Working Together and Reaping the Benefits
In a small village in southeastern Madagascar, a group of 20 single women farmers are working together to increase their incomes and their independence. For the past two years, they have benefited from a USAID program to improve food security and nutrition among nearly 100,000 vulnerable households, through targeted financial and technical support and food aid.
Previously, these women struggled to feed their families and meet basic nutritional needs. When they needed money for school fees for their children, agricultural supplies, health care, food or other emergencies they had no choice but to take out loans with interest rates that varied from 50 to 100 percent. They felt marginalized and undervalued in their communities, because they were single mothers, and they were poor and had few resources. Malnutrition rates in Madagascar are some of the highest in the world, and the country is regularly hit by cyclones, and affected by both drought and flooding. An island with rich biodiversity and natural resources, Madagascar is also one of the African countries most affected by climate change.
With technical support from a USAID-funded food security program (Strengthening and Accessing Livelihood Opportunities for Household Incomes or SALOHI—the acronym meaning ear of rice), they worked together to produce Bambara nuts, which are a local legume similar to peanuts. They planted 56 small milk cans of seeds (just over 11 kg, or 24 lbs), and their first year they harvested over 150 kg of nuts. With this bountiful harvest, each member was able to keep seeds to plant in their own fields and sell the surplus production for a combined $85 USD. They used some of their newfound wealth to buy carrot seeds for only $1 USD, which they produced together and sold to nuns at a local Catholic Mission for $45 USD. Thrilled to have a local supplier for vegetables, the nuns gave the women green bean seeds, which the group is growing and plans to sell back to the Catholic Mission for another tidy profit.
Emboldened by their early successes and eager to improve their production, these women are now trying out new soil fertility techniques, including basket compost, mulching and organic fertilizer, on a variety of crops including melons, orange fleshed sweet potatoes (rich in vitamin A), peanuts and cassava. The women receive regular technical assistance visits from a USAID-funded extension agent who trains lead farmers, assists in problem solving and helps build local capacity to ensure sustainability.
Now these women can borrow money from one another, as members of a local Village Savings and Loans (VSL) group that they created with USAID support; they no longer have to accept outrageous rates for microloans. The modest interest paid on loans remains in the VSL group, for everyone’s benefit. Women use their own savings, which is combined and dispersed to group members as credit in short term loans.
“This program has transformed our lives,” said Marguerite, President of the Women’s Farmer Field School in the commune of Manambotra South. Women feel safer working together and loaning money to one another, and they have created a social fund to take care of members when someone is sick or needs help. They also see changes in their children’s health, and are able to pay school fees and send their children to school with money and food from their garden. With support from USAID, these women plan to continue farming until the cows come home!
In addition to this women’s group, the USAID-funded food security program currently supports 13,000 people (including 7500 women) in 855 VSL groups. VSL members collectively saved over $170,000 in 2011, and used 75% of those resources as credit to fund local income generating activities and to meet basic household needs. As a result of these savings, VSL members have reduced the average number of months in which they suffer from food insecurity. Program staff have also trained 50,000 farmers (almost half of whom are women) in agriculture production and marketing. Some farmers have increased their yields by 400%, using technologies and seeds that the program has promoted, further reducing household food insecurity. At this rate, Madagascar might just have a chance to meet the food needs of future generations with nutritious products grown by local farmers.
The Strengthening and Accessing Livelihood Opportunities for Household Incomes (SALOHI) program is a five-year food security program funded by USAID’s Office of Food For Peace in eastern and southern Madagascar. SALOHI is implemented by a consortium of international NGOs, including Catholic Relief Services – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, CARE and Land O’Lakes International Development Division, in collaboration with five local church partners. The program targets 100,000 vulnerable families in cyclone, flood and drought prone areas, with an integrated package of health and nutrition, agricultural production, income generating and disaster risk reduction activities. The program includes the distribution of 27,000 MT of US food aid.
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