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Holy grail: Thukuta Nandolo’s innovation

A woman’s loud calls scare chickens away from pounded maize spread on a mat to dry before being taken to a maize mill.
It is mid-morning on December 4 2017 but already sweltering hot and nothing but loud calls of a woman, fluttering of wings, singing of birds and spattering of water can be heard in Kapichi Village, Traditional Authority Kapichi, Thyolo, about 40 kilometres from Blantyre.
Thukuta Nandolo, 68, is standing by a sprinkler in his garden and keenly watching indiscriminate sprays water maize plants as he takes me through his project.
“I sat down and thought to myself; what if I connect bamboos and channel water into the garden. Soon my idea came into being and irrigating the garden became an easy task,” he says.
So Nandolo thought it and did it.
He has been a farmer dependent on rain-fed agriculture all his life. But the impact of climate change jostled his thinking into a much wiser farmer.
Nandolo, a primary school dropout and a father of six, has used nature and his surroundings to maintain a constant supply of water when land is dry not only to his garden and home but to the entire village.
He says poverty in his household made him think of ways of how he could provide for his family in the mid of unreliable rainfall.
“It was in 2015 when I decided to dig a well right outside my backyard. At 15 metres deep, I found the water. For a couple of months, I used to irrigate my garden with a water cane.
“But as time went, I thought of cutting bamboos and turning them into connection pipes to move water to the garden and into the house. I then set up a tank of about 100 litres up in a tree to store water,” he says.
Nandolo says he used the system of channelling water from the tank for about a year and another idea popped into his mind – sprinklers.
These are not common mechanised sprinklers we all know and usually see around.
Nandolo used the mechanised sprinkler technology to build his own, connecting everything to bamboo pipes hanging in trees. He then placed a metal valve at the tip of it to spread the water around.
“I built a three-tree stand and use a bamboo in between to channel water from the tank. At the tip of the bamboo, I placed a spiked can that spins and spreads the water in the garden,” he says.
This is not all.
Nandolo also developed a hand-held sprinkler which he uses to irrigate ridge by ridge when the need arises.
“You see, with time, many ideas have been coming and each idea that comes, I try it out. Well, I say so long as it helps me with my farming, I go for it. The normal sprinkler helps out but I thought of this hand-held sprinkler because I easily know the amount of water that has been used at that particular moment,” he says.
Since he came up with this innovation, Nandolo says his yields have more than doubled.
“The maize you see in the field now is my third crop. I don’t starve in my household. There are times when I plant green vegetables and tomatoes for sale. Since 2015, this has been the trend, I harvest three times a year. So I make money off this innovation and my house is well stocked with food,” he says.
Nandolo has channelled the water through the same bamboos to his house. He has running water for drinking and ablution.
“Poverty made me think of ways I could have never imagined. I cannot afford pipes, so bamboos do the magic for me. I connected the bamboos to my house. Outside, I have a tap which my wife uses to wash the dishes among other things. Taking a bath from a bucket is a thing of the past, I connected the bamboos from the tank outside,” he says.
If you ask Nandolo about how he managed to come up with this innovation, while acknowledging he has no formal science knowledge, he keeps on referring to poverty as his source of inspiration.
“The rains were poor that year, the river is far from here, and I had to think about means to feed my family. Then I thought of digging a well. The rest of the ideas came in with time because I believe what is hard is the foundation, once you get one thing done, the rest just falls into place,” he says.
His surrounding communities concede that Nandolo’s innovation is a holy grail of villagers.
Group Village Head Kapichi wishes her community had more people of Nandolo’s innovative mind, saying water problems would be a thing of the past.
“I encourage him to keep up with the good work. I personally told him to come and collect the bamboos at my house for free. That is my contribution to him for the services he offers to the people of this area. We benefit a lot from him,” she says.
Agriculture Extension Worker Cosmos Gwaza, who has worked with Nandolo for the past two years as adviser, says he has always believed in his potential and he ensures that, through this innovation, Nandolo should make the most of it in terms of crop production.
“He is an inspiration to many and he helps a lot of people. I have known him for two years and the time I have worked with him, I picked out one thing and that is determination. Nandolo is exceptional and I hope some day he will improve this innovation using modern materials,” he says.
But the other side of the innovation’s coin tells a different story.
For two years since Nandolo rolled out his project, the demand for the project’s services has increased tremendously; hence, Nandolo needs some help.
“The materials I use are all locally sourced. I know I would be able to do far much if I had modern materials such a tank, plastic pipes and cement to fortify the well. These local materials I use do not last long, I am sure modern materials would be durable,” he says.
Malawi is an agriculture-based economy and the agriculture sector, despite the country’s enormous irrigable land, has always been reliant on favourable climate conditions. But the climate change phenomenon is progressively destroying the sector; hence, the country’s development.
Major casualties have been small-scale farmers.
But Nandolo found innovative ways to adapt to the effects of climate change.
He manages to keep water all year round for domestic and irrigation purposes.

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