Clemensia and her sister, Benadetta, are smiling despite the fact that their parents’ harvest was a disaster. The first time they planted, all the maize dried up. The second and third times it also amounted to nothing. Their mother Alice (35) says that all she managed to get from the garden was 100 kilograms of maize. The family needs ten times that much to eat throughout the year. In a good year she can reap over 4000 kilograms.
Their community in Malawi is reeling from a drought that has brought insurmountable loss and hunger to the thousands of people who depend on agriculture. Across Africa, 70% of people rely on agriculture for their livelihood.
"...my husband told me not to lose heart over the loss but to stay focused and use the opportunities that we have to rebuild our livelihood,”
Living in a community like this means that even simple things are unimaginably hard. The Malawi government estimates that 6.5 million people will need relief food this year as production has almost halved. “It was so heart-breaking and we didn’t know what would be of ourselves and the children,” said Alice. “But my husband told me not to lose heart … to stay focused and use the opportunities that we have to rebuild our livelihood,” she added.
The drought followed a year of floods and Sydney, Alice’s husband, says that they have been caught between different types of misery. “…the media went on telling us that this was an El Niño and rains would still be erratic,” he said. As a result, he urged his wife to apply for a VisionFund Loan. She got the equivalent of $70, which they invested in indigenous vegetable production as their garden lay close to a stream where they could get water.
Alice started producing vegetables, but never imagined that they would one day make a living from them, especially in a drought year. “We had a few vegetables in 2012 and used them for relish only,” said Alice. But the loan has been well worth it. They bought fertiliser and fuel which was used in a pump that irrigates the gardens. Planted at the end of April, the family have struck gold and now sell the vegetables. In the area (Mposa), 150 people have obtained loans after the maize crop failed. The income from growing vegetables has enabled women to cover most of their daily costs, including their children's school fees and their family’s health care.
Alice and Sydney are more hopeful and ambitious. “As small-scale farmers, I believe that we will continue capitalising on the loans so that we can become a strong force to improve food security in our village,” said Alice, who now considers agriculture her profession. Mposa is a severely marginalized community with little access to financial services. By extending credit to farmers, Vision Fund has helped many of them acquire goats, irrigation equipment and even helped them build better homes.
So far, Alice has repaid 75% of her loan, including the interest rate of 7%, and is expected to finish by the end of July. She says that this is very good considering loans from local money-lenders attract interest rates of over 60 percent. The Banks in Malawi charge interest rates of 45% which is a huge burden for poor people in a remote and forgotten community like Mposa.
“If it wasn’t for the loan and these vegetables, I am sure that by today we would have sold our goats or maybe separated, with me going to the city to look for works,” said Sydney. A World Vision report released in July revealed that some households have adopted costly coping strategies such as withdrawing children from school and reducing food consumption which have long-term impact.
In Chamba and Mposa communities alone, World Vision has disbursed over USD20,000 in loans to 23 business groups of people.