In addition to being Blog Action Day, today is also International Day of Rural Women. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message for today, stated, “Empowering rural women is crucial for ending hunger and poverty. By denying women rights and opportunities, we deny their children and societies a better future.” We couldn’t agree more. I have been traveling recently to our project sites in Africa, and I’d like to share my reflections on one of my field visits.
Today’s visits were a lesson in what rural women, in this case African women in a remote Zambian village, can do given a few assets and a little bit of opportunity. This morning, after a long, bumpy drive across stretches of dried up farmland in the increasingly hot sun, we arrive at the home of 53 year-old Mrs. Flora Monga. Dressed in her bright blue shirt and flashing a megawatt smile she welcomes us heartily, and after initial greetings she leads us to her cowshed and starts telling us all the things she has been able to do since she received two draft cattle from Heifer in 2009. She remembers the date as if it were her birthday: January 1. From those first two animals, she now has four, which have gone a long way to helping the former housewife improve life for her husband and six children, aged 16 to 22. “In the first year we received the animals we harvested 69 bags of food from our 10 hectares of land,” she recalls. She goes on to say that in 2010 she harvested 150 bags, then she flips frantically through the ledger in her hand, a record book, to show us the evidence and adds proudly that in the second year she harvested 200 bags; soy beans, cow peas, sweet potatoes.
Asked if the animals produce milk she says “Yes, about two and a half liters per day.” Not enough to sell for any significant income, but more than enough to satisfy her big family. She beckons to her grandchild on the other side of the yard and shows off her healthy, beautiful face.
Flora tells me that for the purposes of the project she insisted the animals be given to her using her maiden name. I ask her why, and she smiles at me wryly; “Because I wanted it to be in my name,” she says. Her husband, Benson, is very supportive. The manure they collect from their animal shed, added to the increased capacity to cultivate land that draft animals provide have meant many happy returns for the family. She tells us about the grain mill they bought last year to grind their maize, a machine that cost approximately $1,600. Then she ushers all of us into the new house she and her husband are building, a three bedroom brick and concrete house with a tin roof, a far cry from the mud and thatch hut they once called home. There are bags of cement in the hallway, waiting to be used to finish the house. In one room, bags of grain from the farm are piled high almost to the ceiling, ready for market.
Under a tarp in the foyer is a brand new milling machine that the couple just bought with cash, for which they paid 23.5 million Zambian Kwacha, the equivalent of $4,700. With this she will be able to grind not just her grain but that of her neighbors for a fee. She names off her sources of income: 2,000 Kwacha ($4) per meter of land ploughed when she rents out her animals, 1,500 Kwacha for every five kilograms of grain ground. From the grain her neighbors grind, she keeps the bran to feed her animals as it is of no use to her neighbors. This reduces her feed costs.
I ask her about the bag of charcoal in her hallway, asking her what she will do about her fuel needs. She tells me that her next plan is to buy and install a solar panel as an alternative source of energy. “We want to be drinking cold water in this house,” she adds as if in prophecy. I smile at her and nod, and we exchange a high five. I know that from a woman like this with big dreams and big plans, a declaration like that is bound to happen, because she will make it so.