Report on Clive Bailey’s visit to Malawi (June 2019)

Report of Clive Bailey and Adam Leach’s visit to Malawi

to meet Pump Aid and Tiyeni

ABF 2018-21 Flagship Grant recipients 

In July 2018 ABF selected four Flagship Projects that we will support with funding of £96,000 over the three-year period, 2018 to 2021. Two of these, Pump Aid and Tiyeni are working in Malawi. Adam Leach and I travelled to Malawi in June 2019 to visit the Pump Aid and Tiyeni projects.

We selected Pump Aid mainly because of its entrepreneurial approach to development. 

Tiyeni is a very small organisation but is fronted by two highly enthusiastic ex-businessmen who have vision and drive. This, combined with the evidence of the success of their Deep Bed farming technique persuaded us to support them.

07-06-2019 Meeting with Tiyesi Zumu-Mwale – country head of Pump Aid  at White Rock near Lilongwe

  • Malawi government knows which areas are water-poor and directs NGO’s to these areas. There is plenty of water in Malawi but surface water is often scarce. The water table is generally about five metres or less below ground level.

  • Many NGOs give pumps for free to village communities. All is well for a year or two but difficulties start when breakdowns occur; the original village committee has ceased to function, and there is suspicion/reluctance over the cost of repairs. The pump then often goes into dis-use.

  • Pump Aid’s idea is to mobilise people who are pump repairers and make them into entrepreneurs, not only maintaining pumps but selling new pumps as well. The mechanic/entrepreneur, having attended a Pump Aid training course, visits villages regularly and, as well as repairing their pumps, becomes a salesman for the superior pumps offered by Pump Aid. Once sold in, this close relationship is maintained such that, when it breaks down, repairs happen before further deterioration can take place.

  • Pump Aid has also identified pumps (one agricultural costing £70 and one domestic costing £140) that are superior to alternatives but affordable. They got backing from DfID in 2014 for a trial scheme, which was very successful (pump functionality increasing from 60% to 90% in the one year pilot study). This encouraged them to roll it out in other areas initially and then nationally.

  • What is interesting is that the pumps that are paid for by villagers are far more valued by those villagers than those given free of charge by other NGOs. This backs up my theory that if something costs nothing it is perceived to have no value. This also raises questions about when free assistance is appropriate and when other, more commercial (market-based) methods are more appropriate.

  • Two thirds of Malawi’s population live on £1.00/day or less. The agricultural pumps are affordable to people at this income level. The domestic pumps appeal to households with income of about double this income. 

  • Credit is available to farmers; in this case, typically, they pay a third in advance and the remainder after the harvest, which should yield them a lot more than the 2/3 portion.

08-06-2019  Meeting in Kasungu with Ken (local head in Kasungu), Maxwell (administrator) and Vincent (an entrepreneur)

  • The current phase aims to ramp up pump sales to 1500 this year. 70 were sold in the first selling month.

  • Aim is to sell 40,000 pumps nationally over the next five years which, along with other NGO’s efforts, should about saturate the market.

  • The pumps’ benefits are that they permit intensive cultivation of subsistence and cash crops (vegetables, tomatoes, soya, maize, tobacco) in a small area of about and acre. They also permit additional winter (dry season) cultivation of  maize and tobacco (winter maize gets three times the market price of summer maize).

  • Local (district) government in Kusungu is an enthusiastic supporter and is encouraging Pump Aid to develop its approaches elsewhere in the region.

  • Pump Aid had 25 entrepreneurs in Kusungu in 2018, and 38 this year.

  • Surprisingly the domestic pumps have sold better than the agricultural ones (about 2:1). Reason is partly the abundance of free but inferior pumps from other NGOs and partly a family’s desire to overcome disease by having clean drinking water close to home.

  • The entrepreneur has no role in debt collection, although he will advise Pump Aid on the financial status of communities.

08-06-2019 Site Visit to Mphomwa - a domestic pump

  • Pump was installed October 2018 and is owned by a consortium of five households. 

  • Villagers speak of time saved collecting water.

  • The previous well was open and contaminated leading to sickness. Health has already improved noticeably.

  • Less money spent on doctors and medicines leaves more resources to send children to school which is free but parents must pay for uniforms and books.

Mphomwa villagers

Happy child

Adam and Clive at Mphomwa domestic pump

08-06-2019 Site Visit to Nkhamenya - an agricultural pump

  • Two pumps have been installed outside this village each irrigating an area of about an acre. One is producing beans not yet harvested; the other site was split between tomatoes and winter maize. Sadly, the winter maize was attacked by army slugs and has not been a success. But the tomato crop was sold for twice the cost of the pump (showing a phenomenal return on investment!).

  • The villagers are enthusiastic and are considering a third pump.

  • Their biggest difficulty is the ‘route to market’ for the cash crops.

  • The cash crops provide valuable additional income, which can be spent on children’s education and domestic goods (of which tin roofs and radios are the highest priority)

The newly installed agricultural pump

Nkhamenya villagers and cash crops

Cash crops

The old well

Conclusion – PUMP AID

  • Pump Aid are demonstrating that people value things they have paid for more than things they are given free of charge. They also value the after sale support, especially as they get very little additional support from other bodies.

  • The entrepreneurs become respected members of village communities, visiting once a week on average, providing advice, maintenance and new pumps.

  • Agricultural pumps enable the generation of cash crops, the income from which benefits villagers in many ways – food security, more varied diet, more income to send children to school, household goods etc.

  • Domestic pumps save time collecting water from distant wells, which are often polluted and disease ridden. This is a huge benefit in terms of health and hygiene results, time saved allowing for more productive activities.

  • Pump Aid’s aim is to put the pump distribution/maintenance into a fully commercial footing called Beyond Water, the profits of which subsidise its WASH (water, sanitation and health) education programmes at schools throughout Malawi.

09-06-2019 Meeting with Colin Andrews and Tony Ebel, trustees of Tiyeni, prior to site visits

  • Malawi suffers from serious soil erosion and depletion in quality, both as a result of destruction of forests and poor cultivation methods. Tiyeni’s  Deep Bed farming (DBF) is focused on addressing this problem in order to improve yields and to restore and conserve precious soils.

  • The average soil erosion in Malawi amounts to 29 tons of topsoil per hectare p.a. In the Chitheka area we visited, steep slopes make the figure over 39 tons. Per ha p.a.

  • Tiyeni’s method differs from others in insisting that the hard compacted soil (‘hard pan’, like concrete) just below the surface must be broken up and tilled to a depth of 30 cms. This backbreaking work is only necessary in the first year and thereafter no tilling is necessary. It prevents water run-off and, in so doing, prevents soil being washed away and recharges the sub soil with moisture. Combined with this are other important Tiyeni principles that must be adhered to;-

> Soil ridges of the planting beds must follow the contour and be absolutely level (measured with a spirit level), preventing run-off.

> Furrow ends must be closed, again preventing run-off.

> Extensive use of manure and mulch essential to improve soil quality.

> Raised footpath to prevent soil being stepped on and otherwise paths becoming watercourses.

Crop residues are never burnt

> Trees and legumes planted alongside the crops.

>  Crops must be rotated.

  • The above points are standard Conservation Farming Techniques. Where Tiyeni differs is in the insistence on breaking up the hard pan below in the first year. 

  • Tiyeni never imposes DBF on a community. They wait for community members to contact them as a result of government promotion and word of mouth. They cover transport costs to demonstration plots and training courses, but give no other incentives. It is important to them that the initiative to join comes from the farmer, not from Mzungu  (white man).

  • The government designates certain farmers as ‘lead farmers’ in each district. These are farmers who are well regarded in their communities and are willing to undertake training, learn and put into practice new farming techniques as an example to others. 

  • Tiyeni is currently registering to have their farming technique approved by the Malawi Government. This is happening rather late. They hope to get registration either this December or in 2020. A favourable result is expected which will mean that the methodology may be adopted by other NGOs in Malawi and there will be scope to roll out nationally. Importantly, it will also support applications for wider donor assistance (e.g. to DFID, UN and others). Failure will restrict their scope and the speed of further expansion. 

10-06-2019 Visit to a site at Chitheka, a new Tiyeni site three hours off the tarmacked Nkhata Bay to Mzuzu road

  • We were accompanied by Isaac Monjo Chavula, the Malawi country executive director and Namelord who is the field manager. Both are talented people. Isaac’s background is with Concern Universal. Prior to that he was doing development research at a university in Mozambique.

  • Seven hours in a Toyota Corola on rough roads, where a lot of the time we had to get out and walk, made us ask if Tiyeni should have invested in a 4x4. It would make transportation for local staff a lot easier. To my mind, the fact they had not purchased one indicated, they are managing scarce resources well and are not prone to extravagance. The 4x4 may come eventually, but not now.

  • Chitheka is an upland village. 28 farmers (15 women and 13 men) have chosen to use the Tiyeni method and this is the first year in the area. Deep tilling had just begun. Lead farmers explain the method to other farmers who have applied.

  • Maize is the main crop. It is a staple and the villagers can subsist on it to survive the hungry season in February/March. Other crops include tobacco, groundnuts, cassava and sweet potatoes.

  • We saw the frightening effects of eroded soil where maize grew but the cobs were tiny, about a quarter of the normal size.

  • The farmers we spoke to all reported that yields have declined steadily over the last few years due to soil erosion.

  • We saw one farmer and his wife who were just starting the deep tilling. Sadly the tilling was not to an adequate depth and Tiyeni trainers are explaining they will need to do it again.

Three hours on this road to reach Chitheka

A big welcome when we arrived

Clive and Adam with Chitheka villagers

New recruit farmer and his wife

Tiny maize cobs resulting from eroded soil, pre-Tiyeni

Recently broken hard-pan soil

11-06-2019 Visit to a lowland Tiyeni site at Jazmon. In contrast to Chitheka, this site has been in operation since 2016

  • The villagers clearly have great enthusiasm for the Tiyeni method and gave us a huge welcome.

  • One farmer reported his maize yield was 500/Kg the year before Tiyeni started (An adult needs 300/Kg p.a.) and is now over 2000/Kg giving him and his family food security and also allowing for cultivation of some cash crops.

  • I asked if Tiyeni keep before and after statistical evidence of the quantities produced. It seems not, but the increase in participants every year is evidence the villagers are clearly seeing the benefits. There are 17 families in the village. Two adopted Tiyeni in 2016, the current number is 10. Two more families have already signed up for 2020 and this number will increase over the coming recruitment season.

  • We visited Florence’s plot. She is in her second Tiyeni year. She spoke of years of food hunger previously, which no longer occur. She earned a Tiyeni pig (see below) after the first season and is planning to add a second Tiyeni plot next year.

  • We saw this year’s new adopters starting their deep-tillage digging.

  • We saw others making Bokash, a fertilizer made from ash, manure, straw, yeast, chicken droppings, soil and water. Such fertilizer is essential to restore the soil’s fertility and it has to be produced in huge quantities (four tons per acre). They will be making this throughout the dry season in order to have sufficient quantity when the growing season starts.

  • Tiyeni have a programme of giving pigs to farmers who do particularly well in their first year. This is another important source of manure. Pig owners must then give the offspring to other people in their village.

  • I asked the farmers about irrigation which it seems, few of them use. Very little irrigation is done in this area but there is clearly an appetite for it. I talked about Pump Aid and explained it was not for free and would cost £70 per pump and this did not put them off. There is scope here for cooperation.

Welcome committee at Jazmon

Breaking the hard-pan

Florence and her plot

Tiyeni pigs, one of which is Florence's

Jazmon villager and her child

Conclusion - TIYENI

  • For me what was amazing was realising that for the villagers we met, life or death depends very largely on what the few acres of infertile land around them can produce. Population growth in Malawi is high. This combined with declining yields due to soil erosion means a catastrophe is inevitable unless yields can be dramatically improved.

  • Tiyeni’s deep bed method appears to reverse soil erosion very successfully and is transforming the food security of their participating farmers.

  • The success of the programme is illustrated by the accelerating take-up of the method each year.

  • Finally, we are talking to both Pump Aid and Tiyeni about working together in some areas. The combination of cheap, effective irrigation from Pump Aid and Tiyeni’s deep bed method could be very a potent combination. This also reflects our wider thinking, which aims to get synergies between organisations we support that operate in the same areas.

Final Thoughts

It is very pleasing to see both Pump Aid and Tiyeni responding to our encouragement to collaborate more closely. There appear to be good opportunities for them to work together in the villages, to learn from each other and to join forces in bringing their experience to bear. This is up to them and will take time to take shape but a start has been made. There are also other ABF supported organisations that can do more of this, both in Malawi and elsewhere.

Both Pump Aid and Tiyeni are actively looking towards the time they cease to exist. Pump Aid has already established a social enterprise organisation with potential to be self-supporting in the near future. Tiyeni see that one day, their method could be taken up throughout Malawi and their job will be done. I see this openness to their own ‘exit route’ as a healthy alternative and far preferable to preoccupation with an NGO’s own continuing existence.

I am very grateful to Adam Leach, our new overseas trustee for joining me on this trip. With his background at Oxfam and Y-Care he has a wealth of experience that is very appropriate for this work and knows the right questions to ask. His experience adds weight to ABF in the eyes of other NGOs. As well as being a good friend, he is also a bountiful source of ideas, so useful when we are discussing what ABF is about and the direction in which we want to go in the future.

On a personal note, what a privilege it has been to be able to visit this wonderful country and see how a little, well focused help from ABF can transform lives.

Clive Bailey - Chairman

Lake Malawi