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We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Malawi Newsletter 2009 – 2

Tristan Cooper East Africa Trust

After such a good start . . . it just got better -

This time last year, we instigated what I called the Mud Stove Initiative, though today I prefer to call them Rammed Earth (or RE) stoves as we do not actually use wet mud at all. The idea was to show local people how to use a wooden mould to make stoves from earth, stoves that allow the use of two cooking pots on one fire so preserving firewood and with the added benefit that the smoke can mostly be kept out of the kitchen. Our hard-working guys here built several stoves locally which garnered much interest. One local carpenter has made his own stove box and has built 7 stoves in his village; a good start. Those that were built last year are mostly in very good condition after one year and are easily repaired if any cracks appear. Judging by what I have seen, they will have a long life. A further refinement of the design that I have just introduced has proven to be successful. We can now have a box with a lid – so the stove is make upside-down and the top is actually rammed first and is therefore rammed the most, making it stronger. The lid is also shaped to provide the ‘hobs’ without them having to be cut later.

Above you see the stove that George has just made emerging the box. The lid has shaped the hobs on the top and the pieces of banana trunk that have formed the fire holes are about to be removed.

Getting others to start making stoves is another matter but, in time, we will show them off to more people and the benefits will be clearly understood. Shortly, we will make a demonstration stove in Chintheche town centre, outside the premises of a local doctor so that everyone can see how it’s done and the benefits of having a stove instead of a 3 stone fire. Perhaps the box can be made available on a rental basis for those who want to make their own. I’m optimistic that some people will take up the idea of making them as a business too. Unfortunately, the presence of a muzungu leads people to think they can have something for nothing. In this regard, my being here is detrimental to progress so I try to keep a low profile, not easy!

And better –

EAT have established a close link with GAKO, the organic training farm near Kigali, Rwanda. Richard Munyerango is the head of GAKO and through his intelligence and hard work is showing the Rwandese a range of effective farming techniques. The mud stove originated at GAKO and Richard welcomed learning how to make the EAT improved Rammed Earth Stove when I visited in June, subsequently demonstrating it at the annual agricultural show where GAKO were awarded third best exhibitor in the country. Through this exchange of ideas and techniques, GAKO and EAT can jointly improve farming practices and appropriate technology in both countries. One of Richard’s great ideas is the construction of Vegetable Mounds: an effective way of making good use of limited space and providing a good growing medium for plants. Possibly the first ever Malawian Vegetable Mound was built in July at Bamboo Beach Community (BBC) and we hope to be able to show you the results before very long.

Above is a GAKO style vegetable mound at BBC. A central circular fence of sticks contains compost, while the earth is piled around this nutritious core, resulting in a mound with a larger surface area than the original ground and the soil is constantly fed nutrients from the compost.

Making a vegetable mound is hardly rocket science but the challenge is not so much teaching people how to do it, it’s more a question of how to get them to realise that it is worth doing. Here by the lake the soil is poor but cassava grows relatively easily in it. The tuber of the plant provides a very filling starch and the leaves are also edible; even the stalk can be used as firewood The nutritional value is however quite low and cassava actually leaches zinc from the gut so depriving the body of its ability to absorb vitamins. But the local people are simply used to bloating themselves with this stodge, making them full but undernourished. We need to get the message across that a more balanced diet is desirable and then show them how to grow better food. Quite a challenge when you’re always faced with the “But it’s what we’re used to” argument. As ever, I’m optimistic that the youngsters will listen even if the ‘older generation’ (those over about 25!) are unwilling to change. If there are any marketing experts out there who think they can convince the locals here that fruit and vegetables are good for you, do get it contact and come and help.

And better –

As well as reducing firewood use through more efficient cooking, EAT is hoping to introduce a means of building walls from Rammed Earth rather than the, now ‘traditional’, method of using fired bricks and cement. It is one of Africa’s ironies that white men like me are now aiming to discourage methods that earlier whites brought here. Wet mud has long been a traditional African building material. Then the security obsessed white man came and showed how to ‘burn’ bricks to make them stronger, then stick them together with a cement mortar. But burning bricks uses huge amounts of increasingly precious firewood and cement is wickedly expensive as a result of it too needing much energy to make it.

For years the Ngoni have built mud walls. But, just as the earth stove is better made from rammed earth rather than wet mud, so too walls are stronger if made with almost dry earth than is rammed in situ. So, formwork to make RE (Rammed Earth) walls is slowly coming together, strictly using locally available materials and tools. We will shortly be making a start on building with RE, at Bamboo Beach and also at our new site!

This week EAT bought an additional parcel of land to extend Bamboo Beach a little to give us a piece of land to use for agro-forestry trees and to tidy up a rather uncertain boundary. But Bamboo Beach is about 2 kilometres from the nearest road and is rather isolated and invisible. So we have now bought a further piece of land directly on the main road that runs south from Nkhata Bay. This land will be used for a very visible showroom where we can display stoves, wall building methods, vegetable mounds, composting toilets, details of courses to be run at BBC and more to be revealed in the future. It will also provide some basic office space, a metal-working workshop and a civilised flat for visitors.

Malawians come in a variety of tribes, including the Ngoni who originally migrated from the south, the Tonga who are lake and river dwellers, the Chewa from Zaire, Lomwe from Mozambique, the Tumbuka from the north & others. Happily for Malawi, the various tribes all get on with each other and observe mutual respect. Respect extends across the age divide, with elders being well regarded, their opinions sought and often revered, regardless of tribe or origin.

This is a welcome contrast to some African countries where, in some cases, one tribe or class within that tribe, has elevated itself to a level of supposed superiority over their fellow Africans. Unsurprisingly, this conceit does nothing for inter-tribal relations, yet these arrogant, and generally lazy, men (it is rarely the women who behave this way) manage to acquire positions of responsibility seemingly appropriate to their greater ability. The truth is that they are no better than anyone else, unsurprisingly, yet from their self-appointed exalted positions they practice their deceit and demonstrate their stupidity. This can, and has in the past, led to appalling conflict; with increasing pressure on land and resources, we may see more terrible scenes of bloodshed in the future. Fortunately, as I have said, Malawi is free from this plague; here only the white man, the Muzungu, is treated as the exception, receiving undue and unwelcome attention from the sadly ignorant and ill-educated.

Mud-coloured children, invisible in their mud-coloured rags in a mud-coloured landscape, shriek their ill-advised hellos: ‘muzungu, muzungu, muzungu’ ; ‘give me money’ ; ‘give me pen’ ; ‘where are you going?’ ; ‘what is your name?’ these are the greetings the wandering white hears yelled at him constantly wherever he ventures. Why? I suspect we’ve brought it on ourselves through generations of giving without thought for the effect. Today, white skin means unlimited wealth as far as the many Africans are concerned. Some though not all people above perhaps 50 know better, but most younger people see every white as rich beyond measure, wealth to be shared with them if at all possible. In an environment where you spend today every penny you possess else some family member will need it from you, where every scrap of food is eaten today or the rats or cockroaches will get it, where no resource is considered worth conserving, what chance is there of saving? But, here is a man with cash in his pocket, wallet or case. He can’t possibly need or spend it all today so it is fair practice to relieve him of some of it. Not theft but redistribution of wealth. He surely won’t miss a few banknotes when he has so many. Again, Malawi is not so bad in the matter of theft: bags are left untouched in bus baggage compartments, pickpockets are few. In other African countries this is far from the case.

Talking to local people, it becomes clear that the generations of do-gooders have created the culture of expectation of handouts from whites. We have done it for so long that children are taught by their parents, or even their teachers, to demand money from any and every white. Once it is ingrained in the children, the same expectation passes on into the adults and ultimately into the government too. From little children to village elders and on to Immigration officials, it’s ‘Muzungu, give me money’. We have unwittingly created a culture of dependency on foreign aid primarily through handouts combined with teachings of ‘God will provide’ and ‘Ask and you will be given’. Yet the practice goes on with present day aid agencies giving, giving, giving, feeding the dependency and depriving people of the will to work and the understanding of a fair wage for a good day’s work.

Compassion is the reason for being in Africa, to help improve people’s plight. By teaching a range of skills in elementary agriculture, nutrition and healthy living, we can elevate these poor people from their primitive lives into a state where they can think and fend for themselves. Good farming, even on a subsistence level, will lead to a more balanced diet, instead of the stodge currently filling little bellies. Better nutrition will lead to brighter, healthier children, capable of doing well at school. But handouts of a bicycle here, a new roof there, a cow or a pig, no doubt given to a deserving soul, will merely further the dependency, leading others to wait in line for their gift from god.

East Africa Trust does not give handouts. We demonstrate, at grass roots level, at rural village level, how people can improve their lives themselves through hard work and basic knowledge.

The bloated child in the above photo is malnourished yet full of starchy stodge. All around us there are big, succulent lemons that few people are interested in. I take a hefty wedge in every cup of tea. A common sight is the chewing of sugar cane. So, why not combine the two to make a tasty and vitaminC-rich drink? If our Moringa grows well, we can add that and up the vitamin A and mineral levels too. Slowly, slowly, we may have some influence and achieve the goal of gradually raising the health around here. ‘You are what you eat’. Cassava makes good glue but a poor diet if eaten exclusively. By demonstrating the worth of vegetable growing and how easily it can be done, even in a small garden with a veg mound, the message will gradually sink in.

You saw the transformation at Bamboo Beach, from jungle just a year ago, to a fertile and productive garden today, through the efforts of just 5 good men. BBC now has rabbits and hens (layers). We will shortly add broilers to our range, if we can find a way to feed them organically and without expensive supplements, and we think we can! (I hope to reveal how in the next newsletter). There is no point in demonstrating an uneconomic means of production to people who can’t afford to do it. This is why we will steer clear of raising cattle – these inefficient animals are not a viable option for most people and take a considerable amount of grass and maintenance to produce a poor return in milk and meat. Wages here are modest and EAT’s income and expenditure are very low but if you would like to help, and a little goes a long way, you can find us on the Justgiving website www.justgiving.com/eastafricatrust, or if you use eBay you can easily make a donation from the proceeds of your sale. EAT is a registered charity in the UK, so we can claim Gift Aid from the government on donations from UK taxpayers.

Your interest in our work is very welcome and we’d be happy to hear from you, particularly if you’re willing to become involved in our work.

Do visit www.surrecommunity.info/eastafricatrust (or just Google East Africa Trust). You’ll find our email address on the website.


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