What Agness experienced is an ordeal that most tea workers in Malawi are familiar with – resorting to loan sharks to make ends meet around low wages.
To tackle this, ETP and its partner GIZ brought together ETP members Jacob Douwe Egberts, Marks and Spencer, Lavazza, Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft, Tata Consumer Products Ltd, and Taylors of Harrogate to form the Strategic Alliance (STA) programme.
The alliance aims to provide decent livelihoods for 3,500 Malawian tea workers and farmers through business idea generation and management training, Farmer Field Schools, and Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs).
Taking back control
Agness took part in the STA’s programme and started putting her new skills to work immediately.
Using the local VSLA, she was able to build up initial savings. “I had no capital when I was starting,” she explained. “But when ETP told us the importance of saving and borrowing money from the VSLA, we started buying shares in our group.”
Attending business idea generation and management training also inspired her:
“I ventured into selling maize and beans. Now I have 30 bags of maize stocked. I expect to sell them for over K1 million (£700).”
And from her successful, seasonal business, she has been able to buy other commodities she could never have afforded before, like cattle and pigs.
“Now my business is doing well, my capital has grown, and it continues to grow,” she told us. “I am an independent woman. I do not want to borrow money from people again.”
Today, Agness doesn’t have to negotiate loans from untrustworthy sources, or fear the consequences.
“My life is transformed,” she explained. “I am now comfortable, able to pay my child’s school fees. I can afford the basic needs of my life, and I am motivated to work hard to achieve more.”
Agness’ experience is one inspiring story of many. The Strategic Alliance reached 8,000 tea farmers like her and 32,000 tea workers directly, and 200,000 members of households indirectly. Crucially, the skills shared were relevant to people’s lives – and therefore able to change life for the better.