betty mkusa providing tips on growing plants to a group of peopleBetty Mkusa © Progressio/ Marcus Perkins

Betty Mkusa, 55, leads a quiet revolution in Chilhambi, southern Malawi. The majority of small-scale farmers in Malawi are women just like her. But unlike the rest, Betty knows a thing or two about three plants, Jatropha, Neem and Moringa. In fact, she knows so much they call her ‘Mamma Jatropha’.

“I learned that from these three plants – which are easy to grow in our difficult climate – you can make oil for lamps or to run engines, soap for the home, fertiliser for crops, and moisturiser for the body. If you are HIV-positive you can boost your immune system with powder extract. One of the plants is particularly good for heart disease and eyesight problems.”

The three plants are beginning to be seen locally as some kind of miracle, with Betty spreading the good news of their powers and profitability to local women, neighbours across the district and much further afield. Busloads of curious community groups from other districts of southern Malawi regularly converge on Betty’s home for tours of her garden and to hear her stories.

Progressio’s development worker, Innocent Bidong Ogaba, has been working with local partner Environment Africa to help people like Betty identify the potential for marketing the various products that the three miracle plants produce. “Before you go into production on a large scale”, he says, “you need machines to extract the oil or for making the soap to sell. We are doing a lot of work on exploring potential markets for the products.”

Betty thinks that the future looks bright for many women like her. “Day-to-day living is going to improve around here,” she states. “Most years we face drought. In the long term this project will change many lives.”