We all know the story of how Cinderella’s fairy godmother changed a pumpkin into a golden carriage to take Cinders to the Ball – Practical Action is turning this humble green vegetable into food, livelihoods and secure futures for thousands of families in Bangladesh.
Practical Action’s Bangladesh team is changing the lives of some of the poorest people living on the shifting margins of Bangladesh’s great rivers, where the increasingly severe and regular floods are displacing thousands of extremely poor people each year.
After the rainy seasons, large sand islands, deposited by the floods, appear in the main rivers of North West Bangladesh. These islands although common property had never previously been used for productive purposes until Practical Action experimented with planting pumpkins. A small hole is dug, the bottom scattered with a small amount of compost and urea, the pumpkin seed planted, and (almost!) as quick as a wave of a wand, the pumpkin plants grow, thrive are producing wonderfully large, green pumpkins.
Not only are the pumpkins nutritional for families who previously had neither the money or permanent land on which to grow food, but they can be stored for over a year, providing food in leaner times, and their longevity and robustness makes them ideal for transporting to distant markets.
Since the project started in 2005, over 10,000 people, mainly women, have produced 55,000 MT of pumpkins, worth over £5m and more and more communities are taking up the technology. The project has also been recognised for its innovation and impact, having recently been shortlisted to the last three for the prestigious St Andrews Prize for the Environment.
Move over fairy godmother!No Comments » | Add your comment
On a recent trip to Nepal I was introduced to Practical Action’s work on flood preparedness and in particular the development of Early Warning Systems to provide poor communities with advance warning of devastating floods. Poor people living in the Terai plains in Nepal are all too familiar with the danger posed by flash floods, which according to UNDP have on average killed 178 people, affected a further 114,000 and caused over US$ 34.5 million worth of damage each year since 1980.
Recognising this threat, Practical Action started in 2002 by engaging vulnerable local communities in flood prevention planning and it was quickly realised that the major problem was a lack of prior warning. Hence regardless of when the flood struck the losses were considerable, particularly for the poor and marginalised families that lived in the most vulnerable locations. Therefore Practical Action and the community constructed the first watch tower in Bhandara village, Chitwan district in 2002 and provided a basic siren that they could use to provide advance warning. The benefits this system provided were immediately realised as only a few moments’ advance warning enabled families to move to higher ground, protect their most vulnerable assets and importantly collect their official papers, documents that were critical to access relief services and to return to their farms once the floods had abated.
However, the limitations of the system were quickly realised. It only provided advance warning of a few minutes governed by how far the observer could see and the system was dependent on the observers remaining vigilant and was only effective during the monsoon when flash floods were most likely. Another limitation was the noise generated during a downpour when rain drops hitting a corrugated roof quickly overwhelmed the ability of the siren to be heard, so Practical Action subsequently modified the system with higher powered and linked sirens so that they could be heard by more people simultaneously.
Based on the lessons learned and the feedback from the local community it was realised that this technology was effective and could easily be taken to new areas. So Practical Action approached the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology of the Government of Nepal, with a proposal to link their river monitoring stations using mobile communications to communities downstream to extend advance warning from a few minutes to at least a couple of hours. Following the agreement of the department, Practical Action worked with local communications specialists Real Time Solutions Pvt. Ltd to link this information to SMS services and also connecting the data to the internet, allowing real time flood warning information to be disseminated to many different users. This system is now operational in 5 river systems in Nepal, the West Rapti, Narayani, East Rapti, Babai and Karnali Rivers, providing between 1.5 to 5 hours advance warning depending on the river system. This has reduced the flood vulnerability of poor communities living along these rivers and has enabled local authorities to deliver more responsive flood relief.
The system I viewed in the Karnali River basin has water levels displayed in real time at the district police station with a warning alarm linked to moderate, high and dangerous levels. The district police station in the administration centre was chosen as this is one of the few local offices that is manned 24 hours each day, and the police have good communications to the necessary agencies should a devastating flood strike, thus shortening the time needed for mobilisation and avoiding the need for the plea for help to come from the affected communities. One community member I met, mentioned that previously his family had spent two days living on their roof before an army helicopter was spotted heralding the arrival of assistance to their community.
Practical Action plans to roll out the system to other locations and is advocating for the system to be adopted nationwide. A first step was the demonstration of how effective and practical this technology can be to the United Nation’s hosted Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium a key platform driving Disaster Risk Reduction in the country. We are also exploring with key stakeholders how our developing expertise can be applied across borders to reach larger populations and to tackle more problematic early warning challenges such as Glacial Lake Outburst Floods and Landslides, so watch this space!No Comments » | Add your comment
“Women farmers produce more than half of all food worldwide and currently account for 43 percent of the global agricultural labour force.” – UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
An earlier blog highlighted the potential of smallholder producers as part of the solution to the food crisis facing the planet. A crisis that is exacerbated by inaction to reach a global deal to tackle climate change and dwindling support going to agriculture in developing countries, in spite of some ambitious but as yet unmet pledges. The IF campaign highlights this conundrum, ”that we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime, we only need the will.” (John F. Kennedy, 1963)
Changes in global climate are leading to less predictable weather patterns with increasing failure of planting season rains blamed for recurrent famines in impoverished rural areas. Around the world over 500 million people live in vulnerable rural communities, with smallholder farmers, and pastoralists supplying food to almost 2 billion of the poorest people on the planet. Supporting these small-scale producers to reach their full potential is one of the simplest strategies that could transform global food systems overnight.
Such a transformation of the role of smallholders in the global agricultural system would also deliver significant benefits to rural women; a critical area where gains are needed most. Smallholder agriculture is critically dependent on the input of women, especially for largely unrecognised labour, starkly contrasted with higher profile male dominated activities. The recent FAO study acknowledged that women comprise at least 50% of the labour force in most of Africa and Asia, with their agricultural duties undertaken alongside existing household and child care duties. By closing the gender gap in smallholder farming, crop productivity will increase, local food and nutritional security will be improved and the increase in the income of women will deliver far reaching social benefits. Women interviewed as part of Oxfam’s Researching Women’s Collective Action project regularly responded that they gain a sense of freedom from their own income, allowing them to prioritise family nutrition and even send their children to school.
To support women producers will require considerable investment, but this must be quality investment reaching the most needy. Collective approaches offer opportunities to reach scale and can empower women to participate as part of an initiative in a way that defuses social tensions with husbands and fathers, who might see their roles threatened. The Oxfam “women’s collective action” research programme, has identified some of the key challenges to women’s engagement including; access to formal groups, being overlooked by extension services and the need to provide the support women require and in a way that works for women.
By mobilising the latent potential of women smallholder farmers to transform global agriculture, global food security could be improved overnight. For example by providing equal access to existing resources and opportunities – could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million people. Such a transformation could go a long way to feeding the estimated 325 million hungry people on the planet and at the same time enable millions of smallholder producers to feed their families and escape poverty.
This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/No Comments » | Add your comment
Sometimes going back can spoil a good memory.
On my first visit to Bangladesh, to Gaibandha in the north, I was taken by boat across a broad, slow moving river to islands of homes created by Practical Action and riverside communities, whose homes, livestock and sometimes lives, were being lost on a regular basis, to increasingly severe flooding.
The project was called, ‘Disappearing Lands’, and had been funded by the Big Lottery Fund. The team worked with the communities to identify the poorest families who were most vulnerable to the floods and created a safe island home for them by building a raised platform of earth, on which were clustered one room homes, with space for a small homestead garden, together with emergency shelters for their livestock for when the floods came. The pleasure and pride these families took in their new homes was evident by their eagerness to show me inside. There was room to store pots, pans, clothes and blankets and a space for the parents to sleep on one side of the room, the children on the other.
Even in the last village I visited, completed only a few weeks before, small homestead gardens had been demarcated and the first shoots of spinach were unfolding. Seeing such obvious pleasure in their new, safe homes, was moving and was a good memory to leave with.
That was four years ago. I’m back again in Bangladesh with Karin Reiter, Group Corporate Responsibility Manager for the Z Zurich Foundation. The Foundation has supported Practical Action’s work with communities in the district of Sirajgonj, also vulnerable to flooding , where extremely poor families have so little that even a small life shock, such as illness, is enough to destroy their ability to survive. So flooding is truly devastating. We’re here to see how the project, V2R (Vulnerability to Resilience) is progressing and what lessons can be learned for the future.
Using the principles and lessons learned from Gaibandha, the V2R project is taking an holistic approach. As well as ensuring people’s homes and livestock are safe from rising water, people now have choices in the way that they can support themselves, so that they are no longer reliant on a single livelihood option, which could easily destroyed by one flood. They are also involved in preparing plans to respond to flooding so that people know what to do in times of emergencies, such as which evacuation route to take, where the shelter areas are, and how to ensure the safety of their livestock. And when the rising waters isolate them, they have the means, in an emergency, to transport a seriously ill person to a hospital using an ambulance boat.
We visited a cluster village, now home to 25 extreme poor families. We were shown round neat rooms, with outside cooking areas, and access to clean water with tube wells. They also have thriving businesses such weaving, crocheting and tailoring, as well as raising chicken and ducks, and the newly introduced rabbits – a sure-fire high production product!
What struck me most forcibly is that it’s the women who are the running these businesses and their confidence and determination is inspiring. With the money they’re making, they are paying for their children’s education, investing in their businesses and putting money by for emergencies.
There are still issues to be solved – how to provide affordable and sustainable energy, for example, to the communities (ensuring technology justice) – but the partnership between the Z Zurich Foundation and Practical Action is changing lives for the better for many children, women and men living beside the river in Sirajgong district, and the good memory of Bangladesh, and the impact of Practical Action’s work, remains very firmly intact!No Comments » | Add your comment
“ …..unless action was taken to combat global warming, the next generation would be “roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”
Not a pleasant prospect – and this prediction comes, not from an environmentalist but from the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, at the meeting of world financial leaders at the swish Swiss ski resort, Davos.
I have a very low level of understanding of economics – despite the best efforts of my economics student daughter to explain the basics. But even I can grasp the essential point that if we carry on emitting carbon at the rate we are we will destroy the very basis on which our economic wellbeing depends – the earth itself and people, lots of people will suffer.
The global downturn has had the effect of reducing carbon emissions for many nations simply because industry is not making as much, which seems like a golden opportunity to reform our energy supply.
1.3 billion people in the world lack access to any form of modern energy and 2.7 billion still cook over open fires using biomass. While in the developed world energy companies invest in environmentally damaging ‘fracking’. Reducing our carbon emissions and redirecting investment to renewable energy for people with no energy would stimulate growth in the developing world, pulling millions out of poverty without destroying the planet - surely a win-win situation.
It doesn’t sound so hard, does it?
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“The threat of climate change is real and we’re seeing its effects now.” If Practical Action had a pound every time a news story said that, we’d be able to able to help a lot more people who are hit hardest by the devastating impact of climate change.
So what’s new?
The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says one of his top hopes for 2013 is to reach a new agreement on climate change.
He said this in an interview before heading to the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, saying he plans to take the opportunity of being with 2,500 government, business and civil society leaders to exchange frank views on the issue.
“Climate change is fast happening – much, much faster than one would have expected,” he said. “Climate and ecosystems are under growing strain.”
A UNEP assessment says the world is on course for 4°C warming by the end of the century if the global community fails to act. And a recent report commissioned by the World Bank says this will trigger a cascade of cataclysmic changes that include extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people.
But will this stimulate action? Despite previous compelling scientific evidence, there has been little action on climate change.
What will it take for people to open up their eyes to the reality of climate change?
The latest situation
2012 was one of the 10th warmest years on record and the 36th consecutive year since 1976 that the yearly global temperature was above the 1960-1990 average, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Climate change has shrunk Andean glaciers between 30 and 50% since the 1970s and could melt many of them away altogether in coming years, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Cryosphere.
Australian meteorologists had to add a new colour to its weather maps to denote an off-the-charts high temperature of 54 degrees Celsius. This was after a climate change enduced record-breaking heat wave hit the country and set off hundreds of bush fires.
Kate Mackenzie from the Financial Times wrote an article entitled ‘Australia wrestles with climate change’ which included the following quote:
“We were sitting there looking at the fires and Dad turned to me and said: ‘There might be something in this climate change thing that everyone’s talking about.’ It doesn’t get to 42 degrees in Hobart very often.”
Does it take first-hand experience for people to act?
Practical Action experiences the impact it has on some of the world’s poorest people every day. And in 2013 we expect to see more poor people affected by climate change.
We believe that as the climate changes, poverty and hunger is likely to increase. Many people in developing countries rely on agriculture for their livelihood, and increasingly erratic weather patterns mean that crops will fail.
Progress on tackling preventable diseases will be severely threatened by climate change as people become more vulnerable due to the spread of disease.
Access to clean water will also be threatened as our climate changes. The lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is a major cause of ill health and life threatening disease in developing countries.
Yet we see that for many people – businesses, governments and the general public, although it is a concern, it’s not high on their agenda.
Practical Action believes it should be, because climate change will also affect our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. Take a look at this tube map – is shows how a lot of London will be under water by the end of the century.
We can all make a difference by taking personal responsibility to cut our emissions.
Here are some top tips on how you can help to tackle climate change:
- Work out your carbon footprint http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ http://carboncalculator.direct.gov.uk/index.html
- Reduce it by 10% in a year http://www.1010global.org/
- Offset your remaining carbon emissions http://www.carbonfund.org/ http://www.climatecare.org
- Raise the issue of climate change and poverty reduction with your councillor/MP/MEP
- Support Stop Climate Chaos http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/ and Climate Week from 4-10 March http://www.climateweek.com/
- Support Practical Action’s #adaptnow campaign to help millions of people facing the effects of climate change in Bangladesh
But according to this research these lists don’t go down well with people because they want to leave all the lights on because it made the house feel welcoming. People want to fill the kettle to the top in case someone else wanted a cup of tea. People want to heat the whole house and keep the fridge well-stocked in case her visitors drop in.
So what can make a difference to how we feel and talk about climate change? Apparently, the existence of a ‘safe space’ where feelings can be explored, dilemmas examined and people’s creativity engaged.
Feel free to use this as a safe space and use the comments to tell us your feelings. We’d be really interested to know.4 Comments » | Add your comment
Hobbits, hyacinths and happiness
Who would’ve thought that hyacinths and happiness would go together so well? But they do in flood prone Bangladesh. Practical Action works with some of the poorest people, forced by their poverty to live on land that shifts with the annual floods, so nowhere is ever really home, and making a garden is an act of faith. With water comes water hyacinth in abundance, a weed which Practical Action helps communities turn into floating gardens – an example of a really simple technology that works wonderfully well. The hyacinth leaves, supported by bamboo poles, are woven into a bed, on which is laid soil, into which seeds for lettuces, okra, sweet onions, pumpkins, etc., are planted. The plants’ roots reach down through the hyacinth bed to the flood waters, and nature does the rest. What could be simpler? It doesn’t have to be just hyacinth leaves; any material can be used to create a floating garden in this way, enabling food to still be grown when floods make normal planting impossible, bringing happiness to communities who previously struggled to meet their families’ food needs.
This is just one example of a project which Trusts and Foundations are helping Practical Action implement….and we have many more for which we need support. If you’re a Trustee of a Trust or Foundation and would like to know more, contact me on Liz.Frost@practicalaction.org.uk.
And the hobbits? They don’t have anything to do with floating gardens I’m afraid, but being keen gardeners themselves and enjoying at least six meals a day, I think they would really approve of such a simple but productive technology.No Comments » | Add your comment
Could better market systems help people rebuild their lives after the disaster of river erosion?
Jashim, Mahbub and I drove to Jamalpur in northern Bangladesh this morning. It was a fine cool morning with sunlight dappling the tree-shaded road – and plenty of activity to admire in surrounding fields, fish-ponds and homesteads. After crossing the mighty Jamuna river near Tangail, we took a relatively minor route snaking along tree-lined embankments between paddies rich with fields of winter rice and freshly planted vegetables. The road was busy with bicycles, rickshaws and small lorries laden with jute, but it was a relief to have few of the heavy trucks and careering buses that terrorise the main road to Dhaka.
An hour after crossing the huge river, we entered Sorishabari near a village called Amtola. Suddenly I was surprised to find the road almost walled-in by sheets of corrugated iron assembled on wooden frames. Walls inset with shuttered windows, and bricks stood piled at the edge of the tarmac. I realised I was looking at dozens of flat-packed houses, stacked more or less neatly at the side of the road, like goods in some unlikely, out-sized IKEA warehouse.
Walking between homes a few yards from the road, we stumbled out of the trees onto a desolate scene. Fertile fields ended abruptly at a plummeting edge: the freshly eroded bank of the river. All around, the sad remnants of homes – foundations torn, walls razed, a lonely tube-well, the pathetic remains of a kitchen hearth. A neighbour explained that the families had desperately demolished their homes to save the materials from the encroaching river. “How far has the river bank moved this year?” Jashim asked. “Two kilometres!” the man replied. “It obliterated four villages.”
Later I learned that during an unprecedented third flood event this summer, the main flow of the Jamuna river unexpectedly changed course at this point. It rapidly ate into land that must have felt safe-as-houses to its residents only weeks earlier.
We moved along the bank a small distance, and met a family whose home, but little of their land, had just about survived the summer erosion. An old man, Razib, and his two sons greeted us warmly – optimistic perhaps that this visiting foreigner was an omen of assistance. The women kept a discrete distance. A young deshi cow and her calf were tethered to a wicker manger full of rice straw, and a couple of fat chickens scavenged as close as they dared to a modest harvest of rice drying in the sun. The bank here was crumbling and vertiginous. I could imagine it too, collapsing and sliding in moments into the muddy abyss twenty feet below. How do they sleep at night?
“What are you going to do?” we asked. The old man pointed through the midday haze – over the abyss at his feet and half a mile across the water – to a vast island of sand and silt emerging mid-river. “We will move there, and start again – on the chars.”
Chars is the Bangla word for the sand-banks, mud-flats and islands that form and re-form in the great rivers of Bangladesh: the Jamuna, Padma, Teesta etc. They accumulate during the summer from eroded sediment washed downstream by monsoon rains, and emerge as the flood-water recedes – sometimes forming islands that endure for ten or twenty years before the meandering river consumes them once more. In recent decades, as population pressures on the mainland have grown, chars land in northern Bangladesh has become refuge and home to more than two million people – mainly victims of river bank erosion. They usually arrive with barely any assets.
Rebuilding a farming livelihood on the chars is desperately hard. Having lost any land they held title to, migrating families are frequently at the mercy of local mastaan (or muscle-men) linked to ‘influential’ land-owners and political chiefs, who control the new chars land. Land must be leased (or share-cropped) from often ruthless ‘land-owners’. Most terrain is liable to flooding during the summer months, but due to low water-retention of the sandy soils, also prone to drought for half the year. Men often have to migrate seasonally to cities and richer agricultural areas for work, leaving women-headed families vulnerable to abuse. Meanwhile, the displacement that drove most households on to the chars often disrupts the social networks that women in poorer households rely upon for mutual support.
On young chars, especially, there is usually no infrastructure: no roads, no schools, no medical facilities, no irrigation, no electricity nor other basic services. Transport of goods to and from markets is expensive and slow. In the summer, when waters are high, boats ply between the chars and ghats (landing stages) on the mainland. The ghats too are controlled by mastaan, who levy taxes of their own devising on the farmers and traders. When the river recedes, transport options are usually worse – with char villages often stranded far from the water’s edge across baking stretches of trackless, sandy soil. As a result, despite large (seasonal) expanses of land, markets for agricultural inputs and services are feeble, the economic output of chars land is low and the poverty of most households is intense.
My companions on the journey today, Jashim and Mahbub, are project officers for a recently started poverty-reduction programme called M4C. Making Markets Work on the Chars – a five year joint-initiative between Practical Action Bangladesh, Practical Action Consulting and Swisscontact, that is paid for by the Swiss government (SDC). We were on our way to Jamalpur to help run a workshop that brought together char farmers (like Razib), input suppliers, traders and agricultural service providers to explore how these diverse ‘market actors’ might work out practical solutions to some of these challenges. The workshop used a process called Participatory Market Mapping: creating a space for people, who do not normally talk on equal terms, to understand each other, discuss how different crop sectors (maize, chilli, jute etc) work, learn what each others’ needs and problems are, and begin to build trust and explore different ways of doing business together to make these ‘market systems’ work better – particularly for poorer farmers.
Unlike many donor-funded projects, M4C will not be handing out money or goods to poor households. It will instead be supporting and relying on the char farmers’ capabilities to work out mutually-beneficial solutions to their problems: to work out better deals with each other, and involve the private sector in innovative ways. Helping farmers work out how to coordinate and bulk up their production is one clear opportunity – since this quickly reduces transport costs for input suppliers and traders, and gives them a good reason to enlarge their business activities and provide better services on new chars. This is a key step in enabling chars households better access to income and opportunities spilling over from expanding markets in the thriving towns and cities of the ‘mainland’.
It take time for people to build trust and devise new ways of working together effectively. M4C’s approach is not instant palliative relief, but a long-term strategy for transforming access to services and income opportunities on the chars. We believe that initiatives that stem from farmers’ and other market actors’ own ideas, and that align naturally with their interests, are much more likely to endure, and spread spontaneously to other locations. Entrepreneurial traders, input-suppliers and service providers will copy business ideas that work, taking good ideas to new chars, and extending the impact of our work far beyond what we could ever achieve directly. With this vision, M4C is geared to achieving changes that are intrinsically long-lasting and reach significant numbers of poor households.1 Comment » | Add your comment
“One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that ‘the problem of production’ has been solved.” E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, Economics as if people mattered.
The global food system is close to breaking point: growing populations and dramatic changes in dietary habits are fuelling increasing demand. Whilst increasing severity of natural disasters and escalating competition for water resources are further complicating the situation. The food system’s vulnerability is characterised by soaring food prices and more frequent food crises.
So, the question facing us today is how can increasing demand be met when conventional yields are flatlining? Is the solution to be found in the research laboratory, or is there a cheaper, sustainable and already tested solution staring us in the face?
Today, over 500 million smallholder farmers, fishers and agro-foresters supply food, fuel and fibre to almost 2 billion people living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world.
A recent visit to the people living in Wokin Kebele in Amhara region of Ethiopia highlighted the difficulties that these people face in accessing support. The government extension office was over one hour drive away on an unmade road and was staffed by a handful of government officials who have significant demands placed upon them. As a consequence the villagers that I met were self-reliant. They used basic technology and largely renewable inputs. If these smallholder farmers were to receive one tenth of the support available to farmers in developed countries, their production gains would be considerable.
The potential for production gains with more investment is show in the entrepreneurial way that these farmers have innovated using their own resources. I visited one farmer who had developed a new plough to cope with increased water logging in low lying fields and met a second who had started to plant small areas of Teff (Eragrostis tef), a traditional Ethiopian staple, as warming winter temperatures allowed cultivation of the crop in an area that was previously unsuitable.
However, to encourage further local innovation as a vanguard to smallholder-led growth, a major transformation of the global agricultural system is required. This would reward innovation and optimise production by making the most of each unit of existing agricultural land.
The first step of such a transformation would be a change in the way in which small scale production is viewed, recognising the benefits of the diversity, traditional skills and potential for crop improvements that smallholder systems present.
The second step would recognise the potential for human agency and requires a change in the future choice for smallholder farmers. Smallholder producers should be offered appropriate rewards that recognise their role as custodians of the planet. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past and driving smallholders off their land through the gradual conversion of small-scale into large-scale industrial systems, a new and alternative agricultural future for smallholder farmers should be promoted. A future that meets their livelihood aspirations while delivering a global food system that doesn’t cost the Earth.
What I saw in Ethiopia reconfirmed my belief that by improving the capacity of the poorest performing producers, the largest gains in terms of global food production can be made. Importantly these gains would be delivered where they are needed most.
This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/No Comments » | Add your comment
If you were hoping for an environmental twist on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, I would move on now. But if you’re interested in how communities living in the cloud forests of Peru and Bolivia are beginning to experience the fifty shades of green forest that their ancestors once enjoyed, then read on.
For many years, settlers have lived in areas of the forests also inhabited by the Awajun, the indigenous communities. Renting land from the Awajun, the settlers’ preferred method of farming was to clear away the forest and plant seasonal crops to feed their families until the quality of the soil was so depleted that it was no longer productive. The families then had to move on. This was clearly not sustainable and led to conflict with the Awajun, whose land no longer had any value.
Working with the Awajun and settlers, Practical Action researched how the forests used to look, using local knowledge to identify the diversity of plants and trees (hence the fifty shades of green) that once grew naturally in the area. Using this knowledge, we worked with the communities to find ways of recreating the cloud forests while still providing them with a realistic living. An agro-forestry system was devised, which ensures that areas of indigenous forest are conserved for future generations, while at the same time communities are able diversify their crops, for eating and selling. I love the diagram below, illustrating simply how by working together, the Awajun and the settlers really can bring ‘fifty shades of green’ back into their lives now, and for future generations. It’s also a partnership beyond the cloud forest communities – we have been able to achieve this because of the partnership with three great Foundations: Innocent foundation, Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation.
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