Members of the Village Savings and Loans Group
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Farm Africa has worked with farming communities in Ethiopia for 25 years. For the past four years, the charity has worked in rural parts of the country to reduce food insecurity by empowering local women to increase their household income. Reporter LAUREN EVERITT recently travelled to the Oromiya region to find out for herself how the charity is improving the lives of thousands of families.
On my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, it was startlingly clear how little some families have and just how much work has to be done to put food in children’s mouths.
Farming is the way of life for around three out of four Ethiopians, but despite this, more than 31 million do not have enough nutritious food to eat.
Frequent drought, a lack of training and equipment for farmers and poor access to markets makes it difficult for to earn a living.
But the daily battle has been made that little bit easier thanks to Farm Africa’s pioneering Rural Women’s Empowerment Project (RWEP) which started in four woredas (districts) in Oromiya in January 2010.
Ethiopia in numbers:
Population – 82 million
Life expectancy – 59 years
Population in rural areas – 82%
People working in agriculture – 80%
RWEP works on four different principles:
n Providing women with training and livestock as a basis for finding new ways to make money. Livestock breeding and goat fattening are becoming more profitable as Farm Africa-trained community animal health workers provide local, affordable access to essential veterinary care.
n Setting up a Village Savings and Loans Group (VSLA) to let women manage their money in a simple way so they can set up businesses such as goat fattening, baking, coffee shops and small restaurants.
n Training women as Community-Based Legal Advisers about legal rights in family law, land and property rights and criminal law.
After spending just two days with rural communities, it is easy to see how Farm Africa’s introduction of RWEP is helping to end a cycle of poverty and feeling of hopelessness for so many families in rural Ethiopia.
Hearing firsthand about some of the women’s individual experiences and seeing the smiles on their faces just proves how successful the project has become. It goes to show how giving a little can make a really big difference to their lives.
The trip has made me appreciate the everyday things that I take for granted – running water, a warm home and three meals a day – particularly when you see children running around in oversized clothes, some with no shoes and playing with rubbish in the street.
With the support of EADT and Ipswich Star readers, Farm Africa can continue to transform lives. Even a small donation can provide a simple solution that has the potential to end a lifetime of unrelenting poverty.
n Establishing grain banks.
On the ground, it is easy to see how the charity has helped women in particular and really made a big difference. The region is traditionally very male-dominated and women are the care-givers.
One of the main difficulties for Farm Africa’s projects, is to change the mindset of men and persuade them that the family will be better off if the women learn about saving and managing money.
Women in rural Ethiopia have limited opportunities to earn money and little access to land, but with the roll-out of Farm Africa’s goat-rearing strategy, the poorest women now have the chance to produce enough to feed their families.
More than 12,500 households have benefited from being given livestock, basic training in breeding and animal care. Two goats are given to breed and sell to increase income, cover school fees, help with food and access credit.
As we talk in the searing midday heat, single mother-of-three Mekiya Yesuf, 45, explains that before her involvement in the scheme five years ago, life was a daily struggle for survival.
She was given two goats, and after breeding them, she transferred two back to Farm Africa and sold the others to buy a heifer.
She told me: “As well as my cow, which is now pregnant, I used some of the remaining money to build my home.” Her house, which is her pride and joy, has two rooms – one for Mekiya and the other for her son, his wife and their four children.
She added: “The cow doesn’t bring in any money but when she gives birth I can sell the milk, which will be almost three litres a day, and have that money.
“Before the project I didn’t know how to save but now I know how important it is for my family.” Mekiya is hoping she will be able to buy another cow for 1,500 Ethiopian Birr (£46).
Like Mekiya, mother-of-three Werdi Mohamed Mussa was given two goats which were for fattening, not breeding. After fattening them up, she sold them and bought a cow.
“My husband didn’t oppose me getting involved, and instead he actively encouraged me to get involved, which is very different compared to other wives.
“Our long-term plan is to have a calf from our cow which could sell for up to 6,000 Ethiopian Birr (£187).
“We want to put that towards the cost of constructing a house which is about 21,000 Ethiopian Birr (£656).”
The ripple effect from this simple project is that the two goats given back to the charity are then handed to another vulnerable female-headed household in the community.
As well as the livestock scheme, Farm Africa has helped communities set up grain banks to provide food security.
Ahmed Usman, chairman of the grain bank, explained that the grain group, which has 157 members with an equal proportion of men and women, helps with investing and saving.
“If a member has a food shortage, they can take a loan and pay it back at a later time,” he said. “We’ve built a big store to keep the sorghum, maize and chick peas in.”
Hundreds of women have also set up VSLA groups with the support of Farm Africa. In total, more than 23,000 women have joined groups across rural Ethiopia.
VSLA members save 10 Ethiopian Birr (31p) each week which is recorded in a book by the treasurer, before the cash is locked in a box. Each group has its own rules and regulations with fines for those who make late payments and interest charged on loans.
When it comes to lending money, priority is given to those with the biggest need.
Abebu Delegn, 35, has been left to bring up her four children after divorcing her husband.
“Before I joined the VSLA, life was very tough for me. The burden of sending my children to school fell on me and I was not able to do it,” she explained with tears in her eyes.
“But thanks to the group, I now have the money to buy school materials, uniforms and pay fees.
“Before the VSLA I was in the dark but it has brought light into my life.”
At the end of the year, the members share out their annual monetary contributions and the profits. Hearing from the members, the cash is often used to buy an asset such as livestock, build a house or open a small shop.
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