Powering Prisons: United Purpose led consortium supports prisons with energy and irrigation farming


By Pro-Act 

A bright and sunny Tuesday 17th November, 2020 was a great day for Mulanje and Mikuyu 2 prisons when a consortium of United Purpose (UP), Save the Children and Concern Worldwide officially handed over a biogas digester and a solar irrigation scheme to the two prisons respectively.

Through the European Union (EU) funded FUTURE Pro-Resilience Action (Pro-ACT) Project, the consortium constructed a K21.2 million biogas digester and a K40.5 million solar-powered irrigation system with half of the contribution coming from Malawi government.

Full view of the biogas digester

The biogas digester at Mulanje Prison is a milestone intervention by the consortium towards boosting the food security of inmates through improved service provision.

The digester, developed by a Malawian company, Intrinsic Biogas, converts human waste into gas for cooking and energy for lighting. It is a climate smart technology that is helping to reduce the use of firewood.

“The digester has already improved service delivery in the kitchen through low cost energy for cooking food for inmates and producing bio-fertilizer for the prison’s vegetable gardens,” Commissioner Responsible for Prison Farms and Industry at Malawi Prison Services (MPS) Clement Kainja acknowledges.


Additionally, the digester is helping in improving the living conditions of inmates by reducing the continuous blockage of the sewer system at the prison, according to George Chibwe, Officer in-Charge at Mulanje Prison.

A tour of one of the maize fields under irrigation at Mikuyu 2

“Before installation of the digester, we had persistent blockages of our sewer system resulting in spilling of solid waste that was producing a bad smell in prison cells.

“But that is now history since the solid waste is being broken down into smaller particles for energy production with liquid waste being produced as a by-product that we use as organic fertilizer,” says Chibwe.

On provision of energy through the biogas digester innovation, Pro-ACT Programme Manager at United Purpose Esther Mweso says Mulanje Prison is already saving over K300, 000 a month on electricity bills and buying firewood.

“The reduction in use of firewood is in line with UP’s belief in environmental conservation and curbing deforestation,” Mweso says.

With a carrying capacity of 350 inmates, Mulanje Prison currently has 270 inmates because other prisoners were pardoned in order to decongest the prison in the face of COVID 19.

Water storage tanks at Mikuyu 2

The irrigation scheme at Mikuyu 2 is another intervention that is showing excellent results so far. Commissioner Kainja says the irrigation scheme is expected to significantly boost food production and nutrition at the prison.

“The crops will go a long way in serving the inmates with enough food and as a source for income generating activities for sustainability,” Kainja says.

He adds that the irrigation scheme will enable the prison to grow a variety of crops such as vegetables and maize on a 5.1 hectares of land for diversification of dietary intake for inmates.

Commissioner Kainja assured stakeholders that MPS will endeavor to take good care of the facility so that it sees out its 20-year life span.

To ensure sustainable management and operation of the facility, the consortium trained prison staff in irrigation operations and maintenance. Furthermore, savings from the sale of surplus vegetables will be used for future maintenance.

Continuation in the provision of technical support from the consortium and government is also expected to bolster efforts towards sustainable operation of the scheme, according to Mweso.

“Good collaboration and coordination with district agriculture office will continuously provide technical support and there will be consistent supervision by the prison headquarters through its farms section,” Mweso says.

Apart from serving 240 inmates at Mikuyu 2, the irrigation system will also benefit 470 inmates at neighbouring Mikuyu 1 Prison.

It is hopeful that the biogas digester at Mulanje and the irrigation system at Mikuyu 2 Prison will have long-term impact on cost saving and improved nutrition and food security for prisoners.



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