Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Waste Not, Want Not

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Apr 10 (IPS/IFEJ) - In many parts of Malawi, discussing human excreta is taboo. The mere mention of faeces, in any of the country's 10 official languages, makes those taking part in the conversation uncomfortable. But, excreta could be about to gain respectability.

Recent years have seen farmers start to use human waste for fertilizer: faeces and urine, combined with wood ash and soil, are serving as a replacement for chemical fertilizers. This came as farmers who could not afford the standard fertilizers went in search of alternatives to increase the size of their yields.

Chemical fertilizers cost up to 11 dollars for a 50 kilogramme bag -- a hefty expense in Malawi, where over 65 percent of people live below the poverty line of a dollar a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Estimates from the International Labour Organisation indicate that farmers and their dependents make up 85 percent of Malawi's 12 million strong population.

"My family and I use the type of latrine where we are able to add ashes to our excreta every time we visit the toilet, and this in turn ends up speeding decomposition. The decomposed product is mixed with soil after about six months, and that makes a very effective fertilizer," says Patrick Moyo, who farms in the northern district of Mzimba.

Moyo told IPS he no longer spends money on chemical fertilizers, and that his annual maize and fruit yields have doubled since he started using fertilizer produced from human excreta. Communities in six of the 27 districts in Malawi have now made the switch from chemical fertilizers.

The Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, a leading protestant church in Malawi, has joined forces with an international non-governmental organisation -- WaterAid -- to promote the recycling of faeces.

Sangster Nkhandwe, director of the synod's development department, says the transformation of human waste into fertilizer is termed "ecological sanitation", and that it poses little danger concerning the transmission of disease through excreta.

"We've done several scientific studies on this technology and have found that there is no threat to human health at all…as micro-organisms are treated immediately ash is added to the human excreta," he told IPS.

"Human excreta contain valuable nutrients for agricultural use, but most of this is lost after the traditional pit latrines fill up and get abandoned…hence the use of eco-latrines, which are being used to reverse this situation."

According to a policy and advocacy manager for WaterAid, Amos Chigwenembe, three types of eco-latrines are being used in areas that have turned to waste recycling: the Arborloo, Fossa Alterna and Skyloo.

The Arborloo, he says, is the simplest of the three, in that it involves the smallest adjustment on the part of the community that is using it. The only thing required is for people to plant a tree in a conventional pit latrine after it has filled up with excreta.

"The tree grows and utilises the compost to produce large, succulent fruit. After a few years of latrine movement, the result is an orchard that is producing fruit with real economic value," Chigwenembe told IPS.

With the Fossa Alterna, two shallow pits are dug. One is used for defecation, while the other stores waste as it matures and develops into compost.

Chigwenembe explains that a thin layer of soil placed on the maturing pit is ideal for growing tomato or pepper plants, and that watering of these plants helps the composting process. This pit is emptied to receive the contents of the defecation pit when this becomes full, with the composted waste being used as fertilizer.

The Skyloo works on the same principle, using brick enclosures -- or "vaults".

"The faeces drop through a squat hole into the vaults and are left to mature. The vaults are rotated in a similar manner to the Fossa Alterna. After a suitable retention time, the contents of the vaults are placed on the garden or farm," said Chigwenembe.

Eco-latrine designs may use a round, domed slab as a seat for toilet users. This also suits the needs of low-income communities, as the slab does not contain any iron reinforcement bars, which are expensive and only available in Malawi's major cities. The weight and size of the slab makes it relatively easy to carry using the limited means of transport available to poor families, such as hand carts.

In addition to being eco-friendly, these technologies are also woman-friendly.

Nya Kaunda recalls that when her traditional pit latrine became unusable after her husband died in 2000, she resorted to relieving herself in nearby bushes as she could not manage to dig another latrine. Pit digging is very hard work, as the holes normally have to be big enough to accommodate ten years' worth of waste; as a result, this task is traditionally taken on by men.

But with the introduction of eco-latrines, Kaunda has been able to dig one pit latrine after another.

"It is not difficult to dig an eco-latrine because the pit is shallow, and building a shelter for it is no big deal. I am now able to use my toilet comfortably without fearing that some little kid will find me relieving myself as it was when I was using the bushes," she told IPS.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tobacco Industry Going Up in Smoke

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Mar 31 (IPS) - Tobacco prices and production levels are dropping amid pressure from the anti-smoking lobby and the general downturn in agricultural produce markets. But Malawi has still not made adequate progress in promoting crops to replace its primary foreign exchange earner.

Green gold is the term that Malawians use for the country's tobacco. The nation derives up to 70 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from the crop and 80 percent of the country's labour force works in the tobacco industry. Historically, the leaf has been regarded as an economic lifeline in a country without rich mineral endowments.

The southern African country is a major tobacco exporter in the world, accounting for five percent of the world's total exports and two percent of world's total production. In terms of burley tobacco, Malawi produces about 20 percent of the world's total, according to the World Bank.

The Tobacco Association of Malawi (TAMA), which promotes and protects tobacco farmers' interests, says that the leaf also accounts for 13 percent of the country's gross domestic product and makes up 23 percent of the tax base.

The crop is treasured because of historical associations. Commercial production can be traced back as far as 1889 when it was introduced by settlers from Virginia in the United States.

However, in recent years the tobacco industry has been struggling for survival. It is fighting global anti-smoking campaigns led by public health activists, backed by the World Health Organisation. Poor auction prices and a dearth of buyers are also among the challenges that Malawian tobacco producers are grappling with.

Caught in the middle of these challenges are the country's small-holder tobacco farmers. One of them is 55-year-old Dongo Msiska. All his life he has known nothing but tobacco cultivation.

At the age of 24, he took over a 50-hectare farm from his father. Since then the livelihoods of his family and those of his 33 employees have depended on the production of the leaf.

In the past three years, Msiska's income has dwindled rapidly in the face of poor auction floor prices. He has since been forced to cut production by half.

''I could not afford to buy enough production inputs with the little money I got for last year's crop. I had to reduce production and have since had to let some of my workers go,'' he says.

Msiska's woes were a result of last year's catastrophic decline of 15 percent in tobacco sales. Sales figures from the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) indicated that the crop raked in 162 061 893 US dollars in 2005 but only 137 834 528 US dollars in 2006.

Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika, himself a farmer, has admitted that the tobacco industry is not as viable as it used to be.

He and the ministries of agriculture and trade have urged tobacco farmers to consider diversifying production to cotton, cassava, pigeon peas, ground nuts, soya, dairy products, beans and rice as alternatives to tobacco.

Up to 40,000 farmers have heeded the calls to diversify in the past six years and have since abandoned tobacco production, according to the TCC.

But despite his calls for diversification, Mutharika has continued to fight for the survival of the tobacco industry. Major buyers of Malawi's tobacco were last year ordered by the president to leave the country or offer better prices on the auction floors. He accused them of running a cartel and fixing prices.

Mutharika imposed a minimum price of 110 cents per kilogram and, for higher grade leaf, 170 cents per kilogram but the buyers boycotted the market, forcing the government to concede defeat. The president has no kind words for the buyers and has since branded them ''thieves'' and ''exploiters'' for defying his price setting.

Meanwhile, Malawi is pursuing a deal that addresses issues of collective marketing as well as value-adding with the other tobacco-producing countries of Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. They aim to position the industry better in the world markets so that the countries can reap more from the crop, says the trade ministry.

The government is optimistic that handling the problems dogging the tobacco industry at a regional level will yield more positive results than working in isolation.

Despite the pressure on the industry the majority of Malawian farmers, through TAMA, have resisted a diversification strategy that excludes tobacco because the commercial value of the crop still remains the highest.

TAMA executive secretary Felix Mkumba argues that the leaf has a readily available market which is well guaranteed since everything that they produce is still sold, despite the low prices. ''Accepting total diversification will be suicidal.''

David Mkwambisi, a lecturer at the Bunda College of Agriculture at the University of Malawi, disagrees with TAMA. He does not consider tobacco to be the backbone of the country's economy anymore.

This is because the government and stakeholders have failed to introduce measures which would enhance crop production, he argues. The growers have been penalized with taxes which have not been ploughed back into the sector.

Therefore Mkwambisi contends that the global problems besetting the tobacco industry are not the primary concern. Domestic politics is the source of much of the tobacco industry's difficulties.

He also has questions about how the government is approaching the issue of diversification. ''Even though cotton was identified as a crop to replace tobacco, nothing has been done to promote cotton.

''Why did the president rush to announce the diversification towards cotton? Do we have markets for cotton, cassava, soya and beans? Why should we expand cultivation to those products if we have not found the markets yet?'' asks Mkwambisi.

He says that even if tobacco was not facing the current public health campaigns, it is extremely bad planning to depend on one crop for economic growth. ''As a country we have been standing on a slim edge economically by relying on tobacco only,'' warns Mkwambisi.

Meanwhile Malawi's tobacco production levels are plunging. The TCC has indicated that tobacco yields this year (2007) are down by 18 million kg from 158 million kg last year. The country's international buyers are demanding 170 million kg, which means that the supply from Malawi is short by 30 million kg. (END/2007)

''Deux éléphants piétinant l'herbe''

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE , 29 mars (IPS) - L'adage africain selon lequel ''lorsque deux éléphants se battent, c'est l'herbe qui en souffre'' se confirme actuellement dans la politique du Malawi.

La brouille et la lutte pour le pouvoir qui s'en est suivie entre les deux plus grands leaders du pays -- le président Bingu wa Mutharika et son prédécesseur Bakili Muluzi -- ont affecté négativement un groupe spécifique de personnes : les citoyens touchés par la pauvreté qui constituent plus de 65 pour cent de la population.

Le pays ploie sous une pauvreté abjecte, une question qui préoccupe beaucoup Ulemu Kaziputa, un petit exploitant agricole. ''Avec toutes les difficultés économiques dans ce pays, nous avons besoin de dirigeants appropriés. Nous ne pouvons plus supporter des jeux politiques qui nous coûtent nos droits humains'', souligne Kaziputa.

Depuis février 2005, lorsque le conflit entre les deux leaders a éclaté, le Malawi a connu une tension politique qui a donné lieu à une scission dans les débats parlementaires et le système judiciaire.

La querelle entre Muluzi et Mutharika a atteint son paroxysme après que ce dernier a pris fonction sous la bannière du Front démocratique uni (UDF) -- qu'il a ensuite quitté pour former un nouveau parti politique. Mutharika n'a pas par la suite acquis un soutien dans les rangs de l'opposition et dispose d'une minorité au parlement.

La bataille entre les deux leaders a probablement contribué à amener le président du parlement Rodwell Munyenyembe à souffrir d'une grave attaque et d'un arrêt cardiaque en juin 2005. Il s'est effondré alors qu'il tentait de calmer une intense bagarre verbale qui a éclaté entre des forces rivales au cours d'un débat parlementaire.

Ceci intervenait juste après qu'il a décidé qu'une motion d'impeachment (mise en accusation en vue d'une destitution) ne pouvait être entendue à l'Assemblée nationale. Le président du parlement n'a jamais repris conscience. Il est mort quatre jours plus tard dans un hôpital sud-africain et la session parlementaire a été suspendue pour une durée indéterminée.

Cette suspension inattendue a fini par retarder un vote budgétaire vital qui aurait dû débloquer une aide financière pour s'attaquer à la famine affligeant quelque cinq millions sur les 12 millions d'habitants du pays. Un rapport des Nations Unies indiquait que des hôpitaux étaient débordés de patients souffrant de maladies liées à la malnutrition.

L'hostilité actuelle entre les deux leaders a également conduit à plusieurs affaires judiciaires. Ces procès politiques ont pris le pas sur d'autres procès parce qu'ils impliquent le procureur de la République du pays, le procureur général ou le Bureau anti-corruption -- contrairement aux affaires traitées par des juges ordinaires.

Un procès politique qui domine actuellement les tribunaux est celui où le gouvernement accuse le vice-président du pays, Cassim Chilumpha, et l'homme d'affaires Yusuf Matumula de trahison et de conspiration pour assassiner Mutharika.

Chilumpha a été arrêté en avril dernier avec 10 autres individus pour avoir soi-disant recruté des hommes pour tuer son patron. L'Etat a depuis abandonné les charges contre la plupart des personnes arrêtées, excepté le vice-président et Matumula, tous deux de proches alliés de Muluzi.

Il y avait d'importantes chamailleries entre Mutharika et son adjoint depuis la rupture entre le président et Muluzi. Plusieurs hauts responsables de l'UDF l'ont suivi lorsque le président a quitté le parti qui l'a amené au pouvoir, mais Chilumpha est resté loyal à l'ancien président.

Un peu avant que le gouvernement n'accuse Chilumpha de complot pour assassiner le président, Mutharika a annoncé que son vice-président avait démissionné de ''façon constructive'' de son poste en ne prenant pas part à plusieurs réunions du cabinet. Le président a également accusé son adjoint d'insubordination et de gestion d'un gouvernement parallèle.

Cette question a créé une autre longue bataille juridique qui a, en fin de compte, vu Chilumpha être rétabli dans ses fonctions en tant que vice-président du Malawi.

Les Malawites croient que ces batailles juridiques perpétuelles ont contribué au retard dans l’examen des affaires judiciaires. Les prisons du Malawi sont pleines à craquer.

Selon la Réforme pénale internationale, le pays fait partie des nations africaines dont les prisons connaissent les pires niveaux de surpeuplement.

L'une des nombreuses personnes affectées par le retard dans les procédures judiciaires est Glady Zolima (45 ans). Son mari a été arrêté depuis plus d'un an parce que soupçonné d'avoir tué sa nièce. Elle doit parcourir 20 kilomètres à pied chaque jour pour apporter à manger à son mari parce les prisons n'offrent qu'un repas par jour à ceux qui sont en détention préventive.

''Je sais que mon mari est innocent, mais on lui a refusé la libération sous caution à cause de la gravité de l'accusation contre lui'', affirme Zolima. L'affaire ne va pas en audience parce que les tribunaux sont submergés ''d'affaires plus importantes''.

''Le gouvernement amène au tribunal ses petites affaires impliquant des politiciens plutôt que de juger des affaires de meurtre. Beaucoup d'innocents languissent dans les prisons du pays et se voient refuser la justice'', déplore Zolima.

Un groupe de défense des droits civiques, le Centre pour les droits humains et la réhabilitation, a condamné la bataille juridique entre les leaders puisque cela coûte cher aux contribuables malawites. Le centre a également attiré l'attention des Malawites sur les dangers de raviver l'animosité politique.

La lutte entre les camps de Muluzi et de Mutharika n'augure rien de bon pour la démocratie du pays. La tension règne parmi les partisans des deux leaders, avec toutes sortes de menaces planant tout autour chaque fois que l'un des dirigeants prend la parole à un meeting.

Dans son discours de nouvel an à la nation, le président Mutharika a déversé son courroux sur les membres du judiciaire et les journalistes et les a accusés d'être de connivence avec l'opposition pour renverser son gouvernement. Il a également averti qu'il prendrait des mesures non spécifiées contre Muluzi pour le faire taire.

Le politologue Noel Mbowela reconnaît que les batailles politiques entre le président et son prédécesseur sont désastreuses pour la démocratie du pays et nuisibles à son programme de développement.

''Elles favorisent également la haine entre les Malawites au lieu d'œuvrer pour des valeurs démocratiques comme l'unité. Le pays est peu à peu divisé à cause de ces deux leaders'', souligne Mbowela.

La Commission des affaires publiques, un regroupement d'organisations œcuméniques, travaille à réconcilier Mutharika et Muluzi. Cela semble ne pas marcher puisqu'aucun des deux ne veut faire de compromis. (FIN/2007)