What we try: Submission to a Government Report on Malawi

Another view of what we do

Wells for Zoë - logo

Wells for Zoë - logo

Wells for Zoe (CHY 17275)
We have been a registered NGO in Malawi since May 2008.
We’ve been working in Northern Malawi since June 2006;
We don’t do charity or aid.
We believe in a hand-up without handouts and that inspiration is more valuable than charity.
Our focus is on the provision of clean drinking water, using hand-dug wells and a low cost, low tech, sustainable, PVC hand pump. (Canzee pump costs 35€ and delivers 20L/Minute from 25 M deep)
We can provide clean water for life to a person for 1 euro.
We work in rural areas within 50 km of Mzuzu. (submission relates only to this area)
We are trying a “trickle-up” approach.
All of our planning and training happens on the spot, in the fields.
Our office is still mobile, Skype and Google Earth are excellent.
The founders pay all expenses, so there are no donor issues on administration costs.
Our programmes include, water pump manufacture and installation, water storage, irrigation, a seed bank, fruit tree propagation, a model garden, a model farm,
a 0% interest micro-credit scheme,
a compost-making and green manure system,
chicken rearing, a few fish tanks, school building,
tree planting, marketing, orphan day care, beekeeping and honey processing.

We work in about 40 villages, have 26 employees, half are full-time, none are white, most are illiterate and 70% are women.

Northern Malawi
Northern Malawi is about 30% of the area of the country, with 12% of the population. (give or take)
A typical village can have, maybe ten related families, living in thatched mud huts, scraping by on what might be called subsistence agriculture.
The staple diet is nsima, a maize flour.
They also grow beans, pumpkins, cassava, tomato and potato. (small quantities).
There is never enough food, so there is a hungry season every year.
Tobacco is a cash crop, with high fertilizer and labour requirements. If the price is high, there is less land for maize.
There is little generational, agricultural knowledge about food other than maize, which is grown, once a year, in the rainy season. Such is the depletion of the land that maize fails without chemical fertilizer.
(The subsidy scheme has problems with corruption and only about half the subsidised fertilizer goes to the poorest farmers.
1 extra kg of fertilizer gives 3 extra kg of maize
1Kg of Fertilizer = 200Kw or 18Kw subsidised: 3Kg of Maize = 150 Kw from ADMARC
(Chemical fertilizer is finite in quantity and the cost is related on oil price and availability.)
There is one rainy season per year but water is rarely stored.
Seed varieties are few and expensive. They don’t save seeds. Shops only sell hybrids.
There are few cattle. Donkeys or horses are rare.
Almost all cultivation is done by women, by hand.
Wives are paid for, and so are expected to collect all water and firewood, have up to 10 babies to care for, and in between are responsible for all the food, from seed to plate.
Corruption is an issue.

The Issues as we find them (for us)
Access to clean water:

The problem: Water can often be a smelly, disease-infested liquid.
Women walk for miles get it,
Girls stay out of school to collect and carry it.
Broken pumps, incapable of village level maintenance,(are everywhere)
and dropping water tables.
(the most common pumps we find, have high failure rates, can’t be fixed locally and have a limiting depth of about 6 or 7 metres)

The solution: It’s simple in Northern Malawi: Dig and build a well. Install a Canzee pump. We supply cement and the pump, the villagers do the rest. Total cost €35 for the pump, €65 for the cement: €100 for 100 people.

Water Storage

The problem: One rainy season, no water stored.

The Solution: Build simple earthen dams, at no cost, except the labour . Store enough water for the period from June to November.
Use no cost, earthen irrigation channels to distribute water.
Use the neglected dambo (swamp) land, and get 2 extra crops per year.
Problem: Vegetable seeds are scarce and expensive.

Solution: We bought 6 acres of land, set up a seed saving farm to research new, open pollinated plants, (from Scariff to Santiago).
We save seeds, give them to farmers, teach them to do the same.
The Irish Seed Savers organisation are helping us, and we’re all retaining diversity.

Problem: The land we work with is seriously depleted and totally dependant on chemical fertilizer, which is expensive even when subsidised, scarce, beyond the reach of most poor farmers, (Its continued use further depletes the organic soil)

Solution: Again it’s a simple one: a combination of compost and green manure. Our programme includes a campaign on both. To encourage this we have a carrot and stick approach: no micro credit, if you don’t and some specific fertilizers containing P and K, if you do. The legumes provide ground cover, weed suppression, water retention, and help with erosion. We avoid weedkiller and pesticide. (Using planting)
Problem: Deforestation means that women and children have to walk miles to find and carry firewood.
Solution: We encourage and train villagers to grow their own seedlings, and have their own trees
Last November we started fruit tree propagation by grafting and budding on the farm, and as they are ready we give them to families and teach them how to look after them. (We of course take cuttings or seed in return!! We recently brought Irish apple and pear rootstock courtesy of ISS, and await developments.
In July we have a volunteer, expert on soft fruit, from Dundee, coming for a month to help out.)
We have two potential oil sources, Moringa and Jatropha trees, which grow in marginal soils. The prospects look good.

Problem: Knowledge of simple agricultural and irrigation techniques is lacking in rural communities.(and basic technologies are unavailable)
Solution: In August, we will begin building a residential Agricultural and Technical college (Loose terms) for illiterate women (and a few good men) so that Malawians, who have learned, can pass on their skills. (Not monuments to our ego)

Micro credit

Problem: Having no money or no access to credit is a big hindrance to development. Having to pay 50% interest is a crime. (Even the micro Credit groups in Malawi can charge up to 25%)

Solution: We have introduced a zero interest micro credit scheme, mainly for chicken and fish rearing and business startups. (Applies to everything)
It’s a cooperative venture in villages, where all the members are responsible for repayment. (Repayment so far is 100%)


Problem: Rural primary schools have to be seen…….. They can lack walls, roofs, floors, furniture books, copies…
Solution: Our first venture in school building inspired a community to build a 3 classroom school in two weeks. It cost €2700 for 300 children.

We recently sent out 5000, used, special education books, to make a start. My wife, Mary has begun a programme of, on the job, teacher training. (38 years teaching experience, deputy principal, 20 years special Ed, Designer of programme for Dept Ed, Lecturer in Urban Education in TCD for 9 years)


Problem: Rural people have little or no sense of how to rescue their own lives: they have arrived at a kind of learned dependency, they wait for the Government or the Aid worker to tell them what to do, and they often die waiting.
Solution: We don’t do aid, we give a hand up rather than a hand out. They get all inputs on long term micro credit and achieve the dignity of ownership. We feel inspiration is much more powerful than charity.
We try and put them on the road to helping themselves
We say, don’t wait, if aid comes take it, otherwise keep with the programme.

At Easter we had a group of 10 DIT students, who made a big impression and were inspirational. In August a group of 66 post Leaving Cert Blackrock College students, parents and teachers coming out to meet and stand by the people we work with.
Visitors and volunteers pay their way and make whatever contribution they can, if any, always keeping in mind inspiration, education and challenge.
No money collected from the public can, in any way pay for their trip.

Problem: When I began my quest for information on water in Malawi, I spent 6 months of intense emailing to agencies with water programmes and others.
It was as if they had all signed the official secrets act.
No help, no information and a few even suggested that I should give them my money and leave it to the professionals. (3 years later I realise aid is a big business with a huge turnover and highly paid executives, with their boards, strategies, and large advertising budgets. I also know that the people who care are everywhere to be found but they’re hard to locate). Poverty seems to be good to everyone except the poor
Solution: I answer maybe 40 emails a week, passing on anything I have learned about Malawi: the climate, water pumps, well logs, altitudes, rainfall, seeds and whatever.
We co-operate with about 20 organisations, from St John of God’s, Br Aidan Clohessy, who gave us assistance, vehicles, staff, advice and of course accommodation up to and including this summer. (we are building accommodation beside their new student accommodation: they have first world facilities and are an example to all))
We work with Fr John Ryan, Professor of Maths at the University, another amazing Tipp man, who we discovered through Johanna Fitzpatrick who, with her family runs what we call our sister organisation, Small Change; she came all the way from Cork today for support, and is in the gallery. (We began working with some of the same people, at the same time: now we’re doing great work together with Fr John).
We support CCAP (Presbytarian Church of Central Africa), by modifying and fixing their pumps and hopefully selling them 500 new pumps next year.
We work with and partner: CADECOM, Mzuzu Dioscse, (MW)
SIFAT, Servants in Faith and Technology (USA)
Chapin Living Water, Drip Irrigation (USA)
Seed Programs Inc, Seed ( USA)
Cranfield University (Dr Richard Carter) (UK)
Mzimba District Commission, (MW)
Small Change (Fitzpatrick Family) (Cork)
Every Home Global Concern (AU)
Seeds of Hope (USA)
UNGUERE Project Mzuzu (MW)
Mzuzu University, Forestry Dept (MW)
Land Resource Centre, Lilongwe (MW)
Seed Savers (Scariff, Co Clare)
Ripple Africa (UK)
Mbawemi Women’s Group (MW)

Northern Malawi needs a Revolution. (A very Green one)
Any solution to our problems (in Northern Malawi) must be conceived, designed, structured and implemented by the rural poor.
They must be allowed to build on what they have.
What they need from us are, options from friends, rather than agendas from commercial opportunists.
Water management and irrigation should be the foundation.
Chemical-based agricultural inputs need to be critically analysed in terms of cost and ecological impact. (they failed on both fronts in the first green Revolution)
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to our agricultural problems.

Poor farmers should be supported to achieve self-sufficiency at the farm level through ecologically sound farming methods. (and livestock production), and not be driven by market forces.

Local trade in farm surplus should a priority, while indigenous crops should be heavily promoted.

We think of it as a trickle up policy. (Food secure people may become producers)

Finally, why is there always a rush for the cash crop when the rural poor are all hungry?.

What would help us?
Current databases, kept up to date,
• of small, voluntary groups and individuals working in Northern Malawi. Networking.
• of projects, their content, locations, scale and who to contact. (Projects start and disappear as quickly, run out of funds…)
• of Government projects on water, irrigation and organic farming and a letter from the Ministry to enable us to see them.
• of individuals (Volunteers), anywhere, who could advise, for free.
• of agricultural, forestry and fishery research locations.

• Information: a website maybe, for Malawi would be great, showing what’s happening, how public money is helping the poor. Could it be set up in Malawi, employing Malawians, with their success stories.

• Importation of pump making materials is proving difficult and expensive. Tax and Bureauracy
• Late this year we will begin building on a site beside Coca Cola. We start with the pump factory and units for school furniture and an innovative cooking stove. Inputs may help

The Last word
Malawi is, probably, the most aided country in the world, but it’s hard to see the benefit of 40 odd years of donor aid, when you’re in a village.
Small sums of money in Northern Malawi, can effect great change, if it can be somehow, strategically placed with the poor themselves, as micro credit, maybe.
What we do in W4Z isn’t sexy nor does it create front page news, but it is effective. ( For us it’s no more than a small start)
It includes, educates and inspires poor, remote, illiterate people.
It starts with what they know and builds on what they have.
We wont judge success in Malawi by how much money we spend, but by how effective it is in benefiting the very poor.
If we give Irish donors or taxpayers money to the people of Malawi,
we should insist on getting the best value for their money.


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