Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Guest Blogger Day 2....into the weeds

Planting the seeds… Day 2
(Spoiler alert – I am going to go “into the weeds” in this entry to attempt to explain the details of how Africa Windmill Project does what it does)
It was with great anticipation that I got into the SUV that was going to take us out to the first village where we would get to see the results of almost 4 years of development of the Africa Windmill Project.  Just as in Uganda as we drove along there were any number of women walking with large bundles balanced on their heads, or goats foraging for food, or men on bicycles with wood placed in a L shaped frame that was stacked so high that it hung over their heads.  The two lane paved main road was in mostly good condition, with speed limits signs rarely posted and police blockades spaced out periodically to check on vehicle registration and safety issues concerning mini buses primarily.  We could also see the various stages of the construction of buildings using the local bricks.  The soil is of the right consistency so that with the use of straw and other materials it is possible to make your own bricks.  Buildings made out of bricks are logically considered a step up from the traditional mud huts.  But there are two types of bricks – the ones that dry in the sun and the ones that are dried in an oven.  The oven dried ones are more durable, but require extra steps and are more of an up front investment, plus they are a redder color – so you can tell by looking at the building whether it was oven dried or not.  The next step is to be able to put a metal roof on your house instead of straw. 
We reached the turn off and headed down an unpaved, narrow “road” towards Mziza.  As we pulled into the village – which was a collection of buildings consisting of a communal well – don’t think of the Wishing Well, but more of a hole in the ground with a bucket to draw the water, round huts woven out of the local straw to store maize, small buildings for latrines, a little larger building for the kitchens, goats, chickens, pigs, women, children, old men – we were greeted by the chief of that village and some other men who were members of the village agricultural club.
Over the past 4 years and through much trial and error is has been determined that the first step in creating the environment for success is to identify the lead farmer or farmers in the village.  This is done through consultation with the local chief.  This is someone who already is successful using the traditional methods of farming. That farmer is then taught about food security – which as I understand it involves determining the best practices as far as how much fertilizer is appropriate for the size of your garden, proper preparation of the soil, how to create a compost pile, planting other crops in -between your rows of maize – the sorts of information that will allow the farmer to be as efficient and productive with what land he or she has available.  Farmers also learn about the use of water for year round food production.
The water table is higher in Malawi, unlike other parts of Africa.  So each farmer can either dig his/her own well or have help.  The well is basically a keyhole shaped hole in the ground with a sort of ledge or shelf in the narrower end of the well hole that the person getting the water out can stand on.  During the wetter season that shelf is not visible, but as the water level goes down you can see the shelf.  In the beginning days of the project the lead farmer was given a hand pump to use in extracting the water from the well.  I have several pictures of the pump that I will include as an attachment.  The water can then be channeled throughout the garden to water the crops.  The original hand pump was built on a wooden stand.  After it was used for a while it became apparent that a more stable platform needed to be developed along with other improvements.  This is one of the reasons I am so impressed with AWP – the expectation all along was that it was a good thing to experiment and try an idea out in the field (literally).  If it works great, but if not- then try something else!  So now the pump is installed on a metal frame with a tweaking of some of the materials used in other parts of the pump – like an empty soda bottle that is now being used because the plastic part that was being used for the plastic rope to move around was causing the rope to wear out! Part of the trip today involved evaluating the newer version of the pump – with the result that there will be more adjustments made to make it even more stable.  The channels for the water are elevated banks of soil with an indentation that allows the water to flow. Simply physically creating a break in the channel or placing a barrier directly on the channel to stop the flow in that direction can redirect the water.  It can be just as easily repaired and moved again the previous direction.  I will talk more about the irrigation system later on, because I am digressing…
The first year is taken up with helping the lead farmer maximize his crop yield.  The second  - year there are a hand full of equally motivated farmers are added to the original one or two farmers.  The lead farmers are expected to train and help the new farmers with the combination of determining correct fertilization amount, composting, and irrigation and crop management.  By the third year if there is enough interest expressed additional farmers can join – with the maximum number being around 11.  This was another lesson learned – originally there were almost 30 members.  Over time that number of people dropped to around 13 because of a lack of ability to effectively manage that many people, because not everyone was equally motivated and a variety of other reasons. 
The agricultural club is now formed from this group of farmers.  The original lead farmer or farmers become the chairman and vice chairman of the agricultural club.  It is the goal to have these leaders eventually take over the administrative function of the club.   The members will work together to encourage and prod each other to continue with the information that they have learned from AWP, government run agricultural extension programs, other non-governmental organizations that may be able to help, and from each other.  This past year a loan program was developed through AWP that allowed the club as a whole to get money to purchase either fertilizer or seeds.  The amount of fertilizer or seed that would be necessary was developed in conjunction with Christopher, the club chairman and the participating farmer – this method prevented the previous practice of getting a loan or voucher from the government and using it to get the most fertilizer and using it all whether it was needed or not.  While we were out today each member of one of the clubs who were given loans presented their payments to the agricultural chairman who in turn gave it to Christopher, who wrote up a receipt for each payer.  The whole club is responsible for the total amount of the loan.  It then becomes incumbent on everyone to make sure that everyone else is successful in his or her garden so that the loan can be repaid. 
What we saw today were men like Japhet.  Japhet is married with 6 children.  He is a lead farmer.  After his participation with AWP he now has a larger house, with a metal roof and he was able to build a separate house near his for his son to live in with his family.  This is his retirement plan – in Africa the children take care of their parents in their old age.  He proudly showed us his two - room brick house, to include a bag of extra maize from his garden that he has stored. 
At this is point I must confess that my recollection of what order we looked at which garden is very blurry, so I apologize if I have the order wrong. We then walked a little over a half a mile to see the first garden.  We walked through the empty, dry fields of the villagers who are not in the agricultural club.  It was very easy to spot the farmers who are participating.  The contrast is dramatic – the green color, the neat rows of beans, tomatoes, stalks of maize with beans co - planted in between the rows, onions are testimony to the effectiveness of the use of irrigation. Some of the farmers have added a dwarf version of banana trees in the garden – they can also grow mangos, guava, papaya and sugar cane.   Bee- hives have been added to the gardening areas to help with pollinating the crops and of course providing the honey from the bees and wax from the combs. 
I got to operate a hand pump – it is very easy to use.  The farmers talked about the dramatic difference the hand pumps make in their lives – in addition to less labor involved in accessing the water, the plants only have to be watered an average of twice a week versus watering every day with a water bucket.  This means that time can be spent doing other things.  The farmers who had been in the club longer had been able to increase the amount of land farmed, with the result that they had more crops available to store up for use later in the year, or to sell.  Japhet was so successful with his onion crop that he made a little over $200 – this is in a country where the average yearly income per capita is $178!  Other farmers have been able to buy bicycles, put metal roofs on their houses or pay the fees for their children to go to school.  Just the knowledge that they do not have to worry about what they will have to eat each day is worth more than we can imagine! 
The farmers who do not participate in the AWP rely completely on the rainy season for the crop production.  Some may also try farming with the use of buckets during the rest of the year, but this is very labor intensive and the results are very discouraging.  Once the maize that was stored up is gone the farmers may be able to get food through relief programs, but the amount is rarely sufficient to provide a good nutritional balanced diet.  The stomachs may be full, but the nutritional value is very limited. 
The last village we visited was Mpombe.  This village is in the beginning stages of having just identified the lead farmer.  We got to meet him today and see where he is developing his garden to begin the irrigation process.  This village is close enough to Mziza that the guidance will be provided from one of the lead farmers. 
Before we headed back we visited the demonstration garden that has a windmill on site.  This has been an evolving process also – the windmill now very closely resembles the windmills that you see particularly in the mid west and western states in the US.  This is a windmill whose purpose is to harness wind power to pump the water out of the ground and into a containment pool.  The stored water can then be directed out into the garden to provide irrigation.  The beauty of this is that water can be stored whenever there is wind available – the farmer doesn’t have to be present to catch the water and store it somewhere.  The down side is that it is large, costs more to build and is really designed for larger gardens – its estimated at anywhere from 1 to 1 ½ acres.  The farmers that AWP works with do not have gardens that large.  Right now there is one with an organization that has a large compound with people living on site who may have the demand for that much water – so this is very much a work in progress.
I know I went into more detail in this entry – and I haven’t even covered all of it.  I’m sure I left many things out that I wished I had included in the days and weeks ahead.  The things that stand out in my mind are the pride with which the farmers showed us what they had accomplished, the dramatic differences in the year round gardens and the dried, neglected looking rainy season only gardens, and the smiles of the people that we met along the way.   

Guest post by Pam...Planting the seeds… (Day 1)

Planting the seeds… (Day 1)
We arrived this afternoon at the Lilongwe, Malawi airport to clear, crisp fall like temperatures.  The trip over included a quick stop over at JKF where we scrambled to get from the domestic terminal to international with a minimum of drama with 3 adults, and 3 boys ranging in age from 1 to 10 years of age.  With 1 backpack each, and 6 additional carry-on bags we helped each other out and managed to get to the gate for the flight to Johannesburg, South Africa just in time to start boarding the plane!  We were told the plane had been overbooked and we would be scattered with Kimberly and the boys in a bulkhead row up near the front and John in an aisle seat in the back of the plane with me on the other side in the back near a window.  As it turned out the seat next to John was vacant, so one of the boys sat with him and Kimberly had plenty of space to spread out with the remaining two boys.  I ended up with a seatmate who decided to take an Ambien right after we were fed and was basically comatose for most of the remainder of the flight.  The would have been fine, except every time I needed to get up I had to literally climb over him.  The last time I had to do it I was sure that I was going to end up in his lap Luckily that didn’t happen and we landed without incident in South Africa.  But I have to admit that it was a very long 14 - hour flight. 
 It was a fast paced walk (past many shops with all kinds of wonderful looking souvenirs in the windows – so I know what I’ll be doing during that long layover on the way back) to the connecting flight to Lilongwe, Malawi where once again we made it to the gate in time to walk out and board the bus that took us out to our plane.  We had a very pleasant two- hour flight – with a hot meal served on china with real silverware (in economy by the way) that took me back to air travel in India.  No pretzels and drinks for South African Airways thank you very much.
The airport is a small enough that by the time we cleared passport control our suitcases were ready to put on two trolleys and head out to the lobby.  And yes, all of our suitcases made it so we didn’t have to live out of our backpacks for 3 or 4 days!  The Africa Windmill Project Malawi coordinator, Christopher Adare and his brother-in-law, Calisto met us and took us the rented Nissan SUV that we will be using while we are here.  After all of the suitcases and backpacks were loaded there was just enough room for us to squeeze in and head off to Christopher and Bena’s house.  I had forgotten that because Malawi was a former British colony we would be driving on the other side of the road. 
Christopher and Bena live in a walled and secure compound that is in a neighborhood of similar houses.  The compound includes a building that houses the offices for Africa Windmill Project, a workshop area and a room for Bena’s brother.  The yard is large and has plenty of space for the chickens that they raise – both for meat and for eggs.  In addition they have a guard dog who stays outside and is about a medium sized shorthaired dog that is mostly white with brown patches.  The house itself is large, with several bedrooms, a large kitchen, a powder room and a full bath.  The electricity is iffy but mostly because of wiring issues, and the water supply has been unpredictable lately because of construction on a shopping center that is being built in the area.  So, the flashlights come in handy and water is stored in a big plastic bin in the bathroom in case it is needed!  As they used to tell us in the Army – “Be flexible to the point of fluidity”. 
Bena showed me how she makes sema (sp) a staple of the Malawian diet.  It is made of finely ground corn flour – there are actually 3 different grades of flour.  It is added to water and boiled until it reaches the consistency of a paste – once it reaches that point it can be scooped out using a large, wide spoon in put in a bowl.  The sema is eaten with your right hand only – you are not to use both hands!   The idea is to take enough sema into your right hand and form a round ball, you use your thumb to create an indentation that is used to hold the relish that you will place in it and eat!  The relishes are made of boiled greens or a highly seasoned beef stew like dish.  The sema itself has very little flavor.  It is typically eaten 3 times a day – in the morning it would be more like a porridge. 
We all struggled to stay awake for as long as we could, but by 9:00 we were all heading into bed and sleep.  It was such a relief to be able to stretch out in a bed, with my mosquito net securely placed around the bed.  I heard the roosters several times during the night, but went right back to sleep!  Being an ignorant modern American I did not realize that roosters crow at all hours, not just in the morning. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Guest Blogger Pamela Taormina…..Planting the Seeds

Guest Blogger Today

Planting the Seeds…
by Pamela Taormina

I think the first seed was planted about 10 years ago when Ken and I met Father Given Gaula. He was a young Tanzanian seminary student coming to study at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. We were still living in Northern Virginia and had been open to the idea of hosting a foreign student for a while, but the timing had just never been quite right. So when the opportunity presented itself to host a student (albeit a more mature one) for a week and we were going to be in town we volunteered.

From the moment we picked him up at the international terminal at Dulles airport and heard his cheerful “Hallo” I knew we were going to be in for a delightful experience. Given did not disappoint – we learned much from each other over the next 2 years as he completed his studies at VTS, and spent weekends and holidays with us in Virginia. Given in his inimitable way was able to secure a full scholarship for his wife Lilian (also an Anglican priest) to come to the US and study at another seminary in Pennsylvania. Their three children stayed behind in Dodoma, Tanzania with Given’s mom. We were so impressed by their holistic spiritual and practical approach to serving God’s people in Tanzania. We committed ourselves to doing whatever we could do to assist them in this endeavor. At the beginning this involved supporting them and their family in New Zealand while Given completed his doctorate. But God has a funny way of challenging our plans – for while Given and Lilian thought they were to return to Tanzania and teach at St. John’s University in Dodoma, the people of the diocese of Kondoa had elected Given their Bishop! After much prayer and consideration of the sacrifices that would have to be made, especially concerning the education of the children – you see there is no secondary school in Kondoa, the children live in Dodoma with their grandmother and attend school there - it was decided that Given should accept the honor to become the Bishop of Kondoa.
It quickly became apparent that the challenges of providing for a spiritual awakening were intertwined with the realities of the daily struggle for food by the residents of the diocese. The vast majority of the population of Kondoa are subsistence farmers who rely on the hoped for rainy season to be able to grow their food for the coming year. But large parts of East Africa have been in a drought situation for several years, and even in the best of times, the crops never last throughout the year. So this is where the seed began to grow… (Pardon the pun) I stumbled upon an amazing organization right here in Winter Park that has been working with subsistence farmers in Malawi for several years.

Africa Windmill Project is based on the principle that you meet people where they are, you have respect for them and that you walk beside them on your journey. The idea is to help small holder farmers learn how to irrigate their crops using very basic hand pumps, grading of the soil, composting, seed harvesting, proper storage of crops, the slow introduction of additional nutritional crops to enhance the diet all through the creation of agricultural clubs. They have a collaborative approach that involves the sharing of ideas with other organizations. The goal is to have the local farmers take true ownership of their lives. And it is working – there are farmers now that grow crops year round – a variety, not just cassava, potatoes and maize. Some of the farmers are confident enough in their own abilities that they are making their own innovations and suggestions of new ways to be more productive! Some farmers have a surplus and are able to sell their crops in the local markets. There is a new sense of hope in the future – that there will be a future!

That is why I am going with the Drakes and their kids to see what they’ve been able to accomplish in Malawi. Bishop Given has already been to visit the demonstration gardens there and has identified some possible locations to start a new Africa Windmill Project in Kondoa, Tanzania.

We will be evaluating those locations also on this trip. I am so excited to be able to share this experience with you. I know that it will be truly transformative. We begin the journey tomorrow – planting the seeds.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The new Mpombe Irrigation Club

 The new Mpombe Irrigation Club had their first meeting last week. AWP came to discuss irrigation training and how to use water pumps to increase the harvest.
 The club selected 3 lead farmers who will work extra hard this year to squeeze in another planting and harvest before the rains. The lead farmers will demonstrate good techniques as they gain experience so that the club will have a good foundation for next year.
 2 lead farmers will use hand pumps from AWP, and one lead farmer will use local methods of flooding and bucket irrigation. Together the three will demonstrate how to make planting basins and how to follow an irrigation schedule.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Land of Maize and Honey

The Mziza club finished the year strong with a couple pales of honey. In the photo, Mr. Store and Japhet, the club chairmen and lead farmers, show off the harvest. Behind them, the AWP truck full of Maize. Farmers are paying back the input loans they received back in November. The truck will make 7 trips to collect all the maize.

 Close up, you can see the dark brood comb, which contains larvae. And under that, the white honey comb. After draining the honey, we will render the fatty wax into a useful block, from which candles or balms can be made. Farmers will earn about $5 per liter for their honey, making this harvest worth about $100-150.

The results are in on the maize harvest. Every farmer surpassed 600 kgs of maize for the year, which is the minimum for household food security. About half the farmers have twice that amount, and the average harvest was over 1,500 kilograms. In blue, the maize harvest using the AWP-loaned inputs. Any other maize produced is in yellow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Visualizing the harvest

Harvest season. In Malawi, the national mood follows the farming cycle. When we hunger, we become depressed. When we harvest, we rejoice. However for many people, the harvest foretells of the coming hunger. Behind the smiles and festivities, there is the cold reality that the harvest was not enough, and there may be no opportunity to add to it. That's of course where irrigation comes in, allowing families to increase their harvest throughout the year.

But there are other ways of making the rainy season harvest last longer. Storing maize is an important step in achieving food security. This year farmers will be storing maize with AWP. The storage is divided into two parts. First, we will keep 500 kgs of maize per farmer to be sold toward the purchase of next year's seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs. Second, we will keep up to 250 kgs of maize per farmer to be withdrawn in lean times, or should there be no need of it, sold at a higher price later in the year.

On one tarp, there is enough corn for a small family - for the whole year: 650 kgs, or about 2.1 million calories. The peanuts on the other tarp would take care of a large portion of the fat and protein requirement for the same family. Supplementary beans, vegetables, fruit, eggs, and occasionally goat or chicken, would round out the basic diet. The corn and peanuts are grown on 1.5 acres, while the other crops can be produced on a quarter acre irrigated garden.