Friday, July 27, 2012

WW prep - solar water heater

Ok, so this weekend will be a bit busy, but I want to keep up with this, so I've decided to just finish up an item that's been halfway done for a while. For some time AWP has been trying to come up with a cheaper way to purify water.

What we've got now is a double pane of glass that is filled with water. The sun's radiation heats and purifies this water. We won't know how practical it is until we try it. So I want to get a good prototype working.

Most of the heavy lifting is complete. We'll just be putting a tank on this one and fixing up some potential leaks.

1. 1"x3" lumber - 12' long
2. 2 panes of 6mm (1/4") glass - 3'x18"
3. 2 or 3 tubes of silicone sealant
4. A 4 or 5 gallon container about 3' tall
5. Some 1/2" flexible pipe
6. Various pipe tees and ball valve
7. Assorted screws and nails

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chiefs, chiefs, more chiefs

Our work this month -and over much of this year- culminated in yesterday's field day with the chiefs and Group Village Headman (GVH) of the Mziza area.

In the area, we have 23 chiefs (i.e. 23 distinct groups of houses, or villages, with a chief) over whom presides one GVH. The chiefs in one Group report to the GVH on development, judicial, and other civil issues. They work together to meet their goals as a group. The failure, or success, of one chief can have an impact on the whole group when government assistance is determined by collective performance.

When we conceived of the Mziza Demo Garden, we had in mind a place that would attract farmers from a radius of about 25km. There are 3 GVHs in that area, the closest being GVH Mzindo. Today Mzindo and representatives from his 23 subchiefs met us at the demo garden.

We toured the garden and described the different activities taking place. Some chiefs took the opportunity to try out two water pumps we had on display. We went over issues related to farm planning, and seeing our onions in 3 stages of growth drove home the idea of year-round production.

In the end, the chiefs said they would each bring 5 farmers to learn more about irrigation at the Demo Garden. Some chiefs were even discussing what materials they could find to start making their own water pumps.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mr. Storo's Plan

To many, hunger seems an inevitable experience in the community. This year, rains did not fall according to the people’s expectations. Many areas received erratic rains. This situation has resulted in poor yields, bringing a threat to most of the households that have small scale agriculture lands in Malawi. According to our observations, very few households have managed to harvest crops that will carry them through the entire winter season up to the period of planting rain-fed crops. This is a major blow especially to children who will need nutritious foods, every day.

However, AWP beneficiaries look at the problem stated above as an opportunity to show the community that there is a solution to the pending hunger. For instance, Mr Storo (one of the AWP beneficiaries in irrigation farming) has a different story to tell. He requested maize seeds from AWP sometime back. Having fears with the way the rains fell in the area. AWP took this request into consideration and provided maize and beans seeds to farmers to supplement food availability to AWP beneficiaries in Mziza village. As for Mr Storo, he planted maize and beans on an irrigated garden where he uses a rope-and-washer pump developed by Africa Windmill Project.
The picture you see above, is part of his garden where Mr Storo expects to get up to 5 bags (50kg each ) of maize that he will be able to feed his family up to the next rainy season.

When hunger strikes, that is the time that people recognize the importance of irrigation farming (Winter cropping in Malawi). In Malawi, farmers who are direct beneficiaries of AWP irrigation technologies will tell successful stories due to the irrigation farming solution that AWP has made available for them. The contribution of irrigation farming in reducing hunger and poverty will be clear this year. As I’m writing, many farmers are seeking AWP irrigation systems that have proven to ease irrigation farming to potential small scale irrigation farmers in Malawi.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Web links make us smarter

Half of what I know I learned from the Internet; the other half I learned from someone who learned it from the Internet. Probably.

Here are some links to learn from and think about:

Ancient Irrigation: there's nothing new under the sun, really. We just come across the same old challenges for the first time again. The same old solutions should still work, right? Or just invent nano-robots to do all our work... Whichever is easier.

Soil Salinity: this ones for the super nerds out there, and just be glad it isn't an 80 page Word document about the aesthetic qualities of compost. In all seriousness, salinity is a major problem that irrigators need to understand. Many times has a farmer asked us to help him irrigate an already saline area. It just won't work with the methods available to us. A slight salt build up over the course of the irrigation season is no big deal when annual rains wipe the slate clean each year. But if the rains leave a place covered in a white dust of salts and minerals, our method of surface irrigation is not going to help (unless the farmer works very hard, year after year, to leach the root zone). But why add so much work, when farmers are not maximizing their potential on the land they've got?

And that brings us to the final link in today's chain:
Country by country corn crop yields. Malawi isn't listed there, but the trend for Sub-Saharan Africa isn't good. And Malawi is pictured here, with a a negative yield change over last year, which is pretty much what we see here on the ground.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Biltong in the Dryer

Well here it is, about 2 lbs. of silverside in the box. 4-5 days should do the trick. I moved it in doors to keep out pests/dust.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Weekend Warrior - Biltong Dryer

I'm starting a new series here, our first series really. Calling it Weekend Warrior, and as the name suggests its all about weekend projects.

Weekdays get pretty bogged down with "daily grind" stuff here at AWP. Don't get me wrong, our day to day is probably a lot different than yours, unless you spend a lot of time teaching farmers about irrigation. But one thing is the same, let's face it, new and exciting projects get piled up on the weekends. Not that there's anything wrong with the old Mo-Fri; weekends are just so much better.

Each week I'll be picking one "exciting" project off the shelf and we'll get it whipped up over the weekend. Some projects will be of substantial importance to our work here; others may just be of some interest. But the cool thing is, if any of you are do-it-yourself types, readers can contribute to, follow along with, improve, and critique, the weekend projects.

Just to get things started, for this weekend: Biltong Dryer.

Biltong is a South Africa preserved meat similar to beef jerky. The seed for this project was planted by AWP founder John Drake. The CBP agents won't let you bring Biltong into the US, so why not make your own? For Malawi, a combination meat/vegetable/fruit dryer could help preserve food items that might otherwise rot.

The basic build is quite simple: make a box from 1/2 plywood, 3'x2'x2'.

One 3x2' side should be on hinges to provide access.

Install a light socket in the bottom and cover the socket from dripping juices. Use a 40w incandescent bulb or higher in humid conditions.

Drill intake holes on the bottom and exhaust holes on the top, boths sides. Remember hot air rises. Hot air also absorbs moisture from the meat.

Put some wires and hooks at the top to hang meat from. (I've got 8 rows with about 10 hooks per, for 90 pieces of biltong total.)

It takes about 7 days to dry the meat, maybe less in this dry climate. We leave the bulb on 24/7, so there may be a need for mosquito netting on the holes to keep out ngumbe. I'll hang the meat tomorrow. Check in to see how it's doing.

The recipe I plan to try was found here:

Complete picture:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Farmers at Mziza are on their way to becoming beekeepers as we try to diversify farm incomes to support the overall food production in the village.

With beekeeping, farmers will be able to raise funds for farm inputs even after a crop failure. One beehive can produce enough honey to fund up to 2 acres of crops, enough to feed a family for the year!

Get Your Hands Dirty

We've been encouraging our farmers to keep up their hard work through the irrigation season. The tendency is to sit back and rest on the rain fed harvest, but after a tough rainy season, farmers need to double down to see the fruits of their work. After a few months of irrigation, their efforts are bearing fruit, literally.

Second harvest of potatoes is on the horizon... A few early spuds make an excellent addition to the diet and help stretch the maize harvest.

Tomatoes and onions are an essential component of Malawian recipes. They keep things tasting good and boost appetite. Farmers have picked up the AWP staff habit of eating one or two fresh tomatoes in the garden during work.

Beetroots, along with carrots, broccoli, green beans (and their leaf), and wild vegetables, keep the garden in nutritional balance.

Many farmers are hopeful for a third harvest through intensive cropping in their irrigated gardens. If they can achieve a third crop rotation this year, AWP will have met one of its primary objectives. God willing, all will have abundant food this year!