Mai Nanjiwa: the cookstove changed my life

Mai Nanjiwa

Fanny Nanjiwa hails from the foot of Mulanje Mountain at Likalawe Village. She is a middle-aged woman who has been making stoves for nearly 2 decades to support her livelihood. “Mai Nanjiwa” as she is known to many, is one of the many cookstove producers who are spread around all the regions of Malawi. Here is Mai Nanjiwa’s story and how cookstove production has transformed her life.

Biomass (firewood and charcoal) is the main source of energy in Malawi and it contributes to about 90% of Malawi’s total energy demand. This insatiable demand for biomass energy has led to deforestation which has seen Malawi rank first as a country with the highest deforestation rates in the SADC region.

It was in 1996 that a programme implemented by GTZ now GIZ, embarked to promote the efficient use of biomass for cooking as a way to save energy, reduce the time spent on cooking and ultimately to reduce deforestation. It was through GTZ’s programme that Mai Nanjiri in Mulanje was first introduced to the concept of making cleaner cookstoves.

In 1998, Mai Nanjiwa was just like many rural residents who depend on farming as a way to support their livelihoods. She says that her life like many others was just about ploughing the fields and depending on her husband to provide for her family. However, mai Nanjiwa through GTZ’s programme was introduced to making fuel efficient stoves.

In 2002, Mai Nanjiwa was sent to Mwanza for a course which was tutored by 2 instructors from Tanzania and Kenya. It was through this course that she was taught how to make stoves and how to follow the proper guidelines using the quality control template. She also was taught in business skills and how to set up her own stove production group to sell stoves.

In 2003, through one of the instructors who was impressed by Mai Nanjiwa’s work, she was sent to Kenya to meet other cookstove producers. During this trip she also learned more on how to prepare clay, how to make a quality stove and how to successfully turn her knowledge and skills into a successful business.

In 2005, cookstove producers from other countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia in an exchange programme visited Malawi. A meeting was held to exchange knowledge and skills which led to a visit to Mai Nanjiwa’s house where she makes her stoves. The delegation was impressed by her work and she was once again sent to Zimbabwe to teach other groups on how to  set-up a succesful cookstove production group.

When she came back from Zimbabwe she focused on building her business and helping her friends to start their own production groups. She mobilised women from Chikwapa and Ligomba villages in Mulanje to start their own stove production groups. She imparted all her knowledge and skills she amassed since 1998 and she proudly says that those women who were serious about stove-making then, are now better off.

Mai Nanjiwa at a meeting; First on the left side

In the rural areas of Malawi where most people live below the poverty line, it something prestigious for one to own a house with iron sheets. Mai Nanjiwa claims that most of the women she taught have all managed to  build houses with iron sheets. Those with children have also been able to pay school fees for their children.

As you can see I am an elderly person, but because of the cookstove, I don’t go to plough the fields with my hoe anymore. The proceeds I get from selling the cookstoves enables me to employ others to do my farming chores for me. I wear whatever clothes I want and I eat whatever food that my heart desires. My husband died a long time ago but I am able to support my family and it’s all thanks to the cookstove. I believe that the cookstove business is far much profitable than selling farm produce at the market because all I do is make stoves at my house and wait for my money. I have paid my children’s school fees, I have built a house with iron sheets with cemented floors and have also managed to buy a bicycle which I use for transport. The cookstove changed my life

Mai Nanjiwa’s story is one of the many background stories of stove producers spread all around the regions of Malawi. These are the men and women who have been tasked with the duty to make cleaner cookstoves to change the behaviours of people who still use the traditional three-stone fire for cooking. Malawi’s target is to disseminate 2 million cleaner cookstoves by the year 2020 and Mai’s Nanjiwa’s efforts are part of a concerted effort to save the waning forests of Malawi.