BENEDICT TEMBO, Zimba
OVER the past few years, women in Zambia have made great strides towards empowering themselves to reduce dependence on their husbands and contribute to poverty reduction in communities where they live.
They have embarked on various socio economic activities such as
gardening, weaving, tailoring, and introduced literacy classes.
In Zimba district in Southern Province, women have mobilised themselves around clubs to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country and tackle illiteracy.
Buka Umweke women’s club, mobilised around the Zimba Centre for Rural and Youth Development, has made huge strides in tackling poverty.
The club started with water harvesting schemes.
From the initial project of rainwater harvesting, co-ordinator of the club sister Noel Mary Adajaero of the Holy Rosary Sisters says the club learnt to set goals and work patiently to achieve them.
“This has not been easy as some members decided to go against the terms of agreement we set for ourselves and refused to repay their loans to the club. But in this process, we have learnt that patience pays and we are slowly learning how to solve our problems in a way that is beneficial to all concerned,” Sr Adajaero says.
She adds: “When we talk of our problems, you can see some of them without being told.”
From rainwater harvesting, the club has now diversified into moringa processing- thanks to the tea bag packing machine the club has procured.
The machine has transformed the careers of some women like Josephine Mapulanga Janki who are now operators.
“In talking of achievements, you can see that these simple women are actually the machine operators for this tea-bagging process. It took even me and certainly the women a long slow process to become convinced that they can do it if trained. Now, we all have seen that they can do it, and their self- confidence has grown,” Sr Adjaero says.
Ms Janki is happy to be a beneficiary of the skill transfer and growing moringa.
“We are very thankful to God, we started some time ago, we suffered. Some of our friends have left us. Those who were able and planted moringa are getting something,” she says.
Sr Adjaero says: “This is empowerment. It may be a matter of interest to all of us to note that since our training workshop on the February 8 2017 to date and even beyond, all of us engaged here are volunteers; that means that we do not get any salaries. That is to enable our venture to grow, yes, some of us listened when it was suggested that we grow Moringa in 2013,” she says.
That the women have planted moringa trees and have been able to sell to the club is in itself an achievement to the women who have been with the club for 10 years.
During training, the women were told by their mentors, Frontier Development Associates from Lusaka that the room in which the tea bag processing machine has been fitted is just too small for a machine of that magnitude.
This is because it will be too hot when they go into full scale production.
“We know from experience that this is true. We were advised to get quotations from an experienced builder of how much it would cost to raise the whole roof in such a way as to have a good slop. This would solve the problem of leakage that spoilt a good quantity of our dried moringa as you can see,” she says, pointing to the bags containing spoiled moringa.
The club was handed a quotation of K40,000 which they are currently trying to source so that the expansion of the machine room is undertaken before the next rains.
“To date, we have received no offers. The problem is not only the leakages. We have been told that we need dryers. Our space for drying moringa leaves is too small. It takes at least four days to dry the leaves once we hang them. But if we have dryers, it would only take four hours to dry the same quantity of moringa leaves,” Sr. Adjaero says.
The club has gone round Zimba, starting with the Department of Community Development and Social Services up to Southern Province permanent secretary, Sibanje Simuchoba sourcing dryers and the K45,000 for extending the machine room.
“The response is promising but we wait to see. We also have a big problem of animals eating up our fresh moringa leaves. This indicates a need to fence in our moringa growing space both for the club and individual members. We have also brought this problem to our permanent secretary [Sibanje Simuchoba]. Our mentors have also told us that we need a grinder. When we were buying our machine, we did not have enough money to order a grinder too,” Sr Adajaero says.
The club is happy because the market for its moringa products is there as out-takers including several supermarkets.
“We have the desire to produce to our best capacity. As a club, we have been going to the [Zimba] district council for land for growing moringa. We are confident that if this moringa programme is supported to fully develop, it will benefit the whole district and beyond. The council has allocated a piece of land to us. We have as yet to see it. This means that we will be operating from here [Zimba Centre for Rural and Youth Development] for some time before the plot is fully secured to safeguard the machine.
“Our mentors [Frontier Development Associates] again suggest that we need to stabilise our method of washing the moringa leaves by installing sinks and piping water directly to the sinks. Presently, we depend on manuscripts from the Ghana Moringa Producers which we downloaded from the internet,” she says.
Frontier Development Associates has advised the club to produce a manual for Zambia.
Musika, a Zambian non-profit company that works to stimulate private sector investment in the smallholder markets, recently sent an officer to see how the club maybe helped.
A Musika official told the women that they have to increase their membership before they can help the club.
The women explained to him that from their experience, it may not be advisable to increase the membership of this core group any bigger.
“That will come with the increase of moringa growers who will supply the machine operators to produce to full capacity. It is an interdependency relationship and the benefits are immense to the district and the nation at large if we co-operate to bring this condition about,” Sr Adjaero says.
She says club members are aware of some of the benefits of moringa as food and for health from first-hand experience like boosting the immune system, like handling high blood pressure and diabetes and water purification.
“It has a great role to play in agro-forestry. Let us work together for the development of our families and our country,” Sr Adjaero says.
Apart from Buka Umweke, other clubs training women in life-saving skills include Chibote in Chief Sipatunyana’s area which meets twice a week.
Club facilitator Zelipa Kanjolo says they meet on Wednesdays for literacy classes and Fridays for craft lessons.
Buche Buche women’s club on the other hand mentors its members in basket making, knitting and gardening.
Club chairperson Doris Nakempa says the welfare of the members most of whom are widows, has improved tremendously, including manners.
District community development officer Ndalama Chanda says Zimba has 150 registered clubs in all the 10 wards of Mapatizya, with 10 women’s associations.
“Of these, five have built clubhouses on self-help basis using their own resources,” Mr Chanda says.