Malawi: women counting their chickens

Monday, March 08, 2010

The chickens of Mtoso village get more attention than the average Danish egg layer.  The women of the village gladly perform a song of gratitude about how the chickens have changed their life, whenever there are visitors.

The women received 602 chickens at six weeks old a few days before Christmas in a project aimed at increasing the women’s income through egg production and sale on the nearby market. The project is being implemented by DanChurchAid/Folkekirkens Nødhjælp’s local partner Evangelical Lutheran Development Service (ELDS) and beside the new layers the groups also receive training in business planning and continually supervision from the local partner, ELDS.

No more hunger
The new chickens are nervously running around on the hay that is spread out on the entire floor of the henhouse. A woman with a baby on her back is changing the feed while the rest of the women proudly show the new boxes they have made for the chickens. Hopefully, in a few weeks from now, the chickens will start laying eggs.

The women of Mtoso, Malawi, are waiting for this moment with great anticipation. Apart from being food on their own tables, the eggs can be sold on the local markets and bring a stable income. The egg project has brought about huge changes for the women in mtoso village, both financial and social.

“In the time before we got involved in the chicken project we didn’t have enough money to pay for our children’s school fees. During the years of no rain, when our harvest failed, we couldn’t buy enough food, so we were starving from time to time. But it’s not like that anymore.” Says Joyce Khofiman (46)

Joyce has a dream
Sitting in the shadow of a big mango tree just next to the village church, Joyce talks about her involvement in the project. She has been part of the project since 2008 and she is excited to tell about the changes and challenges the Mtoso Women Group have gone through and are facing-

“We are very happy with the money we are making. In the beginning we were just a group of uncertain women and without the support we would never have even considered this project.” Says Joyce.

Since 2009 the Mtoso village group has increased from 28 to 36 members and the group has raised about 219,000 MKW which are saved safely in the bank until the women have collected enough to build a maize mill. That is the vision of the women group.

"It's not just our dream”, as Joyce says “but it is our plan to be fulfilled in three years time.”

The women are using the income to purchase subsidized fertilizer and bicycles. The egg sale also gave several of the women enough money to buy more acres of land. The land has enabled the women to achieve the right to own productive assets. And according to ELDS, control and access to productive assets, especially by women, is very important for a households ability to feed themselves.

She also adds that the project has empowered the women, who are no longer depending economically on their husbands. Joyce, who is married to Bluward and mother of three girls at the age of 23, 17 and 13 years, is concerned about the children’s future, just like the rest of the group.

“We want our children to become educated as teachers, doctors and development workers. Maybe some day one from this village will go to university and help Malawi. That would make us very proud and happy. Thanks to the chickens and the seeds we have got an income and are now able to pay for the school fees. But the most important change is that we have food for everybody and we don’t starve anymore.”

Chickens improve harvest
Joyce is pointing to the fields of maize that are surrounding the village and tells about the great importance of a good harvest. The chickens are also a part of achieving that. The women are able to share manure amongst themselves which helps to boast crop production, especially maize.

From the chickens we also get a lot of manure that we spread on the fields and in our kitchen gardens. We didn’t do that systematically before the training but we can see that creating good manure increases the maize and vegetable production and in that way we are improving the soil every season.”

In 2009 the access to fertilizer also enabled Joyce and the women group to realize good maize yields. This means that Joyce and the rest of the village will have food enough throughout the year.

Joyce and the rest of the women are looking forward to the harvest. It is said to be good this year and with the many eggs to sell on the market the women believe in a brighter future:

“Now we believe we can go the extra mile and follow our vision!” says Joyce on behalf of her fellow group members, who start singing the welcoming song one more time.