Arrive in Karonga on Wednesday after two days preparatory meetings in Lilongwe. There’s a lot of interest in rice these days and we discover that there are various projects around the country, helping rice farmers develop their businesses. So where are the markets coming from for what looks like being a significant increase in rice production? Equally important will be the quality of any rice produced, particularly if it is destined for Europe.
We drove up to Mzuzu last night, the last hour under a wonderful star-lit night. What we lose though light pollution! The morning drive from Mzuzu to Karonga takes us down the escarpment to the lake and then along the lakeside, with the rice ripening in the fields. Along the way we pick up a journalist, John Chirwa from The Nation, who is to report on the Zone meeting at which we will announce the Scottish Government grant.
The Zone meeting is being held in a large tent at a school, which has a pleasant breeze to cool the 150 members who have gathered. Howard Msukwa, the chair of the association is present, as is Henry Kalomba , from the National Association, both frequent visitors to the UK. The members are sitting on the floor – apparently the chairs were removed as the Deputy Minister for Education was visiting another school nearby and they were needed there.
This is the twice yearly meeting of the Zone (effectively half of the association) and the managers and elected members are being held to account for their work. There are reports on training and workshops; vigorous scrutiny of the accounts of the two businesses which the association runs and of the half-yearly accounts, showing a loss at the moment but likely to improve as harvest brings in more income. There’s also some very vigorous discussion over the price of rice for the coming harvest, but the members are very happy with the loyalty payment that will be made to them at the end of the season, if they have renewed their membership and sold their produce to the association. This, one feels, is how democracy develops. And despite the sometimes quite noisy reactions, the meeting remains good humoured and manages to reach consensus.
Then it’s Stephen and my turn to speak. We tell them about the Scottish Government grant and Stephen outlines the stages of the work, from seed multiplication to post-harvesting: tarpaulins for drying rice, ox-carts for transporting to the markets. There’s a lot to do but the farmers are clearly enthusiastic and ready to go.
Then we are invited to sit down to rice and beef and chicken and wonderful greens. It’s a feast and very tasty. Stephen and I are allowed to eat with spoons.
Then more meetings at the KASFA office to work out details of the grant implementation before we retire to a lodge by the lake to enjoy the local Kuche Kuche beer. It’s a light beer and I think the name means something like ‘Good morning’ suggesting you can enjoy without a hangover. Most enjoyable with the waves of the lake washing on to the beach and a lovely warm evening breeze.