Hyacinth Project
and the
Children of Malawi

By Larry Nau, Churchville, New York, USA
Click images to enlarge

Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa, will always be especially close to my own heart. I attended the University of Rochester with majors in biology and anthropology. My educational experience took me to the continent of Africa twice. In 1979 I was in Liberia with Crossroads Africa rebuilding the School for the Deaf outside the capital of Monrovia. My destination was Lake Malawi in 1982. There I worked with a research team from Duke studying the Cichlid fishes of Lake Malawi. Our work helped to understand the reproduction of the fish which are a major source of protein for the Malawi people. Both experiences were personally enriching and changed my outlook on the world.

Malawi ranks as the third poorest country in the world. It has been especially hard hit by the severe droughts in southeastern Africa in recent years. The soil is poor and most villagers walk an hour or more to get water to irrigate their gardens if it is available at all. The Associated Press recently wrote that the drought is worsening the malnutrition problem which is also aggravated by poverty, corruption and AIDS. Even the native waterlilies are part of the meager diet where water is nearby.

Thumbi Island, Malawi

Early in 2005 I became aware of the work of Dick Chapin of Chapin Living Waters, based in Watertown, New York, who provides simple root irrigation kits for the people of Malawi and others around the world. With this bucket kit, the dry, lifeless soil can produce a bountiful crop of fresh vegetables. The bucket feeds irrigation tape with water. The water drips out of holes into the soil and the adjacent roots. Each system can water up to ninety-eight plants. The vegetables produced are food for the family and the excess may be sold providing much needed cash for clothes, medical visits and school supplies. In Malawi the program is working so well that a food processing plant was built and rations are sent out to feed over 25,000 children a month!
In April 2004 a report to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, initiated by the Swedish Government, pointed out the harsh realities of water scarcity. The report indicated that 105 gallons of water are required to produce one pound of bread. An amazing 8,453 gallons of water are required for 1 pound of beef. Using a bucket kit, it takes 3 gallons of water for 1 pound of vegetables! In one season, one bucket kit can produce up to 400 pounds of vegetables from only 1,200 gallons of water. 

A Malawi garden in August

The requests for bucket kits are overwhelming. Each kit costs $10.00 and an average of $7.50 to ship it to its destination. The bucket kits last five to seven years in the field. Recipients of the kits are schooled in basic soil preparation, fertilizing, seed germination and plant care.

Dick Chapin and his foundation work with hundreds of groups around the world who want to use this simple technology. Others discover his work and want to help by raising funds. In 2005 we at Bergen Water Gardens and Nursery wanted to contribute to this effort and created the Hyacinth Project. For every $3.00 water hyacinth sold at Bergen in the 2005 season, $1.50 was donated to Chapin Living Waters, a total of $1,774. Proceeds of sales of bucket kits were also donated. Our efforts will purchase and deliver over 100 bucket kits to Malawi. 

Dick Chapin, Nathan and Larry Nau

Often affectionately called the "father of drip irrigation", Dick Chapin has made major contributions to the drip irrigation industry for over 30 years. He holds 25 patents, and developed and patented Twin-Wall® hose which became the industry standard. Through the years, Dick has received many awards and honors for his tireless efforts on behalf of the irrigation industry. He developed the bucket kit after a trip to Senegal in 1974 and began to distribute them through the Foundation soon thereafter.

If you visited Bergen Water Gardens this summer, you would have seen a working bucket kit in our sample garden.

^ Early June 
 When we planted the Hyacinth Project garden, June 4 and June 11, two rows received the benefit of the drip system. The third row, on the left in the picture at the right, was our control, without irrigation.

 ^ Early June
Clearly the plants are much larger and better established with the water supply. We did water the third row but of course the majority of the water ran off. It was also easy to add fertilizer dissolved in water to the drip bucket.

^ Early July >



 < Late July >

Note that the third row had started to catch up due to several general rainfalls.


We grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, pumpkins, watermelon, cucumbers and acorn squash. The pumpkins were the biggest I had ever grown! It was actually fun as the two high school seniors that were working for me this summer had no concept of how to grow vegetables! They learned a lot and helped me help people in Malawi.

If you too would like to donate, see:


More about Malawi | More about drip irrigation in Malawi
More about Dick Chapin | More about bucket kits
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