Mwandama, Malawi

Mwandama Cluster: 7 Millennium Villages | Approximate population: 35,000

The Mwandama cluster is located in the southern region of Malawi's Zomba district. The region is characterized by native vegetation of the Miombo woodlands. The area is intensively cultivated both by smallholders growing maize, pigeon peas, cassava and groundnuts, and by the commercial estate owners growing tobacco and maize. The main cropping season is between November and April and most of the crops are harvested around May. Livestock management is practiced at a small scale and the common livestock are chickens and goats. There are only 3 cows in the entire Mwandama village.

Large privately-owned tobacco plantations, which surround the seven villages, provide day labor for many people at wages of $0.50 per day, but they also impose significant repercussions on the development of surrounding communities. Plantation owners restrict the usage of roads to the villages, and the availability of work gives families an excuse to keep their children out of school. As a result, school attendance rates are extremely low.

The Mwandama cluster is in the world's only region that has seen both a rise in temperature and a drop in rainfall in recent years. These changes have led to common recurrent famines. Nearly 90% of people in the Mwandama Millennium Village cluster live in extreme poverty. This is a much higher proportion compared to the 65% that live below the poverty line in the entire country.

Village Characteristics by Sector

The average maize yield without fertilizer is 0.5 tons per hectare. Frequent droughts which have occurred over the years due to the El Niño effects have compounded the problems of crop production in the area. In recent years, most of the households have produced food that lasts only through August. This means families run for a period of six months without food. During this period of food shortage, most people are forced to sell labor in the surrounding estates at a meager salary in order to buy food.

While the introduction of free primary education in Malawi in 1994 led to increased enrolment rates, studies have generally shown that only 30 percent of those children actually completed primary school. The main bottleneck to achieving the universal primary is lack of infrastructure such as classrooms and toilets in many parts of the country. As a result, many children do not enroll in school at all. In Mwandama children walk 7 km each way to attend schools that have no furniture and few basic supplies. Some of the schools have classrooms that are made of thatched grass and schools get interrupted often during the rainy season due to leaking. These conditions are not conducive to learning.

Malaria and HIV/AIDS are major public health problems. While Malawi's government encourages the use of bed nets, many in the cluster are too poor to buy them. Approximately 14.2% of people aged 15-49 throughout Malawi are infected with HIV/AIDS. Malawi's under-five mortality rate is the 15th highest in the world with 188 children dying per 1000 live births. Mwandama's nearest dispensary and hospital, which are 7 km and 24 km away, respectively, are understaffed and unequipped to handle the medical problems of the villagers.

Water in the cluster comes mostly from unprotected springs. Most of the villages have no perennial streams from which gravity piped schemes can be constructed. Almost all the villages are surrounded by commercial farms which means almost all surface water resources are prone to heavy pollution from various pesticides and chemical farm inputs like fertilizers.

Intervention highlights

Agriculture: Increase crop yields and decrease hunger
The Malawi cluster had a very successful harvest in 2007, producing crop yields averaging 5.5 tons of maize per hectare, an increase of 1100% since the start of the project. The project is currently supporting the community in its construction of a large grain bank, which will be able to store maize for the school feeding program. The bank will also help local farmers ensure that they receive the highest possible price for their crops by allowing them to control the time of sale.
Health: Improve access to basic medical services and combat the spread of major diseases

In 2007, the project increased the total number of insecticide-treated anti-malarial bed nets distributed in 2006 (33,000) through the delivery of an additional 3,080 nets to approximately 7,000 individuals in surrounding communities. The project has also trained an additional three community health workers about proper bed net usage and malaria treatment and prevention.

The project is also working with the Ministry of Health to begin construction of three new clinics in the cluster and to upgrade the Thondwe Clinic. At this stage, the project is working with community leaders to identify locations for the new clinics, hire health workers, and begin procuring medicines for the clinics. New clinics are expected to be completed in late 2007 or early 2008.

Water: Increasing access to clean water and sanitation

Chlorine has been distributed to help prevent disease from unclean water. Village boreholes are being built and rehabilitated. Communities will be consulted before the drilling of boreholes in order to agree on the locations of the proposed boreholes.

Community Development
The Malawi cluster community continues to be the driving force behind the implementation of the project. In addition to the village committees established in the areas of water, education, and agriculture, community members have organized themselves to work on the preliminary construction of the clinics and schools described above. Community members have been collecting sand and stones as well as clearing land for the structures. In addition, the community has begun the process of constructing and burning bricks for use in the buildings.