October 2, 2009 § Leave a comment
In Draft 1 (of 6) I included this letter from Vince. He is a Malawian who I met through Twitter and generously offered to help with the venture and answer any questions. I took the letter out of the “ask” because it made it too lengthy but I still wanted to share this. Thank you again Vince!
Thanks for giving me an opportunity to take a look at this ambitious business plan. It is a good initiative which I believe will help a lot of Malawians and Malawi agricultural dependent economy.
I was born and grew up in Blantyre City but I have worked in various parts of the country . Am originally from the Northern Region of Malawi and have stayed in Mzuzu (a city in the north) for almost a year. I have also worked in Salima, Neno, Mwanza, Chikwawa Nsanje and now am in Mulanje which borders with Mozambique. Was working with a cotton buying company before I joined the current project (MRA / Gestetner DTI Project). So I have been in the rural areas of Malawi long enough to understand the villagers.
I have been to Monkey Bay in Mangochi district several times though I have not stayed there for more than a month. It is one of those areas inhabited by fishing families but unlike other lakeshore districts, Monkey Bay has good farming land, so there are some farming families too. Like you discovered, there are several internet cafés, a hospital, a good road network, and it is also a reliable port (by Malawian standards). The people are very friendly and warm hearted just like most parts of Malawi. The original tribe of Yao people is in large numbers but several other tribes have also settled there. Since most of the people start fishing at a tender age, there are not many educated villagers but the government and some non profit organisations are working to improve the situation.
Rural Malawians are very serious enterprenuers, only that they lack support and encouragement.Thanks to some MFIs, NGOs, and civil society organisations which are civic educating, guiding and involving them in various programs including developmental issues, Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs) and many projects. Most of the rural areas are now benefiting from these initiatives. Non profits that are working rural areas in Malawi are posting positive results when they have properly defined and tailored projects.
Will people accept and support this Bamboo Lota?
Yes! This project will be gladly accepted not only in Monkeybay but it is needed in cover the whole country as you observed that 90% of Malawian households use charcoal and it is a business to many. Apart from that the impact it will have on the environment is very minimal than the wood charcoal. Deforestation is a very big problem in Malawi and I will give you three examples of its effects:
Malawi’s biggest river (which is the outlet of Lake Malawi) is used for Hydro Electricity Generation is greatly affected by siltation attributed to cutting down of trees along the river. Because of this, each and every rainy season we have problems with electricity generation resulting in frequent black outs.
Flooding, one of Malawi’s common “natural” disaster, is also attributed to the cutting down of trees (mostly for charcoal) along the Shire River. The worst hit are the Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa.
For the past few years, the weather pattern in Malawi has changed because of the environmental degradation. A Malawian over 20 years will testify to the fact that the rain season is not as we used to have in the past. (you don’t need to be a meteriological expert to know this.)
I assure you that is a welcome initiative and it that will reduce the rate of deforestation which is mainly for charcoal. All that is needed is to do a very good marketing to convince the people and the relevant authorities of the benefits of this program.
Though charcoal business is illegal in Malawi people still burn and sell them and there have been calls to find a proper altanative before intesifying prosecution of those involved in the trade.
Non Profits in Malawi.
I can connect you to several non profits here in Malawi and I believe the most important for this initiative is the Malawi Environmental Endowment Trust (MEET). In the next few days I will see how I can contact them and many more non profits in sustainable fuels, skills training or poverty alleviation. (Just need time to check out who is doing what).
As far as I know there is nothing of this kind happening in Malawi. I heard of other alternatives to charcoal being explored by various organisations but none which uses bamboo but rather firewood, papers and paraffin.The only notable use of bamboo here in is for making cane furniture and other types are used to make mats.
I like the fact that you have included an exit strategy after six years. A good project empowers the locals to be self reliant after a reasonable number of years. I would like to help you in any way right here in Malawi, even when you want to be conducting a more quantative research.
Wishing you all the best wishes as you will be doing everything possible to make this dream a reality,