The many ways a mill can benefit a community

The many ways a mill can benefit a community

Electricity coming to town changes everything. It provides new business opportunities: cellphone charging stations, welding shops, cafes where you can watch soccer matches. It also forces other businesses to adapt and change.

When the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (read more about them here) bought their gas-powered maize/corn mill in 2013, it was the best technology available. The mill grinds corn – the staple food – into a fine flour, adding value to the crops and processing the grain for eating.

Cooperative member feeding maize into the grinding mill. The ground corn is then made into a dry polenta-like meal.

People paid to grind their maize in town with the cooperative, with members paying a reduced price. Before the maize mill was there, they would have to walk long distances to other communities to grind. The cooperative took advantage of this business opportunity. In 2013, they earned over $600 from the maize mill facility.

Then the electrical grid arrived in rural Manyamula Village in northern Malawi. Mills that were connected to the grid could grind faster and cheaper. The cooperative saw their profits dropping. And so they adapted. Last year, they moved the maize mill from their building at the centre of town to the Matopoto zone, on the outskirts of town, where there is no electricity yet. The mill is profitable again, earning $35 every week!

Under Local Management…

The maize mill is collectively owned by all 150+ cooperative members. However, the mill is managed by the cooperative members who live in the Matopoto zone. (The cooperative has divided themselves into eight zones.)

Tanya singing with members of the Motopoto Zone.

75% of the profit goes to the main cooperative office, for low-interest loans and other community development programs, such as hygiene and healthy diet programs. The remaining 25% stays in the Matopoto village compound, benefiting the sixteen members and their families. These members also benefit from having the maize mill nearby. They can process their food right outside their homes!

But wait, there’s more!

At the end of 2013, the cooperative used their saved profits to start a “pig pass-on project.” They bought twelve pigs and distributed them to all the zones. The zone members were charged with raising the pigs and then passing on the piglets to the vulnerable members in their group. A pig is a valuable gift.

A grown male pig can sell for $50 and female pigs can have 6-9 offspring, generating more wealth. 

So far, 55 members across all zones have received piglets through the program! The members in the Matopoto zone have shared ten piglets amongst themselves. And the day that I visited them last month, they had another one to share. This time, they were sharing with a young boy in their community. He is not a cooperative member (yet) but they saw that he – who had lost his mother, and whose father drinks all day – could use some extra support.

The blessing of the pig.

It is this community spirit, this generosity, that fills my spirit and inspires me. When we support Manyamula COMSIP they use the funds effectively, they adapt to the changing business opportunities, and they spread the wealth so that everyone is uplifted.

SIA Updates: New grants, crops in Malawi, and a run-raiser!

SIA Updates: New grants, crops in Malawi, and a run-raiser!

1. Five new small businesses sponsored in Malawi!

Last week, five new entrepreneurs attended a day-long workshop with Small Business Fund local coordinator Canaan Gondwe to plan their new business ventures. Over the course of the day they formed Business Plans and described the roles each family member would play in the business. Help me in welcoming:

New business leaders in Manyamula Village, Malawi, received SIA grants this month!

2. Run-raiser

We’re going to write the name of Spirit in Action all over Alameda, CA! When I say “we,” I mean SIA friend Joshua Brooks. 🙂 Joshua is going to trace SIA’s roots (Alameda is where Del lived and our first office was located) and run a solo half-marathon on March 18th to raise money for the SIA Small Business Fund! I hope to have details about how to follow along in real time soon. To contribute to the campaign, click here. 

3. Crops threatened in Malawi

“The outbreak of fall armyworms has erupted in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi and follows a crippling El Nino-triggered drought which scorched much of the region last year.” The armyworm caterpillars are attacking the maize corn crop, which is the staple food and is essential to the diet in Malawi. (Read more about the effects of the armyworm in Malawi.)

So far, the crops in Manyamula Village are mostly unaffected. The crops will be harvested in April/May and so we pray that they will be fine until then!

Canaan Gondwe’s crop of “groundnuts” (peanuts) is about read to harvest! 

4. Fresh manna

SIA Board Member Barbara Deal sent this to me, remarking how closely it resembles the language that Del used to talking about needing “fresh manna” each day.

“I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

-Langston Hughes

For Sustainable Futures. A business 12 years later.

For Sustainable Futures. A business 12 years later.

This Saturday we will celebrate 20 years of Spirit in Action. Twenty years ago, in February of 1996, Del and Lucile Anderson, twelve Board Members, and Marsha Johnson (as administrative coordinator), met to officially form Spirit in Action in order to “carry on Del’s loving ministry.”

“Spirit in Action. For Sustainable Futures” declares the heading of the recorded minutes from that meeting. Sustainability has always been and continues to be a focus for our grant projects. We want to support programs, schools, businesses, and social movements that will last long after we send a grant.

In Malawi, this goal of long-term impact is a reality. Since 2004, Spirit in Action has supported 122 family/business groups in Manymaula Village through our Small Business Fund and most of those enterprises are still operating today!

Mulla and Mollen with their six grandchildren, in front of their renovated home.

Mulla and Mollen with their six grandchildren, in front of their renovated home.

Twelve years ago, Mulla Tembo and Mollen Mtonga started Mulla’s Livestock Production with a $150 grant. Their lives, and the lives of their six children and six grandchildren, have dramatically improved since receiving this grant and learning to run a business. They raise pigs, goats, and oxen. And they are able to use the oxen to plough their fields, a big luxury in rural Malawi. 

Mulla and Mollen happily report that they are now food secure. This means they have enough maize to last through the hungry season between planting and harvest. They have built a house with tin roofing sheets, replacing the “very poor housing structure” that they had before joining the Small Business Fund program.

Mulla with two of their six cattle in a yoke for ploughing.

Mulla with two of their six cattle in a yoke for ploughing.

Mulla with their plough in the maize field.

Mulla with their plough in the maize field.

Besides the fourteen family members that have benefitted and continue to benefit from this business, the family was one of the first groups to participate in Sharing the Gift. They offered a piglet to Winkly Mahowe. (Read the amazing story of Winkly and the gift of the pig!) Winkly and his family took this pig and used it to improve their lives and livelihoods. They also continue to raise pigs to this day. In 2014, I saw their full chicken coops. That’s another 14+ people who have been positively impacted by that initial grant.

And Winkly also Shared the Gift by giving a piglet to another family. And on and on it goes…

This Saturday, let us really celebrate that Spirit in Action is living up to our founding mission. Stories of Mulla and Mollen, Winkly and his family, and each of the 122 business groups in Manyamula are real proof that Spirit in Action is indeed helping people to realize the dream of a more sustainable (and prosperous) future.

Jane raises chickens and pigs with her husband, Winkly. They have built a new house with the business profits.

Jane raises chickens and pigs with her husband, Winkly. They have built a new house with the business profits.

Sharing the Gift: Moringa Edition

Sharing the Gift: Moringa Edition

“Of course I remain grateful to you and Spirit in Action for your patience with me and the encouragement you have always given to us in our work. Please remember that anytime you will be in need of expert knowledge to support any community-based Moringa project, in any part of the world, you can count on me to offer free voluntary service. It is not an exaggeration to say I can help in any work on Moringa from cultivation, processing and the entire value chain development.”

Sharing a piglet may be the most tangible way of Sharing the Gift. But the offer of “free voluntary service” by Newton Amaglo, SIA grantee and long-time correspondent with Del Anderson, is another exciting way that our partners pay-it-forward to benefit the larger Spirit in Action community.

Del and Newton (then an ambitious researcher at the Kwame Nkrumah’ University of Science and Technology, in Ghana) discussed bio-intensive farming, which can produce large amounts of food in a small garden plot. They also shared an excitement for the possibility of Moringa – a fast-growing and highly-nutritious tree – to improve the diets of people around the world.

moringa_growing_4-16

How can Moringa be incorporated into a diet? Newton explains, “the leaves can be harvested fresh and eaten cooked or uncooked in vegetable salad, soups and stews. It can equally be dried at home, milled, and stored in air-tight containers where it can be added to meals.”

In 2008, SIA gave $5,500 to Newton and his research team to start Moringa plantations at an elementary school and one of the local prisons. Prison food is as bad around the world as it is in the US, and so they were in particular need of nutritious supplements in their diets! The training and garden plots were just getting off the ground when Newton left Ghana for China, where he began working on a Masters degree and PhD in Horticulture.

In his letter Newton told me more about what he was researching, “During my Masters I worked on Moringa leaf production under high density and I have been working on various Moringa seed oil extraction technologies. I pray that all these years of painful sacrifices and studies will go a long way to help the human race.”

moringa_harvesting_4-16

Harvesting the Moringa plants.

Needless to say, I eagerly took Newton up on the offer to share his findings! He emailed back with a very helpful guide for starting a small-scale Moringa garden at home. The guide, (with pictures!) shows how to prepare a four meter square plot by turning up the soil (double digging) and adding manure. Then you sow seeds in the four quadrants and the Moringa leaves will be ready to harvest after two months!

The research is already rippling out through the SIA network. I remembered seeing small Moringa plants when I visited Meanly Mbeye’s home in Malawi in 2014 and thought that she could benefit from the information about intensifying her production. I sent the instructions to Canaan Gondwe to pass along to her and other community members.

Canaan was excited to receive the document and to learn more about Moringa. “The tree seedlings you saw at Meanly Mbeyes home have grown big and they are using the leaves for nutrition. May Newton share more literature of his research. Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative is interested in this.” And so, the research of one SIA partner is shared to another, strengthening our network and improving diets.

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family's farm. Moringa leaves contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and protein!

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family’s farm. Moringa leaves contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and protein!

Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

“We must translate our science into practice.” A simple statement which boils down a Moses Mukongo’s approach to farming in the western part of Kenya. Moses learned about the science of sustainable agriculture at Manor House, and now he and his team at Community Mobilization Against Poverty (CMAP) are passionate about sharing that science with small-scale farmers who can put it into practice. These are farmers who are growing food for their own families and to also sell some at the local markets in the areas surrounding Kitale in western Kenya.

Grant for Workshops

Since receiving a SIA Community Grant last December, CMAP has hosted a series of sustainable farming workshops, benefiting over 165 people. The trainings involve men and women, with women playing a major role in traditional farming in Kenya.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

The trainings involve sessions about double-digging (to promote healthy soil and create raised beds), companion planting (maximizes space and pairs plants that will grow well together), composting (healthy soil and nutrients for the plants), and the use of open-pollinated seeds (so that seeds can be saved from season to season). (Read more about these techniques here – you can implement them in your garden/farm too!)

Moses is passionate about promoting these techniques and telling people the many ways their farms can benefit from using them. “The practices are low-cost and non-polluting, they produce maximize agricultural yields, build soil fertility, and minimize inputs of water, energy, and fertilizers!” The practices not only help people grow more food to eat and sell, they also benefit the environment and help mitigate effects of drought or poor soil.

Sharing the Gift

We ask all our community-based organization partners to “share the gift” by helping others in their community. CMAP embraced this call by implementing the “Five-Farmer Challenge.” Every farmer who attends the workshop is challenged to reach out to five other farmers to share what they have learned. They have also reached out to one of the local primary school to start a school garden as part of their “Farmers of the Future” project. This is the ripple effect of SIA grants!

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Learning from Nature

“In sustainably producing food we must use nature as our guide,” writes Moses in one of his passionate letters to me, “we must escape from the poverty of affluence which is always striving to accumulate more of things and we must ‘seize the day’ in recognizing the opportunity for finding a new way of living in harmony with nature and humankind in the new millennium.” Well said!

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

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