Thoughts from May 2008


andrew in malawi

I thought I'd bring some footballs over to Malawi as gifts to say thanks for having me to all the people I've met along the way.

I only had one left and as we were driving through a village, we spotted this group of kids who were playing with a ball made up from plastic bags. We gave them this one which caused loads of excitement.

They politely endured ten minutes of watching me painfully try to play and then got on with the game in hand.

All the parents of the village came out to say thank you and one of them turned out to be a lady we'd met on an irrigation project we'd visited earlier that day, which made it doubly special.

Lovely Malawian lady and me. The end of another great day.

Andrew D

those that do not love irrigation should not follow us

andrew in malawi

As I've previously mentioned, the innocent foundation support other projects in Malawi. These are mainly to do with irrigation, growing and juicing and yesterday, we visited the Michembo project which is an irrigation project close to the town of Salima.

We were greeeted by the ladies involved in the project singing "Those that do not love irrigation should not follow us". Again, this is the literal translation; it sounded much better when they sang it.


Here are the ladies singing in front of their field. Harvest has just finished which is why it looks rather bare. The trees you can see are mango trees which grow really well out here and help shade the maize crop from the hot sun.

With the expert guidance of Alfred, the Microloan Foundation has set up some very simple and sustainable methods to irrigate the land. The aim of is to increase the number of crops each villager can grow, meaning they can sell on the surplus for a profit.

Many of the projects surrounding this one were from larger donors and had fancy concrete irrigation channels. Alfred's idea was much simpler. He chose to use simple, V-shaped channels, shaped from soil and to bed each one with re-usable plastic sheets. The results have been similar to the bigger, fancier irrigation systems but the cost is much lower and the sheets are much easier for the villagers to mamage and replace as concrete channels tend to degrade with the heavy rains that come each year.


The ladies are now experimenting with new crops like mustard and lettuce. This is a picture of Alfred checking out the growing saplings.

The project was another example of the excellent work the Microloan Foundation is carrying out on the ground in Malawi. I interviewed the chairlady after this visit and she said that the project was not only helping to improve the lives of everyone involved but also helping push them towards self-sustainability by February 2009.

Which is superb stuff.

Andrew D

what we did at chigwirizano

andrew in malawi

The next step at Chigwirizano was to help push the production to even greater heights.

To do this, we set up the following agenda of what we wanted to achieve before leaving the co-op:

1. Get a brand for the product and get the ladies behind it.
2. Understand the prices in the local market and what price point matters to people.
3. Understand the costs of production (fruit, packaging, labour, fuel and distribution)
4. Come up with a business plan for the next few months and some sales targets.
5. Understand the barriers that may stop us from delivering the plan.

We actually did all of this in two days. Alfred was pretty chuffed although there is lots more to do to make sure that we get the business on track for growth. It's not huge volumes compared to innocent but it's big news here and that’s all that matters.

My favourite session was the brand decision. On Monday night, we asked each person in the group to think of a name that embodied the drinks we were making. Then on Tuesday afternoon, we chose our favourite - "Muli Madyo" which means "Full of Energy and Richness" *. Then, I gave out some paper and asked everyone to draw how they wanted the labels to look. A few designs really stood out so we tried to bring this together into a final label.


We voted for our favourite design using stones.

And this is what we came out with.


Not bad for word art.

The next steps are to print out some labels, follow up on the actions we decided on (like branding up some bicycles and cool boxes and sourcing cheaper bottles) and to get selling.

The key learning from me in this process was making sure we went through every step very clearly so that each of the clients understood what was needed to grow their business. I guess it was quite similar to what we do at innocent, just different for a developing market and for a really local part of Malawi.

Making notes.

At the end of the day we had to say goodbye to everyone which was sad as we needed to visit more of the Microloan projects and get together with the head office team to make sure our findings were clear and well documented. We bought some bottles of juice and headed off, after a lot of fond farewells.

Happy campers. Asumani, me and Fajamadi.

Before we left, there was just enough time for some local community radio PR about the juice factory and how amazing the product is.

Brilliant. I spoke in English while Alfred was all over the Chichewa.

Andrew D

*Apologies for my slightly rubbish translation.

the chigwirizano juice co-op

andrew in malawi

On Monday I spent the morning chatting to local shopkeepers about juice in the town of Kasungu. The general response was that people want healthy drinks and that most people don't know that concentrates aren't healthy for you. There are loads of South African imported concentrated juices available already so I was hoping that with a bit of market analysis, I'd have a better idea of what price we could suggest for the juice once I got to Chigwirizano.

So, Alfred and I hopped in one of the Microloan cars and headed through a game reserve/jungle to get to the lakeside town of Nkhotakota. We took a turn off the main tarmac road and arrived at the Chigwirizano Juice Co-op.

After a week of research, this was one of the main reasons I was here. Again, we were greeted with lots of singing and general happiness and, without sounding too gushing, it was a sight something everyone at innocent and all our drinkers should be pretty proud of.

After introductions, I told the ladies there all about innocent. That AGM booklet I'd nabbed before leaving has been so useful to explain to people here about what we do (you can have a look for yourself here)

Team Chigwirizano.

We then had a tour round the old juice factory and the new factory, which has been built through MicroVentures. Some of the money for this new factory was donated by the innocent foundation. MicroVentures is part of the Microloan Foundation and helps people with bigger projects or projects that require more capital to start (for example, beehives and sewing). It was really great to see something clearly tangible as a result of the funding. The new factory has a tin roof which means it’s a lot less dusty and the floors are of a much better quality of compressed concrete which makes it much easier to clean and therefore more hygienic.

The new factory is on the left. The old one will be used for material storage, change rooms and some knitting training.

The ladies had prepared a load of Bwemba and Malambe fruit for us so we walked through the process from start to finish. It was quite similar to the process I had seen before with a few minor tweaks. I'd never seen Bwemba before. Again, it is a crop that is grows in abundance in the local area. As well as the loan from MLF, the co-operative have also been trained for free in good juice making practice by a government agricultural department team. Everyone wears hair nets and aprons but with my fat head, I had to settle for this rather fetching scarf instead.

Crushing and squeezing the juice pulp from the stones. Here we are making Bwemba.

The tour made it very clear that capacity wasn't the issue to increasing the sales. They can make a lot more juice than they are currently making so we needed to come up with a few new plans for the business. Before doing that though, I shared a few of the learnings I had picked up in the last week.

One of the items that got everyone really excited was the Baobab jam I had picked up in a small refinery in Blantyre. This is made from the seeds of the Baobab and is therefore another useful side product that could be sold within the co-op. I bought a jar for my mum but everyone wanted to try it so out came the spoon and the chairman of the group dished us all out a huge clump (sorry, Mum). It was pretty funny watching everyone getting involved in the jam and lead to even more singing. You'll have to wait for the video for that.

I also picked up a few mini plastic bags from a bottle supplier I met when I was down in Blantyre. I thought might serve as an alternative to plastic bottles as bottles are expensive and not in regular supply. So, we packed juice into these bags for the first time ever and will be running a trial this week in the market to see if they take off.

Not quite the high tech filling machines we have in our factories but just as effective. Here's the juice being poured into the new bags.

More updates in my next blog.

Andrew D