The reality of living in poverty is that being able to feed your family is a daily challenge. Living hand-to-mouth, families are unable to access or afford enough nutritional food, especially in the hunger season.
The result of this is malnutrition and undernourishment, leading to stunted growth and disease. The majority of the poor live in remote rural areas and rely on subsistence farming to feed and provide for their families. For them, the impact of the hunger season is particularly hard-hitting. Most years their food runs out before the next harvest season begins meaning they have to buy from the market. As demand increases during this time of year, food prices increase dramatically, meaning that poor subsistence farmers are unable to afford it. This is what it means to be food insecure.
MicroLoan Foundation works with rural women in some of the poorest countries in the world and tackling food insecurity is an important part of our work.
In Malawi over half the population live below the poverty line (US$2.50 a day) and a quarter live in extreme poverty (US$1.90 a day). The rural population make up the majority of the poor. 57% of the rural population live in poverty compared to only 17% of the urban population. Similarly, there is a large disparity between poverty rates in rural and urban areas of Zambia. Rural poverty is immensely widespread, with over three quarters of the rural population living in poverty.
What makes farmers vulnerable?
With much of the rural population living in poverty, far removed from employment opportunities and public transport, many are reliant on farming to put food on their plates and to earn an income. Relying on subsistence farming is hazardous, with farmers particularly vulnerable to price fluctuations, weather, pests, disease and crop failure. When natural disasters occur, such as flooding or drought, a farmer’s entire crop might be destroyed and the land made unfarmable. For subsistence farmers this is not just their livelihood but their lifeline, their ability to feed themselves and their families. Women small-holder farmers are amongst the most vulnerable. Without another source of income or any property to speak of they are entirely dependent on their farming venture.
The impact of flooding and drought in Malawi has intensified over recent years and is likely to worsen with climate change. In the past four decades, droughts have become more frequent, widespread, and intense. As a result of the most recent drought in 2015/16, around 40% of the population experienced food insecurity. Extensive reliance on basic farming methods and rain-fed agriculture, together with a growing population, has made food security a recurrent challenge for our clients.
What is MicroLoan Foundation doing?
MicroLoan are attempting to tackle food insecurity by offering an agricultural programme to our clients in Malawi and Zambia. In pilot projects in both countries, we have begun offering specific farming training and high quality agricultural inputs, as loans, to our clients, to help improve their food security.
Agricultural loans are offered to current MicroLoan clients who have already taken out business loans and run a successful business. We do this to ensure that the agricultural loans are used to build food security rather than as a means of income. As time goes on and their crop yield increases, many women are able to ensure their family’s food security and have enough to sell as a cash crop.
How does it work?
An agricultural loan differs from the business loans MicroLoan offers as the loan takes the form of seed and if they want they can also get fertiliser. The women are provided with hybrid maize seed or soya seeds, enough for half to one acre of land. The farming inputs and loan size depend on the size of the plot of land and also on how big the family is. MicroLoan aims for each of the women to be able to grow at least enough maize to feed a family of six for twelve months on one acre of land.
MicroLoan provides the women with training both before receiving their agricultural loan and throughout the nine month period the loan cycle runs for. This training is carefully planned to fit the growing season. Modules include land preparation, planting, fertiliser use, weeding, and how to make a nursery for weaker plants. The aim of the training is to maximise efficiency and ensure the best yield.
What difference do our agricultural loans make?
When living in extreme poverty, meeting your most basic needs is a struggle and feeding your family is a daily challenge. A study showed that 81% of poor rural households in Malawi consumed fewer than the recommended 2,100 kilocalories per person per day. Not surprisingly, 65% of all households (and 84% of rural households) reported experiencing food insecurity for at least one month per year.
With MicroLoan’s support our clients are able to ensure their family’s food security. Last season, the average maize yield was nearly triple the yield needed to feed a family of six for a year. It was also 52% more than the average yield of a control group of farmers who did not use the same methodologies and inputs. Such high yields mean the women are not only food secure and do not have to buy food at heavily inflated prices, but also have enough to sell on for income.
We measure food security on the basis of whether they have been able to eat three meals a day. 95% of our clients in Malawi and 92% of our clients in Zambia have now achieved food security after working with MicroLoan Foundation.
However there are many more women who struggle to feed their families. With your help we can reach them. Follow this link to donate and help us support more women to provide for their families.