AGRICULTURE AND WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMMES
Women in Cameroon, as in most African countries, are responsible for feeding the family in addition to their heavy domestic duties. Principally, these women practise subsistence farming in order to meet the nutritional needs of their families. Paradoxically, they do not have access to cash crops and other income generating activities. They rarely own land, especially in rural communities.
Even farming land that the wife cultivates to produce food for the family, is controlled by the man who may even sell the farm without her consent. If faced with such a situation, some women have to go far off begging for more farming land. The situation not only affects the women, but the entire community, thus promoting a vicious poverty cycle.
"..Here women are subordinate to men...."
In the northern part of Cameroon, a Muslim and very traditional
setting, the situation is even more difficult. Here women are
subordinate to men and have little or no say in their homes. They
have to work hard and gather more money so their husbands can look
for more wives. They are not supposed to be seen in public or have
access to education and are given to marriage at the tender age of 9
Given the low rate of literacy among women in these communities, they have very limited knowledge about basic sustainable farming and management techniques. They are thus not able to carry out any income generating activity or manage the low yielding farmland available to them in order to increase crop yield or run a parallel activity which can complement the needs of their families.
Conscious of the challenges for rural women, SHUMAS carried out a programme with feasibility studies and a series of rural appraisals to identify and prioritize the acute needs of hundreds of communities. This has resulted in various projects to help improve the living standard and general status of rural women, and women's farming groups and their families.
- Post Harvest Technology
- Labour Saving Devices
- Micro Credit Scheme.
Although these are single projects, they have the multiple objectives of providing:
- a source of income for the women
- labour saving facilities to reduce their daily burden
- improvement to their health situation
- a means of saving and loan schemes through a revolving fund that is part of each project.
Each project has a sound and integrated training component to help build the women's capacity to manage the improved situations and also enable them to identify more of their problems in future and seek solutions to them.
We have supported some women's farming groups by supplying them with corn mills, cassava mills and the like. These have gone a long way to reducing their daily burden and have improved their access to credits through our Revolving Fund (proceeds from symbolic rates charged).
The extra time earned through the acquisition of labour saving devices and post harvest facilities is used for other income generating activities and the introduction of new food processing and conservation methods has led to a great reduction in food spoilage.
SHUMAS has so far provided 40 cassava mills to some forty women's groups, 21 corn mills, 80 'push-push' trucks (hand carts) and numerous other farming implements like hoes, cutlasses and wheelbarrows.
We are currently in the process of building up the productive capacities of these co-operatives. They network, at regional levels, but we hope to make the national network in Cameroon go fully operational through the introduction of some strategies that we have already put in place.
These include: establishing co-operative stores and shops that facilitate bulk buying and selling. This is already available in most co-operatives.
For some time our need was for suitable transport to link these units and fortunately, our dreams were finally realized thanks to the partnership and co-operation of MIVA Switzerland with support from Manos UNIDAS and FIOH UK. The supply of a large lorry has enabled us to maximise the benefits of the co-operative networks.
Apart from the truck we have one 4 x 4 Toyota Hilux light truck used for field visits and project coordination which is reaching the end of its life due to the strenuous working conditions. The vehicle can only be in one place at a time so field work is often restricted at busy periods. A new 4 x 4 replacement vehicle is urgently needed and a second 4 x 4 would help enormously to avoid the occasional need to hire vehicles for urgent tasks.
Since 1998, SHUMAS has been working hard training women to come together as a group and later on form co-operatives, with the aim of networking and gaining power in solidarity and idea sharing.
Each of these groups is independent and has an
average membership of about 30.
Co-operatives are autonomous, but they collaborate with each other for mutual benefit. Each co-operative is made up of an average of 10 to 12 independent groups. So far we have trained and supported more than 45 Women's Credit Union co-operatives. Around 20 of these are fully operational.
SHUMAS works with UK partner FIOH (Future in Our Hands) to create rural micro-credit schemes for rural Women's Cooperatives. Access to even a very small amount of capital can make a profound difference to peasant farming groups who often have innovative and profitable ideas which can help towards raising their income despite the difficulties of bad roads and high transport costs.
"..2.6Million CAF ...distributed to participant groups.."
In 2010 SHUMAS was working with more than 40 FIOH women's group in
rural communities and 24 groups, each averaging 25-30 members, now
have access to micro credit. Several loans were increased for some
hard working groups and around 40 women were trained in income
Communications, however remain challenging with bad or sometimes impassable roads hampering our visiting training and monitoring teams plus poor female literacy levels in many villages.
HOW YOU CAN HELP.............
We are looking for some project partners who could help us to reinforce the network, through the provision of sustainable income generating activities that would help improve general access to credit for the rural women at affordable rates. We are also researching the possibilities of arranging for more training.
We have been able to arrange loans for some pilot cooperatives so that members, instead of selling immediately after harvest at give-away prices, will be able to buy the farm produce themselves when prices are low. They can then sell these on a few months later when prices have improved. Apart from providing funds, it is vital also to provide training in the marketing and preservation of produce.
The results so far have been impressive and most encouraging. Due to poverty and lack of technical know-how, farmers had been forced to sell their produce straight after harvest at the lowest prices. Our studies indicated that this was perhaps the number one cause of poverty and contributing to a vicious poverty cycle.
We are convinced that this situation can be redressed, as we are doing, in a more comprehensive manner and that poverty can be kicked out of the poor countries, especially those with high resources like Cameroon. This explains why we devote more than 40% of our efforts towards this programme.
Some co-operatives are now also involved in our adult literacy programmes and health education. This helps both the co-operative members and their communities.