Mini factories unlock rural women’s potential


By Tikondane Vega:

HANDY —A food processing plant for value addition

Whenever a person visits the lakeshore district of Mangochi, the first thing that comes to mind is the abundance of fish. Perhaps this could be one of the reasons that make Mangochi famous.

The fish business is thriving such that many people are earning a living with women joining the bandwagon.


They have now started mobilising themselves with one goal of establishing fish processing groups to empower themselves economically.

Presently, there are several fish processing groups one of which is Liganga in Liganga Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nankumba.

Established in 2015 as a village savings and loans (VSL) group, the entity evolved into fish business after training in business, leadership and cooperatives by Christian Aid Malawi.


The organisation, with funding from the European Union (EU), is implementing a project called: Breaking the barriers, in three districts of Chikwawa, Karonga and Mangochi.

The project seeks to end poverty among women through the Women-led Sustainable Energy Enterprises (WLSEE) with an aim of unleashing potential of rural women.

Breaking the barriers project receives 80 percent of its funding the EU while 20 percent comes from Christian Aid.

The project is running from 2018 to 2021 and targets 550 women translating up to 1,189,113 indirect beneficiaries.

Through the initiative, women are being supported to create and own sustainable energy enterprises after training in sustainable energy products, technologies and business skills.

Additionally, women have access to loans to build their micro-enterprises and experience the value of selling or purchasing sustainable energy products such as biogas and solar-powered refrigerators.

The initiative is aimed at increasing the women’s income by, among other things, selling preserved foods at a better price when demand for such products is high.

Depending on the groups’ requirements and the cost, Christian Aid provides 70 percent grant to a particular group and 25 percent loan at reasonable interest rates.

The groups are expected to contribute five percent of the total budget as part of commitment.

Secretary for Liganga Fish Processing Group, Chrissie Fatch, says everything is now in place to start fish processing.

She challenges that the group will soon become a big fish supplier in Mangochi and beyond.

“When Christian Aid came through government, they asked us our vision and we made our calculation and found that we needed at least K13 million to start fish processing business.

“Since we were already in a VSL, we contributed K550,000 plus sand, quarry and bricks bringing the total value of our contribution to K710,000 as our commitment,” Fatch says.

A visit to Liganga Village established that the group has constructed a decent house for their operations while Christian Aid provided the group with refrigerators, fish dryers, solar panels, batteries and iron sheets.

“Our building is yet to be connected to electricity –that is the only challenge. Farmers are ready to supply us the fish. Similarly, Christian Aid is also ready to give us money for buying fish,” Fatch says.

However, she says the biggest challenge in the future could be failure to find markets for their products.

“The group has 25 members and our aim is that everybody should build a decent house and should meet basic household needs without relying on the husband,” Fatch says.

She further explains that the group plans to be sharing 80 percent of the profits at the end of every year.

“Within the year, members can borrow the money in form of interest loans,” she says.

Liganga Fish Processing Group is just one among many newly formed women fish processing groups in Mangochi under the WLSEE project.

Other groups include Tithandizane of Makawa Village in T/A Mponda, Titukulane of Chimphamba Village, Mwalamba of Madzedze Village and Wokha Cooperative Processing Group of Sumbi Village, all in T/A Nankumba.

The issue of access to viable markets has been a major one that many farmers raise.

However, Mangochi District Assistant Trade Officer Georgina Kansilanga says the government is aware of the problem and has put several measures to arrest it.

“Firstly, we would like to help them with packaging so that the products are of high quality to compete favourably on the market. We also need to train them in standards by engaging Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS). It is a pity that people are still buying fish from abroad when we have ours in Malawi,” Kansilanga says.

She adds that another important thing is that there is need for assurance that the groups have the potential to supply fish or fruits without breaking the supply chain.

Kansilanga further says to ensure consistency of supply, the council will be encouraging the groups to sell their products in groups to meet the growing demand on the market.

District Gender Officer for Mangochi, Metro Ching’ani, says WLSEE project has the potential to uplift women and calls for good coordination between relevant partners in the project.

Elsewhere, in Chikwawa District, Relief Eagles is also implementing WLSEE project with support from the EU through Christian Aid with the same objective of unleashing the potential of rural women.

A 15-member women group, Tsapa Agro Processing Cooperative, is into fruits and vegetable processing and is planning to start producing juice from wild fruits.

The cooperative’s chairperson Juliet Selemani says the group also started in 2015 as a VSL before Relief Eagles introduced the project.

“We were given lessons on leadership, planning and budgeting. Later, we came up with a budget of K18 million for the whole project to start,” Selemani says.

She adds that a machine has already been planted and money is readily available for the group to start the business.

“Despite improving our families, we hope that others will benefit because we are planning to create employment in areas such as accounts and clerical duties since some of the fields require special expertise,” Selemani says.

Mary Time, chairperson of Namatope Cooperative in T/A Maseya under Mbande Solar Powered Irrigation Scheme, echoes Selemani’s sentiments.

Time says her 25-member group plans to start processing tomato sauce and has made an upfront payment of K600,000 to the implementers of the project as part of commitment.

“The machine that we will be using will be arriving in a few weeks time and we are ready to take the new challenge. I believe that when a woman is empowered, issues to do with gender-based violence can no longer be there,” Time says.

Chikwawa Relief Eagles Project Officer Stan Mark says there are eight groups translating into 353 women who are direct beneficiaries of the project.

“Our focus is to reach more women so that we empower them economically and at the end members of their families can also benefit,” Mark says.

General Manager for WLSEE project in four countries including Malawi, Innocent Hauya, says Christian Aid has intensified efforts in ensuring that more women benefit.

A similar project is being implemented in Burkina Faso, Honduras and Ethiopia.

“In Malawi, we have 40 women groups with 946 members benefiting from the project. We are supporting women to create and own energy enterprises in some of the poorest and remote off-grid areas.

“These groups receive training in sustainable energy products and technologies, acquire business skills and have access to finances through village savings and loans groups,” Hauya says. —Mana

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