Savings groups fight child labour

Grace Dzuwa’s home flows with milk. She has eight cows and four of them produce milk.

The village savings and loans association (VSLA) member in Chipeni, Traditional Authority Mponela in Dowa, also owns a house with corrugated iron sheets, a motorcycle, goats and chickens.

“I thank Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company for opening our eyes when they introduced the VSLA here.

All smiles: Dzuwa in front of her dairy cows

My cows give me 60 litres of milk every day and I get K6 000 every day from milk sales.  My children drink milk every day,” she brags.

Since 2013, Limbe Leaf has been organising tobacco farmers’ spouses into VSLAs to lessen financial constraints they face during the lean season. Currently, there are 209 groups comprising 4 180 members nationwide.

The company engaged Mponela Aids Information and Counselling Centre to train its field technicians in the management of the VSLAs. Members are trained in group dynamics, planning, budgeting, share-out calculations, savings and business Management as well as agricultural labour practices and standards.

Explains Limbe Leaf agronomy sustainability manager Chisomo Mdulamizu-Banda: “In addition to training VSLA members in financial literacy and business plan development, it emphasised on the dangers of using child labour and pregnant or breast-feeding women in tobacco fields.

“The members make a commitment not to use children and pregnant or breast-feeding women in tobacco fields,”

The initiative comes after a study by Limbe Leaf revealed poor management of finances by farmers. Their children were out of school and working in tobacco fields due to lack of school fees and learning materials.

Limbe leaf equips the savings and loans groups with money bags, calculators, hardcover books, stamp pads, rulers and pens to enhance their operations and recordkeeping.

Dzuwa’s group is one of 98 VSLAs based in the Central Region. In Dowa-Ntchisi area, where she is a shining example, there are 58 groups with at least 1 200 members.

Limbe Leaf agricultural labour practices regional coordinator Agnes Mwase, unpacked the positive impact of the project.

“We are detecting fewer cases of child labour while recording more success stories of financial independence among farmers’ spouses. But we are continuing with monitoring progress all the time,” she says.

Mercy Chiphaka’s Mbwadzulu Club has 14 members who meet every Tuesday.

“Before discussing our business, we remind each other of the dangers of using children and pregnant women in tobacco fields. If a member or anyone outside the club uses children in tobacco production, we request mother groups to take action,” she explains.

There are similar stories from 30 members of Takondwa Club and 22 members of Mtendere Club.

Mtendere chairperson Loveness Banda says her group strives to ensure every woman is financially independent so that one can hire temporary workers when she is either pregnant or breast feeding.

The women testify how VSLAs are improving their livelihoods.

“I borrowed K15 000 in December 2015 and used it as capital to open a mini-shop. I paid back in February 2016 and I have never looked back. I take care of my three children without asking for financial help from my husband,” boasts Talekereni Bezayi who belongs to Mwaiwathu in Chipeni.

Eluby Lilambwe, from Thotho Club, has acquired pigs, sheep and goats to boost her family income. 

“I pay school fees for my children and even support one who is in college. This was not the case before I was introduced to the club. I thank Limbe Leaf for giving us this opportunity,” she says.

Most VSLAs members sell fish and farm produce, especially beans, maize and tomatoes.

Limbe Leaf has engaged Microloan Finance Limited to train the VSLAs in managing big businesses and finding viable and profitable businesses. After the training, they will be receive funding and expertise for running big businesses profitably.

Feed the Future also trained them in financial literacy.

“We are happy that most women are now financially independent, but we need them to grow and think big,” says Mdulamizu-Banda.

As milk flows in Dzuwa’s homestead, her husband, who is contracted to Limbe Leaf, uses the motorbike to speed up his part-time job of fixing boreholes.

“What is remaining now is to buy a vehicle. Very soon I will buy that vehicle,” she explains. n

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