Sunday, 28 July 2013

Machinga with Mavuto

On Thursday and Friday I was able to finally meet up with Mavuto, the CEDP Development Officer covering the Southern region of Malawi. We spent Thursday in the office which gave us a great opportunity to talk over what has already been achieved, how it's been achieved and what the next few months' activity will be.

On Friday, Mavuto had arranged for us to visit one of the Community Based Organisations (CBOs) - Umodzi (Yao for togetherness) in the community of Mpiranjala which the CEDP will be working with to develop a renewable energy project. Mpiranjala is in Machinga district, some 4 hours north east of Blantyre. The community lies close to Lake Chilwa, a designated RAMSAR site which has dramatically reduced in size in recent years due reduced rainfall in the surrounding area but is still internationally renowned for the wildlife there.

Travelling through Machinga district
Following over 4 hours of driving on roads of varying quality we arrived at Mpiranjala. The community is a Yao community, descendants of Muslim traders which populated the region, and being a Muslim community, arriving at lunch time on a Friday meant that the majority of the community were at lunch time prayers! But no matter, we were made to feel extremely welcome when we arrived.

At the welcome meeting (complete with new red CEDP t-shirt)

This was my first introduction to community meetings in Malawi and they follow a set protocol. The guests and figures of note from the host community sit in a group and a prayer to welcome everybody is said. There is then a round of introductions including who you are, where you are from and why you are there  followed by an opportunity for both parties to ask questions. The atmosphere is very respectful and I was mindful that using particular body language and phrases were incredibly important.

Following introductions, we were shown around the community and Mavuto explained why this community had been selected to participate in the CEDP programme and what the community were hoping to achieve.

Inside one of the secondary school blocks. Even in the middle of a hot, sunny day it was quite dark inside the classroom

The community currently has several primary school blocks, two secondary school blocks, a teachers house and a health centre. Mavuto is supporting the community in their application for grant funding to install solar panels on these buildings (which buildings will ultimately receive the solar panels has not been decided). The community already has a small solar panel on the roof of one building in the health centre to provide electricity for a fridge which enables the centre to stock vaccines and other medicines which need to be refrigerated. The community are therefore already aware of the benefits of having solar panels in their community.

Solar panels for the fridge at the medical centre

Essential to the CEDP programme is the training which the DOs will carry out with the community before the installation of the technology. Training session topics will include leadership and group dynamics, renewable energy technologies, village savings and loans and CBO management. Groups will also be supported to develop ideas for revenue generation from the renewable installations. The idea being that an income from activities such as phone charging and selling drinks refrigerated by the solar panels can be used to pay for service and maintenance of the system.  This particular community is looking at starting up a battery charging business (households often have small batteries which they use for household electricity but they currently have to cycle for over an hour to the nearest charging point).

The training sessions and support to develop a business idea around the renewable system is essential for the long term sustainability of the system. There is little merit in installing a system which the community does not have the capacity to manage, service and maintain themselves. Sadly I have heard of a number of examples where renewable technologies have been installed only to break after several months. Communities have often not had the training to fix the system nor the funds to employ somebody to come in and fix the system and so the system lies unused. This is the cycle which the CEDP is looking to break.

I was shown around the school blocks and the health centre. The community felt that if the primary school block could be fitted with a solar system for lighting, the 1066 children which attend would be able to study for longer into the evening and would hopefully achieve better grades. The head of the primary school described how they should have 14 teachers but they currently only have 9. Part of the reason for this is the lack of electricity at the school, some teachers arrive and only stay one week before deciding to go to another school which is better serviced. With the provision of electricity, the head teacher hopes that better quality teachers can be attracted to stay for longer at the school which again, will benefit the students.

I then visited the health centre which currently has no electricity for lighting. If somebody becomes sick at night, they must be seen to by candle light. I also visited the maternity block where there were a number of expectant mothers waiting to go into labour. Because some women live some distance from the centre, when their time is near they come to the maternity block and live in an accompanying building so that they can be closer to help when they go into labour.

The maternity unit. Soot marks from the candles used for lighting can be seen on the walls.
Currently, there is also no electricity in the maternity unit. If a woman goes into labour at night, she must give birth by candle light. Every expectant mother is told to save up enough money to buy 3 candles (which should provide enough light to see her through the night). The mums to be often cannot afford matches and so use embers from the fire to light their candles. This story in particular really struck a chord with me. I cannot imagine how difficult and scary it must be to give birth by candle light which will inevitably waver and go out if the weather is bad.

Expectant mothers with their candles in front of the maternity block

Demonstrating the need for embers to light their candles

Before leaving for Blantyre, we had a "closing" meeting where the community thanked us for coming and expressed their thanks for the CEDP programme and for all the help and support that Mavuto had given them so far. What struck me as we left the community was that this community could see the numerous benefits of installing solar panels in their village. I could see that from the work Mavuto has done with the community, they are already thinking long term about how they can manage the system to ensure it's longevity which is exactly what the CEDP is about.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bondo Hydro Scheme - Mulanje

On Wednesday I travelled from Blantyre, Malawi’s second city, down to Mulanje in the south-east of Malawi with a group of representatives from Scottish Government. As we drove further south the landscape began to change from the relatively arid, red landscape I’d seen so far in Malawi. Dramatic granite peaks started to appear and vegetation became much more lush and abundant. We were heading down to Mulanje to see an operational hydro scheme that has been developed by MuREA – Mulanje Renewable Energy Agency in conjunction with Practical Action. With MuREA being one of the Strategic Energy Partners (SEPs) of the MREAP programme it was a great opportunity not only to see the hydro scheme but also to meet people who are on the ground, developing community led renewable projects in Malawi and see what issues they face (see first blog if acronyms are becoming overwhelming!).

Mulanje Mountain
As we left the main road in Mulanje, we wound up a dirt track between the tea plantations at the base of the Mulanje mountains to reach the hydro scheme at Bondo village. As we bounced our way over boulders and skirted large pot holes I couldn’t help but be incredibly impressed at how the civil engineering kit managed to get up the track. Later discussions revealed that materials had been taken up the track by hand and that very little machinery had been used in the construction of the scheme. Just goes to show that where there’s a will there’s a way!
Emmanuel from Practical Action with children from Bondo. Note the newly installed electricity poles!
On arrival at the site we were met by Emmanuel, a Technician with Practical Action who has been working with MuREA on the hydro project for a number of years. The first idea for the hydro project came about in 2007 with work starting in earnest 2/3 years ago. The project was finally operational on the 9th July and now provides electricity to the health centre and some 14 households in the community of Bondo, Mulanje.
The village chief, Mr Salupi (left) and his friend (right) at the Bondo community hydro project
Children at Bondo at the canal which transports water to the hydro scheme intake
Penstock pipe from the canal down to the turbine
The 88kW scheme utilises a Pelton turbine manufactured in Zimbabwe which uses a canal system to transport water some 600m from the river to an appropriate intake point. The head of the scheme is in the region of 150m and the system is designed to take flows in the region of 1000 litres/second. Householders which are connected up to the scheme need to pay between 7,000 – 15,000 kwatcha (between £15 - £30) to install the necessary wiring in their homes. A pre paid meter will then be installed which householders will top up with credit to pay for the electricity.

Even though the hydro scheme has only been generating electricity for a few weeks, the significance of this project and how excited the community are is already tangible.

Now that the health centre is connected up to the hydro scheme, vaccines can be stored there reliably giving increased access to essential medications for this remote rural community. The provision of electric lighting also means that health workers and patients no longer have to rely on candles which are often blown out during important procedures in inclement weather.

Householders are utilising the provision of electricity to launch new business opportunities. One householder has already built a screening room onto the side of this house where he will connect up a projector and sound system to provide a community big screen – just in time for the world cup!
Bondo children in front of the grass and canvas house extension which will support the big screen powered by the hydro. 
Nicholas Dzadza from Practical Action, Zimbabwe showing where the big screen will be.
Other enterprising householders that have connected to the hydro scheme have purchased maize mills to process locally grown maize and turn a profit from the milled product.

What was apparent whilst talking to members of the community is how excited everybody was about the introduction of reliable electricity to the area and that there are now significantly greater opportunities for development within these communities. This scheme hasn’t been without it’s hiccups but what is heartening from this project is that barriers have been overcome and that learning from this project can be transferred to other projects which are earlier in the development process in other areas of Malawi. An incredible achievement for all those involved.



Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Lilongwe and Blantyre

A delay in the first of three flights meant that I have arrived in Malawi 24 hours later than originally planned but no matter, the schedule has been rejigged and there’s still plenty of time to see everything that I’d hoped.

On arrival in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, at midday on Monday it was a case of confirming meetings, ensuring sufficient cash was taken out of cash machines and phone credit was topped up before heading south on Tuesday. All admin tasks completed, and executive coach booked, I arrived safely in Blantyre this afternoon.
View of Lilongwe

What has been apparent from being in Lilongwe and through travelling down to Blantyre has been the importance of wood and charcoal as a fuel in Malawi. Official estimates have the reliance on biomass (wood or charcoal) as accounting for 89% of the total national energy demand in Malawi. Considering this, it’s no wonder that there are some significant loads of wood for sale at the side of the road and piled high in lorries destined for areas with less wood available. Due to high transportation costs, it can be an expensive fuel and deforestation is a big problem in Malawi. When this is combined with the health issues associated with using wood fuelled indoor cook stoves, there is a significant drive to increase the efficiency of wood consumption. The fuel efficient cook stove projects in the CEDP are looking to address this very issue and I hope to see some of these projects later in the trip.
Approaching Blantyre

This afternoon I had my first meeting with Martin Ketembo who will be developing a community renewable energy toolkit for Malawi. The toolkit will have two formats, a written resource that NGOs and community based organisations (CBOs) can use and a secondary toolkit based on visual aids and DVDs will be developed for people with lower literacy. The development of both toolkits will be a key resource for community groups and organisations looking to progress their own renewable energy projects in Malawi with the support of the locally based Development Officers. It’s hoped that the toolkit that is developed in Malawi will act as a blueprint for developing similar toolkits for other developing countries.
Solar panels providing energy for pre-election registration in Blantyre

I’ve also been able to meet with Penny George from Scottish Government and Joanna Keating, Head of International Development at Scottish Government. I’ll be travelling to Mulanje tomorrow with Penny, Joanna and others from Scottish Government tomorrow. More news from Mulanje where I will see an operational locally owned hydro project to follow!


Wednesday, 17 July 2013


The aim of this blog is to provide programme updates and news on the Community Energy Development Programme (CEDP). Since some followers of this blog may be new to the CEDP this inaugural post will be a "scene setter".

The Programme

In 2009 Community Energy Scotland was invited by Professor Graham Ault of The University of Strathclyde  to visit Malawi to input into the Community Rural Electrification and Development project. The CRED project was established by the University of Strathclyde and supported by the Scottish Government International Development Fund, to provide local people with the knowledge and expertise to sustain their own power supply.

The Scottish Government then commissioned The University of Strathclyde together with Community Energy Scotland and IODParc to carry out a Scoping Study, and the outcomes of that pointed to different programme activities that the Scottish Government might support.

Those recommendations have now been taken forward in the form of the Malawi Renewable Energy Acceleration Programme (MREAP).

MREAP runs from January 2012 – March 2014. Its aim is to:

Support The Government of Malawi energy strategy by accelerating the growth of community and renewable energy development in Malawi through multiple, targeted and coordinated activities with good potential to provide a platform for that growth.
MREAP has four main elements and Community Energy Scotland is leading on the Community Energy Development Programme which will run until March 2014.
Programme Manager, Georgy Davis, being shown a biogas plant at Choma village, Malawi 
 There are three main strands to the CEDP:

The Community Energy Support Toolkit and Network:

This will provide learning and development tools for Malawian NGOs and Community based organisations to help them in developing sustainable energy projects. There will also be a number of activities in supporting a network of Malawian communities to promote the sharing of knowledge and ideas. 

Strategic Community Energy Projects:

There are four Strategic Energy Partners in the CEDP who will be working very closely with Community Energy Scotland, not only in taking forward several community energy projects covering a range of different community ownership models and technologies but also in providing steering group input to the Programme and how it is tailored to suit local needs. The four Strategic Energy Partners consist of:
  • Mzuzu University who are taking forward several biogas and energy efficient cook stove projects
  • Concern Universal who will be providing solar electricity to community centres, cook stoves to 100 new villages and enhancing biomass availability.
  • WASHTED will be working with 10 communities to install solar electricity and promote social enterprise to ensure the projects sustainability.
  • MuREA will finalise their community hydro project and investigate further possible micro hydro developments within the Mulanje area.

Community Renewable Grant & Loan Facility:

The Scottish Government has provided funding for a grant and loan facility which is being developed.

The People

There are a number of staff working on the CEDP. Based in Scotland:

Programme Manager - Georgy Davis
International Programme Development Officer - Sarah Jones

Based in Malawi:

Northern Region Development Officer - Sithembile (centre above)
Central Region Development Officer - Blessings (left above)
Southern Region Development Officer - Mavuto (right above)

We'll be posting updates on the activities of the CEDP as and when news comes through.

Coming up...
International Programme DO, Sarah Jones, will be travelling to Malawi on the 20th July for a 2 week visit to meet with staff and partners of the CEDP. Check back here for regular updates from Malawi!