QACHA’S NEK – In Qacha’s Nek, a district known for its harsh winters, food insecurity and poverty are a bitter reality.
While the majority of families in the area depend on crop and livestock farming, for many, having enough to eat remains an elusive dream.
Poor soil—robbed of its fertility by high levels of soil erosion caused by the undulating terrain characteristic of Qacha’s Nek and punishing weather conditions—has made bumper harvests unrealistic.
These adverse conditions have pushed many farming families deep into both food insecurity and poverty, making life an enduring misery.
‘Matselane Mokoinihi (59) from Ha-Apile village, has been working her two fields for more than 20 years, but despite her best efforts, her eight children consistently skip meals because of food insecurity.
She is one of many subsistence farmers in the district who have lost hope in agriculture. Mokoinihi remembers the last time her family had a good harvest – almost 20 years ago in 1987.
“Putting food on our table has been hard for us all these many years because of poor soil and drought,” she says.
However, in December 2013, a ray of hope filtered through Qacha’s Nek when the World Food Programme (WFP), in conjunction with World Vision International, launched a Voluntary Savings Loan Project in the district. The initiative specifically targeted families who were food insecure by forming 26 savings groups (totalling 363 members) and enabling each member to make monthly contributions to the group savings pool.
Mokoinihi is one of the 18 members of the Mocha-OA-Tsepo Savings Group in Ha-Apile village. For almost two years, the members, who are governed by different agreements, have been contributing between M20 to M200 each month. Once they have made their contributions, they can borrow from the savings pool and pay back the money with interest ranging from 10 to 20 percent. At the end of each year, the group members share their contributions. Through lending from their savings, the members were able to start income-generating projects in areas such as livestock production, key-hole gardens, mat and broom production, and small home-based food kiosks.
In March 2014, Mokoinihi started a broom and mat business, selling each broom for M20 and each mat for M100. This has changed her life as she can now afford to provide her family with two meals a day.
After receiving her yearly contribution of M1,200 in December 2014, Mokoinihi was able to diversify her business to include blanket designing. She first buys blankets and then enhances them by sewing on different designs with colourful thread. Depending on the intricacy of the design, she then sells the blankets between M150 and M300.
“Because of the drought, this year’s harvest is poor in many families. I’m happy that I can sell my products and use the money to feed my family and pay school fees,” says Mokoinihi.
As a result of consistently low agricultural yields, many families resort to negative coping mechanisms like skipping meals. WFP and its partner, World Vision, hope this initiative will work to reverse the cycle of poverty.
“The aim of this initiative is to provide other means of survival [besides agriculture] and help alleviate poverty,” says Rabolou Mafaesa, WFP’s field officer based in Qacha’s Nek.
Although WFP’s monitoring of the savings and loan scheme technically ended last month, Mafaesa is confident the groups will continue to operate.
“We are happy that through the training the members received, they can continue running the groups and also keep building on their income-generating projects,” she says.
The Economic Development Facilitator for World Vision International, Sibongile Hlubi, says another benefit of the project is it has provided job opportunities. This is especially important as many of the district’s residents– and indeed the rest of the country – flock to neighbouring South Africa for employment.
“Since the formation of the groups and individual projects, many lives have been changed for the better,” says Hlubi. “We are hoping the success stories will inspire other people to work together and form similar savings groups.”
Motseng Rantle, chairperson of the Retsepile Morena Savings Group in Makhoareng village, expressed her gratitude for the training some members of her group received from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and World Vision.
“The training, which included financial and business management, is improving the running of our group,” says Rantle. There are 18 women and five men in the Retsepile Morena Savings Group, and when it first started, there was lack of trust among the members. The men, for example, believed such a group was a preserve of women.
However, months later, the group stabilised and has been able to increase its monthly contributions. “By the end of September, we had M17000 compared to M14000 we had collected by the same month in 2014,” says Motseng.
In December 2014, the group shared M21000 and expects increased shares this year. Thanks to the greater monthly contributions, the group was able to save money to buy school uniforms and shoes for two orphans in the village.
All 26 groups working under the Voluntary Savings Loan Project would ultimately like to open joint bank accounts in order to improve the management of their savings. With support, they would also like to start joint business enterprises such as community abattoirs and food processing companies like a dairy plant. The end goal for all members is to rid their communities of poverty.