From shoe repairers to shoe makers
A number of shoe repairers at Jenda Trading Centre in Mzimba District have teamed up to ward off the defiant stare of poverty in the area and this assures success for the people living in a country haunted by widespread poverty and inequality.
Over eight million people live in poverty and as many as four million Malawians live in dire poverty that they cannot afford to meet the recommended food basket.
A Poverty and Vulnerability Study Report notes that Malawi has a very high inequality index registered at a gini-coefficient of 0.38, a reflection of the seriousness with which the poor struggle to access assets, services and opportunities.
“The richest 10 percent of the population has a median per capita income that is eight times higher than the median per capita income of the poorest 10 percent, at the same time the richest 10 percent has a median income that is three times higher than the overall median income in the country,” reads the report.
Trends in human development indicators show that there has been minimal progress in the country’s effort to reduce poverty and inequality in both rural and urban set-ups.
Michael Soko, a 52-year-old father of five children, born in Kayilole Village T/A Mabulabo in Mzimba, has since childhood been aroused by the art of making and repairing shoes despite the fact that shoe repairing has always been a less rewarding job.
In Malawi, a negligible size of the population earns their livelihood away from household farm gardens or fishing activities due to lack of opportunities for off-farm income. Wage employment too, be it either in the public or private sectors, is not widespread. Only 11 percent of household heads depend exclusively on a waged or salaried jobs.
Integrated Household Studies by the National Statistical Office (NSO) do not spell reasons why only few poor households have enterprises outside farming. Suffice to say that most rural populations engage in menial survival businesses because of lack of capital and business skills.
A World Bank estimate suggests that about one-third of households in Malawi have enterprises mostly engaged in retail and manufacturing sectors. In most cases, owners of these businesses do not belong to the poor household.
Statistics indicate that 38 percent of the rural household heads earn their livelihood from farm or fishing activities, a figure that reaches a 55 percent peak in the Northern Region where Soko comes from.
But at the age of 13, when Soko’s father secured a job at Kasungu General Farming, the little boy found an opportunity to realise his childhood dream.
“I noticed that where we stayed there was nobody in the shoe repairing business,” Soko points at an opportunity that he quickly seized and worked on after knocking off from school.
Unfortunately, Soko did not proceed with education and in 2000, he was employed as a watchman.
“I usually worked in the night, and then I would come home for a rest. In the afternoon I went out to my makeshift office where I repaired torn shoes,” he recalls the days before the shoe repairing cooperative was formed.
“Since we started producing shoes, my business has greatly improved and I am able to earn MK30, 000 in a month, a sum way higher than the K3, 000 that I earned from shoe repairing,” says Soko.
Under the banner Phazi Club, the cooperative has mobilised 20 shoe-repairers in the area and is slowly gaining ground following effective operations that have been made possible after undergoing several business training sessions under the African Development Bank (AfDB) sponsored Local Economic Development (LED) project which is being executed by the Local Development Fund (LDF) Technical Support Team (TST).
The project, which primarily targets the economically active poor, ties with the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) which identifies Integrated Rural Development as a priority area to stimulate local economic growth and reduce rural poverty.
It is designed to support innovative economic development initiatives that are geared towards promoting the formation of local businesses and economic clusters of enterprises and value chains as the Phazi Club is currently doing.
As the club’s chairperson, Soko says the club has graduated from shoe repairing to shoe making entity in order to add value to the skills and business undertaking.
“We have actually diversified our activities from just concentrating on shoe repairing to the more creative art of shoe making,” explains Soko.
He also narrated that through the LED project, members have been mentored to broaden their entrepreneurship skills.
LDF Development Communications Manager, Booker Matemvu, says: “Basically we also want to help create jobs through enterprise development. The project aims at promoting economic development partnerships and alliances between government, business and communities.”
He says the project focuses on strengthening groups such as Phazi Club by providing support for their sustenance through appropriate coaching and mentoring in entrepreneurship, business and financial management including record keeping.
Apart from the Mzimba group, LED has also trained other groups in Ntchisi, Mangochi and Phalombe in carpentry, bakery, butchery management, tomato processing, beans and onion grading and packaging, beekeeping, poultry management, piggery and oil processing.
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