“Now I can take care of my own family”

Photo: Eija Palosuo / Suomen Punainen Risti

A three-year project is improving food security through cash assistance and preventing epidemic risks in Eswatini. 

Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society volunteer Bethusile Nxumalo is interviewing 44-year-old Winile Masuku, who is a recipient of cash assistance.  

“Before receiving cash assistance, we were dependent on our neighbours. Now I can take care of my own family,” Winile explains, smiling. 

Winile has used the cash grant to buy food such as rice, maize flour and cooking oil.  

In Eswatini, like elsewhere in Southern Africa, people are suffering from a severe and prolonged food security crisis. The situation is serious especially in the regions of Shiselweni and Lubombo.  

The crisis began in 2015. The drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon, further strengthened by climate change, and the irregular rains and floods ever since have damaged the harvest seasons year after year. These reasons have led to reduced food production.

Before receiving cash assistance, we were dependent on our neighbours. Now I can take care of my own family.
Winile Masuku

Winile is one of the 25,500 people included in the three-year project funded by the European Union to improve food security by means of cash assistance. In addition to the Finnish Red Cross, the project includes the Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society and Belgian Red Cross Flanders.  

Fighting climate change with drought-tolerant maize seeds

39-year-old Bongani Masuku looks at his maize field. He just harvested a section of his field last week.  

“But there is still work to do,” Bongani says and starts working the land.   

Bongani farms maize in the Lubombo region, near the town of Big Bend. Lubombo is one of the hottest areas in Eswatini. As Bongani weeds his field, the temperature has already risen to over 34 degrees.

“I remove the weeds so that my maize will grow properly. If I let the weeds take over, the seedlings of the maize would grow to be very thin and not offer good harvest,” Bongani explains.   

A man standing in front of a maize field.
“I chose to farm maize, as my family is very fond of maize,” Bongani Masuku explains. Photo: Eija Palosuo / Suomen Punainen Risti

Bongani attended an agricultural training, after which he received a cash grant of around 70 euros. He invested the money in maize seeds that are more resilient to drought which he now cultivates.

This special feature of this variety is useful, as climate change has made rains more irregular and increased drought.

Around 70 per cent of Eswatini’s population are directly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. This is why the changing weather conditions are extremely concerning. 

“The recent heatwaves have really made farming more difficult. The maize should not receive too much sunlight when it is blooming. Rain is important at that stage. The last time the maize was in bloom there was no rain at all, so my harvest was smaller than I expected,” Bongani states.

The maize field has a great significance to Bongani.

“This allows me to feed my family, but also to sell some of the crops and get money. This money helps me put my children to school. I have five children with my darling wife. Now I can buy them schoolbooks and other school supplies, like pens. If I make enough money, I can also buy them shoes to wear to school,” Bongani says. 

Health care and epidemic preparedness in the countryside

“We start work at the clinic at eight in the morning. Each morning we offer health advice, meaning that we tell patients what epidemics are currently ongoing. Right now we are informing them of vaccinations, especially against the coronavirus and tuberculosis. We also highlight proper hygiene: we explain how important it is to wash your hands and also remind people to wash their water containers every now and then,” explains Phumlile Gina.  

Phumlile is a 25-year-old nurse at the Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society’s clinic in Hosea Inkhundla in the Shiselweni region. The clinic specialises in basic health care.  

The EU-funded project also supports the community in epidemic and pandemic preparedness efforts. The Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society runs three clinics in the country, and the project supports their capacity to respond to different epidemics, such as diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis and HIV. 

A nurse sitting at a computer.
Phumlile Gina has worked at the Red Cross clinic for some time now. “It is great to see the impact your work has. I am happy to be able to help my community,” Phumlile says. Photo: Eija Palosuo / Suomen Punainen Risti

Lots of children visit the clinic each day. Some are brought in to see a nurse, while others come along with their parents while they visit the clinic.

“Some of our patients here in the countryside are very poor. They can come to the clinic for some completely other reason, for a flu for example. But we may then notice that the growth of the patient’s child is clearly stunted and there is reason to suspect malnourishment,” Phumlile explains.  

“We are able to take care of such situations as well and monitor the condition of the patients. It feels great when a patient comes back to the clinic after six months and says that their child is doing great and playing like other children,” Phumlile tells, smiling.

Sustainable farming practices and community gardens help prepare for climate change

A group of people have gathered to hear a presentation given by Musa Dlamini from the Ministry of Agriculture in Sigwe Inkhundla in southern Eswatini. Musa is here to offer training on how to take care of a community garden.

Community gardens are rather common in Eswatini. The project aims to revive the old tradition of community gardens as a part of preparing for climate change. The objective is to farm crop varieties that are better resistant to drought and require little water. 

A man talking to people sitting on the ground.
Musa Dlamini explains how to take care of the garden. Photo: Eija Palosuo / Suomen Punainen Risti

In his training, Musa explains for example how the soil must be prepared for the planting of new crops and how to fight any diseases and pests in the plants.

As Eswatini is heading towards winter, Musa also offers examples of varieties suited for the winter season.

“Lettuce, cabbage, beets and spinach are good alternatives for winter farming. They also offer a great addition to the diet,” Musa advises.  

After the training, the participants of the project get a cash grant of around 35 euros to buy plant seeds, for example. Larger acquisitions for the community garden are done together and the costs shared equally. They also sell the vegetables they have grown and a wholesaler picks up what is left, offering the families extra income.

40-year-old Sibongile Dlamini is one of the participants at the training. She currently grows maize and pumpkins in the garden, but hopes next to plant onions, beets and lettuce, exactly according to Musa’s instructions.  

A women harvesting maize.
For Sibongile Dlamini, the community garden also has a social meaning: “We talk a lot while taking care of the garden. We share information and learn a lot from each other,” Sibongile explains. Photo: Eija Palosuo / Suomen Punainen Risti

The garden is a great help to her: 

“The garden offers stability to my family, as I employ myself with this and take care of my family. The harvest from the garden allows me to feed my family, and I can also sell some crops to get money for my children’s education,” Sibongile says happily.  

Aid with support from the European Union

The project implemented in Eswatini is part of a larger programme supported by the European Union. There are similar projects in a total of 23 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  

The projects strengthen the Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations and local communities in the target countries. The projects focus on disaster preparedness, pandemic preparedness and cash assistance. We listen to local communities and include them in the decision-making process.

There are 11 national Red Cross societies from the European Union involved, one being the Finnish Red Cross. In addition to Eswatini, the Finnish Red Cross is also working with projects implemented in Somalia, Cambodia and Tajikistan.  

Development cooperation
Development cooperation