In the past, Celina Cossa would queue for days and even nights just to get the chance to buy a bag of maize to feed her two children, her husband, and herself. She was one of thousands of Mozambican women finding it difficult to feed her family in a country that was newly independent from its Portuguese colonisers and in the midst of a civil war. Food shortages in Mozambique in the 1980s were a norm, and many – especially women – were extremely poor.
In response, Cossa, along with 250 other women, began growing crops and raising poultry together. With limited funds at first, many of the women would bring their own agricultural tools and money to support the project.
The women sold the excess and created a business that now has about 2,900 mostly women farmers. And as the numbers grew, they expanded the reach of their operation to begin helping others get credit to start their own businesses.
Now called the General Union of Cooperatives (UGC), this Mozambican network of women farmers is still led by Cossa. UGC gives them technical training, literacy education, as well as services such as childcare. Members now supply much of the capital’s vegetables, fruits, and poultry with members making on average 50 per cent more than the national minimum wage.
Now the cooperative also helps women farmers get loans to start and run their businesses, assists with giving them expert advice on how to begin farming and helps them sell their produce at markets. To date, the farmers produce eight thousand chickens per month and are supplying the local markets with their products.
This post was adapted from an article written by African journalists Menesia Muinjo and Geline Fuko, who took part in a journalist training session coordinated by IPS.