Monday, 31 March 2014

Wandering around Dedza's green and pleasant land

There is nothing remarkable about Dedza - except the views, that is.

 But then there are lovely views all over Malawi.

As towns go, Dedza is also fairly typical. The trading centre occupies a handful of streets just off the M1.

Low shop buildings line the broad dusty roads, punctuated every so often by bright semi-cultivated flowers.

The well-kept mosque stands behind a wall.

The perhaps less well-kept Prawn Restaurant and Conference Centre stands a few yards down the road, with not a guest to be seen.

Signs to a range of businesses line the main road in and out of the town.

The rest of the town is scattered across a wide area, wooded and - at this time of year at any rate - green and covered in wild flowers.

We stayed at Mapiri Golf Club Lodge, which is surrounded by green, if, no longer, 'greens'.

The hotel's name is actually something of a misnomer these days. The grass on the greens beyond its gates is knee deep, almost swallowing up the ox cart rumbling slowly across its expanse. Stuart would be appalled.

The colonial inheritance is now disappearing fast. Where golfers once practised their swings, local people now carry out their daily tasks. Everywhere you go, in fact, women are carrying heavy buckets of water, firewood, children - whatever needs to be carried, women carry it.

So far, so idyllic - from a distance, that is, and if you're not a woman. Dedza might look green now, towards the end of this year's rainy season. However, as elsewhere in the world, the climate is changing. Dedza suffered from extended dry spells last year and when the rains came, they stopped too quickly. The result was hunger, hunger which has got worse as families wait for this year's crops to mature. Meanwhile stocks of food from last year, already lower than usual, have started to run out.

Dedza has already been the focus of work by a number of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), many now well established and including a number of famous names.

However, Dedza is now the focus of a major intervention to support families in dealing with the effects of climate change. We saw women and children queuing outside the District headquarters, round the corner from the District Education Office, to receive subsidised maize provided through a government programme. Concern Universal, working with the Malawi Government and the World Food Programme is carrying out food and cash distribution targeted at the most vulnerable families: orphan- and child-headed households; elderly- or female-headed households; households which have experienced two or more years of successive crop failure and those with children who receive supplementary feeding. Where possible, the aid is given directly to women, to ensure it benefits those for whom it is intended. Some of your own taxes may have contributed to this programme, for a number of donor countries are involved: USAID, UKAID, Irish Aid, the Kingdom of Norway and the Government of Japan.

In the Dedza scheme, efforts are being made to go beyond an emergency response and try to help communities develop the resilience they need if such situations are going to become regular occurrences. Here Concern is working with a local microfinance organisation to provide training in savings and loans to help people survive the fluctuations in market prices. DfID, Irish Aid and the Norwegian Embassy are funding training in conservation agriculture, irrigation, microfinance and the production and marketing of fuel-efficient 'clean' cooking stoves (see picture below) and micro-solar technology. Irish Aid is also supporting the development of drought-tolerant crops, complementary feeding and nutrition education.

The road out of the town was dappled with light streaming through the avenue of trees, a beautiful sight.

Behind the green and gold, I now know, however, lies another Dedza. Let us not mourn the passing of the bunkers and fairways; they never did feed anyone, after all. All green-ness is relative. At least in Dedza we descendants of the colonialists are now putting something back.

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