CHALI MULENGA, Livingstone
ENTREPRENEURSHIP skills define a woman, and this can be demonstrated by the number of women who engage in the selling of fresh vegetables such as rape, cabbage, tomato and onion, among other farm produce.
The women in Livingstone, Southern Province, trade in the markets which are dotted around the city while a few others are engaged in street vending just to make ends meet.
Traditionally, the women generally wake up in the early hours of the morning and make every effort to get the best fresh farm produce.
They say the earliest bird catches the fattest worm, so the women have to brave the cold especially in winter so that they can get the best farm produce.
It is an open secret that being a woman small-scale trader in the markets of Livingstone is not easy, especially when you deal in perishable goods like farm produce.
The amount of money with which these traders start their businesses is so little that it is not easy to save.
Government is concerned about the plight the people especially the vulnerable but viable women.
And in Livingstone it has developed a micro credit system which is commonly known as village banking, under which financial services are administered locally rather than centralised in a formal bank.
The Ministry of Community, Mother and Child Health has targeted communities within the two peri-urban sub-centres of Zambiaâ€™s tourism capital.
It has picked Dambwa Central, Dambwa site-and-service, Maramba, Mbita, Ngwenya, Libuyu and Green markets.
The district office of the ministry has handed over K82,500 to 100 women in the second phase of disbursements. Each of the beneficiaries got as much as K300 to K1,000 cash to help them scale up their businesses at the various markets dotted in the city.
A 60-year-old trader of Dambwa Central market, a beneficiary of the micro-credit programme Pauline Bwalya says her business has greatly improved and that she has been able to take care of her visually impaired husband, four children and six grandchildren.
Dambwa market is in the western part of Livingstone. Ms Bwalya is urging Government to increase the amount of loans given to the women so that they can expand and diversify their businesses.
â€œI want to request Government to increase the amount from the current K900 to K2,000 per person,â€ she said.
Ms Bwalya said as a result of the improved business, she is able to pay the rentals and school fees.
â€œI am now appreciating the profits that I am getting. The members of my savings group are very co-operative,â€ she said.
Ms Bwalya challenges the micro-credit team to visit the homes of beneficiaries so that they can appreciate the impact of the loans and savings.
Another trader at the same market, Mary Mwalye, says as a result of the loans and savings she has been able to take all her children to school.
Ms Mwalye, 33, who is married with three children, said she has been able to increase the range and quantity of merchandise.
And in Livingstone east, where there is Maramba market, the scenario is not different. A single mother, Dania Nawa, who lives with four children and four dependents – all orphans – is another beneficiary.
â€œOther women who are my age are busy in night clubs and bars looking for money through prostitution, but I am trading here at the market. I want to ask the government to increase the loan amount,â€ Ms Nawa said.
And, 36-year-old trader, Sandra Zumbwe, says before she joined the micro-credit savings group, she used to buy things on credit and would use her profit for her household expenditures.
â€œI am so thankful to government because I used to get orders for tomato and other farm produce on credit, and upon selling them I would pay back the money to the farmer,â€ she said.
Livingstone member of Parliament (MP) Lawrence Evans says the government has a policy of empowering women economically.
â€œThe initiative will trickle down to the most vulnerable but viable women who will be starting up businesses,â€ he said.
Mr Evans said the government also wants to promote women entrepreneurship skills to enhance wealth creation.
â€œIt is good to see people who used to buy some of their vegetables at my yard. I can see that you are putting the money to good use,â€ he said.
He says it is nice to see women who used to carry dishes full of vegetables on their heads with stands at the markets.
To crown it all, Livingstone east centre co-ordinator Grace Phezulu said women are sincerely appreciating the contribution of Government to their businesses.
And Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health women empowerment officer Precious Machisa said the programme has been well received by the women in the district.
Ms Machisa, who is also chief credit officer, said women are critical in the development of the economy.
â€œA requirement of about five to 10 members, predominantly female-headed households, are the ones that should be encouraged to form a self-help group and access the micro-credit facility. The loaned money should be able to provide capital or seed money for an agreed period at an agreed rate,â€ she said.
And Livingstone district community development officer Stephen Chikate says he is proud that the women have managed to grow their capital from the loans they had received.
â€œIt is quite good that most of the women have shown a good example of how to save funds and that it is possible to make savings,â€ he said.
And Livingstone district commissioner Omar Munsanje said he is also very proud that the women have managed to use the money for the intended purpose by investing in business.
The Livingstone case is one example of the efforts Government is making to improve the lives of the people in the district and other parts of the country.
In phase one, the government gave out K75,000 seed money to 90 women while in the second phase, a total of K82,500 is expected to be disbursed to eligible beneficiaries.
CHALI MULENGA, Livingstone