The Return of Mpasa Fish to Nkhata Bay District

More exciting news has been received about the Ripple Africa community-led Fish for Tomorrow programme! This time it’s from member Sammy Kachikunje who wrote:

“My name is Sammy Kachikunje and I work for Ripple Africa as Monitoring and Evaluation Officer. In the morning of Wednesday 19th June 2019, I went to monitor fish catches at Kaweta beach in T/A Malanda, where I met this particular fisher known as Akim Banda who is also our fish catch data collector. Akim mainly targets Chambo fish and surprisingly caught Mpasa fish of about 20 inches long after a decade of disappearance.

Akim said 20 years ago Mpasa could be easily caught but went missing for over a decade because of using under meshed fishing gears like mosquito nets and also the lighting of fishing lamps in shallow waters when going out for fishing which resulted in dragging fish into deeper waters. He said the fish was caught in a 4½ inch mesh size. He also said the fish conservation project has brought a big impact in restoring Mpasa and other fish species to the District (Nkhata Bay).

Akim said fish catches are now better than before the introduction of the fish conservation project.”

Sammy holding Mpasa fish at Kaweta Sammy holding Mpasa fish at Kaweta

This is a great sign that not only are fishermen catching more and larger fish, but that these fish that had disappeared are now returning.

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The return of the Chimwi fish (Labeobarbus) to Lake Malawi

On 13th June 2019, a local fisherman, Clement Chirwa, brought a large fish that we had not seen before to sell to us at Ripple Africa at Mwaya Beach, Nkhata Bay District on the shores of Lake Malawi. The local name of the fish is Chimwi and others have called it a Labeobarbus. It measured 63 cm and weighed 3.6 kg. The Ripple Africa community-led Fish for Tomorrow programme started in 2012 and, since then, fishermen are catching more fish and larger fish, and fish that had disappeared are returning. This is helping the local communities and the biodiversity of the lake.

Clement Chirwa, the fisherman who caught the rare Chimwi fish on 13th June 2019 Clement Chirwa, the fisherman who caught the rare Chimwi fish on 13th June 2019

Clement Chirwa has been a fisherman for seven years and, during that time, has often struggled to come home with a decent catch. In the past couple of years, his catch has improved enough so that he has been able to build his family a home with iron sheets, and pay for school uniforms for his four children. He is used to catching catfish so when he set his hook lines this week, Clement was not expecting to catch such a Chimwi fish nor one so big.

With only a dug-out canoe, Clement will venture into Lake Malawi during the early evening to set the hooks, returning the next morning. On Thursday morning, Clement said, “I was so excited when I saw the big fish. This is the first time that I have ever caught something so big. I usually only catch a few catfish, and sometimes I return empty handed.”

The Chimwi fish weighed 3.6 kg and measured 63 cm long, and Clement said, “People in the village were shocked to see such a big fish again. Many had not seen this species of fish for more than 15 years and for some it was their first time to see this fish.”

The Chimwi (Labeobarbus) measured 63 cm long and weighed 3.6 kgThe Chimwi (Labeobarbus) measured 63 cm long and weighed 3.6 kg

Arnold, 40, a local villager said, “I last saw one this big in 1998.”

Dan, 36, who bought the fish, said, “This is my first time to see this fish. Everyone said it is very rare but very tasty so I wanted to buy it for my family. We are nine living at my house so it will feed all of us.”

Morton, 49, said, “I have never seen this fish before in Malawi, only in Zimbabwe in a man-made lake back in 1996. This is a positive sign that fish are returning to Lake Malawi.”

Clement explained that he can usually earn around 5,000MWK-8,000MWK (£5-£8/$6-$10) for a good night’s fishing, but he sold the Chimwi fish alone for 10,000MWK (£10/$12) plus he had other fish to sell.

He said, “I sold lots today but kept a few fish to celebrate with my family. The Chimwi fish would have fed my family for three days but I can save the extra money for emergencies. I am very happy to be the one to catch such a big fish, and I hope to catch more fish like this soon.”

Clement is 35 and lives at Katenthere village. He didn’t finish primary school and dropped out in Standard Four because his parents couldn’t afford the fees. With no education, Clement learnt to fish and has now taught his younger brother to fish too.

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Community effort results in charcoal confiscations

Choma Hill Forest Conservation committee members, with support from the Forestry Department, mounted roadblocks and 60 bags of charcoal and 22 push bikes were confiscated.

A further 42 bags of charcoal and 14 push bikes and were confiscated by Choma Hill in another joint effort.

Confiscation of 42 bags of charcoal and 14 bikes Confiscation of 42 bags of charcoal and 14 bikes

In Malawi, over 95% of the population cook using wood or charcoal. Now, we already know that our Changu Changu Moto fuel efficient cookstoves use only a third of the firewood that a traditional three stone open fire uses. However, people living in more urban areas use charcoal for their cooking fires, which is illegal and very expensive.

Firewood harvested for commercial purposes is largely sourced illegally from forest reserves and, almost without exception, wood for charcoal production is harvested illegally. Across much of Malawi, demand for firewood and charcoal is driving deforestation and forest degradation.

Charcoal production causes extensive deforestation and Choma Hill has been devastated by charcoal burning with some areas left with no trees at all. Choma Hill is a large wooded area on the outskirts of the city of Mzuzu and is the only forested area near the city where firewood can be found. As it is not designated a national park, Choma Hill has no legal protection from the Government and a thriving charcoal industry is threatening the forest.

Deforested Choma Hill Deforested Choma Hill

The local communities around the hills recognise that there is a real need to address this issue and they want to ensure that their forests are protected and that new trees are planted to ensure that there are sustainable wood sources. Through funding we extended our Forest Conservation project to the Choma Hill area. There are 63 Forest Conservation committees, run by community members, working with local Chiefs introducing new bylaws to protect Choma Hill from further deforestation and encourage regeneration of already deforested areas. Much time has been invested in carrying out project briefing meetings to ensure collaboration with the local Forestry Department and District Senior Chiefs, as well as undertaking community project awareness campaigns in villages surrounding Choma Hill.

A further 60 bags of charcoal and 22 bikes confiscated A further 60 bags of charcoal and 22 bikes confiscated

There is considerable local interest in protecting the hills here as there are very few forested areas left near Mzuzu. The community and farmers are working well together to continue the success of this project and these confiscations will send a powerful message to the charcoal producers.

Read more about our environmental work here

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BBC News feature Fish Conservation Project

We’re excited to be featured on BBC News! This is a ‘BBC Africa One Minute Story’ featuring Force Ngwira, Country Director for RIPPLE Africa, talking about our efforts to stop the use of mosquito nets for fishing in Lake Malawi and how we’re empowering communities to take ownership of their resources.

The BBC Africa News link can be found here.

‘Fish For Tomorrow’ is a project ensuring that fish and their habitats are protected through a partnership between Malawi’s Department of Fisheries, RIPPLE Africa and the fishing communities along the lakeshore.

Through the implementation of bylaws, which includes a restriction on the minimum size of fishing mesh, fishermen who have been involved in the project in Nkhata Bay District for the last 5 years have seen an increase in the number and size of fish that they are managing to catch. We introduced the project into the neighbouring district of Nkhotakota in 2016 and are now covering almost a third of Malawi’s lake shoreline.

Fish for Tomorrow has been extremely successful and we hope to continue to work on a long term basis with District Fisheries Officers in Nkhata Bay and Nkhotakota, with the local communities and with the fish conservation committees that have been established. The fishermen here are providing the evidence of the project’s success, which will enable us to encourage others to adopt the same approach. We have just started the project in Salima District, the next district to the south and are seeking funding to spread the project into all districts along the lake.

Read more about our Fish for Tomorrow project here.

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Volunteers helping volunteers

Former medical volunteers support Malawian volunteer nurse, Winnie who has become a valuable member of the Kachere Health Centre team.

Kachere Health Centre offers medical care to a large catchment of around 26,000 people and they’re pretty much always busy. Data is collected on how many people use the Health Centre by Khumbo and Watson who are working on our Family Planning and Sexual Health project.

To give a guideline, in 2017 1,229 people received Family Planning. In the same year, 6,227 under 5’s were tested for malaria with 4,518 being positive and needing malaria treatment. In over 5’s, 10,856 were tested, of which 6,743 were positive. They also carried out immunisations for under 5’s on 8,351 children and 324 babies were born at the clinic that year.

Kachere Clinic

The Health Centre runs the usual clinics including Out-patients Department for malaria testing, HIV testing, blood pressure, diabetes, general and other ailments, as well as offering family planning, antenatal clinics, labour/deliveries, under 5’s and malnutrition clinics, STI management and treatment, voluntary counselling and testing (HIV), giving ARV’s to HIV patients, youth friendly services, and wound care. They also take any emergencies plus they have their Environment team who have been involved with the distribution and education when mosquito nets were delivered amongst other health-related topics. We think you’ll agree, this is quite a busy Health Centre!

There were three clinical staff employed at Kachere with Eva as Medical Assistant, Janet as Nurse Technician and Esther a Community Midwife. However, since the 13th March, this has reduced to two as Eva was transferred to work in Lilongwe. The Health Centre is now running without a Medical Assistant. Along with her other duties, Janet will be carrying out consultations and prescribing for the Out-patients Department.

Winnie

This is where Winnie is a blessing. Winnie is a qualified nurse and has been helping at Kachere Health Centre for more than six months now on a purely voluntary basis. She is waiting to be offered a Government paid role. Whilst she takes on nursing roles during the day, she is also doing night shifts on the maternity side too. Winnie is loving volunteering as she is gaining valuable on-the-job experience but she is now struggling to get to the Health Centre each day. Appreciating Winnie’s vital contribution, Eva approached Ripple Africa before she left to see if we can help. We spoke with Eva as she travelled to Lilongwe and this is what she said:

“Without Winnie, Esther does the midwifery duties day and night without rest. Winnie is a qualified community midwife who comes to the clinic every day and carries out the same duties at Esther. Her presence is helpful because together they manage the labour ward, run antenatal clinics and some community visitations to pregnant mothers. They do alternating shifts so when Winnie works in the day, Esther works in the night. They swap this round.

Winnie

“Winnie lives near Kapanda. She has a bicycle but it often has faults so she then has to walk. She is humble and committed to her work and even without any payment she fulfils her duties faithfully. Without her, Esther works without a rest and has to cover day and night. Winnie is so committed and values her patients.”

It was absolutely clear what a difference Winnie is making so we reached out to our supporters and are so thankful to a previous volunteer couple who have agreed to provide an allowance to Winnie to enable her to support the Health Centre. We are not employing Winnie but supporting her with her volunteer role while she waits for a Government-paid role. She is extremely committed and very much needed as part of the team.

Winnie

This is a wonderful story in twofold; how even after getting an education and finishing her degree, instead of migrating to other neighbouring African countries like South Africa, Winnie has stayed to help her community, also how fantastic that we have volunteers who, having spent time with the community and understand the importance of these facilities, are willing to provide support when needed.

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International Day of Forests

Today is International Day of Forests, a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of forests. The theme for 2019 is ‘Forests and Education’ and we believe education is key in all our projects.

In Malawi, Africa, deforestation has reached a crisis point and most of the country is now deforested due to shifting cultivation, timber and charcoal production and firewood for cooking.

There are very few protected forested areas and little control over how local people treat forested areas. People move into the forested areas and clear trees to provide space for farming, they burn the trees where they fall, temporarily cultivate the land, often on sloping hills that are unsuitable for growing crops for more than one or two years, before the topsoil is washed away by rains rendering the soil infertile. Then they move on and do it all again in another area.

The effect of burning after clearing the trees.

Fortunately, in the north of Malawi we still have some forests left but they are disappearing fast as there is little understanding of the importance of trees in regulating rainfall. In areas where forests have been destroyed, periods of drought are common, leading to crop failures and food shortages.

Our approach is very community led. Our environmental team inspire and work in partnership with District Forestry teams, local stakeholders and communities. We educate people living in the forested areas about the importance of protecting their forests. We help communities set up volunteer forest conservation committees and introduce bylaws to protect the trees, empowering them to be the solution.

Since our Forest Conservation project started in 2007 we have established 170 Forest Conservation Committees and we are directly working with around 1700 people.

We recently met with an active Forest Conservation Committee deep in the Kandoli hills, many of whom were previously destroying their own forest. Through education, they now understand the importance and feel empowered to protect their land.

One fantastic Forest Conservation Committee in the Kandoli hills, who are passionate about protecting their forests.

Through this project we are doing our best to reduce further deforestation in Malawi.

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Creating the Next Generation of Readers

The RIPPLE Africa Community Library at Mwaya continues to provide local people with a brilliant selection of books including novels, local language books and textbooks.

Head librarian Barton and his assistants John and Vitu had a busy 2018. 3,088 borrowers visited the library and they lent out 4,537 books, 592 books more than in 2017. They welcomed 157 new members too.

  • Vitu, Barton and John at the libraryVitu, Barton and John at the library
  • Barton and Alamson planning Adult Literacy classesBarton and Alamson planning Adult Literacy classes

In 2017, data showed that the majority of the children’s books were never read or borrowed so a Children’s Corner was started to help engender a love of books among young children. The reading sessions take place every Saturday and those attending regularly are now able to choose the books they wish to read and there are teachers who can help them read them. There is still scope for this reading club to expand and welcome more children but there is hope that now that Mwaya Primary School visit the library 10 times a week for their Library Lesson that the children will develop a love for books and feel more comfortable coming to read at the weekend.

Library members reacted positively to a selection of new local language books and new novels. However there is now a demand for new textbooks as the government has changed the secondary school syllabus so all of the subject textbooks need renewing. Newspapers continue to be popular as are magazines such as The Week, and there are more members preferring to read at the library instead of taking books home. There are still more men reading the papers as they love to be up to date with football and general sports news, as well as looking at the jobs section.

  • Children’s Corner members reading their booksChildren’s Corner members reading their books
  • Both stories involve African animalsBoth stories involve African animals

Kapanda Community Day Secondary School has a Peace Corps volunteer, Birgit McMullen, who has introduced school excursions to the library to ensure that all students, not just those living close to the library, are aware of the resource available to them. In 2018 they borrowed a combined 3,050 textbooks plus around 300 other books such as dictionaries and local language books.

Birgit said “During the 2017/18 school year we have taken several excursions to the Mwaya community library. Kapanda CDSS does not have an on-campus library and it is difficult for students to find books to read. As a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English, part of my role is to introduce students to the concept of libraries and their use. During DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) Day I invited Barton, the chief librarian, to Kapanda to give a presentation on the creation of the library, the structure, its many uses, and policies. After that we organised two field trips to the library where students were able to tour the different sections, learn about different genres of books, and sign up as members. Students then checked out books we used in class to learn about how to write summaries and book reports. Students have since continued to use the library to read and study.

“The Mwaya community library is a wonderful and rare addition to rural life in Malawi. The introduction of library use to Secondary students has been a great example of what can happen when organizations and volunteers collaborate to benefit the local population.”

The students come to the library as they are unable to afford their own textbooks and the government do not provide enough so the students cannot borrow them from school. There are 11 different subject textbooks needed for each of the four year groups plus eight titles for English Literature and Chichewa Literature. We’d like to be able to provide four copies of each book to the library to ensure the students can continue studying with the correct materials. On average each book costs £8. To donate visit here

The RIPPLE Africa team would like to thank everyone supporting the library. You are helping to ensure it remains a great resource for the community.

  • Member Dorica choosing a book to readMember Dorica choosing a book to read
  • Children’s Corner taking place with Honess and RebeccaChildren’s Corner taking place with Honess and Rebecca

Watch our short film about Mwaya Community Library and how the local community are also benefitting from Adult Literacy and Children’s Corner.

You can read the full report which illustrates the books borrowed and the library users for 2017 and 2018.

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Sustained funding from Dining for Women

We are absolutely thrilled to have been selected as a Dining for Women sustained grantee! This $75,000 award over three years will enable us to provide 5,743 fuel efficient cookstoves to families residing in the Nkhotakota and Mzimba Districts of Malawi over the next three years. As a past grantee in May 2015, we so appreciate Dining for Women’s continued support for this important project!

Dining for Women

The Changu Changu Moto cookstove has the ability to transform the way women in rural Malawi cook. Because of the 66% reduction in wood use, reduced smoke production and incidence of burns – and the fact that food cooks more quickly – adoption of this stove by the women has been quick and easy. This is ultimately protecting the environment, providing health benefits, improving economic wellbeing, and empowering women. Since its introduction in 2011, 43,000 Changu Changu cookstoves have been adopted by Malawian women.

One woman who benefits is Anita who is a mother of three and she loves her Changu Changu Moto. Her days are full caring for her children, doing housework, and managing her small farm. Anita has been telling us that the time that she used to spend collecting wood is now being spent on helping her children with their homework and planning her own future. She is determined not to spend her working life as a subsistence farmer as she is hoping to become a tailor so that she can bring money into the household to pay for her children to attend secondary school.

Changu Changu Moto

Thanks so much to Dining for Women for helping RIPPLE Africa to help more women like Anita. Read more about Dining for Women here.

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Royal approval for Force at the Tusk Awards

Congratulations to Force, Country Director for RIPPLE Africa, on being a 2018 finalist of the Tusk Awards for Conservation in Africa.

Force Ngwira

The Tusk Conservation Awards celebrate extraordinary people, whose work and lives might otherwise go unnoticed outside their fields and Force has been selected in recognition of his work in Malawi, his passion for the environment and ability to work with people at all levels to achieve long-term sustainable change.

Force started working in Conservation in 1998 when he became aware that his woodcarving business was damaging trees. He has come full circle and is now a dedicated Malawian environmental activist. Force’s dedication to overcome challenges; to educate and empower local communities with the ability to work with people at all levels; to encourage his fellow Malawians to be equally committed to conserving their environment has made him, quite literally, a Force of Nature! This led him to being nomindated for the Tusk Award.

The Awards Ceremony was held in London and following all the excitement, subsequent meetings with donors and supporters in the UK, Force has now returned to Malawi to continue his important conservation work.

Force NgwiraProud founders, Geoff and Liz Furber with Force

Force particularly enjoyed meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and tells us that the Duke appeared really interested in learning about our community approach to conservation. From the photo, it looks as though both of them were also impressed with his suit!

Prince William delivered a speech, noting that, “As ever, I am inspired and humbled by the sheer dedication and commitment that our 2018 nominees have demonstrated. It never ceases to amaze me how they achieve so much against the odds and with so few resources…

…Let me finish by congratulating the winners and finalists again for their incredible work and achievements. We can only hope to shine a spotlight on a few each year through these awards. But in doing so, we rightly continue to uncover some of the unsung heroes of conservation in Africa.”

Force NgwiraThe Certificate!

Force was certainly a worthy finalist and we are extremely proud of him and all the members of his team for shining an international light on RIPPLE Africa’s work. We congratulate all the winners for their amazing contribution to conservation.

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A return to Malawi to carry out research on international nutrition

After spending the summer of 2017 with RIPPLE Africa, Jess returned to the UK to start an MSc in Human Nutrition. We welcomed Jess back when she wanted to carry out research for her dissertation project within the topic area of international nutrition/humanitarian work. Here’s Jess’s story.

In my opinion the best way to immerse yourself in a different culture is to connect with people through local food. Therefore, I feel very privileged to have spent the past four weeks in Malawi cooking, singing and dancing with women from three small, rural villages. Whilst traditional meals often lack variety and nutrient density, the cohesive community makes every meal time an enjoyable social event.

The Malawian diet comprises of predominantly starchy foods with Nsima being the staple carbohydrate dish consumed in vast quantities. The process of growing, storing, processing and preparing Nsima is an integral part of a Malawians daily life and deeply engrained in communal tradition. In fact, it is often stated that you have not eaten if you have not had Nsima, even after a full meal! Nsima is made from maize or cassava flour and water combined to form a thick paste which is piled into a large communal serving dish. Small handfuls are then broken off and rolled into a ball in the palm of the hand with the fingers. A small hollow is then made in the ball and is dipped into a small side dish of ‘relish’ comprising of sauce, vegetables, meat or fish. Maize flour is also commonly combined with water and sugar to form a porridge which is consumed at breakfast and given to young children.

Jess O'Neil

Generally, food is focused on sustenance rather than enjoyment and health. Whilst incredibly filling, the staple Nsima has poor nutritional value and its predominance in the Malawian diet is reflected by widespread malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies. Despite the monotonous traditional Malawian diet, the markets boast fresh seasonal produce, providing a sensory feast of colours, smells and textures synonymous with the hedonic experience of eating. It was my job to transfer this into local cooking practices!

Jess O'Neil

During my time in these close-knit communities I was able to start cooking workshops with women from three of the local rural villages. As dietary choices converge with close social connections, particularly in cohesive communities, targeting social eating norms through group intervention was hoped to address the complexity of breaking dietary habits. Women are the backbone of society in Malawi and thus empowering women to make adaptations to their diet stands to benefit the whole family, including future generations.

Recipes:

Aim: To increase the nutrient density of traditional meals through local produce

  • Banana Porridge: Flour, water, milk powder, mashed bananas, groundnuts, ground egg shells
  • Groundnut Vegetable Stew: Sweet potato, onion, tomatoes, green leafy vegetable, groundnuts
  • Sweet Potato Mash and Beans: Sweet potato, milk powder, groundnuts, beans, onion, tomatoes, green leafy vegetable

Jess O'Neil

I was humbled at how quickly the women welcomed me into their groups and how enthusiastically they engaged with cooking the recipes, which were sometimes thought of as slightly odd at first! Combining different food groups in one dish was a novel concept but one which the women quickly adopted and reportedly shared at home, much to their families delight!

Whilst Malawi’s shared love of Nsima is deeply engrained in cultural tradition, through introducing appetising dishes using local produce my aim was to add diversity to the diet, with the shared goal of improving health and bringing enjoyment to food. After all cooking together, we would share the meal sat in a circle on the dusty floor, children on our laps and shooing away rogue chickens. Seeing the reactions of genuine pleasure amongst the communities was truly amazing. Eating for pleasure is such a fundamental joy of life and it was a privilege to share my love of food with these incredible women.

Jess O'Neil

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