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  • World Habitat Day: Why public spaces matter for the urban poor

    This week the world marked World Habitat Day under the theme of Public Spaces for All. The day celebrates the importance of the world’s cities and human settlements to our global economy and well-being.World-Habitat-Day

    The day has added significance this year because, for the first time, the role of cities and human settlements has been recognised as a key driver of development. It has been included as Goal 11 of the newly passed ‘Sustainable Development Goals’.

    Practical Action was part of the campaign to ensure this goal was included because the towns and cities of the developing world will be where almost all population growth will be concentrated in the next 50 years. Having a dedicated goal around it ensures a focus on cities and local authorities (not just national governments) as vital to creating a sustainable future. It should also help address one of the world’s most glaring aspects of inequality, that found between the rich and poor within cities.

    Practical Action has worked for nearly 20 years on improving the lives of slum dwellers. Our current 5-year strategy has seen us ramp up our commitment, planning to double the proportion of our project work that focuses on the urban poor. This would bring it closer in line with the proportion of the world’s poor that now live in cities (around 25%).Faridpur slum pathway

    We support this year’s focus on public spaces because we’ve seen how important they are in the lives of poor people. This is not just about space for leisure. It is critical to people’s livelihoods:

    The battle for sustainable development will be won and lost in cities. Public open space is a vital resource for the poor, and a key part of how cities can either be made more or less friendly to the needs of the poor. Let’s celebrate the public open spaces we love and recognise they are not a luxury, but a vital part of many people’s lives.

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  • International Coffee Day and Agroecology

    Adele Murphy

    October 1st, 2015

    In honour of world coffee day I wanted to take a quick peek at what Practical Action is doing to help support the worlds coffee farmers. Its estimated that smallholder farmers produce up to 70% of the worlds coffee supply, so there is a very good chance that the cup of coffee you drank this morning was grown by a farmer and his family on a very small parcel of land. Despite being integral to the world coffee market these farmers don’t always benefit as much as they should. Farm sizes are small and farmers are often lacking in knowledge, skills and resources. This leads to unsustainable practices such as large-scale deforestation and improper use of chemical inputs. Low yields and low quality coffee beans are common.

    One particular Practical Action project in the San Martin region of Peru caught my eye. The farmers had been struggling with these issues for years, soil fertility was declining and the coffee plants in the area badly affected by a fungal disease that had reduced yield by nearly 50% from previous years. The farmers were also disorganised, they sold their coffee beans at market themselves and had no collective bargaining power to demand a better price.

    Practical Action began implementing a project guided by the principles of Agroecology. Agroecology promotes a holistic approach to farming that is knowledge intensive rather than inputs intensive. You can read more about Practical Action and Agroecology here.

    Organic composting

    Organic composting

    In San Martin Practical Action began to consult with local communities to get to the root of the problems and to work together to solve them. Eight agroecological practices were designed including forestry, terracing, integrated pest management and production of manure compost and other techniques that reduce dependence on external inputs and improve soil conditions. Local promoters were trained to work directly with the farmers and improve their skills and knowledge. Post harvesting skills were also improved so farmers could learn how to add value to their coffee beans before bringing them to market.

    Practical Action also supported the farmers to organise into producer groups and build strong relationships with buyers. These farmer groups were also trained to participate more effectively in the market with capacity building in market analysis and business management.

    Coffee farmer

    Better coffee and happier farmers

    The practices were applied successfully by the farmers participating in the projects and had a noticeable positive impact on production. The fungal disease that had massively reduced coffee bean yield was reduced from affecting 73% of plants to just 18% of plants. In just one year coffee production increase by 33% and the quality improved so much across the board that the beans achieved a higher quality grade allowing farmers to attract a higher price for their product.
    All these factors together with an increase in world coffee prices in 2014 saw the average farmers’ income increase by 252%.
    Furthermore 180 hectares of soil previously degraded by poor agricultural practices has been recovered and deforestation has been controlled 100% in the 11 communities covered by the project.

    So next time you enjoy your cup of coffee it’s also worth reflecting on the potential of agroecology to make your coffee taste that much better.

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  • Pumpkins Against Poverty

    Amanda Ross

    October 1st, 2015

    Every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna to swell, resulting in devastating floods. These wash away fertile land and destroy homes and pumpkins against povertylivelihoods.  Every year hundreds of families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.

    Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede, the soil is barren but can be made productive by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops. Practical Action has been working with communities in the Rangpur area of Bangladesh to help landless families overcome seasonal hunger and increase their income.

    UK-AID-Donations&flag-4CLast month I visited Rangpur and met a family that have built a better life through growing and selling pumpkins, a highly nutritious vegetable.  I found it hugely inspiring that such a simple idea could make such a big difference.

    Today we’re launching our Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal to help even more families like Anwar’s. And the great news is that the UK government will match your donation, pound for pound, meaning if you donate between now and Christmas you will double your impact!

    Pumpkins offer Anwar a way out of poverty

    Anwar ul Islam, his wife Afroza and two children live in Rangpur District, an area afflicted by land erosion caused by heavy monsoon rains swelling the rivers from June to October. Anwar lost everything when floods swept away his house and land. He was earning less than £2 a day working as a cycle mechanic.

    Pumpkins against povertyBut with the help of Practical Action, Anwar has found a way to feed his family, improve their health and earn a good income.

    Once the rainy season ends and the monsoon waters drain away, large sandbars appear in the rivers. This land is common property but, prior to Practical Action’s intervention, had never been used productively. Working alongside communities who live on the river embankments, our teams have shown it’s possible to grow pumpkins in small pits dug into the sand filled with compost.

    Last year Anwar produced 600 pumpkins. After selling 450, he had enough to feed his family as pumpkins can be stored for over a year. With the income he bought a cow and some chickens and can now afford to educate his children. They have a secure home and he is passing on his knowledge to others.


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  • Learning from advocate development training in Nepal

    S M Alauddin

    October 1st, 2015

    Practical Action runs advocacy training sessions to enable its worldwide staff to further the causes and interests of the extreme poor.  This course aims to develop advocates who will be able to carry out policy influencing work at local, national, regional and global level.

    advocacy training in NepalA total of 14 participants (7 male, 7 female) attended the week long training for the Asian offices. It was participatory with lots of exercises and presentations and s to further the causes and interests of the extreme poor.

    ‘How change happens’ was a key component.  Also covered were video creation,  building trust, presentations, the structure of writing a pitch using structure and evaluation.

    The first participatory exercise by the trainees related to defining advocacy.  Some of the definitions offered were systematic, win-win, voice raising, about change, the process of influencing policy and practice, collaborative with right audience/stakeholders, rather than forcing, linear, manipulating, doing something for personal interest.

    How change happens?

    This introduced Practical Action’s influencing framework that incorporates components such as stakeholder engagement; networking and alliance building; civil society capacity building and mobilization; internal capacity and confidence; technical expertise; evidence and learning; and communications. All of these are important.

    It introduced and emphasized the concept of think tank (institution/individual) and opinion leaders’ engagement in the influencing process. Mentoring for individual development of advocates is also important.

    Using evidence based video is effective tool now-a-days. Video filming in groups on particular subject, showing, reviewing and feedback was useful in building knowledge and skills. Exercises on listening and sharing of stories were very useful for easy understanding of problems with their rationale and objectives; audience, approach and strategies; outcome/ results of the policy agenda. These are necessary for effective trust building and collaboration at every step with the target audience, stakeholders, partners, policy networks and institutions.

    Exercises on presentation skills covered issues like voice and body language, tone, speed, pitch and emotion. Practice demonstrations and real situations with an outside audience – the Agriculture Department of Nepal and Heifer-Nepal – helped us to build confidence and apply learning.

    Practical exercises on writing a pitch with a particular policy agenda were very helpful. Evaluation with feedback and suggestions on strengths and weaknesses, was a very important and interesting part of the training.

    Finally, preparation and implementation of an action plan for every individual and  follow-up is going to be important to developing the advocates.

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  • Agriculture extension in rural Kassala

    Nahid Ali Awadelseed

    October 1st, 2015

    Rural and agricultural development is integral to any strategy to alleviate poverty and promote broad-based growth. The figures confirm that poverty in Sudan is deeply entrenched and is largely rural, especially considering that traditional subsistence agriculture in rural areas has gradually been replaced by market-based or commercial agriculture. This is due to many factors, including rapid economic growth, introduction of new technologies, market expansion, market liberalization, increased demand for food, decreasing farming population as a result of urbanization and liberalized economic policies.

    Training forWorking in the field of Communication and Development, I have observed that human resource development is essential for food security and market integration. Achieving sustainable agricultural development is less based on material inputs (e.g. seeds, fertilizers, etc.) than on the people involved in their use. Agricultural extension makes a real contribution and impact in improving the welfare of farmers and other people living in rural areas, thus, I have come to love my focus on Practical Answers interventions for technology justice; such as assisting knowledge and information management and sharing information about agricultural components, as well as using appropriate delivery approaches, channels and tools.

    Delivering agricultural extension messages

    Agricultural extension is central to sustaining the livelihood of rural communities. Local practitioners, along with paravets, have a fundamental presence in local communities, as they are becoming increasingly valuable and responsible for communicating and providing services and knowledge to their communities.

    Practical Action collaborated with the the Technology and Extension Department of the Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture, as well as Civil society organisations like the Al-Gandoul Network for Rural Development, who initiated these interventions in Kassala using multi-communication tools to disseminate and deliver the extensions messages. The objective of the extension messages is to raise awareness in the rural community and adopting good practices in order to contribute to an increase in their production, income, and livestock through carefully selecting potential local Village Extension Agents (VEAs) and local paravets – one woman and one man from each communities (20 communities targeted) – with specific criteria, agreed upon by village community members. Under the supervision of a qualified agriculture extension practitioner, they were trained in identify community needs, developing key extension messages and testing the massages, communication skills, and setting an action plan to be implemented in their communities.

    Practical Action broadcast extension messages through various outlets to ensure circulation and coverage. However, the effectiveness of face-to-face and community radio selected as a source of information;  the radio became a main media outlet for communicating extension messages articulated using local languages and dialects and the VEAs collected the enquiries and respond to the direct audiences.

    Wasil Phone for reportingThe remarkable indicators of success were:

    • Evident income increase in some families,
    • The dedication shown in protecting and nurturing livestock
    • The increase in the community’s commitment toward their own development.

    I believe that receiving useful and correct information have been a key for success, and radio programs, especially, were a powerful tool for extension because of its wide coverage and contextual relevance.

    It is important to note that extension services are organized and delivered in a variety of forms, with the ultimate aim of increasing farmers’ productivity and income. The question then becomes: how can farmers gain access to knowledge, information on improving practices along the value chain to adopt, increase and yield income?

    I believe improving agricultural extension delivery in the future of extension messages should provide information along the whole value chain, including marketing extension, farmer empowerment, facilitating formation of self-motivated farmer’s groups, private extension services and environmental extension for sustainability.

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  • Building peace through local markets in Kebkabiya, Darfur

    Amel Ibrahim

    September 30th, 2015

    In Kebkabiya in North Darfur, Practical Action was able to influence and lobby the government into supporting the rehabilitation of a local market in the village of Um Loata.

    Since the outbreak of conflict in Darfur in 2003, all local markets in Kebkabiya locality, with the exception of the main market within Kebkabiya town, have either been destroyed or ceased to function. This has negatively affected all sections of the population in the district, including farmers, IDPs and pastoralists, all of which require local markets to support their livelihoods. As the opening, running and security of markets is the responsibility of government, Practical Action had to influence and persuade government to support the efforts to rehabilitate this local market.

    collecting water from a borehole in DarfurPractical Action primarily did this, as with all its activities, through local community based organisations. Practical Action mobilised the nine CBOs in Kebkabiya that it helped to establish and train and that comprise a cross-section of the local population and livelihood groups to form a committee to oversee the market. This committee, accompanied by other important local persons of influence (e.g. leaders of native administration), organised a series of meetings with a variety of government bodies including relevant ministries and security organs to lobby for their support.

    Practical Action then worked with the government to assess the needs of the market, to design its layout and to provide basic water and sanitation facilities. The government formed a police force to protect the market, established a tax mechanism for it and officially opened the market at a public ceremony attended by hundreds of people from across the locality. The rehabilitation of this market is significant not only because it strengthens livelihoods, but market places also act as important social meeting points where social ties and relations, especially between ethnic and livelihood groups, can be built and reinforced.

    This market is also significant as it demonstrates that, despite the conflict, it is possible to build the required trust between diverse communities to re-establish such markets. It is expected that the opening of this market, primarily through coordinated influencing directed at the local government by local communities, may pave the way for other markets to be opened by similar efforts

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  • Knowledge systems, chains and grids

    Rob Cartridge

    September 28th, 2015

    Last week I was pleased to attend the launch of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) manifesto at DFID. It’s a really handy guide to the role of knowledge brokers, how they should go about their tasks and why they are so important. Whilst the launch of the manifesto has conveniently arrived ahead of COP21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference), I think the models and lessons from this document have wider importance for knowledge brokers across all sectors.

    In particular, the necessity to understand the needs of the audience is one of the main items highlighted by the CKB. This seems a straightforward observation, but it’s easily forgotten because the links between knowledge ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ are rarely as simple as they appear on paper. I found this recognition particularly relevant to our work: the ‘chain’ between the creators of knowledge and those that will find it useful is complex. It’s also full of gaps, with actors often possessing neither the will nor the way to pass knowledge on.

    courtesy of Jerry Manas

    courtesy of Jerry Manas

    For knowledge brokers like Practical Answers, we must act effectively in both directions: communicating the needs of our consumers to our suppliers whilst formatting, contextualising and organising information to make knowledge accessible and appropriate for our users. A great point raised during the meeting, and an approach that we strive for in Practical Answers, was that constantly asking questions is the key to success in knowledge brokering!

    The CKB have also previously talked about a ‘Climate Grid’: a network of brokers, working in a co-ordinated way (digitally and offline) to make sure marginalised communities get access to the knowledge they need.  But I wonder if it’s better to see the whole process as a knowledge system, albeit a complex and ever-changing one. It was clear at the meeting, for example, that people who are running large programmes for DFID are both knowledge creators and knowledge users. A chain, focussed on brokers, tends to underestimate the other influencing factors in the whole knowledge system. When it comes to climate change, everyone is exposed to messages from a whole host of actors beyond formal knowledge brokers, including the media, the private sector, scientific organisations, governments and their community: not to mention special interest groups and lobbyists. In such a complex system, it’s vital to understand these gaps, dynamics and needs to provide knowledge that those on the front line of a changing climate can use.

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  • New SDG on WASH is great, but 3 things to watch for

    Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed in 2000, the profile and importance of access to an ‘improved’ source of drinking water and sanitation has risen. A landmark was achieved in 2010 with the passing of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. Ending open defecation has become a key topic for UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson. Many governments have set themselves challenging commitments and targets. And as part of the set of Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted this week (good summary from The Guardian here), universal access to a higher standard of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has been included as a full goal (not a sub-target as previously in the MDGs).

    The SDGs aim to be ambitious. Aspirational. And in they certainly are for WASH. Goal 6 is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Not only are we now aiming for universal access, but we have raised the bar higher in terms of quality too (Target 6.1 is for ‘safe and affordable drinking water’ and Target 6.2 is for ‘adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all’ measured as the population using ‘safely managed’ services).

    Collecting water from a protected spring, in Kisumu, Kenya. This counts as an 'improved water source', but could still be contaminated.

    Collecting water from a protected spring, in Kisumu, Kenya. This counts as an ‘improved water source’, but could still be contaminated.

    Are we likely to be able to rise to the challenge? The MDG has certainly helped increase pressure for action (as Simon Trace reflects), and the world met the MDG target for water in 2010 (88% of people with access to an improved source of drinking water) – we are now at 91% coverage according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. And yet it is estimated that globally at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces, and in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa, the situation has deteriorated. On sanitation, the world has missed its MDG target of 77% coverage by almost 700 million. There are still a billion open-defecators and 2.4 billion without access to an improved (never mind a ‘safely managed’) toilet. Hygiene was not part of the MDGs and its inclusion now is welcome, and yet countries are spending less than 1% of their WASH budget on hygiene promotion.

    Practical Action works in particular on the WASH needs of poor urban communities. Once the SDGs have been signed, what are the three big things we will be keeping a close eye on as the international community and national governments start to think about how the goals can be implemented:

    1. Who is prioritised? There is concern being voiced about whether the push for a higher quality of WASH access will draw resources away from the needs of the poorest who are without even a basic level of access. The JMP is committed to continuing to monitor both ‘improved’ and ‘safely managed’ access – but will this provide enough incentive? Will governments choose ‘safely managed’ for the few over ‘improved’ access for all? Will the poorest, including slum dwellers, continue to be left behind?
    2. The right technologies and approaches? Will the push for ‘safely managed’ sanitation encourage governments towards high-cost sewerage and treatment plants that are beyond the means of poor communities and fail to deal with the reality of existing on-site sanitation systems (as highlighted by the 2014 GLAAS report)? These kinds of investments divert funds from where it is most needed, and do not reach poor communities.
    3. Holding governments to account. Duncan Green is concerned that the SDG debate has been too technocratic, and not enough about getting traction with national governments. We know that if something is not measured, it will continue to be ignored, so we are part of the call for a dedicated hygiene indicator under the WASH goal. We also know it remains challenging to properly represent the situation for slum dwellers compared to the rest of the city. We will keep asking for this data, and comparing our own findings with official figures. As part of coalitions at national and global levels we will be part of holding governments to account for the commitments they have made, through for example Sanitation and Water for All.

    Overall, the SDGs offer an ambitious vision for the future. If they are going to be worth something, we will all need to rise to the challenge, making sure that no-one is left behind.

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  • UN places technology at the centre of development

    Jonny Casey

    September 26th, 2015

    The Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the Technology Bank, two new initiatives launched on Saturday 26th September, demonstrate the UN’s vision to place technology at the centre of implementation apparatus for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). (more…)

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  • Farmer Field Schools offer access to agricultural knowledge in Sudan

    Siham Osman

    September 25th, 2015

    One of the greatest challenges facing rural farming communities in Sudan is their limited or non-existent access to agricultural technological innovation or knowledge services.

    Clearly, if smallholder farmers are to have a future in a region already under threat from a changing climate, something will have to be done to open up the communities to new ideas and technology.

    cucumbers in Kassala, SudanPractical Action’s Farmer Field School (FFS) approach is designed to address this issue; a show-and-tell method of introducing knowledge through demonstration. The Farmer Field Schools explore novel agricultural and natural resource management (NRM) practice.

    In collaboration with the Kassala State Extension and Technology Department, Practical Action designed a training syllabus specifically for rain fed agriculture. Made up of ten sessions, it was designed to be simple, comprehensive and highly specific to local needs, with the end goal of changing farmers’ behaviour to increase and diversify production, improving their food security.

    The most positive impact we see of the farmers’ field schools is the empowerment of farmers (especially women farmers) explained the Extension Officer, before farmers were asking for cash, now they are asking for training and support to develop new activities, and of course they are also more food secure now.

    Farmer field schools are held on demonstration sites. Groups of 20-25 farmers meet between once a week and once a month to discuss how the demonstration plots are progressing and to receive lessons from a locally trained extension worker. This combination of information exchange and demonstration ensures that the knowledge is accurate, innovative and suited to local needs.

     Um Alhassan, a woman from Kassala, is a member in one of the women’s farm groups.“I grow cucumber, okra, jute leaves and some fruit. The price of fresh okra in the market is 5 SDG and dry okra is 2 SDG. I use it for cooking twice a day, that means I save from 4 to 10 SDG each time during the harvesting period, from okra alone, as well as from other vegetables grown in the farm. Another thing I didn’t expect at the beginning of this farm is the parasitic weeds we use for feeding our animals, which truly helped us in this part generously. I have a big desire to try cultivating potatoes and onions in the coming period of cultivation. We tried seedlings of tomatoes and Aswad(eggplants); we weren’t satisfied with the results, but we’ll try again.”She added; “Not only does cultivating this farms benefits us, but our work together as team shows the true meaning of participation and collaboration.”

    To facilitate impact at scale, the farmer field school approach has been introduced to North Darfur in collaboration with the El Fashir branch of Sudan’s Agricultural Research Corporation.

    But the upscaling hasn’t stopped there. Following the FFS organised by Practical Action and community based organisations in Kassala, a number of our partners including the UN’s Food and Agriculture and Industrial Organisations and the Butana Integrated Rural Development Project, have supported FFS in Kassala State and German Agro Action has included it in their staff training sessions.

    This is a perfect example of an agricultural knowledge initiative that taken a local success and replicated it to have a positive impact across a nation, creating farming practices that are innovative and future proof.

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