Empowering women in Malawi- Meet Niffa

As part of their trip to Malawi, Sarah and Amanda met Niffa Chumachiyenda. Part of our training in Malawi focuses on empowering more female leaders like Niffa – find out more about her in Amanda’s blog below.

As chairperson of the Mwansambe Coffee Co-operative, Niffa is an energetic and strong leader who has the respect of both the co-operative members and the CEPEESM project team. She speaks her mind and is very dynamic. Once the meeting with the members was over John was keen for us to travel to the next village to Niffa’s house so that we could get what he called ‘African chewing gum’. Intrigued, I told John I’ll try anything once, but I had no idea what this was going to be.

We pulled up outside Niffa’s house, a small local brick building, partly plastered and white-washed, with a flash of colourful Bougainvillea growing in the front garden. Around the back, Niffa took up a long pole and started energetically bashing the top branches of a tree in her back yard. Hard fruits rained down from above, the size of a small Clementine with a hairy tough skin and divided into 5 segments which you could pull apart. John showed me how to separate off a section, remove the seeds and then put the whole segment in your mouth and chew vigorously; it was pretty tough going at first, but the juice of the fruit wasn’t unlike the flavour of dried fig. Once all of the flavour and juice is extracted, you spit out the chewy pith and start again.

Whilst we were there I also took the opportunity to look around Niffa’s back yard. In a relatively small space she had chickens, caged rabbits, goats, dogs and a small vegetable garden as well as a very healthy-looking coffee plant which had obviously benefited from being lovingly nurtured so close to home.

In the rural areas, most people’s homes have the same sort of level of production activities, keeping the majority of their everyday food production within a few metres of the house. Niffa was busily sorting out some maize grains which were specifically grown for making popcorn which she gave to John and Judith to take home.  John was saying even his children had never tried the ‘African chewing gum’ as they had grown up in Lilongwe, so I felt very honoured to have had the first try.

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