Mzuzu tobacco auction floors shut down

Nyasa Times
Published: June 30, 2009

Tobacco farmers in the northern region forced the closure of the Mzuzu Auction Floor after protesting against low prices offered by buyers.

“The Auction Floor has been closed indefinitely,” said Paul Mwambaki head of the tobacco market.

He said the farmers made their distress at the low tobacco prices and they decided to close the market.

Mwambaki said the stakeholders will meet and the buyers to negotiate for better prices for the leaf

President Bingu wa Mutharika who announced fixed minimum prices for buyers has continued to fight for the plight of farmers and has threatened to send packing buyers if they don’t offer better prices on the auction floors.

He accused them of running a cartel and fixing prices.

Tobacco remains Malawi main foreign exchange earner.

An Update

Lucan Newsletter: June 28, 2009

A woman said to me this morning: ye don’t seem to be doing anything in Malawi these days!!.

Having convinced her to the contrary, I decided to write a little note.

Our main focus is still on the provision of clean drinking water and to this end we are making pumps in our temporary factory since October at a rate of about 10 per week. They cost about 30 euro and can supply clean water, to a village of about 150 people. We hope to begin building the permanent factory next week, now that we have finally got planning permission. We have just begun a programme of replacing in excess of 200 failed and broken pumps installed by others over the years. New wells are dug at the end of the dry season in October.
Our programme of dam building and irrigation continues as the villagers teach each other to build the most rudimentary, but effective of structures, adding fish ponds as they go.

Our six acre model garden is booming (and blooming). The idea was to research appropriate, open pollinated, vegetable seeds from globally appropriate areas, to see when and how they would grow and encourage local farmers to adopt them. The type and variety varies, but last time I counted, we had 79 varieties of plant. These are all grown using green manure and compost and we control pests with brews of local plants including tobacco!! researching as we go. We don’t use any artificial fertilizer or chemical pesticides. All work is carried out by 12 men and women employees, few of whom have any formal education. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way and what they have achieved in a year and a half is staggering.
Another part of the programme involves the production of improved variety fruit tree seedlings by budding and grafting, including pears and apples from Seed Savers in Scariff, Co Clare. Now that we have something to show, we offer farmers an opportunity to come and stay in our new hostel, learn how we do things, cook and eat what’s available and bring seeds and seedlings home. We are excited that Malawians can teach their neighbours.

Our school programme is developing; we have finished our seventh primary classroom, done some teacher training and provided loads of books and equipment, donated by schools here. Whereas our initial focus was narrow we now find ourselves involved in meeting the needs of the people we work with. In February we opened a two classroom facility for orphan day care in the most deprived area of Mzuzu. We now have up to 250 little ones attending where we provide one meal daily which may be the only food most of them get. Our Malawian partners had agreed to run it, but without money we were left to fill the gap. Mary took on 8 employees in May, did three week’s training and Árus Kate is flying.
Our latest venture is a remote, rural birthing centre. In one of our areas we found a midwife with about 10 clients per month, bringing life into the world in a building which would be demolished by even the most moderate animal rights activist. A leaking thatched roof, a concrete bed, no light, no water, no painkillers, no gloves, no aprons….. You couldn’t imagine how horrific this is; our cattle are treated better, and you thought hospital trolleys were bad!
These are amazing women, illiterate but intelligent, proud and hard working, capable but deprived. They don’t want our handouts, which have robbed them of their dignity but they do need our help. We are in the process of constructing a new building, which will be approved by Mzuzu Central Hospital, who have agreed to send an ambulance for emergency cases.

Last year we hit up a relationship with DIT, when 10 students came out to volunteer at Easter for two weeks. They were real volunteers, paid their own way and worked hard and made a little financial contribution to the projects. What we ask all our volunteers is to work with the people, journey with them, but always try to Inspire, Educate and Challenge, something they certainly did. The seventeen who came this Easter followed the amazing example and we couldn’t be more proud of them. Our young people are so confident, competent, loving, generous and observant. As Business students, we asked them to be analytical and critical and we have learned so much from them. The real plus is that we have a third year Business and Accounting student, Liam Stewart, from Cavan, doing his 6 month placement, from DIT, out in Mzuzu at the moment and he is a revelation.

We have also been adopted by the Blackrock College Outreach programme for the second year. This year the number has gone to 76 and they come in two groups for two weeks each to work with the poorest rural villagers. Last year they were truly amazing, they were straight into action once they arrived and as young men were a true inspiration to the youths of their own age who had never seen white people doing manual work before. Young people who give up two weeks of holiday time after their LC results, when most of their counterparts are enjoying the pleasures on the med are to be loudly applauded.
Having spent 8 weeks in Malawi so far this year, we leave on July 21, for 8 more and will finish with another month in November.

So we haven’t given up yet!!
Our website, usually updated daily is:

Mzuzu University students riot

Mzuzu University students riot
By Nyasa Times
Published: June 19, 2009

Students at Mzuzu University protest over unpaid allowances
Malawi’s Mzuzu University students on Friday evening rioted and blocked roads to the institution’s campus demanding payment of their allowances. Lectures had been blocked from leaving their offices and some escaped from the campus. The students are claiming that they have not received their allowances for nine weeks and demand immediate payment.
“This is what we call peaceful standstill,” said one student Cedrick Kwelani.
“We want our stationary allowance,” he said.
Speaking before students chanting solidarity songs denouncing management and Government over the strike,, Kwelani said authorities in the finance department at the University were behaving in a suspicious manner for holding on their allowances describing them as “tricksters”.
“Today when we checked our bank account we found out there is no money. The Director of Finance has refused to give our money,” said Kwelani as some students shouted names which cannot be printed.
“We asked them to deposit our allowance before banks were closed but they did not heed our call. We need our money today,” said Kwelani speaking on behalf of the rioting student.
He said the matter has been discussed for longer time but the authorities were adamant not to honour the payment.
“As students we believe in diplomacy we tried all means of dialogue including sending students union leaders but they have refused to address us,” he said.
Police said they would remain there overnight to ensure no violence was poured onto the streets.
Vice Chancellor Prof Landson Mhango and Register Reginald Mushani were not immediately available for comment.
Mzuzu University was established by an Act of Parliament in 1997 as Malawi’s second national (public) university in Malawi. The first students were admitted in January 1999.
In July 1994, former President Bakili Muluzi, decided that a new University should be established and that it should be located in the Northern Region after the government had studied the problems inherent in the delivery of tertiary education in the country.

It seems to be that time of year again; student unrest.
When one thinks of student riots, one thinks of concerned principled young people striking a blow against tyrannical regimes for the rights of others. Not so in Malawi. It always seems to be the most privileged looking for more.
In one of the poorest countries in the world, which is seriously dependent on foreign aid, at a time where this aid might be drying up, this group of the elite, want more and the want it now. (and maybe there are reasons). I’m sure there are excellent young people involved, but they really are the privileged in getting third level education free.
Many of them will leave the country, when they graduate, and from what I see, give little back to the country which spends so much scarce resources on them.
All my comments are based on my experience, of working in remote rural areas: Primary education is almost non existant, with poor buildings and facilities and poorly trained teachers. Secondary education is distant, often poor quality and expensive. BUT third level education is free. AND finally a large number of these graduates leave the country and give nothing back. It makes me sad to be questioning education, having been a teacher with a firm belief in the potential of education all my life, and having seen what it has done for IRELAND in a post famine context.
Of course our primary education was, from the beginning, of a very high standard and delivered by very driven and well trained individuals who were respected and valued by the community, our second level schools were provided by religious, who may have had their failings but they were also driven.
Third level education was expensive and also for the few, when we were at Malawi’s stage of development.
My advice to them is to get back to work, take a bit of pain in solidarity with your disadvantaged neighbors, stay in Malawi when you graduate and make a contribution.