Technology justice really is a big idea. We approach it from many different angles at Practical Action, and each person may have their own personal way of interpreting it. When I talk about technology justice, I like to think of different potential areas it plays out in practice.
When you think of technology and how it is used, who do you think of? Most people start by thinking of their own interactions with technology. In the world of development, we may think about how it gets used in a community for improving people’s lives. Technology certainly impacts people, but it also relates to a much more complex environment. In this way, when we talk about technology justice, we aren’t just talking about how we use technology to support the extreme poor or disadvantaged; we also have to consider how technology justice is affected and defined by much more global forces. In reality, this is a complex environment. But from an engagement perspective, there are several levels where technology justice plays out.
Technology justice starts small (small is beautiful, after all!). It starts with the needs of the individual. The most effective products and services are designed with the user at the center of the design process. Different people have different needs and developing solutions for those people works best when we design in conjunction with them. That’s partially why technologies designed for the developed world do not often meet the needs of the poor in the developing world. Many of the biggest failures in development can be traced back to a design process that did not include the end user participants in this design.
The next level out on the technology justice spectrum is organizational. Individuals engage in both formal and informal social networks and technology at the nodes of those social networks where individuals interact. Formal networks often manifest as organizations. Even if technology is used by an individual, its use impacts others in those social networks. There is also technology that is created for use by these groups. To simply focus on a cell phone or a treadle pump as technology would ignore the larger telecom network or agriculture value chain that represents the organizational technology which often reveals different levels of technology justice and injustice.
Design can also play a part here. Whether a private sector company, a governmental body, a NGO, or a donor-run project, when an organization keeps their end users in mind, it will ultimately deliver products and services that are more effective at meeting the needs of their end users. For governments, these are their constituents. For companies, these are customers. For NGOs and donors, these are beneficiaries, or participants. Technology design starts with products and services, but it also includes the experience of how easily and effectively end users can engage with these organizations. That experience maximizes the use of those products and services.
When we think of the extreme poor, this is an often overlooked part of technology deployment. We focus on the deployment of a technology, but not on designing the approach to deploy in a participatory way. As a result, the technology shows up in a community, sometimes without warning, and often shuts down once the organizations deploying it leave. Experience design is required for sustainability.
I am using a broad definition of technology in this case. It could be a minigrid company setting up energy systems, but it could also be large donor project tasked with starting new businesses in a country. But in most of these cases, we design our approach based on what the organization needs, and not on the needs of the end user. We will have more success when we focus on those needs. Just as we design the handle on a thresher around user needs and constraints, we should also design the way our employees, government officials, or even program directors engage with these end users to assure maximum impact and long term sustainability. This usage can be a major determinant as to whether the program is actually successful or not. Technology justice means we take a page from how companies deploy their technologies in the developed world, and design our “customer” or participant service with an end goal in mind.
Just as organizations are made up of individuals, organizations operate in multiple interlocking systems. Technology justice depends on systems, and is often determined by systems. People use technology inside of social organizations that are part of larger community systems, which all exist inside of global socio-economic systems, which are built on resources supplied by the global environmental system. These systems aren’t always easy to define, in fact, they can be chaotic or extremely complex. But if we are to work for technology justice we must consider the systems where those technologies are applied. This still conveys the spirit of design with the individual user in mind, it just takes into consideration the systems those users exist in. It also considers the inherent injustice that can often be found in those systems—which is often at the heart of technology justice. For example, there are many technologies that benefit the lives of those of us in the developed world at the expense of those in the developing world, and those injustices are often delivered through systemic connections.
The easy way to deal with this often is to try to cut the cord that exists in a system. Perhaps I hear about an agribusiness firm that is using practices that are ad for the environment and their workers, so I stop buying their products. This doesn’t affect the system. Injustices still happen. Just as large organizations can wreck havoc on the people and environment in a system, they can also be turned to be used as tools for improvement. In some ways, they are too big to be ignored, and systemic change in technology justice requires shifts from actors large and small to be able to create true, long term justice.
For me, technology justice will be delivered by designing technology in collaboration with individual users, deployed through well designed interactions through different organizations and social networks, and creating impact that can be seen on a systemic level.No Comments » | Add your comment
When any new technology comes into a society that deprives or exploits some groups where women are first and victims of this social transformation. It is not a new phenomenon but when we promote this initiative always we forget about human dimension rather attention for more profit making even though that for the high cost of social instability, exploitation, marginalization and cruel to some people mainly to poor, women and children.
In his recent blog Moklesur Rahman, Manager M& E, Practical Action Bangladesh illustrated some of his findings regarding how women are being exploited and humiliated through mobile technology penetration in rural Bangladesh. Concerns, challenges, opportunities and aspirations were elucidated by the technologists, civil society think tankers and government policy influential in a discussion on Technology Justice.
Our second dialogue on Technology Justice was held in Bangladesh on 13 January. It focused on urban services; energy; food, agriculture and markets and ICT as part of Practical Action’s global campaign. Representatives from universities, government departments, national and international NGOs and the private sector participated in the dialogue.
The dialogue was facilitated by five key questions
- Examples of technologies widely accessible, affordable and available to all and also inaccessible to people for basic standard of living
- Examples of technology impacting negatively on others (by area)
- Extent of funding channeled for research and innovation by areas towards addressing social and environmental needs with difference for public and private investment
- Good examples of organizations, people or governments contributing to technology justice
- Emerging technology trends in sectors associated by the representatives having potential to enhance human wellbeing and environmental sustainability.
Widely accessible technologies
98% people have access to sanitary latrines but there are some areas which are hard to reach because of geographical constraints like Char, riverine and hilly areas where sustainability of low cost ring slab latrines and shallow tube well are threatened. In the early sixties tube wells were promoted as fundamental source of safe drinking water but this has caused an arsenic problem as both shallow and deep tube wells have been indiscriminately expanded for drinking water as well as for irrigation of high yield rice production. This has negatively affected ground water levels and raised levels of arsenic in water to intolerable levels in many areas (17% in rural and around 7% households in urban areas are live in arsenic contamination).
Energy supply is urban biased, less than 30% people live there but benefit from high public subsidies. The majority (70%) of people live in rural areas and are unequal in development planning as they are covered by solar home systems for which they pay high prices comparatively.
Infrastructural development for broadband and high speed connectivity hinders the expansion of ICT employment creation.
Food and agriculture
Concerning markets for food and agriculture, technologies such as chemical inputs for production and preservation are often overused then and pose hazards for human health and the environment. Chemical fertilizers are popular as it is perceived that there is no alternative for high yield production among the farmers, which increases the cost of production, pollutes water and the environment pollution and results in loss of local crops varieties.
Research and development
Research and development are highly dependent on public funding yet private and other corporate financing for technology research and promotion for social transformation is challenging.
A range of institutions were mentioned by participants who promote Technology Justice such as the Bangladesh Rice Research institute, the World Fish Centre and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
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I went to see a new play last week about the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who led the Manhattan project which produced the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War.
Over the last few months, I have also seen films about two other famous scientists, Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking, both of which have received Oscar nominations. I can’t remember when interest in science fact (as opposed to science fiction) has been so strong among film makers and the film going public.
The play – Oppenheimer by Tim Morton Smith – was both absorbing and chilling. It also provided an excellent, simplified explanation of the science as well as exploring the moral issues involved in the development of this destructive technology. The project cost more than $2 billion and involved over 100,000 personnel – with the justification that it would shorten the war (which it did) and save lives. It seems that money can always be found for destructive technologies such as these, even when budget are squeezed elsewhere.
What is encouraging is to see more effort being made to make science and technology more accessible and comprehensible to lay people. Also the ethical aspects of scientific and technological research and development are being widely explored.
Priorities for research spending
In this context, Practical Action is developing the concept of Technology Justice. We want research and innovation efforts and money to focus on meeting people’s basic needs and increasing wellbeing and environment sustainability and are engaging with development organisations and scientific institutions to encourage debate on this issue. So raising the profile of science in the arts comes at the perfect time.
In a speech in 2013, Bill Gates pointed out that funding for research on baldness outstripped that for malaria. I have no doubt that $10 billion spent on the Large Hadron Collider is great for science, but when 1.3 billion people in the world still lack access to safe water we have to wonder about our priorities. Please let me know if you have other examples to illustrate this.
If we are ever to eradicate extreme poverty, deal with climate change and live in a more equitable world, there has to be change. And science and technology will play a leading role in making this change happen. Getting more about science on the stage and on the screen should increase knowledge and interest as well as provoking debate, which can only be a good thing.1 Comment » | Add your comment
ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) have been accepted by all irrespective of status – rural or urban, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, even though the pattern and purpose of uses differs based on their individual place in society. They have become an everyday necessity and peoples’ lives are influenced by the use and expansion of new ICT devices. Over the last five years I have interacted with diverse groups of people to get an overall impression of ICT use in rural Bangladesh.
Communication by mobile phone for different purposes (like socialization, networking with different power holders, job search, professional development etc) are now common in Bangladesh. It is not a luxury nowadays but rather a tool to bridge everyday problems with possible solutions, offering hope for alternatives.
Nevertheless, despite having gigantic potential. ICTs have some negative impacts on society – they can cause road accidents since people do not stop using mobile phone while they drive and pedestrians also talk over mobile phone while they cross busy roads. These are often responsible for dangerous accidents leading several deaths or handicaps. The law is not enough; awareness is most vital.
Here I will focus only on the negative impacts that are exclusively faced by women – which need to be recognized and addressed properly.
1. Mobiles are demanded as dowries
It is found that even though a dowry is prohibited it is still widely practiced in rural Bangladesh particularly among resource poor people. In recent days, a mobile phone has become a dowry gift which the groom or his family take as dowry. Sometimes expensive mobiles are demanded which do not correspond to their economic status in rural Bangladesh. This has a negative impact on society, violates women’s rights and promotes unlawful dowry practices.
2. Sharing intimate photos without consent
ICTs have been widely used by men for committing sexual abuse against women, particularly adolescent girls. It is widely reported that during a relationship adolescent girls are often victimized by men taking photos/videos of intimate moments. Most of the time, women do not understand when the photos were taken or video shoots were taken. While the relationship is broken up for any reason, then men start blackmailing or sharing those photos/videos in YouTube or any other social media. The girl and her family become socially isolated, lose their dignity. It has become a very common phenomenon in Bangladesh. Even though there is law against it, but like many others, it is also hardly used in practice. As a result newspapers often report the suicide of adolescent girls suicide because of releasing intimate photos or videos in social media.
3. Missed calls provoke mistrust
Missed or unwanted calls annoy people and sometimes scepticism arises among partners due to frequent disturbing calls. This can cause family misunderstanding and unrest. Women say that when they often receive calls from strangers. When they realise that the person calling does not have any business but just chatting, they usually disconnect the line, but in some cases they misbehave, which results in frequent calls from unknown numbers, even late at night. The way to get rid of such disturbance is to block the number. But many people cannot effort this as it cost a lot. Visiting the police station to make a complaint is always horrifying for people in rural Bangladesh. Thus, while the disturbance continues, at some point husband gets sceptical to his wife (assuming something is wrong with his wife). Thus, conjugal relation and happiness are seriously affected.
4. Dangers of password sharing
Among friends password sharing is symbol of trust among ‘young people in a relationship’ which often causes embarrassment. It happens that while boy sees his girlfriend’s profile and friend list, he deletes/unfriends other boys and those he feels can be harmful for continuation of his relationship.
5. Offensive texting
Mobile phones are widely used by boys to propose to girls (for relationships). When boys get rejected, they send rude texts to girls. When these texts get known to parents or guardians, they often further victimize girls and often this contributes to discontinuation of their studies and early marriage. There is no effective mechanism to trace the calls and caller efficiently. Tracking caller ID is possible, but as neither mobile phone operators nor Government strictly follow SIM number registration process, thus the law and policy has become simply a paper like many others, and it has no implication to victimized users.
In conclusion, it can be said that as an influencing tool for social and behavioral change, ICTs are contributing to reshaping the traditional patriarchal nature of the society and benefiting society as a whole.
As I have written in my previous posts, ICTs have huge potential but also negative impacts (because of misuse) which should not be forgotten and need to be tackled properly to reduce the harmful effect on women’s lives and for the betterment of society as a whole.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Did you know that this Saturday is open data day? How can you have missed it???
Seriously it’s a good idea. It’s a chance to highlight the need for governments, donors and other institutions to open up their data and make it freely available. This is really important in international development. Sharing data is crucial if we are going to share knowledge and learning.
Open data is not to be confused with Big Data. I’m just on my way back from a conference addressing the question of whether Big Data might be the next revolution for agriculture in Africa. (The short answer is “no”). We heard about a new NASA satellite which can map soil moisture across the globe – and make the data available (That is big, open data). We heard about precision farming, where European and North American farmers use GPS to optimise their fertiliser and pesticide inputs (big data, not necessarily open). And we heard about an initiative to improve cashew markets in Africa, by gathering data on quality and sharing it back to the farmers (open data but not that big!).
Overall there is a sense that growth of big data whilst potentially very exciting, could very easily leave Africa behind and contribute to an expansion of the digital divide, rather than a closing of it. In recent years several African countries have seriously adjusted their national income when it became clear that existing statistics were not robust. Very few countries have anything like adequate agricultural surveys on a regular basis.
So pumping more and more data into the internet is unlikely to make things better, data alone is of little value. What would be much better is some effort put into repurposing data – giving it context, and getting it off the internet, into the right language and the right format, and into the hands of the farmers that need it. That could make a really significant contribution to tackling poverty.
So yes, I’ll be supporting open data day, but I’m looking forwards to days which focus on translating data into wisdom, and making it really worthwhile.
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I am a single mother, I know how difficult it can be to juggle work, run a home and look after your child. I also know what it is like to have a child who is ill. My son has an incurable muscle wasting disease. I know how it feels to desperately want to protect your child, to do anything in your power to make things better. I also know what it’s like to have no choice but just do your best.
In November I met Bishwo, a mother from a town called Gorkha in Nepal whose son was ill too. She was just 18 years old and her son, Tham a baby at 9 months old. Bishwo lives alone with her son, her husband was forced to work away in the army as there were no jobs locally. This was the only way the family could survive. His salary (about £70 a month) had to support them and his parents too.
Bishwo invited me into her home, which was small, dark and cramped. In the corner was an open fire. She uses the fire for warmth, cooking and light, without it they couldn’t survive. As soon as I entered the house the smoke hit me like a brick wall, my eyes immediately streaming. I could barely catch my breath.
Bishwo told me how ill Tham was, how he suffered from frequent fevers, coughs and had difficulty breathing. He’d had pneumonia 4 times and he wasn’t even a year old yet. The fire was her only option to keep him warm.
We talked about the Practical Action smoke hood, a simple solution that is placed over the fire and removes up to 80% of the smoke from the house through a chimney. She told me how she wished she could afford one so she and Tham could breathe more easily.
Bishwo never let go of Tham the whole time I was with them. He never stopped crying and wheezing and Bishwo never stop coughing.
I felt a real connection with Bishwo, she was a strong woman and just wanted to do her best for her baby. I could relate to her. I was angry that Bishwo couldn’t protect her son, that she couldn’t afford a smoke hood, that Tham needn’t be this ill. This was preventable.
Indoor air pollution caused by open fires kills 4.3 million people every year. That’s more people than Malaria, HIV and TB combined. This is a health emergency.
A Practical Action smoke hood and chimney costs just £44 and can save lives. We plan to reach as many families like Bishwo’s as we can but we can only do this with your support. To donate and watch our short video please click here
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It’s St Valentine’s day tomorrow – 14th February. It’s a day for romance, when lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, exchanging gifts, and sending Valentine cards. According to Wikipedia the day was first associated with romantic love 700 years ago in the High Middle Ages, “when the tradition of courtly love flourished”. In today’s highly commercialised world though it’s probably more about passion, expensive gifts and the consumption of large amounts of chocolate!
I wanted to use St Valentine’s day to talk about passion. Not passion for a lover, but passion for our cause. Those who know me will know I am a very logical person and like to build up arguments based on evidence. And we like to think that Practical Action has an authoritative voice that speaks from real experience on the ground. We are able to articulate rational arguments when we advocate for changes in the policies and practices of others. But on top of the evidence and the rationale arguments we will always need passion if we are going to be heard and if we want to change the world.
Passion can take different forms. We can be passionate in our anger, but also passionate in our enthusiasm and joy. We need to harness both forms. We need to be angry, and we need the rest of the world to be angry, about the technology injustices that exist today:
- the fact that billions of people still don’t have access to the basic technologies they need for a reasonable standard of life,
- the fact that the world still doesn’t put enough effort into technology innovation to solve the problems of poverty and environmental sustainability,
- the fact that we still allow the use of technologies that damage the lives of others now or in the future (think fossil fuels and climate change for example).
But we also need to be passionately enthusiastic about the possibilities of what can be done. About how our work on the ground today is changing people’s lives. About how our learning is being taken up by others through changes in policies and practices. About how Technology Justice is not just an impossible dream but something that is both achievable and would result in a better world for everyone.
We need our logic and our rationale arguments. Practical Action’s great reputation is based on our ability to argue from a strong evidence base. We talk from experience about things we know.
But we need passion too. Sometimes we just need to take a stand, to argue not just from the evidence but also from the passion that comes from a belief in what is right and what is wrong. We have a great cause – Technology Justice. And we have great people – staff, trustees, and supporters – who form an organisation we can be truly proud of. All the ingredients we need I think!
So, whether or not you celebrate the occasion, let’s all use the excuse of Valentine’s day to inject a little bit of passion into our work. Especially if you, like me, are normally a bit more comfortable with logic and analysis!No Comments » | Add your comment
The Supporter Services department at Practical Action are dedicated to providing excellent care and service to our supporters. As a team we work tirelessly “behind the scenes” and in all our communications with supporters to ensure we meet our high expectations. We were extremely thrilled this week to learn that one of our team has been recognised for her hard work and dedication and has been selected as a finalist under the category ‘Charity Support Function Hero’ for this years Charity Staff and Volunteers Awards.
Gerry Corkhill has worked in the Supporter Services Team for over 10 years and diligently processes an ever-increasing stream of donation functions from our fantastic supporters and keeps up with the fast-paced digital world of fundraising. She, like all the team, is always eager to assist our supporters with any enquiry they have, no matter how small, and aims to provide the highest level of care possible so we are delighted to share the news that one of our unsung heroes has been shortlisted from hundreds of nominations from across the UK.
We are really proud of Gerry and our Supporter Services Team and hope you are too; as normal if you require any assistance from us regarding your donations or have any enquiries about our work or how you can support Practical Action please do get in touch, you can contact us on Email Supporter Services or Tel +44 (0)1926 634506
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Is Practical Action on track with global priorities of development beyond 2015?
We are at the end of the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) era. World leaders will meet at the United Nations in New York in September 2015 to adopt a new set of goals for the post-2015 development agenda under a sustainable development framework that meets the needs of both people and planet. The era of the MDGs has successes, such as a global pathway of development with measurable targets and indicators which are achievable and attainable. In post 2015 development agenda priority has given to sustainability both environmental and social considering the anticipated risks of climate change as a consequence of global warming. What are the major areas in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)? How will they differ from MDGs? Will they conflict or be coherent with the UN agenda beyond 2015?
MDGs and SDGs differences
In MDGs there are six goals with 11 targets. The total goals and targets are more extensive, with 17 goals and 169 targets. One interesting thing is that when the MDGs were formulated there was not enough consultation at the local and regional level. They were developed through a top down approach. But from the beginning of SDGs there has been a massive consultation process even at the community level organized through a variety of processes such as civil society consultation and global forums on different issues. One example is – the MY World survey, the United Nations global survey for a better world. Millions of people have voted on which six development issues most impact their lives, and the number of voters continues to grow. Complementing MY World is the World We Want online platform, where citizens have engaged further. So the negative feedback on framing the MDGs is well addressed in the Post 2015 agenda settings! I had an opportunity to participate in this consultation process in 2013 on behalf of civil society in Bangladesh. The Governance Coalition Forum, a civil society movement for better governance proposed the inclusion of Governance in the Post 2015 and Beyond for Bangladesh country document with some attainable targets and indicators.
How SDGs and MDG are matched
Many less developed countries (LDCs) have yet to attain many targets of MDGs. Therefore the SDG have taken into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respect national policies and priorities. They are built on the foundation laid by the MDGs, seek to complete their unfinished business and to respond to new challenges. In the MDGs setting local targets and priorities was missing but in the SDG each government will set their national targets guided by the global level of ambition with taking into account national circumstances.
How Practical Action would take part in SDGs era
Practical Action’s program work has some priority areas which correlate with MDGs goals like extreme poverty reduction, water and sanitation, disasters and climate change. But it has been identified that when we are entering in the SDGs era then responsibility of Practical Action are increasing significantly. Many of our programs are going to be incorporated in the SDGs (see Table 1). More interesting and encouraging issue is that this is the first in kind so far when a global agenda has been prioritized the technology divide between north and south. In the SDGs ‘Technology’ has become more priority area of global partnership for sustainable development as positioned just after financial cooperation from Developed countries to LDCs.
Table: 1 Practical Action Programs matched with SDGs and Beyond 2015
|Serial||Practical Action||MDGs||SDGs/Beyond 2015|
|1||Extreme Poverty||Goal 1||Goal 1|
|2||Agriculture, Food and markets||-||Goal 2|
|3||Urban Services: Water Sanitation and Hygiene||Goal 7: ( Ensure environmental sustainability target 7 C and 7 D||Goal 6|
|4||Urban Services: Energy||-||Goal 7|
|5||Urban Services- Safer Cities||-||Goal 11|
|6||Disaster and Climate Change||Goal 7||Goal 13|
|7||To contribute to poor people’s wellbeing, using technology to challenge poverty- by building the capabilities of poor men and women, improving their access to technical options and knowledge, and working with them to influence social, economic and institutional systems for innovation and the use of technology||-||Goal 17 and target 17.6 to 17.8|
What Practical Action should do
Goal 17.8 is to fully operationalize the Technology Bank and STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) capacity building mechanism for LDCs by 2017, and enhance the use of enabling technologies in particular ICT. So this is the time for Practical Action to provide technical support to those less developed countries where it has been working for a long time. Practical Action has been organizing a global dialogue on ‘Technology Justice’. I think it is would be a good initiative to identify LDCs status regarding ‘Public Technologies’ – which technologies are more beneficial for communities rather than individuals (e.g.transport, power tillage, sludge disposal systems) where technology justice is denied and where there is progress. At this local level a technology justice dialogue can provide a way forward for global development partners in the design of technology promotion programs for LDCs (SDGs target 17.7) putting people and the environment at the centre, particularly those who are economically poorest, women and other culturally and geographically marginalized people.No Comments » | Add your comment
Practical Action Consulting Southern Africa is carrying out a detailed market systems analysis for the Horticultural Sector in Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe. The analysis will investigate the market blockages and identify opportunities for upgrading the horticultural market systems in Manicaland Province. To facilitate this process Practical Action is using a Participatory Market Systems Development approach to develop the horticultural market systems in Manicaland which creates good conditions for a wide range of key market actors (both public and private) to create solutions and changes that make sense to them and that contribute to making their market systems more inclusive, productive and efficient.
To get an understanding of the issues affecting the horticultural sub-sector, a market mapping and analysis exercise was facilitated in Manicaland Province (Mutare District) from 27 to 30 January 2015. This exercise was instrumental in establishing the potential blockages or bottlenecks, identifying the current market actors in the sub-sector, also getting their views on how they can play a part in addressing the identified blockages available for transforming the horticultural market systems in Manicaland Province.
The interest from various stakeholders included the following; better prices through good relationships amongst all market actors, improved market linkages hence increased incomes, providing smallholder farmers with the required inputs, stakeholder coordination and interactions, market systems transformations, farming practiced as a business, provision of market led agricultural extension services, value added horticultural products and buying commodities from smallholder farmers.
The market mapping and analysis attracted participation from stakeholders which included smallholder farmers from irrigation schemes around Manicaland, Sakubva market vegetable traders, CAIRNS Foods, local agro-dealers (Windmill, Shalom Agro chemicals, Seed Ridge), Standard Association of Zimbabwe, Non-Governmental Organizations representatives (Netherlands Development Organisation, Practical Action, Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe), Micro Finance Institutions (Zambuko Trust) and government representatives (AGRITEX, Mutare Rural District Council and Ministry of Small to Medium Enterprises and Cooperatives Development).1 Comment » | Add your comment