Last month, during my field visit, I met with a farmer and an early adopter.
Raj Mani Chaudhary, a resident of Khaireni-7, Chitwan in Nepal is all smiles when asked about Rice Duck Farming. Before, he did not have any idea about rice duck farming. He used to plant paddy in his field in a traditional way like he always used to do. But it was not until last year when he found out about Practical Action’s Rice Duck Farming Pilot Project. He was really curious, so he attended the training. He says, “I found the concept of rice duck farming very fascinating, you not only benefit from the duck meat but also the droppings which is used as organic fertilizers, and at the same time the ducks in the field save your time and labour for weeding and manuring.”
The rice duck method for growing rice involves releasing ducklings into paddy fields about one or two weeks after the seedlings have been transplanted. The ducklings help rice grow by eating insects and weeds. It eliminates the use of pesticide and the farmer saves his time by avoiding the manual work of pulling out the weeds from the field. The ducks also stir up the soil in the paddy fields with their feet and bills which creases the oxygen content of the soil, making it more nutritious for the rice seedlings.
In April 2013, Mr. Chaudhary attended training on rice duck farming, where he learned about raising the ducklings, space transplanting the rice, integrating duck in the rice field, fencing and so on. As an initiation, Practical Action provided him with 81 ducklings for his 4.5 Kattha land (1 Kattha= 0.33 Hectare).
He recalls the very first day of releasing the 15 days old ducklings to his paddy field, “I was very anxious and curious, I did not know how the combination of rice duck farming work. I used to watch the ducklings play around in the paddy field for hours.” After exactly 5 months, his patience paid off. The yield rose by 20 percent and he was able to make extra money by selling the duck meat.
Being an early adopter, Mr Chaudhary cannot stop sharing the benefits of rice duck farming – higher yield, organic rice that can be sold at a higher price, the duck meat which fetches extra income, the droppings which act as fertilisers and the ducks which assist by pulling out the weeds and eating the insects.
He is a role model for fellow farmers in his village and urges them to adapt rice duck farming in their land. “I cannot wait for this year to start my rice duck farming,” he chuckles.
Although Practical Action’s innovative rice duck farming is in its early days, we believe the innovation will benefit more farmers financially in the future.No Comments » | Add your comment
My daughter has recently started keeping a few chickens in our garden. I now have a daily supply of fresh eggs and ‘the girls’ (Audrey, Cherie and Margot) fortunately require very little input from me. Occasionally they escape their enclosure and excavate my vegetable plot but generally they have been a positive addition to our household. Only the cat begs to differ.
Keeping chickens has a far greater impact on the lives of women in the Kassala region of Sudan. Eggs provide their families with an excellent source of protein in a normally less than adequate diet. But the ability to sell their produce offers the prospect of some extra income in a society where this is hard to achieve for women.
In an interesting collaboration with our energy work, some of the women in this project have been given solar lamps for their chicken houses. Light is important for hens as they generally lay eggs when they have at least 16 hours of daylight - difficult to achieve in equatorial regions.
Our hens supply us with endless amusement and the luxury of a really fresh breakfast. For women in Sudan they are an opportunity for financial independence and a key ingredient for a more balanced diet.
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Chloe Tuck, an Industrial Design and Technology at Loughborough University worked with Practical Action in her final year project to help design a more contextually appropriate device that would suit the podcasting scheme in Zimbabwe. She writes about her design and her experience below.
About the Mp3 device
Practical Action has been using Mp3 players in its current project to share podcasts on farming techniques between communities. This provides more people with skills and knowledge which enable them to better their own lives. The technique of podcasting is preferred over traditional techniques like pamphlets and radio as users are not restricted by literacy ability and can learn at their own rate. The project has been well received by the pilot communities in Zimbabwe; the emphasis on local knowledge shared in local voices proved to truly be a vehicle for self-progression. However, despite the success of the programme, the devices currently being used are not optimally designed for the Zimbabwean rural community context. The main problem is the need for the batteries of the Mp3 player to be re-charge; a resource that is not easily accessible meaning it can be weeks between charges.
Newly proposed design
After conducting a considerable amount of research, test rigs, prototyping, user interactions and discursive design, a finalised design was proposed. This new design tackles some of the key problems faced by the current devices, and would be expected to bring ease of use and effective results to communities. The key features of the device are:
- Kinetically powered by hand: Renewable technology that requires little exertion. This is implemented through the use of a 3:1 gear ratio and a dynamo. 2 minutes of hand cranking at 120rpm generates up to 15 minutes audio feedback. Once charged the energy is stored in an internal replicable battery.
- Modularity: The product is split into two separate components, the dynamo unit and the Mp3 unit. The units self-locate together using magnets and pass charge from the generator unit using induction. This has many benefits to the design including improved sustainability; if broken only half the product is deposed of preventing unnecessary redundancy of technology. The dynamo unit can be used to provide charge to other devices when not in use such as lights and when available mobile phones. The weight of the product is dramatically reduced making for a more pleasurable user experience when in use in the field.
- Inter-changeable handle: Many hand cranked devices are prone to broken handles rendering the entire product defunct, creating waste. The key innovation here is the removable and replaceable handle. The device has a loop that is permanently attached that accommodates a handle that is held in place through tension and pressure, if this is lost it can be replaced with a similar shaped implement, something as simple as a stick. This considerably elongates the useable life of the product.
The colours and patterns chosen were directly influenced by research into decorative Zimbabwean patterns and basking weaving with a contemporary twist. Not only does this break away from the often dull colour schemes of most Mp3 players but also provides a stark contrast to the its surroundings making it easy to find if dropped. The device also allows the users to record their own podcasts and feedback.
Where to next?
Despite combating the main design flaws of the current device, after conducting user focus groups with the fully functioning prototype it became clear that some facets still need fine tuning to create the optimum results. To carry this project forward there needs to be more research into the user interface and user experience of the product to create a truly seamless and intuitive product.
See full project here Kemo-be; Bringing community minds together1 Comment » | Add your comment
‘It’s true that, at least in the public sphere, the Dalit community has made progress since the days within living memory when they were beaten if their shadow touched a higher caste person, wore bells to warn of their approach, and carried buckets so their spit wouldn’t contaminate the ground.’ – National Geographic
Caste vs. Constitution
Making up approximately 20% of the populations of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the Dalit community is excluded from the caste system altogether, but sometimes referred to as a ‘scavenger’ caste, within which are more divisions, the lowest considered to be litter pickers, toilet cleaners, those preparing bodies for funerals, removing dead animals from roads and killing rats and other pests.
Under the 1950 India constitution the Dalit community was afforded affirmative action (in education and hiring quotas) and the concept of untouchability officially banned under Article 17. The Prevention of Atrocities Act in 1989 made it illegal amongst other actions to take away their land, interfere with their right to vote and burn down their homes.
However Dalits continue to face discrimination, especially in rural areas where access to communal water sources are restricted and land ownership is rare: ‘Most rural Dalit’s earn their living as agricultural laborers or as collectors of human waste to be used as fertilizer.’
In 2010 the Robert K Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights identified 98 distinct practices across 1589 villages pertaining to caste based discrimination (Page 5) including a ban on hiring cooking pots for weddings, smoking a pipe, touching vegetables in a shop and driving through a village in a vehicle.
Rural to urban movement
Many Dalit families left rural areas to live in the rapidly growing cities, usually in slum areas, and are often exploited. Many are not allowed to rent outside their communities .Urban services (water, sanitation, hygiene, waste management) are often not accessible to poorer communities. This is a combined failure of planning, financial and management capacity and governance. The fact that the Dalit community has little say in the services provided to them means that they rarely see improvements in access to services in their own communities. The conditions in which they live make it difficult for them to form effective representative organisations.
Delivering Decentralisation: slum dwellers’ access to decision making for pro-poor infrastructure services
Delivering Decentralisation focuses on improving the lives of 36,000 slum dwellers by enabling communities to engage in the planning and decision making processes of local government, helping them to form effective representative organisations to ensure that they are able to improve the delivery of public services in their area.The programme is taking place in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, in Faridpur & Jessore (Bangladesh), Butwal and Bharatpur (Nepal), Kurunegala and Akkaraipattu (Sri Lanka) fromApril 2012 – March 2016. Partners in Bangladesh include the Society for the Urban Poor (Faridpur, Bangladesh) and Development of Health and Agriculture Rehabilitation Advancement (Jessore, Bangladesh).
Old Pourasava, Jessore
One of the focus areas is Old Pourasava, one of 5 Dalit wards in Jessore, established in 1946. The main profession of the community is cleaning and empting safety pits and sewerage lines.
At the beginning of the project the community had only two toilets for 80 women and 65 men. There was a water tap coming from the municipality water supply line. People would fetch water twice a day (7am-10am and 12pm-6pm). There was one tubewell which remained out of order most of the time.
Practical Action worked with the Dalit community in Jessore to help them form elected representative organisations (Settlement Improvement Committees) to lobby for improvements to the delivery of public services in their area. The election process was participatory with the supervision of an electoral body consisting of the Municipality Mayor, Councilors, Executive Director (or Field Coordinator) of partner organisations and representatives from Practical Action. The community also formed a Society Development Federation (SDF) as a platform to communicate and coordinate with Municipality, partners and other development agencies for different services like education, health and income generating activities. The committees have been elected for 2 years.
The community then prepared a participatory plan using social mapping, resource mapping, well-being analysis, Chapati diagrams, and priority ranking of needs. They identified and prioritised needs to address demand by seeking funding from development partners, the municipality and other potential service providers, providing a road map to the community for their next course of action. Before finalisation the action plan was shared with Municipality Councillors in the presence of the whole community.
For community leaders to observe how development was being achieved in a similar context, exposure visits were organised to Gaibandha Municipality to gather knowledge on waste-to- compost, waste-to-biogas and other techniques which could be replicated in Old Pourasava.
Practical Action supported the community in the design, procurement and construction of drainage and footpaths. Prior to construction, the community volunteered to remove uncollected and accumulated waste.
Women and girls
The association and its members are motivating adult female and adolescent girls to diversify their economic opportunities to supplement family income to invest in better health and education for their children. Links with organisations who can support training and income generating activities as well as childcare have been made (e.g. Family Planning Association of Bangladesh).
Challenges to the programme
The programme faced challenges to ensure the participation of extremely poor people in the planning and monthly meetings of slum improvement committees due to their long working hours. The programme also faced challenges in bringing synergy between different community associations; the community expressed concern that if they join other existing associations their special agenda inclusion will be lost since they would become a minority in a federation. Sharing meetings to discuss views, planning and progress were organised between other community organisations while they remained separate entities.
Beyond the programme
After Practical Action helped to facilitate development planning, a new organisation was formed with the aim of making Dalit settlements healthy and liveable through access to inclusive services. The organisation is helping 6 Dalit communities develop their neighbourhood plans, led by their respective community associations.
Members participated in Jessore Municipality’s pre-budget meeting and expressed the priority areas in which they want to draw down support from the annual development budget of Jessore town.
The project is advocating for Jessore Municipality to bring other stakeholders in to support other priorities reflected in their neighbourhood plans. Community Association leaders are also negotiating with non-state development agencies for access to doorstep health and education services at fair prices. The Association approached bodies such as the District Social Welfare, the District Women Affairs Office amongst other development agencies, and was successful in receiving different types of income generation training for the Dalit community. These follow on actions are building the aspiration of a healthy living environment and fuller integration into society; building relationships and accessing services and resources which will leverage change beyond the close of the programme in 2016.
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Around this time last year I had the privilege of spending time in the remote villages of Lorengippi and Lobei in Turkana, northern Kenya.
It was a time for celebration. Practical Action had recently installed a solar powered water pump in Lobei capable of pumping out thousands of litres. The community was clearly flourishing thanks to new school toilets (which had dramatically increased attendance amongst girls), a newly restored market garden where crops were being grown and easy access to clean water for all families.
Meanwhile the village of Lorengippi rang out with song as I witnessed the first gallon or so of water being pumped out of the newly installed solar-powered pump. This community still faced all the problems Lobei had recently overcome, but the overwhelming feeling was one of optimism that a reliable supply of water would bring greater health, wealth and happiness.
Fast forward a year, and the situation isn’t so positive. Since my visit barely a drop of rain has fallen, meaning pastures have failed and the pastoralists who live and work in the region face disaster. In response, (thanks to an agreement Practical Action staff helped broker), most of the men have taken the cattle over the border to Uganda where the pastures will keep their cattle – the only source of income & wealth in the region – alive.
However, although the communities we work in have been left with clean water, sources of food have been harder to come by. The departure of the men-folk has left thousands of women and children with nothing. Our work means that in the communities in which we have installed pumps, people will no longer die from dehydration, but goats and chickens have perished and and left those who are left almost entirely dependent on food aid. Fortunately, a well-co-ordinated response from the regional government has meant that disaster has been avoided.
In years gone by, severe droughts like this year’s were once in a lifetime events. Now they are happening once every decade. The situation in Turkana underlines how we need to confront the causes of climate change and proves that no one solution can ever solve a global phenomena.
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Nestled in the shadows of the Alps, I joined 400 people at EPFL in Lausanne last week to talk technology justice. For many it was the first time they’d heard their work framed as a justice issue. But this lively mix of academics, development workers and technologists from 70-odd countries had something in common: their vision for all people to be able benefit from essential technology; for that technology to be more environmentally sustainable; and to overcome the injustice faced by billions of people who go without food, shelter or water each day, despite humanity having the technological ability to provide it.
A compelling address from the World Health Organisation drove home that in medicine there is plenty of available technology, as well as big business interest and a huge research and development effort. But even then, very little technological effort is aimed at benefiting the vast numbers of people in the developing world who don’t already access even basic medical technologies, and yet carry the world’s burden of disease and medical risk. Still today, 800 mothers die each day in childbirth: many of whom could be saved by the having access to simple, existing medical devices. Adriana Velasquez Berumen reminded us of a pressing need for new innovation of devices that are appropriate for use in remote, harsh environments or where there may be minimal services such as electricity and water.
I presented Practical Action’s work in urban areas of Bangladesh, Nepal and Kenya as part of a discusson on essential technologies for the mega-cities of the future.
The conclusions: the people are more important than the specific technologies. Involving them in decision-making and planning is crucial to creating cities where all citizens can enjoy all essential basic services – waste collection, water connection and toilets. The technology itself is secondary.
This perspective is one that I hope will be shared by the LBNL Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies (LIGTT). Recognising that R&D into technologies that serve the needs of the poor just is not happening at the necessary scale, they’ve compiled a list of critical problems and promising interventions for priority development and deployment. I’ll be keeping an eye out for publication of their 50 breakthroughs for sustainable development in the next few months. What would be top of your list?No Comments » | Add your comment
This weekend I heard the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities.
Hearing the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities. I’ve recently returned from Southern Bangladesh and having visited, there are two jobs I’ve identified as being my version of hell:
1. Pit latrine emptier
2. Rickshaw driver
It’s obvious how a bicycle plays a role in Rickshaws, but what do bicycles have to do with pit latrine emptying? …and it’s obvious that emptying pit latrines as a living would be a nightmare, but what’s wrong with being a rickshaw driver?
Well rickshaws are definitely at the bottom of the road transport pecking order. Imagine… its rush hour, the roads are jam packed with tuc-tucs, cars, buses and lorries, you have no gears, there’s a passenger or two sitting passively in the back…oh and then there is their luggage…. Now this can be a small briefcase or hand bag, or it can be about 200 kilos of reinforced steel cabling (15 foot long), 100 kilos of mangoes, jack fruit or several 20 kilo sacks of rice… the temperature is in the mid thirties Celsius and the humidity is over 70 percent. Everyone else on the road has priority over you, everyone is hooting their horn at you and the pay you receive is not in line with the effort you exert.
So pit latrine emptying…bicycles, really? Well yes. In order to empty a pit latrine situated deep in the warren of narrow pathways in a slum, you need something to transport the waste that’s small enough to get between the houses but strong enough to cope with loads up to 200 kilos. Practical Action is working with communities of Bengali and Harijan ‘sweepers’ whose lot in life it is to clean the streets and empty pit latrines. With no safety equipment, just their bare hands and a bucket, these men and women remove foul smelling liquid sludge from these latrines and take it away – to be dumped into a canal or a ditch somewhere in the city. Our Safer Cities appeal last Christmas means that now, with Practical Action’s help, they are receiving training and safety equipment, and new sludge transporting bicycle carts. The next step is to work with the municipalities to help them deal with the sludge safely, and to invest in machinery that can be fitted to bicycle carts so that the sludge can be pumped from the pit without needing someone to climb inside.
Bicycle carts play an important role in other ways in this project. Specially adapted carts are used to collect kitchen waste from homes, that is used to create compost for farming, or digested to generate gas for cooking, piped to homes close by.
In communities where safe drinking water is still a dream, bicycle carts bring clean water to be sold for drinking and cooking. So whether its bringing clean water, removing waste or sludge, the bicycle still has the power to transform poor communities. Helping poor communities access appropriate technologies is still a key part of our work, and a key part of the puzzle in achieving a state of technology justice – where technology is used to for the benefit of all.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I’m sitting in a tiny, overly hot hotel room in London planning how to talk about knowledge with our international directors tomorrow.
Our work on knowledge sharing – maximising the benefits of everything we do by sharing with the people who need to know the details of our work and/or learning – how to do it - is brilliant!
I remember hearing of a group in the Democratic Republic of Congo who had communicated with our technical enquiry service about the design of a micro hydro system to power a village – the report was branded IT (as in Intermediate Technology even before my time with Practical Action) but only now after many years were they in a position to put it into action. And they intended to build – they had been dreaming, waiting for the right time.
On the other hand I recall talking with a woman in Nepal who through Practical Answers had learnt about low cost home produced organic pesticide – the immediate impact on her crop was fantastic and the increased income had transformed her life and that of her family.Beyond this our work in Publishing and Education is so impactful. Have a look at ‘Engineering in Emergencies’ to get a sense of how vital our knowledge work is.
Not to go on and on but ….
Another form of knowledge sharing is through our consultancy service – this is a great example of working together with Action Aid in Afghanistan.
And I’ve just heard that our podcasting, which is making a massive and practical difference to poor farmers in Zimbabwe, is shortlisted for a prestigious award as one of the most impactful technologies of the century for poverty reduction.
Fritz Schumacher in Small is Beautiful talked about how ‘the gift of knowledge sets people free’ and for Practical Action this remains central to our thinking.
So you may ask – what’s the problem why do your international directors need to discuss?
In part it’s about how big donors – in part it’s about us. How big donors work is all about delivering certain out puts – and knowledge isn’t considered an important output important by most. With Practical Action it’s about us finding the resources – irrespective of donors to grow our knowledge work. We have evidence that shows our knwoledge work helps many millions of people every year.
Knowledge of course isnt all thats needed to get rid of poverty, but not sharing what you learn about what works for poor families so others can replicate is just wrong!!
Looking forward to hosting the knowledge day tomorrow.
And as far as knowledge is concerned – my ask of you is to tell people about Practical Action. We are exciting and our work is too!
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Practical Action would like to ‘Thank you’
In today’s world most of us live life in fast forward, whether it’s rushing to get the kids to school or nursery, the daily commute to work battling the rush hour traffic or hoping today will be the day I get that seat on the train – but how many of us actually stop long enough to say THANK YOU!
Today all of us at Practical Action would like to take the time to stop, and say a huge THANK YOU to all our supporters who make it possible for us to help poor communities change their lives for the better.
Your generosity never ceases to amaze us. So to all of you who support us financially, give talks on our behalf, hold coffee mornings, include us in personal events by donating gifts in lieu of weddings, anniversaries, and birthday presents, take on amazing challenges like climbing Kilimanjaro, cycling around the world, half marathons, and those who still think of others by leaving a legacy or an in-memorial gift.
From all at Practical Action we say a big THANK YOU!
PS: See some of the work you have helped to support and listen to a personal ‘Thank you’ from our Country Director, Veena Khalequein Bangladesh.
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Safer Cities – How Practical Action is bringing safe drinking water, free from Iron and Arsenic contamination, to slum communities in Bangladesh
Satkhira is one of Bangladesh’s oldest municipalities, created in 1869. Bordering the world famous Sunderbans, home to Royal Bengal Tigers and a globally important mangrove ecosystem, it’s a town that tourists pass by, but plays a hugely important role for the people living in the region.
Climate change is beginning to wreak havoc here. Erratic monsoon rainfall, and flooding (which never used to affect this part of Bangladesh) have combined to make subsistence farming incredibly difficult. In recent years more and more farming families have given up their traditional way of life to make a living and find security in Satkhira. This steady flow of climate migrants was beginning to put the town’s resources under pressure. When cyclone Aila smashed the region in 2009 the sudden influx of many thousands of refugees meant that the existing infrastructure failed. Satkhira is still trying to overcome this problem five years later, and every day, the steady influx of economic and climate migrants continues. With very little cash, and only able to find poorly paid jobs, many of these migrants end up living in the informal settlements dotted around the town.
Access to drinking water is a real problem. The natural geology of the region means that shallow wells are contaminated with arsenic and iron. The contamination causes serious health issues including some cancers as well as kidney and liver failure. Coupled with this is the increasing salinity of groundwater caused by the tidal surges of cyclones, the reduction of river flow as water is diverted upstream for irrigation and the switch from traditional rice and jute farming to raising lucrative salt water shrimps. Farmers are allowing the seawater to inundate their land as shrimp farming generates more income than rice paddy can. We passed many of these shrimp farms on the road into Satkhira.
Practical Action is working with the slum communities and the municipality of Satkhira to help find solutions to their joint problems. I was here to better understand the work that has been funded by our record breaking ‘Safer Cities’ appeal, match funded by the Department for International Development, that ran over Christmas 2013. In Satkhira the funding means communities like the one I visited today, called Missionpara, can have access to clean, safe water and sanitation too. Missionpara is a relatively small settlement of around 30 households, with about 180 people squeezed into tiny homes in what would be a long access road between two properties here in the UK.
In Missionpara the community has been dependent on shallow tube wells that supply iron and arsenic contaminated water. With Practical Action’s help, the community now has a brand new sand filter that removes the contamination and pipes clean water to every house in the community (to find out how this simple technology works click here).
The community has organised its own water supply committee and every family pays a small sum (about 50p a month) that contributes to a maintenance fund to ensure the filter, pump, pipes and taps will still be working years into the future. As we arrived to meet the water supply committee chair, a lovely lady called Aklima, the heavens opened. The monsoon is due to start on the 10th June (very precise!) I was told and these showers were the precursor.
As we huddled together under the filter superstructure, I was shown a traditional test that proved the filter was indeed working. Two identical glasses of water were place on the pump housing and guava leaves crushed into them. In a matter of moments, the glass filled with water from the old tube well began to discolour as a black compound began to precipitate out of the water. The glass filled with water from the filtered, piped water system remained clear.
Missionpara is just one slum community that has been helped in this way by our safer cities appeal. I’ll be visiting other communities over the next few days and exploring how our work is changing lives, and you can follow the story here as I blog about my experiences.No Comments » | Add your comment