One thing they have in common is a disadvantaged community being impacted by climate change and wanting to do something positive about it.
We have identified over a dozen projects in Malawi ranging from converting waste rice husks to replace charcoal for cooking (thereby reducing the number of trees cut down), to composting toilets to produce manure for organic agriculture (fertilisers are unaffordable for many smallholders).
The initial priorities have been chosen by the communities and they will succeed because of their commitment and ability to adapt technology and processes to local conditions. In the longer term we can tackle larger more challenging projects but quick wins are key to engaging and enthusing everyone to get involved.
MALAWI GIANT TROPICAL BAMBOO PLANTING (MAGIBAM)
Huge numbers of trees have been cut down for ϐirewood and timber in Malawi. In many places this has caused ϐlooding and soil erosion washing bridges and even entire hillsides away, and reducing farmers yields. It has also had a devastating effect on wildlife and biodiversity, particularly as many of the overseas funded tree planting projects are large monoculture plantations.
Co-operative Climate Action (CCA) are concentrating on ϐirst providing a sustainable source of fuel to remove the need for felling of established forests. For this purpose, we are planting a specially developed bamboo cultivar on smallholdings to provide the household, church community, smallholder co-operative, or school with all the fuel they need and, in most cases, a surplus that can be sold. Three years after planting, a third of the canes can be harvested annually without harming the plant which absorbs carbon faster than any tree. In tropical areas trees grow three times faster than in northern climates and absorb three to nine times as much carbon. Tropical species of bamboo measure an annual biomass of 47.8t/ha/pa almost twice that of even fast-growing trees like Eucalyptus. Furthermore, the plants live for 50-150 years providing a more permanent carbon sink than most fast-growing trees. Land, and labour for planting, maintenance and security are also much cheaper than in the UK so this represents unrivalled value in terms of the cost of absorbing carbon and the speed at which it can be achieved.
Removing the need to cut trees for ϐirewood will have a major impact on preserving and restoring biodiversity. We are partnering the Wildlife and Environmental Association of Malawi (WESM) who have 3000 wildlife clubs around the country to provide the education and support needed to ensure the plants survive for many years. This involves providing planters with information/training on planting, watering, monitoring, and harvesting. whilst also raising awareness of the richness of their local environment and how to beneϐit from protecting it.
WESM’s links with planters will be developed to help their communities establish bamboo-based businesses (eg ϐirewood, goat fodder, edible shoots, charcoal, carpentry) to increase their income. A selfhelp mentality will be encouraged by obtaining a small contribution from planters to the plant cost and getting repayment for the rest out of the ϐirst year’s harvest. This will also encourage planters to value the plants and thereby reduce losses. Any income from this source will be used by WESM to buy further plants to gradually achieve economic sustainability. Sadly corruption is endemic in Malawi, but establishing small community based planting groups based on co-operative values and principles greatly reduces the risk of political interference.
In partnership with CCA, WESM will also offer information and support to help build community resilience to the impacts of climate change. The clumping bamboos we plant can contribute being noninvasive, making excellent windbreaks, and having a much shallower root system than trees. Local subsistence farmers cannot always provide space on productive land, so we engage with communities to identify unused areas of land, such as boundaries, for planting. We will subsequently undertake natural regeneration and planting of selected mixed tree species to meet local needs. In addition to restoring natural forests, trees can be intercropped with maize, casava etc or planted in areas unsuitable for agriculture.
Each planting community will become a member of Co-operative Climate Action and join a WhatsApp group to give them access to advice and support. They can also use the CCA Resource Centre near Nkhotakota which will be further developed to act as a centre for piloting and sharing practical ideas for increasing the resilience of rural communities in Malawi to climate change.
Until relatively recently, these hills around Blantyre were covered in natural forest
A lack of alternatives mean charcoal is the main source of cooking fuel in many parts of Africa. Increased demand means mature trees are felled to meet it with the inevitable impact on the environment and carbon emissions. Fuel efficient stoves are helping but only a tiny proportion of people have them. What is needed are affordable, clean, low carbon alternatives.
Potential solutions depend on the local conditions but in this part of Malawi agricultural waste in the form of rice husks and bagasse from sugar cane is readily available. The simple technology to convert this to briquettes and use it as a fuel is also available. What is lacking is a little capital and training to help local businesses get established. We have obtained a pilot scale machine to demonstrate the technology and now need the funding to get the product into the market and scale up production.
Trial briquettes of rice husks mixed with clay, banana leaves, etc made at our resource centre.
SANI CARPENTRY CO-OPERATIVE
We have a building and tools donated to this co-operative start up and a carpenter willing to train local young people. Their aim is to make products to sell (from wood that we know to be sustainable) and thereby become financially viable. They need funding to install solar power and cover their initial losses.
KASANGAZI HYDRO SCHEME
Colrerd Nkosi, a local bricklayer/carpenter/electrical engineer, set up this project on a small stream in the hills some 2 hours south of Mzuzu about ten years ago using a 10m plastic pipe, an old generator, some wire and a couple of old pop bottles to increase the outlet water velocity; all for about £200. It now supplies over 50 households, the local primary school (690 pupils and 7 teachers), and maize mill with power so they can have light to study in the evenings, charge phones, and watch tv. The power is transmitted 2.5km using fencing wire attached to 3m wooden tree branches and then distributed in the same way to other homes. Colrerd has trained up assistants to help maintain the plant and is now sharing his knowledge with others using a classroom in the local junior school. The maintenance costs of the plant are significant with a need for new magnets every 4 months, copper wire, turbine blades every month and new transmission poles to replace those eaten by termites. They have now received funding to build a proper dam but the turbine and generator need replacing. They then plan a small manufacturing unit.
The turbine and generator
The new dam
SOLAR PUMPS FOR IRRIGATION AND FISH POND
Petrol pumps like this are currently used to pump water from the lake
Lake Malawi is over 500 km long and 75 km wide and is the third deepest in the world(700m in places). Despite this, the only irrigation in most places is petrol pumps extracting water for a few properties owned by the wealthy. Numerous streams run into it that could be dammed at low cost for fish ponds using a solar pump for circulation and to irrigate crops in the area. We have identified a possible site and are being given technical assistance by the fisheries department. A young Malawian with extensive fisheries experience has volunteered to lead the project which will incorporate a black soldier fly unit to provide fish food from waste.
Proposed site for fish pond next to our resource centre
Even if you have electricity in Malawi, climate change has lowered water levels in their hydro power scheme that supplies nearly all the countries power so the power is rarely on. The rich survive with generators creating more carbon but most do without. If children need to study at night they have to use expensive candles producing carbon and damaging health effects in their homes. These solar panels with led light bulbs and rechargeable batteries have been imported for under £15 for households to buy over a 6 month period. They have proved very popular as they avoid the need to buy candles and pay to charge phones. With additional funding we could send a larger shipment and set up a business to administer the scheme.