Women’s cooperative moves to clean energy in Malawi
Karonga District in Northern Malawi is experiencing the effects of climate change. Rainfall patterns have become unpredictable impacting farmers and their ability to earn a living. Members of the Lusako women’s rice milling cooperative, made up of 34 local women in the district have experienced first hand the damage caused by extreme weather events on their crops.
"Climate change has affected us because for some time now, we continue to experience low rainfall. There are also times when we get too much rain in a short period of time. Both extreme weather events are not good because too much rain damages our crops and before you replant, the rainy season is gone," says Kondwani kaluwa, Lusako Cooperative member.
The Lusako cooperative is a combination of small community groups led by women in Karonga District. They are supported by the EU funded Breaking the Barriers programme which aims to create job opportunities, increase women’s income in the sustainable energy sector, promote gender equality, and strengthen women’s social status.
The cooperative’s ambiton is to invest in their children’s education and be able to provide nutritious food for their families. This vision has become a reality thanks to the profits the group makes through their new rice milling business. However, as the group secretary Mable Nyrienda explains, this has not been without a struggle.
To develop an alternative income the group was encouraged by Christian Aid and local government officers in 2018 to build a new rice mill processing space, with solar panels and a windturbine, so that they could start their new business.
Christian Aid provided the group with training, technical support and helped the cooperative securing loans to construct the building. The group then applied to the Electricity Supply Cooperation in Malawi (ESCOM) to connect the mill to the electric grid as it requires a higher capacity than the one wind and solar energy can generate alone.
The Lusako cooperative did not hear anything from ESCOM for months, Mable explains. The women felt incredibly frustrated especially as they had to resolve to use other peoples’ rice mills to mill the rice they had already bought.
We had to fight this because they were standing in between our misery and success.- Mable Nyrienda
To make sure that their voices were heard they decided to organise a peaceful demonstration. They marched to the ESCOM premises carrying their cooking materials and tents to camp overnight. The women planned to stay until their requests were met.
As a result of the women’s actions and local media attention the problem was resolved quickly. The group had to buy a cable to connect the mill to the electric grid, but they have been promised a refund.
The cooperative’s mill has now been up and running since May 2021 and the women are already beginning to see a difference. Some have used the profits to purchase livestock, and many see that they are starting to be recognised as important earners within their families.
The mill clean power supply system, has also inspired the group to take action to tackle climate issues, encouraging climate friendly businesses and planting trees in cooperation with the local community.
As seen through the Lusako cooperative’s experience, rural women are significant drivers for community development. Through the elimination of negative cultural norms, and gender-roles, women can fully engage in the transformation of their homes into a prosperous community.