From Poverty to Prosperity: Chisomo’s Inspiring Journey

Chisomo Kaphuka, diary farmer i Malawi. Photo: Johanna Wolff
Chisomo Kaphuka, diary farmer i Malawi. Photo: Johanna Wolff
On her small family farm near Lilongwe, Malawi, Chisomo Kaphuka has transformed her life. As a single mother of three and the vice-chair of the local dairy cooperative, she has overcome significant challenges, increased her income, and secured a better future for her family with the support of We Effect and their partner MUSCCO.

Chisomo Kaphuka crosses her arms and beams a broad smile. She welcomes us to her small family farm, not far from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Next to her brick house, we find the family’s source of income—two dairy cows and a calf—in a simple enclosure. The cows scrape the ground with their hooves, munch on dried maize stalks, and flick their tails to ward off flies. Heavy clouds hang overhead, and the air is thick and humid.

Today, Chisomo is the vice-chair of the local dairy cooperative, but before joining, life was difficult. The family had no cows and farmed without fertilizer, leading to poor harvests.

– We lived in great poverty even when I was married, and it was hard to have enough food year-round, Chisomo recalls.

Chisomo has two cows and a calf she named “Vision” to remind her of her goals. Photo: Johanna Wolff

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, with nearly nine out of ten rural residents living below the poverty line. Agriculture employs 80% of the workforce, with most farming for subsistence. Women do the majority of fieldwork but often have little or no control over resources post-harvest, making them particularly vulnerable.

After her divorce, life was tough for Chisomo, but things improved when she received support to buy her first cow. The cooperative, supported by We Effect and MUSCCO, aims to strengthen farmer organizations, increase access to financial services and knowledge, and boost production and productivity. Through the cooperative, Chisomo shares risks, investments, and knowledge with other farmers, reducing their vulnerability to unexpected crises.

To enhance farmers’ knowledge and productivity, study circles are used as a method. At the cooperative’s facility, not far from Chisomo’s home, meetings are held where farmers learn how to feed and breed cows to increase milk production. Members have also set up a small library with books and booklets that farmers can borrow for self-study.

The members can borrow books and booklets for self-studies från the library at the cooperative. Photo: Johanna Wolff

Earlier this year, much of Malawi was hit by drought. Rain stopped abruptly in the middle of the rainy season, just when the crops needed it most. Thanks to the training Chisomo received through the cooperative, she began using sustainable farming methods that made her crops more drought-resistant.

– I’ve learned to make my own fertilizer, which I now use on my crops. It keeps the soil moist even when the rains fail, says Chisomo.

Through the cooperative, Chisomo has received training that has increased her milk production and crop yields. Photo: Johanna Wolff

Malawi has increasingly been affected by climate-related extreme weather, such as droughts and cyclones. Last year, Cyclone Freddie struck the country and destroyed many farmers’ crops. Despite the challenges, Chisomo has managed to increase her yields. She now grows enough crops to feed her family and sell some at the market.

When Chisomo talks about the local village bank she is a member of, her entrepreneurial spirit shines through. Village banks or savings and loan groups are a way to increase access to financial services for people living in poverty. Many in Malawi lack bank accounts, and high interest rates and strict conditions make it difficult to start productive ventures. In the village bank, members jointly set terms for interest rates and loan periods, allowing farmers to make critical investments that increase their incomes. MUSCCO encourages farmers to make investments that strengthen their businesses and generate income to repay the loans.

Through the group, Chisomo saved and was able to borrow money for her second dairy cow, a crucial investment that doubled her income. Today, she milks 20 liters a day. The milk is quality-checked and stored in cooling tanks at the cooperative’s facility before being sold to buyers.

With the increased income, she has been able to build a sturdier house with a tin roof instead of a thatched roof, where she lives with her three children. Traditional houses in Malawi have thatched roofs, which require more maintenance and leak during heavy rains. Chisomo’s tin roof is a symbol of her improved economic status.

With the money Chisomo has earned, she has been able to build a new house with a metal roof for herself and her three children. Photo: Johanna Wolff

She continues to save in the group and dreams of acquiring more cows. Her goal is to milk 100 liters a day, and she envisions eventually having enough cows to support other farmers with calves so they too can benefit and increase their incomes.

– I named my first calf ‘Vision’ as a reminder, says Chisomo with a laugh.

Her goal is also to buy a piece of land farther away and build a house to rent out. With that income, she plans to save even more in the village bank. It’s clear that we are just at the beginning of Chisomo’s journey as an independent woman and entrepreneur.