"I think it is important that women have opportunities like this. It starts from coming together as a group. Besides the financial benefits, it helps us to break the beliefs and attitudes that women should stay at home and serve the needs of others." - Zenebech, Ethiopia
In Woliso, as in many rural areas in Ethiopia, agriculture is the main source of income for families. Climate change has made both drought and floods more common, and has brought an influx of pests and diseases. This has reduced farming yields, leaving families without an income and forcing them into severe food insecurity.
For women, the situation is worse. Many women are landless, leaving them at the mercy of land-owning male relatives for survival, even if they perform much of the farming work themselves. In fact, in Ethiopia, it is a common misconception that women don’t farm at all, leaving them discounted and unrecognized as key players Ethiopia’s economy. According to UN Women, only 6% of rural women have access to credit, and only 1% have access to vocational training. This leaves them unable to grow their farms, businesses and livelihoods, and keeps them - and their children - trapped in a cycle of poverty.
In the face of these obstacles, Zenebech and her 100 women strong co-op Megartu are thriving. Here’s how she and the women in her community have transformed their lives.
MEET MEGARTU LEADER, ZENEBECH
My name is Zenebech, and I live in Woliso in Ethiopia. I am married and have six children, two boys and four girls.
I mainly depend on agriculture to support my family. I have about one hectare of land for a home garden where I grow different vegetables and fruits like onions, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. But my cash crops - coffee, teff, maize, wheat - are my main sources of income.
I face many challenges, especially for a person like me who depends on agriculture. There are two sources of water for my crops: rain and irrigation. But water shortages from both are common in our area. There are also excess rains that flood our farm and damage our harvest. Crop diseases, especially those that affect my cash crops like coffee, are also a challenge. Another is a shortage of farm land when compared to my family’s size.
THE BEGINNING OF MEGARTU
I was the one who was there when CHADET (Canadian Feed The Children’s local partner in Ethiopia) first established the Megartu Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO). I used to hear about the importance of SACCOs, but I never had the opportunity to become a member before.
When CHADET staff came to our kebele (region) to establish a new SACCO, I immediately approached them, discussed the process with some of my neighbours, then took the initiative to identify 100 women to join. That was how we became the Megartu SACCO, and how I became a member. I am happy to be a member.
BUILDING UP CAPITAL
I have taken so many trainings since I became a member of Megartu. I learned book-keeping and managing savings, credit, loans and cash. I also learned how to organize a co-operative.
I convert this training into action by exercising it on a daily basis, and I proved that it is fruitful if applied properly. As all our members are facing poverty and cannot start businesses on their own, we received seed capital in a revolving fund scheme. Each of us takes turns to receive a share-out that we can use to engage in additional business activities.
SUCCESS AND RECOGNITION
Since we started, we have maintained our membership, working together with no dropouts. Our loan repayment rate is almost 100%. We have been recognized and awarded at the regional and zonal level due to our best performance in saving, credit and loan management among similar SACCOs in the area.
The recognition we received has a lot of meaning for us. We are motivated to work hard both as a group and individually. It is a great achievement.
For our hard work, we in Megartu received a water pump. Once we received it, we decided as a group to increase our savings to build up our capital. That way we can farm more profitably as a group (in addition to our individual activities) to make best use of the pump. We now lease about two hectares of land and have planted different kinds of vegetables to increase our group income. The water pump helps us do our farming even during the dry season, and with that we plan to harvest twice a year.
WOMEN NEED THESE OPPORTUNITIES
I think it is important that women have opportunities like this. It starts from coming together as a group. Besides the financial benefits, it helps us to break the beliefs and attitudes that women should stay at home and serve the needs of others. Now, we have started generating our own income, which is vital for women to fulfil their own needs, instead of expecting from their husbands.
In Megartu, we are like a family. We support one another in every aspect of our life. I wouldn’t have gotten training if I didn’t belong to the group, and without this training my life would be the same as before. Today, in addition to my home garden and cash crops, I plough other people’s farming land on a contractual basis. I’m always trying to expand my sources of income, to improve my family’s life. I bought a house in Woliso town and the change in my living conditions has changed my family’s life.
My dream is to see educated community members where children become professionals. As for Megartu, we are looking to acquire a grinding mill once we get a good harvest. Our plan is to become a middle level enterprise within the next five years. I hope our government and partners, including CHADET and Canadian Feed The Children, will stand with us.
STAND WITH THE WOMEN OF MEGARTU
Megartu is one of over 1,000 self-help groups with over 25,000 members in Ethiopia and around the world that got their start through the generous support of CFTC donors. 72% of members are women. You can stand with Zenebech and the women of the Megartu co-operative by learning more about our programming in Ethiopia, and how women’s economic empowerment is crucial to ending child hunger and poverty in rural areas like Woliso. You can also support women’s rights and empowerment around the world by making a donation today.