Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 2)

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager of the SFA Network

Today (Nov 7th, 2019) was the second opportunity for the emerging designers to engage with the experts in Sustainable Development & the Global South. For more information about the project itself, please read this post.
The students presented the concept scenario they had developed as a team, as well as their individual direction which is a specific aspect of the future world they have created. These individual parts will lead to the design of distinct, imaginative and interrelated products, services and experiences. While designing, the students must keep in mind who they are designing for – future workers/future citizens – with consideration for how Sustainable Development work might evolve to enable/afford/alter the dynamics of people, process and practice in the Global South.

As most of them have never travelled to a destination in the Global South, they largely rely on the experts’ lived-experiences to grasp the reality of those living in developing countries. I was pleased to realise that as the emerging designers broaden their research and interact/interview the experts, they also start integrating what working across difference means, that there is more than often no “right” or “wrong”, “bad” or “good”, “them” and “us”, which are too easy and simplistic labels used to describe the disparity between the North and the South. I notice that they all felt more comfortable exploring the grey zone between both worlds where ideas and concepts can emerge, instead of stagnating in a criticism loop. While they learn from our experience, we also greatly learn from their creativity, flexibility, and open-mindedness which are skills that requires time and exposure to develop but which seem to be well built-in and natural for this group.


Impact Story from Nigeria: Policymakers Engagement on Artisanal Gold Mining

By Grace Idowu Awosanmi and Deepa Pullanikkatil

Dr Sola Ajayi, a Professor of Agricultural Science in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, got interested in agriculture through his experiences and observations growing up in a farming community. He is now the Director of the Nigerian hub of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network, a global network comprising members from the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana. “Being auniversity teacher and a Professor of Agriculture gave me the desire to understand communities in a holistic manner,” says Ajayi. “I look at the issue of community development more than just that of agriculture because I know that the development of communities is a result of so many interwoven factors. This was my attraction for joining SFA.”

Since 2014, Ajayi has been researching the nexus between artisanal gold mining and agriculture. He has conducted several field visits and partnered with other universities (notably Goethe University in Germany and Murdoch University in Australia) on issues relating to mining, community relationships and social engagement. So at the inaugural SFA meeting in Botswana in 2016, where hub countries were offered seed grants and asked to come up with projects, Ajayi presented the idea of ‘Prioritizing developmental needs in agrarian and mining communities’. The research question was: What is the priority for artisanal mining communities in the face of limited resources? A variety of methods were used by Ajayi and his interdisciplinary team, which included Prof. Akande from Adult Literacy and Lifelong Education and Prof. Torimiro from Agricultural Sociology.

Ajayi recalls, “As we progressed, there came an escalation in the problem of artisanal mining per se, which also extended to both my immediate environment at Ile-Ife and to the community where I was born. The issue of artisanal mining in Nigeria spiralled to become a security issue that was also threatening the social fabric of communities where these issues were taking place. Therefore we decided to narrow it down and then look at it in context.”

Prof Sola Ajayi meeting with youth

Mining in Itagunmodi

About a year after the start of the SFA project, the government of Nigeria came up with the idea of changing its developmental paradigm to focus on agriculture and mining. They wanted to reduce the dependence of the Nigerian economy on oil, targeting other aspects of the economy instead. This prompted the SFA team to ask, “If the government considers mining and agriculture to hold the key to economic diversification, why are the communities where these activities take place poor?”

Their interest in this question led them to the village of Igbojaye, located in Oyo State.  The community is strategically located within a strongly traditional institutional environment. Itagunmodi is less than 20 km from Ile-Ife, which is regarded as the source/origin of the Yoruba race. However, with the rise of mining and the influx of migrants it brought to the area, the Itagunmodi Kabiyesi (king) had been displaced and had to leave the community. The Yorubas are predominantly farmers, traders and learned people. Therefore, migrants from the north of the country came for the jobs, displacing the original members of the community. Two in every three occupants of the community is a migrant Northerner who does not speak the local language. Prof Ajayi recalls an instance in Itagunmodi when the Jumat prayer was spoken in the migrants’ language. “The migrants were no longer learning the native language. Rather the few natives that were there were learning the language of the migrant miners. We also saw a shift in the kinds of business activities, in the kinds of food in circulation, culture and even the music played on the street. All these no longer reflected the culture of the people.” It was alarming to the locals that Itagunmodi was now being taken over by people of another tribe, and it was seen which was now a major security concern.

As tensions rose in Itagunmodi, Prof. Ajayi spoke with various concerned parties, including the Honourable Commissioner for Environment and Community Leaders and Traditional Rulers, the Deputy Governor of the State and the Chief of Staff of the State. The Chief of Staff was very glad that the SFA team had come to provide research-based perspectives and to draw the government’s attention to the issue, and eventually some of the information they provided led to the convening of a security meeting.

Ajayi also spoke to the Commissioner of Police for Osun State, who was not aware of the security implication nor that the situation had degenerated so much. The Commissioner later informed Ajayi that there would be a Security Summit, which was widely covered in the national dailies. Ajayi also spoke to a very significant and influential indigenous personality, who is presently the Director-General of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (and was previously Nigeria’s ambassador to Australia), whom he had met during a research project collaboration. This led to the SFA group being put in charge of mining-related issues for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

At that time, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, a group tasked with the sustainable development of the predominantly Yoruba-speaking southwest region, asked the SFA hub to prepare a presentation that would inform the policy of the commission on the issue of mining and artisanal mining. Ajayi is happy that through SFA, he has been able for the first time to engage with policy makers and provide empirical evidence that can form the opinions and positions of both government and traditional institutions. He says, The goal of the project is not just research. The way I understand it, research is not an end in SFA, research is a means to an end and the end is the development of the community. We want to facilitate development not just as an academic exercise but as a daily experiential activity. So research is only a component of it to the extent that it serves to provide solutions, understanding and index analysis that will bring out solutions to problems. The development will involve members of the community, whether they are natives or migrants. Everyone that lives, everyone that transacts, everyone that has a stake in the community is a stakeholder so they need to be actively engaged. It will involve regulatory authorities, government authorities, traditional institutions and the people. It is important to engage people since the facilitation of development is something that can not be done alone.”


FROM LILONGWE TO GLASGOW: CRAFTING A CAREER PATH

Stewart Paul had just finished college when he attended the 2017 SFA Symposium in Botswana. “I graduated on Wednesday, and on Sunday I flew to Botswana,” he recalls. “It was my first international trip”. In fact, he’d applied for an express passport in order to attend. Having missed two international trips while studying for his undergraduate degree, he was determined not to miss this one. “During the Symposium I could sense that there was a lot of excitement,” Stewart says. “Here was a group of people from various backgrounds, from various disciplines, from various geographical locations, from various academic and professional backgrounds, coming together to discuss things that affect Africa.”

He had heard about the SFA Network through Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, co-founder of Abundance, an organisation Stewart volunteers with. She nominated him to get invited to come to Botswana and make a presentation on environmental degradation, particularly deforestation, and Malawi’s potential in that area. Stewart prepared carefully for his presentation, the first he’d ever made to an international audience. It was extremely well received, but Stewart insists the credit should go to Dr Pullanikkatil, SFA’s co-director, and Dr Boyson Moyo, director of the Malawi hub. “I came in with some input and made the actual presentation, but I would say 90% of the input came from these two. I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity, and I’m glad it went well. It was good for my confidence, and to receive such feedback was a morale-booster for me.”

Later that year, Stewart’s SFA involvement led to a role in a study conducted by Dr Nader Karimi of the University of Glasgow. The project examined the types and amounts of biomass energy available to rural and urban people in Malawi and Kenya. Together with Renew’n’Able, a Malawian NGO, Stewart and his Abundance colleagues collected data throughout five districts: Lilongwe, Dowa, Dedza, Machinga and Zomba. The findings showed that firewood was the most commonly used energy source, followed by charcoal. Both fuels emit dark, carbon-heavy smoke, posing a health risk; most of the respondents reported respiratory problems. As well as a health issue, Stewart explains that this is a gender issue – most cooking in Malawi is done by women – as well as an environmental issue, with pressure being placed on communal forests and bushes to provide fuel. Stewart says that this “contributes to the degradation of land as a resource, as well as the forests and the bushes and the entire ecosystem.” Throughout the study, respondents consistently expressed a willingness to switch to alternative sources of energy, but they report having no alternatives. The findings from this study forms the basis for a proposal that is being developed to impact positively and provide solutions to the energy crisis Malawi faces.

His work on that project had benefits for Stewart’s personal and professional development. By managing a team of researchers, he says he was able to exercise his leadership skills “on a new level”. He also had to interact with district council officials in order to gain access to the communities. “It took some time to convince them,” he recalls. “I told them that it was not a one-off thing, but the data we collect will be used for further research and activities that will ultimately help to bring a change in people’s lives.” He ultimately succeeded in gaining access for the team, playing a key role in the study.

Stewart later on had the chance to take up the position as Malawi’s SFA hub administrator. Through this position, he learnt to handle domestic and international communications on a daily basis and deal with finance and administration. “I’ve gained new skills,” he says. “Just this week we were working on proposal-writing for funding for projects.” He recently participated in a Research Administrators Workshop in Tanzania, organised by the University of Glasgow by where he named communications, financial management, budgeting and costing as areas where he learnt new ideas.

He hopes these skills will help him in his coming adventure as a student at the University of Glasgow, where he will earn his Master’s degree in Education. Through an SFA proposal submitted to Global Challenges Research Council, Stewart will be Glasgow bound in a few months’ time! His independent research will explore the implications – for access, inclusion, and attainment – of international educational policy and aid on local and place-based pedagogies.

As he prepares to head to Glasgow, Stewart remains busy with his work as hub administrator in Malawi. “I am challenged continuously to do the best that I can,” he says. He’s quick to attribute his success to the help of his colleagues: “Through the never-ending support that I receive from my hub director, Dr Moyo, as well as other local and international partners, we are able to move forward, achieve our objectives and be better. I think that the future of the SFA network can never be as bright as it is now.”


Women Environment Programme Wins Nigerian Energy Award

By Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of the Network

It was a proud moment for Women Environment Programme (WEP) when the 2019 Energy Globe National Awards in Nigeria were announced and they were declared winner. The technological innovation that got them the award was the Solar Tent Dryer, which has helped promote women economic empowerment in Adogo District, Nigeria.

In July 2018, WEP built a solar dryer at Adogo community using locally available materials. The tent was built like a greenhouse, with a short brick wall, tin roof and plastic sheets as walls, with air vents to allow warm air to rise. As the warm air rises, the fruits and vegetables which are laid out in racks made with nets are dried efficiently, while preserving its nutritional value. This technology hygienically and efficiently dries fruits and vegetables using solar radiation, which heats the tent like a green house. Previously, the community used to dry fruits and vegetables out in the open, prone to contamination by dust and flies. They said their pepper crop used to get rotten very quickly. Adogo community now uses the tent to dry chillies and fruits and says they are able to note that the colour and nutrition is better when drying in the tent and furthermore, the produce is preserved and lasts longer.

A simple, yet effective technology, the solar tent was inspired by Solar Fish Dryers built under the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme, implemented in fishing communities in southern Malawi. Deepa Pullanikkatil, who had previously worked in this project, shared the technology with WEP Founder Priscilla Ackchapa at the University of Glasgow in 2017 and brought a model of the solar tent to Nigeria in early 2018. WEP was able to replicate this model in their Adogo community and customize it to local situation with community participation. Both Deepa Pullanikkatil and Priscilla Ackchapa are members of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network and connected at the University of Glasgow at an SFA conference.

The technology is reducing waste of food produce, ensure availability of seasonal food for longer duration and preserves food, thereby increasing incomes for the community. WEP’s project of Promoting Women Empowerment through Efficient Technology that makes available solar dryer tents in rural communities won the organization he Energy Globe Award, which is today’s most prestigious environmental award. With over 2000 project submissions from more than 187 participating countries annually, it distinguishes projects regionally, nationally and globally that focus on energy efficiency, renewable energy and conservation of resources. Women Environmental Programme (WEP) was presented as the 2019 Energy Globe Award winners for Nigeria on 29th October 2019 on the occasion of the National Day Celebration at the Austrian Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria.

Women drying chillies in the solar dryer built by WEP

Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day1)

By Vanessa Duclos, lead Research Administrator of the SFA Network
David Gerow, SFA Intern and PhD student

This fall, the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network is collaborating with the Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) Innovation School. Over the semester, the 4th year product design students will work on a project on the theme of “Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & the Global South”. During this 8-week project, the cohort will investigate future forms and functions of sustainable development work in relation to the Global South, ultimately developing a future scenario and designing the artefacts, services and experiences associated with it 10 years from now.

Today, contemporary product design is not only an industrial or production-focused occupation; rather, it is becoming an epistemological practice, which explores the future, generates new knowledge and formulates hypotheses about how people may live or work in the years to come. Whether they are designing an artefact, service or experience, it is fundamental for a designer to know how to understand what drives people, what their needs are and why.

Dr Mia Perry worked with Dr Kirsty Ross, lecturer at the GSA and final year coordinator, to build the structure of this project. Over the last couple of weeks, the students split into seven groups worked together to conduct research in the domains of Health, Energy, Mobility, Economies, Education, Societal Structures and Environment. Each of these domains was examined through various lenses: Social, Technological, Economic, Ethical, Educational, Values, Political, Legal and Ecological. Then, based on this research, the students mapped societal shifts and identified emerging themes or scenarios.

This morning, the students shared their initial future scenarios with “the experts”: academics and professionals working within the field of sustainable development in the Global South, and members of the SFA Network. By sharing their work, the students had the opportunity to validate certain aspects of their research, as well as the chance to ask technical questions and benefit from the experts’ real-world experiences to further shape their scenarios/designs. The team of experts will meet with the cohort of emerging designers throughout the duration of the project, which will culminate later this year in an exhibition of the designed future artefacts, services and experiences.

I was happy to be in the expert cohort, along with my University of Glasgow colleagues: Stewart Paul, Anthony Kadoma, Prof Jude Robinson, Dr Raihana Ferdous, Dr Neil Burnside, Prof James Conroy, and SFA Network partners Prof Sola Ajayi (First-Tech University, Ibadan), Andrew Vincent (Classrooms for Malawi and Nu Blvck), Diarmuid O’Neill (DFID), Prof Jo Sharp (University of St Andrews) and Dr Christian Micha Ehret (McGill University).

The initial research presented by the student groups was impressive both for its accuracy and for how it pin-pointed challenges related to sustainable development work. The students were genuinely interested in learning more about lived experiences and described how being exposed to this topic – and to the SFA Network by extension – had changed their perspectives on their roles as designers (progressing towards a more participatory approach with clients). I am certain that the expert team is also looking forward to the next experts input day, November 7th. It was a refreshing, inspiring, positive and thought-provoking experience for all, and a promising start to a successful collaboration.


From Research Administrator to PhD Student: Impact Story of Anthony Kadoma

Compiled by Deepa Pullanikkatil and David Gerow

It’s been two years since Anthony Kadoma joined Sustainable Futures in Africa. He was initially hired on a four-month contract to work as a research assistant, but through his hard work and intelligence, Anthony has risen from being a short-term Research Administrator to a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, and a valued member of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network. It’s an opportunity he doesn’t take lightly. “I know it is likely not to be a walkover,” he says of his upcoming PhD studies, “but rather hard work that calls for a lot of flexibility and commitment on my part.”

Anthony was originally invited to join SFA in 2017. He was enlisted by Dr. Twine Bananuka, who had been one of his lecturers when he was studying for his BA in Adult and Community Education at Makerere University. Anthony had subsequently earned his master’s degree in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding at Future Generations University WV USA, which led to work as a consultant in Kampala. At that time, Twine and his colleagues were undertaking a scoping study in Uganda, and they needed someone to manage the enormous amount of audio and pictorial data they’d amassed. They also needed help coordinating their work with colleagues in other hubs of the SFA network. “Dr. Twine was aware of my working ability and skills,” Anthony recalls. “He recommended that I be given the Research Assistant job to assist the hub members in transcribing the data they had collected, organize it, come up with themes and also assist in the writing of draft papers. I was fortunate that the other members believed in him and gave me the job. That is how I joined the family of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.”

While working with SFA, his immediate supervisor has been Dr. Alex Okot. Anthony describes Alex as “a very good man: approachable, transparent, and he gives me time to discuss network issues even when he is so busy”. Anthony also praises the other hub members he works with on a regular basis, whose “openness and support” he values. “Working with other research assistants and academicians from countries like Nigeria, Botswana, Scotland and Malawi promotes my international exposure,” he says. “This is something that I really enjoy.”

But Anthony’s experience with SFA hasn’t been entirely office-bound. He’s attended two international symposiums – one in Lagos, Nigeria and one in Lira, Uganda – which he even had a hand in organizing. He’s also done a significant amount of fieldwork, an opportunity he values. “I have personally visited communities, interacted with community members and learnt a lot from them: the way they live, how they cope with challenges. I have liked working with organized groups of students, farmers and youth in Alebtong district as they work towards improving their livelihoods. I like the challenge because indeed poverty still persists as a great challenge, and this calls for more training to come up with workable approaches to reduce it today, not in the future.”

Just as he does his part in helping SFA collaborate with communities, Anthony has also reaped personal benefits from his work. Not only does it provide him with a welcome source of income and a network of likeminded colleagues, but it has allowed him to sharpen his digital literacies. “For instance,” he says, “most of our meetings are done on Skype and Zoom, and we chat constantly through WhatsApp and emails, as well as sharing documents using Google docs among others.” He anticipates that these necessary skills will help him as he moves on to his next challenge: a PhD at the University of Glasgow.

His PhD is another opportunity that he traces back to his work with SFA, as it arose through a meeting with SFA co-founder Dr. Mia Perry at the 2018 Lagos symposium. In his conversation with her, he expressed his interest in pursuing a PhD, to which she replied, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Anthony told Mia that he wanted to work on community development, research and youth, and she suggested he send her a project proposal. As Anthony tells it, “She introduced my concept to her colleagues at the University of Glasgow, and by the grace of God it was selected, and that is how I became a PhD student on the study.” He’s about to begin his PhD in Environmental Sustainability, with a problem entitled Understanding the perception of multiple stakeholders of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves to improve restoration activities. He’s eager to seize every opportunity that comes his way: “While at the University of Glasgow, I hope to be intellectually stimulated since I will be living and working with intellectuals. From these people, I hope to get some motivation and courage to push forward.”

In just two years, Anthony has spun a four-month contract into ongoing work and a brand-new PhD project in Glasgow. Who knows what the future holds for this bright young man, and what contributions he has yet to make to SFA and to the communities of Uganda? Inspired by Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see,” Anthony plans to put his skills to good use. He says, “I believe that being informed and skilled enough will put me in better position to work with community members so that we can change our communities for the better.”


Population, Health and Environment Nexus: Discussions at Mbando Village

By Bosco Chinkonda, Deepa Pullanikkatil, Helen Todd, Boyson Moyo and Stewart Paul

The environment has been degraded and the population is growing at higher rate. Because of high birthrates leading to high population growth, resources are depleted and people have no option but to go cut trees and burn charcoal up the hill.” These were the words of Chief Mbando at our meeting in Mbando village in April this year.

Chief Mbando had quite simply articulated the links between population growth, competition for resources and their impacts, including environmental degradation. On 9 April 2019, seated under a mango tree, about 35 people from Mbando village talked with visitors from the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network about the nexus of “Population, Health and Environment” (PHE) by focusing on a micro level: their village.

Discussion under a tree in Mbando village on the Population, Health and Environment nexus

The discussions were facilitated by Art and Global Health Center Africa (ArtGlo), a non-governmental organization which harnesses the power of the arts to nurture creative leadership and ignite bold conversations and actions in many sectors, including health. Here in Mbando, they used music and drama to provoke conservations. They were introduced to the community of Mbando community by Abundance, a small non-profit that has been working in this village since 2016. Both Abundance and ArtGlo are members of Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA), an international network which believes in a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to development. Abundance has taken and advocated for an integrated approach to development. However, developmental and environmental projects have historically taken a sectoral approach, without integrating key aspects that shape the lives of the communities the projects aim to serve. Through the PHE discussion at Mbando village, many insights were revealed on the deeper relationships between population, health and environment.

The population of Malawi has grown from 4 million in 1964 (when it attained independence from the British) to almost 19 million in 2017. The villagers of Mbando understand that some of the challenges they face stem from high population growth. “We are facing challenges because of high fertility rates. This has contributed to environmental degradation,” says Chief Mbando. When Abundance began working in Mbando in 2016, there were 95 households. “Today, hardly three years later, there are 105 households in the village,” said Moses Phulusa, Abundance’s Community Coordinator in Mbando. Family planning initiatives are present in the community, but there is high resistance to uptake, especially among the men, due to societal expectations and religious beliefs.

With increased population, the available farmland is shrinking, which the community observes is leading to food shortages and nutritional challenges. In addition to increasing pressure on land due to large numbers of people, the village faces extreme weather events. The community mentioned the recent Cyclone Idai and the heavy rains that followed, which caused many rice and maize fields to be flooded. Mbando village is near the shores of Lake Chilwa, Malawi’s second largest lake. “Lake Chilwa has been drying because in the past years we have got less rainfall. But still there is nothing good over there. Even catches of fish are very rare. Only a few species are available,” said a resident. “This is leading to malnutrition. As you know, there are proteins in fish,” said another resident. ArtGlo encouraged Mbando villagers to act out the challenges they face; some of the acts highlighted that Lake Chilwa is silting, a problem the community attributed to poor farming practices and deforestation.

Malawi’s deforestation trends are worrying: a rate of 33,000 hectares of forest lost per year. Chief Mbando pointed towards the Chikala hills, which border Mbando village. Due to unemployment and the lack of livelihood options, residents are resorting to making charcoal to eke out a living. “In the Chikala hills, trees are being depleted due to charcoal burning activities as a livelihood means. Times are so desperate that women are also burning charcoal.

Dramas were then performed to depict what the future might look like. ArtGlo facilitators pointed to a young child and provoked discussions about how the environment and human development status would be when that child is an adult. The participants said that there would be a strain on the public resources such as medicine in the nearby health facilities due to the large population increase. Others said Mbando would be a community without herbal medicine due to high levels of deforestation (many herbal medicines came from forests). They also pointed out that it is always the most vulnerable members of the community who are affected the most, such as the elderly. Some feared they would be abused due to the scramble for land – attributed to deforestation. They predicted high levels of deviance and crime due to increased population and a lack of resources for economic functions, which could cause increased conflicts. “The habitats of animals would be depleted”, said another participant.

The same community that listed the challenges were asked to create solutions and act them out in drama performances. Solutions included sensitizing the youth about these issues, starting in primary school. Two people who were part of this meeting were from a local drama group and took the lead to create dramatic performances to create awareness amongst the youth. “The adults in the community, they have experienced the better times and could be an inspiration for the younger ones to take initiative. Chiefs hold the authority over the community and can lead some of the initiatives,” said participants. They recognized the need for various sectors and players to work together to achieve greater synergy and be able to address the interconnections between the sectors. They also said that there is need for frequent community gatherings, as engaging the community to come up with solutions is the way forward. “Coming together regularly to discuss issues such as deforestation, drought and population growth would help the village recognize the urgency of solutions as simple as tree planting”, said one participant. “Even in terms of family planning, you could see that men were opposing it. So if men took part in family planning initiatives, population growth could be put in check”, said another participant. Ultimately, the key message that came out of this meeting was that Population, Health and Environment have many links and that all stakeholders need to engage in discussions and cooperate in an integrated manner.

The meeting ended with a brainstorming exercise, where the villagers listed NGOs that implement projects in their village. They included Safe, an NGO which built the Community Based Child Care Centre and engages the Chief and elderly on projects; the Family Planning Association of Malawi, which works with youth clubs on family planning and Sexual and Reproductive Health; the One Acre Fund, which works on reforestation; Goal Malawi, which works on reforestation and family planning; and Abundance, which works in a variety of areas including education, literacy, trainings, skills development, support for health services and environmental conservation. It was agreed that these institutions need to work together so as not to duplicate efforts and to facilitate greater synergy. This is the essence of the SFA network too: greater engagement with and within communities, working together for the greater good and locally driven solutions for a greater understanding of the complex nature of community development and sustainability.

To view Chanco TV – Malawi on the Rise coverage of the event, click here.


Photo Essays – Public Spaces in Malawi

By Elson Kambalu, Deepa Pullanikkatil, Boyson Moyo and Stewart Paul

Are you curious about public spaces, what secrets they hold, how they are used in Africa? During Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil’s visit to Malawi hub in April 2019, the team visited public spaces to create these 4 photo essays showing the different “layers” behind use of public space.

ZOMBA BOTANICAL GARDEN

LIZULU

LUPASA

MEETING UNDER A TREE


Personal Reflections on SFA Co-Director's Visit to Malawi

by Stewart Paul

The SFA Malawi hub was honored to be accorded a visit by the Network’s co-director, Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil in April this year (2019). From Lilongwe to Mzuzu, back to Lilongwe and then Zomba and finally Machinga. It was a fulfilling and exciting journey. This visit couldn’t possibly come at a more opportune time, as our hub was named to host the next SFA Symposium in 2020. Aside from facilitating development of several grant proposals, Dr. Pullanikkatil substantially led the development of a photo essay on public spaces as well as the introduction of the SFA Network to diverse key and potential new partners and members. This piece reflects on the fruitfulness of this visit by highlighting the major achievements accomplished. You can watch a short documentary of our journey here.

Lilongwe

Deepa’s engagement with us started with our visit to UNICEF Malawi head offices in Lilongwe. This meeting was set up to brief UNICEF about our Network, both local and international, among others. In the end we made new connections with 8 UNICEF staff members working in various disciplines. Further e-mail communications led to SFA Malawi hub linking up with the Drone head at UNICEF which we hope will engender a collaboration on SFA Malawi hub’s upcoming Drone Project entitled Placing Communities at the Heart of Humanitarian and Environmental Drone Use: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities”. Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the project has many collaborator institutions and organizations such as Abundance Worldwide (NGO), the University of Glasgow (UK), UNICEF’s GIS and Remote Sensing Center, Malawi Civil Aviation Authority and Malawi Department of Surveys.

Next was a 2-day workshop on grant proposal writing which was held at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), where the Hub is based. During the activity, three proposals were developed, to be submitted shortly. This was followed by a presentation on a recent paper (about the tree Faidherbia albida)written by Deepa and the Hub director Dr Boyson Moyo. Students and staff from LUANAR attended the seminar.

Mzuzu

We had a different programme for the Northern part of Malawi. First, we held meetings with Mzuzu University and University of Livingstonia (UNILIA). At UNILIA we met with the Vice Chancellor, and they showed interest to join the SFA network. We also met with Moses Mkandawire, director of Church and Society which is a governance desk for the Synod of Livingstonia of the CCAP Church. The goal of these meetings revolved around introducing the Network to these institutions and personally inviting them to join the Network. Our engagements in the “green city” of Mzuzu further involved one of our Hub members, Elson Kambalu, of Art House Africa. His project was to take photos for an essay on Public Spaces, which together with outcomes from discussions with users of such spaces will soon be published.

A final activity was a visit to Chintheche on the beautiful sandy shores of Lake Malawi. More documentation of public spaces was done. Most importantly, Dr Pullanikkatil and Dr Moyo made final edits on the Faidherbia albida paper which was submitted for publication later that day.

Meeting with University of Livingstonia top Management (Vice Chancellor, Registrar)
Group photo after SFA Malawi hub’s meeting with Mzuzu University

Zomba

Upon arrival in Zomba we headed to Sunbird Kuchawe for a dinner meeting with the mission director for USAID in Malawi. This happened to be a very successful encounter as we held discussions on a wide range of topics. We found a contact for a staff member of USAID working on drones and hopefully should be very valuable in our future endeavours. Dr Moyo agreed to have an audience or give a talk to the head of USAID Agriculture section and his team. Our Public spaces photo sessions extended to Zomba Botanic Garden which was created to promote agricultural enterprise by displaying an experimental area for newly introduced plants. Since the DC for Zomba was engaged with other pressing matters, we delivered our letter of introduction to his office. The final engagement in Zomba was a meeting with LEAD who explained their projects, including one with University of Southampton on drones.

SFA Malawi team visiting ArtGlo’s offices in Zomba

Machinga

The climax of our journey across Malawi was our visit to Mbando village to explore the Population Health and Environment (PHE) nexus within the community. Using role plays and facilitated discussions, we were able to capture informative feedback from the community and ArtGlo has produced a report on this. Chanco TV covered the event and two documentaries were later beamed on their TV station.

SFA members later visited the E-Learning centre that was established by Abundance with funds raised through Global Giving. Relying entirely on solar energy, the centre has 8 laptop computers that are connected to the offline learning resources through a device called Rachel. A video link to a documentary about the centre is available here. We also met with Machinga District commissioner. At the end of our fruitful meeting, an opportunity arose to extend the drone project to the human-wildlife interactions at Liwonde National Park and surrounding communities. Consequently, the DC invited SFA to present their projects and updates at the District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting.


Cyclone Idai: Reflections from Malawi

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of the SFA network

Recently, I visited the Malawi hub of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network to offer my assistance. With Hub Director Dr. Boyson Moyo, Research Administrator Stewart Paul and other hub members, we developed research proposals and visited many institutions including UNICEF, the University of Livingstonia, the University of Mzuzu, an NGO (Church and Society), a local government institution (Machinga District Council), a sustainable organic farm (Tikondwe Freedom Gardens), and a think tank (Leadership for Environment and Development). Several organizations joined our network and others expressed interest in collaborating with us. At Mbando village, we had fruitful discussions on an integrated approach to development based on the population-health-environment nexus. It was a busy and productive two weeks, but what touched me most were the impacts and aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Malawi. I want to share some reflections on this.

Aerial view of Nsanje district, Malawi (Source: UNICEF)

It was just two weeks after Cyclone Idai hit, that we had a chance to meet with Mandere Bester, the District Commissioner of Machinga District, southern Malawi – one of the 15 districts affected by the cyclone. Cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere, causing widespread damage and loss of life in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Bester explained to us that 29,000 houses had been damaged or washed away in Machinga District alone. The scale of destruction in Malawi, although less than Mozambique, was devastating, with many thousands of people relocated to schools and churches that became relief camps during the cyclone and its aftermath of floods. Malawi declared a state of disaster and the media reported that 868,900 people have been affected by the floods, with a reported death toll of 59.

Bester described a particularly moving aspect of the disaster. He said that of the 29,000 houses damaged in his district, 19,000 were women-headed households. According to Bester, men in Malawi need to be encouraged to financially support their families and advised against abandoning them when they migrate elsewhere in search of income opportunities. Listening to him, we realised that understanding culture, power, vulnerabilities and gender inequalities in rural settings is necessary in times of disaster.

The SFA team also had a chance to visit the village of Mbando in Machinga District. As we drove to the village, we could see burst stream and river banks and unusually high silt load at bridges and culverts, the aftermath of the floods. Moses Phulusa, the Community Coordinator of Abundance, explained that 105 households make up Mbando village, where 26 pit latrines had collapsed, 8 kitchens had been damaged, roads and rice fields had flooded and several trees had fallen down. The destruction of crop fields is akin to the destruction of human livelihoods in Malawi, where over 85% of people dwell in rural areas and practice farming, with the majority (95%) living off subsistence farming. The farmers and residents are now waiting for the rainy season to end so they can begin rebuilding their damaged assets. “Many farmers’ rice fields were affected, even mine. What can we do?… Ah, but God will provide”, said Moses, inspiring me with his smile, which reflected hopefulness even in this time of despair.

As we discussed the situation with the staff of UNICEF in Lilongwe, it was clear that humanitarian agencies in Malawi were very busy providing relief to displaced people and addressing the health impacts of this disaster (cholera cases were on the rise). The Government of Malawi had established approximately 60 internally displaced person (IDP) camps in the two southernmost districts which were the hardest hit: Chikwawa and Nsanje. A friend working for a private sector logistics company in Lilongwe said that they were remodelling their trucks to become mobile clinics to support communities in the affected areas.

For now, the buzz of relief work happening in Malawi was reassuring. However, it is scary to think of what the future could hold, with climate change predicted to increase the frequency of such storm events. Sadly, it’s the poor and vulnerable who are most affected, and they are the ones who have least contributed to climate change. Cyclone Idai was not just a natural disaster; it was a storm made worse by climate change, a regular occurrence worldwide. Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe recorded a combined death toll of over 1,000. Cyclones know no borders and require both a regional and continental approach to response and preparedness. In light of this sobering thought, the SFA team reflected with concern on what we could do. We agreed that reducing the vulnerability of communities and enhancing both their resilience and the landscape’s resilience to such extreme weather events is key. Collectively, the members of SFA have so much knowledge; surely it can be of use to serve communities affected by such disasters. Certainly we can strive to make our scientific work more relevant and enhance our understanding of hydrometeorological disasters and how best to prepare for them, so that we minimise loss of life in Malawi and beyond.