Our Malawi Journey

Solar Irrigation Projects and the Sustainable Livelihoods Programme

In 2017, Fane Valley engaged in a charity partnership to support the Mulanje Mission Hospital (MMH) in rural southern Malawi. The aim of the partnership was to support the people of this disadvantaged area, to deliver sustainable improvements to their lives through initiatives focused on health, education and the adoption of sustainable farming practices.

Since then, Fane Valley has contributed over £200,000 to support a range of projects including the construction of new classrooms and toilets; construction of solar irrigation systems for the developments of agricultural land; the drilling of a borehole and the delivery of a life-saving project to combat the impact of malaria.

We are pleased to announce that Fane Valley is continuing to support our long-term charity partnership with MMH. Over the next two years we will contribute a further £100,000 to aid the construction of more solar powered irrigation systems for agricultural land which have proved particularly successful for farming families in the region.

Following previous visits by Fane Valley in 2017 and 2018, in April 2023 John Best, FV Vice-Chairperson and Ronan Mc Canny, Group Sustainability Director visited the teams on the ground in Malawi to get a first-hand update on progress of the programmes that we have directly funded.

John Best returning to Malawi for his second visit accompanied by Ronan Mc Canny visited Mulanje Mission Hospital, now under the leadership of new Medical Director Dr Arie Glass. Arie took over from his predecessor Dr Ruth Shakespeare on her retirement in 2018. He has continued to build on the very solid foundations established by Ruth and under his leadership the development of medical services has gathered pace.

John and Ronan visited the Fane Valley funded Bololo irrigation scheme which was the first site to be developed using Fane Valley funding. This site became operational in 2018 with 34 farmers connected to the irrigation pipework. The scheme has been so well received and beneficial to the community that at the time of the visit in 2023 the network had been expanded to supply 77 farmers. John and Ronan were able to see for themselves the impact of the scheme. Despite some trepidation about moving away from the traditional crop of maize and the fear of failure with growing unfamiliar crops farmers had started to vary their crops, with tomatoes being a popular choice as a cash crop. Farmers indicated that they had been able to fund school fees for their children and purchase motorbikes to improve their mobility.

John Best, Fane Valley Vice-Chairperson remarked: “When I last visited Bololo in 2018 the scheme was not yet operational. The fact that the scheme is now up and running and that it has more than doubled in size in five years size proves how valuable it is to the community here.”

The team also visited the Fane Valley funded Sikoya irrigation scheme. The project infrastructure consists of a solar-powered pump pumping water from a borehole to a concrete reservoir which in turn gravity feeds a pipe network irrigating 13 hectares of farmland, supporting 60 farmers. The scheme has been a huge success with villagers indicating that the project has transformed their ability to produce food to feed their families.

Ronan Mc Canny, Fane Valley Group Sustainability Director remarked: “The stark reality talking to the villagers is that these people were struggling with starvation. A crop failure because of a lack of rain means these people do not have enough food to feed their families. The irrigation schemes have lifted these villagers out of starvation. They can now grow multiple crops in a year and their yields have improved. These projects really have been transformative.”

John and Ronan were able to visit a third Fane Valley funded irrigation scheme located at the Mwanamvula village. It consists of another concrete reservoir feeding a pipe network currently irrigating 11 hectares. This scheme has the potential to expand to another 7 hectares. Villagers shared their stories about how the scheme has allowed them to vary their crops and improve their yields. Again, it was obviously an enormous success for the villagers and the MMH team responsible for the project.

John and Ronan also met with the local leaders from the Luwanje village who presented the case for a new solar irrigation system to support their village and farming families. We are delighted to say that the Fane Valley Board approved funding to support this project in Luwanje and work began thereafter.

John Best remarked: “I am delighted to see first-hand how the Fane Valley funding has made a real difference to the farming families in the Bololo, Sikoya and Mwanamvula villages. We are encouraged by the success to further support future projects, like the new solar irrigation system in Luwanje.”

John and Ronan visited the Thandizani Resource Centre which was used as a training centre for several education initiatives including the Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) Programme to which Fane Valley contributed funding. The SL Programme is designed to educate lead farmers, para-vets and cookstove engineers who would take their skills and knowledge back to their villages and develop projects from within their own communities.

The Thandizani Centre was also used to deliver the Orphan & Vulnerable Children (OVC) Programme, focussing on the many hundreds of orphans and young mothers in the immediate area. Education programmes being delivered to young people include vocational training in welding, carpentry, and tailoring. These programmes are designed to empower young people and give them a chance to grasp opportunities in life.  The OVC programme also focused on the education of young men and women around the topics of alcohol abuse, communication, and sexual health.  

John and Ronan also witnessed first-hand how healthcare services have been expanded at MMH to include paediatric clinics, eye clinics and dental clinics. The hospital now has an increased medical team of 5 doctors, including 2 local Malawian doctors providing primary healthcare, inpatient treatment, outpatient clinics, palliative care, and rehabilitation services to a catchment area of approximately one hundred thousand people from the surrounding villages.

Ronan Mc Canny concluded: “Hearing the details about the OVC programme and those affected by these issues was very challenging. There are over one million orphans in Malawi and the Centre is currently dealing with 469 orphans. But real progress is being made and these young people’s lives are being positively impacted by the work of the MMH team supported by Fane Valley.”

Following the successful completion of the Luwanje irrigation project in April 2024, Dr Arie Glass and the team are now planning ahead and have identified two potential sites at Nachiwale and Tambala for the next Fane Valley irrigation project. After surveying a few sites and confirming commitments from the local farmer cooperatives, we are excited to share some progress updates from our latest Solar Irrigation project in Tambala, Malawi, in partnership with Mulanje Mission Hospital. As you can see work is well under way and we are hoping for crops this dry season.

In conclusion, Fane Valley is encouraged and committed to supporting future projects and working together with MMH to make a real difference to the lives of the farmers and their families in the Mulanje district. Since 2017, we are extremely proud of our contribution in developing sustainable infrastructure and farming practices in Africa.