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  • Complexity doesn’t have to be confusing

    Rob Cartridge

    February 3rd, 2016

    credit: from the Mudd Partnership was recently inspired by a talk by Danny Budzak at the International Data and Information Management Conference (IDIMC) in Loughborough. Danny works for the London Legacy Development Organisation and is responsible for their knowledge management. Many of us were recently inspired by Chris Collison’s case study on IOC knowledge management so I was interested to hear Danny’s take on the reality.

    But in fact, the main thing that stuck in my head was Danny’s description of how office life has changed over recent decades. It’s not so very long ago that important documents were typed and filed by professionals – people trained in filing, records management, knowledge management. The fact that a typist may be employed to type a report, and that the opportunity for editing was limited to the use of Tippex, inherently built in quality assurance processes that have long since disappeared.

    Nowadays we are all office managers and knowledge managers. We are responsible for our own digital filing and usually for creating our own filing structures. This is all well and good, when you are creating and capturing knowledge that only you will use. But if you are capturing knowledge that has a wider value – say expertise on how to deliver a development project, then you need to design a system which will allow others to find and retrieve that knowledge easily.

    But how many of us have had any training in the design of such systems. The use of metadata or version control? How many of us have actually even had proper training in the use of excel or word?

    Danny summed up his talk with a great phrase that I will return to. Complexity doesn’t have to be confusing. It’s so easy when faced by burgeoning big data and masses of junk mail to shut ourselves off from the potential sources of knowledge and wisdom. It is the job of the knowledge manager (and we are all knowledge managers) to make sense out of this chaos and confusion and bring order to the complexity.

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  • An inclusive toilet in Nepal brings smiles to the third gender

    In the second week of January, I was on a regular monitoring visit of the SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya project. As per the plan, I headed to the public toilet site in Gulariya bazaar. Reaching the site, I was amazed to see a large group of third gender colleagues around the public toilet.

    I could see delighted faces beaming with joy. Everybody had come together to see themselves being recognised. It was quite hard for me to believe that such a small initiative would bring them such happiness.

    Sapana is happy with the inclusive public toilet in GulariyaI was eager and meet with Sapana Chaudhary (39). She is from Basagadi Municipality 4, Bardiya and currently lives in Gulariya bazaar. Sapana is working with Sundar Sansar; a local NGO as a president. The NGO has seven executive members and 303 general members.

    Sapana was enthusiastic and said the problems the third gender had to face brought her to tears time and again. She told me, “If we go to the electricity office to pay the bills, there are only two sections – for male and female separated with photos; but we can’t find a section for third gender so we feel distressed.”

    She added, “One day, I was travelling to Kathmandu and on the way, the bus stopped at Lamahi, Dang. I went to a public toilet but saw the photos of male and female only. So, I went to an open space to answer the call of nature. Seeing that, the security personnel came to me and forcefully asked to collect the urine. I was terrified and asked him where I should go. I further told him to construct an inclusive toilet. I felt miserable at that time also.”


    Sapana continued, “During speeches in workshops or mass meetings, speakers generally welcome male and female addressing as brothers and sisters or mothers and fathers but nobody recognises thethird gender. We feel as if we have been neglected and are not getting due recognition.”

    Sapana and her team members are advocating at community and district level for recognition as well as for their rights through various awareness raising activities.

    In support of their campaign, the ‘Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015’ project has constructed a public toilet in Gulariya bazaar jointly with the Gulariya Municipality to promote improved sanitation for all. The toilet is inclusive with separate facilities for male, female and third gender including disabled friendly.

    Practical Action has been implementing the two-year project in Gulariya Municipality, Bardiya District in Nepal since August 2014. The project is funded by DFID under UK Aid match fund and is being implemented through Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO) a national NGO.

    Sapana and her colleagues are very happy with this facility. She said the toilet is near the bus stop, so many people can see the inclusive facility. This will help with replication in their respective districts. It is also helping to spread the word about recognition for the third gender in other districts.

    The toilet is located in an appropriate place so they don’t have trouble using it during workshops, training and other events.

    Additionally, the new constitution of Nepal has addressed their agenda. Now, they will be recognised as third gender on citizenship certificates and there will be no gender based discrimination.

    Sapana concluded “For us, this is a prestigious achievement. We would like to thank Practical Action, ENPHO and Gulariya Municipality for promoting such facility.”

    It is a small effort towards gender equality and social inclusion. However, it needs to be addressed at each and every level to achieve sustainable development in the country.

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  • Sandbar cropping to eradicate extreme poverty in Bangladesh

    Haseeb Md Irfanullah

    February 2nd, 2016

    Every year in monsoon, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna and their hundreds of branches carry enormous amounts of water and silt and flood at least a quarter of Bangladesh. The scenario is very different in winter. As the water reduces in the main river channels, thousands of hectares of sandbars (sand-covered silty riverbeds) surface.

    Sandbar cropping is an innovation, tested and scaled up in northern Bangladesh by Practical Action over the last decade, making these uncultivable lands arable.

    A life changing nature-based innovation

    In this agro-technology, numerous pits a couple of feet deep are excavated on sandbars reaching down to the silt layer to sow pumpkin seeds. After a few weeks’ nurturing, green plants come out of these pits and spread over the sand. Over the next few months, flowers bloom, fertilized ones turn into green fruits, which ripen into orange pumpkins.

    pumpkins gaibandhaThis fascinating innovation transforms the silver sandbar first into a green then into an orange landscape.

    This visual metamorphosis of ‘sandscape’ has effectively been used through a series of initiatives over the past 10 years transforming the lives of 15,000  extreme poor families, who were without any land or productive assets, often lived on embankments, earned only a couple of dollars a day, and lacked most basic services.

    The fantastic positive impacts of sandbar cropping on the ultra-poor have been achieved by overcoming many social, environmental, technological and systems challenges.

    Sandbar access

    Existing laws of Bangladesh put sandbars, which are dried up riverbeds and temporary in nature, under the ownership of the government as unsettled land. But the ground scenario is different; most of the sandbars are claimed by local people.

    Although left unused, getting consent from the land claimants for sandbar cultivation by the landless people can be very difficult, especially when there are multiple claimants. After negotiating in presence of local governments, administrations and NGOs, a sandbar can be accessed by an extreme poor family for free or in exchange for cash or by sharing a part of the production.

    Access in exchange of harvest has a downside. Some extreme poor farmers hide their hard-earned pumpkins by harvesting them green. This causes crop damage during storage, leading to lower prices and reduced production.

    A fantastic production of pumpkin not only upholds the success of the sandbar cropping technique, but also increases the value of the sandbar. Seeing the production, some land claimants who initially gave free access began to demand a share in the middle of the season. In other cases, the land claimants increased the percentage of the share the following year. In severe cases, no access was given to the extreme poor as the owner decided to practice sandbar cropping himself. All these indicate a ‘success backlash’ to this nature-based venture.

    Access to land is further constrained by uncertain geomorphology of the rivers. In the upstream of a river, sandbars are temporary. Their extent and characteristics, like position in the river and depth of sand layer, vary significantly from one year to another. If a piece of land appears without a sand layer, it is leased out for cash crops, like tobacco, maize, potato, chilli, onion and garlic. Such uncertainties make long-term land-tenure arrangement for sandbar cropping impossible. Every year, new negotiations have to be opened up for access to new sandbar or to fix the percentage of share cropping.

    To minimize land access challenges, it is important that the local administration and local government formally facilitate the extreme poor’s ‘operational access’ to sandbars, since such a natural-resource-based, innovative cropping system can directly contribute to extreme poverty eradication − the core of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Environmental factors

    Another challenge of sandbar cropping is the dependency on seasons. The starting of sandbar cultivation depends upon the first exposure of sandbars in autumn (October−early November). Late availability of sandbar delays the whole cultivation process. It may lower pumpkin seed germination rate due to severe winter/cold wave. Sand storm may cover young plants causing stunted growth. Sudden rainfall in March can cause crack on mature fruits just before harvest due to lack of micronutrients, like boron, in the soil. Early flooding in late March−early April may also push for early harvest of crops before they mature properly. All these reduce the overall pumpkin production.

    Timely availability of seeds, compost, fertilizers, micronutrients and irrigation has therefore been a basic prerequisite of the success of sandbar cropping. Such need has been met by building farmers’ capacity, establishing effective market linkages, and making financial resources available.

    Human capacity and economic aspects

    Sowing of pumpkin seed in the sandbar pits usually takes place in mid November and the first harvest of green pumpkins occurs in the late February. It is difficult for extreme poor to cope with this three-month lean period as they need to give time to sandbar cropping in lieu of their regular work.

    Sandbar cropping is also labour intensive for a significantly long period. Ability of individual farmer is thus a major factor. It is very difficult to work (e.g. for irrigation, artificial cross-pollination, and pest control) in February−March under strong heat. Ripening fruits also need 24-hour guarding from theft. All these may cause loss of regular daily wages affecting household income. Further, women and adolescents of the family also need to get involved in sandbar cropping, particularly when the male family members migrate the area at the beginning (October−November) or end of the sandbar cropping season (March−April) to work in winter rice fields.

    Cultivating some quick-harvesting crops, like squash, on sandbars has been found to be very useful to cover the lean period by earning money within a couple of months. Further, linking the extreme poor families with other government initiatives, like social safety net programmes, could be useful to partially compensate income loss during sandbar cropping season.

    Managing and marketing the harvest

    pumpkin storagePumpkin, the major sandbar crop, has a long shelf-life. If ripe pumpkins can be stored for a few months, a good price can be expected in the monsoon season. As they mostly have small houses, however, extremely poor farmers cannot store their whole harvest.

    Practical Action helped to install simple, low-cost bamboo shelves within farmers’ houses which helps them store much of their produce for several months. Creating a community storage facility has also been considered, but the farmers have expressed unwillingness to keep their produce somewhere distant.

    Finally, given a huge pumpkin production in a small area, selling them with a reasonable understanding of the market system is a major challenge. The extreme poor have a limited understanding of market mechanisms as they work in the agriculture sector as day-labourers. When they produce crops, usually they produce for themselves, not in bulk for formal markets. Limited access to markets and market information, and over-saturation of pumpkin market may lead to low prices.

    Capacity development of farmers on market systems and value chains, organizing them into formal producers’ associations, facilitating their access to microfinance, and connecting them with big buyers and markets in the region and beyond have therefore been important aspects of sandbar cropping projects in Bangladesh.

    A stepping stone

    Sandbar cropping has effectively shown its potential and strengths to help the extreme poor. In the long journey of promoting this technology, development organizations and their partners have been crucial initiators, facilitators, advocates and catalysts. But the question remains, whether sandbar cultivation alone is robust enough to push ultra-poor families out of extreme poverty.

    Given the uncertainty around the availability of sandbars every year, the low bargaining power of the extreme poor to access sandbars, labour intensiveness, initial and recurring costs, complex market mechanisms, and environmental risks, sandbar cropping may not be practiced by an extreme poor family as the sole livelihood choice year after year.

    sandbar cropping

    A mechanism needs to be built in the sandbar cropping promotion, whereby the income from this practice can be efficiently invested in livelihoods diversification and asset creation (see figure above), creating a staircase to get out of extreme poverty. Sandbar cropping is thus an effective ‘stepping stone’ to bring the riverine extreme poor out of poverty.

    Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is the programme coordinator of IUCN in Bangladesh. He used to lead the disaster risk reduction and climate change programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Haseeb can be reached at



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  • Our 50th anniversary quilt

    Nicola Schumacher

    January 29th, 2016

    Our collection of beautiful quilt squares for the 50th Anniversary quilt, is growing steadily with the latest one arriving today from Maddy Broome – thank you so much Maddy!quilt square

    If I understand correctly from the bundle of letters that came with the square, Maddy not only went to her book group, neighbours and colleagues for button donations but also sent requests to friends all over the place. They sent back their buttons with a few lines about why they had chosen them and it was those letters that she has sent on to me. One I found particularly touching was from someone called Wanda who had donated a button of Joe’s who I presume was her partner/husband.

    She wrote: “We miss him so, so it’s wonderful to think this tiny ‘symbol’ of him will live on.”

    Last weekend I had a text from an old friend of mine who had held a party with neighbours to make a quilt square which I am very much looking forward to seeing!

    She said, “We had a wonderful evening… I had 16 over and it was a lovely cross-section of the ladies of our village. They drank me dry and finally left at 1 am! We all agreed that we should get together more often. The buttoning was a wonderful catalyst, creative without being demanding. Our square is being finished by a neighbour who couldn’t come along. It’s quite eccentric – you’ll see what I mean!”

    Marion sent through 3 squares, one with a special Three legs of Man button, following a Buttons & Biscuits event at her home in the Isle of Man.

    The wonderful thing that is emerging from this quilt process is how making squares brings people together – perhaps, gives us an excuse to make contact, get together and share with friends the things that are special to us – including Practical Action! And that is essentially what Practical Action is doing all the time in its projects – bringing people with knowledge together with the people who need it and developing creative and simple solutions to the problems that they face.  And that is wonderful!

    I had a lot of tea and cake with my neighbours at the start of the year and they were very intrigued as to why they were asked to ‘bring a button and a pound’. That square is almost finished and I have now got one started at school. This Sunday I will be talking at my local Methodist Church about it and from early February there will be a square in progress in a coffee shop in Shrewsbury along with an article in the local paper (fingers crossed) so anyone can come along and take part.

    I hope you are still inspired to contribute. The deadline is 31st March so you still have lots of time to collect and send buttons or make quilt squares.   It’s very simple!

    So please keep those squares coming and keep having fun telling people about Practical Action!

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  • Who controls innovation?

    Jonny Casey

    January 25th, 2016

    Innovation is often heralded as the measure of progress of businesses, technologies and even societies. It is through innovation that we create not only new tools or apps, but also how we shift entire systems to new sets of standards, regulations and performance. But the focus and direction of innovation efforts are most often to create new private value – through more business profit – rather than greater social value – through meeting the basic needs of global populations. (more…)

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  • Join a movement for Technology Justice!

    Paul Smith Lomas

    January 21st, 2016

    Today Practical Action released Technology Justice: A Call to Action. Technology Justice Call to Action

    In it we introduce the idea of Technology Justice – how so many existing technologies are not available to people who need them;  how many technologies we use today are destroying the planet; and how technology innovation is not focussed on addressing real needs.

    This call to action is designed to reach out to and engage with like-minded individuals and organisations and inspire them to collaborate with Practical Action to take action towards Technology Justice. We want to engage with anyone who might help us to build the case for change, and raise our voices to challenge technology injustice.

    Come and join the conversation!

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  • When Manjari met Badamanjari

    Ananta Prasad

    January 20th, 2016

    Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes ~ EF Schumacher

    This is about a story of two entities carrying the same name and few similarities; however the differences make this quite a story.  It began when we took a journey from Bhubaneswar to Koraput to see a few micro hydro projects. I was assigned to document the good practices and was figuring out ways to start.

    By the time we left Bhubaneswar, both the characters were already developed and discussed by my colleagues. One was part of geography and the other one was human existence. One was the means to progress the other one was progressive. One was hopeful about the hopes of the other one. One was a place to visit and other one was the visitor. One was Manjari and the other one was Badamanjari.

    IMG_0793 (Cópia)

    Badamanjari Village, Koraput, Odisha

    It sounds funny, but what made me write this blog was something which we in Practical Action believe -giving the human touch to my work. Though it started with pulling Manjari’s leg, (he’s the Senior Energy officer from the Nepal office) we all were heading to Badamanjari where we have demonstrated a micro hydro project linking it with sustainable livelihood under project SMRE (Sustainable Micro-hydro through Energizing Rural Enterprises & Livelihood) with a support from WISIONS.

    Crossing the hilly terrains of the Eastern Ghats, we were heading towards Badamanjari on the second day, we were constantly teasing Manjari making her more inquisitive about the place. We crossed the beautiful valleys of Koraput on our way, taking photos of beautiful landscapes. We passed several small villages and hamlets but Badamanjari was still far away. I was ready with my camera to capture the moment when Manjari meets Badamanjari!!

    I could hear the beat of drums and local instruments. I guessed a wedding was happening seeing the crowd of people. But as soon as we came closer, a few familiar faces came towards us, which made me sure that we are in Badamanjari and the music was to welcome us. We were overwhelmed but things that happened after that made our day. When Manjari got down from the car, the women put garlands around her neck and also on ours – this was a grand welcome, beyond our expectations.

    To our surprise, the women took Manjari to dance with them with the beats of local songs and the instruments. I could see a perfect sync between Manjari and Badamanjari. It was a beautiful village in the foothills of tall mountains with colourful walls and magical music of water flowing from the surrounding fountains.

    After nearly two hours in the village, when we were returning, I asked Manjari, about her experience and I was expecting her to be happy and positive about the warm welcome and the time we spent there. She had showed the villagers how to operate the powerhouse smoothly.  After a few seconds of silence and a deep sigh, Manjari replied.

    Her reply initiated a discussion about something which we must bring into our practices in the village.  We had community meeting where there was a proportionate number of both male and female  villagers attending. But when it came to participation in the discussion the women said very little, despite being asked several times. One of the villagers was translating the discussion in local Kui language but it made no difference. The women remained silent and we were unsure whether they got anything from the discussion or not. I could see the worry in the words of Manjari while she shared this. She was unhappy to see few women participating in the development process. She also raised a valid point that no women from the village have a clear idea of the micro hydro project and things that are benefitting their village.  No women accompanied us at the powerhouse.

    IMG_0838 (Cópia)

    Women from Badamanjari Village, Koraput

    There is a need, for these women to come out of their cocoon.”  she said. With these words of Manjari, I could connect to a lot of situations and suddenly Manjari made me realise that, I have also taken the video interviews of a male villager whereas it could have been a women sharing her bit of story.

    We had already left the village and it gave me enough space to rethink and realise the real essence of development.

    As a development professional when all our efforts are heading towards making life better of marginalised communities, our ethics should compel us to take a stand on bringing equality in all spheres. Gender equality must feature in our actions in the field and rather than just being a term in the development dictionary. All our projects and people managing projects and supporting services must be sensitised to work on this. Because real essence of development lies in practice rather than theory – this what Manjari made me realise.

    As they say, we learn from our mistakes. I am hopeful to give justice to my work at a personal level by abiding by such ethical values. Beyond all good memories, hardship and fun we had during the journey I will take away this learning which will make me a better individual and a professional as well. Yes, it was a story, a real one. Of two entities with the much similarity of name, but beyond the names I could feel the invisible bond unnoticed.

    I looked out of the window and saw the setting sun and a silver lining there at the horizon.

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  • Disaster Risk Reduction and political economy

    Jodi Sugden

    January 19th, 2016

    At Practical Action, we know that investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR) is far more effective and efficient at saving lives and livelihoods than post-disaster relief – although both are necessary, to a greater or lesser degree. When more is invested in appropriate DRR, less relief is needed – as per the oft quoted fact that every $1 spent on DRR saves at least $7 in post-disaster relief (UNDP, 2016).

    Unfortunately, it is not always possible to carry out those DRR activities that are the most obvious or the most urgent, because DRR is inextricably linked to the political economy.

    For example: Practical Action works with one community just outside Piura, in northern Peru. Piura is the capital of a province with the same name and is economically the second most important region in the country outside of Lima.

    The community of Polvorines is built on a seasonal wetland, so that during heavy rains, the water naturally drains there. The last time there was severe El Niño flooding in the area many houses were washed away and great damage done to life and livelihoods. One might think this would deter people from living in the area, but that was over 10 years ago now, and recent migrants to the area find it hard to worry about such a sporadic event. Furthermore, they have put much time, effort and resources into building their homes in a place from which they can reach their livelihoods in Piura, and the surrounding agricultural zone. Persuading them to move would not be easy, even if it were as simple as moving them into ready-made housing in another location – which it is not. The local municipality will not encourage them to leave either, as it was they who encouraged them to live here in the first place.


    flood disaster Peru risk reduction

    Los Polvorines, Peru


    So what can we do in such a difficult situation? Practical Action is using the Markets for DRR approach (M4DRR) to analyse some of the post-disaster risks associated with reconstruction, and see if they may be reduced. For example, should a large reconstruction effort be needed, will there be sufficient labour and construction materials available locally? Where are the bottlenecks in the market chain that moves construction materials to the area, for example, are there any vulnerable bridges that might be washed out? How much will it cost to reinstate basic services, such as water and electricity, and who will be able to access credit to pay for these? On what terms?

    The people of Los Polvorines are endangering themselves by living on unsuitable land because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. In the long-run, choices will have to be made. A flood event may provide the stimulus to move households to a more secure and appropriate location, if such a place can be found which still enables people to access their livelihoods. If not, ways will have to be found to make the area more suitable for habitation, for example by improving drainage, or raising houses onto stilts. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the community of Los Polvorines to mediate risk wherever possible.


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  • Role of women waste pickers in Dhaka

    Mary Carenbauer

    January 8th, 2016

    Beneath the glaring afternoon sun, I watch as a woman crouches roadside at the base of a city garbage container, referred to as a “dustbin”. Using her unprotected hands, she dutifully sorts through the waste, separating out non-perishable items of value such as plastic, paper, and glass. These items are placed in a woven basket to be sold to a local scrap shop and then recycled. She is considered a “tokai”- a waste recyclable wastepicker. She is one of the estimated 120,000 in Dhaka.

    For the “Technology and the Future of Work” project, the Dhaka office has chosen to focus the waste sector interviews on the informal workers who collect waste from households. From there, it is transported by rickshaw van to the local dustbin. Although it varies in every neighbourhood, there is generally a system of microenterprises organising the collection. Although still in many ways an unfavourable and marginalised profession, being a waste collector requires some capital, allows for a fixed monthly salary, and has a certain level of visibility within the city. This role is predominantly undertaken by men. As explained by my friend and research partner Lamia, it is “a social norm” that women are not the waste collectors; rather, they are usually the tokai earning a precarious daily wage.

    waste picker on siteThe strategy for fieldwork designated one research pair to focus on South Dhaka and the other to focus on North Dhaka. From 11 to 30 May, Lamia and I visited 12 areas in South Dhaka. On the first day in the field, we spoke a woman tokai. She shared that she would like to purchase a collection van, but did not have the money and also thought that no one would be interested in selling her a van due to her gender. She worked formerly as a household maid, but after the death of her husband began waste picking as a means to earn more money. She has a son who assists her. She chose to call her story “I am helpless”.

    female waste picker with collection vanOn our fifth day of interviews, I was surprised and curious to meet a woman waste picker who collects from households. She explained that her husband needed assistance to pull the van and was unable to finance an employee, so they began to share the work. They receive only one salary from their supervisor. Although she expressed no discrimination from other male workers, she said she does not wish this work for other women, as it is “dirty” and “not nice”. Her work helping her husband seemed to me an exception, a visible overstep of a gender boundary.

    As the fieldwork progressed, Lamia and I traveled across South Dhaka. Interestingly, changing areas brought changing gender dynamics. In Moghbazar and Malibagh, we met several women waste workers who collected waste from every flat and transported it to the dustbin. One respondent explained she faced no social problems doing this work. “People don’t give me any trouble”, she said, “And this work doesn’t change the way that people view me. This is because at the end of the day, I can go home and I can wash my hands and then I am clean. Then I am the same as anyone else”.

    Factors such as gender, class, and race compound to influence both what women earn, and what work is available to them. As Dhaka city has no formal recycling system, waste pickers are the primary processors in a system of both economic and environmental benefit. Women may be emerging as the new face of the informal recycling chain in Dhaka in terms of participation, but it is often a face veiled from public or political recognition; a face kept looking down at a basket behind a dustbin. However, gender and class have demonstrated an interesting and unexpected relationship for women’s work opportunities in the waste sector.

    Far greater numbers of women waste collectors, who also separate and sell the recyclables, were visible in lower socioeconomic areas in the city. I asked Lamia about these variations. She explained that our earlier interviews had been in posher areas, and now we had transitioned. It seemed that in the less wealthy areas, there was less stigma around women’s involvement in waste work. These observations negated my previous ideas that increased income, and assumed increased education, necessarily leads to increased gender positioning- at least in the informal waste sector. Lamia nodded to draw my attention to the happenings around us and explained, “you see this man, and he is here fixing his rickshaw. And next to him, this woman is depositing the waste in the dustbin. And there are also men working with the waste. They are all working for their survival. In that way, it doesn’t matter that he is man and she is woman. In that way, they are the same”.

    Additional Reading

    Chen, M. (2001). Women and Informality: A Global Picture, the Global Movement. SAIS Review, 21(1), pp.71-82.

    Chen, M., Vanek, J. and Carr, M. (2004). Mainstreaming informal employment and gender in poverty reduction. London: Commonwealth Secretariat and International Development Research Centre.

    Waste Concern, (2004). Country Paper Bangladesh. Dhaka, pp.1-20.

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  • Happy Floating Gardening!

    Haseeb Md Irfanullah

    January 5th, 2016

    The year 2015 ended well for floating-garden-enthusiasts!

    On 15 December, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared floating gardening of Bangladesh as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). This agricultural system has now become one of the 36 systems around the globe, and the first from Bangladesh. A GIAHS is essentially an outstanding land use system or a landscape that has been evolving with a community meeting their needs and desire for sustainable development.

    Floating gardening is a traditional agricultural practice in the southern part of Bangladesh. In this farming system, rafts are made on stagnant waters with aquatic plants, mainly water hyacinth. On these platforms, crop seedlings are raised, and vegetables, spices and other crops are cultivated during monsoon. In winter, when water recedes from the wetlands, these rafts are dismantled and mixed with soil as compost to grow winter crops.

    gathering produce from a floating garden 21778

    In addition to supporting food and nutrition to rural Bangladeshis, this indigenous technology is a good tool for disaster management and climate change adaptation in the wetlands. Floating farming has also been an useful income generation option for wetland dwellers, thus their poverty alleviation, by managing aquatic resources.

    Over the past few years, floating gardening has received much global attention, specifically as a means of adaptation to climate change. It has now found its place in the latest authoritative Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Practical Action’s work on floating gardening in Bangladesh is showcased by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a farmer-led sustainable agricultural adaptation technology.

    FAO’s latest recognition is a step forward to appreciate the contribution and opportunity of this indigenous technology to mitigating some basic global challenges, like food insecurity, extreme poverty and climate change. Such global appreciation is indeed a result of long-term efforts by many organizations, like, Practical Action, IUCN, CARE and Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), to name a few.

    It is interesting to note that Bangladesh’s centuries-old floating gardening technology had never left its ‘centre of origin’ − a small area of about 25 sq km − until NGOs started promoting it in the late 1990s. This is particularly fascinating since about 50% of Bangladesh’s 147,570 sq km is basically wetlands.

    The recent robust promotion of floating gardening is an excellent example of how an indigenous technology can transform  poor people’s lives as an innovation − in new areas, to meet new challenges. There, however, has not been any assessment per se to check if floating gardening is really a sustainable option under changing climate. Such testing is very logical as the growth and survival of water hyacinth is very much dependent on amount of rainfall, length of flooding period, and salinity of water − all to be affected by climate change.

    The need for research on floating gardening has repeatedly been raised in recent years. But very limited studies on floating agriculture, however, do not match the overwhelming interest in and increasing recognition of this technology.

    It may be argued that floating agricultural practice has reached its pinnacle in Bangladesh by being in practice over centuries. But ever-changing climate and hydrology, people’s economic conditions and aspirations, and our development approaches have been continuously changing the face of floating gardening in newly introduced areas. To cope with these changes and uncertainties, promotion of floating gardening should be backed by organized innovation, planned research, and effective knowledge management.

    As we start 2016, floating gardening gives us a fantastic opportunity to go about nature-based solutions to basic development challenges − extreme poverty, food insecurity, climate change − duly supported by evidence, not only by emotion.

    Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is the programme coordinator of IUCN in Bangladesh. He used to lead the disaster risk reduction and climate change programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Haseeb can be reached at

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