Sustainable Development and the Global South

Collaboration with Glasgow School of Art

Future Experiences: Sustainable Development and the Global South

In 2019-2020, the SFA Network collaborated with the Glasgow School of Arts – Product Design on a project entitled the Future Experiences: Sustainable Development and the Global South. You can read more about it here.

The SFA Network is very pleased to announce that the project dataset collection is now live! The record is public and can be accessed here. Many SFA Members took part to the project and we would like to thank everyone for their contribution. They are included as an author on this dataset/project.

We recommend looking at the  ‘Project Journey Map’ and the fantastic ‘Future Experiences Book’ in order to get a feel for what is there. But don’t stop there – this is a tremendously rich resource of output and know-how.  This collaboration with the future designers from the Glasgow School of Art was truly inspiring and refreshing for the SFA team. The impact of this project and the engagement with designers is translating into the recent research applications submitted by the Network.

We encourage you to use and share the material from this project.

DOI: 10.5525/gla.researchdata.1019


Interview with Dr Pullanikkatil - the Nation on Sunday

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager

Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil has been interviewed by the Nation on Sunday about her work with Abundance. The article in the newspaper highlights Abundances successful initiatives and their impact for the Mmando Village and beyond. You can access the interview here.

Well done Deepa and team Abundance!

” We want the village to then in-turn empower other villages in creating ripple effects since our dream is to have a world of plenty, where there is no lack, for humans and nature to thrive.” – Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil.


Update on the CJIF Bioenergy project in Malawi

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Founder of Abundance

The Scottish Government Climate Justice Innovation Fund funded project “Development of sustainable clean cooking facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi” is proceeding despite the COVID-19 restrictions. The team at Abundance is holding biweekly meetings with Dr Nader Karimi who is the PI for this project and with LEAD, LUANAR and Fab Engineering as partners.

LUANAR completed the survey on waste availability by studying agricultural and other organic waste available in different parts of the country in March/April 2020. Manufacturing on the prototype of biogas/biosyngas cooker has begun by Fab Engineering in Blantyre. This prototype will be piloted in the kitchen of the primary school at Mbando village in August 2020. Abundance held a meeting at Mbando village on 19 May with safe distancing to mobilise youth at Mbando village to collect dry and wet waste ahead of the piloting. Care will be taken to ensure gender balance within this youth team.

This project pilots an innovative technology specifically made for Malawi’s unique wet and dry seasons (which generate wet and dry organic waste). The dry and wet waste will be separately fed into a gasifier plant (biogas/biosyngas) to create energy for a cooker that can work year round. The technology is smokefree and has no negative health implications. A study on social and cultural aspects of using the cooker technology will be conducted by Abundance in August 2020.

A draft questionnaire is being prepared for the same and SFA members who are interested in this project and wish to review it are welcome to contact Abundance (abundance.future@gmail.com).


COVID-19 Pandemic Realities and Imaginaries

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administrator, Malawi hub

Waking up in the morning with COVID-19 pandemic you are flooded with messages from various media that hits you in the face creating confusion. The Malawi Government through it’s official pages and legal radio and TV stations talk about scientifically proven ways in-line with World Health Organisation recognised management principles of the pandemic, for example, social distancing, washing of hands frequently, wearing of masks and coughing in the elbow or handkerchiefs and if a person has signs and symptoms of the corona virus infection or exposure, one does not go to the hospital or visit a physician but call a toll-free number so that a person is assisted from where they are. These are straight forward practices to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. These are practices at individual level, at country level, measures include closure of all schools, working from home for non-essential services, working in shifts and only those providing essential servicing report for duties on a regular basis while observing personal hygiene and social distancing.

However, the social media is awash with additional information that at best brings disarray to the normal procedures. Here we see the entrance of confusion, misinformation and muddying the clear waters of the pandemic if at all the pandemic is of clear water. Messages like taking hydroxychloroquine or aspirin as medicine, boiling garlic together with lemons and drinking the juice and boiling neem leaf together with pawpaw leaf, lime orange, garlic, ginger, guava, mango leaves and lemon grass, drinking the solution three times per day, are available in various media  spoiling the broth just like too many cooks do. For example, see one of the messages below;

One incident that caught my mind happened in a public minibus in which one passenger whispered boldly that ‘just sniffing raw onion you will be cured from corona virus,’ he said this whilst holding a raw onion in his hand. Are all these messages that have been roaming around really about managing and reducing the number of deaths or increased registered cases due to COVID-19 or an addition to the mess about the pandemic?

The Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority through the Malawi Computer Emergency Response Team warned citizens against sharing fake news about corona virus on different social media platforms, that the public is, advised to refrain from committing these acts. But does it have the tooth and capacity to intervene? Because on the ground, the messages keep on coming.

All hope is not lost. Citizens are informed to use trusted sources like Government websites for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Radio and TV stations in Malawi are broadcasting ways of preventing the spreading of corona virus. In addition, many artists and singers have performed songs educating citizens about the virus and one of our SFA partner Art and Global Health Centre Africa’s’ (ArtGlo) Make Art for Sustainable Action Youth Squad members developed a song, and video called TipeweCorona (prevent Corona), using artistic styles they believe will appeal to their peers to share information on COVID 19. Held a dance challenge on social media for youth to share dances to the song, giving a fun, creative way to engage. More info is at https://www.artgloafrica.org/our-stories


Webinar- Ecosystem Based Disaster Risk Reduction

By Dora Nyirenda, Malawi Hub Research Administrator

The hub was privileged to engage in a Webinar led by Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil on Ecosystem-Based Disaster Risk Reduction at the end of April, 2020. The aim of the webinar was to educate and inform members about ecosystems and how protecting them have disaster risk reduction benefits.

Ecosystem services are nature benefits to human beings and they can be divided into in four categories: Provisioning (physical material products), Regulating (services provided by nature that regulate our environment), Cultural (non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems) and Supporting (services that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services). She exposed how ecosystem services are threatened by disasters arising naturally or as a result of poor management of ecosystems. Dr Pullanikkatil explained how the terms associated with such issues, i.e. hazards, vulnerability, risk and resilience are interconnected. For instance to understand the risks associated with poor ecosystem management, we have to look at the exposure to hazards and the consequent vulnerability of ecosystems. Then to identify the recovery process when facing threats to ecosystem services, we relate to the resilience of the ecosystems.

Dr Pullanikkatil highlighted the importance of ecosystem management and risk reduction. The latter can, for instance, involve disaster preparedness which is when communities are warned before a disaster strikes and therefore can implement mitigation actions. This can be done through media and other modes of communication. When disasters strike, a country has to provide emergency relief and work towards post disaster recovery or reconstruction – which is called disaster management. This rebuilding requires much more resources than implementing risk reduction initiatives.

Sometimes local disasters can be prevented by taking care of our ecosystems as they provide disaster risk reduction services. For example wetlands, or trees and shrubs on a sloped ground, are acting as protective barriers against floods. Wetlands also act as a natural way of purifying waste water.

Dr Pullannikkatil gave some examples of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction activities including but not limited to: 1) rehabilitating eroded areas through nature-based interventions (grazing land management and tree planting in gullies); 2) promoting ecosystem management practices like integrated water resource management for improving river stability, water provisioning and flood and drought risk reduction.

After the Webinar, the Malawi hub better understood the importance of preserving ecosystem services as they provide free services by protecting land, animals, communities and infrastructures from natural disasters.

Let’s all protect our river banks, wetlands and manage our forests as healthy ecosystems!

If you would like to engage in such a Webinar, please contact us!


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.


Waste management in small urban context - Malawi

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administrator of the Malawi hub

On January 11th 2020, I had the privilege to visit the Mzuzu (Nsilo) dumpsite located in the Northern part of Malawi. This opportunity arose while making arrangements for the symposium/workshop that was initially planned to take place in Mzuzu, Malawi.

The dumpsite was a project of Mzuzu City Council in conjunction with Plan Malawi, implemented with funding from the European Union. The facility was to be finished and put into use in 2017, but unfortunately, the place started being used without being fully finished, which made it a place that was perfect for breeding flies due to the lack of waste management. This is especially problematic because the facility is close to people’s homes and a primary school and that flies can be a vector of many diseases and infections.

I visited the area where the dumpsite was when the people were protesting on the 10th January 2020. I asked one of the community members why they were protesting, and she said, ’The unfinished facility is breeding and harbouring a lot of flies. We cannot eat or prepare our foods in the open as the flies land in our food, which puts our health at risk.’  It was on that day that the angry and concerned community members set fire to the facility, which has been closed.

This marked the end of the people’s patience. Before the facility was set on fire, the community members were promised that chemicals would be applied frequently to kill the flies, but this was not happening. The dumpsite was close to a primary school, meaning that flies were landing in the school children’s food.

One of the community members said, ‘We were told that the facility would have machines inside that would be processing and grinding the waste, and that the end product would be manure, which would even benefit the community. But this has not been happening as the facility started being used before they finished constructing it.’ This raised the interesting question of whether the community gave a consent to the facility’s construction or if they were even asked for their views and concerns before the dumpsite project was implemented. This is an example of a problematic situation where planners did not consult properly the local communities and where the implementation of the initiatives did not lead to the expected outcomes. Unless environmental initiatives are context appropriate and involve local communities from inception, the impact can’t be guaranteed.

The Malawi hub is working on a project proposal to investigate the local challenges in implementing solid waste management in Mzuzu and to facilitate the identification of potential situated solutions.


A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

When we start a new project with partners in a different context, it is never truly a “new start.” Historically it has been experts from the Global North who have studied and interpreted the South. This means that international research partnerships are inevitably imbued with power relations and possibly the assumption that it is northern knowledge that will lead transformations of in the South. Without a clear recognition of that context, it is inevitable that existing inequities, injustices, and imbalances of knowledge and power, will continue to pervade our work.

We designed this resource to help make explicit the practices and dynamics that underpin partnerships, to support the development of more equitable working relations.

DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/DJTN4

Download the resource >

Cooking up a Sustainable Solution to Malawi’s Energy Crisis

By Deepa Pullanikkatil and Dave Gerow

Cooking is one of the key contributors to Malawi’s significant energy crisis. At present, nearly the entire population uses firewood or charcoal to cook their meals. This has resulted in rapid deforestation, damaging agricultural activities and ultimately intensifying poverty. It’s also linked to serious health problems because of air quality issues associated with burning wood and charcoal indoors.

Malawi’s dependence on charcoal and firewood as fuel has only grown with the effects of climate change. Frequent droughts have resulted in the loss of thousands of fishing jobs and hurt the country’s ability to produce hydroelectric power, all of which increases the people’s dependence on coal and firewood for both fuel and employment. The result is that Malawi has the highest deforestation rate in southern Africa, with children and women engaged in the difficult labour of firewood collection. Now more than ever, there is a vital need for sustainable and clean cooking technologies in Malawi.

To address this need, the Scottish government announced a competition in October 2019. The winners of the Climate Justice Innovation Fund were a consortium including the University of Glasgow and several partners in Malawi: Lead Southern and Eastern Africa, Abundance, FAB Engineering and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). The project, which builds on earlier research on energy fuel conducted in Malawi by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with Abundance, will last 16 months with a total grant of £122,583. The team consists of engineers, industrialists, entrepreneurs, environmental scientists and local activists, and is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Nader Karimi of the Engineering Faculty at the University of Glasgow. The team members met through the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network and previous collaborations.

This project aims to create a solution to Malawi’s cooking problem by using agricultural and municipal waste to produce bio-fuels which are then burned in a novel gas cooker. The key objectives are:

1- To deliver a ‘Bioenergy Kit’: a sustainable biofuel production (biogas and biosyngas) and utilization unit for clean and efficient cooking.

2- To manufacture and maintain this Bioenergy Kit in Malawi and attract attention from local businesses.

This innovative project combines two methods of biofuel generation to widen the range of biomass that can be used for fuel production. It further introduces a novel, robust cooker technology that can greatly reduce the cost of fuel processing, making the technology economically viable. Local manufacturing, maintenance, operation and marketing of the Bioenergy Kit will create local jobs, contributing to the empowerment of communities and the alleviation of poverty.

The Bioenergy Kit will be created at the University of Glasgow in close collaboration with the Malawian partners and will be engineered specifically for the Malawian situation. In line with Malawi’s waste availability, both dry waste and wet waste can both be used as fuel. The technology will be completely smoke-free, with a chimney that will be adapted based on users’ input. It will be piloted at a lunch kitchen in a primary school in Mbando village, where Abundance has been working since 2016. With this technology, the team hopes to collaborate on a sustainable solution to Malawi’s pressing energy crisis.

You can see the announcement of the grant here: https://www.corra.scot/grants/international-development/