Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Project: Making Connections

Since the beginning of my service in Malawi one of the main questions my friends and family from home have been asking is what things do you need, or what can we send? Lots of people even ask me if they can send money… Never thought that would be something I’d be uncomfortable with. I really appreciate the generosity and eagerness to help in what I’m doing, but I have come to strongly agree with the Peace Corps policy of keeping the volunteer living standards on par with the village they are working for. In my experience it is because of this policy that Peace Corps volunteers establish much closer relationships with the villagers than the typical aid or development worker. If people in Mwazisi saw me receiving frequent packages, and living with all sorts of fancy gadgets, and luxuries, it would set me even further apart from the rest of the village, and make me even more alien than I already am. Really I don’t need anything for myself. But letters, pictures, interesting articles and the occasional chocolate bar from home are always welcome and appreciated. And of course we could always use vegetable, herb, and spice seeds (at the moment we could use carrots, rosemary, sage, cilantro, oregano, chamomile, mint, thyme, lavender, parsley, or cinnamon for a volunteer herb garden.

Another thing that people can do if they are interested is make connections here with people in my village. One of the main questions I get around the village is “can you help me to have a pen friend in America.” At first I was very cautious to set up pen pals because I was worried that people were looking at it more as an opportunity to ask people in America for money, which is a very unsustainable way for well intentioned Americans to try to help people here, and in my opinion it does more harm than good. People here in Malawi have gotten very used to receiving money from Northerners (mostly Americans, Europeans, and Japanese) without any expectations on how that money should be used. I have seen this cause some Malawians to become dependent and even expectant on this type of money, disabling their own initiative. That being said I have also seen that most people are genuinely interested in learning about America, and having a friend on the other side of the world. So now when people ask me, I am very candid with them and explain that I will organize a pen friend only on the condition that they do not ask for money and that if they do ask, my friends in America will stop writing them and will tell me about it.

So if anybody is interested in having pen pals let me know and I will also start posting names and addresses of people who are asking me for pen pals (unfortunately I left my address book at my house so I can’t post any names this trip, but will very soon). I will continually update this blog with the names and addresses of people and groups looking for Pen Pals. Also, I am still looking for pen pals for my classes at the Primary and Secondary schools. I teach Form 1 Physical Science (equivalent of freshman year), and standard 6 agriculture (equivalent of sixth grade). I am also leading a wildlife club with the entire secondary school. If anybody thinks they have a good link for these groups or would like to pen off a letter relevant to any of these subjects feel free to address it to me at:

Dan Carr PCV
Mwazisi Post Office
Mwazisi, Rumphi District
Malawi, Central Africa

Or you can write the school directly at:

Mwazisi CDSS
Private Bag 1
Mwazisi, Rumphi District
Malawi, Central Africa

These are just the classes that I am teaching but I can make connections with people from every subject going from kindergarten to form 4 (Senior year), or I also can help connect people to appropriate church groups if that is what they are looking for.

Another thing that people have approached me about is helping them find sponsors to finish there education. I am very leery about this because it is asking for money directly (even if the continuation of education is a very worthwhile cause) and it would put me in charge of the money exchange and ensuring that it goes to the right place). So far I have only been asked by two people, both of whom are teachers, who want to get a higher degree in subjects that they already teach. To ensure that only serious students are asking, and to give the potential sponsors a better idea of who exactly they would be helping out, I have asked anybody who is looking for school sponsors to write a short introduction explaining; who they are, the degree they are pursuing, the tuition needed (which I will verify with the University), their personal goals and plans for the future, and an explanation of the benefit for Mwazisi, and Malawi in general if they continue their personal education.

I will type up these introductions, and post them on this blog as well. I would encourage people to keep their contributions small, as I am also encouraging the students to continue seeking other sources of funding for their own education. People always take their own education more serious if they have a personal financial stake in it. If people do want to start sponsoring specific students than they should inform me first via email, then they can get the money to my Mom in Colorado, where she will deposit it into my account in America, where it will remain until it is time to pay that persons tuition. I will withdraw all of the money meant for that person at once, and pay the tuition myself instead of handing them cash, which is unaccountable. Again I am very uneasy with this scenario, but at the same time I don’t want to ignore people at both ends who are asking for legitimate help here, and people with the means in America who are asking what they can do.

I feel much more comfortable with the pen pals scenario. When you look at the mission statement of Peace Corps you see that two thirds of our mission here is giving people around the world a better understanding of Americans, and giving Americans a better understanding of people from all around the world, so I think setting up pen pals is a great way to approach that mission. So I will try to get names and addresses posted very soon.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ramblings: Still A Meat-Head Football Player

In a previous blog I mentioned my connection to Gallinanda United the local football club, now I want to talk about how playing football(soccer to us Americans, and bola to Northern Malawians, but I’ll stick to football since I already used it in the title) is actually very important to my peace corps service. It sounds ridiculous, I know, playing football as an important aspect of development in a community where the problems range from food insecurity to the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but hear me out. Being a part of Gallinanda United has helped my community integration enormously. With Gan United I have found a strong sense of belonging, and thus a sense of confidence in the community, making me far more effective in everything I do. Gan United is idolized in this small African village, which can be useful in making a positive impact in all aspects of life in Mwazisi. By encouraging the players to take being a role model serious, there is a tremendous opportunity to steer Mwazisi’s youth in a positive direction. I am a firm believer in the power of sports, and its ability to bring a community together. So for me Gan United is not only an opportunity to have another group of close friends to run and compete with, but it’s an opportunity to influence and work with a group of young men that are icons for a whole village’s youth.

I first encountered Gan United while I was on my site visit during training. I crossed through their practice field on my way to meet my new landlord. I chatted with some of the guys about football, explaining that I had never actually played back in the states. It’s shocking to a Malawian, that a boy could have a childhood without bola. I joked that it would be their duty when I returned to teach me how to play. I was surprised when after only a week of living in the village they started coming up to me asking why I hadn’t been coming to soccer training. “I don’t want to get in the way” I would reply, “I really don’t know how to play bola.” But they were persistent, “No no, your physique shows that you will be a striker. We’ll teach you.” But, when I first did show up to practice I lived up to my promise; whiffing completely on many balls, and when I did connect, the ball never went in the planned direction. It was a very humbling experience to say the least, with roars of laughter coming from the ewes on the sideline every time I tried to make a play on the ball. But the guys from the team kept encouraging me, always smiling with me, and saying “Ah, you see? You’re coming up now.” I wasn’t coming up anywhere, but at least I was sharing laughs with the villagers for the first time.

I immediately saw how important the football team is to the village. Long before I could understand much of any Chitumbuka, I would recognize the names of the star players mixed into the excited conversations of young ewes, “Shanti na Gifti this and that” or “Monday na Junior something-or-other.” The first home game I saw really brought the communities support for Gan United to light for me. The rest of the village must have been empty, because practically everybody I know was at the pitch and fully engaged in the match. The team even has its own football hooligans who come dressed in flamboyant scarves and hats to march around the pitch belting out cheers and songs at the top of their lungs all the while doing some serious booty dancing. When Gan scored their first goal I was surprised to see that it wasn’t just the players running around hugging each other, but it was like the whole crowd lost their minds. Everybody charged the field, over two hundred hands must have touched the goal scorer’s back before he reached mid field, old men could be seen high stepping across the field with canes raised in the air, I saw ewes doing something between Kung Fu and break dancing, and this was just about five minutes into the game. After seeing all of this I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of, despite being probably the worst bola player in Malawi.

Ironically, the morning of my first road trip with the team turned out to be the same day one of my best friends and high school football teammate’s was getting married back in Colorado. So I woke up well before dawn to climb the mountain where I get cell phone network, so that I could talk to my old football teammates before I went on a road trip with my new football teammates (Sunday morning here is Saturday night there, so I caught them in the middle of the reception). It was surreal sitting on a mountaintop in the Malawian bush talking to my buddies who were busy celebrating the first marriage of the bunch. I must say it was tough knowing that I was missing it, but they made me feel better by picking up right where we left off, giving me my usual fair share of abuse, telling me that they had already shared some of my stupider stories. But they all also made sure to let me know that I was missed at the wedding. I pictured them all with drinks in their hands around my Mom’s cell phone, beating on each other and laughing the way we always have. I definitely had a smile on my face as I rushed down the mountain to catch the team’s transport to Laveli for Gan United’s match against the heavily funded and well-equipped Eva Demaya Squad.

It turned out to be a great trip. The B team won their match 2-1 and the A team managed to pull out a tie 2-2, despite at least half our guys playing barefoot. This is a big feat because the Eva Demaya squad is sponsored by a Dutch health center in the area, so they have brand new boots and top-notch equipment, which draws in ringers from all the surrounding villages. Tying a team with so many advantages is worthy of celebration so the matola ride back was the best part of the trip. The team was dancing and singing pilled in the back of the big truck not having an inch to spare with all of the traveling supporters. Everybody was huddled together drunk on the excitement from the game, and maybe the packets of sugar cane alcohol some of the guys stashed in their boot bags. Guys were falling all over each other as we flew over bumps, but everybody was singing at the top of their lungs and laughing the whole way. At one point I heard my name mentioned in one of the songs, but didn’t catch the context since the Chitumbuka was drowned out by the whirling wind as we flew down a hill, but I could tell it was good from the whistles, smiles, and thumbs up I got from everybody around me.

We got back late, but I couldn’t sleep. I found myself thinking of all the different teams I have been a part of over the years, and the good friends made along the way. A month before I came here to Malawi I was dancing and singing at the Boulder Rugby Season end formal. I arrived to this fine gathering wearing a 70’s tux and my date fellow former rugger Leslie Pickard sported a lion costume. The whole thing culminated in the entire team doing the can-can to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” with our pants around our ankles. Before that I was stomping around the world with the Montana Jesters rugby club. I was lucky enough to play with this rare breed of gentlemen everywhere from Scotland to Humboldt California. My time with them was short, but the memories are abundant, and the Jesters will always have a big place in my heart wherever they all happen to be scattered around the world.

Before taking up rugby I was a Montana Grizzly, where I saw how sports can bring a community together in a very special way. One of my most memorable experiences in sports was our National Championship run my senior year. The buzz and excitement around Missoula was infectious, as we advanced through the playoffs to the championship. I will never forget the parade through Missoula as we were bussed to the airport to depart for the Championship game in Chattanooga Tennessee. The streets were lined with people waving anything silver and maroon they could get their hands on. Lawyers hanging out the windows of office buildings had signs saying “We Believe!” The local transients were in the street pumping their fist at the bus as they demanded “Go get ’em Griz.” I remember Fathers with their sons on their shoulders squinting through the tinted windows of our bus trying to catch a glimpse of Craig Ochs or Johnny Verona. As we passed the lumber yards and rail depot on East Broadway you could see the hope for victory on the faces of our most devoted fans, the common working men and women of Missoula. Some of the workers even ran a train engine alongside our bus as they danced on its platforms to our fight song which was blaring over speakers attached to the sides of the train. I felt so proud to be a part of what all these people were coming together to support, and I will never forget that feeling.

But before Montana, I was playing with the same guys giving me hell on the phone earlier that same morning before I went with Gan United to the Eva Demaya match. The guys I used to play football with in my hometown Broomfield Colorado. We used to dance and sing cheesy songs on our way back from winning a cross-town game against Brighton or Skyview. The same way Gan United was singing old Timbuka songs on the way back from Eva Demaya. It’s funny that I’m halfway around the world in the heart of Africa, where sometimes I feel like I have been born into a completely different reality, but I still find moments that mirror so closely my other life back in America. I may be a bleeding heart liberal volunteering in one of the world’s poorest countries, but it seems no matter where in the world I go, I fall in with the same kind of meat-head jock crowd I always have.

Aside from finding a good group of friends, I see Gan United as an opportunity to make my impact in Mwazisi more effective. As I said before, I am a strong believer in the power of sports to mobilize a community, I would love to see the same type of excitement I saw in Montana about the Griz develop here in Mwazisi about Gan United. Mwazisi already idolizes this team, but by helping Gan United keep improving we can give Mwazisi something to really get excited about, and encourage a sense of community pride. Most people in Mwazisi talk about someday leaving it to live somewhere like Blantyre or Mzuzu. If people don’t see themselves or their children living in Mwazisi ten years from now then they can’t be serious about doing any work to improve the area’s future. People need to have pride in their home village, if they are going to think about its future and development. Football is just another way to encourage the people of Mwazisi to come together and have that sort of pride in their homeland, which would encourage them to look after all aspects of its future.

Given my bola aptitude playing and coaching won’t be my role of strengthening the team (although I do play on the B-squad every now and again, mostly for everybody else’s entertainment, and I had my Mom send a copy of “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Soccer,” so I’m still not counting myself out of coaching) but the team has adopted me as an unofficial manager. Managing Gan United is an opportunity to help them start income generating activities, like a team vegetable garden or tree nursery to raise money for equipment or transport to matches. I can also make efforts to help them find connections with teams in the U.K. or America able to donate old boots or uniforms. I can help them to organize more matches and find tournaments, the more games they play, the more opportunity there is for the buzz I’m looking for to develop.

I also have my selfish reasons for managing Gan United. It is very useful to have the village idols at your disposal and I plan to use them to encourage fundamental changes in the communities mind set. For example tree planting is a very big part of what I’m trying to do in Mwazisi as an environmental extension volunteer. I already have tree nurseries established, and spend a great deal of my breath preaching the value of planting good agro-forestry trees to develop soil fertility, prevent soil erosion, and bring up the water table. Most of my efforts are answered with encouraging words from most everybody in the community; they assure me that they understand the importance of planting trees. But this seems to be all lip service, because as trees are cut down by literally everybody for firewood, building, or farming, I have only seen a hand full of individuals who are making substantial efforts to replace them.

Around Gan United’s pitch there are few trees, disappearing vegetation, and signs of erosion. This is also a central and high traffic location in the community where everybody could see the benefits of planting the right trees. My Mom (being the saint that she is) has already sent two beautiful brand new balls for the team, which were badly needed since the old one was patched, tattered and certainly on its last leg. But instead of just passing the balls to the team, I promised to pass them only in exchange for the teams help in planting agro forestry trees around the border of the field. If the work the team does ends up improving the land around the field then it can serve as a great example, that lends merit to my preaching. Even more importantly if a young boy sees his hero football player planting and taking care of trees, then he is far more likely to do the same in the future.

Another idea has to do with volunteer AIDS testing in Mwazisi. As I am sure many of you know AIDS is a problem of epidemic proportions here in Malawi. Out of a population of about 12.3 million about one million people are currently living with HIV or AIDS. This number is growing all the time because most of the people who live with AIDS don’t realize that they have it. For that reason free volunteer testing and counseling clinics are set up all over the country. One such clinic exists in Mwazisi, but after meeting with the nurses that run the center I realized how seldom it actually gets used; this is due to the cultural taboos attached to sex and AIDS in Malawi. Nobody goes for volunteer testing because it is equated to admitting to taking part in risky behavior, which might mean pre-marital sex, sleeping with prostitutes, or being unfaithful to one’s partner, any of which would obviously bring disgrace to a villager. This all applies to my connection with Gan United because the team is constantly telling me how badly they are in need of new jerseys. If I am able to find a new set of Jerseys for the team, or help them to raise the money they need to buy their own, I would do it only on the condition that we organize a day when we all go publicly for volunteer testing while wearing the team’s new jerseys. It’s something small, but at least it’s chipping away a bit at the social stigma.

My association with Gan United can be useful for countless reasons. It helps me to become integrated with the community and feel more comfortable in the work I do here. This team could also be something the whole community can rally around, and working with them gives me access to individuals who are much more influential in the village than I could ever be. Most of all, it’s just nice to be a part of a team, and have the same type of friendships here with my teammates that I have had at every other stage of my life in every other place that I have lived.

Project: Jatropha Curcas and Locally Made Bio-Diesel

Jatropha Curcus may well be the miracle tree that Mwazisi’s farmers need to reverse the decades of environmental degredation largely caused by tobacco farming. Jatropha will diversify Mwazisi’s tobacco dominated farming, prevent the massive soil erosion caused by deforestation and unsustainable agriculture, and best of all be a tremendous income generator. Jatropha (Kamsatsi in Chichewa, and Physic Nut in English) grows in the poorest soil, and the driest climates. It is resistant to pests, and its leaves are poisonous so farm animals won’t eat it. The tree takes only eighteen months to seed and grows for fifty years. Seeds can be pressed into a clean burning bio-fuel. A local buyer is already in Malawi; Bio-Energy Resources Limited (BERL). They will buy the seeds from the farmers now at a good price to encourage the trees expansion countrywide, so the first step for us in Mwazisi is to grow the trees. It’s never a bad thing to plant more trees, so we may as well start planting and see where this tree can take Mwazisi.

Jatropha could be an alternative cash crop for Mwazisi’s tobacco farmers, so it is useful to start off with some background information about tobacco farming issues pertaining to cash crop farming. Most local farmers wouldn’t say there’s a problem, in fact there’s a gleam in their eye as they tell you how many bails they hope to sell next year. The local forestry extension worker and he will tell you it’s an environmental nightmare, yet he still plants most of his fields with tobacco. Ask him why, he responds, “What other options do I have?” For the past 25 years Tobacco has been the only cash crop grown in Mwazisi. During the Kamuzu Banda Era tobacco was licensed to a limited few plantations, but then the World Bank stepped in and demanded a free market where all farmers were permitted to grow tobacco. Small-holder farms rushed to convert their fields from maize to the more profitable tobacco, and have married themselves to this very destructive crop over a short period of time. Now that tobacco has become Mwazisi’s only cash crop, it is difficult to tell a local farmer to stop making money for his family in the name of preserving the environment. But, in Jatropha there is a viable alternative; one that can improve the health of the local environment by regenerating forest cover and top-soil.

So why is Tobacco so bad? In the Mwazisi Valley it is the biggest contributor to deforestation. Anybody who has lived in Mwazisi for more than ten years will tell you the local landscape has dramatically changed; forestland has turned to tobacco fields, and the old fields have now turned to dust. All land is considered public here, so if a farmer wants to grow more tobacco he receives permission from the village headmen and opens a new field in the bush, chopping down any trees in the way then burning off the remaining vegetation, to prepare to plant in the upcoming rainy season. He is then able to grow tobacco for the next three to five years, which eats up all the nutrients in the growing season then allows the topsoil to wash away in the rainy season with no trees to prevent erosion. More trees are cut down to build “gafas”, the long sheds used to hang and dry the tobacco leaves before grading. This whole process has been a disaster for the regions topsoil, according to a 1992 World Bank Study loss of topsoil in Malawi averaged over 20 tons per hectare per annum, with rates over 50 tons in areas with heavy tobacco production.

All of this deforestation and erosion has caused a severe water availability problem as well. The Mwazisi River was once a perennial river providing irrigation of maize fields in the dambo (the wetland area surrounding the river) throughout the dry season, now the Mwazisi rips and roars through the valley in the rainy season washing away everything including bridges and surrounding roads. With no trees or vegetation to hold up the water table in the dry season the river dries up, the ground turns rock hard, and the Garden of Eden turns into a brown wasteland until the rains come again in November. After the tobacco and topsoil erosion has depleted the soil it’s time to just move deeper into the bush and clear a new plot, and the deforestation continues. In Malawi it’s the rapid expansion of tobacco farming, coupled with firewood collection, and man made bushfires that have destroyed the forestland and local environment. But this type of desertification is found all over Sub-Saharan Africa culminating in a 21rst century African dust bowl.

Not only is tobacco causing deforestation, topsoil erosion, and water scarcity, it is also an economically unsustainable crop for the hard working farmers that have become dependent on it as their only cash crop. According to a 2003 FAO study report entitled Issues in the Global Tobacco Economy, Tobacco generated about K 12 billion of export revenue in 1999 and accounted for more than one third of total revenue from agriculture and about 15 percent of GDP in the same year. The health risks associated with smoking tobacco have led to global efforts to reduce smoking. Rising cigarette taxes, education, anti-smoking ad-campaigns, and smoking restrictions, will only continue to kill this already dying market. The massive Jump in tobacco production in Malawi over the past decade has quickly outpaced the declining market causing a sharp drop in prices and thus a drop in the farmer’s income. The price has also declined as inexperienced and unequipped farmers have started taking up tobacco farming, decreasing the overall quality of tobacco produced in Malawi. According to the same report, “the total output of burley tobacco in 2000 was 20 percent higher than in 1996, but the total revenue was 24 percent lower than in 1996.” More farmers are cutting down tress to open new fields, but every year getting paid less and less.

Three exporting companies now control 90 percent of total tobacco exports coming out of Malawi, so the small number of buyers paired with Malawian farmer’s desperate need for money has given the buyers control over the market. These companies make maximum profits, and the farmers get a mere fraction. The prices saw a small spike this year due to the emergence of a new Chinese market, which will encourage the Mwazisi farmers to up their production even more for next year. What they don’t realize is that it is still a dying market, and when it finally dries up they will be left empty-handed and see that their once fertile soil has washed away to a desert wasteland.

But for now every April the tobacco farmers race to bale their harvested tobacco and get it to the auction floors in Mzuzu and Lilongwe. Auction season is a party. After selling their bales many of the farmers stay in the bomas where they celebrate away their new found money on drinking binges and shopping sprees. When the money runs out and the family suffers through the hunger of another dry season they resolve to plant even more tobacco before the next rains, hoping to earn enough at the following years auction to better provide for the family. This obsession with tobacco is especially strong in Rumphi district (the district Mwazisi is in) one of the areas that tobacco grows best.

Many people in Malawi recognize the need for crop diversification. In Chitipa and Mzuzu, coffee has presented an alternative, although slow to produce profit since the initial growing period is about seven years. This is irrelevant in Mwazisi though, where the villagers tell me the climate is not right for coffee growing, although I’m not convinced and would like to experiment with that possibility. A former tobacco plantation owner in Bolero is also trying, with moderate success, to give farmers in Rumphi district the alternative of growing Paprika. Along with other herbs and spices Paprika may provide another option for diversification, but they also have their drawbacks. Paprika is in the same family as tobacco, and planting it in fields that were once tobacco can easily spread disease. Paprika is also prone to pests and needs lots of attention and pesticides. Jatropha on the other hand is virtually pest resistant, and being a tree needs little care once it is established, just let it grow, and harvest the seeds, a major change from Tobacco which needs a tremendous amount of time and labor.

I’m by no means the first person to see the potential of Jatropha for Malawi. In fact there’s already an existing market for Jatropha started and run completely in Malawi. A group of interested individuals from a variety of backgrounds have formed an organization called BERL (Bio Energy Resources Limited). BERL is encouraging farmers all over Malawi to grow Jatropha and hopes to soon start pressing the seeds and processing bio-fuel. Already BERL will buy the seeds produced by farmers at 15 Malawian Kwatcha per KG, about the equivalent of maize. At present BERL buys the seeds for the purpose of redistributing them to farmers, and increasing the amount of Jatropha grown nationwide. Currently a farm family’s cash income averages $290 per annum. Growing a hectare of Jatropha could add another $200 to this. Once Jatropha has been established on a wide-scale then they will start setting up permanent collection points and processing plants with the hope of eventually having two processing plants (twenty four in total) for every suitable district in Malawi, allowing mass production with minimal transport. BERL is very concerned with not only giving Malawian farmers a fair price but also with producing quality jobs in the production process. They are also very focused on environmental sustainability. After pressing they will compost the nitrogen and phosphorus rich seed cake to produce a natural fertilizer.

BERL has all of the makings of a company that can boost for Malawi’s farmers, economically and ecologically. BERL can provide a sustainable alternative for the tobacco farmers in Mwazisi. I look forward to seeing BERL develop into a tremendous opportunity for Malawian farmers. Anybody interested in supporting the development of Bio-fuels world-wide, or sustainable economic development in one of the world’s least developed countries has a chance to help both of these causes by supporting the development of this up and coming company. I want to see BERL develop from the start as a business that Maximizes Malawi’s natural capital, meaning it generates the maximum profit from Malawi’s natural resources for its farmers without damaging the local environment that provides those resources. In fact Jatropha trees would help to regenerate that local environment.

My role in all of this is to get the farmers in Mwazisi to start planting, and we already have a head start. During swearing-in I bought 5,000 polyethylene tubes for the purpose of starting a reforestation tree nursery with the local Natural Resource Committee. We are planting a variety of trees that have various practical, medicinal, and agricultural uses. When I read an article in Newsweek about Jatropha’s high potential for making bio-diesel, and recalled it as a tree that we learned about during training to be very useful for soap and candle making, I decided to go to the Land Resource Center in Lilongwe and buy 1 kg of seeds to include in our nursery. So we already have a good stock of Jatropha seeds to plant at the beginning of the rainy season. Living fences are a great way to grow Jatropha because it grows thick, is pest and animal resistant, and residue that falls from its branches helps soil fertility. The biggest advantage of encouraging farmers to plant Jatropha as a fence is that we are not asking anybody to replace food crops that are grown in the field, or their beloved tobacco for that matter, Alleviating any worries people have of taking a risk on a new and unknown tree.

One thing that I have learned from BERL is that direct sowing of Jatropha seeds at the beginning of the rainy season (November/December) is more effective and clearly cheaper and less labor intensive then planting the seeds in Poly tubes. So we will save the seeds I bought and plant different trees in the nursery and direct-sow in October. We have started digging the holes for planting and filling them up with compost so that we can easily just start sowing the seeds when the rains come. Two of BERL’s founders Timothy Mahoney and Laurie Webb have even offered to come to Mwazisi with more seeds so we can have a local training session on direct-sowing and care for the trees.

The final phase that I would like to be involved in before leaving Mwazisi would be to actually make bio-fuel in Mwazisi for use in the local maize mills, and if refined well enough the Matola (local transport). Actually pressing and making bio-diesel in Mwazisi is obviously useful for the community as a source of cheap, self-made fuel. It is even more useful for demonstrating to the local farmers that this fuel will run in a diesel engine, and therefore give them an idea of Jatropha’s future value and encourage them to plant more. In order to do this we would need to either build a local press or else raise money to buy a more advanced one. The process of producing the oil is very simple, it’s just a matter of mixing the oil with a catalyst and letting the reaction take place. The preferred catalyst is potassium hydroxide but calcium hydroxide will work and is a locally available constituent of fertilizer. Etnahol also produced in Malawi can be used as the alcohol. The only equipment needed is a press (can be made locally), a water heater (maybe a solar water heater), and two tanks one of which needs to have a drain on its bottom.

Another exciting use is illumination. Jatropha oil burns smokeless, and so is ideal for Paraffin lanterns. Malawians already know Jatropha’s power as an illuminant, I have been told that its seeds were traditionally shelled and put on the end of a stick to act as a candle Paraffin is extremely hard to find in Mwazisi, and is far to expensive for most villagers. With a large stock of Jatropha we could press a portion of the seeds to be put directly into the lamps. What an exciting prospect, to be able to say that we brought light to Mwazisi with this simple tree.

It is uses like this that will encourage the farmers to plant more Jatropha, and eventually provide the seed base that BERL needs to start real significant production. Who knows where it could go from there? A huge growing market for Bio-Fuels is developing world-wide. Maybe someday Malawi will be the Saudi Arabia of Bio-Fuels. At the very least it’s something to spark hope and interest in Malawi’s farmers. Jatropha has really taken over my thoughts lately, and I’m sure my friends are tired of hearing about it. When I travel with the local soccer team on the weekends I encourage people I’m chatting with to plant it. When I’m in Lilongwe or Mzuzu lots of my time is dominated by looking for and processing information about Jatropha, and bio-diesel. I can’t wait to see where this thing goes, and how BERL develops. If any of you have suggestions, criticisms, or ideas make a comment or e-mail me at umdcarr@msn.com. I want to try to make this as effective, environmentally sustainable, and profitable as possible, so I’m looking for help.