Sanjib Chaudhary

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Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Sanjib

  • Knowledge matters and it empowers

    March 13th, 2017

    Three female Muscovy ducks were splashing in greenish water kept in a small concrete tub when we reached Bhumisara Poudel’s house. The drake was tethered to a post near the coop and the area was covered with a mosquito net. Nearby, a manure yard measuring 6 ft x 4 ft made from cement blocks was also covered with a mosquito net.

    I wondered why they had mosquito nets everywhere around the manure yard.

    The net stops rats and moles from eating earthworms,” said Baburam Poudel, Bhumisara’s husband. “These are not ordinary earthworms, each one costs NRs 3. We bought half a kilo of earthworms for NRs 1,500 (Around 15 USD) and these creatures have been helping us produce vermicompost enough for our seven kattha (1 kattha = 338 sq. m) farm.”

    Demand-driven training to farmers

    Jyoti Ale Magar, a social mobiliser at the Sauraha Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC) told us how Bhumisara started raising the earthworms for vermicompost. “We trained 20 farmers from this area on vermicomposting,” she said. “We organise the trainings as per the demand from the community.

    With the support from Practical Answers Knowledge Services Programme, 22 CLRCs in 15 districts of Nepal have been organising trainings for farmers, interaction with agriculture experts and practical sessions at regular intervals.
    Linking farmers to government and non-government organisations

    During one of the interaction sessions, the CLRC connected Bhumisara with the Agriculture Service Centre in the area. The service centre provided a grant of NRs 25,000 to Bhumisara to construct a shed and a manure yard, and buy earthworms for vermicomposting.

    As we were talking about the benefits of organic fertiliser, Baburam dug out a handful of vermicompost from the pit. Two small earthworms wriggled out of the dark brown compost. Putting them back to the pit, Baburam showed us how to determine whether the fertiliser was ready to use.

    The ready-to-use compost is like a handful of dry CTC tea (black tea made by crush, tear, curl method),” he said. “It’s easy to carry and administer to the soil – not like the wet livestock manure.”

    All they needed to do was to add livestock manure, dried leaves to the pit, keep it cool by sprinkling water at regular intervals. The earthworms would do the rest of the work.

    Improving food security and livelihood

    Learning how to prepare and handle vermicompost, we went to the adjacent farm to see how the vegetables were faring. The couple had recently harvested a crop of potatoes and the newly planted bitter gourd saplings were climbing up the stakes, with their tendrils coiling around them.

    We harvested 10 quintals of potatoes in this three kattha plot,” said Baburam beaming with joy. “Earlier the plot yielded not more than 5-6 quintals. We sold some and have stored a quintal of potatoes in a cold store.”

    The manure pit produced vermicompost enough for the potato cultivation. In addition, they had applied the compost to the bitter gourd saplings and the flowers at the front of their house.

    Bhumisara Poudel is happy with her vermicompost venture. She happily shares her knowledge with others.

    Bhumisara Poudel is happy with her vermicompost venture. She happily shares her knowledge with others. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Spreading the knowledge

    Close to the vegetable farm, I could see an outlet protruding from base of the manure pit and a reddish brown liquid dripping from the pipe. The water sprayed on the manure yard converts into a nutrient after getting in contact with the manure and earthworms. And according to Bhumisara and Baburam, it is more nutritious than the compost and can be collected in a bottle.

    Bhumisara quipped, “Earlier the fertiliser used to be carried in truckloads, then in sacks and now in bottles.”

    Appreciating his wife’s knowledge, Baburam said, “She learnt all this at the CLRC and I learnt from her.

    Many people come to see how we are raising the earthworms and producing vermicompost,” added Bhumisara. “We are happy to teach them all the tricks of the trade.”

    Now, they no more need to carry truckloads of wet livestock manure. It used to be a back-breaking chore before cultivation and lasted for 5-6 days at a stretch. The vermicompost can be stored and stacked in sacks and the liquid nutrient adds to the productivity of the crops.

    Practical answers to the farmers’ queries

    As we were having coffee after the snapshot of the manure yard and vegetable farm, Baburam let go the tethered drake. It started chasing the other three ducks and the place became lively with the ducks’ quacks.

    The social mobilisers at the CLRCs respond to the queries of the farmers. They provide the related knowledge materials and invite experts to interact with the farmers.  This gives the farmers a better idea on managing their land, cultivating crops and starting alternative income generating activities.

    I’m planning to dig a pond by the side of the coop,” told Baburam. “So that these ducks can swim and we can get fish to eat.”

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  • Learnings from a food security project in far-western Nepal

    May 17th, 2016

    When I look back, it still gives me a reason to visit the place again and again. The trip to far-western Nepal, our project sites, was a whirlwind – with all sorts of emotions jumbled up – getting me excited at each turn of the road.

    Though harsh life in the rugged terrain is a daily affair for people living in abject penury, it is a moment of revelation if you are a first-time traveller to those areas.

    The Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture for Nutrition and Food Security (POSAN-FS) project is being implemented in four remote districts of far-western Nepal – Achham, Bajhang, Bajura and Doti with an overall objective to contribute to enhance regional food and nutritional security.

    Out of the four, we visited three districts and had chance to hear the real stories from the horse’s mouth.

    Here are few nuggets of knowledge I gleaned from the tour.

    If people find opportunities at home, they would never migrate.

    Achham and other neighouring districts in the Far-Western Nepal suffer from a chronic disease of seasonal migration. No wonder, the district has the highest number of HIV cases in Nepal. People, from here, leave for India to earn a living every year.

    Man Bahadur BK recently returned from Gujarat, India after spending 35 years there. Along with him was his wife, Chandra Devi BK, who had been with him in India for the last 10 years. Man Bahadur worked in a Bajaj motorcycles showroom for many years and later started a small business of his own.

    Rearing chicken provides extra income to road-side shopkeepers.

    Raising chickens provides extra income to rural shopkeepers.

    After returning to his home in Achham, Man Bahadur has opened a shop – a mom and pop store selling items of daily need. To augment his earnings, he has kept three goats along with chickens provided by the POSAN-FS project. The project has also provided corrugated galvanised iron sheets for roofing the coop.

    Man Bahadur also showed us a small patch of tomato farm by the side of his shop. The couple is affiliated with the Punyagiri group of farmers who cultivate vegetables and spices and use kitchen waste water for irrigation.

    Though traditional crops are neglected, they are nutritious.

    Talking with local people, we came to know that they had left cultivating traditional crops that are nutritious. With the awareness raised by the project and its support, they have been encouraged to grow neglected crops like yams, millet and buck-wheat among others.

    Though yams are neglected, they are nutritious. Image by Flickr user Wendell Smith. CC BY 2.0

    Though yams are neglected, they are nutritious. Image by Flickr user Wendell Smith. CC BY 2.0

    Climbing down a hillock, we could see newly grown yam saplings on the erstwhile barren slopes. When asked, Project Manager Puspa Poudel explained, “Yams have been introduced as nutritious but neglected crops.”

    Kitchen gardens are essential for food security.

    Among the piles of problems, water scarcity is another ubiquitous problem here. People need to walk miles to fetch a pail of water. In these conditions, thinking of growing vegetables in kitchen garden is a far-fetched idea.

    Reaching the Janalikot Village, we met with Saraswati Karmi, a young farmer in her early twenties working in her vegetable plot.

    Saraswati proudly showed us the brinjals and chillies in her kitchen garden. Standing next to the vegetables was a healthy crop of turmeric. Nearby was a small ditch for waste-water collection from the kitchen. Though the area is parched with water scarcity, the small puddle stored enough water to grow vegetables, enough to eat and sell in the market.

    Kitchen garden not only provides vegetables for family consumption, but is also a source of income to rural farmers.

    Kitchen garden not only provides vegetables for family consumption, but is also a source of income to rural farmers.

    Introduced to kitchen garden concept few months ago, Saraswati is self-sufficient, at least for vegetables. She doesn’t need to buy them from market any more. She now saves nearly NRs 1200 (around USD 12) per month, which else, would be used in buying vegetables.

    Besides kitchen gardening, she has been raising chickens provided by the project. Out of the 19 chickens given to her by the project,10 were ready to be sold in the market. They looked like local chickens and would sell at least at NRs 800 per chicken.

    The kitchen garden produce and chickens are taking care of the family’s food security. Now, instead of spending, they are saving!

    Know more about the POSAN-FS project.

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  • More than a toilet

    November 30th, 2015

    When we crossed the streets of Baji Persia of Gulariya Municipality to reach Shalik Ram’s house in Neelkamal Tole, the only thing that bothered us was the billows of dust behind our vehicle. Unlike villages in the terai, the southern plains of Nepal, the pathway was neat and clean, with no signs of pile of poos – and no bad smell either.

    Shalik Ram Murau’s small family comprising two young sons and wife live in a long house, a not so familiar sight for a visitor from Kathmandu.  It is exceptionally long. The house is shared by Shalik Ram and his four brothers, with separate rooms and kitchens for each family. The children from all five households were playing in the common courtyard when we reached there.

    Shalik Ram Murau is a happy man to have a toilet of his own. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

    Shalik Ram Murau is a happy man to have a toilet of his own. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

    Return on investment
    More interesting to me was a row of five concrete toilets to the north of the house – two of them equipped with septic tank while the rest three with cement rings. It looked odd to me to have five toilets in a row – each costing more than NRs 19,000 (1USD = NRs 100). The cost, for an average earning family in Nepal, is way too much.

    It was Shalik Ram’s wife’s turn to douse my curiosity, “Every house in our tole now has a toilet.” “Why to have a common toilet if you have a separate kitchen and a separate house?”

    Only few months back the entire tole, a village sub-division, had only four toilets. Now there are 36 toilets, one for each household. In fact, Shalik Ram’s family completed building concrete toilets first and then constructed the long house replacing the old mud house.

    And the investment is paying back. Shalik Ram built the toilet last April and till now he has been lucky to evade once-a-month visit to the doctor’s. Falling sick was a normal thing for the two boys then and he had to pay NRs 200 at the least. Some visits even costed around NRs 1000. The savings will help him pay back the loan he took to build the toilet.

    Flood-resistant loos
    Another interesting aspect was the elevation at which the toilets stood. On being asked, Shalik Ram replied curtly, “To avoid the floods from entering the toilets.” Smiling, his wife added, “Didn’t you notice the plinth level of our house?”

    Neelkamal Tole is flood-prone and the area gets inundated during the monsoons. So, all the houses and toilets in the settlement have been built on a higher elevation.

    No more embarrassment
    Though a matter of mortification our conversation turned to the situation prior to installation of toilets. “To avoid being seen by people, we used to go to the nearby fields or orchards early in the morning,” said Shalik Ram. To this, his better half added, “For women, it was more difficult – we used to go to the place where no men came.”

    Days of embarrassment are over for Shalik Ram's wife and son. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

    Days of embarrassment are over for Shalik Ram’s wife and son. (c) Practical Action/Swarnima Shrestha

    However, it was worse when someone suffered from diarrhoea. There was no choice than to run to nearby fields. During the monsoon and floods, it was much more difficult to get a safe place to empty bowels.

    Then there is the danger of snakes in the dark. The terai is home to poisonous snakes like kraits, cobras and vipers. As per the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, 12,000 people are bitten by snakes annually and out of which 2,000 are from the terai.

    Now with toilets in every house, they don’t need to go outside to answer the call of nature. “Now, whenever I feel like visiting a lavatory, I rush to my house,” Shalik Ram chuckled. “This new habit doesn’t allow me to go elsewhere.”

    Involvement of all
    While we were talking, a man from neighbouring tole joined us and complained that people are not using toilets as planned. Before we could say anything, Shalik Ram said, “Fine them and they would start using toilets.” The fear of fine imposed by W-WASH-CC, the ward water, sanitation and hygiene coordination committee for the defaulters has helped control the open defecation practices.

    Janaki Ghimire, a social mobiliser involved in the WASH movement in Neelkamal Tole informed that NRs 7,000 has already been collected as fine. The hard work and perseverance of social workers like Janaki is another crucial factor furthering the open defecation free (ODF) movement.

    The “no sanitation card, no facilities” approach of the municipality has further helped this movement. Now, the residents need to show their sanitation card to get a citizenship card or a passport and even to register the birth of their children. The sanitation card has become a must-have possession and the only way to get it is to build a toilet.

    Bandwagon effect
    Being caught in the act is now more shameful according to the family. Earlier, everybody in the village used to go out in the open and it was like a daily chore for all. Since most of the people started building toilets, the peer pressure increased and thus started the bandwagon effect of building toilets.

    As Shalik Ram stood to bid goodbye, we noticed his crippled leg. Polio attacked him when he was a year-old and since then he has been facing difficulty to walk properly. For him, the toilet is not just another facility. It means more to him.

    Gulariya Municipality, together with Practical Action and Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO), declared the area ODF on 25 May 2015.

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  • #NepalQuake shook Nepal but not the Nepalis

    May 1st, 2015

    I still can’t imagine it was an earthquake. The futsal match between Practical Action and Handicap International was running at full throttle and 1-1 was the result. My three and half years old daughter was cheering for Practical Action together with my colleague Sachin’s daughter. Suddenly people started running away from the futsal ground. I thought a fight had ensued. But then I could hear sound of something collapsing. There was a huge roar. The spectators were running for safety. It was an earthquake. And it was big. Very big!

    In spite of the hullabaloo, I was aware of the two little girls I had to take care of. Both the innocent girls had no idea what was happening. I took hold of both and ducked for cover. They were terrified to the bones by the stampede. Sachin ran to us frantically from the futsal ground and helped me take both the girls to a safe place.

    All assembled were intimidated and trying to call their close relatives but to no avail. The situation was scary. The aftershocks were strong enough to send chills down my spine. My feelings were similar to that of my colleague Prabin’s account.

    Pillion-riding back to my place, I could see the devastation though in bits and pieces. The terrorised Kathmanduites were out on the streets. Many walls on the way had collapsed down and many houses had visible cracks.

    The following days were horrific – living in tents throughout the day and night with rumours of bigger earthquake to hit the city floating around causing more fear and panic.

    After putting up with hundreds of aftershocks and sleepless nights I finally joined office on 28 April. However, I had not well recovered to resume my daily routine. I would once in a while get call from my wife and daughter requesting to get home early.

    On my second day to office I made up my mind to visit the demolished sites. As I entered the New Road Gate, the once vibrant street bustling with crowd, was like a street of an abandoned city. Few people passing through the road section were hurrying towards their destinations in order to avoid the falling of buildings upon them.

    As I passed through the always crowded street, I rushed through. The buildings seemed tall demons ready to devour me. Reaching the Joshi Complex, my after-office hangout with my friends for stress-buster chats over cups of tea, I was dumbfounded by the silence of the place. None of the shops were open even after four days of the horrific tremor.

    When I moved to Basantapur, there was a barricade with “No Entry” sign. So I took a detour via Jhochhen, the Freak Street. As I reached the Basantapur Dabali, my weekend jaunt, I could not stop myself. There was a lump in my throat and I tried hard to stop the tears trickling down. The nine storey palace was nowhere to be seen. Sitting on the Dabali in its front, I would often gaze at the beauty and grandeur of the place. It was all gone within a matter of minutes.

    Returning via Dharhara, the pride of Kathmandu built by Nepal’s first Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa devastated in 1934 AD earthquake, I could just see a short stump.

     

    Dharhara, the pride of Kathmandu, has been reduced to a stump.

    Dharhara, the pride of Kathmandu, has been reduced to a stump.

    Along with durbar squares in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur – all World Heritage Sites, Dharhara, Kal Mochan and many significant monuments were reduced to mounds of earth. The 7.8 Richter scale earthquake that shook not only the country but also the confidence of Nepalis, has claimed lives of 6,250 and injured 14,357 as of 1 May according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Around eight million people have been affected with 143,673 houses damaged and another 160,786 destroyed. Gorkha, Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Dhading, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Kavrepalanchok, Dolakha, Ramechhap, and Sindhuli districts have been badly hit by the earthquake.

    Can an earthquake be so ruthless? I still can’t imagine it was an earthquake. It was an Armageddon. But our never dying spirit hasn’t subsided. We will soon bounce back.

    Journalist Ujjwal Acharya tweeted:

    For the relief work, the government has identified shelter, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), health and food as the major priorities. Practical Action has rushed to its work areas in Gorkha and Dhading, two of the most affected districts.

    Practical Action South Asia Regional Director Achyut Luitel tweeted:

    Please join hands with us to help the earthquake victims.

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  • Turning cow poo into electricity

    April 6th, 2015

    It was drizzling when we drove to the biogas electrification project site. Going through the maze of roads, it took us 45 minutes from Narayanghat, the main market in the Chitwan district, to reach there.

    Chitwan, in the southern plains in Nepal, is home not only to the magnificent royal Bengal tigers and one-horned rhinoceroses but also a happening trade hub. Regarded as the country’s poultry capital, with the establishment of Nepal’s largest milk industry, Chitwan is seeing a wave of innovation in agriculture sector.

    Adding to the list of innovations is the biogas electrification project being run at the Livestock Development Resource Centre of the Annapurna Dairy Producers’ Cooperative (ADPC). The project, supported by Practical Action, boasts of being the first in Nepal to generate electricity for commercial use from biogas.

    A small scale study on bio-electrification through agricultural and livestock waste was carried out by students of Kathmandu University earlier, producing electricity to light 9 LED lights, each of 5 W.

    When I reached the site, Bodh Raj Pathak, the vice-president of the cooperative, drenched in the rain, was waiting for me to show the centre.

    The first thing he did was to switch on the system. He then one by one switched on the bulbs and fans. For a technology loving person like me, it was a real pleasure – all were working as if they were running from regular electricity.

    The gas generated from the dung of 85 cows is enough to generate electricity that can run a generator of 5kW load continuously for 8-9 hours, according to Pathak. Few months ago the centre had more than 100 cows. Some of the cows were sold to the community people on demand.

    The cows at the Dairy produce a trailer of cow dung daily that goes into the digester for biogas generation. There are two inlets and two outlets.

    “Currently, only one inlet is being used and it works for 8-9 hours,” said Pathak. “If both the inlets operate, it will produce electricity for 16 hours.”

    The process is simple – the dung, urine and water are mixed into a concoction. The mixture is then fed through the inlet to the chamber. The gas generated is passed through a filter to get rid of the precipitates and then to the generator that produces electricity.

    Right now the Dairy is using the electricity for light bulbs, fans, water pump and a chaff cutter. The gas is also being used to cook food for six staff at the Dairy.

    The Dairy has plans to utilise the biogas for pasteurisation of milk. Right now it is saving Rs. 30,000 – 35,000 rupees per month in fuelwood. After the full utilisation, the Dairy will save around Rs 100,000 (USD 1000) per month.

    However, the slurry, a precious fertiliser has not been well managed. It was left to dry in the open. Pathak told me that they have plans to dry the slurry and package it as organic fertiliser.

    Looking at the outputs of the pilot project, the prospects are promising in spite of the dismal data of electricity contributing to the total energy consumption and use of biogas in Nepal.

    According to the Water Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) Energy Sector Report 2010, electricity contributes only 2% to the total energy consumption by fuel types in Nepal. As per Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, the government apex body for the development and promotion of renewable energy, there are more than 300,000 biogas plants in Nepal.

    In Nepal, cooking and lighting are the main purposes biogas has been mainly used for, amounting to 80% and 20% respectively. The successful biogas electrification in Chitwan has opened doors for using biogas to produce electricity and scaling up the technology at the cooperatives throughout Nepal.

    While 1.3 billion people are still living in darkness with no access to electricity and 2.7 billion still cook over open fires, replication of innovations like biogas electrification will help us move from a state of technology injustice, to find a way to remove the barriers that now prevent poor people from using the technologies they need for the most basic of services.

    With technical details from Ganesh R Sinkemana

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  • Comparing conservation ponds in Nepal and Peru

    December 24th, 2014

    We were at a height of 4,200m with no trees in the horizon, only patches of grass. At this height in Nepal, you will see lots of pine trees in the surrounding as the treeline in Khumbu, Himalayas in Nepal is at 4,200m but it is at 3,900m in Andes, Peru.

    Alpacas, Peru

    Alpacas grazing on chillihua grass

    The view of the Andes above the treeline is enchanting and the sight of alpacas grazing on chillihua grass on the mountain slopes is soul-stirring. However, apart from the amazing alpacas, the most interesting thing for me in the trip to the Alpacas Melgar project in Peru was a reservoir constructed by the project to harvest rainwater and collect water from natural sources.

    Water reservoir, Melgar

    A water reservoir at the Alpacas Melgar project site

    Comparing the 6m long and 4m wide reservoir having holding capacity of 36,000 litres of water with the conservation ponds in Nepal, I found small but significant improvements that can be applied to our ponds in Nepal.

    In Nepal, conservation ponds are not new. Most of the villages in the plains have ponds, mostly rain-fed. The ponds, big in size, are used for fish farming, irrigation, water for cattle, washing and bathing. In the mid-hills too, people had used the ponds, though small in size, to store water for dry period. However, due to introduction of piped water supply, the practice of digging conservation ponds was discontinued.

    With the help of government bodies and non-governmental organisations, the practice of having conservation ponds has been revived.
    The ponds, about 3m long, 2m wide and 1.5m deep, are dug out and the walls are lined with high density polyethylene sheet or silpaulin (multi-layered, cross laminated, UV stabilised) heavy duty plastic sheeting. They generally have holding capacity of 8,000-10,000 litres of water. The ponds are constructed in shady area to minimise losses from evaporation and the plastic lining prevents water seepage.

    Coming back to the reservoir at the Alpacas Melgar project site, it is located at a place higher than the pastureland. As the area is above the treeline, there is no chance of finding a place with shade to dig a pond. However, to save the plastic lining from being damaged by the sun’s rays, a layer of dry chillihua grass is stacked on the borders throughout the perimeter of the reservoir. A simple application but an innovative one!

    Water canal

    A canal bringing water to the reservoir. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

    Likewise, the canal bringing in water to the reservoir is connected to a filter – a square block with simple arrangement of inlet and outlets for water and effluent at different heights. The effluent outlet is at the lowest end and plugged in by a pipe that can be taken out to discharge the mud, dirt and other wastes gathered in the filter from the inlet. Modesto, one of the kamayoqs (locally trained farmers in the Peruvian Andes) trained by Practical Action, displayed the technique, lifting the pipe. There’s not much technical improvement but the intervention is impressive.

    Water filter

    A water filter connected to the reservoir. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

    The outlet of the reservoir is connected to a distribution point. It is a block of inlet and outlet pipes. The use of check valve and detachable pipes makes the whole arrangement worth replicating. The point, located at a lower height, has an inlet coming from the reservoir with a check valve which controls the flow of water downstream. As and when the detachable pipe is inserted in the point, the valve opens up and water starts flowing through the pipe connected to two sprinklers. The pipes and sprinklers are detachable. They are removed and stored in a safe place during the rainy season to avoid the wear and tear.

    Water distribution point

    Modesto displays the water distribution technique. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

    The rainy season starts from November and lasts till March every year. However, it hadn’t rained this year although it was already mid-December. So the pipes were still in place and the water level in the reservoir was depleting rapidly.

    In spite of no rains this year, we could clearly see the changes in the landscape brought by the reservoir and the irrigation scheme. The irrigated land is green. With the project’s support new varieties of grass like alfalfa and clover have been introduced. The baby alpacas like these soft varieties of grass. Because of the irrigation scheme, Modesto is planning to grow potatoes and quinoa in his land along with raising healthier alpacas.

    Irrigated land

    Modesto points to the green irrigated piece of land with new varieties of grass. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

    According to Project Manager Duverly, the project has supported to dig 61 reservoirs in the area. Each reservoir is owned by a family and they are responsible for managing the reservoir and changing the plastic lining every five years. Seeing the benefits of the reservoir, the mayor of the district is planning to support more families in other parts of the district to build and manage such improved ponds.

    The small but innovative improvements in the reservoir management at the Alpacas Melgar project are worth replicating. A large population in the mid-hills of Nepal will benefit if some of the improvements are adapted in the conservation ponds.

    The Alpacas Melgar project is being implemented by Practical Action in Nuñoa, Macari, Santa Rosa and Ayaviri districts in Melgar Province of Puno, Peru. Eighty kamayoqs and 800 highland families in the province are benefitting from the project on the efficient management of integrated activities related to raising alpacas. 

    For more information, read the brochure or visit the project website.

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  • What’s in a name?

    December 18th, 2014

    As we left the narrow alleys of Cusco, the natural delights of country life awaited us. The extremely beautiful countryside kept me glued to the car window throughout the journey.

    Being new to the place, for me, the most notable things on the way to Pomacanchi from Cusco were graffiti and lakes. The houses and walls that were painted with election symbols and slogans for the recently held regional and municipal elections pose stark contrast to the surrounding – a sort of visual pollution.

    However, the lovely lakes dotting the stunning landscape never let me look away. The area is famous for lakes and springs – Pomacanchi, Pampamarca, Acopia and Mosoc Llacta being the biggest and most important lakes in the area.

    A beautiful lake on the way

    A beautiful lake on the way

    Crossing Pomacanchi, the picturesque and biggest lake in the district, we arrived at the Pomacanchi District Municipality after two hours. Facing the yellow municipality building with arches is a wide square housing restaurants, parking space, flag poles, statues, benches and a small garden. We took quick sips of coffee and few bites of bread in a restaurant at the square. The local products were refreshing!

    As we walked along the corridors of the building, we were led to the Civil Registration Office. The office registers the birth and other important dates for Pomacanchi residents.

    Pomacanchi Municipality Building

    Pomacanchi Municipality Building

    Antolin, the office Chief welcomed us and showed around his office. Amidst a rack of old registers were two computers, a scanner, photocopier and a printer. Novice to the modern technology, he learned to use computers with the help of Willay Programme and started keeping the correct birth dates.

    According to Antolin, earlier it was quite difficult to register the exact dates. People used to relate the dates with some major events happening around the date and the registration had to be done manually – noting down the details in thick registers.

    When the residents came to collect the certificates, it used to take hours to find their respective certificates among the stack of old files. Adding to the woe, the spittle applied to the index finger while rummaging through the pages dabbed the certificates. Sometimes, the certificates used to get ruined in the process.

    To tackle this, the programme has developed a reliable system. Now, the data can be easily searched in the system. With the system’s help, Antolin finds the details of a beneficiary in his computer within minutes and prints the certificate instantly. He has also started scanning old certificates and recording them in the system.

    In Pomacanchi, around 200 births take place in a year. According to the National Census of Population and Dwellings 2007, the population of Pomacanchi was 8,340.

    As the terrain is difficult and people reside in remote areas, they walk even for two days on foot to get to the registration office for registering births. Earlier, they had to wait for hours to get their work done. Now, Antolin takes no more than five minutes to register a birth date. And the beneficiaries no longer need to wait for hours.

    Showing us the system, Antolin said, “It is easier and efficient with the system on place.”

    The system feeds to the national data. The programme has also developed manuals to operate the system. The municipality has a support system in place to deal with system breakdowns and errors occurring during the process.

    Along with Pomacanchi, six municipalities in Acomayo and two municipalities in Cajamarca use the system.

    Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration.

    Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration. (c) Practical Action/Mehrab Ul Goni

    So, what’s in a name? And why do people flock to Antolin’s office to get the name, birth date and other details registered?

    Antolin says birth registration is children’s prime right as it provides them with legal identity opening doors to other rights ranging from health care and education to participation in polls and receiving protection from state.

    As we left his office, he was feeling proud of demonstrating the usefulness of the system to visitors from other parts of the world.

    (The team visiting the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi, Peru included Amanda Ross from the UK, Mehrab Ul Goni from Bangladesh, Sara Eltigani Elsharif from Sudan, and Upendra Shrestha and Sanjib Chaudhary from Nepal.)

    The Willay programme in Peru began in 2007 and until 2010 focussed on promoting ICT for governance, implementing demonstration projects in San Pablo (Cajamarca) and Acomayo (Cusco), deploying telecommunications network, improving information management systems and strengthening capacities of public officials in rural areas. The programme, implemented by Practical Action, is in its third phase and aimed towards the sustainability of the system.

    The programme has been funded by Ministry of External Affairs and Cooperation –Government of Spain, Municipality of Madrid and European Commission.

    To know more, read the brochure or visit the programme’s website.

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  • The woes of inequality

    October 16th, 2014

    What comes to your mind when you think about inequality? To me, it’s living in a sea of woes. Not because you are unworthy, but due to external factors that persist in the society and surroundings.

    Touch someone and be prepared to get ostracised
    I hail from a small village in Eastern Nepal and whenever I get to my native place, I like savouring local delicacies. While I was gulping down the mixture of puffed rice and chick-pea curry, an elderly man, in his late fifties approached the shopkeeper with a glass in his hand. The shopkeeper, keeping a distance from the man, poured tea from a kettle into his glass. With other customers, he would go to them with the glasses of tea and serve them with respect.

    I know both the men quite well. The tea-seller is a Haluwai whose traditional occupation is making sweets. Another man is a Dom whose traditional occupation is making household items from bamboo and rearing pigs. While the former is free to mingle with anybody, the latter is not even allowed to touch anybody. He is not even allowed to touch a hand-pump from where other people fetch and drink water. People still avoid touching him. And if by chance he touches anybody, he gets severe scolding and one who is touched runs towards a water source. To sprinkle water over his body in order to get purified.

    This is inequality to the extreme.

    Rare toilets and ubiquitous mobile phones
    The next thing that baffles me is the non-presence of toilets. In the urban areas almost every household has a toilet but it is a rare item here and people think having a toilet is leading a lavish lifestyle.

    This, to me, is inequality that can be addressed. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued orders to construct 5.2 million toilets in 100 days which turns out to one toilet every second.

    While almost everybody here has a mobile set today, people are not willing to construct toilets in their backyards. Since they are able to afford buying mobile phones and bearing the expenses of recharging from time to time, they simply need cheaper toilets. A little bit of change in behaviour and technology support from government and non-government organisations.

    Electricity at night means no sleep at all
    Adding to the woes is the frequent electricity cut-downs. While rest of the country too faces the power-cuts, the problem here is extreme. It affects agriculture as well. The sea of wires across the fields to run electricity-powered pumps remains useless most of the times during the day. And while people sleep at night, the farmers are busy running their motorised pumps to irrigate their pieces of land.

    Coping with the inequalities
    In spite of living amongst inequalities, people here are cooperative and always smiling. The scenario of untouchability is changing. People now have started communicating properly with Doms and other so-called lower castes, thanks to the social change and awareness brought by different agencies. Practical Action has supported such communities in Nepal and Bangladesh as well.

    While toilets were wonder items in the village, people returning from the Gulf and other countries (where most go to work as menial labourers) have started building toilets. The variety of different technologies used by Practical Action, as appropriate to each community, will be helpful to improve sanitation and health.

    Treadle pump

    Treadle pump

    Practical Action offers simple solution to sleepless nights for the farmers. The introduction of treadle pumps has increased the income that farmers generate from their land, both by extending the traditional growing season and by expanding the types of crops that can be cultivated. Called dhiki pump, it can be operated by legs. No electricity required!

    People are happy that the situation is changing and I am proud that Practical Action is one of the change-makers.

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  • A stitch in time saves nine

    Maharajgunj, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    August 6th, 2014

    What happens when a fast flowing river, gushing downstream, is blocked mid-way during monsoon season?

    The aftermath is disastrous.

    A massive landslide on early Saturday morning at around 2.30 AM Nepal Standard Time at Jure village of Sindhupalchok district, 80 kilometres from capital city Kathmandu, wiped out the entire village. The landmass falling from a height of 500 metres formed a temporary dam, 45 metres high.

    The water flowing at a speed of 160 cubic metres per second (cumec) created a lake. Within 13 hours the newly formed lake extended about 3 km upstream holding a volume of an estimated seven million cubic metres of water.

    The photos from the landslide site are horrific.

    Significant damage

    Around 100 houses were swept away by the landslide. Thirty three dead bodies have been recovered from the site while 120 are still missing. A kilometre of the Araniko Highway, the only road from Kathmandu to China and a major Nepal-China trade route, has been damaged by the landslide. The route responsible for nearly 38 million Nepali rupees (about USD 400,000) worth of trade per day, seems, will not be in operation for a long time.

    The Bhotekoshi Hydropower Project generating 46 MW of electricity has been cut off from the central grid as its transmission lines have been snapped off. Likewise, the 2.6 MW Sanima hydropower station has completely submerged.

    Social media comes to the rescue

    While some people are still reluctant about using social media in developing countries like Nepal, Twitter came to the rescue. It was the social media that broke the news. The torrent of tweets from the landslide site from engineer Kapil Dhital (@bewitchkapil) made it possible to analyse the extent of disaster. His tweets, and retweets and modified tweets from his followers fed media the real story from the ground. The downstream communities were warned on time through local FM radios and cellphones as well.

    Preparedness downstream

    Nepalese security forces have worked day and night to handle the situation. They have been able to release some stored water through controlled explosions.

    Video of controlled blast by Nepal Army


    However, the risk of landslide dam outburst flood (LDOF) is still a major concern for the communities living in the vicinity and downstream. The landslide site is 260 km from the Koshi barrage and it will take the waters 17 hours to reach there.

    Fearing the flood in the Koshi River if the dam breaches, the district authorities in Sunsari, Saptari and Udayapur districts are on high alert, as per the national news agency RSS (Rashtriya Samachar Samiti). People, both in Nepal and bordering India, have fled their homes and camped at safer grounds.

    In 2008, Koshi, the largest river in Nepal, breached the embankment inundating villages in Nepal and India. Scores of people were killed in Nepal and India. Around 60,000 people from 10,530 families had to be evacuated in Nepal’s Sunsari district alone. Whereas in Bihar of India, the figures touched one million. Properties worth billions of rupees were washed away by the floods. Because of this, the Koshi has earned the sobriquet “Sorrow of Bihar”. The Indian authorities have already moved more than 49,000 to safer shelters this time.

    Practical Action in Koshi Basin

    As members of Global Flood Resilience Alliance facilitated by Zurich (Zurich Insurance Group), Practical Action and Nepal Red Cross have supported Nepalese government’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) and concerned District Disaster Management Committees to install electronic display boards in District Emergency Operation Centres (DEOC) in Rajbiraj, Gaighat and Inaruwa municipalities of Saptari, Udayapur and Sunsari districts to help officials keep track of the water level in Koshi River.

    Display board showing water level in Koshi River at Chatara

    Display board showing water level in Koshi River at Chatara

    Along with the real time flood level display boards, sirens have been annexed to each display that sound off automatically as the water level crosses the warning level at Chatara, 45 km north of Koshi barrage. The DEOC offices will share the water level record with concerned offices and Village Development Committees (VDC) located near the Koshi River. It will keep the villagers informed about any incoming danger.

    Timely information about the water level in the rivers and impending floods can save hundreds of lives and billions of rupees. The early warning system installed at Karnali, Babai, Rapti and Narayani rivers in the western region of Nepal with Practical Action’s support have proved to be a boon to the locals.

    The communities are able to monitor the level of rising water from the river gauges. As the level reaches the alarming point, the community mobilisation team warns the community of the danger ahead. They have also been trained to evacuate the families with the help of life jackets, torches and boats.

    Nature is the greatest leveler and we have no control over the natural disasters. However, a single tweet breaking the news and a single siren sounding off on time can save millions.

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  • Of tweets, tuin, improvisation and replication

    Maharajgunj Rd, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    March 14th, 2014

    Last month, this tweet landed up in my timeline.

     

    Hanging to a rope, that too above a snarling river, is not only a tough task but can be highly risky sometimes. However, for mountainous countries like Nepal and Bhutan, ropeways are a boon in disguise.

    Recently while crossing the Bheri River (in mid-western Nepal) hanging on a primitive looking tuin, an aerial ropeway, I heard a fellow passenger praising an improved version.

    As we reached the other side of the river, our discussion continued and few elder farmers joined in. One of the farmers in the group had seen a gravity goods ropeway (GGR) installed by Practical Action.

    He was describing the benefits – “three hours’ walk reduced to two minutes’ drop”, “fresh products delivered to the road-head within minutes”, “no threat of falling in the river” and “like travelling in a cable-car”.

    An improved tuin installed by Practical Action – Safer rides to school.

    An improved tuin installed by Practical Action – Safer rides to school.

    Improved tuin and gravity goods ropeways are synonymous with Practical Action in Nepal. The Government of Nepal has started replicating the technology with Department of Local Infrastructure Development and Agriculture Road (DoLIDAR) carrying out the feasibility study of GGR at other probable sites of Nepal.

    The replication of the improved technology has now crossed the borders of Nepal. Last February, the first GGR of Bhutan was installed by Tarayana Foundation with technical assistance from Practical Action at Malbasey of Samtse Dzongkha.

    The GGR at Samtse

    The GGR at Samtse

     

    Practical Action team at the inauguration of the GGR

    Practical Action team at the inauguration of the GGR

    The GGR at Samtse has reduced the travel time of two hours’ walk to 1.5 minutes’ drop. Now the agriculture produce like cardamom, ginger, vegetables and other commodities can be easily transported to the bottom station at Malbasey from the top station Changju.

    The installing team believes that the technology that has been quite successful in Nepal would highly benefit the 160 households in the vicinity.

    The technology is cost effective, time saving, energy efficient, environment friendly and reduces the distance. And above all, it wards off the dangers of travelling, hanging to a rope, like in the tweet.

    As you read this blog post and tweet it to your followers, it competes with other 9,099 tweets to get noticed.

    So, don’t forget to add the hashtags #GravityGoodsRopeway, #AerialRopeways to your tweet. It simply makes it more traceable.

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