Grace Dzuwa is a well-to-do woman by local village standards. She is economically independent – with eight cows to her name, four of which produce milk. Her home flows with milk, literally.
For this, she has Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company Limited to thank for ‘opening’ her eyes through the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) initiative.
Through the VSLA, Dzuwa, from Chipeni Village in Traditional authority Mponela in Dowa District, is a proud owner of an iron-corrugated house with cement floor, a motorbike, domestic animals like goats and chickens and a healthy bank balance.
“I would like to thank Limbe Leaf for opening our eyes when they introduced the VSLA here at Chipeni. My cows give me 60 litres of milk everyday and I get K6,000 every day from milk sales. Nutrition is not a problem in my house. My children drink milk everyday and sometimes they tell me they are tired of drinking milk and they need to change,” boasts Dzuwa.
In the continued efforts to promote fair labour practices and eradicate child labour, Limbe Leaf noted a gap in farmers income during the tobacco off season and decided to target tobacco farmers’ spouses to be part of the solution.
The company started implementing the VSLA initiative in 2013 with the aim of training farmers and their spouses to their financial resources by involving their spouses in organized VSLA groups.
A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Mponela Aids Information and Counselling Centre, was engaged to equip Limbe Leaf Field Technicians in the management of the VSLAs. Limbe Leaf supports the groups with relevant training and materials for smooth operation.
“The training was multipronged: it emphasized on the dangers of using child labour or pregnant or breast feeding women in tobacco fields in addition to training VSLA members on financial literacy and business plan development. The members are requested to make a commitment not to use children in tobacco fields or when they are pregnant or are breast feeding,” explains Chisomo Mdulamizu Banda, Agronomy Sustainability Manager for Limbe Leaf.
Continued training, saw members being skilled in: Group Dynamics, Planning, Budgeting, Share-out Processes and calculations, Saving, Small Scale Business Management. Emphasizing on the need to promote fair labour practices, VSLA members are also thoroughly trained in Agriculture Labour Practices (ALP) principles and their measurable standards.
The VSLA initiative by Limbe Leaf was a direct response to results of a research conducted by Limbe Leaf which found that there was poor management of finances by farmers. This led to various problems like farming families lacking school fees, learning materials for their children and even involving them in work in tobacco tasks.
To enhance the operations of VSLAS as well as record keeping, Limbe Leaf provides them with money bags, calculators, hard cover books, stamp pads, rulers and ball point pens.
Currently, there are 209 VSLA groups with a total membership of 4,180 members across the country and by region; there are 20 VSLA groups in the north with 304 members, 98 in the central region with 1,869 members and 91 groups in the South with 2,007 members.
In the Dowa-Ntchisi area, where Grace Dzuwa comes from, there are 58 VSLA groups with at least 1,200 members.
Limbe Leaf agricultural labour practices regional coordinator Agnes Mwase, unpacked the positive impact of the project.
“We are detecting fewer cases of child labour while recording more success stories of financial independence among farmers’ spouses. But we are continuing with monitoring progress all the time,” she says.
Mercy Chiphaka of Mbwadzulu Club says their 14-member club meets every Tuesday. At the club, the issue of child labour in tobacco fields is paramount.
“Before discussing our business, we remind each other of the dangers of using child labour in tobacco fields and if there are some amongst us who do that or other women not in our club who use their children in tobacco fields we request the village Mother Groups to take action,” explains Chiphaka.
Asedi Chakula whose 30-member Takondwa Club meets every Wednesday also says they discuss issues of child labour and pregnant women working in tobacco fields. “Since we received proper training on these issues, it is our duty to remind each other about the dangers of letting our children work in tobacco fields or even pregnant women or breast feeding mothers to be in the tobacco fields,” says Chakula.
Loveness Banda who chairs Mtendere Club with 22 members and meets every Friday says women in her group strive to be financially independent so that they can hire manual labour if they are pregnant or are breast feeding and cannot help their husbands in the tobacco fields.
And some members testify how the VSLAs have improved their personal lives.
“I borrowed K15,000 in December 2015 from Mwaiwathu Club as capital to start my mini shop business. I paid back the money in February 2016 and I have never looked back. I am now financially independent and can take care of my three children without asking for financial help from my husband,” boasts Talekereni Bezayi who runs a mini-shop at Chipeni Village.
Eluby Lilambwe from Thotho Club says her life has changed since she joined the group three years ago as she has managed to buy domestic animals like pigs, sheep and goats to supplement her family income.
“I pay school fees for my children and even support one who is in college. This was not the case before I was introduced to the club. I really thank Limbe Leaf for giving us this opportunity,” says Lilambwe.
Most of the VSLAs we spoke to deal in small businesses ranging from sale of farm produce like beans, maize, tomatoes, dry fish and other items.
Although most of the women in the VSLAs are financially independent, Limbe Leaf wants them to think big.
“We are happy that most of the women we engaged are now financially independent but we need them to grow and think big. So we invited Microloan Finance Limited to train the VSLAs in managing big businesses and finding viable and profitable businesses. Feed the Future also trained the members in financial literacy.”
“After this, they will help them with funding and expertise so that they run big businesses and realize big profits, they should not just be concentrating on running small businesses,” explains Banda.
For Dzuwa in Chipeni village, the milk in her home seems set to flow forever. She has bought a motorbike which her husband, a contracted farmer to Limbe Leaf, uses to travel around in his part time job of fixing boreholes.
“What is remaining now is to buy a vehicle and with the way things are going on, I am very sure very soon I will buy that vehicle,” explains Dzuwa.
Perhaps with the coming in of Microloan Finance for the VSLAs to think big, Dzuwa will realize her dream sooner than later.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :