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Extracting sand for survival

Extracting sand for survival

33 years old Sakina Webu from Maselema Village, Machinjiri in Blantyre, is one of the women whose livelihood is dependent on extracting sand. Sakina ventured into this business as an alternative source of income to support her family.

Sakina is a wife and a mother of four, and living in rural Malawi with limited decision-making power at household level.    She has little influence on what crop to grow or what to sell or how the income generated in her family should be spent.  

Sakina extracting Sand

“My husband is a farmer concentrating on maize for food, onions, tomatoes, and other vegetables for sale.  I really don’t know how much he makes from the sales because he doesn’t tell me and I never ask,” she says.

For Sakina, this is normal because it is culturally acceptable not to question her husband’s decisions. It is also one way of avoiding family conflicts and physical abuse. With less income flow for daily usage at home, Sakina has resorted to extracting sand and selling it as a source of income to enable her support her family with basic necessities.  She joins other women in this business along Bondo tributary.

“I make US$7.4074 per week from selling the sand to business people who come from Lunzu, Blantyre and other surrounding areas.  Every time I make this money, I give it to my husband and we make plans on how we should spend it,” she explains.

Eroded Soil According to Sakina, most women in the area engage in extracting sand to support their families.  With no income generating activities in the area, women have resorted to this business.  This however, is no simple activity as a lot of time is spent extracting sand.  Sakina uses a hoe, shovel and a bucket to excavate, and transport the sand to the road side.    All this adds more labor hours for women in the area in addition to caring for their families and supporting their husbands in the fields. 

“During farming season, I wake up early in the morning to tend to our family field.  Soon after that, I rush back home to prepare breakfast for my family, then I join my husband in his garden to help out.  As soon as I finish, I go to my business,” Sakina explains on how she manages her time.

“I normally start mining from around 05:00am up to 09:00am then I take a break to go and prepare lunch for my family.  Soon after that, I get back to work up to 05:00pm.  This is my life and I fully depend on this sand for my livelihood,” she adds.

Sakina is aware that any activities on the banks of the stream have a negative impact on the environment.

“I know it is wrong but what else do I do?  I need to make money and support my family. The income I get from selling this sand is what I use to buy soap, pay fees and even buy food for my family.  The only way to stop is for me to get an alternative source of income may be through running a business but I don’t have any source of business start-up,” she confessed.

The Bondo tributary is one of the streams flowing into the Lunzu River which drains into the Shire River.  Activities such as sand extraction and farming in the upland lead to erosion and siltation which is impacting on power generation hydropower plants downstream.

Through the Social and Gender Enhancement Fund (SGEF), women like Sakina will be targeted to benefit from the project.  Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) gender integration policy ensures that there is equal opportunity for both men and women to maximize project benefits.  The US$2,000,000 SGEF fund will target women like Sakina and her husband to benefit from the project to ensure she participates in family level decision making process. The project will also support communities in identifying alternative sustainable income generating activities. 

These interventions will enhance the impact and sustainability of the Environment and Natural Resource Management (ENRM) project of the Compact by funding activities that address social and gender constraints and inequalities that prevent men and women in communities along the Upper and Middle Shire River Basin from engaging in sustainable agricultural practices and sustainable management of their natural resources.