Congratulations to Dr Mia Perry - Winner of a Research Culture Award

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager

Please join us in celebrating Dr Mia Perry, SFA Network Co-founder and Co-Director, who has been awarded the Research Culture Award 2021 at the University of Glasgow.

The University of Glasgow defines a positive culture as one in which colleagues

  • are recognised and valued for their varied contributions to research
  • support each other to succeed
  • are supported to produce work that meets the highest standards of academic rigour

Key values that are promoted are research integrity, open research, recognition for varied contributions to research, fair approaches to evaluation and collegiality.

“Dr Mia Perry was nominated by a number of colleagues for her unsurpassed commitment across the University of Glasgow and beyond to research and development in the field of education and sustainable development.” 

Read full text here.

Congratulations Mia, from the SFA Family! It is an honour to work and learn with you.


Insights from LUANAR: CJIF project's successes

A JOURNEY TO THE PRODUCTION OF BIOGAS AND BIO-SYNGAS

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administrator, LUANAR

Wastes being the unusable materials as they are, who would want to do anything with them? But as the saying goes, what can be seen irrelevant to a certain discipline can be relevant to another, for instance, one discipline can think agricultural and municipal wastes do not have any use but here are some scientists, academicians and local people who think that these wastes have the potential to produce energy to help in tackling the issues of climate change.

To validate this, a research project titled ‘Development of sustainable clean cooking facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi’ was funded by the Scottish Government Climate Justice Innovation fund. Different partners namely LUANAR, Abundance worldwide, LEAD, University of Glasgow and Fab engineering partnered with Dr Nader Karimi to work on it. LUANAR’s aim was to conduct surveys on waste availability by studying agricultural and other organic wastes in different parts of the country especially in 6 districts of Nkhotakota and Lilongwe the central part of Malawi, Karonga and Mzimba districts the northern part of Malawi and Machinga specifically in Mbando village and Chikwawa district in the southern part of Malawi in Feb/March/ April of 2020. There after doing the chemical analyses of the wastes.

What an exciting opportunity for LUANAR to be part of the project as it triggered the minds to know more about agricultural and municipal wastes usefulness in production of energy. In Malawi, the general understanding has been that most agricultural wastes have performed poorly in production of biogas and bio-syngas and as such they have mainly been left idle leading to continued use of firewood that leads to deforestation. 

Well not anymore as different solutions are coming up through the use of municipal and agricultural wastes to produce bio-fuels which are then burned in a novel gas cooker. Indeed this will save Mother Malawi from high deforestation rate that it has recorded in the recent years in Africa (Ngwira S & Watanabe T, 2019).

Members from LUANAR conducted surveys in the mentioned districts, some of the common biomass and/ or organic wastes that were found and samples collected were cassava peelings, bean shells, rice husks, bagasse, molasses, maize bran, cow dung, sorghum stems, sorghum fruit, goat droppings and many more. Another waste that was mentioned that some members had responded was plastic wastes; well one would wonder if this is a biomass waste, right? Not strictly speaking though, the origin maybe biomass in fossil form. For some thoughts some might think to study on this and see if these plastics wastes can be useful in generating energy.

Interestingly, some respondents said that most of the crop and livestock wastes are used for crop production as a source of nutrients which is a very good use. Though this is the case, many of them demonstrated that such wastes were not adequately utilized which gives a window of using these wastes in the production of energy.

Bagasse being one such type of wastes that is produced in abundance by the sugar industries as well as residents in sugar growing areas, this waste was found that excess of it is left unused even after the sugar processing companies have burned it to produce electricity. Perhaps, this can be a raw material in areas where it is in excess to produce biogas and bio-syngas.

The waste sample raw materials that were collected were analysed for components that determine suitability of biomass for biogas and bio-syngas production. Carbon: Nitrogen (C: N) ration in the range of 10:30 was used to guide quality aspects related to the intended use. Fortunately, the sampled wastes were within the range that is suitable for biogas production. Most interestingly, all the chemical elements seen as impurities that would reduce the efficiency of the value of the biomass in the production of biogas in the sampled wastes were below the limits of copper (mg/kg) of 10.00, Zinc (mg/kg) 350.00, Nickel (mg/kg) 100 and Chromium (mg/kg) thresholds.

As successful as the surveys and analyses were, Mbando Village in Machinga district was ready to do the trials as the abundant wastes there were rice husks and cow dung. The trials are a success, biogas and bio-syngas are now being produced used for cooking at Mbando.

Laboratory used to analyse biomass wastes

Insights from Abundance: CJIF project's successes

Fuelling Environmental Conservation: Saving trees in Mbando community

By Stewart Paul, Abundance

In a country with very low access to electricity at 11 % (World Bank, 2020), Malawi is bound to a heavy reliance on biomass as fuel for cooking meals, both at small/household to medium/commercial scale. Between March 2020 and February 2021, I participated in a study on “Sustainable Clean Cooking Facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi”. Funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Innovation Fund (CJIF), the project aimed to help address deforestation in southern Malawi (Machinga) through delivering a sustainable biofuel production using organic waste as fuel for clean and efficient cooking. Designed in Glasgow and built by FabEngineering in Blantyre, the technology might just be a long term solution towards curbing heavy reliance on charcoal and fuelwood for food preparation, especially at a medium scale.

Abundance’s Grace Moyo (left) and Ruth Mumba (Centre) meeting with FabEngineering’s Andrew Khonje (right)

From attending bi-weekly management meetings to leading data analysis of the 2 surveys conducted in Machinga district between September 2020 and January 2021 I would consider myself as having closely worked with the rest of the partners as well as Abundance team on this project. The first survey was on waste collectors analysing the waste collection process, preparation of food, collection of fuel for cooking and knowledge of the environmental impact of burning fuels for cooking. The major findings were that maize stalks are the most common waste type found in Mbando community and that the majority of the stalks are collected at a fee. Also, it is mainly women who prepare food and the preparation process takes around one hour. Whereas mixed views characterised our enquiry on the importance of knowing the fuel type being used, the majority of the survey respondents showed wide knowledge on the environmental impacts of burning fuels, which largely border on the destruction of the physical environment. By successfully designing, delivering and piloting a cooking technological innovation that does not use fuelwood, I am compelled to conclude that the project was a success and it delivered on its aim and objectives.

Soy-corn blend porridge prepared using one of the cookers during piloting

My contribution towards the overall success of the project was mainly attributed to the cordial working relationship with all the partners: LUANAR, FAB Engineering, LEAD and the University of Glasgow. I hope the outcomes and outputs from this project will be used for further research and development of the technology and thereby substantially contribute towards our common drive and urgency to reduce people’s reliance on the “lungs of the land” for food preparation. By training community members on how to use the tested technologies, the project ensured that the community continues to benefit and conserve the environment through its sustainable use.  Stakeholder engagements conducted towards the close of the project saw heightened participation and raised interest from crucial players in the area of energy such as the University of Malawi (Chancellor College and the Polytechnic) and the Scotland-Malawi partnership. Furthermore, the presentation of the project at the Machinga District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting was one of the key milestones as it ensures that the project is not only recognised but appreciated and appraised at the local government level.


Waste management training manual for primary schools

By Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction

ECOaction and its partners (Sustainable Futures in Africa Network, Kampala City Council Authority, Makerere University, Design hub Kampala and the US Embassy) aim to promote and sustain proper solid waste management practices and environmental awareness within schools and communities in Kampala, Uganda. The team aims to teach educators and learners how reducing, reusing and recycling solid waste can make a difference to their school, community, and the environment.

ECOaction has the skills and resources to support this development of this knowledge and practice in schools. In 2019-2020, they worked with Environment and Sanitation clubs in primary schools across Kampala City, on the “Clean Air” project that aimed to help schools to achieve proper waste management. ECOaction and partners collaborated with a group of experts to develop a “tool kit” or teaching and learning manual for waste management and recycling in primary schools.

A curriculum specialist from Makerere University, Dr Leah Sikoyo, and Dr Mia Perry from the University of Glasgow have co-developed the manual with ECOaction community artists, and a local designer. The objective of this manual is to build upon ECOaction’s efforts to sensitize school children on environmental awareness. In particular, the resource relates to proper waste management, through hands-on practical activities relating to reusing and recycling everyday waste to generate useful products for various activities within the school and surrounding communities. The practices described contribute to a clean environment and sustainable livelihoods. The manual introduces the justifications, principles and practices of proper waste management and demonstrates how these can be integrated into the primary school curriculum through relevant themes and topics.

Two flexible and adaptable school projects are suggested in the manual through step-by-step instructions; curriculum thematic connections; and visual illustrations and examples. Finally, each activity is linked to out-of-school and community practices for the broader learning and development in family and community contexts. The extended team strongly believes that this manual provides a unique and powerful resource to schools at this time, and aims to increase the reach and impact of this resource as well as build upon it to develop other resources for educational use.


High Cost of Electricity Is A Major Cause of Climate Change

By Vanessa Duclos, Network Manager

SFA member and PhD student, Anthony Kadoma, has had his first piece of writing published in Uganda national newspaper ‘New Vision’. The article is titled ‘High Cost of Electricity Is A Major Cause of Climate Change’.

It is surprising that despite all our water bodies in form of lakes and rivers, including the River Nile, which is the longest river in Africa, the percentage of Ugandans with access to electricity is the lowest in eastern Africa save for Burundi and South Sudan. The percentage of the citizens that have access to power in the East African region as reported by the World Bank in 2018 was: Burundi (11.02%), South Sudan (22.03%), Uganda (26%), Rwanda (34.72), Tanzania (35.56%) and Kenya (75%). When it comes to the availability of water from where most of the power is generated, Uganda leads all the countries with almost 15% of her land covered by freshwater lakes and swamps. Kenya only has 1.93%, Rwanda 3% and Tanzania 6.49% of its total landmass covered by water and swamps. This clearly shows that Uganda has an advantage over its neighbours. Then the question is why do few Ugandans have access to electricity? One of the reasons is that the cost of accessing and using power is costly for most Ugandans.

There are connection costs, wiring costs, monthly bills to pay, repair costs as well as the cost resulting from the malfunctioning of power, which has been reported to cause huge losses. Another hidden cost is that of load shedding if intended or just the power disappearing without one being alerted. This has spoilt the user’s electricity gadgets with no one to compensate them.

The second reason is that the settlement patterns in Uganda make it so expensive and difficult to have many of the citizens connected to the national grid. Almost all the parts of Uganda are habitable resulting in the scattering of homesteads all over the country, making it hard for them to be connected to the national grid.

Thirdly, there has been mismanagement of some of the government efforts to increase connections to the national grid. Programmes like rural electrification, connecting all-district and sub-county headquarters as well as health facilities are all commendable, but inadequate and do not directly target individual households.

With a handful of Ugandans having electricity in their homes even though they use it for lighting other than cooking, there is a big challenge. Almost all Ugandans whether in urban or rural areas cook using charcoal. This charcoal that is derived from cutting down trees has contributed to a great loss in terms of their acreage.

To make matters worse, the water supplied by the National Water and Sewerage Corporation cannot be consumed unless boiled first because of line leakages. This means that more trees must be cut down for homes to have clean water to drink, adding to our already burdened environment. When the forests are cleared rainfall becomes unreliable, seasons unpredictable, dry seasons are prolonged, crop yields are low, and ultimately limited household incomes.


IMPACT STORY: How an SFA Webinar influenced the curricula of an educational institution in Malawi

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administration, Malawi Hub

Edited by: Alex Maxwell, PGR, UK

During the COVID-19 pandemic, while most people were locked in their homes, the internet helped SFA continue to connect The SFA Malawi Hub was privileged to host a webinar with Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil on Ecosystem Based Disaster Risk Reduction at the end of April, 2020. The Director of Mzimba Christian Vocational School (MCVS) – a faith-based educational institution in Malawi which takes on ten students every year from across Malawi – and his staff, participated in the webinar which aimed at educating, informing and sharing knowledge on Ecosystem Disaster Risk Reduction. As an institution that tries to implement technology through applied research to develop solutions for the local context, the staff were able to learn examples of how ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction can be applied to disasters.  

The webinar was a knowledge sharing session, but could prove to have a deeper and longer-lasting impact for Malawi more generally, with the MCVS staff inspired to change their curricula to include thtopic. The curriculum developed through the webinar aims to tackle disasters such as floods, droughts, strong winds, and land-slidesLorent Mvulathe Director of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Management of MCVS explains on how this is useful for the future of Malawians, Using the Ecosystem Based Disaster Risk Reduction information in the curriculum can help reduce vulnerability in exposed communities’It is believed that including ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (EBDRR) in the curriculum will inform people and communities on the means to saving lives and peoples’ properties through critically thinking about the different ways to tackle everyday challenges. 

Staff believe the course will help students to understand the symbiotic interdependence between variables within the ecosystem which will then mitigate communities from destroying the local ecosystems. The knowledge gained can then be disseminated countrywide and support ecosystems across Malawi. There are additional requirements for the new curriculum to be successful, from teaching materials to building instructors capacities but it is believed that with this support, communities across Malawi will be better equipped and more resilient to dealing with the damaging effects from natural disasters.  

*Post based on an interview with Mzimba Christian Vocational School Director and Staff (Interviewer: Dora Nyirenda) 


February 2021 - Waste Management in primary schools

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December 2020 - Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

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Mbabane Flash Floods; a Time to Ponder and Act

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director, Eswatini and Malawi Hub

On 6th of February 2020, Mbabane residents in the Kingdom of Eswatini experienced unprecedented flash floods which wreaked havoc in the city, flooding the Plaza, The New Mall and the Industrial Area. It was a storm accompanied by lightning, thunder, hail, strong winds and heavy rainfall in a short period of a few hours. Some say that a similar incident occurred in 2005, others say they never saw anything like this in their lives. Was the incident on 6th February a cloud burst? The Cambridge Dictionary describes a “cloud burst” as a heavy fall of rain that begins and ends suddenly, often accompanied by thunder and lightning. Whether it was a cloud burst or not may need verification from the Department of Meteorology. However, no verification is needed  to state that the rainfall/storm/cloudburst brought the city of Mbabane to a halt.

The New Mall car park, which experienced flash flooding on 6 February 2020 – Mbabane, Eswatini

Streams overflowed, leading to roads, car parks and shops being flooded (in some areas up to knee height).  Several cars were affected, possibly damaged beyond repair. A lot of water runoff from the highway also went into the streams in Mbabane city, further contributing to the overflows and flooding. Supermarkets and shops incurred losses when their merchandise got wet/soaked. It is not clear how much the damage from these flash floods cost or how many shops were insured. In addition to businesses getting flooded, the electricity supply in the city was affected. Trees fell and several electric poles snapped or fell, requiring the Eswatini Electricity Company to work all night to restore power to the affected residents of Mbabane.

Such events make one ponder the big global challenge of our times, Climate Change. With Climate change, such heavy downpours are expected to increase in frequency. According to scientists, southern Africa may experience a mean annual temperature rise. Although mean annual rainfall in the region as a whole will decline, an increase in the intensity of high-rainfall events is projected to occur. Rising air and sea surface temperatures have the potential to lead to more frequent and intense tropical storms in the southern Indian Ocean, and can contribute to more frequent droughts.  These trends are going to affect almost all sectors, including public infrastructure and the private sector.

The heavy downpour of 6th February brings to light how infrastructure planning and the construction of commercial buildings can increase vulnerability to flooding. It is time to ask some important questions. Are the highways and roads which divert storm water to streams into the city actually contributing to flash flooding? Are shops and buildings built on low lying areas, including wetlands, a factor contributing to the increasing risk of flooding? Perhaps this is an opportune time to plan interventions to reduce the risk of such climate and weather shocks. We need to consider issues such as climate proofing infrastructure, disaster risk financing, and insurance to minimize vulnerability.

Coincidentally, during the week of the heavy rainfall event, the National Disaster Management Agency was holding a multi-stakeholder workshop at Mbabane. The purpose of the workshop was to provide training in disaster risk financing and how to create a drought risk monitor and management plan, learning from the 2015/16 El Niño induced drought. This is a welcome initiative given that disaster risk reduction and increasing preparedness and mitigation capacity is urgently needed, particularly in the context of rapid urbanization and the accompanying high hazards to which urban populations and their assets are exposed. The nation is also undertaking a National Adaptation Process, where risk reduction for such flash floods may need to be prioritized.

Short Video of the flash flooding on 6 February 2020 – Mbabane, Eswatini

Mbabane city was able to bounce back after this heavy rainfall event. Shops were cleaned up and opened the very next day.  Fallen trees were removed and electricity restored to residents within hours. But the question remains: how many flooding events can we afford in a year? With climate change, we know that the severity and intensity of droughts and floods are expected to increase in future. This calls for greater engagement with the private sector to ensure their participation in climate change adaptation efforts and Disaster Risk Reduction. Additionally, this incident has brought to light the need to integrate green (ecological), grey (built-environment) and blue (water) infrastructure. There is a compelling business case for the private sector to invest in these measures, because the alternative of bearing the costs of the recurring adverse impacts of floods and droughts may be too high for their business operations. There is no time to lose. We do not want future disasters to affect us, and to watch our future slip through our fingers, just like water.


Covid-19: The ‘Statue’

By Tom Ketlogetswe, Thapong Visual Arts Center, Botswana

Back in my childhood we used to play a game called ‘statue’. Played as a group, the game coordinator, situated in the middle, will ask us to run or walk. Whenever he/she uttered the word ‘statue’ everyone would freeze their motions immediately. Failure to freeze ones motion would lead to some kind of reprimand.

The Coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly flipped a ‘statue’ switch in our lives. Normal life has been frozen. Thapong Visual Art Centre in Gaborone, Botswana has not been spared the ‘statue’ moment. It has been more than two months since the centre tried to open its doors to art lovers to view a collection of 38 artworks themed around the Coronavirus. The exhibition comprises of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, ceramics and mixed media.

Majority of the works are a narrative of the pandemic. In majority of the works, the mask has become the symbol of the pandemic. Kedumetse Tshidiso’s painting titled ‘Run’ depicts the Coronavirus as a gigantic bird that unleashes pandemonium on the masses. Thabo Keorapetse’s ‘Waiting on the pandemic’ is a photograph showing dejected woman and child at a bus stop. In Gofaone Thebeetsile’s ‘Tourism’ painting, he paints a bleak future for the industry. Emmanuel Senamolela, a ceramist, uses pottery to represent the ‘feeling’ under the corona virus.

Other artists, such as Wailer Motsumi and Gabriel Puskas, are optimistic in their works. Motsumi’s sculpture titled ‘Education continues after  lockdown’ shows a girl in full school gear confidently walking to school. Puskas’s ‘Light in the dark’ painting is one of the few nonrepresentational pieces that suggest that amidst the dark and gloom there is a ray of light. In an effort to outwit the ‘statue’ coordinator, Thapong is working around the clock to showcase the exhibition in social media platforms.