In Karonga, two women have used savings to work their way into the fishing industry long dominated by men.
Nellie Nyirenda and Eselina Nyasinga, from Walamba Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kyungu, have defied the age-old belief that women cannot be fishers.
The fishing entrepreneurs are breadwinners of their families as each of them owns a motor boat and fishing gear.
In fact, they have engaged their husbands to manage their emerging businesses.
In 2011, Nyirenda, 40, joined Nkhongono ku Banthu Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) Bakery whose success she personifies.
Nkhongono ku Banthu, meaning ‘power to the people’, is an all-women bakery group with 35members. Nyirenda buys shares in the group, takes loans and invests in her businesses, including the ‘fishing empire’ which looks lucrative so far.
“I have bought a boat, an engine and fishing net from the dividends I get at cooperative. I topped it up with money I borrowed from the group at a low interest,” she says.
From fishing sprees, Nyirenda says her family has built a modern house, sends children to school and gets balanced diets three times a day.
“Initially, I borrowed K400 000. Then, I secured another loan of K1. 2 million which I used to buy the boat and its engine,” she says.
Nyirenda explained her unique way of engaging her husband in the business.
“I entrusted him with the responsibility of running the boat business. He is in charge. In this way, we guaranteed peace in our family. Most marital problems people face have to do with the way they handle money. As for me, I can proudly say I no longer face such problems,” she says.
The man, Meston Nyirenda, is admittedly comfortable with it.
“Some people say I work for my wife, but that is none of my concern. It’s none of their business. What matters at the end of the day is that we meet our financial needs,” he argues.
Given good weather on Lake Malawi, her fishing crew earns between K50 000 and K80 000 a day.
With such catches and cash, the family hopes for the best.
“If we live long, we will certainly buy a vehicle for transporting fish to Karonga Boma and other markets where we can sell our fish on retail for more money,” he says.
Equally upbeat is Nyasinga, 51.
The mother of six is making it big in the fishing business and her life is no longer the same.
She bought her first boat in 2011. Four years later, she purchased an engine to upgrade the vessel.
Nyasinga makes more than K340 000 a month from this business alone, she says.
“There was no better person to look after this business than my husband. It’s not like I have employed him. This is collaborative effort, for the family to earn a decent living,” she says.
According to Nkhongono ku Banthu secretary Harriet Mwenendeka, Comsip Cooperative Union Limited has trained members of the bakery group, to which they owe their humble beginnings, in financial literacy, business management and basics of cooperative membership.
“After the training, we were tasked to identify a profitable business we could manage. We resolved to start a bakery and we received a grant of K1. 6 million for a start,” she recalls.
The starter pack supplemented the K630 000 members contributed, according to Mwenendeka.
Nowadays, the bakery is operating with a capital of about K1 million.
The group also has shares worth slightly over K4 million, mandatory savings totalling K42 000 and voluntary savings of about K18 500.
Their nutrition fund has a kitty estimated at K950 000.
The group is also involved in money-lending business, with about K590 000 circulating among its members.
Combining all the cash and assets, the group is worth over K12 million.
Mlare community development assistant Lumbani Kayange said the tale of Nyasinga and Nyirenda demonstrates that women have the potential to achieve anything given the opportunity.
“Women should be determined to break common barriers and traditional perceptions which hold them back,” he says. It is possible to rewrite history and usher in a new understanding of what women can achieve. The contribution of women should not be restricted to a certain narrow space. n
The author wrote this article while working with Malawi News Agency before joining Nation Publication Limited