Friday, 23 August 2013

CEDP Newsletter launched!

The inaugural newsletter has been created and can be accessed on the Community Energy Scotland website here. It is hoped that this will become a bi monthly newsletter with Programme updates as well as interviews from communities involved in the Programme and notifications of upcoming events. Let us know what you would like to see in the next editions!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The End of the Trip

Following the trip to Mzimba and Mzuzu, there have been a handful of meetings to attend before I head home today which has given me some time to think back over the past fortnight. It’s interesting that regardless of the region, all of the communities which I have visited can already visualise the improvements and development opportunities a renewable energy system can bring.

Baobab, Dowa district.
Malawi is an incredibly friendly and welcoming country that really does deserve it's name of "The Warm Heart of Africa". It’s been a great opportunity to meet with the brilliant DOs who have achieved so much in a short period of time as well as the other CEDP and MREAP partners.

It has also been fascinating to see the number of domestic scale solar installations as you travel through Malawi. It is quite common to see solar panels outside small shops offering a phone/battery charging service or selling refrigerated cold drinks. It is obvious that for those not connected to the grid, solar PV in particular offers real business opportunities for Malawians.

One of the many households I saw with small solar panels which power a light bulb.
It has also been interesting to hear of previous renewable energy programmes run by other organisations which have followed a model focussed on gifting a renewable energy system to a community. In these programmes there is often no community contributions, no training on system maintenance or how to develop a business plan to ensure sufficient funds to maintain the system once the NGO has left. This model is what some communities now come to expect from development programmes and it’s really exciting to see the different approach that the CEDP is taking being accepted so warmly by communities. I feel that this is testament to the hard work of the DOs.

Very few of the people that I have met over the last fortnight have wanted a renewable energy system handed to them on a plate. The next few months will see a phase of intensive training with all of the communities followed by the systems being installed in October. The Programme Manager, Georgy Davis, will be out in Malawi during this critical period and I can’t wait to see how the projects progress. From the work that the DOs have done with the communities already, plans are already being made for what will happen once the systems are installed. Watch this space for more updates!

To the North

The final phase of my trip saw me head north to Mzimba and Mzuzu, about 400km north of Lilongwe. As I headed north on the bus the landscape became much more vegetated, Brachystegia woodland became more abundant and the air temperature dropped noticeably.

Africa's largest plantation on the way to Mzuzu

I was heading north to meet with Sithembile, the Development Officer for the Northern region. We headed out to visit Fwasani CBO (which translates as “be patient”) in the community of Kamiloaza, 45 minutes from Mzimba on roads which seemed to have been made of corrugated iron.

Fwasani have already achieved a lot in their community having already built an orphan training centre, a HIV/AIDS testing and counselling centre and a hostel for out of town students to stay during the week to ensure that everybody has a chance at receiving an education.
Fwasani CBO and the wider community

This community has 2 primary school blocks, several secondary school blocks and a number of administrative/store buildings to support the school. This community places education as key in ensuring a better future for its people.
One of the Secondary school blocks at Kamiloaza
Fruit juice made in the wider community using a solar powered juicing machine and fridge (installation from World Vision)

Sithembile is working with this community to put together an application for a solar PV system at the primary school, the secondary school and at the administrative centre for the CBO. A revenue generating activity is being planned for the CBO admin centre (potentially phone/battery charging) which will ensure that sufficient funds are put aside for maintenance and repairs. Improved cook stoves are also planned for this community.

Sithembile speaking with the Fwasani CBO

During the welcome meeting with the community the Group Village Head, Yesaya, outlined some of the expected benefits from installing the PV system. With the electric lighting, students will feel safer in the school. It is also hoped that students will get better grades, the drop-out rate will be lower and that in the future it may be possible to get a computer for the school. They are also hoping that through lighting being available in the evenings, more people will come to the school buildings in the evenings which may give scope for increased access to education for other groups in the community. It's been interesting that some benefits from the system are named by all communities whilst some benefits are only highlighted by one community. Fwasani is the only community was has stated improved access to education for other groups
Paraffin lamps which were used for lighting in the school blocks (now broken).
Solar powered water pumping station installed by World Vision

Everybody that I met in this community was very enthusiastic and obviously motivated to achieving their goal of bringing electricity to the village. This community has already worked with international donors to develop a solar powered water pumping station which provides clean water for the community which has reduced disease in the community. The community has worked hard to make this scheme a success and I am confident that the same enthusiasm will ensure that the solar PV and cook stove projects will also be a success in this community.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Water Pumps and Fuel Efficient Stoves

Having travelled back up to Lilongwe with Penny George (Scottish Government) on Saturday, I had Sunday to catch up with emails and plan for the week ahead.  

On Monday I met with Blessings, the CEDP Development Officer for the central region. We spent Monday talking through what Blessings has done to date and confirming what the priorities will be between now and September. Over the next few months, all of the DOs will be involved in intensive training programmes with each of the Community Based Organisations (CBOs) which they are working with ahead of applications for project funding being submitted and projects being installed October/November time. It’s been so interesting being able to talk through the training programmes with the Development Officers and getting a sense for what training is required by communities in Malawi

With Kiyembe CBO
On Tuesday Blessings and I went to visit a CBO called Kiyembe in the village of Nkanakufa, Dowa District.  When Blessings conducted a needs assessment with this community, the community identified reliable access to clean water as a top priority for their community. Whilst neighbouring villages have clean, closed system bore hole wells, this community collects water from a number of traditional wells.

Members of the community next to their primary water source. Local livestock also drink from this pool.

A traditional well in the community.
Water drawn from these sources is of poor quality. When Blessings asked residents how many people within their family had suffered sickness during the past 2 weeks, over 80% of people answered that somebody in their family had had diarrhoeal disease within the last 2 weeks. With such a high incidence of disease in the community, people frequently have to take time off from work to recover, something which many Malawian families cannot afford to do. 

Debris fallen into the well - the wells are open system so are often contaminated.

Drawing water from a well in the community.
For this community, the proposed project is a solar powered water pumping facility. When asked what the community hopes to gain from this project, there was unanimous agreement that the community wanted safe drinking water and that having a clean water source within the community would mean a reduced incidence of water borne diseases and less distance to travel to access safe water.
After discussing the water supply for the community we went for lunch at the Chairperson of the CBO’s house and then went on to see some fuel efficient stoves. Within this community (and the wider region), tobacco growing is one of the principle sources of employment and members of a local tobacco farming group have been given fuel efficient cook stoves by tobacco processors. These improved stoves have proved themselves to be highly effective and so many other households have expressed an interest in the stoves.

Central region Development Officer, Blessings, with the Chairperson of Kiyembe CBO and his family.
These stoves are of the same model which are being made by Concern Universal, one of the Strategic Energy Partners of MREAP. Penny and I visited one of the sites where the fuel efficient stoves are being produced in Balaka district and we were both quite disappointed that we couldn’t find a way to get one home!

One of the improved cookstoves next to a traditional 3 stone fire used my most Malawian households. 
Concern Universal improved cook stove producer group at Phalula, Balaka District

The cook stoves being made at Phalula, the producers are having trouble keeping up with demand!
There are numerous benefits to using one of these stoves. They use significantly less wood which is of huge benefit in a country which is battling deforestation. They also produce less smoke which produces a healthier cooking environment, due to their heat retaining properties, they can be used to heat homes in cooler weather and using the stoves is far safer than having an open fire (which small children can easily fall into). There is the added social benefit that through using less wood, people don’t have to spend as much time collecting firewood which frees people up to engage in other (potential business) opportunities. All in all, there are multiple benefits to having a fuel efficient stove in your home, I'll have to come back with a bigger rucksack next time!