Back in Canada!

Well I’ve actually been back for a week now, but between the travel and jetlag I forgot to post an update.

While I was in Malawi, I had a few drafts of blogs and pictures I’ve wanted to post about. Different subjects, like my trips to Kasungu National park, my work with the dairy farmers and just little tips for getting on better in Malawi. With how much work I had left to do in country, I thought my efforts were best put there, but with Christmas break rolling around I’ll be posting them over the break. Though it won’t be in real time, I hope it will be interesting to those wanting to learn about Malawi and future volunteers.

Two weeks in…

It’s been two weeks since I’ve arrived and an update is due. When I arrived in Malawi I met with Malawi Milk Producer’s Association (MMPA). They introduced me to Lilongwe dairy ltd, the biggest milk producer in the country and an industry leader of sorts in a country where the national producer’s association doesn’t wield a lot of power. The milk quality in the country is poor. The industry is stuck in a trap where processors do not pay a good price for milk approx 170 Malawian Kawachas per litre (roughly 34 cents) because the quality of milk is poor, so the farmers are reluctant to invest in better feed, veterinary services, husbandry etc to increase milk quality. In order to combat this, Lilongwe dairy and MMPA are considering a “premium milk program” where if the milk being brought in meets certain microbiological and compositional standards, the farmers are paid a premium on top of the 170 Kawachas. Now a composition premium has already been in use and has seen great success, where the adulteration with water has gone from as high as 30% down to 8%. It is a sign that farmers and bulking groups here respond to incentive. Lilongwe dairy is now rolling out the microbiological premium. They have purchase some rudimentary microbiological supplies and are doing petrifilm testing for total aerobic bacterial count. This has been what I’ve been working in the last couple of days.

I am hoping to leave Lilongwe dairy with a reliable and validated procedure for overall aerobic bacteria count in milk, well trained lab staff and a report with recommendations that they can base their new incentive programs off of.

The Flowers of Malawi


Or if not quite spring the beginning of something like it in the hot wet season. The way I was told, the seasons here are hot/dry, hot/wet, cool/wet, then cool dry. I have arrived at the beginning of the hot/wet season. This means the weather can be intolerably hot at times but it does also means I am treated to the Malawian equivalent of a spring bloom.

There is constant speculation on the radio about whether this is the start of the real rainy season or the “false rainy season” that farmers fear where they would plant their crops and the rain would decide not to come.

The variety of plants here are baffling and though I have no idea what they are called or what botanical books to look them up in, I am content with just enjoying how beautiful they are.

First days

After being picked up at the airport, we drive to the World University Service Canada (WUSC) office in downtown Lilongwe. We meet the country support staff and are treated to a traditional lunch. The staff run us through a series of orientation presentations about Canada’s aid programs and our role in helping Malawi develop as well the usual safety and logistics briefing.

We are taken out on the town afterwards to get to know Lilongwe and the first thing you notice is the colours and vibrancy of life here. The streets bustle with people walking to and fro. Men and women in business attire mix with street hawkers and people selling fruit. Tuc tucs putter along side Mercedes sedans and Land cruiser all terrain vehicles.

We are shown where we will be staying for the duration of our mandate and the living quarters are clean, basic and comfortable.

As I settle in, I feel the day to day of life here in Malawi is going to be quite nice.

Are you Justin?

“Are you Justin?” I turn around and were greeted with two big smiles. “I thought this might have been you and took a chance” that’s how I was introduced to Biggi and Nancy, my fellow Canadian volunteers for the next couple of weeks. They were on the same flight as me coming to Addis Ababa and spotted me in line for our regional flight into Lilongwe. Biggi teaches marketing and is from Kelowna BC and Nancy is a former lab technician turned sales representative from Montreal who will be working with small and medium enterprises here in Malawi.

First glimpse of Africa

I wake up from a too short nap 12 hours into the 14 hour flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa and there is light peeking through the cabin window. I look through and down at the landscape below and wow… I am actually flying over Africa.The landscape is dramatic. Rugged mountains and green valleys mingle with the morning light. I take a quick look at the headrest monitor and it tells me that we are passing through the Ahmer mountains in Ethiopia.

The land below is dotted with small communities and the hills are drapped in a patchwork of farm plots and greenery. When you’re so used to flying over the neat squares and straight lines of farms in Canada, the contrast could be quite jarring.

As the plane banks to makes its approach to Addis Ababa, I feel a swell of excitement for the first time since I started preparing for this trip at what I’m about to do and experience.

It finally feels real.

In-flight reading

Preparing for this trip has had its challenges. I don’t know what I am going to find when I get on the ground in Malawi or how I will be best put to use. However I have had the fortune of getting in contact with another volunteer from the U of G Sandy Smith who worked with the MMPA and has very helpfully forwarded some relevant literature. One of particular mention being Wanangewa Sandini’s excellent master’s thesis “The Dairy Industry in Malawi – A Description of the Milk Bulking Groups in Malawi” (2012) written under the supervision Dr. Jonathan Allen at NC State (coincidentally one of my dad’s Alma Matars).

Thank you Sandy

Last minute checks and good wishes

Passport check ✔️

Ticket check ✔️

Carry on check ✔️

Feeling like I am actually flying to Africa to volunteer for a month… Well we’ll keep working on that last part.

Checklists are nice, especially when you have a tendency to forget things as I do. As I’m on my way to the airport, I run through the list in my head trying to sooth away the nervousness of going to a new country on a new continent where I will be faced with new challenges.

For those of you just stumbling upon this blog, I am going to Malawi. A country in East Africa nicknamed “The warm heart of Africa” where I will be working with the Malawian Milk Producer’s Association (MMPA) for 4 weeks as a dairy lab consultant focusing on milk quality, and increasing gender equality and youth empowerment.

Follow me as I embark on this new experience.