Monday, March 28, 2011

Project Update...

On 11 April 2011, Africa Windmill Project will install 30 water pumps. Well, if we can’t manage to do it all in one day it may take us the whole week. But by the end of that week, Mwakhundi and the Mziza Farming Club will have the means to irrigate 15 acres.

The rains may persist well past mid-April. Also, some farmers have used their dimba gardens (wetland gardens) to plant maize, sweet potato, or rice. In any case, whenever the farmer is ready to plant a winter crop, his irrigation system will be in place.

Shortly after the installation of 30 water pumps, butternut squash will be ready for sale. The market for this is sweetening as time goes by. One grocery store is importing this crop and paying MK150/kg ($1/kg or $0.45/lb). We think we will profit quite nicely at MK50/kg, so we’ve got MK100/kg to bargain with. Consumers pay between MK200/kg and MK320/kg. We would also like to see consumer prices down to under MK200/kg to reach a wider base and maybe push up demand and open new markets (such as those in poorer townships and outskirts of town).

Aside from the work we are doing within the community, we’ve discovered a substantial demand within the NGO sector for agriculture training. Many NGOs are discovering that credibility within a community means meeting people on their own terms. And that means NGOs can’t sweep in with projects about health or education, and expect results, without at least addressing the critical issues of agriculture: water management, soil management, and crop management. This just confirms what the data shows: Malawians live on $1 a day, while farming income is under-reported. So if an NGO wants to train a group of tailors or brick layers, that NGO has to account for the fact that such professions will not usually earn enough income to forgo farming. Instead, the tailor earns money to pay for household goods, school fees, and luxuries, while he and his family till the land for food.

What does this mean for AWP? About every two weeks, I get a call from someone who wants to know if we can help them with irrigation projects or dryland agriculture. It’s not their specialty, but it’s vital to their work. So far we have tentative plans to bring training to three other NGOs: one in each Lilongwe, Dedza, and Dowa districts. It seems most of these groups are in the home-based care category of NGOs. These organizations assist people, usually widows, orphans, disabled, or sick, in their own homes within the traditional safety nets of the culture, usually extended family and church.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Watering Dryland part II

We have had a busy week. (Check out some of the pictures on facebook.) Our dryland pump has been an important project as we build up to the dry season, which begins in April or May or whenever the clouds decide. Water is essential to life, and some people live far from wetlands or don't own a plot suitable for the 'old way' of gardening. If we can expand the horizon of our pump, we will be able to teach such people how to grow food close to their homes.

This well is 6m deep. In the above picture you can see us installing the pipe. Pipe sections are sold in 6m lengths, so we had an easy job of fitting this pipe together.

After getting the pipe into the well, we must line up the inlet and outlet with the wheel. The kids enjoyed watching us, but probably thought we were crazy.
Emanuel, in the foreground below, will be using this pump to grow vegetable right outside his home. He was very excited to have the pump. His comment: "It's okay, it's easy, it's simple."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Mwakhundi is a small village in Lilongwe District, Malawi. The village has 45 households, and is the site AWP's largest project yet. The village formed a farming club of 30 households, 2/3 of the community. The village is in the area of Chief Mziza and takes that name for its club.

The farming club at Mziza is developing rapidly. People are excited to see changes in their village, and the formation of a club is just one such change. Since the club has formed, club members and a few nearby friends have planted butternut squash together. Perhaps never before has the community been so intentional about coordinating farming efforts.

Club members have also completed their compost training. Each farmer must now gather material for his or her own compost heap. Most farmers were eager to give the new method a try; from an anthill vantage point, we could see compost heaps banded along the marsh's edge.

The club members motivate us with each pull of the hoe and swing of the scythe. They drive us along and outrun even our ideas. The sooner they realize this, the better; for that realization is the change that we cannot force upon the village. The understanding that they have the means to improve their lives; that loving one another means working together; that God has not abandoned them; this understanding cannot be doled out like food to the hungry or pills to the sick. However, such an understanding, as it implies a God given human dignity, can begin to satisfy the soul and heal a wounded spirit.
And where does an understanding of one's own dignity come from? I can only imagine a loving community is a good place to start. That is a place where charity (I mean, charity within the community) overshadows greed and jealousy and allows people to work together.