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  • Turning cow poo into electricity

    Sanjib Chaudhary

    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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  • Solar Home System

    S M Alauddin

    February 6th, 2015

    A small technology that brought light to Hasina Begum 

    Ms. Hasina Begum, aged 30, is from Kalikapur village of Atulia Union Council (UP) under Shyamnagar Upazila of the South-western coastal Satkhira district.  This is an area prone to climate change and climatic extreme events such as increased salinity, sea level rise and cyclones. She is a widow and very poor, with no one earning in her family. She lost her husband two years back and has two children- one girl studying in class VI and one son studying in class III in local school.

    Hasina BegumBecause of her poverty, she was selected for the support of Solar Home System (SHS) at her house by the climate change adaptation project of Practical Action Bangladesh with support from Asian Development Bank, along with 19 others in four local villages.

    Kalikapur is known as ‘poultry village’, and the use of SHS is common. In the last two years (mid-2010 to 2012), there has been a tremendous increase of coverage of SHS in the village with support from different NGOs, which, can be considered as Technology Justice, since SHS is becoming popular in the off-grid area, where there is no grid electricity. However, the people of the grid area have been accessing electricity services with high government subsidy. So, SHS, comparatively, with its high cost for the extreme poor is obviously not right from a Technology Justice point of view.

    After the problem of ‘bird flu’ in the last year, poultry raising significantly decreased in the area. The only entrepreneur of the village gives work of karchupi (hand knitting on dresses- salwar, kamij and orna, mainly) to the village women. Hasina also receives some work but not sufficient. However, it helps her in earning to maintain her family to certain extent.

    Hasina received a solar home system in April 2012. The system included one 12 volt battery, one solar panel, two bulbs and a control meter along with wire, switch board and other relevant equipment. Her children’s interest in studying has greatley increased, since the SHS provides more light and is more convenient than traditional kerosene kupi. They now study even after dinner. Hasina herself also has been able to increase her work capacity by carrying on working up to midnight, when there remains pressure of work that she could not perform in the day time because of household work. Earlier, she could work only in the day time.

    So, the SHS has created opportunity of work for longer hours, specially, at night in solar light and scope of earning higher income to maintain her livelihood. Hasina receives wages for karchupi work on each set of dress amounting Tk.200-400. The wage varies based on the amount of work on the dress. SHS has increased her work speed and almost doubled her working hours. She informed us that she can perform her work in six days now, which would have required 12 days earlier prior to the installation of SHS. She is happy with the SHS. Beside longer working scope and income earning aspects, the SHS has increased her security also, since the solar lights lighten the entire room and around and encourage her children to study as well. Earlier, she would feel insecure in the dark of the night. She is a pretty woman and lives alone with her two young children. Having a SHS at home is considered to be the matter of social status as well, in the rural context.

    The SHS has brought multiple benefits to Hasina and her family – she has the opportunity to work for longer, she can earn a higher income, her children can study and her security and social status have improved.

     

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  • Mobile Data Collection System in Low Smoke Stoves Project

    Sara Eltigani Elsharif

    February 5th, 2015

     Using Mogli MRV+

    Over the years our Low Smoke Project in North Darfur has proven successes as well as meeting beneficiaries’ expectations. This project illustrates the fruitful partnership between Practical Action, Women Development Association Network (WDAN), and Carbon Clear Company to facilitate access to LPG for  poor households .We are using a revolving fund system to encourage using a clean energy source and reduce the consumption of fuel wood in urban Al-Fashir. This partnership has achieved great outcomes worth mentioning whenever the opportunity arises.

    22862

    • 7000,+ stoves in use in El-Fashir
    • First carbon credit project in Sudan
    • First Gold Standard project to use LPG
    • Improved access to modern energy
    • Reduced indoor air pollution
    • Strengthened local delivery infrastructure
    • Strengthened communities
    • Reduced regional deforestation of approx 80 kg wood/ 30 kg charcoal per household each month
    • Cuts in carbon emissions of approx 4t/CO2e per stove-yr

    A key factor of success is good planning to monitor project activities and proper distribution of roles and responsibilities among partners. The following flow chart summarizes monitoring activities:

    Low smoke stoves (2)

    As seen above local networks are responsible for completing surveys for example (Kitchen Survey Questionnaire about 4\A4 papers for 40 households every 3 months – Usage Survey Questionnaire 1\A4 paper – Leakage Assessment Questionnaire 2\A4 papers for 100 households). Practical Action staff in Al-Fashir collect all the questionnaires, translating them from Arabic to English, scanning all hard copies, and using SPSS for analysis to prepare first draft report. Then the draft report is shared with Practical Action head office in Khartoum for comments. Finally, after Carbon Clear in UK performs its role as mentioned in flow chart, the report will be sent to the Gold Standard Foundation who will issue carbon credits.

    This monitoring mechanism is effective in a small project but it’s time consuming.  Our project now seems to be expanding to rural areas in North Darfur. That’s why it’s time for a technological platform through which monitoring activities can be done faster.

    Mobile Data Collection solution (MDC) works effectively in this case. In end of 2014 MOGLI MRV+ has been used by our staff in Darfur as system runs on Android mobile devices and tablets and functions Online or Offline. Allows our staff to collect, share, and visualize geographically tagged data in real-time “GPS CAPTURE”. It can be linked with Flicker and upload pictures at the moment captured. Moreover, it provides Mobile Signature and Multi-language function.

    To know more see this video on YouTube :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyVfKFstJWQ

    MOGLI MRV+ SAVES TIME, BRINGS TRANSPARENCY & INSTANT ACCESS TO DATA.

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  • Energy Access – Why the current financing model will fail

    Simon Trace

    January 22nd, 2015

    This is my second post from Abu Dhabi, where I have been attending the World Future Energy Summit as a guest of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. For the second year running Practical Action was shortlisted for this prestigious $1m prize in recognition of our work on helping poor people in the developing work access clean energy (we finished runners up again in case you didn’t see my last blog!).

    DSC00206 (1)One of the recurrent themes of the conference sessions I have attended over the past week on energy access has been finance. I have written in this blog before about the general lack of funding for energy access, particularly off grid technology. The International Energy Agency (IEA)[i] has estimated that, if we are to achieve universal access to energy services by 2030, around 64% of the additional finance required will have to be invested in off grid systems, for example solar home systems or local mini grids powered by generators or renewables such as solar, wind or micro hydro. But there’s little evidence that much investment is going anywhere except into the traditional areas of big power stations and extensions to the grid, neither of which is expected to provide much benefit to those in remote rural areas who lack electricity at the moment. The Sierra Club, a US based environmental NGO, carried out an analysis of the major development banks energy lending portfolios for example[ii], which showed that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank did best, with 25% of their lending on off-grid infrastructure (but still way off the 64% figure needed according to the IEA). At the other end of the scale, the Asian Development Bank had only 7% of its portfolio invested in off grid and the African Development Bank 0%!

    But there is another type of finance gap now appearing. In addition to the general lack of availability of funding it’s also becoming apparent that there is a real affordability gap in the model currently being promoted by the development banks, donor agencies and sector specialists.

    What this year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize winners MKOPA and runners up SELCO have been doing brilliantly in Kenya and India has been developing viable businesses to make solar lighting available at a cost which is increasingly affordable to those on low income – solar lanterns for households on US$ 1 -3 per day income and small solar home systems that can run 3 or 4 lights, charge a phone and maybe even run a small TV or radio for those with an income of as little as US $3 -5 a day.

    But this is not yet energy access in the real sense. If we start layering in the energy services people really need to make a difference to their livelihoods – maybe refrigeration to preserve food or mechanical power for productive use (grinding, milling, pressing, drying or storing crops, pumping water etc), the power requirements go up dramatically, way beyond the capacity of current affordable solar home systems to supply.

    This is where larger capacity communal mini grids come in, and there was much talk about these at the World Future Energy Summit. But the recurring motif in those discussions was the need for a business model that would bring in private investment to finance mini grids because “public subsidy was never going to be sufficient”. The problem is there are two enormous holes in that argument:

    Hole 1: The idea that mini grids are financially attractive investments in their own right. The reality is that there is a massive gap between what would need to be charged as a tariff to recover costs and what poor people have at their disposal to spend on energy services. A recent report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California[iii] covers this ground nicely. It estimates the basic electricity needs of rural household for full energy access at around 80 kilowatt hours per month (based on using a fan, 4 LED lights, a small TV, a small refrigerator and the equivalent of 4 hours a day of power for a mechanic device such as a small irrigation pump or equivalent). Using an assumed cost of around $0.24/kwh (which is quite optimistic for small mini grid type supplies) that comes to a monthly cost of at least $20 per household if full cost recovery is required. Typically low income households spend around 10% of their income on energy (50% of which is on cooking fuel). This translates to budgets available for electricity of around $7.50 per month for households on $3 – 5 per day and less than $1.5 per month for the extreme poor on $1 a day or less. These figures from the University of California are very rough, but they serve to make an important point. The costs of mini grids would have to reduce by at least 60 to 90% to make the tariffs affordable for the poor but still keep the systems as viable investments for private capital.

    Is it any wonder the banks can’t find investors to take out loans for mini grids?

    Hole 2: The idea that there simply isn’t enough money in the world to make public subsidy viable. We are told that there is no possibility that public finance could be used to close the gap because there simply isn’t enough to go around. But at the same time, the IEA tells us that currently more than $500 billion[iv] is being put into public subsidies for fossil fuels every year (with others such as IRENA putting the figure much higher at as much as $1900 billion in 2011[v]). So the fossil fuel industry is being kept on a massive publicly funded life support system while the poor are told that the off grid systems they need to access a basic level of energy services can only ever be provided through private investment.

    Conventional wisdom abhors subsidy, but in Bangladesh, where the most successful solar home system programme to date exists with around 4 million households supplied, provides a great example of how subsidy can work, making technology affordable and getting markets moving and costs down. According to a World Bank study[vi], the Bangladesh programme started off with an average subsidy of around 25% per unit in 2004, reducing to less than 10% by 2013. The interesting thing there was that the cost to the consumer for a system was less in 2013 than it was in 2004, despite the reduction in subsidy. Why? Because technology got cheaper and the scale of the programme drove innovation and cost reductions that, together, exceeded the reduction in subsidy over the same period.

    It seems time for the development banks, donors and the energy sector as a whole to take a long and really honest look at the financial models being proposed to ensure universal access to energy. Its time to face up to the reality. Private capital and good business models are definitely needed. But universal access to energy (not just for light but energy for the productive uses that will help people work themselves out of poverty) will not be achieved without public finance playing a very significant role to close the affordability gap as well.

     

    [i] IEA 2011, Energy For All, Financing access for the poor, page 25

    [ii] Sierra Club / Oil Change International 2014, Failing to Solve Energy Poverty: How Much International Public Investment is Going to Distributed Clean Energy Access?

    [iii] LIGTT, Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California, 2015, 50 Critical scientific and technical breakthroughs required for sustainable development – Energy Access pp 26 – 29.

    [iv] Bloomberg, Nov 112, 2014 Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion Subsidies Hurt Renewables

    [v] IRENA sourced from: LEVELLING THE PLAYING FIELD AND SAVING MONEY WITH

    RENEWABLE ENERGY

    [vi] World Bank (2013)  The Benefits of Solar Home Systems – An Analysis from Bangladesh Policy Research Working Paper 6724, page 10

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  • Competition finalists show way forward for renewable energy

    Simon Trace

    January 19th, 2015

    I am writing this in Abu Dhabi, where I am attending the World Future Energy Summit as a guest of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. For the second year running Practical Action was shortlisted for this $1m prize in recognition of our work on helping poor people in the developing work access clean energy.

    Zayeed2

    Receiving finalist certificate from Chair of judging committee and former President of the Republic of Iceland, HE Olafur Ragnar Grimsson

    Today was the day for announcing the winners and, unfortunately, I have to report that it was also the second year in a row that we didn’t win the prize! However, given out of nearly 600 organisations considered for the award this year, only 30 made it as finalists (and only 5 in our category of non-profits) I think we can all be very proud of getting so far and the deep respect for our work that these 2 nominations in a row implies. Coming on top of Practical Action winning UNFCCC Momentum for Change awards in both 2013 and 2014 for its work on climate change, these nominations show just how much attention our work is getting internationally at the moment.

    The very worthy winner of the Zayed Future Energy Prize for non-profits  this year was an organisation from the Philippines called “Litre of Light” that converts plastic bottles into sky lights and solar lanterns and I’d like to offer my sincere congratulations to them. Congratulations also to MKOPA, the innovative Kenyan solar home system providers that use credit payments via mobile phones to help people afford solar lighting and who won the SME category. Panasonic won the large company category whilst ex US Vice President Al Gore was also recognised with a life time achievement award for his work raising awareness of climate change. You can see information on all the winners here and the other finalists (Practical Action included) here.

    As was the case last year, the finalists represented 30 really positive stories about people demonstrating how things could be different and how renewable energy is the future in many different contexts. It was also interesting to hear this message repeated over and over again in the opening ceremony for the World Future Energy Summit itself. Solar photovoltaics are, it seems, increasingly becoming cost competitive with conventional sources for power generation. One example given was a very recent contract let for a 200 MW solar park in Dubai at a cost of just under 6 US cents per kwh – one of the cheapest renewable projects ever and around 3 cents per kwh cheaper than gas! What was also interesting, particularly given this conference is taking place a major oil producing region, was that there seemed to be consensus amongst today’s speakers that renewable energy was a technology whose time had come and that even the current falling oil prices were unlikely to make a difference to that position.

    I will be the conference for the rest of the week, speaking at a couple of side events, and will report back on anything else of interest I see.

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  • Fascinated by the Incas

    Amanda Ross

    January 15th, 2015

    I had the good fortune to study ancient history – a subject that fascinates me.  However, my studies only covered classical civilisations so my knowledge of the Incas is minimal.  So when I was in Peru in December and visited some Inca sites, I was enthralled and keen to learn more.  I’m delighted that the BBC has just begun a new series ‘Masters of the Clouds’ which will enable me to do this and especially to consider how technologies of the past can help to deal with modern problems such as climate change and disaster resilience.

    "Pisac006" by Alexson Scheppa Peisino

    “Pisac006″ by Alexson Scheppa Peisino

    From the first episode it became clear that the Incas knew a thing or two about climate smart agriculture. They developed complex water harvesting and terracing systems which enabled them to produce enough food to store surpluses in their vast granaries against hard times.  As a result of having a secure food supply the population increased and the Inca empire was able to expand to cover nearly 690,000 square miles – from modern Colombia to Chile.  Practical Action is using similar techniques in the high Andes to support farmers who face low rainfall today as a result of climate change.

    Alpaca farmer stands by his irrigation reservoir

    Alpaca farmer stands by his irrigation reservoir

    Earthquakes are a regular hazard in this region is earthquakes and the Incas developed building techniques to minimise the effects.  Leaning their walls slighting inward, excellent masonry skills and rounded corners have ensured that Macchu Picchu’s stone walls still stand despite 500 years of shaking.

    Once again Practical Action looked to the past when helping with the reconstruction efforts after major earthquake, using traditional quincha techniques for greater stability.

    Technology also proved to be their downfall.  Inca soldiers armed with spears and bow and arrows were up against the Spanish forces equipped with horses, cannon and firearms.  Smallpox and measles also brought by the invaders devastated the population and the Inca Empire folded. I’m looking forward to finding out more this week.

     

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  • Robbed at COP? A novice’s view of the talks.

    Simon Trace

    December 18th, 2014

    Attending the second week of the UNFCCC COP meeting in Lima, Peru has been a challenging and a bewildering experience, for a first timer and non-specialist in international climate talks.

    First of all there is the terminology – the main text that is being developed at the moment, and which should form the basis of final negotiations for a new global climate convention in Paris next year, is known as a ‘non-paper’ for example. Not a very inspiring name for something that is absorbing the attention of so many people! Then there are the conversations that are sprinkled with acronyms to the extent that it sometimes feels like you are listening to a text message rather than a human being – COP, CMP, INDC, SBSTA, GCF, CIF, and so on.

    Then there is the content of the ‘non paper’ itself. I had a quick glance at a version on Wednesday. It was around 40 pages long and seemed, from a quick read, to be a jumble of contradictions. Almost every clause or commitment or resolution in the document contained 2,3,4 or more alternative options for text, sometimes variations on the same sentiment, but sometimes options that completely contradicted each other (for example in the final version published on the UNFCCC website the section on adaptation options for paragraph 25.2 include both “establish a global goal for adaptation” and “no global goal for adaptation”). The plan is that this text will gradually be honed down by working parties over the coming year to something that can form the basis for final negotiations in time for the Paris COP in 2015. All I can say is that I wish Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat, and her staff all the best with that task!

    I was privileged to hear Ms Figueres speak at the COP. Practical Action is part of an alliance with the Zurich Insurance Company, and 3 other organisations working together on developing new ways to help poor people in the developing world reduce their vulnerability to floods. (as a side note – floods not only affect more people globally than any other type of natural hazard but the associated economic, social and humanitarian losses are expected to grow as the climate change leads to increase in extreme rainfall events and rising sea levels). The Alliance was lucky enough to win a UNFCC Momentum for Change award (or M4C – another acronym!) for its work and Ms Figueres (and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon) spoke at the awards ceremony on Wednesday. She spoke passionately and from her heart about the low point of the COP meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 from which everyone had come away depressed and downhearted, with a sense that progress towards a global climate agreement was impossible. She talked about the need after Copenhagen to create a momentum for change and a new positive picture of what could be achieved. The M4C awards were a (very modest) part of that process, showcasing examples of people and organisations taking concrete actions on mitigation or adaptation.

    She also talked about how far things had moved post Copenhagen and how different and more positive the atmosphere was at the Lima talks. Certainly the China / US agreement prior to the COP lifted the atmosphere and those who had attended previous COPs told me that the language was gradually changing for the better – one example was the use of the concept of national carbon budgets by many of the official delegations – something that would have been an anathema a couple of years ago.

    But there are still reasons for a good dose of pessimism though, many related to the US, despite Australia doing its best to be the ‘bad guy’ by winning more ‘fossil of the day’ awards (given by the NGO community to official delegations for outrageous behaviour) than any other country. In a nutshell ‘conventional wisdom’ says that a Republican Congress won’t ratify further significant financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund and won’t countenance the concept of reparation to developing countries for ‘loss and damage’ – another theme of the talks. Verification was also an ongoing issue. Countries have agreed to submit ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ in time for the Paris COP next year to explain their plans for cutting carbon. European nations have been pushing for the UN to provide independent verification of progress against these targets but others, China and the US included, have resisted any commitment to external verification, throwing doubt over the solidity of the commitments being made. Finally, although there was much talk about adaptation being mainstreamed in the talks much more than in the past, a presentation on existing climate finance in one side events I attended showed that finance for adaptation remains the poor cousin, accounting for less than 10% of current climate financing, with the remainder going to mitigation.

    Government delegations were not the only ones attracting negative press last week however. There were those amongst the NGOs that felt Greenpeace should have been given a ‘fossil of the day’ award for a publicity stunt that went badly wrong. A group of the NGO’s activists decided to use the Nasza lines as a backdrop for one of their protest events. The Nazca lines are a series of huge ancient patterns inscribed into the desert coastal plain of Peru that can only really be appreciated from the air. Created simply by clearing stones and debris away from fixed lines, the patterns have remained intact for hundreds of years in the arid conditions and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Greenpeace activists spelt out a slogan about solar power next to one of the most iconic patterns for Peru, a hummingbird. Although they were careful to avoid damaging the lines themselves (the letters were just made out of cloth laid on the ground) the tracks of their vehicles left a maze of marks on what until then had been the undisturbed ground around the pattern. The Peruvian press was incensed at the damage done to their site and there were reports from that the ministry of culture would be suing Greenpeace for damage.

    For me though, one of the abiding images from the various side events I attended was a graph from a Royal Society presentation on its new report “Resilience to extreme weather”. The graph (see below) shows an inexorable rise in the annual global economic loss, given as a % of global GDP, over the past 30 years. The graph was a salutary reminder of why the UNFCC process is so important, as climate change continues to drive growth in extreme weather events. But it also made me wonder how much it was an under representation of the true social cost to the poor and marginalised communities in developing countries, those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they rely on land that is already marginal for farming or live in informal urban settlements most at risk from flooding and natural disasters. In % points of GDP their losses may not amount to so much, but in terms of human deprivation their losses are already immense.

    Reactions to the final outcome of the COP are varied, even amongst civil society actors at the event.  For example the World Resources Institute in the US concludes that  “delegates in Lima laid the groundwork for a successful international climate agreement in Paris next year” , whilst in the UK the International Institute for Environment and Development’s Saleemul Huq is quoted in the Guardian as saying “It sucks. It is taking us backwards”, whilst WWF claims “We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome”.

    CaptureWas a potential transformative agreement at COP20 stolen from under our noses at the last minute, despite the positive omens at the start of the conference? I have to confess, as a COP novice I have no bench mark to compare these talks to and so no idea. But, despite the challenges to progress there undoubtedly have been, I found it difficult to leave the COP20 meeting without being infected to some degree with the positivism being radiated by Christiana Figueres and Ban Ki Moon. The road ahead is still a long and difficult one, but I like to think there’s just a chance that we could look back at the Lima meeting in a few years’ time as the turning point when the world started to take climate change seriously and started to work together on finding a solution.

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  • Hope for better life through micro hydro and PMSD initiatives in the Koraput district of Odisha

    Arun Kumar Hial

    December 15th, 2014

    Our day started at 6am and we headed towards Badamanjari (a project field site) over 60km from the district headquarter Koraput. We took about 3 hours to travel through good roads, bad roads, rough and rocky roads in the hilly terrains and passing by the highest peak of Eastern Ghats (Deomali). There was intermittent mobile coverage on our way and we could see very less vehicles usually over-packed with people. All of us traveling had a WOW feeling inside, that Practical Action is working in such interior pockets and delivering technology solutions and services to the poor where the poor benefit to the fullest. The closer we go to the village the more excited we were and a sense of belonging was mounting in our minds and hearts which outburst during the overwhelming welcome and response of the villagers.

    High Hills of Eastern Ghat

    High Hills of Eastern Ghat

    Badamanjari is one of the project sites of the Sustainable Micro-hydro through Energizing Rural Enterprises and Livelihood (SMRE) Project in Koraput district of Odisha. The village inhabits 93 households and is surrounded by nature and its greatest gifts, one of which is in the shape of a perennial water source which is used by the villagers for a Micro Hydro Project with a capacity of producing 30 KW of electricity. This project was supported by various donors and implemented by a well-known NGO from the district. The Project was initiated in 2003 and was commissioned to the people in 2006. The people got uninterrupted electricity up to the year 2013 and somehow there was problem with the machine and it did not work from then. The SMRE Project initiated by Practical Action in partnership with Koraput Farmer’s Association (KFA) aims to rehabilitate and renovate the Micro Hydro Project to function to its fullest potential and help people increase their income with the use of the PMSD approach.

    Badamanjari Village

    Badamanjari Village

    Suresh Tadingi (23) lives with his wife, daughter (2 years), brother, mother and grandmother in Badamanjari village. His ancestral property of over 6 Acres of agricultural land is being used by four families with a total of 21 members. He is busy in the agriculture and allied works throughout the year except January and February (during these months he goes to nearby town to work on contract). Even though they do farming of Zinger, Beans, Vegetables, Raggi, Millets (varieties) and Paddy, they live in a subsistence economy and it is not enough for everyone. It is the SMRE Project which has brought a light of hope for him, his family and the community at large.

     

     

    Suresh Tadingi, Badamanjari

    Suresh Tadingi, Badamanjari

    Suresh along with four other youth members are interested to take up Turmeric Processing Unit as one of their income generating endeavors through the SMRE Project. They will be responsible to collect raw turmeric from 9 nearby villages, process, package and market the products to gain profits. These five young men will get the agreed share of the earning and will share part of their earnings to the community fund from where it will then be used for benefits of the community and its members. If everything works well, then Suresh and others like him need not go outside of the village to work as daily wage laborers, but in the contrary they will get a dignified earning through the business of their own and multiply their income as per their efforts to live a better life in their own village itself.

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  • Alpaca farming threatened by climate change

    Amanda Ross

    Puno, Peru, Taraco | December 8th, 2014

    Farmers are not renowned for their optimism.  Grumbling about the weather, crop or livestock prices is a recurrent theme.  So it was refreshing yesterday to meet Modesto Hunan, an alpaca farmer from the Puna region of Peru, who has so many positive things to say about his work.modesto family Modesto trained as a kamayoq – a  local agricultural extension worker and for the last three years has been part of the Melgar Alpacas project which is helping farmers in the high plains of the Andes to improve their livelihoods.  The work is addressing three main areas -pasture enrichment, better animal breeding and improved marketing of their main product, alpaca wool.

    Modesto lives with his wife Doris and three sons in a remote area about 3 hours drive from Puno.  His farm is a breathtaking 4,200 m above sea level and covers 116 hectares. Two of his sons are studying at university in Puno and return at weekends to help on the farm.  He owns just over 200 alpacas – half of the more expensive Suri breed and the rest the more common Huacaya.  The project has helped to strengthen the herd by providing a number of high quality male alpacas for breeding.

    irrigation systemTo provide better pasture for his animals, Modesto has installed an irrigation system fed from a small rain fed reservoir.  This enables him to cultivate small areas of land with improved grazing for animals at key stages of their life –  those in their first year as well as pregnant females and nursing mothers.  This has led to better survival rates, better quality wool and healthier animals.  He also cultivates grasses with higher nutritional content such as clover and alfalfa which would not grow here without irrigation.  He is also planning to grow potatoes and quinoa for the family.

    Before the project Modesto earned around 6 soles (£1.50) per pound for his wool,  but as a result of the improved quality of his product he now gets 10 soles (£2.50) per pound  and sometimes twice that for good Suri wool.  The community currently sell their wool in the local market, where the price is lower but the project is working to create a co-operative to sell the wool together to a bigger enterprise to obtain a better price.

    But  despite their current success there is a blot on the horizon which threatens all this family’s hard work – climate change.

    Modesto and his familyThe rainy season in this area usually lasts from November to March (summer) and it is not usually necessary to irrigate at this time.  But Modesto’s reservoir was barely a third full as there had been so little rain this year so far (in early December).  He is extremely concerned about the effect of climate change on his livelihood and told me;

    “As well as the lack of rain, the winters have become much colder with snow and hail and dramatic thunderstorms.  Only last week 3 people in the region were killed by lightening.”

    He recorded a message (in Spanish) for the UN COP20 meeting in Lima describing the problems he is facing to urge the international community to take action.

    Let’s hope that they listen otherwise the way of life of Modesto and the other alpaca farmers in this challenging environment may no longer be viable.

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  • Supporting local regeneration – moving from energy policy to energy economies

    Simon Trace

    December 4th, 2014

    Here’s a second blog on my learnings from attendance at Community Energy Scotland’s annual conference. In my last blog I talked about problems when community projects generate too much energy, drawing parallels between experiences from Scotland and Nepal.

    There were many more parallels I noted during the two days. These included very practical issues around educating communities over power requirements for different appliances so as to manage peak loads (as one lady put it, how do I stop everyone using their electric hair curling tongs at the same time – which trips the system!). There were also the expected common problems around limited access to finance for building new projects and also policy problems – for example the difficulty and lengthy procedures necessary to get a licence to be allowed to sell power to consumers in Scotland (a problem we have only just resolved for a micro hydro project we’re working on in Malawi).

    There were also interesting parallels between the Scottish experience and Practical Action’s around where community managed energy projects were being built (remote rural communities, often relatively poor, with few economic opportunities).

    What caught my attention most however was a really refreshing address from Chris Stark, Head of Electricity, Energy and Climate Change for the Scottish Government. Chris talked about decentralisation of electricity generation as something that was desirable, as opposed to just an approach to closing access gaps. He also talked about a systems approach that was more than just creating a good energy policy but was also about building energy economies. His argument was that a holistic approach to local energy systems, which looks at the potential inter-relationships between waste, heat, transport, the efficiency of building stock, consumers bills and local generation capacity, could form the basis for the renewal of local economies currently in decline. This idea of building local economies, retaining value in communities and doing things locally where possible rather than importing skills and services, was a recurrent theme throughout the conference and something that chimes closely with Practical Action’s Schumacherian roots.

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