Dimitra Clubs: What’s the impact?


10 years of empowering rural people to drive development

In sub-Saharan Africa, 3 400 Dimitra Clubs have given 102 000 rural people a space to discuss solutions to problems their communities face. ©FAO/Christiane Monsieur

29/07/2019

For 10 years now, Dimitra Clubs in sub-Saharan Africa have been empowering rural people to champion and galvanize development within their own communities.  With 3400 clubs and 102 000 members, the Dimitra Clubs are having a positive impact on an estimated 2 million rural people. 

Dimitra Clubs are voluntary, informal groups for women, men and youth who discuss common problems and determine ways to address them by acting together and using local resources. Agriculture is a common theme, but it’s not the only one; other topics include climate change, education, health, infrastructure, nutrition, peace and women’s status. Although FAO facilitates their set up and provides them with training and coaching, the clubs themselves are self-managed.

Dimitra Clubs create a space to also discuss and take action in relation with community social norms and behaviors affecting women – enabling women’s leadership and encouraging men’s engagement. Nearly all clubs own a solar-powered radio. By fostering partnerships with local radio stations, Dimitra Clubs learn from one another, broadcast their initiatives and spark dialogue in the wider community and beyond.

Here are four examples of the success the Dimitra Clubs have had over the past 10 years:

1. Fighting malnutrition by challenging dietary taboos

In several parts of Tshopo Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rural women were facing upwards of 30 dietary restrictions banning them from many important sources of protein. Women were told that eating forbidden foods such as certain varieties of fish or eggs, would cause various diseases. The bans were established several generations ago, and they had never been challenged – until the local Dimitra Club stepped in.                                                             

In August 2014, the club requested that the local radio station invite a nutrition expert into the studio. “Any food that can be eaten by a man can also be eaten by a woman,” the nutritionist declared. Leaders of various Dimitra Club echoed this message in their activities with traditional authorities. As a result, by June 2017, more than 20 dietary restrictions had been set aside. The Dimitra Clubs are still working to lift the remaining taboos. 

Left: Dimitra Clubs are encouraged to partner with local radio stations to learn from one another, broadcast their initiatives and spark dialogue in the wider community. ©FAO/Gustave Ntaraka. Right: Based on a proposal from the local Dimitra Club, members of the Kourki village in Niger work to halt soil degradation. ©FAO/ SadouDoumi.

2. Reconciling long-standing political disputes

For nearly 20 years, tensions have run high in the village of Debenso Bambara, Mali. When the village chief died in 2000, tradition dictated that his son should assume the position – but the son initially refused. Several years later, he changed his mind and ousted his replacement, sparking a village rift so severe that it has impeded local development work.

In 2018, FAO supported the Non-Governmental Organization AMAPROS in launching Dimitra Clubs in the area. From the first meeting the club members prioritized this local conflict as the most urgent issue to be addressed. For several months, the five clubs of the village discussed on possible consensual solutions to finally reach an agreement. All parties agree to nominate the son of the former chief as village leader. This latter acknowledged that his behavior had been the cause of the tensions and asked to be forgiven. The clubs gave the opportunity to all the village residents to recreate a bond, talk to each other and finally find a solution to this long dispute.

3. Mobilizing to meet environmental challenges

The village of Kourki, Niger, is located in the heart of the Sahel – where soil erosion and a hostile climate already make farming difficult, threatening the village’s long-term food security.

After discussing potential solutions, the local Dimitra club drafted a proposal asking to set up a fund for repairs to the village dike. Since water is a rare and precious resource, all the village households agreed to pool money to buy the necessary cement. The whole community worked together on the repairs completing the project in time for the next planting season, with the support from the municipal rural engineering service.

In addition, to retain water, the villagers dug half-moons in the field slopes filled them with compost to add valuable nutrients. This has greatly helped women and men’s farmers to substantially increase their millet production.

Dimitra Clubs have established themselves as one of FAO’s best practices for community mobilization, gender equality and empowerment. ©FAO/Christiane Monsieur.

4. Establishing a credit cooperative to avoid debt

Before a Dimitra Club opened in Isangi Territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the only way to purchase items was through “Bosasele” – credit offered by traveling salesmen with a considerable interest rate. Some families have been forced to sell their entire agricultural output to pay back their loans, while others have had to go into even greater debt for the same reason.

Women from the local Dimitra Club decided to set up a mutual fund, with each member contributing 500 Congolese francs (USD 0.50). Each month, after discussing their members’ needs, they use the money to repay debts or buy new goods without resorting to “Bosasele.” Less than a year after, the Dimitra Club moderator realized that they could expand their services and launched the Savings and Credit Cooperative of Yanonge to grant loans to anyone who wanted one.

As a result of these successes, and many more, the Dimitra Clubs have established themselves as one of FAO’s good practices for community mobilization, collective action, empowerment, and gender equality. The clubs create a space for everyone to become an agent of change – and are thus a vital means of working toward #ZeroHunger and achieving the 2030 Agenda.


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2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality, 10. Reduced inequalities