Howard Msukwa first came to Dumfries in March 2013 .That visit was arranged by John Riches, and JTS, and as a direct result of the meeting we had in St John’s Church, Dumfries, Paul Tofield, hearing that the whole process of growing rice in Malawi was done by hand, developed his idea of adapting the 18th century pedal-driven rice-thresher. Since then, three of these machines have been made and sent to Malawi. We had the prototype on display at the Fairer World Fair in 2014.

Earlier this year, Howard began to think of ways to improve the manufacture of the thresher, which was having some problems, and he suggested to John that he, Howard, come over to Scotland again (his fifth visit) in order to learn how to make the threshers, this time in metal instead of wood. John arranged for this to happen, and Howard came last month, and has spent time working with Paul, and others, , as well as visiting various groups across Scotland with the Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) to explain what has been happening with the project.

When we heard that Howard was going to be here in a few days’ time, we had little time to organise much, but some of us were available to take Howard to Loch Arthur for lunch, and a visit to some of the farming activities there. So on 24 May, Rosie and I went to Russell Kingan’s workshop near New Abbey, where we found Paul, Russell and Howard hard at work with large machines ,engines and bits of metal. We prised Howard away from this activity and went off to Loch Arthur. In the end there were seven of us, from four of the local Fairtrade groups, including three farmers. We introduced Howard to the delights of haggis, and chocolate pudding, and then, kindly arranged by the Loch Arthur community, went off to the gardens where the organic vegetables are grown for the whole community of ten houses. This was a revelation at least to me, never mind to a farmer from Malawi – although to be fair, probably more to me than to him! After exploring the large greenhouses and the fields behind them, where carrots would soon be growing, and where a patrol of ducks was on slug-control duty, we were taken into the shed where indoors work is carried out by the gardeners. What caught Howard’s eye there was a sort of wreath made of willow, supporting peanuts, intended as a bird-feeder. ‘Groundnuts!’ he exclaimed, for he grows them at home, but for human consumption. We hastened to explain that they are not grown here, but sold in the shop as bird-feeders. He took a photo.

We then had a lovely walk through the grounds to the creamery, which is still housed in the building where the shop used to be. It was hard to remember that the entire shop was in such a small space just a few years ago. White coats and boots were donned for a tour of the cheese-store.

As we drove Howard back to his work, he began to ask questions about the community and who were the people who work there, and I was glad that he was in the front with Rosie, as she was able to give a very clear explanation of the workings of the Camphill communities.

The following Sunday, I went to collect Howard from his B&B, and take him to our All-age worship at St John’s, as Paul Tofield was away for the weekend, and we had been worried that Howard would be at a loose end. We needn’t have been concerned, however, because, although very happy to go to the service, Howard had plenty of work to do at Paul’s place, along with John. As he explained ‘I am only here for a month, and I must make the most of my time!’

In the meantime, however, he had been up to Paisley for the launch of Kilombero Rice in the Co-op. This, we learned later, was the fruition of his own idea, as, when on his travels around Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, as he was careful to point out, he had noticed that there were branches of the Co-op everywhere, and he had often thought that it would be a great place to sell the rice. Now it is happening at the bigger stores, including Castle Douglas.

The next time we saw Howard was at the Crichton Royal Farm Visitor Centre on the evening of 24 May. A grand name for a very comfortable converted byre, complete with models of sheep and cows, one of which could be ‘milked’, and two of which were draped for the occasion with the Malawian flag! The event was one of several in different parts of Scotland as a ‘Road Trip’, organised by the SMP, a wonderful collection of all kinds of people and groups with an interest in Malawi. There are some 94,000 people in Scotland with a connection with Malawi, an interest which began with David Livingstone in the nineteenth century, and has continued until now, with the Scottish government actively involved in encouraging the links. Anyone with an interest in Malawi can join, and membership fees are subsidised by the Scottish Government. http://www.scotland-malawipartnership.org/

It was an excellent evening, with many people contributing brief presentations about their particular involvement, and Paul Tofield gave a very modest summary of his connection, but emphasising the part of Dumfries Fairtrade Group in setting up that meeting over three years ago, and continuing to promote Kilombero rice. We then heard from Howard, who spoke about the work from the perspective of a small farmer in Malawi. Then came Kenneth  Mwakasangula, who is now the chair of the co-operative of farmers, taking over from Howard. It was his first visit to Europe, and his first time on an aeroplane, which he described graphically – he wanted to ask how it worked, but thought he had better not! He pointed out the needs of his fellow-farmers now as being more machinery including particularly rotovators, better secondary education for their children, and more involvement of the women in decision-making.

Helen Wright  – a  teacher from Lockerbie Academy, who has done so much to promote Fair Trade in the school, and also maintained links with Malawi, had brought two ex-pupils who had been to Malawi, one of whom spoke about her visit, and how upset she was when the pencils they had taken to a school weren’t enough to go round, so much so that the children were fighting over them. When the children saw that they were upset, they had brought food to comfort them, which made them feel even worse!

Linda Dalziel, of the Janice Jamieson Foundation in Dumfries, also spoke about the work they are doing in Malawi, supporting children, and Rosemary Argente, who was there with her daughter, spoke of her experiences growing up in Malawi, where she spent her very early years with her grandmother, as was the custom with the Yao people, with the result that Yao was her first language, Chichewa her second, and English her third. She has written several books, and a new edition of one of them, about Malawi, is to be published later this year with the help of SMP. She now lives in Dumfries.

Dr Mizeck Chagunda, a quantitative geneticist at the SRUC, spoke about the collaboration between that and Bunda College of Agriculture in Lilongwe, Malawi, emphasising that it really was a partnership, and that knowledge and experience flows both ways. On a personal note (and we were all asked at the start to introduce ourselves and say what our connection was with Malawi) I had made up a collage of pictures taken 25 years ago of my friends from Bunda and some taken last summer when they visited us. During the networking time at the end, I showed this to Mizeck, and he immediately said they were great friends of his, that Margaret was Librarian when he was a student there, and Tim was his professor. He has since worked closely with Tim, who has just retired aged 71! I also showed a copy of an e-mail from Margaret to David Hope-Jones, Principal Officer of the SMP, and he was so interested in the winery which they now run, using all kinds of Malawian fruits, Linga Wine, that I gave it to him so that he could find out more.

Winifred Wilson

June 2016

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