Saturday, February 26, 2011

Watering Dryland

When Africa Windmill Project set out to make water pumps, we took the treadle pump as our competition. We wanted to make a pump that worked better in every application suitable for a treadle pump. We have done that with our rope and washer pumps; our pumps are cheaper, easier to maintain, and pump as much or more water.

What we had not tried, until now, is to make a pump that will irrigate dryland, i.e. land that is typically only irrigated by rain. We have now built a pump that pulls water from seven meters below ground. I admit it is not as easy to use as the wetland pumps, but it does the job. We have proved the potential; now we have only to realize it.

This pump will allow the farmer to grow vegetables year-round right in front of his home. He can use the water for livestock or washing clothes. The garden space is approximately 800 sq. meters or a fifth acre.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Water filter

A slow sand filter, or Biosand filter, is a type of water filter that uses sand, stones, and a layer of good bacteria to filter contaminated water. A Biosand filter can be up to 99% effective at removing organic contaminants, including bacteria and viruses.

Many designs have been used, ranging from large concrete cisterns to small individual sized plastic containers. We have been working on making a small sized filter that can supply enough drinking water for a household in Malawi. After the results of our initial water tests, we feel compelled to improve the situation.

After constructing the water tank, we filled it with stones and sand as recommended but found the sand too muddy. We are looking for an alternative to the sand we found. One idea is to dig out sand by river bends. Hopefully, we'll find what we are looking for.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ECHO seeds

ECHO supplied AWP with 9 varieties of seed for trial and propagation.
  1. Winged bean: A nutritious soya-like bean. Edible leaves, seeds, seedpods, etc.
  2. Millet: Drought resistant grain.
  3. Grain amaranth: A nutritious seed-grain with edible leaves. Grows like a weed! (Is that good or bad?)
  4. Pigeon pea: Legume with edible pea pods, good forage crop. Our use: cover crop for weed/erosion reduction and soil improvement.
  5. Tomato: You know what tomatoes are don't you?
  6. Cowpea: Uses much the same as pigeon pea.
  7. Lagenaria siceraria: Italian edible gourd, like zucchini squash.
  8. Carrot: Rabbit food. People food.
  9. Sunflower (Peredovik): High oil yield variety.
ECHO supplies only one packet of seeds for each variety so we must propagate the seeds ourselves.

Planting trial, winged bean recently planted on the right.

Tomato nursery on the left. Vegetable amaranth and moringa nursery on the right (seeds from last year).

Italian edible gourd.

Cowpeas. Most vigorous of all seeds planted. Nearly 100% germination rate.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kick starting the winter crop

Farmers gathering at Mziza.

Friday, met farmers at Mziza to discuss planting a starter for their winter crops. We are providing them with one packet of butternut squash seeds to plant now. We will market the crop together and use the proceeds to fund the winter crop, to be planted in April or May. Butternut squash is a valuable crop at markets catering to whites.

The farmers will plant at the same time, but each must manage his own seeds. When marketing, farmers will weigh the squash they are sending to market. This establishes their percentage of the total weight, and in turn their share of the profit. If a farmer sends 10kgs to market, and the total marketed weight is 100kg, the farmer gets 10% of the profit. This way marketing expenses are shared evenly and farmers are rewarded according to what they put into the crop.

Each farmer can earn as much as K8,000 on the first packet of seeds. And the more they produce, the better the market becomes. Reliability and consistency are essential to capture the supermarkets like Shoprite. This income will provide fertilizer and seeds for their winter crop, which will be irrigated by our pumps. The pumps might allow the farmer to plant more land than he could otherwise manage under bucket irrigation. But if he can't afford seeds for all his land, some of the pump's potential is wasted.
Blessings addressing the farmers at Mziza on Friday the 4th of February, 2011.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mziza Life and Gardens

Pics from Mziza. We walked all through the dambo checking out the locations for new water pumps. We just wanted to be sure that the wells were suitable. We also identified a few potential spot for windmills.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Impromptu Composting Lessons

Last week we were passing through Mziza to check out the drinking well again. We were hoping for some inspiration on how to make the water safer to drink.

What we got was a great image of how compost effects maize. This is a teachable moment 10 months in the making: we taught people how to make compost, they made a compost heap, they used the compost on their veggies, and they forgot about the whole thing. I don't think they were ever convinced that composting actually helped anything... until now.

Here's what happened when they planted maize over top of the old compost site:

The maize in the foreground was planted on the old compost site. The maize behind was planted at the same time, all other conditions equal.

You can see three rows of maize on the left that are two or three times taller than the surrounding maize. The taller maize is healthy and will produce an average or better yield. The small maize will not offer much food.

My friend Emanuel standing on the same site with a compost heap.

We gathered a few of our farmers around to show them what was happening. When we asked why the maize was taller, they responded that the soil was better in that spot. When we asked why the soil might be better here, they didn't get it at first; they don't think of compost as having much power to grow. Then we asked what was on this spot before they planted. It soon clicked: compost!

They explained that they moved some of the compost to their vegetable gardens, but some remained and they simply turned it into the soil before planting their corn. Perfect!