Sunday 23 August 2015

Full Circle

The farm routine continues in the winter with seed processing, early cultivations for next season's crops and road building.

Road repairs done manually
Ploughing ready for the rains

Seed packaging

The Mua Mission 

Mua was founded in 1902 by the White Fathers.  A cultural centre has grown up around the mission encouraging  craftsmen and women; a museum has also been established providing information on rituals of the Malawi people. We were fortunate to participate in the Annual Festival celebrating a Mass, music, dancing and story telling.  It was a moving and vibrant occasion.

Celebrating Mass
Colourful cassocks


Catholicism and local rituals combine
Amazing rhythmic dancers in feathers and beads

A small legacy

Thanks to the generosity of family and friends we have completed some further community development projects.

Our local school has received further help with building and repairs, the health centre much needed equipment and our village orphaned lad suffering mental and physical challenges no longer sits in the dust as he has since birth,  he now has a chair.

All concerned are for ever grateful.

Maternity ward at the health centre
New mattresses

Philemon's first go on a chair
Interior improvements at school

This is where we came in, arriving just before the rains 2014.  The end of our year long Malawi adventure is approaching.  Our aims have been achieved  and we have become more aware of  Malawi's many problems.

 Lympstone, Devon is our next destination where we may or may not retire.

Friday 31 July 2015

A short trip away

Packing the seeds
Funwe Farm grows and buys in from 'outgrowers'. Following certification by the Seed Services Unit seeds are packed in bags of  2, 3, 5 or 8kgs clearly labelled with the weight, certification number and logo.

Bagging dressed seed

Weight sensitive packaging machine

Trip away After 9 months in Malawi we decided to take a short holiday. Driving through Northern Region, Nkhata Bay District, we passed through a rubber plantation.

The Malawi rubber trees originated from Brazil via Kew in the late 19C.  When the trees are 6-7 years old, the latex is harvested by tapping through an incision in the bark, a tree may produce 5kg of rubber per year. Latex is processed and some sold to shoe manufacturers  The trees are felled after 25 years, treated and sold as an attractive pale coloured timber. 

Tapped tree

Saw mill

Our destination was Livingstonia, perching on the edge of the Nyika Plateau at 1350m, a settlement founded in 1894 to the memory of Dr David Livingstone (died 1873) by Dr Robert Laws.  Access is challenging on dirt roads and series of 20  hairpin bends. The village now comprises a hospital, schools, churches and a university.

Mission Church, Livingstonia
Ian at our Eco tent, Livingstonia

View from our Eco tent East towards Lake Malawi and Tanzania

Michael, Ian's brother, spent a few busy days absorbing the problems and delights of farming in Malawi, he has returned to the challenges of farming in the UK!

T, I and Michael at our favourite viewpoint on the Escarpment.

T and I

Sunday 12 July 2015

Processing the seeds

Our factory is in full swing, the seeds are being shelled, threshed, winnowed, cleaned and graded ready for  packing.

Shelling groundnuts
Winnowing groundnuts

Grading, cleaning and dressing maize seed
Threshing pigeon peas

Ox cart loaded with groundnut shells used for cattle fodder


Our neighbours in the South of the country grow coffee, which they are harvesting at present.  The succulent red flesh is removed from the green beans which are subsequently fermented, washed, dried, exported and roasted to taste.
Red coffee berries ready to pick

Green beans from inside the flesh

Mount Mulanje
At 3000 metres, shrouded in mist and legend, Mount Mulanje, (southern Malawi), is the highest mountain in Central Africa.   The mountain, a granite intrusion, is a landmark for agile tourists who, with the assistance of porters hike and climb.  In mid July the porters race 25km up the mountain on rocky terrain, many in bare feet and the girls in skirts as Malawian women don't wear shorts or trousers.  Following the race there is great entertainment in the form of music and dance throughout the day.

The winning porter
Terri's brother and his wife spent almost 3 weeks sharing our life on the Lakeshore.  They, along with the remainder of our a family, have funded the repair of the local school  roof.
 Roger and Hannah are mathematicians and computer scientists and shared their knowledge with 200 learners at the local secondary school.

Roger and Hannah conducting a robot workshop at Lisumbwe Secondary School, Monkey Bay.

 Fixing the roof

Work in progress
Almost complete

Locally trained carpenters working on the roof beams

During our remaining time in Malawi we will see the growing season through and  explore the northern plateau, following the trail of the C19th missionaries including David Livingstone!

T and I

Thursday 25 June 2015

Tobacco Auction

Shelling maize cobs

One of our few mechanised processes is shelling maize cobs, a similar principal to a stationary combine harvester, seeds are bagged and the cobs stored for cattle feed.

Shelled cobs used for cattle feed
Maize sheller


Over 70% of Malawi's foreign earnings are from tobacco, it is grown by both large estates and  small holders.  Drying takes place in open sheds (burley) or in heated barns (flue cured).  From April to September the leaves are transported in 100kg bales  to auction floors in Mzuzu, Blantyre and Lilongwe.  Following sale, the bales are trucked to Beira (Mozambique) and exported to the smokers of the world.  Few Malawians can afford to smoke.

Tobacco auction floor

Porters race to the floors

We visited the auction floors in Lilongwe where 10,000 bales are sold daily. It was dusty, noisy and frantically busy.  Much of the handling is done by sack barrow.
Electronic weighing

Average price $1.72 per kilo


It is traditional to burn the fields after harvest. Much of the bush is set alight, the sparse regrowth of grass is soon parched and dry.

We took Ophen, who looks after us at home, for a picnic on Funwe Farm, he was interested to see crops grown and processed on a large scale; he grows sufficient for his extended family in his small garden.

This weekend is the Malawi yachting  marathon up the west coast of the lake; we will wave as it passes our door.

T and I

Friday 5 June 2015

The Dry Season

Our crops are in store awaiting the processing factory to start up.

The bush is at its highest before it desiccates and thins.   Local vegetation makes ideal thatching material and is very saleable.

Early morning on the way to market with dried thatching grass.

Malawi International Trade Fair is an annual event in Blantyre with a bias on agriculture akin to UK county shows.  Funwe Farm  took a stand and we spent a morning at the Fair which showcased a number of enterprising Malawian cottage industries including those marketing baobab not only as a superfood but also as a  skin product, compost and fabric, also a charity selling donated ex Royal Mail bikes ideal for use on dirt roads.

Ian at the Trade Fair
Trade Fair, entrance fee 85p


Terri's Standard 8 Class have taken their Junior Certificate Examination, the entrance qualification for secondary school, the pass rate is low and many will finish their education and seek work aged 14+.

Inventive counting aid, bamboo sticks.
Attendance figures for ONE class

Southern Region
We took a brief trip to the higher and wetter area south of the lakeshore where hectares of tea have been grown for the last 130 years; the original seeds came from the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.  Malawi is the second highest tea producer in Africa after Kenya. The landscape is mountainous with rolling foothills planted with tea and coffee.

Mount Mulanje, foreground tea plantations.


We visited the Satemwa Tea Estate in Thyolo and washed down some carrot cake with local brew, a piece of England in the heart of Africa.

Huntingdon House, Satemwa a beautifully furnished guest house.

Two leaves and a bud, tea harvest.
Tea on the verandah.

More visitors are due this month, Roger and Hannah, Terri's brother and wife then Michael, Ian's brother; both brothers and Hannah have useful experience and expertise relevant to our project here in Malawi and we anticipate their arrival.

T and I

Thursday 21 May 2015

May in Malawi

Our crops are now drying in preparation for treating and packaging for next year's planting which will take place hopefully in December with the rains.  The maize cobs are moved from the field by ox cart and stored in a well ventilated area free from rodents
Storing cobs
Carting maize stalks

The harvest

The maize and legume stalks are stored, they provide  additional cattle fodder until the rains come.
Some farmers burn the stalks on the field; as they burn, small rodents escape, these are trapped providing sport and a high protein dinner.

Semi drought resistant, native cotton  grows well in Malawi and is a popular cash crop.  The cotton industry has declined due to imported cloth from Asia, lack of maintenance at the ginneries and the arrival of second hand clothing bales from European, American and Asian charities.

This year's crop is poor due to the short rains
Cotton boll after 160 days

 Farmers will store their bolls until the price rises.  Price starts at 30p per kilo rising to 40p.

Harvest in the Garden
Ripe lemons

The citrus trees in our garden  are bearing and we race the monkeys for the ripe fruit.  Thus far we have managed lemonade and lemon curd.

Lemonade and lemon curd

Terri spent 2 happy weeks in UK catching up with family and friends, she is now back in the tropics. We are both enjoying the 'Winter' with temperatures sometimes below 30 degrees.

T and I