Project Everest

Work Update

Make Hard Decisions

Georgie Scott
Georgie Scott | Feb 7, 2018 | in Agriculture Assessment

The close of week one here in Malawi has seen the Agriculture Assessment team making a tough decision; to cease operations on our experimental plot. This was not an easy decision, particularly when considering the dedication and hard work of both the December and January teams. Nevertheless, time is of the essence when working on the ground. As a team we decided that the value gained from the farm no longer warranted the sheer amount of time we would be investing into it. Perhaps most importantly, we also carefully evaluated the negative impact this decision could have on our key stakeholders. We determined that if we did not make this decision now, it would inevitably have to be made in July. If that were the case, our stakeholders could have been misled into believing that the farm was doing better than it was. Honesty and transparency is key.


Our reasons for this decision are as follows:


1. Data Collection

 In December, the team focused most of their energy into the time-consuming process of constructing the farm. As a result, the January team was charged with developing a template for data collected from the farm. The period between the December team leaving and the January team arriving went undocumented. Early data from the January project also went undocumented as the template was still being developed.  Consequently, it is extremely difficult to analyse our data as it is majorly incomplete. 


2. Poor Germination

The farm has seen very low rates of germination. For example, the eggplants were planted on the 15th of December, and their latest expected germination date was the 29th of December. As of February, there is still no evidence of germination. The carrots, tomatoes, maize, legumes and pumpkin have also struggled.


3. Experimental Control

We cannot confidently state why this we have had poor germination, as the plot lacks an experimental control. With so many variables at play, we are unable to determine the reason behind our successes and our failures. Our ability to learn from this experiment as a result is severely impeded. This becomes particularly problematic when considering our low rates of germination. We do understand, however, that many environmental factors are outside of our control.


4. Lack of Water 

After discussions with Lucy (December TL), Roya (January TL) and John (lead farmer of the Nsambudzi community), we are guessing that the two-week dry spell experienced almost immediately after the sewing of the last seeds played a major role in our low germination rates. This brought to our attention the need for some form of irrigation. The reason behind not implementing this on the farm immediately stemmed from financial limitations. 

Yesterday we met with Thomson Chilanga, Deputy Director of Agricultural Research Services at Bvumbwe Research Station. At this station they run over 100 agricultural experiments a year, and he emphasised that for every experiment they run they always have irrigation to reduce variables. This is something we would have to consider in the future if we chose to attempt an experimental farm again.


5. Unable to Replant

After discussions with the twins and Lucy, it became clear that it was too late in the season to replant and expect reasonable germination.


6. Human Interference

The January team inferred that issues of human interference also impeded the progress of the farm. After simple observation of the plot, it became clear that local community members were walking over the crops as they did not know what we had growing on the beds, and the difference between our crops and weeds. We do acknowledge that the use of signs could mitigate against this massively.


7. Weeding Crops

As alluded to before, community members and Project Everest alike, have struggled to identify what is a weed, and what is a crop. This can be attributed to the fact that most of the people involved have not previously grown the crops we are growing. As such, there has been instances of pulling out the actual crops instead of weeds.


8. Human Error

Human error could have also played a major role. Radishes were harvested in January, however, the radishes on bed 6 did not germinate. The January team noted down that these seeds were sewn by a different person, and so, may have not been sewed deep enough. Additionally, the radishes grew too densely and needed transplanting to prevent seed wastage. 


9. Weeds

During our first visit to the farm in February, it became clear that weeds were a huge issue. They were growing all over the beds and potentially competing with the crops for limited resources. To manage this, the team would have to visit the farm multiple times in a single week.


10. Time 

The issue with visiting so frequently is that the farm is located roughly one hour from home. The trip there and back chews through 2 hours of our working day. That’s 10 hours a week. 


So where do we go from here? 

The February team will be focusing on data collection. We are contacting organisations such as Bvumbwe Research Station and the International Labour Organisation, in an attempt to obtain agriculture information that is specific to Malawi. What we have learnt from this experiment, is that Malawi is a whole new ball game. Should we wish to retry the blueprint here, we will need a much greater understanding of best practice specific to this country. 

The lessons we have learnt over the past two months, although somewhat brutal, are invaluable. We plan to acknowledge these rookie lessons in meetings we have planned with our stakeholders. Piatek, Ella and I will be meeting with Linda this Friday. As the Head of the District Commission of Agriculture, Linda was integral in getting us access to land in the Bsambudzi community. We will also be meeting with the Bsambudzi community, who have been integral to the maintenance of our farm between team visits. Maintaining these relationships is of utmost importance for the continued success of the agriculture project in Malawi.


Would be keen to hear further thoughts from the wider PE community.


edited on Feb 7, 2018 by Georgie Scott

William Lee Feb 7, 2018

Hey Georgie,

Just wondering if the Bvumbwe Research Station is gov funded and gov run? What is the nature of your relationship with them? Is there a possibility to extend the relationship so that you can get them to test possible blueprints as one of their 100 experiments? If not, to what extent can PE leverage existing agricultural research from the station to work together to form a blueprint?


Georgie Scott Feb 7, 2018

Bvumbwe Research Station is indeed government funded and run, falling under the Department of Agricultural Research & Technical Services. They were first contacted by the January team and expressed interest in sharing their information with us, after being told about the blueprint. However, are yet to follow through. We actually have a meeting with them tomorrow to discuss potential information sharing. It would definitely be feasible for us to work together in the future, and this may involve us using their land. As we are not yet sure exactly what information they are willing to provide us with, it is hard to determine whether or not we can leverage their research to form a blueprint.


William Lee Feb 9, 2018

How did the meeting go?


Georgie Scott Feb 9, 2018

Bloody awesome. We have been provided with some initial data including market research, experiment protocol and temperature + rainfall records. Our contact, Mr Malidadi will be emailing through to us further data which is very exciting!
We also received contacts for about 10 other research stations who we are looking to meet with to obtain their info from.


William Lee Feb 10, 2018

That's really exciting.
It's quite interesting that there are that many agricultural research stations. How is their research currently being used in the agricultural sector/system to help out local farmers? To put it another way, what organisations currently use this research/data and what are the ways in which this knowledge is being used to help make local farming practices more efficient?


Georgie Scott Feb 13, 2018

Currently, extension officers meet with farmers and develop an understanding of the issues they face. These issues then dictate the types of experiments that are conducted at the research stations. From here, our understanding becomes quite limited. We are unsure how this information is disseminated between organisations and local farmers, other than the advice given by extension officers to farmers within their region. Definitely something we will bring up in our next meeting.


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Amber Johnston Jun 30, 2018

Status label added: Work Update