Seven years ago, a woman named Toma walked into a local bank in Sudan. As a farmer, she had big dreams about the harvests she could raise and the money she could make selling her crops -- if she could just get a loan for seeds and tools.
She hoped that the bank official she spoke to would hear her out. She knew that women farmers were often counted out, and the banks gave the big loans to the men. But that day, someone took a chance on her. They knew that she was one of the original 200 members of the Women Farmers Union that MADRE co-founded and supports in Sudan. They deemed her creditworthy, and she walked out with a loan of $100.
That was just the beginning. After years of successful harvests and timely payments, Toma now can count on loans from the bank as big as the ones they offer to men. She is a leader among women farmers in her community. Soon, she will be able to buy her own land and expand her production.
Fatima Ahmed, president of Zenab for Women in Development, our sister organization in Sudan, told us this story on her last visit to see us. She shared that in the past year, the Women Farmers Union has grown tremendously. At the end of 2013, there were 5, 241 women in the union farming nearly 50, 000 acres across 60 villages.
Fatima gave examples of another woman in the union named Zenab who is using her success to give back. With the increased farming income that she has gained with the support of the union, she has graduated from an adult education program. Now, she teaches other women how to read.
But it's not all good news. Many areas in Eastern Sudan are feeling the impact of climate change. There was less rain in 2013 as compared to 2012, and the precipitation that did come was delayed. Instead of planting crops in June or July, the planting schedule has shifted to the beginning of August.
"Climate change is a reality, " Fatima told us. "We want the women to be equipped to deal with drought and other threats."
The women are being trained in adaptive agricultural techniques such as water harvesting. This involves plowing deeper rows to collect water and emphasizes the importance of planting trees around their farms to prevent erosion and rapid water evaporation.
The women in the union sent a message with Fatima, letting us know that they appreciate MADRE's support for the program and how much it is improving their lives. And they sent gifts for us! Fatima brought us sesame seeds and oil, pressed using the miller bought with the support of MADRE members.