A Vision, a Voice and the CARE-WWF Alliance’s Guiding Hand
Alima Chereira is a typical Mozambican woman of 27 years; a practicing Muslim, wife, and mother of six. She and her family live in a 3- room, mud brick home with a thatched roof of dried grasses, the type ubiquitous to the area. Her husband, a merchant, sells small wares on market day and during season, supplies cashews to corporate buyers in the provincial capital. Like most women in her small village, Alima spends her days tending to the family farm, collecting wood for cooking, fetching water and managing a busy household.
By taking a closer look; however, one discovers that Alima is anything but typical. She is exceptional.
Born into a rural farming household and wed to a modest working man, Alima does not have the influence of a chief’s wife or the standing of a formally-educated individual. However, she has an aptitude and enthusiasm for learning, a steadfast spirit and radiating confidence. These qualities have carried her and the people of her community to a higher standard of living and quality of life.
Alima and her family call Mukuvula home, a small coastal farming and fishing village of 450 households and approximately 1,500 residents, half of whom are children. Located on the outer edge of the Potone Sacred Forest in Angoche District in the northern province of Nampula, Mukuvula is situated in a diverse landscape of coastal forest, interspersed with coconut palms and cashew trees, just 5 kilometers from the mangrove-rich Angoche estuary.
Despite the region’s potential, it is in one of the poorest in Mozambique. Due to steady and continuous population growth, competition over scarce resources continues to intensify while families find it hard to stay afloat. As Alima alludes,“Life for many of us is suffering.”
Like most in her community, Alima and her family rely equally on the productivity of their farmland and fisheries. Yet residents are overfishing and over-working the land just to make ends meet. Already poor farming conditions are further exacerbated by increasingly erratic rainfalls and longer dry periods brought on by climate change.
“Before,” comments Alima, “we could depend on seasonal rains. We knew when they would come and how much would fall. But now, we can no longer count on [it]. When it rains, it comes in torrential downpours-if it even rains at all.”
As a result, food insecurity plagues one-third of households and malnutrition is one of the highest in the world. Nearly half of children are stunted and a quarter underweight. Statistics are not much better for community water and sanitation. 29% of Mozambique’s rural population have access to an improved water source (such as protected wells) while only 5% have access to improved sanitation facilities (covered latrines). Water scarcity and high rates of water-borne illnesses threaten community health and well-being.
In fact, the biggest concern for Mukuvula residents when asked in November of last year was not related to poor farming conditions or dwindling catches, but water.
“This is what we have to drink,” they had explained, holding up bottles of brown water. “For clean water, we have to walk really far and wait in lines, sometimes for hours.” Others explained how they chose to make the journey to the nearest well at night when there is less of a wait, despite the dangers. “We would leave around 11 pm and return at 4 am,” recounted community member Amisse Mandasse, “When it comes to water, there is no day or night.”
For Alima and her family, already dire circumstances had reached a critical point. Yet she had not accepted this as her fate. Rather, she confronted these immense challenges head-on and with support from the CARE-WWF Alliance, has seen conditions of her community and its residents transform.
The CARE-WWF Alliance’ Guiding Hand
Food Security through Sustainable Agriculture
Alima saw an opportunity with the introduction of sustainable agriculture extension support by the Primeiras & Segundas (P&S) Program, an integrated conservation and development program in northern Mozambique of the CARE-WWF Alliance, in the neighboring community of Namizope in 2011. She and other community members got word of the founding of a Farmer Field School (FFS), an experimental, learner-centered program where small-scale farmers are taught and test sustainable agriculture techniques and select for adoption those that suit their needs.
“We heard that this community was starting a school to learn how to farm better. We also wanted to learn. We saw how all of us were suffering. Every season brought on more hardship,” Alima commented.
Thus Alima and her counterparts sought out the P&S agriculture extension agent, Benelito Adelino. Noting their enthusiasm and interest, he invited the community to participate. Inspired, women in the community decided to join forces and form an agriculture association. In September of 2011, Wiwanana wa Athiane, Macua (local dialect) for “Understanding between Women,” was founded.
The women found it advantageous to form an exclusively female association. While rural women make a large contribution to agricultural production to guarantee food and livelihood security for the entire household, decision-making on use of productive assets like land, seed, money and labor normally rests with their husbands. Through the association’s founding and its participation in agricultural programming, women are enabled to take on greater roles in group decisions on what to plant, how to produce, and what to sell or retain, developing greater experience and confidence.
When asked about how their male counterparts took to the idea of the women-only association, one member replied, “we are strong women, and we work hard to provide for our families. Our husbands respect and support us in what we are trying to achieve.” As her reply suggests, men are able to accept and appreciate women’s more active engagement in decision-making through benefits provided via their participation.
The association was also founded on the premise that in order to receive, each must contribute for a more equitable benefit-sharing. Through an organized structure with clear defined leadership and roles, each member would have duties to perform. Alima saw the potential of the association and had a vision for its growth.
“By joining together, we could accomplish more than any one of us could alone. There were a lot of opportunities for us,” she noted.
She ran for president and was unanimously elected. Following her lead, she and members of the association walked the 8 km distance to take part in agricultural sessions at the FFS in Namizope that first season. “It was she that promoted the idea, encouraging members of the association to join her in participating in the field school,” remarked Benelito.
But she didn’t stop there. Alima and her counterparts advocated for a school of their own and got their wish the following season. As association president, Alima took on the responsibility of mobilizing others to participate in the FFS. Following Wiwawana wa Athiana’s example, these members founded their own association, Okahaliwana, “We Help Each Other” with Alima’s help.
Alima was also trained to be a ‘Demonstrator’ of conservation agriculture techniques, taking on the role of assisting FFS participants as well as other farmers in learning and adopting improved practices in their own fields.
“She is very skilled, able to take concepts taught and teach them to others in a way that encourages,” noted Benelito. She is also extremely active and dedicated.
“She often passes by our homes at the earliest hours to rouse us out of bed and encourage us to participate,” Armindo Joaquim, member of Okahaliwana, said.
Her encouragement paid off. From participation in the FFS, members learned new planting, harvesting and storing techniques as well as received improved seed varieties including disease-resistant varieties of cassava. Wiwanana wa Athiane opened up two association plots where they farmed cassava, two varieties of beans, peanuts and sesame for consumption, sale and seed. The P&S Program helped link the association to local and higher-value markets, promoting practices and creating conditions for Alima and other farmers to sell at just prices.
Alima emphasized how the adoption of sustainable conservation agriculture techniques has improved production and assisted her family in becoming more food secure and economically stable:
“Without conservation agriculture, there IS no agriculture. We have more food and variety now than before when we farmed using traditional methods and only using local varieties.”
Improved Water, Hygiene and Sanitation
With the P&S Program now in the community, members found a platform from which to advocate for their most pressing need; access to clean water. With an established FFS, program staff saw first-hand the plight of the community.
“We would be out working in the field school and the women would bring bottles of brown, dirty water to drink. They would ask me to please consult the program and see about the possibility of bringing clean water to their community,” recalls Benelito. Given the Program’s integrated approach and understanding that basic needs must be met in order for a community to thrive, the Program prioritized the construction of two protected wells through its partner projects FREDRIC (Food Insecurity Reduction & Enhancement of Disaster Resilience in Communities) financed by the European Commission Department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) and CARE’s BMZ (Gender Initiatives through Disaster Risk Reduction). “Now we only have to walk 100 meters to fetch clean water.” remarked Alima. “It has changed so much for us.” She and other women tasked with collecting water now have more time to devote to other activities like farming and for younger girls, studying.
Complementing well installation, the Program also established Water Hygiene and Sanitation Committees and has facilitated the installment of covered pit latrines and improved hand-washing stations as the community transitions towards 100% sanitation.
Of the small cluster of 64 homes in her surrounds, all but nine now have improved covered pit latrines and 47 have hand washing stations. Her home boasts both.
Economic Security through Micro-financing and Association and Markets Development
With immediate concerns of accessing clean water and feeding the family somewhat abated, the association began to look at other income generating ventures earlier this year, settling on the idea to raise and sell chickens. This was a viable option as the P&S Program was also supporting the Mozambican government in communities served with vaccinating chickens against Newcastle disease which annually kills 70% of chickens. Members approached P&S staff to present the idea and the major constraint impeding its start – funding.
P&S responded by encouraging the association to start with the available resources within the group, recommending that they start a poupança, a community savings and credit club where members contribute monthly to a collective fund from which they can take out small loans. The Program provided basic materials and training on its functioning as well as strengthened their organizational capacity. The Program’s Association and Markets Development Officer, Osvaldo Caetano, provided training in association development and small business negation. He also facilitated the formalization of association Statutes, or by-laws, and guided Wiwanana wa Athiana through the legalization process, secured on July of this year. With new resources and skills, the association established the savings and credit club and from an allocated security fund, purchased five chickens. Since then, members have benefited in income as well as improved diet from protein provided by eggs and chickens themselves.
Vision for Continued Growth
Now legalized, the association is able to seek financing for small projects through the government. They have their sights set on expanding from chickens to cows. With greater assets afforded through improved farming, chicken-raising, community savings and credit activities and the possibility of additional financing, spirits are high. The program is also currently working with the two associations in Mukuvula and neighboring communities to establish a cooperative for collective commercialization of produce, strengthening ties and facilitating economic development.
But perhaps what is most telling is how other community members refer to her, how they feel they have benefited from her efforts to empower, teach, inspire and mobilize her fellow community members.
“Alima has been more than we could have hoped for in a leader,” commented one, “she is patient and encouraging, but also convincing and she believes in us as we believe in her.”
She reiterates how none of this would be possible if not for the collaboration and support of the women of Wiwanana wa Athiana. “We support each other and help each other. I too have been encouraged,” she continues: “When I fell ill, the association and other members who contribute to the community poupança gave me money to go to the hospital. It is them I owe for my strength today.”
Alima Chereira is thankful for how programs of the CARE-WWF Alliance have assisted her and her community in becoming more economically, food and water secure:
“From [P&S Program] support, we have more and a greater variety of food; we have begun to save money and can buy school supplies for our children…We have clean water…For all that we have learned and received, we are so grateful.”
Watch a video of Alima leading fellow members of Wiwanana wa Athiana in a song of welcome and thanks to CARE Austria visitors Monika Lackner and Stephanie Bouriel on a monitoring visit for Project FREDRIC
And we are grateful for Alima. She has and continues to play a pivotal part in her community’s transition out of poverty and into a more dignified standard of living and quality of life. By way of her leadership, relentless advocacy and perseverance, the women of Wiwanana wa Athiana have too been empowered to take command over their lives and have been inspired to dream, commenting:
“We now see what we can accomplish together and are looking forward to seeing what the next season will bring.”
The CARE-WWF Alliance will continue to provide Alima and the women of Wiwanana wa Athiana and like communities support in a variety of areas critical to reducing poverty and diversifying livelihood options for the secure and sustainable development of the region.