A life changed - Narrative from a fresh University of Glasgow Alumnus

By Stewart Paul, SFA Malawi Hub

The past 12 months of my life (September 2019 to August 2020) have been quite defining. It was the first time that I lived outside Africa, in search of a “good” education. Through a prestigious Scottish Funding Council (SFC)-Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) funded project, I was able to access high quality postgraduate education at the “World Changing” University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom. I have been able to get international exposure and connections to professionals from various institutions such as the Glasgow School of Arts and Glasgow Dental Hospital and School. I have also received professional development trainings such as the Graduate Skills Program (GSP) and the Professional Skills Program (PSP) offered by the University of Glasgow – College of Social Sciences.

The scholarship that I was awarded had a research budget attached to it – which would have necessitated me to travel to and undertake research activities in Malawi. My research interest was on the implications – for access and attainment – of foreign aid on education policy and practice in Malawi. Although I managed to travel to Malawi between December 2019 and January 2020 for pre-research activities, I was not able to proceed with the rest of the research plan due to the unprecedented impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic. Regardless, I was able to carry out a robust piece of research after changing the study design and methodology.

The studentship supported me to build academic skills that turn out to be very pivotal in enabling me to progress in my career trajectory in socio-ecological sustainability and community education in Malawi. The academic and research skills, the expanded international experience and network, and the outputs and outcomes of this research will put me in a strong position to develop this work through doctoral studies, through direct research contribution to the Malawian Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) hub in general and Abundance NGO specifically, and to the education and development sector more broadly. In the end, I hope and intend to significantly contribute to changing other people’s lives, especially youths in the area of education and development.


Development of clean cooking facilities to boost climate change resilience in Malawi

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director Sustainable Futures in Arica and Co-Founder Abundance

The University of Glasgow’s project on “Sustainable Clean Cooking Facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi” was amongst three out of over 30 applications that were funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Innovation Fund (CJIF) in 2019. This fund supports the delivery of climate justice related projects which field test the feasibility of new methods, technologies or approaches in tackling climate change, or trial new innovations on the path to scale.

This bioenergy project aims to help address deforestation in southern Malawi (Machinga) through delivering a sustainable biofuel production (biogas and biosyngas) using organic waste as fuel for clean and efficient cooking. The total funding is £122,583 and the project is implemented by the University of Glasgow (PI Dr. Nader Karimi) with partners in Malawi; Abundance, Fab Engineering, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and LEAD.

The partnership in this project goes back to 2016, when Dr.Karimi and Dr.Pullanikkatil were connected through Sustainable Futures in Africa network. Between 2017-2018, Dr.Karimi and his colleagues from the University of Glasgow led a Biomass Energy study in partnership with Abundance to understand Malawi’s specific energy issues. Seeing first-hand that people still use the three stone stove, that women walk far distances to collect firewood, the rampant deforestation and that even simple fuel efficient technologies were not widely used in Malawi, inspired Dr.Karimi to think of a solution specifically “engineered” for Malawi. Dr.Pullanikkatil undertook a residency at the University of Glasgow in 2018, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which gave her the opportunity to engage further with Karimi and connect him to colleagues in Malawi, who later became partners of this CJIF project.

This project addresses the need for clean energy and contributes towards improving energy security using a novel and innovative technology designed for Malawi. In Malawi only 11% of the population have access to electricity and 98% of people use wood fuel for cooking (a figure that remains unchanged since 2010). Exposure to smoke from cooking has severe negative health impacts and even in urban areas of Malawi, firewood is mainly used in open three-stone fires. The use of firewood and charcoal has contributed significantly to deforestation and the need for cleaner energy sources which are more efficient for cooking is much needed in Malawi. Majority of the clean energy interventions in Malawi focus on using “less” firewood or charcoal, through increasing efficiency of stoves, this project improves on this approach by eliminating firewood altogether as fuel and replacing it with organic waste.

The project responds to the needs of Malawi as articulated by its Government. Regionally, clean and efficient Energy is a priority as noted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s Protocol on Energy, to which Malawi has been a signatory since 1996. Nationally, the overarching development master plan for Malawi is the “Malawi Growth and Development Strategy” or MGDS. The latest MGDS III has ranked Energy as one of its five key priority areas and calls for technologies that can aid rural areas to have affordable, clean and efficient energy. Furthermore, Malawi’s Climate Change Policy and Strategy has acknowledged the need for efficient and clean energy to help Malawi reach its climate action goals.

Abundance’s Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo visited Fab engineering where Andrew Khonje was manufacturing the gasifier plant.

Using an innovative approach of combining biogas and biosyngas, this project is developing a clean and efficient energy technology that can help Malawians rise the energy ladder and also contribute towards achieving climate action goals. The reason to combine biogas and biosyngas technology is due to Malawi’s unique climate; a hot and rainy season from mid-November to April and a relatively cool and dry season from mid-May to mid-August. During the wet season, plenty of wet orgnic waste will be available, while in the dry season, it will be dry organic waste. A technology that can only work with wet biomass/organic matter will not be suitable for the dry season and vice versa; hence this innovative combination of biogas and biosyngas. Furthermore, this innovative technology is completely smokeless, which is different from the previously piloted efficient cooking technologies such as fuel-efficient stoves, which reduce smoke, but not completely remove it.

Through this project, a nationwide survey on biomass availability and its combustion properties was done by LUANAR in March 2020. Fab Engineering has assembled the energy plant with designs and instruction from the PI and colleagues from University of Glasgow. Currently, the plant is being tested with various types of waste including cow dung and rice husks, both of which are wastes readily available in the site where the technology will be piloted. The energy plant will be piloted at the kitchen of the Chilimba Primary school at Mbando village, where Abundance has been working since 2016. Abundance has set up a youth waste collection team of 10 men and 10 women, who have begun collecting dry and wet wastes at Mbando village. They have been able to find rice husks from a nearby rice mill, sugarcane waste and cowdung from smallholder farms within the village.

The testing of the cooker is ongoing and preliminary results are promising, as evident in the pictures where the gas flame successfully boiled water in a pot. Abundance’s Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo visited Fab engineering where Andrew Khonje was manufacturing the gasifier plant.

COVID-19 has challenged the project team to undertake work with less physical contact with Mbando villagers. Meetings were held at the village with safe distancing. Malawi did not have a lockdown, however the team shared masks, cleaning materials with Mbando village and purchased a smartphone to ease communication for the Community Coordinator. As the number of cases of COVID-19 declined in the past weeks, a site visit was done on 8 October 2020 by Fab engineering and Abundance’s team. Stewart Paul, who recently returned from the University of Glasgow with a master’s degree joined Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo in the visit.

The site chosen for the piloting is a kitchen used by Mary’s Meals, a Scottish charity that provides nutritious mid-day meals to children. Abundance shared the project idea with them and were delighted when they delivered 732kg of Corn Soya Blend (CSB) flour to Abundance’s offices in Zomba which will be used for the piloting phase. During piloting phase CSB porridge will be cooked and served to approximately 1200 children in the primary school. The partnership and generocity of Mary’s Meals in this project is much appreciated.

It is already well reflected in the open literature that extensive use of firewood and charcoal has led to massive deforestation and significant health issues in Malawi. This project aims to address the deforestation problem using organic waste in an innovative cooker instead of firewood or charcoal. The users of the technology are Mary’s Meals staff and teachers from Chilimba Primary School in Mbando village. In this regard, an indemnity form has also been signed by Abundance and Chilimba school to indemnify Mary’s Meals of any issues arising from the project. The piloting will be done for several weeks where the cooker will be tested. These users will be interviewed to improve the technology design and a reengineered design will be made that addresses their concerns. This way, the design is informed by local knowledge. After completion of the project, the system stays in the school and will be a permanent asset for the Mbando community. The project results will be widely disseminated through networks such as the SFA and private sector in Malawi will be encouraged to upscale the technology. The project will end in March 2021 and it is hoped it will leave a lasting legacy at Mbando village.


Poetry from Malawi

By Yonah Trywell Mwandila, Malawi hub member

COVID-19

I am called Corona Virus.
Born in 2019, have already paralyzed operations, bodily and spiritually.

I am called Covid 19.
My moto is to perish human life on earth.
With no age limit, will know me through cough, fever and struggling for breath.

I am Corona Virus.
My greatest enemy is Ministry of Health,
when commanding people to wash hands with soap regularly, no hand shaking, wearing masks, social distancing and having few people in any gatherings.

I am Covid 19
I hate quarantine operations
my spreading cycle is easily broken
paying deaf ears to prayers I enjoy.


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.