a combination of animal dung, ash, maize husks and a small portion of inorganic fertiliser.

Chimbalanga says, from one bag of inorganic fertiliser, they are able to produce 10 bags of homemade fertiliser which is equally effective and efficient.

“In 2015, I made 15 bags of fertiliser and harvested 20 ox-carts of maize. In 2016, I made 30 bags of homemade fertiliser and harvested 65 oxcarts. Last year, I made 50 bags and, although we were hit by a dry spell as well as the fall armyworm, I am expecting to harvest over 100 oxcarts.

“As a family, we sell part of the harvest and save the money in a village bank. From the savings, we are able to borrow money which we invest in various businesses and has enabled us to build this modern house, bought oxen and an ox-cart,” says Chimbalanga while scrolling up TV channels on his remote control.

Though maize prices dipped last year, Chimbalanga is hopeful that he will realise good earnings from the crop, with reports that other areas will not register a good harvest.

“I dream of owning a motor vehicle,” he says.

Teleza Siveriano, 44, of Chimbalanga Village, is equally ecstatic with the project.

The mother of six has seen her life transformed as she has managed to build a decent three-bedroomed house as well as buy cattle.

“Before this initiative, I was struggling to make ends meet. I was struggling to send my children to school. Today, the story is different. I am able to save as well as borrow from the village bank to boost my business,” says Siveriano, who sells cabbages and Irish potatoes.

Some four kilometres away at Kayesela Village, Ruth Abel, 42, is equally full of smiles.

Abel, a mother of six, who is a member of Chakudya Club, says she has achieved a lot through improved crop production using homemade fertiliser.

Sitting on the lawn of her three-bedroomed house, Abel says she built the structure from selling some of the maize she has been harvesting in the past seasons.

“I saved the money. I sell Irish potatoes at Dzaleka Turnoff. I have built the house and bought some livestock which are helping me a lot,” says Abel, who is now food-secure and is able to fend for her family.

In the neighbouring village, VH Chiwale is growing cabbages using homemade fertiliser.

He says production of the crop has significantly increased since he started using the homemade fertiliser.

This year he has grown 10,000 heads of cabbages and expects to realise good earnings from the crop.

“The good thing about cabbages is that it is easy to calculate the earnings. If prices will be good this season, say K200 per head, then definitely that’s K2 million.

“But if the price will fall to K150 per head, then you know that I should expect around K1.5 million. Not very bad for someone living in the village,” Chiwale says.

Khwamba Sustainable Livelihood Improvement Project is Scottish-funded 500,193 grant project which was initially planned to run from April 1 2015 to March 28 2018 through Tearfund Malawi.

The aim of the project is to reduce poverty and extreme hunger for 30,000 people in Traditional Authority Msakambewa by empowering vulnerable households through livelihoods improvement and strengthening of local governance and development structures.

The project seeks to increase crop product ion and crop diversification at household level. The project also seeks to increase community and household capacity to sustainably manage natural resources.

Khwamba also aims to achieve increased economic empowerment at household level through enhanced entrepreneurial skills and access to loans.

Ministry of Hope acting Executive Director, Dorothy Kusamale, says, so far, 338 self-help groups have been formed in Senior Chief Msakambewa’s area.

She says the groups have 8,203 members, of which 5,364 are female and 2,839 are male.

Kusamale says 33,663 people comprising 12,783 girls, 12,052 boys, 3,896 women and 4,932 men are indirectly benefitting from the project.

“About 96 percent of the target group access loans against the baseline target of 36 percent. About 55.6 percent of the target group uses the loans for business purposes. About 90 percent of the target group is growing two or more types of crops.

“About 5,898 farmers have managed to prepare their own fertiliser and, have adopted some aspects of ‘Farming God’s way’ or conservation agriculture,” Kusamale says.

Over a period of two years, Khwamba Project has also planted 1,328,260 tree seedlings, of which 21,048 are fruit trees.

Tearfund Projects Manager, Aaron Lewani, says it is encouraging to see the lives of communities being transformed through Khwamba Project.

“We are passionate about ending poverty and seeing communities flourish. Having visited Khwamba in 2015, we are seeing our dream for communities realised. Our vision is to see all people freed from poverty, living transformed lives and reaching their God-given potential.

“It is encouraging to see the same people that were poor three years ago building nice houses roofed with iron sheets and cement. It is pleasing to see households eating three meals per day and diversified meals and to see parents being able to send their children to school,” Lewani says.

He says the greatest thing is seeing people working together as a result of improved relationships and realisation that they can tackle their own challenges using locally available resources

“We thank the Scottish people, through their government, for making this possible,” Lewani says.

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