Braving stings of Covid-19 for gains
Covid-19, which has claimed over 2, 000 lives in Malawi since the first case in April 2019, transmits fast in crowded settings and cold conditions, writes Trouble Ziba, Malawi News Agency.
Isabel Kaliwo was always fascinated by a sight of chickens, pecking and picking things, or scrambling for insects in her compound.
The chickens, from her neighbours' homesteads, used to spark a burning desire in her. A desire to try her hand at poultry farming.
However, lack of capital had been a stumbling block. She did not have money to buy even a single fowl.
The 37-year-old woman was so poverty-stricken that any penny accrued from piece works went straight into buying school materials and food for her four children.
Her grass-thatched house was an embarrassment to her family in Kammata Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntaja in Blantyre. It leaked whenever it rained heavily, putting her children at risk of catching pneumonia.
While still lost in thought about what to do to get out of her misery, there was a shout of hope that signaled a possible end of her poverty.
National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) was to implement an eight-month pilot project under Enhanced Public Works Programme (EPWP) in the country’s 10 districts with funds from World Bank.
The project was to train beneficiaries in techniques of conserving natural resources such as water, soil, and vegetation through the construction of swales, check dams, stone bands, and other structures that hold rainwater, and control run-off in crop fields and other pieces of land.
Luckily, Kaliwo was among the identified beneficiaries for the project.
Each beneficiary was to be paid K21, 600 bi-monthly during the entire project implementation.
It was expected the money would help them make sound livelihoods as well as make assets that minimize climate change shocks.
However, this opportunity appeared to be under threat considering that the project was to commence when the Corona Virus Disease (Covid-19) was raging with untold seriousness.
But communities could not stay idle and keep themselves in-door because of fear of catching the virus; they needed to make a livelihood.
The project beneficiaries, therefore, needed to proceed with the project while keeping safe from Covid-19. This meant strictly adhering to set preventive measures while implementing project activities in order to reap gains.
Covid-19, which has claimed over 2, 000 lives in Malawi since the first case in April 2019, transmits fast in crowded settings and cold conditions.
“I and my husband agreed to buy water buckets and soap using the K21, 600 we received every two months from the project.
“We placed the buckets in front of our house to ensure that every visitor coming to our home washed their hands first.
“We also bought face masks for everyone in the family to control the spread of the disease,” explains Kaliwo, adding that she was able to carry on with the project to the end without catching the virus.
“I am glad to tell you that through these techniques, I moved on with the project and harvested 17 bags of maize this year compared to less than ten last year when I could not afford to buy fertilizer,” she says with a smile on her lips.
EPWP Project aimed at conserving natural resources and creating quality and sustainable community assets through a holistic catchment management approach.
If achieved, that would empower beneficiaries to conserve their environment as well as improve their livelihoods through cash accrued from the project.
In Balaka, members of Zalimu Catchment Management Committee (CMC) also trained on the same (natural resources conservation).
To avert Covid-19 during project implementation, GIZ supplied them with hand-washing facilities, facemasks, and soap as well as adequate information about the pandemic.
The CMC’s Vice-Chairperson, Alinafe Dingaliro says the provision of PPEs strengthened their commitment to move on with their reafforestation project which aimed at keeping their land green.
“Amidst the harsh conditions of Covid-19, we raised 37,676 different species of tree seedlings; we planted 32, 676 trees which have covered 13 hectares, and most of them have survived,” she says.
She explains that all members were encouraged to put on masks and maintain a one-meter distance to prevent the spread of the virus while continuing with work at the catchment site.
“With support from our traditional leaders and the by-laws we formulated, we are sure the trees will be protected,” says Dingaliro.
Besides planting new trees, Zalimu CMC also started to jealously protect the natural regeneration of indigenous tree species in their area to preserve them.
In Kasungu, Chatalala CMC which was one of the five catchments under the pilot project in the district refused to be left behind in natural resources conservation initiatives under the project.
About 200 beneficiaries received the Covid-19 personal protective equipment from GIZ to be used during project implementation.
However, some individuals shunned using them, according to Chatalala’s CMC’s Vice-Secretary, Oswald Mpango.
To achieve adherence, Mpango says the CMC’s leadership insisted that every beneficiary should follow the set preventive measures.
“Though a few beneficiaries were defiant, we maintained that to move forward with the project, we needed to use personal protective equipment to protect ourselves from catching Covid-19.
“Those that did not want to abide were told not to work,” states Mpango.
He says the protective materials were so vital that beneficiaries continued implementing their activities without a single person in the group catching Covid-19.
Fifty-year-old Dishon Nyirenda, a project beneficiary from Chungu Village in Traditional Authority Njombwa in the district, says had it not been for the support of PPEs, EPWP activities could have collapsed.
“With Covid-19 wreaking havoc, the PPEs helped us a lot. If it was not for the CMC’s insistence that we all follow the preventive measures, it could have been disastrous,” he says.
Nyirenda says because project activities did not stall, he, with some of his colleagues, are now linked to Community Savings and Investment Promotion (COMSIP) and have their own group dubbed Tithandizane which grows soybeans.
It is this feat and other achievements that make NLGFC laud the EPWP pilot project as a success as seen from several fronts, despite the ravages played out by the Covid-19 pandemic during the implementation period.
“It improved livelihoods of beneficiaries from the wages they were getting.
“The project also utilized the climate-smart initiative by practicing soil and water conservation techniques to conserve the environment,” says NLGFC Community Driven Development Specialist, Stanley Chuthi.
He explains that several quality assets were also created during the project such as stone bands, contours, and swales, all meant to arrest soil erosion.
“The community members also embraced the community contribution aspect which promotes and ensures project ownership,” he adds.
Despite touting the project as a success, Chuthi concedes that Covid-19 was a major hiccup that adversely affected its implementation. He says because of the scourge, the project was not adequately monitored.
“Another challenge is that foremen and catchment management committees did not have adequate training to be able to effectively execute their duties,” he explains.
For Blantyre District Director of Planning and Development (DPD), Tamanya Harawa, it was pleasing that the project changed people’s attitudes about Covid-19 besides fulfilling its purpose of restoring nature.
“We are happy the project’s impact can be seen by everyone. This is what we want projects to do.
“They should always impact positively on the intended beneficiaries, and that’s what we call development,” he commends.
As for Esabel Kaliwo of Kammata Village in T.A. Kuntaja in Blantyre, life has never been sweeter than this before. The dream of owning chickens is no longer a dream, but a reality. She now has 15.
She also used her earnings from EPWP sub-project to buy iron sheets for her family’s house.
NLGFC started implementing EPWP Project in September 2020 in Chitipa, Karonga, Kasungu, Dowa, Nkhotakota, Lilongwe, Balaka, Chiradzulu, Phalombe, and Blantyre.
Resources allowing, plans are that the project is rolled out in 14 other districts from next year (2022), according to NLGFC Community Driven Development Specialist (Chuthi).