I’m sitting in the café of Lilongwe Wildlife Park catching up on emails and phone calls before heading to the airport. Heathrow and Edinburgh airports will be a reverse culture shock compared with sitting here drinking the strangest Flat White I’ve ever seen and sitting under a sign that says “Please do not feed the monkeys”.
In the last three weeks I have covered so many of our projects and taken in the encouragements and the challenges: thankfully, the former outweigh the latter. We really are blessed at the moment with wonderful support and some great partnerships. My final meeting was with the CEO of a large commercial cattle and goat farming company who have their own abattoir and export frozen beef and goat meet to Dubai and Kuwait. We’re exploring how we can work together with our farmers benefitting from high grade compost made with cow dung, abattoir waste and 3kgs of worms (don’t ask!). Certainly it’s a great way to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers which are damaging the soils and water ways in Malawi. We’re also looking at the farmers with our solar irrigation pumps growing silage for the cattle which would enable the growers to have a guaranteed year-round income.
Climate change and the abuse of the environment are big issues here and action is needed. Further south I saw some Baobab trees: these iconic symbols of Africa are hundreds of years old but it was depressing to see the number that are dying – it reminded me of a line from Bob Dylan, “trees that have stood for a thousand years, suddenly will fall”. A reminder that while our priority is to increase household incomes, we have a responsibility to do this in ways that are as kind as possible to the environment.
The other live issue here is child labour in agriculture. This year the USA banned imports of Malawi tobacco because of alleged child labour abuses. The issue is more complex than the media story of course – families desire that their children should go to secondary school but where there’s no money for secondary school fees, those children who have finished primary inevitably end up helping in the fields or fishing on the lake.
Certainly commercial farms should not be employing children, but it’s easy to understand why parents want their children to help in the family field. At Malawi Fruits we still keep coming back to poverty as the main issue here – increase family incomes and the parents will choose to use that money to educate their children. With your help we can do so much more of that.
So I’m heading home, leaving our staff team a bit exhausted (we have been busy!) and with much to do. But they are committed and encouraged and we look forward to the next part of our story.