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.


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).


The University of Eswatini will host the new SFA Eswatini hub

By Dr Sizwe Mabaso, Hub Director of the Eswatini hub

The Department of Geography, Environmental Science and Planning (GEP), that is hosting the SFA Eswatini hub is under the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Eswatini (Formerly the University of Swaziland). The University consist of three campuses, namely; Kwaluseni Campus (Faculties of Education, Humanities, Science and Engineering, and Social Sciences), Luyengo Campus (Faculties of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences) and Mbabane Campus (Faculty of Health Sciences).

The GEP Department strives to be a centre of academic excellence in both theory and application pertaining to in economic, urban and development geography, geo-information science, environmental social science, natural resource management, geomorphology and climate change. Its mission is to build a sound foundation for geography teaching in schools and to provide expertise, practical solutions and insight in the areas of land-use, spatial planning and the management of environmental resources through the spectrum of effective teaching, research, consultancy and community outreach.

Research in the department is founded on applying sound interdisciplinary principles and methodologically diverse scientific approaches relevant to both the natural and social sciences, in order to address key geographical and environmental questions. Much of our research has an applied and policy relevant focus applicable to a developing country context. With regards to the areas of focus, specific departmental research focus areas of the hugely diverse team include (but not exhaustive): urbanization and settlement patterns, agricultural geography, sustainability and food security, human and social geography, socio-economic analysis and surveys, climate science/modelling, climate change (adaptation and mitigation), land use and land cover change, environmental and spatial modelling, natural hazards and disasters, pure and applied wetland geomorphology (rehabilitation and management), soil erosion and land degradation (and appropriate rehabilitation),  soil/land and water resources management, drainage basin studies, waste management.


Exhibition Video - Future Experiences

By Prof Nicol Keith, Institute of Cancer Sciences

The Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & The Global South project is a joint venture with the Innovation School at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and the UofG Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network.

This has been led and coordinated by Mia Perry at UofG along with Kirsty Ross at GSA. It’s a final year honours project for the Design students at GSA.

This project asks the students to consider what happens in this global landscape ten years from now where Sustainable Development has evolved to the extent that new forms of work and communities of practice transform how people engage, learn and interact with each other, with stakeholders and with the global community around them.

Topics addressed are health, energy, mobility, economies, societal structures and the environment.

The project takes a human-centered approach, rather than simply a user-centered perspective, to exploring the topic in partnership between the GSA & SFA. This brief offers the opportunity to explore the underlying complexities regarding sustainable futures, the post-colonial dynamic between ‘norths’ and ‘souths’, post-capitalism and human agency, to envision a future world context, develop it as an experiential exhibit, and produce the designed products, services and experiences for the people who might live and work within it.

The project is collaborative in nature, requiring the students to work, learn and interact with experts from for academia, civic and government organisations and NGOs from across the SFA community.

This project is still ongoing but this short video captures the essence of the project and the work-in-progress exhibition.  The exhibition also features a second future-focused project from the final year Master of European Design (MEDes) students. The Collaborative Futures project partnered Glasgow School of Art with Glasgow City Council to explore how data could shape the experiences of Glasgow’s citizens in 2030 and envisage what a well governed city might look like moving forwards.

Together, the two projects span the local to the global; exploring themes ranging from sustainable citizenship, to community participation and the value of collaborative creativity in defining how people might live and work together in the near future.


A drive to remember: ECOaction at work in the Covid-19 lockdown

By Reagan Kandole, Mia Perry, Vanessa Duclos, Raihana Ferdous and Deepa Pullanikkatil

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to expose the most vulnerable people in Uganda’s communities. As the country transitioned towards a total lockdown, banning public transport, strict regulations on the labor force and only essential services — monitored by the health and security sector — the progress and gains made by community initiatives like ECOaction have been threatened. ECOaction is a non profit organisation that creates income and livelihood opportunities for the most marginalised urban youth and women through innovations in waste management. ECOaction is located in Banda, an unplanned settlement of Kampala City, Uganda. The organisation works with the most vulnerable groups of plastic collectors, mainly elderly women and young adults, and provides them with alternative markets for recycled products. ECOaction also builds the capacity of its beneficiaries around waste management and environmental conservation. One of the main challenges in our community right now is that they are not able to sell any of the plastics they collect to the recycling companies during the lockdown, which means they have no money to pay for food to feed their families.

For most of the women we support, the main source of income is collecting plastics and if they cannot move around to collect and sell these bottles, then they are not able to feed their families. Even with the government’s attempts to distribute food to the most vulnerable, not everyone will be able to access that support and there is an urgent need for more basic supplies to be distributed. Otherwise, there is a risk that many people will die of starvation, malaria, stress and many other diseases”. Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction.

The photo story below depicts the journey that ECOaction’s team took, despite public transport bans and distancing policies, to reach out to this community


Photo essay - Clean Air Project Launch

By Reagan Kandole, Dalton Otim, Anthony Kadoma and Vanessa Duclos

The proliferation of plastics globally is now a major challenge, especially over the last two decades. Worldwide, we are producing over 300 million tons of plastic each year, 50% of which is for single use purposes. More than 8 million tons is dumped into the ocean yearly, becoming a big environmental issue and threat to our ecosystems and biodiversity. Kampala city, Uganda, generates 750 tons of waste a day of which half is collected and sent to the dumpsites. The other half, mainly plastics and polythene, is irresponsibly disposed and finding its way from our communities and streets, to drainage channels, to rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

This problem is even more prominent in the urban slum dwellings. School setting is one of the best platforms for promoting proper solid waste management through education, skills workshops, and fun activities outside classrooms, hence enhancing teamwork. By sensitizing the children, behavior changes can be fostered around proper waste management.

ECOaction, an SFA Network NGO partner, together with Kampala City Council Authority, AEIF Alumni 2019 and five primary schools in Kampala City (Namirembe Infants School; Bat Valley Primary School; Kawempe Muslim School;  St Ponsiano Kyamula School and Luzira Church of Uganda School) received funding from the Ugandan US Embassy to implement the “Clean Air Project” in 2020.

The following photo essay takes you through the launch event, which took place on March 6th 2020.


A Call for Funding in Botswana

By Goitsemang Mmeko

In 2017, the Botswana SFA Hub explored the issue of human-wildlife interaction in the Mmadinare area in Botswana. The study was titled Unearthing the Dynamics of Human and Wildlife Interactions: The Case of Mmadinare Community in the Central Region of Botswana. Human-wildlife interaction is a topical issue that affects the development of grassroots livelihood, the tourism industry, food production and wildlife management. In this study, the hub explored human-wildlife conflict between the Mmadinare community and the elephant rampages that destroy crops and equipment in the ploughing fields. The findings of the study revealed the significant need for Sustainable Community Partnership in addressing human-wildlife conflict in Mmadinare. Therefore, a stakeholder dissemination workshop was held in Mmadinare on 14 August 2018 with the aim of creating sustainable partnerships to address socio-economic issues, such as human-wildlife conflict.

From the local community’s perspective, an educational game park was the best strategy to tackle the problem of human-wildlife conflict. While this idea may sound feasible, it requires a lot of resources, including an in-depth needs assessment involving experts on the environment, wildlife and natural resources as well as education. Since sufficient funds are not available, the idea was halted.

Then, on 22 March 2019, The SFA Botswana research team revisited the community of Mmadinare to look into the community assets that are unexploited and can be used to help alleviate the effects of the challenges posed by wildlife on the community’s livelihoods. The following community assets and resources were identified:

• Lehokojwe and Makome hills
• Matlotla-historic monuments/buildings
• Eco-lodge
• Fish hatchery unit
• Leased land/plots
• Letsibogo Dam
• Dikgathong Dam

To maximize the use of these assets to benefit the residents, community asset training would be ideal in order to help locals learn how to best utilize their resources and assets for their own benefit (income, job creation, etc.). However, although a plan has been arrived at to create a reserve in the area, the lack of funds remains a major constraint. The team would welcome assistance from any donor or friend of the SFA Network.


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/


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.


Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 1)

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.