Sunday, November 28, 2010

Celebrating Bicycle Ambulances

By Krystle Praestiin

Golden Village in Mulanje has a population of around 3000 people; they live between 15 to 20 kilometers from the nearest District Hospital and recently suffered the loss of three community members because they were unable to get them to the hospital in time. Imagine their excitement when an ADRA vehicle carrying two newly donated Bicycle Ambulances from ADRA Portugal, came to gift them with these potentially life-saving bicycles.

Women, men and children gathered around the Bicycle Ambulances as they were being assembled, excitement and wonder on their faces. The women’s exuberant singing filled the air as they sang songs thanking ADRA Portugal for providing funds to have these two Bicycle Ambulances donated to their village. It was an uplifting experience to be a part of. Each community member, with their broad smiles and joyful dancing now had hope that unnecessary deaths could be prevented with the extra time these Bicycle Ambulances would provide.

To express their gratitude a man with very good English wrote the following letter on behalf of the Golden Village Chief and community members, to thank ADRA Portugal for their donation.

Dear friends of Portugal,
On behalf of Golden Village Citizens I wish to thank all the friends of Portugal who have sent us these two bicycles and trolleys. We were suffering seriously and dying without reaching our nearby hospitals because we were lacking trolleys. So please send our sincere greetings to all friends of Portugal ADRA.
Sincerely Yours,
Chief of Golden Village of Mulanje District

The bicycles were handed over to a Bicycle Ambulance management and maintenance committee of 10 people. On the committee was the brother of a man who had recently died from measles because he was unable to get to the hospital in time. This brother is the Vice Chairman of the group and together with his fellow committee members is committed to maintain and manage these bicycles to the best of their abilities. The committee has already set up procedures for managing the Bicycle Ambulances, deciding to charge each community member a fee of 10 kwacha a month (less than $1 US), this money will then be used to make repairs to the bicycles. Log books of when and by whom the bicycle is used will be kept to ensure that the bicycle is used appropriately and is not damaged. The treasurer and another member of the committee will be in charge of keeping the Bicycle Ambulances while they are not being used.

Thanks to the donation of ADRA Portugal, ADRA Malawi was able to provide a very valuable resource to the people of Golden Village, a resource that will help save lives. The donations of ADRA Portugal will also see the provision of eight more Bicycle Ambulances to other villages under the Women Empowerment Project2 (WEP2) which is funded by Sida, through ADRA Sweden.

Friday, November 26, 2010

District commissioner hails ADRA study on sunflower

By Sangwani Mwafulirwa

The District Commissioner for Mulanje, Mr Jack Ngulube has commended ADRA Malawi for a successful study of the value chain of sunflowers. He said the results will help to put in place proper mechanisms to help famers get more income for their work.

Speaking during a value chain study dissemination workshop, held in the district on November 12, 2010, the district commissioner said sunflowers were one of the crops identified in the district development plan which needed to be promoted.

“You have presented a very realistic picture to us. Our programming will be realistic because we will have a real picture of the potential benefits of adding value to sunflowers. Let me thank you for the study as it will contribute to the development of our district,” he said.

The district commissioner said value chain adding was the only way that could improve income for farmers, most of whom are growing on a small holder scale.

“We are glad that the study was done in Mulanje. The District development plan also looked at ways to improve income for farmers, and sunflower is one of the crops to be promoted,” he explained.

He said the challenge was how to assist farmers to change their mindset of using traditional methods of farming to adopt new ones that can help them adopt new techniques that will help produce optimal yields even without increasing the acreage.

The meeting was attended by various stakeholders in the sunflower industry in Mulanje including: the ministry of agriculture, Bvumbwe Research Station, Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC), farmer associations, agro-dealers, farmers and other NGOs.

Also in attendance were journalists from the national public broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (both television and radio), the biggest private national radio station, Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Blantyre Newspapers and Nation Publications.

In her remarks during opening of the workshop, Project Manager for Resilience and Capacity Building for HIV/Aids Households (RECAB), Mrs Thoko Mwapasa said ADRA Malawi did a rapid analysis of the cash crops in the district that they wanted to develop.

“We settled for sunflower because of the opportunity it offers as a cash crop of generating employment and improving the income of farmers,” she said.

She also added that the stakeholders workshop was organized not only to disseminate the results of the study but to also create a platform where all players in the value chain come together to discuss and map out a way forward in addressing the key issues in the value chain in order to develop the industry. She urged participants to look at this as an opportunity to work closer together and form innovative partnerships that will develop the subsector and attract investors into Mulanje district as well as into the sunflower production industry as a whole of the economic growth and development of the country.

Presenting the findings, lead consultant, Tonderai Manoto said sunflower was of strategic importance as it was taking advantage of existing labour and other value-adding initiatives by National Association of Smallholder Farmers (NASFAM) and One Village One Product (OVOP).
According to him there was potential to increase average harvest from the current 500kg per hectare to 2500kg if farmers were encouraged to use dressed seed which is already available from Chitedze and Bvumbwe Research Stations unlike recycling.

“We can increase harvest without increasing acreage by using treated seeds but the problem is that farmers think seeds from the shop are expensive unlike recycled seeds which they just pick anywhere for free.

“Farmers are foregoing a lot of income by recycling seeds. We can achieve high yields by reworking the husbandry practices for the smallholder farmers,” he said.

Manoto also said there was an opportunity to realise more income for farmers by adding value to the sunflower whereby they would extract cooking oil by themselves and then use the residue to make seed cakes which can also be sold.

“There is a big urban market for cooking oil which we cannot satisfy. There are so many imported brands in the shops with very high prices. If farmers get organized they can extract their own cooking oil from sunflowers and sell them easily because a market already exists,” he explained.

In his contribution during plenary, Crops Officer for Mulanje District under the Ministry of Agriculture, Wilfred Ugeni said the cost of the production of sunflowers was lower than other cash crops but what was lacking was that policy makers have not given it much attention as with other cash crops like tobacco and cotton.

He said extension workers have a responsibility to educate the farmers about the potential income that could be realised from sunflowers, to support them in getting organized and to help them identify good markets for their harvest.

ADRA Malawi is implementing the RECAB project in partnership with ADRA Denmark with financial support from DANIDA. The aim of the project is to improve resilience ad capacity among vulnerable and poor household affected by HIV/AIDS through improved food availability and income, improved health and increased knowledge and learning capacity for communities to take charge of community development.

Full report of the study can be provided upon request by writing to

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Start of a New Decade

By Sangwani Mwafulirwa

With the support of ADRA Malawi under its Women Empowerment project, the women group of Village Headwoman Chilingulo in T/A Chikumbu in Mulanje conducted a double celebration. It was a celebration of Mother’s Day and International Rural Women’s Day which has coincided with the launch of the African Women’s Decade in Kenya. Led by T/A Chikumbu, the women outlined what they wanted to achieve in their area of environmental conservation, education, gender equality and women empowerment.

According to the Group Village Headwoman Chilingulo, some children have been facing challenges to attain secondary education let alone tertiary training because their parents or guardians were too poor to afford school fees and their upkeep.

She said this has contributed to early marriages amongst girls who find nothing to do after completion of primary school education which is free. As for boys, they go and work in tea plantations in an attempt to make ends meet.

To avert this, the village head said they have set up a special fund that will help all needy children who have been selected to government secondary school so that they do not fail to pursue their studies because of the two usual challenges; school fees, examination fees and uniform.

“Even those that will go to tertiary schools will be supported. We are very much interested in having nurses from our areas and we will make sure that by 2020 there are five nurses from this area working at the hospital,” she explained.

To achieve all this, each family will be contributing money or harvest, to be sold and the money will be administered by a committee. According to the village head, so far the households have already contributed a gallon of pigeon peas for selling.

The Chilungulo head has also taken a stern stance against early marriages by imposing a ban. Any parent who will consent to early marriage will be summoned to her court where if guilty, will be fined a goat and the child be sent back to school.

On women empowerment, they plan to engage in income generating activities whose proceeds will be saved in a village savings group.

“We want to have easy access to capital other than rely on micro-lending institutions whose conditions sometimes leave us poorer than before. We will borrow amongst ourselves at flexible conditions and low interest,” she explained during the launch.

To conserve the environment, the women will have already planted a nursery of natural tree seedlings which they will plant in uncultivated areas and also a village managed forest so that they get firewood easily.

The village head said women will also be encouraged to attend adult literacy classes so that by 2020 no one will need to use a thumb when voting or signing after receiving a subsidised fertiliser coupon.

Supporting her junior’s initiatives, T/A Chikumbu urged men in the area to support the women by providing them space to work and participate. She said she will see to it that some traditional practices that perpetuate gender inequality and hinder women participation in development work are abolished.

Under its WEP project, ADRA Malawi is working with women in the area to empower them to be economically independent through engaging them in income generating activities and by teaching them about their rights and how best to claim them.

It is through the training and support provided by ADRA Malawi in the WEP 2 project (Funded by ADRA Sweden), that women’s groups like this one have been able to mobilise themselves to initiate development initiatives within their own communities. It is inspiring to see women taking actions that will have a positive and lasting impact for women, girls, men and boys, for today and into the future.