Friday, February 19, 2010

How a Mill Can Send a Child to School

Life is easier in this community,” says Luka Khuliwa, community chairman. “We are learning that every small change makes life easier.” Malawi is a country where families grow their own food using simple hand tools. Driving through the south of the country, you will not see tractors or even oxen-pulled ploughs working the fields. All work is done by hand, and mostly by women. Maize is the food of choice. Without maize at a meal, most individuals feel that they have not eaten. While ADRA agricultural projects in the country encourage the growing of tomatoes, cassava, pigeon peas, soybeans, and sweet potatoes, most everyone grows maize. Hand milling, or pounding the maize by hand, is an energy intensive and time-consuming daily activity. Done by women and girls, this keeps them from other needed activities. It even keeps girls from attending school. “There was a maize mill near our community; however, it was a long, long walk, and to go there meant you did nothing else that day,” states Irene. “Those who were lucky enough to have a bicycle could ride there with their maize in two hours. My family did not go often.”

The Mphonde community is in the Phalombe district of Malawi. In this remote area along the Mozambique border, villagers struggle hard simply to exist. ADRA is working in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), distributing commodities and creating food assets here, including the building of large fishponds and poultry production. It was clear that building a maize mill in this community would further alleviate the extreme poverty. A community maize mill would not only free up individuals’ time, but it would also allow them to spend less funds on getting maize ground. It would create a small community industry with jobs, and it would provide a small stream of income for the community.

The community council identified a parcel of land along the dirt road and voted that this would be the property for the maize mill. With ADRA donating the building materials, the community built the mill building out of brick and concrete. ADRA donated the diesel-run machinery and trained three individuals on the operation and maintenance of the mill itself. The mill operator and his assistant are grateful for the income that working at the mill provides.

The mill is open five days a week, and the community has assigned each family a day and time to come to the mill each week. This scheduling means that no one has to wait in long lines, and everyone has a chance to have their maize ground into flour. “We usually see 25 people a day, and they come in groups of five,” says Bonwell, one of the mill operators. “By scheduling people in groups, I do not have to keep starting and stopping the mill. We save on diesel this way.”

The community pays the mill operators 2,000 kwacha (US$14) a month. After three years in operation, the community has 70,000 kwacha in the bank. “We are using the interest in the account to send the orphans in our community to school,” Luka Khuliwa proudly exclaims. “Without this money, they would not be able to receive an education. Thank you, ADRA, for helping us provide for every child!”

Click bellow to access ADRA's International Website and the original location of this article:

1 comment:

Border Jumpers said...

Just thought you might be interested in a piece I wrote from Lilongwe, Malawi, for the Wausau Daily Herald called "Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm it’s was out of poverty." I am blogging everyday from Africa and writing for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog at Please feel free to cross-post on your site. All the best, Danielle Nierenberg

Here is the piece:

Stacia and Kristof Nordin have an unusual backyard, and it looks a lot different from the Edgar yard in which Kristof grew up.
Rather than the typical bare dirt patch of land that most Malawians sweep “clean” every day, the Nordins have more than 200 varieties of mostly indigenous vegetables growing organically around their house. They came to Malawi in 1997 as Peace Corps volunteers, but now call Malawi home. Stacia is a technical adviser to the Malawi Ministry of Education, working to sensitize both policymakers and citizens about the importance of using indigenous foods and permaculture to improve livelihoods and nutrition. Kristof is a community educator who works to train people at all levels of Malawian society in low-input and sustainable agricultural practices.

The Nordins use their home as a demonstration plot for permaculture methods that incorporate composting, water harvesting, intercropping and other methods that help build organic matter in soils, conserve water, and protect agricultural diversity. Most Malawians think of traditional foods, such as amaranth and African eggplant, as poor-people foods grown by “bad” farmers. But these crops might hold the key for solving hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Malawi — as well as in other African countries.
Nowhere needs the help more than Malawi, a nation of 14 million in southeast Africa that is among the least developed and most densely populated on Earth.

The country might be best known for the so-called “Malawi Miracle.” Five years ago, the government decided to do something controversial and provide fertilizer subsidies to farmers to grow maize. Since then, maize production has tripled and Malawi has been touted as an agricultural success story.

But the way they are refining that corn, says Kristof, makes it “kind of like Wonder Bread,” leaving it with just two or three nutrients. Traditional varieties of corn, which aren’t usually so highly processed, are more nutritious and don’t require as much artificial fertilizer as do hybrid varieties.

“Forty-eight percent of the country’s children are still nutritionally stunted, even with the so-called miracle,” Kristof says.
Rather than focusing on just planting maize — a crop that is not native to Africa — the Nordins advise farmers with whom they work that there is “no miracle plant — just plant them all.” Research has shown that Malawi has more than 600 indigenous and naturalized food plants to choose from. Maize, ironically, is one of the least suited to this region because it’s highly susceptible to pests, disease and erratic rainfall patterns.

Unfortunately, the “fixation on just one crop,” says Kristof, means that traditional varieties of foods are going extinct — crops that already are adapted to drought and heat, traits that become especially important as agriculture copes with climate change...

To read the rest of this piece, visit