It has not been raining as much as everyone would have liked in Malawi this growing season. The little rains the country has had have already dampened hopes for bumper harvests.
But the rainwater have still added to water levels in the country’s water bodies. Despite this abundance of water across the country, Malawians face hunger almost every year.
This year close to 3 million people are in need of food assistance since a combination of floods and prolonged dry spells at critical stages of maize development in the last growing season led to a food deficit.
Ted Kwelepeta, a 48 year-old businessman has heard it all and it has now become noise to him.
He is tired of hearing that people in the country are facing hunger even though this southern African country is blessed with numerous water bodies.
But just like any good businessman, Kwelepeta has taken the complaints as an opportunity to help change the way Malawians grow crops.
“We speak of hunger and yet we have plenty of water to grow our crops twice a year,” he says. “This has been pushing me to think of how I can be part of the solution to this challenge.”
For the past two years Kwelepeta has been working on a solar pump which he believes has the power to get Malawians out of perennial hunger.
Through Gizmo Innovations for Water and Food Security – a company he founded – he has assembled a team of workers and with their help has made a pump that can be driven by solar power or battery.
The set comprises a pump, two 60w solar panels, wires and a solar stand.
The pump works perfectly at the workshop and Kwelepeta says it has the capacity to pump 500 litres of water every four hours.
He however admits that they are yet to test the pump in the actual field.
Kwelepeta though is very sure of the pump’s potential in alleviating the problem of low yields in the country.
“What we have here is a solution for small farmers who want to grow food from a small piece of land.
“This pump will help small farmers to be able to grow some extra crops soon after harvest for cash,” he says.
It is very easy to doubt the Lilongwe based businessman but he has taken on high impact innovations before. In 2011, he established Pamudzi Property Investment after noticing that people were complaining of the high cost of cement in construction.
Today Pamudzi Property Investments is a fully fledged brickmaking and landscaping company that transform buildings, sells cement block makers and educate Malawians on how they can use cement blocks when building their houses.
But the current task is not only different, it is also difficult. Difficult because administration after administration invests little in irrigation, opting to take the easy way out by spending billions of taxes in subsidising farm inputs.
However, Kwelepeta already has a plan and he is determined to make sure it sees the light of the day.
The innovator says at K300,000 his pump is cheap and he will also be able to convince farmers to pay for it in instalments.
“We will also negotiate with chiefs to form clubs whereby the pump will be loaned to them and they can pay it off as a club,” he says.
Kwelepeta says that he intends to do this all over Malawi and he hopes government may in the end get attracted and invest in the technology.
Last month, the first round of production estimates by government showed that maize production this growing season is expected to be lower than in the 2014/15 season.
With such prospects, it is probably time stakeholders invested in Kwelepeta’s pump in order to counter the effects of intermittent rains.