Feature – The Nation Online http://mwnation.com Top Malawi Breaking News Headlines Fri, 24 Nov 2017 18:11:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9 ‘Malawi must move from relief to resilience’ http://mwnation.com/malawi-must-move-relief-resilience/ http://mwnation.com/malawi-must-move-relief-resilience/#comments Fri, 24 Nov 2017 05:01:00 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=222866 Since the devastating and unprecedented floods that destroyed infrastructure, washed away houses and crop fields, and killed scores of people in the 2015/16 rainy season, Malawi has been caught in a vicious cycle of natural disasters almost every year. Malawi’s economy is agro-based and highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which is expected…

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Since the devastating and unprecedented floods that destroyed infrastructure, washed away houses and crop fields, and killed scores of people in the 2015/16 rainy season, Malawi has been caught in a vicious cycle of natural disasters almost every year.

Malawi’s economy is agro-based and highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which is expected to increase rainfall variability, droughts, and flooding in the future.

The Vice-President assessing the impact of floods in Karonga last year

To move from relief to resilience and achieve sustainable food security for Malawi, a lot of work is needed.

On October 31 2017, the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) hosted the Compact2025 Forum in Lilongwe, with a call to stakeholders from across government ministries, development and research organisations, the private sector and the civil society to discuss how Malawi can accelerate progress in moving from food relief to building food system resilience.

What actions are urgently needed in this regard?

First, we need to identify successful programmes to be scaled up, and search for synergies across programmes that can accelerate the gains Malawi has already made, for example in reducing child stunting.

As the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe pointed out during the forum, it is our duty to ensure that scarce government funds are spent in the most efficient way possible.

We cannot afford to scale up successful programmes if we spend millions each year on handouts to the same chronically poor households.

Too much money is spent supporting inefficient producers, and not enough on removing the bottlenecks to agricultural growth.

It might be more efficient to give cash to those in need than it is to subsidise fertiliser, for example.

As I said in my keynote address, our current agricultural architecture does not support resilience yet. It calls for new thinking to achieve the much-desired resilience.

Second, sharing knowledge and experiences widely will help government, development partners, the private sector and civil society to make evidence-based decisions about investment.

Greater sharing of data, especially if it is geographically coded, can help us identify which projects work and which do not, thereby ensuring we get the best “bang for our buck”—or kick for our kwacha.

Neither egos nor institutional identities should get in the way of this—failures and successes alike are opportunities for collective learning and growth.

As the Compact2025 Initiative suggests, we should share success stories across countries and regions, and learn from effective programmes like Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme.

Third, scaling up siloed programmes will not be sufficient to break the cycle of hunger and relief response in Malawi. Achieving resilience requires a multi-sectoral approach.

The four pillars of the government’s forthcoming National Resilience Strategy (NRS) emphasise resilient agricultural growth; risk reduction, flood control and early warning and response systems; human capacity, livelihoods and social protection; and catchment protection and management. It is not possible to implement the NRS without buy-in from all sectors.

In this respect, all sectors, ministries and organisations need a paradigm shift to mainstream resilience into their programming.

Resilience should not be thought of as a programmer project, but as an operational mindset that has to be incorporated into every aspect of development.

Finally, we must ensure that resilience does not become a buzzword.

The considerable resources spent on humanitarian responses should serve not only as a safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable, but also as a springboard that will help them and the wider economy to grow.

As I said in my keynote address to the Compact2025 Forum, resilience is no longer a “talk show” but a priority for action. n

 

*The Vice-President is also Minister responsible for Disaster Management Affairs

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Amplifying children’s voice http://mwnation.com/amplifying-childrens-voice/ http://mwnation.com/amplifying-childrens-voice/#comments Mon, 20 Nov 2017 08:04:02 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=222556   Today is the World Children’s Day in commemoration of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To amplify children’s voice in our society, Nation Publications Limited, together with United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), has allowed the youth to take over this page dedicated to burning issues in our…

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Today is the World Children’s Day in commemoration of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To amplify children’s voice in our society, Nation Publications Limited, together with United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), has allowed the youth to take over this page dedicated to burning issues in our society.

 

Girls plead for an enabling learning enviroment

Long walks to school

Shira Waluza, 14, is a Form One student at Monkey Bay Community Day Secondary School.

She hails from Mbwadzulu Village, T/A Nankumba in Mangochi District.

Waluza lives with her grandparents and rides six kilometres every day to school.

This is a challenge to  her as it affects her education because most of the times she gets to school late.

She always finds her friends in class and sometimes she is either punished or sent back home by teachers for being late.

 

This is a challenge not only affecting Waluza but many girls in Monkey Bay.

Some girls, whose parents cannot afford bicycles, walk long distances to school.

Along the way, they face many challenges such as sexual abuse.

The future of girls in Monkey Bay rests in education.

Many want to continue but are discouraged by long distances. Government should step in and build hostels so that girls stay close to their school.—Esmy Gama, Monkey Bay Secondary School

 

Suffering in silence 

Dear Editor,

As a girl, I feel that our dreams, thoughts and desire for education are not being fulfilled.

Our voices are not being heard. We have lost all our dreams of education in the name of tradition that endangers our lives and takes away our innocence.

The so-called traditional practices are defiling and contaminating us, leaving us impure.

Parents who are supposed to be our protectors now want to use us as collateral for their debts.

No, this has to stop.

I urge my fellow youths, especially girls, to deny anyone to take away our right to existence and enjoyment of life.

The remedy to this misery is education.

I ask all the youth in the country to stand and fight against inhuman cultural practices that treat us like animals.

They are destroying our lives, education and futures.

Mphatso Chimfuti

Mangochi Secondary School

Form 4 student

 

End harmful practices

Dear Editor,

It is no secret that our culture has abused ‘respect’ to silence young people.

The youth are not given the right to be heard. Elders want young people only to speak when spoken to, pushing us to some mute corner.

But this is fast changing, if views posted on social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are anything to go by.

Social media activism is alive in the country, thumbs up to the youth for that.

If the same spirit was practised in real life, definitely young Malawians would graduate from passive observers to active participants in the democratic political dialogue.

Social networks are key in the dispensation of information and access to information.

Government should prioritise ICT literacy in all schools. The cost of computers and internet should come down.

Fellow young Malawians, it is high time we applied the same energy seen in social media activism to amplify dynamic views of youthful Malawians.

Princess Mkondiwa

Form 3, St. Monica Girls Secondary School

 

A plea to girls, parents

Dear girls,

This is our chance to achieve our goals. Let us be ambitious and work hard towards achieving the future we desire.  To parents, it is your responsibility to encourage children to work hard in their studies.

With hard work, comes a brighter futures.

Education is the only way we can fulfil our dreams.

Please, dear parents do not be the ones to destroy our only stepping stone to a good life, which is education.

To all girls, please let us concentrate on our studies and fulfil our dreams. With education, everything is possible.

Yes we can.

Princess Mkondiwa

Form 3, St Monica Girls Secondary School n

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When vendors capitalise on liberalised market http://mwnation.com/vendors-capitalise-liberalised-market/ http://mwnation.com/vendors-capitalise-liberalised-market/#comments Fri, 17 Nov 2017 21:34:29 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=222439 The normal way of doing business entails the seller dictating the price on the market. It is up to the buyer to pick or leave it. However, this is not the case with selling of agricultural harvests mainly by smallholder farmers in Malawi. Despite government intervention by setting the minimum price every year the vendors…

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The normal way of doing business entails the seller dictating the price on the market. It is up to the buyer to pick or leave it. However, this is not the case with selling of agricultural harvests mainly by smallholder farmers in Malawi. Despite government intervention by setting the minimum price every year the vendors still buy the harvests from the farmers at a very low price.

This year government set K170 per kilogramme (KG) as the minimum price for maize. Conversely, in some parts of the country many vendors have been buying the maize at as low as K90. Last year, government set K160/KG as the minimum price but still many vendors bought the maize atas low as K60/KG. The silent justification of this practice is that the vendors are operating in a liberalised and free market. Free market system refers to an economy where the government imposes few or no restrictions and regulations on buyers and sellers. In a free market, participants determine what products are produced, how, when and where they are made, to whom they are offered, and at what price—all based on supply and demand.

Vendors take advantage of the market to buy at low prices

 

Crop marketing and pricing

The control of smallholder produce markets and prices was started in the colonial period through the establishment of ‘produce boards’. The first to be established was the Native Tobacco Board (NTB) in 1926. In 1951, a Cotton Board was set up. Later in 1952, a Produce (i.e. maize, groundnuts, and beans) Board was established.

In 1956, all the boards were amalgamated into the Agricultural Production and Marketing Board (APMB). At independence, the APMB was reorganized and became the Farmers Marketing Board (FMB).  In 1971, following the 1968/69 crop failure and the subsequent change in agricultural policy, FMB was reorganized once again to become the present Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).

As the name implies, Admarc’s responsibilities still involved marketing of smallholder crops and also buying farm produce at guaranteed fixed prices. Admarc provided pan-territorial and pan-seasonal prices for farmers, requiring it to subsidize maize prices with export earnings from tobacco. As the world prices for tobacco deteriorated in the early 1980s, its ability to continue maize subsidies was eroded.

Chimwendo Banda: Vendors capitalised on it

Liberalised market

In 1981, Malawi embarked on a series of structural adjustment programmes, which entailed moving slowly towards liberalizing its price and marketing policies.

Although the World Bank initially supported Admarc’s activities, it disagreed on the level of food prices relative to export prices. In 1987, a new series of structural adjustment loans were launched, with the conditionality of complete privatization of maize marketing. However, although private trading was allowed in this period, producer prices remained fixed by the government until as late as 1995, when a price band was established.

In the first structural adjustment loans agreement approved in 1981, the World Bank recommended policy reforms which included price incentives. Since then a lot has happened and some of these changes include the following; liberalization of agricultural produce and input pricing; liberalization of agricultural marketing services that opened up the activities to the private sector. This is when the private traders including those commonly called ‘vendors’ flooded the agricultural markets in rural areas.

 

Strength of vendors

Since most vendors have readily available cash, they capitalize on Admarc’s delay to purchase maize by rushing into the rural areas to buy maize below the government set minimum price. Member of Parliament for Dowa East, Richard Chimwendo Banda, is quoted as saying Admarc’s failure to buy maize in time exposes the farmers to unscrupulous vendors.  The rural poor farmers continue to be exploited by vendors and thereby worsening their poverty even despite selling their produce. This is due to government’s ‘dilemma’ in as far as controlling vendors in a liberalised market is concerned.

The country is in a silent dilemma on managing her commitment on trade liberalisation and ensuring that agriculture is commercialised by maximising smallholder farmers’ profits. The government’s minimum price on farm produces is meant to protect the farmer so that they can make profit out of their sweat. However, government fails to ‘chase’ the vendors who buy the crop below the minimum price because these vendors are operating in a liberalised economy.

Other commentators have concluded that market policies in Malawi do not result in widening of markets making the smallholder farmer not reaping from their sweat.

According to a paper by Civil Society Agriculture Network (CisaNet) titled “Malawi agriculture at 50: towards a common vision for the next 50 years”, many smallholder farmers lack market access hence they just accept any price from vendors mainly when Admarc delays to purchase the crop or when its depot is far from the farmer’s village. The paper also says the farmers lack bargaining power due to low volumes and lack of organisation. This leads to desperate sales immediately after harvest.  These farmers are therefore trapped in a vicious cycle of subsistence that has prevented their transformation to full commercial farming.

The rural areas are annually awash with vendors who are at liberty to impose prices at the farmers who sweat to produce the harvest. The paper by CisaNet also observed that current vendor marketing does not benefit farmers besides promoting poor quality standards.

The weakness among many smallholder farmers is that they sell their produce individually hence lack joint negotiation powers on the price that vendors offer. According to a research paper titled Agricultural Markets in Benin and Malawi by Marcel Fafchamps and Eleni Gabre-Madhin, most of the agricultural traders transport their purchased harvest at a median distances of 15km from where they buy to the place of resale. This means that most agricultural traders only travel short distance to their supply market. Therefore, if majority of smallholder farmers work in groups such as clubs and cooperatives to sell their produce they can beat the middle men and sell directly to companies hence maximise their margins. Cooperatives are the pathway to revolutionise marketing.

 

Some hope for a farmer

The coming in of trading organisations such as  AHCX brings some hope for farmers. AHCX is a marketplace where buyers and sellers can transact trade of commodities with an assurance on quality, delivery and payment. The exchange is committed to ensure that the market is assisted with a modern market institution that brings in the much-needed integrity, by providing a guaranteed mechanism, for the quality, quantity and payments. Further it makes the market efficient, by introducing standardized contracts and trading systems. AHCX is a fully electronic market, bringing in transparency and empowering the farmers by disseminating market information in real time to all market players; and at a later stage, the exchange will provide the market with options for risk management by offering future trading.

There is need for the country to have transformation that should focus on good markets development. n

 

*The author is Communications Officer for CisaNet

 

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Being a family with albinism http://mwnation.com/being-a-family-with-albinism/ http://mwnation.com/being-a-family-with-albinism/#comments Fri, 17 Nov 2017 05:59:49 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=222342 When 24-year-old Lukiyasi Boniface from Chinkhu Village, Traditional Authority Kachere in Dedza District married his sweetheart about three years ago, little did he thought that theirs would be no ordinary marriage. While most couples in their village are usually found together going to the market, to the garden, to see relatives living in far away…

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When 24-year-old Lukiyasi Boniface from Chinkhu Village, Traditional Authority Kachere in Dedza District married his sweetheart about three years ago, little did he thought that theirs would be no ordinary marriage.

While most couples in their village are usually found together going to the market, to the garden, to see relatives living in far away villages, Lukiyasi and his wife, 21-year-old Rodina Lazaro, do not have that privilege.

Whenever the young couple wants to go anywhere, be it just an ordinary romantic stroll, they have to be accompanied by a third party, a relation or someone close to them.

Lukiyasi and his family

But mostly, they are advised not to go far away from their home.

This is because people with albinism like them are haunted by killings, exhumations, discrimination and stigma following superstitions that their body parts bring fortune.

Lukiyasi and Rodina’s  only two children, two-year and five-month-old Egritta and a-year-old Yohane, also have albinism.

“I feel bad and unnerved that I cannot protect my wife and children from any harm because I am also a target. Considering that our lives are at risk, we are usually not allowed to go away from home alone, this is sad for me,” says Lukiyasi.

 

Name calling

Rodina also shares her husband’s concerns about their family’s safety in a place which is supposed to be their home.

“Apart from fearing for our lives, we are also called different names and this makes going to places difficult because everywhere we go, we usually come across two to three persons ready to call us names,” she says.

The mother of two explains that while others would just call them derogatory names, others go a step further, calling them money.

“It makes me feel sorry for myself, my husband and my two children.

“If people can go to the extent of thinking we are money, where are we going to walk freely? Where are our children going to feel safe if not among their kinsmen?” she quizzes.

But it is not only feeling unsafe to be together and go places as a family and being called different names by people that bothers Lukiyasi.

The father of the house is also not comfortable with superstitions that make him and his entire family uneasy and makes it difficult for him to fend for his family.

“I mostly rely on piece works in people’s gardens and households as a source of money to fend for my family. However, that is hard now since sometimes I have to travel long distances to get the piece work,” he says.

 

No one to trust

The reality of the long distances to be travelled to seek piece work and having to be employed by people not very known to him scares Lukiyasi.

It makes it difficult for him to trust people. He is always suspicious. Everybody can be an enemy.

He says: “I don’t know where the enemy will come from. Sometimes, when I go to look for piece work, I am usually scared when the thought that maybe instead of getting piece work I will meet callous people who will abuse and attack me creeps in.”

 

Ignorance fueling abuse

President of Association for People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) Overstone Kondowe says most of the abuse and discrimination people with albinism face is due to lack of adequate and proper information on the condition.

“We are usually abused and discriminated against because people in our communities do not have adequate information about us,” he says.

Some people are still not aware that people with albinism are human beings just like anyone else and that they can get married and raise children.

Others are also not aware that people with albinism can participate in the socio-economic development of their communities and the country at large, says Kondowe.

He says there is need for chiefs and religious leaders, teachers and duty-bearers such as councillors and members of Parliament (MPs) to take a leading role in providing information to people about albinism.

They must inform the people that albinism is just a genetic condition which results from lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes.

 

Good news

As people like Lukiyasi and his family continue to live a troubled life and while Apam hopes that the information gap will be closed, there is hope that all is going to be well.

The UN Women, with funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID), is conducting awareness meetings on protecting the rights of people with albinism.

According to UN Women’s human rights specialist Habiba Osman, the awareness meetings are being conducted in six districts, including Dedza where Lukiyasi and Rodina come from.

The other districts are Zomba, Mangochi, Ntcheu, Mulanje and Chikwawa.

“These awareness meetings are being conducted as part of a second phase of a project called Ending Violence against People with Albinism which UN Women is implementing,” she says.

“The project’s main goal is to establish community based protection systems, provide psycho-social support and material assistance to PWA as well as increase community awareness on the rights of PWA.” n

 

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Abandoned brides turn to sex work http://mwnation.com/abandoned-brides-turn-sex-work/ http://mwnation.com/abandoned-brides-turn-sex-work/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 08:07:55 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=222247 When Memory Chitsulo was still in school, she married a man 10 years her senior. But he soon left for South Africa, leaving her with a baby. Desperate for money, she turned to sex work. “My parents died in a bus accident when I was 14. I got married since no one could take care…

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When Memory Chitsulo was still in school, she married a man 10 years her senior. But he soon left for South Africa, leaving her with a baby.

Desperate for money, she turned to sex work.

“My parents died in a bus accident when I was 14. I got married since no one could take care of me. But he [the husband] immediately left for South Africa as he couldn’t find work here,” said Chitsulo.

“He stopped calling after two years. It’s been 10 years now,” added the mother-of-two.

Now 25, Memory works from a brothel in Luchenza, Thyolo.

Although child marriage is illegal, nearly half of girls in Malawi marry before their 18th birthday.

But charities in southern Africa say many child marriages have collapsed as poverty and unemployment drive tens of thousands of young Malawian men to seek work in South Africa.

“Many girls don’t survive early marriages, either because they face abuse and violence by their older partners or because they are abandoned by men who go to South Africa,” said Badilika executive director Forbes Msiska.

The organisation supports vulnerable girls with vocational training.

“I’ve talked to some young women who were left by their husbands who went to South Africa, but they don’t receive any financial support from them. They said they ended up prostituting in order to survive and support their children.”

Eye of the Child executive director Maxwell Matewele said there had been a visible increase in the number of children forced into prostitution.

He said most girls were aged between 14 and 18, but that he had come across some as young as nine.

Matewele asked government to address the root causes of child prostitution and come up with tougher legislation.

The government said it was aware of an increase in the number of young sex workers in the country, but could not say whether the breakdown in child marriages was a factor.

Rural brothel

Sex workers are increasingly pitching up in rural settlements as competition in urban areas drives them to find new clients.

Many work from drinking joints across Malawi.

At Namisasi Trading Centre, villagers were astonished last year when eight sex workers arrived with their babies and set up business.

Joyce Masamba, 27, sees up to three clients a day—mostly local businessmen. She earns about K1 000 from a client.

“I was forced out of school to marry when I was 15,” she told Reuters outside the noisy bar where she works.

“I gave birth the same year but the man, who was 10 years older, started going out with other women. When I confronted him, he left me and the baby. Sex work was the only option I had to care for the baby and myself.”

Masamba now has three young children who live with her in a room provided by the bar owner. She hopes to give them the chances she has not had, but money is tight.

“I can’t even fully feed and clothe my children,” she said.

 

Economic Threat

Experts say early marriage not only destroys a girl’s future but also perpetuates intergenerational poverty.

Children of parents with no education or skills are unlikely to break out of the poverty trap.

Earlier this year, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Jean Kalilani, described child marriage as “a huge threat” to the country’s economic and social development.

She said factors exacerbating the high child marriage rate included poverty, low literacy levels among parents, a lack of female role models, peer pressure and harmful cultural practices that expose children to sex early in life.

In 2015, Malawi outlawed child marriage and amended its Constitution to ban marriage under 18 earlier this year.

The government says the law and other initiatives are already having an impact, but charities say it will take a lot more to end a deeply entrenched practice.

“All my colleagues in the bar and me were married off and had children before the age of 18,” said Masamba.

Looking back, she said: “I don’t think I should have been married off so young, but that’s what everybody was doing. It’s embedded in our culture.”

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Rains start as familiar pest prowl http://mwnation.com/rains-start-familiar-pest-prowl/ http://mwnation.com/rains-start-familiar-pest-prowl/#comments Wed, 15 Nov 2017 11:13:03 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=222194 In January this year, Brighton Zimba, a farmer from Chipala Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Kasungu, noticed some pests chewing up his healthy maize. Zimba had no idea what the wormy pests were, but their raid greatly reduced his yield which has been on the wane for years. “We usually have familiar pests like stalk…

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In January this year, Brighton Zimba, a farmer from Chipala Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Kasungu, noticed some pests chewing up his healthy maize.

Zimba had no idea what the wormy pests were, but their raid greatly reduced his yield which has been on the wane for years.

“We usually have familiar pests like stalk borers. This was a different experience,” says Zimba.

The foe Zimba faced the last farming season was fall armyworm, a new pest which ravaged almost 2 000 hectares of maize in the country and left thousands of farmers in southern Africa worried too.

Native to the tropical-subtropical western hemisphere, fall armyworm is a new threat in Malawi.

On the continent, it was first spotted in Nigeria in January last year and has spread in maize crop fields across the country.

The armyworms attacked half of maize acreage in Chipala EPA.

“This area was one of the worst affected. The bad thing was that most farmers didn’t know that this was a new pest and it was initially difficult for us to give out proper information,” explains agricultural extension development officer James Maduka.

RAINING

Information about the pest was also coming in bits and pieces, he says.

His counterpart in Mtunthama EPA, Helen Maona, echoes the dilemma faced by farmers and extension officers.

“Initially, the farmers didn’t know what to do as the worms damaged maize leaves and stems. They experimented with different pesticides at their disposal. It worked for some, but it was like shooting in the dark,” she says.

Cypermethrin, which proved effective in controlling the pest, was usually in short supply as demand soared.

Now, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has stressed the need to solve the puzzle.

But extension workers lament that information about the fall armyworm remains scanty and hard-to-reach.

Some of them have no clear idea about this new pest.

“The messages we got were in English and most farmers have problems comprehending them. Since there are a few extension workers, information has to go to lead farmers too,” says Maduka.

But there is some great news.

“Because of our response plan and partnership, Malawi is considered ahead. Currently, there are seven known insecticides that have proven to be effective,” says George Phiri, the assistant representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

However, pesticides the world over have also been blamed for breeding resistance, high costs and causing imbalance in the ecosystem.

Phiri says the future of the war on fall armyworms lies in integrated pest management (IPM), a system of solving pest attacks while minimising risks to people and the environment.

The ecosystem-based strategy focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation and modification of cultural practices.

“Some of IPM includes agronomic-based reduction of fall armyworms where crops are planted early before pests build up; biological based reduction where natural enemies—predators, parasites, pathogens and competitors—are  used to control pests and also plant based where botanical insecticides and indigenous substances are used,” he says.

Phiri, however, says IPM cannot work if farmers lack knowledge.

This method has received backing from experts as one of the safer ways to deal with the pest.

The ministry also promotes this method among other strategies.

Recently, Albert Changaya, the controller of agriculture extension and technical services in the ministry, gave an update on interventions to deal with pest.

IPM emerged as the chief intervention.

“The Department of Agricultural Research Services is planning to conduct a study to determine the biology and behaviour of fall armyworms in the local environment and develop locally adapted IPM strategies,” says Changaya.

With the exploration still underway, experts recommend the use of some pesticides.

According to Changaya, the recommended pesticides include Steward EC, Cypermethrin 20EC, Belt 480EC, Deltanex 25EC, Bulldock EC, Chlorpyrifos EC, Karate EC, Match Fit and Decis forte.

The ministry has produced fall armyworms factsheets in English, Chichewa and Tumbuka.

Some areas have already received first rains marking the start of the rainy season.

The major difference is that farmers haunted by memories of last year’s damage now know the pest they are likely to face.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. n

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Education changes lives http://mwnation.com/education-changes-lives/ http://mwnation.com/education-changes-lives/#comments Tue, 14 Nov 2017 07:44:18 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=222071 In September 2003, almost 50 students enrolled for media studies at the Malawi Polytechnic in Blantyre. In what was the largest class since the introduction of journalism studies at the constituent college of the University of Malawi in 1999 was a shy boy from poor background who usually said nothing, slighted no one, took no…

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In September 2003, almost 50 students enrolled for media studies at the Malawi Polytechnic in Blantyre.

In what was the largest class since the introduction of journalism studies at the constituent college of the University of Malawi in 1999 was a shy boy from poor background who usually said nothing, slighted no one, took no alcohol and studied hard.

Lloyd Kayisi Phiri on air

When the first test came, he outshone everyone.

This is how Lloyd Kayisi Phiri announced his presence in the race to the top.

He later headed news and current affairs departments at Matindi and MIJ FM radio stations.

But what most of his classmates did not know during their four years together popped out when he spoke at the shutdown of World Vision International’s life-changing work in Senzani, Ntcheu.

“I am what I am because World Vision gave me a hand up when it mattered most. Had the organisation not sponsored my secondary and university education, I would have ended up poorer,” he said.

Lloyd was born in 1982, the year the international Christian organisation, which strives to improve the well-being of children, arrived in Malawi.

He was a crawling baby when the organisation started working in his remote locality in 1983.

His father’s death pushed him and his brother, Dalitso, deeper into poverty.

Their mother supported them single-handedly using proceeds of a crop field that hardly ever produced enough yields.

But this did not ruin his boyhood dream to become a journalist.

“My interest kept growing since I first listened to BBC World Service in the 1980s,” says the broadcaster.

He sanitises his story of abject poverty as “mere humble beginnings”—some hardening-off.

“I was raised by a single mother in a tiny, grass-thatched hut that leaked throughout the rainy season. I got used to sleeping on an empty stomach. Meat and fish were beyond reach. We often bathed with no soap in sight and walked to school bare-footed while our peers had shoes to spare,” he narrates.

Hard memories are not few, but he worked hard to unchain myself from poverty.

Lloyd was selected to Lunjika Secondary School in Mzimba, but his mother could not afford school fees.

He enrolled at a community day secondary school in the area.

“I walked eight kilometres to school and most of the walks were done without shoes,” he recalls.

His turning point came when World Vision, through community leaders and teachers, selected him as one of over 100 brilliant students from impoverished households that were sent to various private secondary schools countrywide.

Lloyd was sent to Kaphuka Private School in Blantyre, with others going to Kings Foundation and New Era in Ntcheu.

”Being at the boarding school marked the end of the long walks and put me on the path to university,” he says. “Without the sponsorship, I could not have gone to university. Because of the degree, I get employment; support my wife Grace and our two children as well as relatives.”

Besides a promising career, youth in Senzani look up to him as a role model.

“When I hear his voice on radio, it reminds me that everything is possible with hard work,” said a student from the CDSS.

In the rural locality, World Vision is remembered for constructing schools that saved learners from long walks to access education as well as offering them learning and teaching materials.

It also supports the youth to acquire vocational skills in carpentry, bricklaying, tailoring and sustainable agricultural methods.

 

Investing in the youth

Inkosi ya Makhosi Gomani V thanked World Vision for improving access to education, saying “the future Malawians envision is in the hands of learned boys and girls”.

“We feel honoured that World Vision came and worked in our area. I am encouraged to hear the story of Lloyd. I wish the youth heard more of such stories. This country will only develop if we invest in the youth to achieve their potential,” said the youthful Ngoni Paramount chief.

The youth constitute the majority of the population.

Last year, government committed to investing in improving access to quality education, skills development and decent jobs to reap the benefits of weaning the youth of employable age from dependency to join the working class.

According to World Vision Malawi country director Hazel Nyathi, youth empowerment is a must.

The rise of Lloyd aptly personifies the power of education to break a vicious cycle of poverty.

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Horror of road carnage http://mwnation.com/horror-road-carnage/ http://mwnation.com/horror-road-carnage/#respond Mon, 13 Nov 2017 07:19:30 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221980   tatistics from the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) paint a grim picture: From July to September this year, 329 lives were lost on the country’s roads. It appears gone are days travelling by road was a marvel to gaze at the scenery of this tropical savannah that make the country one…

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tatistics from the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) paint a grim picture: From July to September this year, 329 lives were lost on the country’s roads.

It appears gone are days travelling by road was a marvel to gaze at the scenery of this tropical savannah that make the country one of the places to go globally.

For all its affordability and the stunning sights it offers, the roads of Malawi have become so scary that travellers are never certain whether they will get to their destination alive.

Coffins draped in the National Flag containing the remains of the 21 soldiers who died in a road accident in Mzimba two weeks ago

Everyday disaster

The recent accident at Mapanjila in Mzimba, which killed 22 soldiers, has left the nation horrified.

Road accidents have become an everyday disaster that only causes a stir on the social media.

But the number of people dying of what goes into the media as “devastating disasters” are by far outnumbered by the death toll on the country’s roads.

In fact, the three-month count from the DRTSS is almost twice the 106 people killed by floods that ravaged 15 of the country’s 28 districts in 2015.

This calls for renewed action to make the country’s roads safe as trends show the number of road accidents have tripled for the past five years, killing almost 1 300 people a year.

According to DRTSS spokesperson Angelina Makweche, the death rate is soaring due to over-speeding.

“There were 854 road accidents between July and September this year. About 330 lives were lost,” she says.

The Central Region registered 500 accidents out of which 150 were fatal. The South recorded 262.

According to Makweche, the directorate is devising ways of reducing accidents.

One of the new measures include a Toll-free line, 4040, where people can report motorists violating traffic laws, she said.

Others include intensified mass awareness campaigns and enforcement of traffic regulations currently under review.

“Road safety is a cross-cutting issue which requires coordination from different sectors, including general public, in exercising caution when using the road,” she says.

 

Blame it on drivers

Southern Region Police spokesperson Rodney Mushani says reckless drivers are the major cause of the deplorable carnage.

“Most drivers ignore road signs, some drive under the influence of alcohol while others have a sheer excitement of over-speeding,” he says.

Mushani discredited a widespread view that traffic police officers have failed to reduce road accidents.

The law enforcers are accused of getting kickbacks from negligent motorists instead of strictly enforcing traffic laws.

But Mushani says the police cannot be everywhere nor track every vehicle on the road.

He explains: “The public has a responsibility to prevent accidents. They must ensure that their vehicles are roadworthy and carrying the recommended load capacity.

“Passengers must ensure that drivers are driving responsibly and report to relevant authority when they behave irresponsibly.”

Traffic police use speed traps, breathalysers and impromptu roadblocks to bring sanity among road users.

However, this has not stopped accidents from happening.

 

Third worst hit

In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Road Safety report named Malawi as the nation with the third-highest rate of road traffic deaths—35 deaths per 100 000—only rivalled by Libya and Thailand.

African nations dominate the list.

Ninety percent of the accidents occur in developing countries such as Malawi, though they have just 54 percent of the world’s vehicles.

As reckless driving keeps killing travellers, some road users blame the shocking carnage to pitiable road conditions.

This perspective brings into question the mandate of Roads Authority (RA) to construct and maintain main roads across the country.

But RA spokesperson Portia Kajanga says the increasing accidents have nothing to do with the state of the roads.

“Our roads are very safe,” she retorts. “As Roads Authority, we are always ready to do maintenance works where we feel it is not safe for motorists. She reckons drivers’ mindsets, condition of vehicles and fatigue could be the major causes of accidents in Malawi.

“Some people don’t check the conditions of their vehicles. This is dangerous. Motorists should always ensure that their vehicles are in good conditions before embarking on a journey,” she advises.

 

Praying for safety

Kajanga warns drivers against driving when they feel weary, saying fatigue causes lapses in concentration.

Buxton Kapachira, a minibus operator in Blantyre City, admits that accidents are caused by more than just poor conditions of roads.

“An accident is just an accident—unpredictable. We just need to be careful on the roads,” he says.

In 2004, astonishing frequency of fatal accidents near Linthipe Bridge catalysed an influx of pastors who pray for travellers before buses depart major depots across the country.

There are mixed reactions to the prayers as opportunists, motivated by cash handouts, have crept in.

But the sermons and intercessions amplify the uncertainties on the accident-prone roads.

“The pastors are making easy money, taking advantage of scared commuters travelling long distances,” says a frequent traveller based in Blantyre. n

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Smoky kitchens: Malawi’s cooking crisis http://mwnation.com/smoky-kitchens-malawis-cooking-crisis/ http://mwnation.com/smoky-kitchens-malawis-cooking-crisis/#comments Fri, 10 Nov 2017 18:45:15 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221847 Simple energy technologies can save lives and trees when made accessible, JAMES CHAVULA writes. Going up Kuchawe Peak on Zomba Plateau, we saw how women and children are bearing the brunt of energy poverty in Malawi. On the narrow, winding road, groups staggered under the weight of lengthy, bulky bundles of firewood. For Mary Makwinja,…

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Simple energy technologies can save lives and trees when made accessible, JAMES CHAVULA writes.

Going up Kuchawe Peak on Zomba Plateau, we saw how women and children are bearing the brunt of energy poverty in Malawi.

Solofina Chitsani of Kauma in Lilongwe brings shape to a chitetezo mbaula

On the narrow, winding road, groups staggered under the weight of lengthy, bulky bundles of firewood.

For Mary Makwinja, who lives in the populous slum of Chikanda in Zomba City, this is an everyday burden that being one of millions of Malawians without better energy alternatives entails.

“Every weekend, I wake up around 4am to climb the mountain,” she stated: “Trees are disappearing so fast that it takes almost six hours to gather enough firewood. By the time we start going downhill, we will be weary and it takes another hour or two to get home.”

In the interview, the mother-of-three was gasping for air and perspiring profusely as she rested in a shade of fast-disappearing natural trees.

Women descend Zomba Mountain with heavy loads of firewood

She and children admittedly hike Mount Zomba on Saturdays and Sundays because weekdays would compel the young ones to miss classes.

“We rely on firewood for our cooking needs, but it has become scarce and costly. We make the weekly trips along with the children to collect more at once. But as parents, we have a duty to ensure that they remain in school,” she explained.

Silent killer

But the untold misery of these women and children goes all the way into the kitchens and open fireplaces emit smoke and soot which expose them to coughs, pneumonia and other silent killers.

A woman sneezes as she cooks on an open fire

Every day, they risk their lives carrying out a familiar chore—cooking meals for their families.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), indoor air pollution is the leading cause of death in the world and it kills more people that HIV and Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Every eight seconds, someone dies because of inhaling fumes of open fire.

Locally, according to the Ministry of Health, it kills almost 13 000 people a year.

This makes open fires and ‘unclean energy’ devastating public health risks.

Clean energy

Malawians, who do not use electricity for cooking, are slowly turning to low-energy cookstoves in search of cleaner energy alternatives.

The cookstoves, dubbed chitetezo mbaula, are known to reduce the amount of smoke produced by allowing the firewood to burn completely.

Complete combustion provides health benefits for the family, especially women and children who spend most of the time cooking or in the kitchen.

But users find the cleaner stoves are more efficient than traditional mbaula and open fires as they consume less wood or charcoal to cook meals and emit less smoke.

“Ever since we started using Chitetezo Mbaula, we are no longer haunted by frequent coughs. We don’t have to run out of the kitchen to breath fresh air. Besides, a bundle of firewood that used to take one or two days now lasts the whole week. This means we make fewer trips up the mountain,” says Eneless Betha in an interview as she cooked lunch on Chitetezo Mbaula.

The cookstoves may be seen as a small step towards cleaner energy, but it is one of the simple solutions that in fact make a huge difference in the country where 97 percent of the population rely on biomass for cooking needs.

Ambitious target

In 2013, the country signed up to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Alliance—pledging to ensure two million are in use by 2020.

To track progress, the National Cookstoves Steering Committee (NCSS) has created a real-time website which shows almost 5 539 Malawians have fashioned 661 000 stoves and sold about 567 300 so far.

The committee, together with Youth Network and Counselling (Yoneco) and Movement for Bio-energy Advocacy Utilisation Learning and Action (Mbaula) have embarked on mass awareness rallies to dial up the demand for green inclusive energy.

According to Mbaula secretariat coordinator Mbumba Chigalu, the country is not on course to achieve the Two Million by 2020 ambitious dream.

“The figures are clear: we are too slow. The majority of Malawians are not aware that we have energy-efficient alternatives,” she says.

The cookstoves are at the core of the country’s strategy to reduce the rate at which the rapidly increasing population is felling trees.

They are touted as a game changer in averting deaths due to air pollution and trees being reduced to ash.

In fact, “promoting the adoption of fuel-efficient cookstoves technologies for cooking and heating” is one of the pillars of a seven-point National Charcoal Strategy launched by government this year.

According to the blueprint, Malawi has achieved gains in adoption of fuel-efficient firewood cookstoves, especially in urban areas where 87 percent of residents purchase fuel wood.

However, the urban dwellers using charcoal almost exclusively use a version of the Jiko charcoal cookstove adapted from Kenya in the late 1980s.

“Newer, more efficient, charcoal cookstoves are almost non-existent,” reads the strategy, “Increasing adoption of fuel-efficient charcoal and firewood cookstoves presents the most immediate option for slowing deforestation and forest degradation.”

With three percent of trees vanishing every year, the country has the fourth largest deforestation rate on the continent and the worst in the Southern African Development Commission (Sadc) region.

Slow down

According to Department of Environmental Affairs spokesperson Sangwani Phiri, government will appoint a task force to spearhead the implementation of the strategy.

The committee will comprise representatives of government agencies, civil society, private sector and other sectors, he says.

“We don’t want the strategy to die on paper while forests are going up in smoke due to overreliance on charcoal and firewood. We must slow down and reverse this trend,” explains Phiri.

The Department of Forestry estimates that up to 50 000 hectares of trees are felled every year.

However, only a third of the forests destroyed are reforested and over half of the few trees planted die in the first year as they are not cared for r.

The gravity of deforestation is instantly recognisable in the old capital, Zomba.

City residents get to the peak of the country’s second largest mountain in search of firewood.

“In the late 1970s, government planted trees for fuel wood in nearly all hills surrounding the mountain. Today, the hills lie bare. Now that the trees have vanished, the question is: Where does the city source its firewood?” asks Zomba City Council chief executive officer Dyson Jangiya.

Interestingly, he knows most footpaths point uphill.

“Mount Zomba is under siege,” he says. “Zomba used to pride itself as a green city. Not anymore. Trees have disappeared at an alarming rate. Forests are vanishing faster rate than they are being refilled,” says Jangiya.

Zomba City Council wants to take control of the extensively deforested mountain which exposes residents to flush floods and landslides.

“On paper, the mountain is under the central government. On the ground, the city keeps suffering the effects of environmental degradation and disaster. If we took control of the mountain, we would protect forests cover to safeguard residents from disasters and ensure it meets their energy needs,” says Jangiya.

This offers a glimpse of a national crisis as southern districts and the capital, Lilongwe, now illegally import charcoal from Mozambique.

To environmentalists, this confirms that the depletion of natural trees ideal for charcoal production has reached a record low.

“Our forests are no longer the same. Clearly, there is laxity in enforcement of forestry laws. Besides, our borders are porous,” says environmentalist Dorothy Tembo-Nhlema.

However, Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead) South-east Africa regional director Sosten Chiotha warns against the ongoing annihilation of Mount Zomba, the catchment area for many rivers which sustains Lake Chirwa.

“If trees continue disappearing at the present rate, the future does not look good for communities which depend on fish from the lake and agriculture in the marshes along its shoreline,” he says.

The lake on the border between Malawi and Mozambique, which almost run dry in 2012, supports livelihoods of over one million people, with goods and services valued at $21 million. Fish alone accounts for nearly K18.7 million.

This is what is at stake as the unmet need for energy and limited alternatives put forests under fire.

Even Lake Malawi, whose outlet, Shire River, produces 99 percent of the country’s electricity, is not spared.

Overreliance on wood fuel has left the banks of the Shire deforested and the river buried in silt.

Woe to Escom

“During the dry season, the lake drops by close to one metre since most rivers are seasonal. Human activity, especially deforestation and farming in the river catchment, has reduced river inflows. Woe to Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi [Escom]  and the users! Expect more blackouts,” warns Dr Kenneth Wiyo, a water expert based at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Frequent and lengthy power outages keep haunting the country, with some areas going 24 hours without electricity.

According to the National Statistical Office (NSO), just about a tenth of the population is connected to Escom’s on-off power lines.

Yet only one in every 100 people connected to the grid use electricity for cooking.

This leaves forests under fire, with almost 98 percent of the population depending on firewood and charcoal.

But Chigalu says the country ‘is not moving fast enough’ to achieve the “Two Million Cookstoves by 2020’ target.

“We are still far behind the targets we signed in 2013. The uptake is slow because people are not aware that we have energy-efficient alternatives. This is why the National Cookstove Steering Committee has embarked on an outreach to sensitise Malawians to altenative sources of energy,” she says.

More alternatives

According to the activist, the improved cookstoves, which almost halves the budget of charcoal and firewood, is not the magic bullet.

Says Chigalu: “Cookstove are not the only efficient option. We should consider alternative cooking fuels, including gas worth K13 000 per 16 kilogrammes, which is much cheaper than charcoal in the long-run. Then there is charcoal sustainably produced by Kawandama Hills, the only country licensed by government to produce and sell charcoal in the country.” n

 

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Osiyana 2 years after floods http://mwnation.com/osiyana-2-years-floods/ http://mwnation.com/osiyana-2-years-floods/#comments Fri, 10 Nov 2017 06:03:28 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221715 The way locals pause and shake their heads when recounting the horrors of 2015 floods says it all. Most of them have never seen a worse disaster than the floods which killed 176 people in the Shire Valley and surrounding districts two years ago. “If the area had no trees, most of us would have…

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The way locals pause and shake their heads when recounting the horrors of 2015 floods says it all.

Most of them have never seen a worse disaster than the floods which killed 176 people in the Shire Valley and surrounding districts two years ago.

“If the area had no trees, most of us would have been swept to the grave on January 13 2015 when floods reduced homes to rubble,” says Paul Mailosi.

He survived the floods which displaced 200 000 people in Nsanje.

Mhone (L) interviews Damison on the delapidated railway

Osiyana villagers in  Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlolo in Nsanje spent up to four days hanging in trees before Malawi Defence Force (MDF) dispatched helicopters and rescue teams to the swamped areas.

Geographically, the low-lying rural population near the confluence of Ruo and Shire rivers is vulnerable to floods that often wreck homes, livelihoods and wealth.

For years, the two rivers have been getting shallow—buried in silt emanating from hugely deforested highlands on their banks.

The worst tragedy struck when unyielding downpours in January 2015 culminated in a devastated flood that compelled President Peter Mutharika to call for external intervention.

The majority of the dead were Osiyana villagers.

The survivors witnessed the raging floods sweep livestock and their neighbours, friends and relatives.

Those who clang to tree branches in the middle of ruthless floods say it was survival of the luckiest.

Mailosi, whose family of six was saved by an Acacia tree, says many others fell from trees and got washed away.

“By the fourth day, they were too hungry and frail to hold firmly to the weakening branches,” he says.

From “the tree of life”, he watched the water levels rise until his home submerged and crumbled.

“If it was not for trees, we could all have gone,” recalls Mailosi.

The disaster shattered livelihoods of the poor, deepening hunger and poverty.

“From the tree, I saw my five cows, 15 chickens and 34 goats gasping to breathe as floods swept past the tree, taking them to the Shire which had also swelled beyond its banks. The sight still haunts me. The cows were my family’s prized asset.”

When the rescue team arrived four days later, his family was airlifted to Bangula Camp where they spent two months.

From the helicopter, they saw canoes evacuating others to a hilly side of Osiyana.

After two months of relying on relief items, some survivors of the humanitarian crisis did not return to the ruined villages.

They relocated to a new place in the hills where they had to start all over again.

“With everything swept away, it has been hard for us to rebuild our lives,” he says.

According to group village head (GVH)Osiyana, crop fields of farmers, who rent plots in fertile wetlands along the Ruo, were ravaged by drought, fall armyworms and locusts.

“Our fertile land was buried in sand. The new site in the hills comprises barren soils and farmers cannot thrive in this setting. Although some organisation assist with food, life is hard. We used to have food before the floods,” says the traditional leader.

About 664 households have relocated from 30 villages under GVH Osiyana to the hills, but only 53 occupy decent houses. Some of these homes were constructed by Malawi Red Cross Society, a humanitarian organisation which works to lessen the suffering of people in emergency situations.

The rest of households dwell in mud shacks.

Government has drilled 11 boreholes—increasing the number of water points in the settlement to 20.

But Osiyana residents appeal for more boreholes for the growing population.

“We spend almost three hours to get a bucket of water. The environment is unhygienic and lives are at risk of water-borne diseases,” says Mervis Boloma.

The struggles for water dissuade some households from leaving the flood-prone “as no one wants to move where there is no water” says the woman.

“The future looks bleak as the ‘new’ home has no basic amenities,” explains Village Civil Protection Committee chairperson Ishmael Mackson.

He wants government to construct a clinic closer to the settlement to ensure no one dies of treatable conditions.

“Besides the absence of a clinic, there is no school. Some children have dropped out of school due to long distances,” he explains.

Another villager, Balton Damisoni, says most of their incomes come from public works under Local Development Fund (LDF) and charcoal burning.

“Things got worse when most NGOs suspended their aid. Only Care Malawi provides each home with 15 kg of beans and four litres of cooking oil every two months. This is not enough. This is why many are resorting to charcoal making,” he says.

As charcoal business grows, the trees are vanishing at an alarming rate, much faster than forests are being replenished.

To GVH Osiyana, this points to a repeat of the 2015 tragedy which forced the Ruo to change its course—leaving Makhanga Market cut off from the rest of the country.

Now reduced to a ghost trading centre, Osiyana has become an island only reachable using canoes. n

 

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Cries of Makhanga ‘islanders’ http://mwnation.com/cries-makhanga-islanders/ http://mwnation.com/cries-makhanga-islanders/#comments Thu, 09 Nov 2017 06:53:39 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221630   Makhanga, a food basket in Nsanje, remains cut off two years after  floods destroyed roads and railway infrastructure in the Lower Shire Valley. The setback is slowing down their rise from the impoverishing effects of the January 2015 disaster. “People are sliding into abject poverty. Businesses are collapsing,” says Mlolo Area Development Committee (ADC)…

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Makhanga, a food basket in Nsanje, remains cut off two years after  floods destroyed roads and railway infrastructure in the Lower Shire Valley.

The setback is slowing down their rise from the impoverishing effects of the January 2015 disaster.

“People are sliding into abject poverty. Businesses are collapsing,” says Mlolo Area Development Committee (ADC) chairperson Hastings Tembo,

The locals struggle to transport potatoes, fish, maize and other goods to Blantyre, Thyolo, Mulanje and beyond.

No through road: Now people use canoes to get to Makhanga

“Transport costs are rising. We no longer profit from our toil since the railway and the earth road to East Bank  were washed away,” he says.

Makhanga became “an island” when Ruo River burst its banks at Osiyana Village and flooded Chuluchamkango on the way to Shire River.

Then, the East Bank Road was already bumpy and neglected. However, the floods further damaged the earth road, pushing travel costs up.

Farmers say they are being ripped off by vendors from Blantyre, Thyolo and Mulanje who buy farm produce at low prices.

“We sell our produce at a loss, but the vendors say it is not cheap to transport goods from here,” says Tembo.

With time, the business hotspot near the confluence of Ruo and Shire has become a ghost trading centre.

Farmers and agribusiness community are being reduced to begging.

“Many are discarding farming due to poor prices,” says Karim Kansima, explaining: “Others have abandoned irrigation farming. Despite high cost of inputs, there is no gain,” says the farmer.

 

Impoverished

Poverty is deepening in the area with fertile wetlands and crop fields.

The damaged transport system and shifting of the river have left incomes and livelihood falling.

Aida Kumizinga, a member of a safe motherhood committee, says pregnant women and critical patients are dying of treatable diseases because Makhanga Health Centre rarely receives basic medical supplies.

“Since 2015, the health centre has been struggling to provide vital services.  Most drugs and medical supplies arrive at the riverbank at night. They wait for canoes until the next morning. This gives room to theft,” she says.

Group village head (GVH) Kalonga says nearly all patients are referred to Trinity Mission Hospital at Fatima, which is costly for the poor.

“Transport costs are already high, but they get higher when pregnant women and patients need emergency care at night. We pay K6 000 to get to the river, K1 000 to hire a canoe to the other side and another K6 000 to Fatima,” said the traditional leader.

At the Catholic-owned hospital, patients have to foot medical bills.

Before the river changed its course, they used to pay K1 000 for the 30-kilometre trip to and from Fatima.

Now, it is worth up to K18 000 if one uses bicycle or motorcycle taxis.

Education is equally hit as schools in the rural setting have no up-to-date books and learning materials.

 

Porous border

Ruo River marks the border between Malawi and Mozambique.

Rocks and debris chocked the river, forcing it to change course.

In Mwanavumbe Village, where the original course has run dry, Light Dinala, says Malawians live in fear of unrest and nightly raids as Mozambicans easily hop in to steal livestock and other movable goods.

“The floods destroyed the boundary which kept us safe during the civil war in Mozambique. Now, they walk in at will and steal livestock and other goods,” he says.

There is no police unit and officers in sight.

Security is in the hands of community members with no training and arms to stop armed invaders and robbers, locals say.

“When our cattle, goats and horses cross to Mozambican side, they are detained until we pay K60 000 per animal,” says Tembo.

He admittedly paid K120 000 to redeem his cows. n

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Urine tests for faster TB diagnosis http://mwnation.com/urine-tests-faster-tb-diagnosis/ http://mwnation.com/urine-tests-faster-tb-diagnosis/#comments Wed, 08 Nov 2017 07:13:03 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221578   Diagnosis of TB among people living with HIV is not easy. In this article, our News Analyst MERCY MALIKWA highlights  trials that could reverse the trend   Tuberculosis (TB) continues to pose a significant challenge to the country’s efforts to end death of people living with HIV. Globally, the disease remains the main cause…

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Diagnosis of TB among people living with HIV is not easy. In this article, our News Analyst MERCY MALIKWA highlights  trials that could reverse the trend

 

Tuberculosis (TB) continues to pose a significant challenge to the country’s efforts to end death of people living with HIV.

Globally, the disease remains the main cause of hospitalisation and deaths among people living with the virus which causes Aids.

Oosterhout: Positive fruits noted

In Malawi, almost 16 960 TB cases were reported in 2016, down from 17 035 in 2015.

According to National Tuberculosis Control Programme manager Dr James Mpunga, 53 percent of these TB patients were also infected with HIV.

“Deaths associated with HIV and TB are at four percent per year for all sputum-positive TB patients. The risk of TB increases 20-fold in HIV-positive individuals compared with HIV- negative individuals,” he says.

While it is expected that, with a risk so high, diagnosis of TB should be faster in people diagnosed HIV-positive to allow them start taking treatment earlier, the testing methods available in the country are slower and not helping the situation.

Dr Bwanali Jereni, head of medical department at Zomba Central Hospital, quotes studies that have shown that with sputum microscopy and gene-expert for TB screening, diagnostic yield is at approximately 30 percent.

“This means 70 percent of suspected TB patients are left undiagnosed because sputum specimen submission from patients who do not have productive cough like most of HIV patients is quite a challenge,” he says.

This is a recipe for disaster as the majority of TB cases are left undetected and individuals do not receive the required treatment in time.

“Late presentation of TB in all patients is associated with relatively poor treatment outcomes. This is even worse for HIV-positive patients who might have compromised immunity levels,” says Mpunga.

This, therefore, calls for better and quicker diagnosis among PLHIV.

Just last year, World Health Organisation (WHO) director for global TB programme Mario Raviliglione stressed the need for Malawi to expand TB interventions to reduce high incidences of the disease.

He said: “Malawi is one of the developing countries where the TB epidemic is a major concern and it is closely associated with HIV and Aids.

“This calls for expansion of interventions such as early TB diagnosis, including universal drug-susceptibility testing, systematic screening of contacts and high-risk groups.”

As the search for better and quicker diagnosis methods is on, medical and research organisation Dignitas International (DI) is conducting a clinical trial to see if screening HIV-infected patients admitted to hospital in southern Africa for tuberculosis using rapid urine-based diagnostic tests has an impact on mortality.

The new bedside urine-based test, touted to diagnose TB within 30 minutes, is called TB-Lam and it is being used as an addition to the routine sputum tests.

The trial, referred to as Stamp, started in 2015 and was expected to end in October.

Almost 1 300 people diagnosed with HIV enrolled for the study conducted at Zomba Central Hospital and Edendale Regional Hospital in South Africa.

They were aged above 18, in need of acute admission to the hospitals’ medical wards, provided informed consent and lived within Zomba and not intending to move away during follow-up period.

Every day, Jereni and other medics assess patients newly admitted to the medical ward at Zomba Central Hospital to ascertain if they are eligible for enrolment in the trial.

Those found eligible are approached by a research nurse or clinical officer.

“After obtaining the patient’s consent, we fill questionnaires  through oral interviews and biological samples are taken for laboratory testing. Apart from blood samples, participants are asked to submit sputum and urine for TB screening,” he says.

The samples are tested the same day they are collected and results are delivered to the participants within 24 hours.

Interestingly, the results comprise a CD4 count, haemoglobin and whether the TB screening tests were positive.

DI site-principal investigator Dr. Joep van Oosterhout says that critical patients often struggle to produce sputum and those who have extra-pulmonary TB generally do not cough and also do not produce sputum, thereby making diagnosis difficult.

“We have learned that it is feasible to get urine samples from virtually all admitted patients, while it is much more difficult to get sputum samples. This is an advantage of urine-based TB testing,” he says.

However, while Oosterhout hopes for better results “as positive fruits” are already being noted.

“Since the trial started, there has been improved management of patients with HIV-related infections, especially those with TB, says Jereni.

Generally, there is an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with TB and those put on treatment.

“There is also general observation that treatment outcome, morbidity and mortality among TB patients with Aids, has improved, but whether this study has played the role, this will be determined after the results are out,” he says.

At  national level, Mpunga says  the study will help the Ministry of Health (MoH) in understanding the contribution of newer diagnostic tests in identifying TB among HIV-positive patients.

“The yield of the conventional methods in picking TB among HIV positive patients is low and hence more sensitive methods are always welcome. Evidence on the effectiveness of Lam being a newer test is sought in order to help inform policy,” he says. n

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Begging to educate children http://mwnation.com/begging-educate-children/ http://mwnation.com/begging-educate-children/#respond Tue, 07 Nov 2017 11:56:41 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221509   The streets of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu offer travellers numerous encounters with people with disabilities begging. However, the sights are sporadic beyond the major cities. Although most street beggars dress shabbily, Janet Chinthenga paints a totally different picture. On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we met her walking on all fours in the corridors…

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The streets of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu offer travellers numerous encounters with people with disabilities begging.

However, the sights are sporadic beyond the major cities.

Although most street beggars dress shabbily, Janet Chinthenga paints a totally different picture.

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we met her walking on all fours in the corridors of Lambat’s Shop in Blantyre.

She was neat, evoking many questions.

Searching for a kwacha: Chinthenga on her begging spree in Blantyre

 

In an interview, the woman, from Namadzi in Zomba, narrated her story: “I am out begging to maintain my business and keep children in school.”

She was born without any disability, but became paralysed 39 years ago.

“At seven, l fell sick and I couldn’t stand up or walk. l was paralysed and started crawling. The disability started with one leg. In no time, both legs were paralysed,” she says.

Chinthenga is now 46. She went to St Mary’s Secondary School in Zomba.

In 1988, she followed her husband to Blantyre and started selling dry fish and tomatoes in her home in Namiyango when he persuaded her not to get a job.

This reduced her to a housewife tasked to raise their children.

Unfortunately, she feels cheated as the man dumped her reportedly after collecting his retirement payout at Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) in 2006.

This left her with the burden of raising five children single-handedly.

Chinthenga was introduced to street begging in Limbe by her friend, who also has a physical disability.

“I detested the idea of hitting the streets to beg. I felt ashamed. With time, it has become part of life,” she explains.

Some urge against giving alms when confronted by street beggars, arguing it makes them lazy.

Others argue that beggars spend their earnings on liquor and transactional sex.

But Chinthenga invests her earnings in a roadside fish business in her home.

“I survive by selling some tomatoes, dried fish and eggs near my house,” she says.

Chinthenga uses the proceeds from the small-scale business to buy food and pay school fees for her children.

“I am struggling to keep them in school. My firstborn is currently at Blantyre Teachers College and the other four go to various secondary schools,” she explains.

Chinthenga is determined to use her meagre earnings to ensure every child learns.

She owns a house connected to the national electricity grid so that her children can study even at night, she says.

But she highlights the difficulties faced by street beggars: scornful names, daylight robberies and being harassed by street children.

“I will never forget the day I was slapped in the face by a street boy just because I refused to release the money I had collected that day,” she narrates.

The woman was trained in tailoring by Macoha.

She envisages the skills helping her stop crawling on the streets of Blantyre and Limbe to concentrate on her tailoring and selling goods in her township.

“If only I had a sewing machine, I would be working at one place instead of crawling all over town as a beggar,” she pleads.

Biston Macheso, the bishop of Ladders to Heaven Church at Mthandizi in Bangwe Township, urges well-wishers to gather together the constrained beggars and provide them with necessary support so that they do not feel sidelined or like second-class citizens in society.

Macheso encouraged people of goodwill to assist the needy, saying: “Fortunately, Chinthenga already has some capacity of running a business such as tailoring and selling some commodities. She needs a financial boost.

 

 

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Tearing cities brick by brick http://mwnation.com/tearing-cities-brick-brick/ http://mwnation.com/tearing-cities-brick-brick/#comments Mon, 06 Nov 2017 09:52:15 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221349   What will it take to make our cities resilient to frequent urban disasters? Certainly, the answer does not lie in making bricks thicker. Bulky or not, bricks are opening up pits and baring grounds that expose cities to catastrophes. Visiting populous townships of Blantyre, we saw how brick-makers are depleting soil along rivers and…

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What will it take to make our cities resilient to frequent urban disasters?

Certainly, the answer does not lie in making bricks thicker.

Bulky or not, bricks are opening up pits and baring grounds that expose cities to catastrophes.

Visiting populous townships of Blantyre, we saw how brick-makers are depleting soil along rivers and valleys.

Kilns stand aloft in an area hit hard by Lilongwe floods in February

In Bangwe, Chigumula, Machinjiri, Chatha and Kameza in Blantyre, gaping pits are deepening where groups have scrapped off top soil meant for agriculture, moulded bricks and erected kilns surrounded by heaps of logs waiting to be burned.

As smoke spiralled from newly burnt kilns and enduring logs were being reduced to ash, the teams were waiting for the bricks to cool down.

In Machinjiri, Knights Noah Tsadoka explained why they keep excavating pits closer to waterways.

“We don’t mould bricks anywhere, but use clay or loam soils which produce quality bricks that do not break easily,” said the 52-year-old.

He also makes the clay building blocks at Nakulenga, Maone and other areas in the vicinity.

A growing scramble for land in the city, with thousands living in buildings that are in disaster-prone river banks and hillsides, have pushed Tsadoka and his team to the borders of townships.

For them, rapid population growth and urbanisation giving rise to sprawling settlements in cities, means big business.

“I started this business two years ago. I am not employed. I have no skill. I mould and sell bricks to support my wife and five children,” he says, ramming a log into a kiln near Mudi River at Maone.

He produces up to 150 000 bricks every dry season.

“When a pit is exhausted, we move to a new spot,” he says.

When it rains heavily, water fills the pits and weakens the walls of the pools, breaking the banks to flood neighbouring settlements.

This was one of the major lessons from floods which displaced thousands in Lilongwe in February.

When Lingadzi River flooded Ntandire, tops of giant kilns popped out in swamped valleys as survivors and onlookers picked goods floating in the flood.

Department of Environmental Affairs spokesperson Sangwani Phiri termed overreliance on burnt bricks as a major environmental concern.

“This is a big cause for worry,” he said. “It should not be encouraged at all. Bricks are consuming forests and exposing settlements to disasters.”

Recently, government announced a hazy push to replace bricks with cement blocks.

But the shift is slow.

According to Phiri, there is no policy and deadline for the desired migration to environmental-friendly, resilient building blocks,

He explained:  “We cannot say when bricks will phase out. We are moving at a snail’s pace and the use of cement blocks remains an emerging issue.

“However, it is encouraging that new structures being built by companies and public institutions are made of cement blocks. We need to embrace this wholeheartedly to save trees from going up in smoke and reduce disasters.”

But Erick Sekeyani, who moulds bricks at Chatha in Blantyre, says demand for burnt bricks is rising as buildings mushroom in the city.

“We get many customers, some buying bricks for houses and others for fences as well. We are not scared of the talk about cement blocks. Not many Malawians can afford them,” he says.

Eco Bricks and Blocks Factory Limited is one of the companies supplying building blocks made of cement and sand.

“The cement blocks are better than fired bricks in many ways,” says its marketing manager Kwatha Chitanda. “They are resilient though only a little cement is needed when constructing houses as compared to burnt bricks. They are also time-saving when building as they are big,” he says.

According to Chitanda, the main buyers of concrete hollow boxes, made of cement and quarry dust, include schools, companies and well-off individuals.

“If government bans the use of burnt bricks today, we will save trees and restore vegetation, rivers and soils in just 10 years.”

According to Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development spokesperson Charles Vintulla, government tasked councils to regulate brick-making in their territory.

“This is supposed to be addressed in city by-laws,” he said.

In July, Zomba City Council sounded a warning against activities “likely to cause damage to the environment”, including moulding bricks.

Blantyre City Council (BCC) town planner Costly Chanza says the agenda for resilient settlements is nothing unless poverty and inequality drop.

The rush for bricks demonstrates how urban development worsens environmental degradation, disaster risks and vulnerability.

But banning bricks is not a magic bullet.

“Building resilience settlements include investment in drainage systems, water management and preventing developments in slopes and low-lying areas,” he explained.

“There is need for good urban and local governance to make the strategies work,” said Chanza.

As we left Maone, Tsadoka was still waiting to cash in on his treasured kiln, as the early rains on Friday could signal a rise in prices since prices of bricks soar during rainy season. n

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Malawi imports charcoal from Mozambique http://mwnation.com/malawi-imports-charcoal-mozambique/ http://mwnation.com/malawi-imports-charcoal-mozambique/#comments Fri, 03 Nov 2017 18:33:23 +0000 http://mwnation.com/?p=221196   Machinjiri was in darkness when we arrived in the largest township in southern Malawi. It was almost 18 hours since electricity went off before sunrise, giving rise to relentless roars of generators. Only yellowish lights from homes lit by solar power and rechargeable lamps and backup systems formed faint halos in the night. “We…

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Machinjiri was in darkness when we arrived in the largest township in southern Malawi.

It was almost 18 hours since electricity went off before sunrise, giving rise to relentless roars of generators.

Only yellowish lights from homes lit by solar power and rechargeable lamps and backup systems formed faint halos in the night.

“We go to sleep in the dark and wake up with no power. We usually leave phones plugged on the sockets just in case power comes unexpectedly,” says Michael Mwala, a resident.

Just in case!

Such are the power uncertainties in Malawi as some sections endure 25 hours without electricity.

The crisis is worsening as power generated down the Shire River further slumped by 20 megawatts (MW) last week.  This triggered Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) to start giving some residential areas no power all day.

The depressing cutbacks are a devastating blow on Escom’s push “towards power all day, every day”.

In 2012, the then minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu told the nation to “embrace the blackouts”.

But Malawians are not getting used to frequent power blackouts. Rather, they are illegally importing truckloads of charcoal from Mozambique.

 

Hot business

The cross-border trade has been on the rise for nearly two years.

In Blantyre’s power-starved townships, it pans out day and night—shinning the light on how forests are going up in smoke on both sides of the south-western border.

In Machinjiri, we saw an articulated truck, returning from Mozambique, offloading the illegal imports bag by bag.

The bags are small, almost a third of those locally produced charcoal worth almost 6 000 a sack.

“Don’t buy local charcoal,” says Fyness, who sells imported charcoal at Luwanda. “This is the best deal. It burns longer. In no time, your food will be ready.”

The retailer says she had brought in almost 400 bags on Tuesday, but just about 22 were remaining during the visit on Thursday around 8.30am.

“This is hot business. We no longer have natural trees to produce quality charcoal like what we are getting from Mozambique. Soon, the heap will be gone,” she explains, bragging that another consignment was on the way.

Many people were seen scrambling for the charcoal trickling from the forests of Angonia and Mutalala through Mwanza Border Post.

The natural woods are located almost 50km from the boundary on the way to the coalfields of Moatize in Mozambique.

Why do buyers jostle for small bags worth K3 500 when it takes three of them—worth  K11 500—to fill a locally sourced one which is bulky and sold at K6 000 nearby?

 

Durable charcoal

In random interviews, the answer was unanimous: Mozambican charcoal is durable, burns really hot and emits less smoke.

But this is not another story of a nation obsessed with foreign goods, including bananas and potatoes from Tanzania.

“This is not sustainable,” environmentalist Dorothy Tembo-Nhlema says. “It means natural trees which produce charcoal are almost gone. Government needs to wake up and find ways of promoting the uptake of alternative and cleaner sources of energy because this is one of the effects of the frequent and lengthy electricity blackouts.”

The environmentalist reckoned the two countries may run out of the remaining natural forests unless they seal “porous borders”.

Nhlema explains: “One day, we will have no tree. For a country fighting illegal charcoal business to start importing the same shows the borders are porous. Our neighbours can buy our charcoal in bulks, repackage it and sell it back to us.

“This puts forest in danger. The country will continue experiencing devastating effects of climate change, especially floods, drought and hailstorms.”

In an interview after grabbing a bag, Mary Mwale, 38, says: “Let’s not fool ourselves: we are tired of local charcoal which looks like it comes from maize stalks. Muwanga, Tsanya and other good trees are gone. Half the bags contain charcoal dust and other residues.

“The bags from Mozambique look small, but you have nothing to throw away.  This is good because endless blackouts are straining our budgets.”

 

Dependence on charcoal

Nearly every household—about 97 percent—in Malawi relies on firewood or charcoal for cooking and heating.

Government has come up with a National Charcoal Strategy “to arrest and reverse deforestation and overdependence on charcoal.

But the framers of the strategy acknowledge “no single solution exists” to the question of booming charcoal business.

It reads in part: “With alternative fuel sources underdeveloped, firewood and charcoal will continue to form a significant part of Malawi’s energy mix for the next few decades.”

Firewood remains the most used cooking fuel, accounting for 87.7 percent of homes, but charcoal now predominates in urban areas (54 percent).

This demand for charcoal is wiping out forests.

This leaves the country more vulnerable to climate shocks and environmental degradation, reducing agricultural productivity, food security, water levels and hydropower generation.

Blackouts aside, the country is hit hard by low access to electricity.

According to the National Statistical Office (NSO), just a tenth of the population is connected to the grid. However, only one percent of those with access to electricity use it for cooking.

The challenge of safeguarding forests is immense.

Every year, the country loses up to three percent of the country’s forests.

This is the highest deforestation rate in Southern African Development Community (Sadc), the second-highest on the continent and the fourth globally.

“From satellite images and what we see on the ground, it is clear deforestation rate in the country is very high. The arrival of charcoal from Mozambique, if true, could be an indication that we have reached a stage where a selection of natural trees that once produced quality charcoal coal—

But Sangwani Phiri, the spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs, says government is clamping down on illegal import of charcoal.

“We started noticing proliferation of charcoal in Lilongwe early this year. Police and forestry officers have been confiscating the bags from transporters, vendors and buyers because they are illegal. We will not allow the country to be used as a market and conduits for illegal charcoal trade,” he said.

But what do the truckloads of this illegal cargo from abroad mean to efforts to end charcoal?

“We are on the ground and we are doing a good job to enforce forestry laws which ban charcoal trade. Those captured testify that they are turning to Mozambique because police and forestry officials in Malawi are strict about ending charcoal production and sales in the country,” says Phiri.

But sights of trucks and bicycles hauling charcoal on main roads are just one contradiction of the claims of stringent enforcement of forestry laws.

The other, a sign of selective justice, includes bags of charcoal on sale near Zalewa Police Roadblock in Neno and Thabwa in Chikwawa where the security and forestry agents confiscate illegal forest produce.

“As law enforcers, we have roadblocks where forestry officials are supposed to confiscate charcoal and illegal products from our forests. The duty of police officers is to offer them back up security so that they can work well,” says Southern Region Police spokesperson Ramsey Mushani.

There are none in entry points, including Mwanza Border where charcoal-carrying trucks from Mozambique cross with ease.

According to Phiri, the Department of Forestry has ceded its powers to Malawi Revenue Authority officials to keep all illegal forestry-related imports in check.

But truck drivers, familiar with the transportation of imported charcoal, say they find it harder to cross Zobwe Border Post on Mozambique’s soil.

“Most truckers bury the bags of charcoal under dry cargo, especially clinker [a raw material for cement]. When they discover the bags, they grab everything, instantly.” At Mwanza, on Malawian side, they only care when it comes to charcoal from our forests,” says Moses, a Blantyre-based long-distance driver.

He added: “When they see bags from Mozambique, they either ask for one or change for a cold drink. No questions. You go scot-free.”

The so-called “cold drink” is a codename for kickbacks.

Just like that, some charcoal traders import thousands of bags per trip, a sign that there is huge unmet demand for charcoal locally.

At Zalewa, we met some businesspeople waiting for trucks to bring their order and other readying to travel to the forests of Mozambique where charcoal is sold by the roadside as is the case in Malawi.

“You either go there to order yourself or offer a trusted truck driver some money to do it for you,” says a woman who has been running the business for 10 months.

 

Business opportunity

To Chiotha, the charcoal from Malawi is not only sustaining an appetite for charcoal which keeps consuming forests where trees are being wiped out faster than they are being planted.

“This is a business opportunity. We need to make energy trees for future energy part of the annual tree planting season. If we plant good trees for charcoal now, we will harvest and sell when they are mature,” he says.

But almost half of the trees planted every year died due to drought and lack of care.

Embracing alternative energy sources, including wind and solar, could be the game-changer as power failures have become a new normal.

The demand for charcoal is depleting forests at Senzani, Phalula, Kamwamba and other parts of the Shire Highlands.

Downstream, the turbines are producing less and less energy as the Shire, the source of almost 99 percent of the country’s hydropower, is being buried in silt.

As Escom brinks on and off, truck drivers who operate between Malawi and Mozambique say the forests across the border look “similar to ours”—a lengthy drive splitting vast grasslands dotted with shrubs and “one or two big trees” that can produce quality charcoal.

“What is happening is that we have burnt nearly all our trees and we are off to rub out forests in the neighbouring country,” a truck driver says. n

 

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