A worker at the 400kv Nkhoma Substation, part of MCC’s $350.7 million compact with Malawi.
The Sub-Saharan nation of Malawi has made progress in human development over the past decade, but it remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Over half the nation’s population lives in poverty, and some 25 percent live in extreme poverty.
When MCC and the Government of Malawi began looking at the primary constraints to the country’s economic growth in 2009, one thing stood out—the availability and quality of the nation’s power supply. Just 10 percent of Malawians had access to grid electricity and even for those connected to the grid, power was often unreliable and cut for eight to 12 hours per day.
But inadequate power doesn’t tell the whole story of life in Malawi. The country is also hindered by gender inequality. Women in the agricultural sector tend to have smaller lots of land, and those in other sectors suffer from a lack of access to credit and capital. So, when we partnered with the Malawian government to revamp the nation’s power sector, we didn’t limit our efforts to producing more electricity. We also sought opportunities to help women in the country advance in the context of the power-focused compact.
I traveled to Malawi ahead of our compact closeout and met with some of the inspiring women who have been empowered by projects implemented under MCC’s compact. Not only are those women compact beneficiaries, they are working to reshape the country’s future.
At MCC, we believe that one of the best ways to accomplish our mission to reduce poverty through economic growth is by investing in women’s economic empowerment. The reason is simple—research shows that empowering women leads to stronger economies, increases in household incomes, and higher profits for businesses. So, no matter what sector we invest in—power, land, transportation, water—we look for ways to ensure that women are provided opportunities to play a key role in driving progress that will positively impact them and their communities. In Malawi, women helped to realize the potential of efforts across the power-focused investment, making key contributions to each of the three compact projects: infrastructure, power sector reform and environmental management.
Powering Change: Environmental and Natural Resource Management Project
Hydropower generation plays a big role in Malawi’s power sector, but chronic weed infestations and excessive sediment buildup in the Shire River Basin as a result of poor land and environmental management, have led to hydropower disruptions and inefficiencies.
The compact’s $32 million Environmental and Natural Resource Management Project was designed to implement modern environmental and natural resource management techniques in areas upstream from the hydropower plants. The project also included a Social and Gender Enhancement Activity that focused on engaging women to improve how land along the riverbanks is used and reduce the negative impact on natural resources while increasing economic opportunities and decreasing outages at downstream hydropower plants.
Emily Hussein used to spend her days collecting firewood and charcoal, which she would sell as her only source of income, leading to deforestation and soil erosion. But with the help of MCC’s Environmental and Natural Resource Management Project, she secured a loan that allowed her to become a beekeeper—decreasing her impact on the landscape and increasing her family’s household income.
“The project has changed the lives of women here,” said Emily. “I can now borrow money from the village bank and repay after I have sold honey. When I get the money, I use it to buy fertilizer in order to ensure that we have a good harvest.”