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Good News from Malawi

3 February 2017

You may remember that around this time last year I told you about the terrible effects that the drought was having on the Namisu Children’s Village in Malawi. I shared with you the photograph below, from Angus, the General Manager of the AquaAid in Malawi, of the maize crop failing through lack of water. He has been in touch with us again this year about his maize crop. This time it is much better news.

He said, “About a year ago I sent you a depressing photo of our maize crop at Namisu, stressed from drought. Thankfully, this year we have had very good rain and you can see from this recent photo a much better crop. The maize and food relief has generally been very good and alleviated a lot of suffering. Should the rains continue Malawi will harvest a good crop of maize this year.

The main rainfall season in Malawi is October to April and the rain generally starts in the south in November and gradually work northwards. The Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services is predicting above normal rainfall for large parts of Malawi this rainy season so this should be good news for the crops and for food security.

The dependence on the rains is literally life or death in many parts of Africa and yet there are very few schemes for large scale water harvesting. One noticeable feature of many African houses is that they have no gutters so when it rains the rain water runs away and is lost. One of the things we have been working on here at SOWTech is domestic rain water harvesting. We have been designing gutters that work on corrugated tin roofs. These gutters are connected to water tanks that can hold thousands of litres of water rather than the domestic-sized cement or blow moulded plastic water tanks that hold hundreds of litres. The SOWTech view is that the more water that can be stored in the rainy season the more will be available in the dry season.

Impact of Flexigester and SimpliSafi on communities

21 April 2017

One of the key things that people want to know about when working in the field of development is the impact that it has on that community. Although the amount of waste treated and the biogas produced is of interest, “impact” is what people want to know. But how do you measure it….

You can measure and quantify the amount of waste that goes into a Flexigester and the amount of biogas collected but how do you measure the difference that having a Flexigester has made to the lives of people. You can quantify the number of meals cooked by the biogas and therefore estimate the money/time saved by not buying charcoal or collecting firewood but most other things, such as health improvements, are very subjective. The students from Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) who are involved with the project in Dar es Salaam are well aware of this and to try and collect meaningful data they have been actively involved with community engagement and have set up educational sessions, run by the Tanzanian CDI students. The feedback that they have been obtaining is very good. According to a recent survey, 97% of households agree that the project has improved the health of the community. Other feedback that has been obtained includes “it has brought peace between neighbours because of the better conditions of the street” and a female resident said that the new system has removed the embarrassment she used to feel when using exposed pit latrines. This and other news about the project has been published in the Cambridge University journal Research Horizons issue 32 under the title “A sewage system that ‘digests’ and ‘cooks’ human waste”. The article, written by two of the Cambridge University students, can be accessed at http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/a-sewage-system-that-digests-and-cooks-human-waste.

SOWTech at FSM4

6 March 2017

Last month there was a big conference in Chennai, India; the 4th International Faecal Sludge Management Conference. Held over four days on 19-23 February, there were 143 presentations as well as an exhibition and poster sessions. The focus of this years conference was innovative and practical solutions that can be scaled up. There were three tracks: research, case studies, and industry. On the Tuesday in the Industry track session “Technology innovation – From the field” our very own Ravi Solanki presented a paper “SimpliSafi: an off-site sanitation system that vertically integrates waste collection and sludge processing for informal settlements”. You can find the abstract on this link to the susana website and then choosing the "FSM Industry Track" and the abstract of Ravi's presentation is on page 34. You can view the slides here and listen to the full presentation. The link to the slides contains a lot of pictures of the SimpliSafi system in Dar es Salaam. The second link is an audio of the full conference session with Ravi's talk starting at about 3.5 mins. Ravi had been sponsored by The Gates Foundation to be able to attend the event.

He had found the conference very interesting and very stimulating and has come back with lots of contacts that we need to follow up. There were a wide range of new technological innovations presented showing how much the sanitation issue has rapidly come up the agenda since we first started working on it. However Ravi’s overall impression was that although the conference was big on innovations there was a lack of implementation of ideas into practical situations. This was one of the reasons that so many people were interested in SimpliSafi and the Flexigester, because we did have examples of it being implemented in real life situations. Hopefully we can build on this over the coming year.

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Maize growing in Malawi in 2017

This years maize crop in January 2017

Maize growing in Malawi in 2016

Last years maize crop in January 2016

Flexigester installed in Ethiopia makes gas

5 September 2017

The Flexigester that was sent to Elshadai Children's village in Ethiopia has finally been installed and is starting to produce biogas. It has been a long wait for both us here at SOWTech but also for the Trustees of FECIN (Friends of Ethiopian Children in Need). We first started to talk to them in January 2015. The Flexigester was finally shipped in July 2016 and in June 2017 Alem and Tesfai were able to begin the installation. SOWTech were pleased to be able to help them with the questions and queries that they had during the installation process.

Part of the delay in the installation is that Elshadai and Ethiopia have been beset with many problems that have had to take priority over the Flexigester. The village was experiencing difficulties with its financial resources, the Internet, erratic at the best of times, was shut down throughout the country for over two weeks, (they think that this was to prevent the hacking of school exam questions which happened last year) and then the weather has caused huge problems.

Hailstorms in July were followed by unusually heavy rains which caused severe flooding in the village for two days. No one was hurt but it was quite disturbing for the children and members of the staff. A lot of the crops, especially the fruit and vegetables were completely devastated by the hail and rain. This means that not only will there be no produce to feed the children but also they have lost an important income from the selling of the produce in the local towns. The EOS-UK website has photographs of the devastation and a description of the damage done.

Despite all of this Alem and his team have continued to install the Flexigester. They have built a shelter over it to protect it from damage by animals, children and storms.

Slurry from an old biogas plant was used to activate the Flexigester and it is now being fed with animal dung mixed with water or animal urine.

The Flexigester was visited by representatives from governments office of agriculture, not-for-profit organisations and agricultural colleges as well as farmers when they were on a tour of the Village. They were all impressed with the Flexigester.

We hope to be able to work further with Alem and Tesfai and make their Flexigester an exemplar in Ethiopia.

Flexigester in Ethiopia Slurry for Flexigester in Ethiopia

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