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Mbewa Self-Help Project (UK)

Further details

Building the Mbewa Maize Mill

The Mbewa Self-Help Project maize mill began operating at the end of May 2011.This is the story of how it was built.

Maize mill July 2011

As well as providing a service to villagers, income is used for a social welfare fund (to assist AIDS orphans and other vulnerable people in the village), to invest in other small projects and to recoup the capital invested for repaying loans and saving for the next large-scale project - buying a sheller to run alongside the mill.

Maize is the staple food in Malawi. In Mbewa and surrounding villages, people grow their own maize. This is ground into flour.

The Mbewa Self-Help Project prioritised building a maize mill (see below for the reasons why).

Loans and donations are still welcome for the next phase of the project - click here for details.

UPDATE 11 August 2009: A villager has decided to donate his stock of bricks to the project - so building can commence as soon as £800 is available.

UPDATE 16 August: The Project Committee has dug and built a pit latrine next to the site of the mill for use by the builders and then by staff and customers. This is pictured below - the iron roofing sheets are included in the budget for building work.

Maize mill latrine

UPDATE 1 October: Warrington Guardian in the UK (Mike's local paper) reports on the project and appeal for funds. Click HOME for the cutting.

UPDATE 17 October: Picture received from the Project Committee showing the bricks being moved to the site.

UPDATE 22 October: Loan fund at £800 - enough for the building. The first installment has been transferred to the village committee. Villagers will now construct the building under the supervision of one of their number who is an experienced builder.

UPDATE 27 October: News just in: "We are glad to inform you that the foundations have started today. We bought 8 bags of cement on Saturday. The Committee members used their bicycles to transport the bags [10 miles]. The Committee is working very hard and there is cooperation among members in doing the work."

UPDATE 12 November: Pictures, receipts and report received on work so far. Below pictures of preparing the foundations and transporting bricks and completing the floor slab - all generations are involved.

Maize mill foundations

Maize mill bricks

Maize mill floor slab

Update 3 December: the November report from the Project Committee shows the progress with the walls and roof, giving the almost finished building. Exchange rate changes and price increases put the loan for the complete building phase of the project to £ 1,000.

Building the walls

Working hard

Maize mill building

Update 11 February 2010: Funds transferred for purchasing wiring and electrical fittings to prepare the building for the milling equipment.

Update 12 March: Grant of £ 2,000 awarded by W.F. Southall Charitable Trust towards the project.

Update 16 June: The electricity company, ESCOM, has installed the required transformer and connected the building to the supply.

Update 6 August: Still seeking extra funds for buying the maize mill equipment. The Project Committee has just been sent a small loan to buy 50 kg maize to break into 1 kg bags affordable for those in the village who need it.

Update 30 November: Commercial loan taken to be able to purchase the maize mill equipment so that the mill can be put into operation.

Update 4 December: Three villagerswill be trained at Chiradzulu Agricultural College in December on operating and mainting the milling equipment. The milling equipment will be purchased for installation after they have completed the course.

Update 10 January 2011: Members of the Project Committee collected the equipment from Blantyre and installed this in the newly-painted building

Collecting the maize milling equipment

Equipment arrives in Mbewa

Maize mill January 2011

24 February 2011: ESCOM did not have three-phase cable available for completing the connection from the transformer to the milling equipment. Apparently ESCOM’s budget for buying materials has been exhausted. With no alternative, additional funds have been sent for the Project Committee to purchase the cable to be fitted by ESCOM.

26 March: ESCOM have made the connection - all except for the electricity meter. There are no longer spare meters in the country we are told.

4 May: A meter is fitted after an appeal to the ESCOM Regional Engineer for help resulted in a meter being found.

15 May: The Project Committee’s engineer connects the mill and tests it.


Maize mill July 2011

Maize mill July 2011

5 June - 15 June: Power cuts hit Southern Malawi. First partial month’s income allocated to costs, extra equipment needed for the mill, paying for a business licence and the social welfare fund (helping with school fees for orphans and other costs for vulnerable families).

15 July: Three people are being employed to run the mill plus a night watchman. After salaries, electricity bills, maintenance costs and the social welfare fund, the first instalment towards repaying the capital fund is made.

15 August: Monthly report suggest bringing forward the purchase of a sheller to go alongside the mill, to improve the service to villagers and increase income....

Part of the income from current operations is being used to repay the capital invested in the project to date. Some of this has to go to repay loans, from the bank and individuals, but some will stay in Malawi to go towards future projects and to provide assistance to the vulnerable.

Background to this project

There is an electricity supply in Mbewa which means it is possible to have mills driven by electric motors. Most of the 3,000 people of the village, plus around 12,000 more from surrounding villages without electricity, are reliant on the existing commercial mill, or two in the neighbouring village, which are unable to cope with the demand. The mills run continuously and breakdowns create greater problems for villagers.

Milling is a profitable business. On average, 200kg needs to be milled for each person during the year at a standard cost of MK 1,000 (about £4.00). The total potential annual income from milling is, therefore, about £60,000.

Part of the reason for bringing the plan to purchase the sheller forward is this will make it easier to achieve and exceed the income target.

Although this is a small amount of money per person, it is difficult for many smallholder farmers to raise, particularly the elderly and those caring for orphans, many who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

The Mbewa Self-Help Project has prioritised building a maize mill for their village as an income-generating scheme and to provide extra security when the other mills break down. Profits will be used to invest in other developments and to help orphans and the vulnerable, both with milling, food and school fees.


The majority of villagers are smallholder farmers - some earning a small income from Mbewa Self-Help Projects, such as growing green maize as a cash crop (photo from the irrigation project).


A villager has donated land for the construction of a maize mill - shown here with some of the Committee.

Brick making

Villagers are making burned bricks for the mill building - cutting of trees in the forestry reserve is carefully controlled.


The best maize mill on the market for the project has been identified and arrangements made to transfer funds direct to the manufacturer.


The electric motor. The business plan includes building up a maintenance fund.








The Mbewa Self-Help Project (UK) raises funds for projects in Mbewa Village, Malawi.