In Mangochi town along the southern shoreline of Lake Malawi, enterprising women are steadily mobilising themselves into fish processing groups to beat poverty.
Liganga Fish Processing Group located in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nankumba started five years ago as a village savings and loans group.
They ventured into fish business when Christian Aid trained them in business, leadership and cooperatives.
This part of Breaking the Barriers, a project which promotes women-led sustainable energy enterprises in Mangochi, Karonga and Chikwawa.
Apart from business skills, the women at war with poverty receive sustainable energy products and technologies, including fish processing facilities that use less firewood and emit less smoke than open fires.
The women also access low-interest loans to grow their businesses, including selling clean energy products such as biogas for cooking and solar- powered refrigerators.
Christian Aid gives the groups a grant totalling 70 percent of the capital of the preferred business idea, with 25 percent being a loan and five percent being members’ contribution as a sign of their commitment.
Chrissie Fatchi, from Liganga, wishes to be big fish supplier in the shoreline district and beyond.
“When Christian Aid arrived, they asked us to share our vision and our calculation showed that we need at least K13 million to start fish processing business. From our village bank, we contributed K550 000 as commitment as well as sand, quarry stones and bricks for construction. It cost us K710 000,” she explains.
Fatchi’s group owns a decent building for their business. Christian Aid provided fridges, fish dryers, a solar power system and iron sheets.
“Our biggest challenge in future could be finding markets, so we have learnt how to identify markets on our own. The group has 25 members. We want everyone to have a decent house without relying on husbands,” she says.
The mushrooming fish processing groups in Mangochi includes Tithandizane of Makawa Beach Village in T/A Mponda as well as Titukulane of Chimphamba Village Mwalamba of Madzedze Village and Wokha Cooperative of Sumbi Village in T/A Nankumba.
Georgina Kansilanga, district’s assistant trade officer, says government will help them access reliable markets for their products.
“The first step is to help them improve packaging. You can have good products, but it will be difficult to find a market the size of superstores if packaging is poor. We need to train them in standards by engaging Malawi Bureau of Standards [MBS] and ensure good packaging,” she said.
Kansilaga says it is pathetic that Malawians import fish when the continent’s third-largest freshwater lake is home to over 700 fish species, including chambo.
“These groups have the potential to supply fish or fruits throughout when they needed,” she says. “For constant supply, we encourage the groups to sell their products collectively to meet the demand.”
Metro Ching’ani, district gender officer, says the women-led enterprises have the potential to lift women out of poverty if well coordinated.
In Chikwawa, Relief Eagles runs eight groups with funding from the European Union through Christian Aid.
Established in 2015, Tsapa Agro-processing Cooperative group deals in fruits and vegetables. Its 15 members plan to start producing baobab and masau juice.
Juliet Selemani, chairperson of the group, says former village bank is destined for great things.
“Before everything, Eagles Relief trained us in business leadership, planning and budgeting. The budget for our enterprise was K18 million and the machine has already been installed,” she says.
She hopes the business model will “Despite improving our families we hope that others enhance their livelihoods and create jobs.
Stan Mark, Relief Eagles project officer in the district, says almost 360 women are directly benefiting from the project.
“Our focus is to empower more women financially so that their families can also benefit,” he explains.
Innocent Hauya, global manager for the Breaking Barriers Project at Christian Aid, says the international organisation has intensified its effort to uplift women in least developed countries.
Christian Aid is running similar projects in countries Burkina Faso, Honduras and Ethiopia.
“In Malawi, we have 40 groups with 946 members benefiting. We are supporting women to create women-led sustainable energy enterprises in off-grid communities,” he says. The 1.5 million euro project gets 80 percent of its funding from the European Union (EU) and 20 percent from Christian Aid. It will phase out in 2021.