It’s great to be back in Malawi at my favourite time of year. We’re just at the end of the rainy season so everything is green and fresh and it’s a reminder that rain is not “bad weather” here – it really is the Water of Life, enabling crops to be grown. Sadly, it’s not been the best rainy season and the government are estimating maize yields will be about 30% lower than last year.

It was timely, therefore, that we met together as a staff team yesterday to evaluate our Futurepump project. Many of you will know that we have deployed 500 Futurepumps – solar irrigation pumps – over the last 3 years, with support from the Guild, Rotary Clubs, Churches – oh, and the United Nations!

A Futurepump installation in one of the remote villages

In November we commissioned an independent organisation to evaluate the project. They met with a random sample of the farmers and carried out in-depth interviews to establish how effective the pumps had been and whether our training, maintenance and support services are as good as we like to think they are. So yesterday was the moment of truth, when Gary, who led the evaluation, shared the results and helped us work through the key learning points. I have to say that I came away greatly encouraged:

  • 90% of farmers would participate again given the chance
  • 100% said the pumps were useful for their farming
  • 83% said the pumps were beneficial to farming income
  • Services were scored:
    • Funding model 96% good or very good
    • Maintenance support 79% good or very good
    • Crop training 78% good or very good

As well as patting everyone on the back, we talked about how we can improve our maintenance and training services and carry that forward into our wider work with greenhouses. One challenge we were left with was that the farmers are asking for support with getting their crops to markets – the pumps have enabled them to grow more, but getting produce to markets in good time and in good condition is a challenge, especially for the remoter communities. I think this is our next challenge!

Staff across all departments discussing how to make their good work great.

I took time to walk round the office compound to see what was growing in the various demonstration greenhouses. We are testing new varieties all the time, looking to improve crop yields and quality and give the farmers more resilience in the face of unpredictable rains and climate challenge generally. I hope you like these pictures as much as I liked seeing the quality on display.