Script .13

Notes to broadcasters

This script is adapted from a case study written by Jerry Knight, former project consultant with the Community Development Center (CEDECO) in Kimpese, Zaire.

 Special note: This script shows how a group of women worked together to improve conditions in their village. Women have shown great skill in forming and running co-operatives, and we hope that this script will be used when women are likely able to listen.

Content:  The villagers of Kiombia in Zaire suffered from poverty and poor health. They decided to try to work together to improve their lives. They started a co-operative, but there was a problem. The men fought over who should be the leader and they were lazy. So the women formed their own co-operative, and it was a great success. The women proved that they had the skills and the determination to improve their lives


Mama Nsalaba and Mama Disisa live with their families in the village of Kiombia. Their huts are nestled under the shade trees on seven hills in southwestern Zaire. In the past few years, these two women have become the leaders of an 11-member women’s co-operative in their village. It was not easy for them to emerge from the shadows of the men. Two men, the heir to the land and the village chief, had always dominated village affairs. They had become used to hand-outs. A great deal of effort was needed to solve the problems of the village.

The village had no clean water supply. Harvests had been bad in the last few years. The result was poverty and poor health. The women of Kiombia realized that to solve these problems they would have to take the initiative and work together. This is the story of the women of Kiombia, who showed they could run a co-operative much better than the men.

First steps:
The people of Kiombia took the first step on the road to co-operation in 1986 when they contacted extension agents from a non-government organization in nearby Kimpese. The organization was called the Community Development Center, but it was commonly known by the name CEDECO. In the 1970s, CEDECO helped the villagers sink a tube well and install a pump. But there was a problem. The well was placed too close to the cemetery and was soon abandoned because people worried that the water would be contaminated. Ten years later, the village was poorer than before. Extension agents from CEDECO decided to organize a village meeting. They asked the men and women to discuss their problems and list their needs in order of importance. The villagers were shy at first, but they were also interested in dealing with their problems. They broke up into small groups and eventually came up with a list of Kiombia’s needs. The top priority on everyone’s list was a clean water supply nearer to the village. They also wanted bigger harvests, more income, and better health care facilities.

In the meetings that followed, the villagers decided they would provide the workforce and local materials to build a new well. CEDECO agreed to provide the bricks, cement, and technical advice. Two village men and one extension worker dug the well. All the rest of the work was done by the women and children. It took only one week to choose a well site, dig the well, form the well with cement, and cap it. While the well was being built, the extension workers and the villagers got to know and trust each other. A new confidence began to grow among the women of Kiombia as they met in their own committee to look after the well and to identify some of their other needs. The men and women of Kiombia saw that working in groups to solve problems was the only way to achieve results. So they formed a co-operative. The staff at CEDECO were determined to support the people with their village improvement projects. They offered the people of Kiombia seeds, tools, and fertilizer at low prices. Membership in the co-operative quickly grew to over 30 men and women. But the men fought over who would be the leader of the co-op and, because of their fighting, no communal fields or gardens were planted. The members continued to plant and harvest their own family plots by themselves. Since the members were not really working together, the co-operative began to lose its meaning. All this was not lost on the women co-op members. As it turned out, they were just waiting for the right moment to take on their next project.

The women’s co-op begins:
Mama Nsalaba and Mama Disisa met with the nine other women of the co-operative and decided it was in their best interest to form their own women’s co-operative. The men had expected the women to do all the work for the mixed group. Then the men planned to take most of the credit and profit for themselves. But they argued with each other and accomplished little. On the other hand, the women worked well together. They often worked in each other’s fields during busy periods when they prepared the land for planting. And together they prepared food for visitors during village ceremonies. Over time, they became close friends. They understood each other.

The women elected a leadership committee. Mama Disisa was chosen as president and Mama Nsalaba as counsellor. Other women were chosen to be treasurer and secretary. They planned monthly meetings and charged a small membership fee to be paid every four months, after harvest. They decided to limit membership to the 11 women who agreed to attend meetings regularly and participate fully in the group’s activities.

CEDECO had tested new varieties of manioc, beans, soya and peanuts. So the women asked for enough seeds to test the new varieties themselves. They wanted to make sure they would grow well under local conditions. Their test plantings produced good supplies of high quality seeds. The women then rented CEDECO’s tractor and plough on credit so they could plant two more hectares of land. They set aside two days each week for weeding.

The women harvested the first crops of peanuts and corn. They also planted pigeon peas and manioc. When they harvested the peanuts and corn, they replaced them with red and white beans and soybeans. By the time the pigeon peas and manioc reached maturity, other village groups had become interested in the women’s co-operative. Even the government agricultural inspector was impressed to see a field producing so well and so free of weeds. Nsalaba and Disisa and the other members produced enough from this first project to pay CEDECO back for the use of the tractor and plough. They also had enough seed to distribute some to the members to plant their own family plots, as well as enough to plant the co-operative’s fields next year.

Successful harvests:
The harvest of manioc from the second planting of the co-operative fields and family plots was so big it filled a railway wagon, which took it to the capital, Kinshasa, where the produce was sold at a wholesale market. Never in Kiombia’s history had the villagers sold more than a truckload of manioc at a time. With the money from the sale of the manioc, the women bought a “pousse-pousse,” a homemade cart which they pushed by hand to carry their goods from the field to the village or to the main road. They kept a bit of the money for the co-operative to pay for onion seeds, fertilizer, and watering cans for the dry season garden. And they saved some of the money to pay the travel expenses of members, to pay medical bills, and to help members during family crises if they could not cover costs on their own. The women divided the rest of the profits from the harvest equally among the 11 members.

The women rented a shed near the railway station to store their manioc, peanuts, and beans until they had enough to fill a freight car to take the produce to market. As they gained more experience in marketing their produce, the women learned to get better prices, particularly in the city.

The secret of the success of Kiombia’s women’s co-operative was that it started small. Other village co-operatives have also succeeded by starting small as Kiombia did. They increase the size and number of their projects only as they develop leadership and experience. Many co-operatives start by raising crops like manioc and onions to put food on the table. Then they find that they have some surplus food that they can take to the market. At first, the money they earn from the market is needed to pay for farm tools, or fertilizer. But soon the savings grow enough that these co-operatives can buy their own irrigation equipment or diesel-operated hammermills for grinding corn and manioc into flour. They can also build new latrines, improve their water supplies, or repair their roads and bridges.

The women of Kiombia showed that their ideas and hard work could improve life in their village. Perhaps Mama Disisa and Mama Nsalaba, and the women who follow their example by working together, will have a lot more to say about the future of villages like Kiombia.