Friday, September 16, 2011

Meet Khumbidze Kandodo A 63 Year old Widow from Mziza Village

When AWP formed an agriculture club in the Village of Mziza to introduce sustainable irrigation farming, few women joined, but among the few was Khumbidze Kandodo.

Khumbidze was born in 1948 in Mziza. She never had a chance to go to school in the colonial days. She used to wake up every day to help her parents do household chores and farming in the upland. She says, "back then, people did not cultivate in the dambo areas, for they had plenty food to feed themselves throughout the year." Ways of farming changed when the population started increasing, and there was continuous environmental and natural resource degradation affecting farm yields each and every year. As a result, people started cultivating in dambo areas. However, throughout the years that she has been in the dambo farming, she has had problems on how to improve soil nutrients and water holding capacity and, how to increase yield each growing season.

She said that with the coming of AWP in Malawi there has been a change in terms of farming systems in the village but especially to her life. "When I was joining the club in March, 2011, I thought, I’ll not be able to grasp the concept by looking at my literacy level,” she narrates in Chichewa. “But thanks to AWP facilitators for making the technologies understandable for me. Look at me! I am an old woman but I have done it and am determined to do better than this next year.”

To AWP staff in Malawi, Khumbidze has made a difference. Though she walks a long distance from her house to her garden, she has proved to the world that age is not a limit in development. She promises to do extraordinarily in her garden and meet some of her life needs she has never had in her life. She wants to errect a brick-fired house with iron sheets through farming with AWP.

"I have never slept in good house with iron sheets. I believe, this will be my dream come true. I will be following every theory that AWP is requiring me to implement,” she foretells. I had time to go through her small garden and managed to take a picture of what she has done with her aging potential energy. The few months that she has been with AWP, the 63 year old widow, has managed to grow cauliflower, tomato, onions and green peas.

As for Khumbidze, she does not care where to sit in the garden. She says, “soil is the foundation of life: I came from soil; soil provides me with food, water, firewood and materials for building my shelter. With AWP, I will continuously have food and have some money after selling some crops to purchase other life needs like clothes.”

--by Chawezi Simwela

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Water Delivery Structure: Canal Construction Training

A lot has changed in this farmer's garden. He is doing so well that we decided to call a training session to demonstrate the method of constructing a good delivery canal. This method involves a concrete-like soil that forms a very hard surface. With this soil the canal withstands some abuse, and infiltration is greatly reduced over mud or sand canals.

Project coordinator Blessings Malamba teaches farmers how to compact soil at the base of the canal

Mustard greens grow in the foreground, broccoli in the background, an irrigation canal at right
Plastic linings for the canals have been used in the past, but it is costly. This plastic canal lining is a good example so-called "inappropriate" technology. What makes it inappropriate is that the type of plastic that is readily available and affordable is no more effective than the alternative (concrete-like soil), which is cheaper and more readily available. Of course, high grade plastic would be more effective than the soil method, but it is not appropriate to our farmers.
Peas, green beans, tomato, and mustard greens are irrigated from the trench in this photo

A view of a bean field from the water pump
Appropriateness, in the technical sense, is one of the most critical measures of a technology when it comes to predicting the success or adoption rate of the technology. That goes even for the West, where expensive options may still be appropriate. A good example in the West is that all Humvees are outfitted with automatic transmissions. In spite of the loss in performance and increased maintenance costs, the automatic transmission is more appropriate to unskilled drivers.
Lovely tomato

So here we are, deciding how best to get water to the crops. We must take into account more than the crop water requirements and the flow rate of our pump. We must consider the skill, fitness, time availability, and experience of the farmer as well.

After the training on canal construction, the group rides back to the village in the AWP vehicle

Monday, September 12, 2011


Club members were rewarded with new working shoes, a gift to appreciate their efforts and to commend their achievements. These farmers were not bad farmers before we came along; no, they were bad believers in themselves. They lacked confidence that they could bring something to market that is new, valuable, or rare.

They have done that. And they'll do it again, in style!

Thanks to Light Feet Project from Grove church in Chandler, AZ, for their generous donation of new shoes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Windmill

Today we turned on the windmill to begin filling the reservoir. We are very pleased with the performance we saw today. We'll return on Monday to get the results of from the weekend.

It's a beautiful structure rising out of nowhere on the edge of a dambo. Quite the sight to see!

The tank is fitted with an inflow pipe just above and overflow pipe. The overflow is directed back into the well to prevent excessive groundwater losses in the event that the tank is full and the farmer is not prepared to use any water.

Ideally, the farmer would begin irrigating before the tank overflows so as not to waste any wind energy cycling water through the tank.
Water flowing into the tank
Club members were all smiles seeing the pump fully operational. It isn't difficult to see its potential from this point, delighting even the skeptics in the group. The club intends to begin using the land around the tank as a community garden so that each farmer has an opportunity to learn how to irrigate from the tank.

Keep checking in next week to see the results!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Harvesting Broccoli

Petros and Mr. Storo harvest broccoli for the first time.
Just call me Mr. Broccoli
AWP project coordinators discuss harvesting methods with a farmer
Lunch in the field consisted of a carrot wrapped with lettuce, a.k.a. "vegetarian hotdog" or "rabbit's delight"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Windmill Reservoir

With successful tests under our belts, we have stepped up our work on the windmill irrigation scheme at Mziza. We have come up with a reservoir system that will act as a buffer between the pumping and delivery structures.
Expected benefits are:

  1. Water is available on demand

  2. Water will be under pressure at the top of the delivery system (and at the bottom if we use pipes instead of canals)

  3. The volume of water pumped into the tank can be easily recorded

  4. Farmers will know exactly how much water they are applying to the field (with the exception of evaporation)
Downsides to this system are: the capital cost of the reservoir (i.e. cement ain't cheap); evaporation will be greater in the reservoir than in the well; standing water attracts mosquitoes (and watering at dusk may put farmers at risk of malaria). There is not much that can be done to reduce capital costs because structural integrity should not be compromised. A crack in the floor of a house does not affect the utility of the house; whereas a crack in the reservoir floor is catastrophic. Every insurance must be made that the concrete will not crack. As for evaporation and mosquitoes, a simple covering over the reservoir will reduce these problems significantly.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Domestic Well II

Another domestic well fitted with a pump. This time, we were asked to provide this pump to a woman at Mgwayi village. She is doing some permaculture around her house, growing plants with waste water from the home.
The well is a bit deeper this time at approximately 7.2 meters. We faced no major challenges in getting this pump in there, and it delivers a flow of nearly 2,000 l/hr.
The location of the pump is visible to many people from communities near and far; it sits close to a major foot path leading between Njewa and Chisapho townships.

It has garnered admiration from nearby families and organizations working in the area.