Successful Enterprises Bring Needed Income in Times of Crisis

AgricultureGender equalityHealth



Announcer: In the village of Tembe, many people have died. There are many women who have lost their husbands and are suffering because of this. The men in the village have always been in charge of growing crops like maize and bananas which are sold off the farm for cash. It is also common for the men to work in the city and send home some of their wages. Now many families have no father, and very little cash. Also, there are fewer cash crops in the fields. Most women can’t get credit to buy seeds and fertilizer, and many of them are not experienced at growing cash crops.

But it is not all bad news. Over the next few minutes you are going to hear an interview with Mrs. Afya Mohammed. Mrs. Mohammed is a farmer. She and some other women have been involved in some new activities to help the people of the village of Tembe meet the many challenges they are facing.


Interviewer: Mrs. Mohammed, thank you for agreeing to speak with me today. Knowing how badly your village has been affected by AIDS, my first question to you is, how have families coped with the deaths of so many men?

Afya: Relatives and neighbours help by working in each other’s fields and by taking care of each other’s children. Burial societies also help. In our village, there is a long tradition of this. Each month every household contributes a little money to the burial society. When someone in the family dies, the burial society organizes the funeral, and provides some money and help in the fields. But this help lasts only a short time.

Interviewer: So when that help is gone, where can a woman go from there? Is there any other kind of support she can get?

Afya: Well, in our village, several women united to form a support group for widows. As a group we decided that we needed two things. We needed to help each other with farm work, and we needed to find new ways to make money.

Interviewer: Did the group come up with any bright ideas?

Afya: We began by thinking about things that people need every day – things like soap, eggs, and cooking oil. Everybody needs these, but must travel a long distance to buy them. Some of the women in our group now buy larger amounts of these things, and then resell them locally for a small profit. So that’s one way to make money. We discovered other successful ideas too. One woman who has a sewing machine, makes and repairs clothes in the market. She now has a successful business. Another woman is very good at dyeing clothes; she makes the dyes from wild plants. The woman with the sewing machine makes the clothes, and this other woman dyes them. The two women share in the profits when the clothes are sold.

Interviewer: Well I say these women are to be congratulated – so many good ideas! What about farming? Do any of the women in your village make money selling crops or raising livestock?

Afya: A few women are raising pigs. Pigs don’t require as much work as cattle, and the current market price is good. And now farmers feed their pigs cassava and sweet potatoes instead of cooking bananas. It is easier and cheaper to feed cassava and sweet potatoes, so they can raise and feed more pigs.

Interviewer: Okay – this is all very good. But I want to know how it is possible to raise the money necessary to buy something like a sewing machine, or some pigs, or whatever it is you need to begin your businesses.

Afya: We have a rotating savings and credit association. Each member of the association makes a small weekly contribution to a common fund. Every three months, someone receives all the money that’s been collected in the previous three months. Three months later, it’s another person’s turn. Many of the women in our support group have used this money to buy things for their businesses.

Interviewer: You certainly seem to have found intelligent ways to go about making money. Could you summarize the keys to your success?

Afya: Well, I could try. (pause) I think there are four keys. The first and most important is to work together to solve problems. The second key is to research the market well, and find out what people need before starting a business. The third important point is having access to credit. And the fourth key is hard work.


Interviewer: Thank you for speaking with us today, Mrs. Mohammed. I wish you and the other women in your village good fortune, and I congratulate you on your innovative approaches in a difficult situation that many of us face.

Afya: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.



Contributed by Vijay Cuddeford, Toronto, Canada.

Reviewed by Dr Gladys Mutangadura, Postdoctoral Fellow, Sociology Department, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

Information sources

The effects of HIV/AIDS on farming systems in eastern Africa1995. Farm Management and Production Economics Service, Agricultural Support Systems Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. E-mail:

Is HIV/AIDS a threat to livestock production? The example of Rakai, Uganda,” by M. Haslwimmer in World Animal Review, Volume 80-81, 1994. Animal Production and Health Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

AIDS and African smallholder agriculture, edited by Gladys Mutangadura, Helen Jackson, and Duduzile Mukurazita. Report from a Conference held in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 8-10, 1998, Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), 17 Beveridge Road, PO Box A509, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe. E-mail: