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  • Reaching the Last Mile: Challenges and Lessons from Early Warning Systems

    Understanding Risk is a global community of researchers and practitioners working to identify, assess and communicate disaster risk. This year, the fifth Understanding Risk Forum was held in Mexico City. The Forum was attended by 1,050 people from 101 different countries and over 550 organisations, including Practical Action.

    Our session on “Reaching the last mile” focused on communicating risk effectively to the people most vulnerable to disasters. In order for people to protect themselves from hazards, they need to receive information, understand it, and be able to act on the information.

    However, there are many complex barriers faced by vulnerable communities: when information is shared via text message, people without access to a mobile phone can’t receive the information; if information is not communicated in local languages, or if technical or unclear wording is used, people who receive the information may not be able to understand it; and if people don’t know what actions to take, are afraid of losing their possessions, don’t have anywhere safe to go, or do not have decision-making power, they will not be able to act on the information.

    Within vulnerable communities, factors including age, gender, ethnicity, literacy levels, physical capacity and poverty affect the needs, priorities and abilities of people to access, understand, and respond to information.

    For example, a study that Practical Action is conducting in Nepal and Peru found that women and men often have different roles in evacuation. In addition, women experience unique difficulties evacuating related to their gender, presenting challenges related to their clothing, hair length, caring roles and responsibilities, lesser physical strength, and inability to swim. Perhaps because of these challenges, women prefer to evacuate earlier than men. However, because women lack decision-making power, they are often unable to take action until men decide to evacuate, by which time evacuation routes are more dangerous, particularly for women, presenting them with additional risks.

    We were joined in our session by colleagues from BBC Media Action, the UK Met Office, Soluciones Practicas (our Latin America office), and the German Red Cross.

    Lisa Robinson from BBC Media Action shared examples of their work in Bangladesh, where they partner with a local radio station, Oromia Radio, to broadcast a short radio magazine programme which provides practical advice on agriculture, water, sanitation and shelter.

    They also broadcast a reality television series which visits vulnerable communities as they work with their neighbours and local government to build their resilience. They have found that their audiences and listeners trust this information because it is in their native language, specific to where they are, and is easy to understand. As a result, people are using this information to make decisions.

    At the other delivery end, the UK Met Office is working to build the capacity of national meteorological services in hazard-prone countries. Nyree Pinder highlighted the key role that meteorological agencies have in identifying and communicating risk as they work within the government to protect lives and livelihoods. The UK Met Office is working through a range of programmes to build the capacity of national and regional meteorological services to improve climate information services, and is moving towards impact-based forecasting to better meet the needs of vulnerable communities.

    David Lau from Soluciones Practicas highlighted how the team in Peru are engaging with the community to build resilience. As well as installing solar-powered field monitoring stations to measure rainfall using photographs and soil saturation, community groups (brigades) are formed and supported to use these stations, issue evacuation alerts, and conduct drills. In this way, knowledge is owned and trusted by the community, supporting improved resilience in the long term.

    Mathieu Destrooper from the German Red Cross then demonstrated how the early warning system in Peru could be improved to give vulnerable communities more time to prepare: combining upstream water levels, rain forecasts and soil moisture levels could increase the time available from one to five hours, to one to five days.

    However, as well as improving forecasts, there are key questions to consider regarding how to guarantee early action being taken at the community level. Context will affect whether early warning systems are best managed locally or nationally, how to define thresholds for alerting and taking action, and how to share warning information.

    The session brought together a range of voices, perspectives and experiences in reaching the last mile. Our panellists worked in different countries, with different stakeholders and at different levels, engaging with national and local government, media, and directly with community members.

    Across this broad range of experience, a key factor emerged consistently: there are a multitude of factors which affect people’s vulnerability to and experience of disasters. Our work on early warning systems must be context-specific and tailored to the needs of the people who have to respond to warnings in order to ensure action is taken and lives are saved.

    Related links

    Reaching the last mile: addressing gender inequality in early warning systems

    Collaborative mapping creating local flood resilience with global impact

    Advanced Early Warning Systems Protect Lives and Livelihoods in Nepal

    How the community in Bangladesh prepares for Cyclones – BBC Media Action

    Early warning systems are a key component of community resilience to disasters and have the potential to save lives and livelihoods in hazard-prone communities.

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  • Meet a real ‘Wonder Woman’

    June 23rd, 2017

    The new ‘Wonder Woman’ film premiered across the world this month.  At its Latin American red carpet event in Mexico, the star, Gal Gadot, was presented with a unique set of embroidered Wonder Woman bracelets. These were designed and made by Doris Barrientos, an artisan from Cusco and leading light of our textile art project to promote economic development in the region.

    “Wonder Woman” is a fighter and warrior just like the artisans from Cusco,” commented Doris.

    Doris Barrientos lives with her husband and three of her six children in Marangani, 3,600 metres above sea level in the Cusco region of Peru.

    She is one of more than 700 craftsmen and women who have taken part in Practical Action’s ‘Hilando Culturas’ programme. They are working together to build their skills in  textile design and creation, using local alpaca and llama wool and vegetables dyes and traditional weaving and embroidery patterns.

    The training has given Doris the opportunity to become an expert at machine embroidery. She focuses on making the colourful clothing typical of her region, using her own innovative designs.

    The results have been stunning and products from the project have been shown on the catwalk in Lima and are attracting the attention of fashion designers.

    Doris was taught to weave and sew as a child by her grandparents and has been making clothes ever since.  Finding more profitable markets for their wonderful products was a key part of the project, so at last, her skills and the beauty of her products are being recognised.

    She explained the difference the project has made to her life.

    “We have received important training, in cost and production, for example. And they have taken us to show our products at fairs in Cusco and Lima. I started to earn more money with my products, and that enabled me to contribute more to the economy of my family, without having to depend so much on my husband. And today that gives me courage to make decisions about what happens in my family. But it helped me a lot to be part of the association because when I worked alone, nobody supported me. Now that I work with my colleagues it is easier to receive help and easier to show our products.”

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  • 5 Simple solutions that llama farmers love

    August 5th, 2016

    Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.

    Martin Queso's prize winning llama

    Martin Queso’s prize winning llama

    At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.

    Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.

    But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.


    Queso family standing in front of their Practical Action llama shelter.

    1. Covered shelters:

    The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:

    “Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”

    With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.

    2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:


    Photovoltaic water pump and trough for livestock

    With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing.  In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.

    “We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”

    3. Breeding pens:

    We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:


    Rainwater harvesting and irrigation system and stone-wall breeding pens

    Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.

    4. Market access and product diversification:

    In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price.  Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.


    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    5. Training and knowledge:

    Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.

    It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.

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  • Waste and recycling: health concerns herald technology change

    January 4th, 2016

    Waste recyclers in Lima, the capital of Peru, have overcome tremendous adversities to function as a recognised and legitimate sector.

    When they had started to pick waste around the city, they were branded ‘nut cases’ or drug addicts and were sometimes chased away by the police when foraging for recyclables. This presented a social challenge since they became a marginalized group.

    After unionizing and pursuing their labour rights, the Peruvian government passed the ‘Law of the Recycler’ in 2009- the first of its kind in the world.

    Their labour unions, known as associations, provide them with representation and the ability to negotiate better prices as a group. The recycling sector has boomed ever since.

    Although their jobs help make the earth greener, the same cannot be said for their own health, as the waste picking process presents many health risks.

    Technology change

    recycling tricycleMany of the recyclers started to collect waste with sacks, wheelbarrows, or industrial trolleys, mostly without protective uniforms, hygiene masks, or rubber gloves. The handling of unclean waste left them exposed to germs and the stress of transporting the collected waste across long distances caused constant backache. One of our interview respondents, Roberto, recounts how he broke his spine and switched from a wheelbarrow to a tricycle, and then to a moto-taxi. Like Roberto, many recyclers have switched to more automated, locally produced, transport technologies to curb these potential health risks. Other technologies that are changing or disappearing from use include transport scooters, pedal bicycles and pedal tricycles.

    mototaxi These health issues have created a market for newer technologies, enabling changes to technology they use. New and emerging technologies include auto-tricycles, known as ‘tricimotos’ and motor taxis. This is accompanied by an increase in the use of protective wear such as gloves, uniforms, rubber boots and hygiene masks.

    The fundamental shift from manual to automated technologies enables them to be more productive, collecting more waste in lesser amount time and ultimately, higher incomes, or increased leisure time.

    Collection centres

    Although many recyclers have been able to reduce excess physical effort by switching to more automated means of waste transportation, they still face a major challenge- the lack of a central waste collection centre.

    Currently, most of the waste they collect are sorted in their homes before being sold. This presents huge health risks, since they are constantly surrounded by waste acquired from different parts of the city. Good hygiene is difficult to maintain in such circumstances.

    waste for recyclingThis also causes problems with some of the recyclers’ relations with neighbours in their local communities. In an interview with Luzuela, a recycler in the Lima district of Los Olivos, she laments on how she has constant problems with her neighbours because she constantly brings home large amounts of waste to their shared communal space.

    Evidently, many of Lima’s informal recyclers stress the need for a central collection centre; so they can all sort their waste there, rather than in residential areas.

    The recyclers spend a substantial part of their income on basic expenses such as food, rent, childcare, education and other living expenses. The balance left is put in savings for upgrading their technologies. Since these informal recyclers earn so little, they barely have enough left to contribute towards a central collection centre.

    However, there are prospects for the development for the sector as the Peruvian government, in 2013, committed to the promotion and increase recycling practices within the city. The leaders of their associations intend to form an enterprise to capitalize on this opportunity, which could potentially become a lucrative business.

    The once looked-down upon sector of recycling in Lima is now recognised as a pivotal part of environmental efforts the city is increasingly making.

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  • The Emolienteros: organised labour as the driving force of technology advancement.

    December 29th, 2015

    The ‘Emolienteros’ are vendors of Emoliente, a beverage made with medicinal plants sold on the streets of Lima. With the availability of different flavours, mixtures and consistencies of the herbal beverage, they provide an unrivalled service for inexpensive on-the-go breakfast/snacks, in Peru’s densely populated capital.

    As the third largest city in the Americas, Lima presents a huge market for the Emolienteros, with much potential for growth. This fact is not lost on these ambitious workers. They have been able to form a robust labour union, well-structured into associations in the districts in which they function most.

    emoliente stall LimaIn a discussion with Walter Villegas, the leader of the Association of Emoliente Workers in the Pueblo Libre district of Lima, as well as the interviews and focus groups we have conducted so far, we have learned about the progress they have made so far, the role technology change has played in their livelihoods, and their plans to start an enterprise.

    From zero to hero

    Emolienteros that have been working in this sector for 15-20 years recount their earlier experiences of not having associations. As informal workers, they had lacked representation in the city council and in Peru’s Ministry of Labour and Promotion of Employment. As informal workers, they were constantly harassed by the city’s officials for ‘unauthorized’ vending in the streets, making it very difficult to sell their products and make a decent living.

    In response, they formed their own labour union association in 1999 (officially recognised in 2007), known as ‘Tradition of the Incas: Natural Product Workers’. Since then, they have been able to push for better rights and recognition, even in the Peruvian parliament. On May 16, 2014, The ‘Law of the Emolientero’ was passed by the congress, hailing them as generators of productive self-employed micro entrepreneurs. Also declared, was the national Day of Emoliente and other traditional natural beverages on 20 February. Furthermore, the local governments signed cooperation agreements with the Emolienteros within the jurisdictions where they work.

    Their association has since enjoyed more publicity through wide media coverage of the new Peruvian law.  Today, it is considered one of the most prestigious informal sectors in Lima to work in.

    Technology change and livelihoods

    The impact of technology change on their livelihoods is best understood when analysing The two major benefits of association membership, which are:

    1. Representation of their interests on a national and city level
    2. More informed economic decisions through transfer of knowledge.

    Having an interconnected network of Emolienteros within different sectors means that news of better and more efficient technologies are more easily accessible by all members of the association, thereby decreases the occurence of asymmetrical information between these informal workers.

    mobile emoliertoro cartThe main technologies used by the emolienteros are mobile carts or ‘carretillas.’  They also use freezers to store excess supplies on days with low purchases.

    The change from older to better models of carretillas improves efficiency and productivity. As a result they earn slightly more and some have increased leisure time for childcare, or a second job.

    This use of improved technology has allowed them to capitalize on the growing industry of Peruvian cuisine, especially since as it has recently gained ground on the international food market.

    Due to the advancement of this sector, most of the change within this sector is brought about by reinvestment of income into newer technology.

    As a result, today the Emolienteria industry has an economic value of 700 million soles a year, with reported sales exceeding 1,000 million soles a year.

    Future prospects

    Although the Emolienteros have come a long way, they believe that there is room for improvement. In their plans for technology advancement in the near future, they hope to rent a shop outlet, since rolling the carretillas to and from work is one of their biggest challenges.

    Also, they are putting plans in motion to start an enterprise where they manufacture, package and sell the natural products used in their emoliente. This would enable mass production at cheaper rates to cater for the increasing demands of their products and services.

    The association of Emolienteros in Lima demonstrate the importance of unionized informal workers in challenging existing bureaucratic conditions, and how advancing the uses of technologies can bring about real positive impacts to improvement of their livelihoods.

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  • Contributing to the elaboration of the National Plan of Action on Gender and Climate Change in Peru

    November 4th, 2015

    One of the most important outcomes of the COP20 in Peru last year was the development of the Lima Work Program on Gender and Climate Change which establishes a plan of activities to promote gender sensitivity in climate change policy and practice. Inspired by diverse discussions around gender at the 2014 COP, the Government of Peru took the ambitious decision to develop a National Plan of Action on Gender and Climate Change (PAGCC); a unique effort among South American countries.

    Over recent years, Peru has laid some solid legal foundations that should facilitate the integration of gender dimensions into the country’s development initiatives. These include passing the National Law for Equal Opportunities between Men and Women in 2007 (Ley de Igualdad de Oportunidades Entre Mujeres y Hombres), and the development of the National Plan for Gender Equality 2012-2017 (Plan Nacional de Igualdad deGénero – PLANIG) and the 2014 National Climate Change Strategy (Estrategía Nacional ante el Cambio Climático), among others.

    It is acknowledged that in the development of public policies, strategies and national plans in Peru and beyond, gender equality is often overlooked and the objectives rarely respond to the specific needs of women, men, children and elderly people. [1] It is therefore a key objective of the PAGCC to mainstream gender across national policies and initiatives related to climate change mitigation and adaptation in Peru. Specifically, the plan focuses on the following eights areas:

    1. Forests
    2. Water Resources
    3. Energy
    4. Food Safety
    5. Solid Waste
    6. Health
    7. Education
    8. Disaster Risk Management.

    The development of the PAGCC began in December 2014 and involves numerous government agencies and civil society groups from across the country, led by the Department of Climate Change, Desertification and Water Resources in the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations. Representatives from several of these agencies and groups were invited by Practical Action Consulting to a workshop to kick-off the CDKN-funded research project ‘Gender Equality and Climate Compatible Development: Drivers and challenges to people’s empowerment’ in April 2015.

    Peru is one of the three countries, along with Kenya and India, which has been selected for the research project coordinated by Practical Action Consulting with the support of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). This research seeks to establish a deeper understanding of how and to what extent gender approaches can contribute to climate compatible development (CCD) with a special focus on urban contexts. It is hoped that the lessons and recommendations from the research will contribute to the design and implementation of CCD actions and policies on in the countries studied and beyond.

    The case study in Peru provides an opportunity to explore the role of the gender approach in disaster risk reduction by examining the experiences of two Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Networks (Redes de Gestión de Riesgos, Desastres y Cambio Climático, known as GRIDES) in the Andean cities of Cajamarca and Ancash. The GRIDES provide a space where civil society representatives can engage and influence decision-makers to incorporate the issues of risk management and climate change into regional development plans

    Throughout this year PAC has been invited to contribute to the development of the National Plan on several occasions, in particular by helping to strengthen understanding around the benefits of gender approaches to disaster risk reduction. As a result, the draft PAGCC cites the work of the GRIDES as an example of how gender approaches can be integrated into DRR efforts.

    GRIDES photo 1

    On 13thOctober 2015, the Ministry of Environment organised an expert workshop in Lima designed to collect expert contributions for the final draft text of the PAGCC. Among 30 participants, with the majority representing government agencies, Lili Illeva was one of only five representatives from civil society invited to attend the workshop.

    Her contributions centred on gender and DRR and a key priority was to share some of the initial lessons coming out of the CDKN research. These included:

    • Women living in urban and rural areas of Peru experience different socio-economic impacts as a result of climate change, especially in terms of food security. For example, women in Cajamarca told us that in rural areas they have the opportunity to grow their own food, however when they migrate to cities, if they do not find a way of generating income for just one day (which often happens as a result of disaster events), they are quickly exposed to food insecurity.
    • Urban women demonstrate different strategies for adaptation and disaster response compared to urban men and rural women, especially women who have migrated to urban areas. Often the traditional knowledge they have is not relevant for urban challenges and many capacity building initiatives fail to respond to their specific needs.
    • In the urban context, women are perceived to be more vulnerable than men to climate change, disasters and emergencies in particular because they are responsible for preparing food, providing water to their families and protecting children from increasing health risks.
    • At the same time, urban women could be perceived as more resilient than men to disasters. For example, urban women seek out new knowledge and take into account future risks, such as potential food and water scarcity or how to protect children from new diseases.
    • While recognising that in the urban context both men and women play an important role in DRR, women are particularly pro-active in the transmission of new knowledge (such as disaster evacuation plans) to family members.
    • Urban women also demonstrate high levels of participation in community DRR initiatives, such as disaster simulations and post-disaster recovery.
    • There is a need to develop understanding and awareness around the relationships between gender and climate compatible development (including DRR) in urban contexts, especially amongst urban populations, civil society and decision makers.

    It is hoped that the outcomes of this research will continue to inform the design and implementation of the PAGCC, as well as strengthen the mainstreaming of gender in development initiatives in Peru and beyond.

    The final results and recommendations from the research will be presented in a country report and policy brief to be published early 2016.

    GRIDES photo 2

    Lili Ilieva is a researcher in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction at Practical Action Consulting Latin America and member of the technical team in the CDKN-supported research project ‘Gender Equality and Climate Compatible Development: Drivers and Challenges to people’s empowerment’.

    [1] Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, presentation at the 3rd expert workshop for the preparation of PAGCC

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  • ‘Where the need was there, energy made it possible’

    October 29th, 2015

    At this year’s Small is Festival held at the Centre for Alternative Technology in West Wales, I met Rod Edwards, who worked at Practical Action (then ITDG) from 1986 to 1992. As we’re celebrating 50 years of Practical Action, I was eager to find out more about his work back then.

    Rod Edwards

    Rod Edwards at the Centre for Alternative Technology

    Rod spent two years in Peru working on the micro hydro energy programme, setting up demonstration programmes and training people in the techniques required to install and maintain micro hydro systems. The funding for this project came from the EU and other funders for village level electrification. The Inter America Development Bank  supported a revolving fund which enabled 47 low cost micro hydro installations between 1992 and 2007, delivering clean, renewable energy to more than 3,000 families.

    The project aimed to source materials locally as far as possibly but some items such as circuit boards of the right quality were unobtainable in Peru at the time and had to be imported. However there was one key part of the system, the Pelton wheel, that encountered a major manufacturing problem. Without a tradition of bronze casting in Peru, developing the skills required to produce precisely engineered Pelton wheels locally proved challenging.

    But, international co-operation within Practical Action provided a solution. Rod’s colleagues working on micro hydro projects in Nepal were working with a group of religious statuary manufacturers who used the ancient technique of lost wax casting.

    Nepalese statue makers polishing their casts

    Nepalese statue makers polishing their casts

    Working with Peru’s energy specialist, Teo Sanchez and UK sculptor Stephen Hurst, they came up with a means of producing the precision required for the Pelton wheel, while retaining the simplicity of local manufacture.

    “We were constantly evolving the technology development with interaction between the two countries.  This was very healthy.”  Rod told me, he went on to say:

    “Personally and professionally, we were sharing ideas and technical knowledge between different cultures and people and working out how to build this into social structures.  You have to do your homework in the community before otherwise it won’t work.”

    Casting moulds laid in the kiln for firing, 1989

    Casting moulds laid in the kiln for firing, 1989

    The team ran micro hydro courses for engineers in Sri Lanka, Peru, Nepal and Zimbabwe and most of the attendees went on to build systems in their countries.  These engineers then worked with local NGOs and small businesses  implementing new micro-hydro systems.

    In Nepal the Agriculture Development Bank of Nepal provided loans for micro hydro installation and Practical Action provided training, manufacturing guidelines and quality assurance.

    Breaking the plaster mould from a Pelton wheel after casting. A nervous moment, as you are never quite sure how it will turn out !

    Breaking the plaster mould from a Pelton wheel after casting. A nervous moment, as you are never quite sure how it will turn out !

    Micro hydro power plants were more successful in some places than others.  It was important that the need for energy was there – not just for lighting and leisure activities, but for enterprise.  For example, one installation alongside the Ucayali river in Peru on a popular truck route, led to the setting up of a group of small catering enterprises supplying truck drivers with food and drink.

    A couple of weeks later I came across these old black and while photographs of a lost wax Pelton wheel training course in Nepal in 1989. As someone who believes that understanding the past is vital for planning the future, this co-incidence was too good to ignore!

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  • International Coffee Day and Agroecology

    October 1st, 2015

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

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

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

    Organic composting

    Organic composting

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

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

    Coffee farmer

    Better coffee and happier farmers

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

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

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  • Coffee farmers adapt to climate change

    April 23rd, 2015

    Los productores de café a adaptarse al cambio climático

    (English translation below)

    La novena Conferencia de Adaptación Basada en la Comunidad (CBA9) se llevará a cabo del 26 al 30 de abril de 2015. En Perú, Soluciones Prácticas ha estado trabajando con las comunidades productoras de café para apoyar sus procesos de adaptación.

    treesEn la amazonía Peruana,  el ecosistema tropical forestal lluvioso o selva alta aloja a más de medio millón de familias vinculadas a pequeñas fincas productoras de café. Ellos viven y trabajan en condiciones de fragilidad y cada vez mayores signos y efectos del cambio climático con sequías o frecuencias y picos de intensidad de lluvias y enfermedades como la roya haciendo que, a nivel del país, en toda la franja tropical lluviosa se pierda más del 40% de la producción de café.

    En efecto, el cambio climático ya está presente en la vida de las comunidades de nuestra selva alta o llamados bosques de neblina. Por ello, Soluciones Practicas el año 2012-2013 hizo una investigación  de escenarios de Cambio Climático en la Región San Martín. Determinó que el año 2050 la temperatura se incrementará entre 1.0-1.2 oC y, como consecuencia de ello, las áreas de producción de café seguirá subiendo a zonas más altas de las montañas. Lo que implica más agricultura migratoria, quema, deforestación y desequilibrios hidrológicos y de servicios ambientales de estos bosques, si no se proponen medidas de adaptación y otras apropiadas para la gestión del territorio.

    farmComo una propuesta para adaptación a estos cambios climáticos, el 2013 Soluciones Practicas ha impulsado con más fuerza un proyecto con enfoque agroecológico que venía desarrollando en años previos. Este esta basado en un trabajo desde los saberes locales y la adaptación de tecnologías sencillas con participación de productores organizados en comités o comunidades, promotores agroforestales líderes formados, técnicos del proyecto y  del gobierno local. Ellos han implementado fincas cafetaleras con 8 tecnologías integradas y sinérgicas que comprende el modelo agroecológico-agroforestal multiestrato.

    Las ventajas de este modelo de adaptación basada en comunidades se ven reflejadas en tangibles beneficios económicos, ambientales y sociales. Incremento de la productividad e ingresos de los productores en más del 100%, alta calidad de taza del café,  reforestación de áreas degradadas y aguas limpias además de mejora en el empleo y autoempleo familiar consiguiendo bosques productivos y sostenibles en las comunidades tropicales. No menor interés es el despertado mediante un proceso de diálogo y vinculación con actores del mercado usando el Participatory Market Systems Development’, con lo cual,  se ha logrado más interés de compra y mejores precios del café por las empresas.

    grainEstas ventajas, con los respectivos documentos e informes de las evidencias son discutidos y difundidos en los diferentes eventos y escenarios del desarrollo, la propuesta tiene una buena acogida y es motivo de visita de productores, gobiernos de otras regiones, empresas privadas, cooperación, etc. Todo ello,  trabajado en la perspectiva de su replicación y niveles de escalamiento del modelo agroecológico.

    Más información sobre Soluciones Prácticas en CBA9

    Coffee farmers adapt to climate change

    The 9th Conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA9) will take place from 26th to 30th April 2015. In Peru, Soluciones Practicas (Practical Action Latin America) has been working with coffee communities to support their adaptation processes.

    In the Peruvian Amazon, the rain forest or tropical high forest ecosystem is home to over half a million families linked to small coffee farms. They live and work in conditions of fragility and increasing signs and effects of climate change, with droughts, intense rainfall, and diseases such as rust, so that at the country level, the wet tropical belt experiences a 40% loss of coffee production.

    Indeed, climate change is already present in the life of the communities in our high or ‘cloud forest’ areas. Therefore, from 2012 to 2013, Soluciones Practicas conducted an investigation of climate change scenarios in the San Martin region. It found that by 2050, the temperature will increase by 1.0-1.2 oC and as a result, areas of coffee production will continue to shift to higher mountain areas. This implies more shifting cultivation, burning, deforestation, and loss of the hydrological and environmental services these forests provide, if adaptation measures are not proposed and other appropriate land management techniques are not implemented.

    As a proposal for adaptation to this climate change, Soluciones Practicas has promoted an agroecological approach that has been developed over several years. This is based on local knowledge and adaptation of simple technologies, involving producers organized in committees or communities, agroforestry promoters, trained leaders, project technicians and local government. They have implemented coffee farms with 8 integrated and synergistic technologies, which together comprise a multilayer agro-agroforestry model.

    coffeeThe advantages of this model of community-based adaptation are reflected in tangible economic, environmental and social benefits. Productivity and income of farmers has increased by more than 100%; coffee quality is higher; degraded areas have been reforested, and water quality has improved. Employment and self-employment prospects have improved, and communities are using the forest in a productive and sustainable way. No less interesting is the process of dialogue between market players which has been facilitated using a Participatory Market Systems Development approach, leading to better access to coffee export markets.

    Reports documenting evidence generated by this project have been discussed and disseminated at various different events. The project has been well received, stimulating visits from producers, governments in other regions, private companies, and cooperatives. This model therefore offers an excellent starting point for taking agro-ecological adaptation to scale.

    More information about Practical Action at CBA9

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  • Swift action when disaster strikes

    April 7th, 2015

    Landslides are unfortunately a common phenomenon in Peru. On the eastern slope of the Andes, they cause serious damage to people, but when they occur on the western slope of the Pacific Ocean, where the largest cities are, they are turned into real disasters. They consist of rock slides, sand and water streams moving downwards, destroying everything in their path.

    2015 03 30 Obra Maria Parado de Bellido 2 (7)On March 23rd, the eastern part of Lima experienced nearly four hours of rain, which is not frequent since Lima is a desert. These rains generated a mudslide, the water gathering loose rocks and dust, heading at an incredible speed to the towns of Chosica and Santa Eulalia.  This avalanche of sand stones and water buried houses, trucks, and the main road and killed 8 people. An emergency was declared.

    Practical Action had been working in communities near the landslides through the Flood Resilience Alliance program, funded by the Z Zurich Foundation. The project started last year and aims at improving community response to the floods, when they originate from the Rimac river down the valley, or from a mudslide coming from the top of the mountains.

    On the day of the disaster, Monday 23rd March, the Practical Action team was heading to one of the communities of the Flood Resilience Alliance program, Maria Parado de Bellido, to help them deepen preparedness against a disaster, which was quite likely to happen because of the worrying weather forecast. They witnessed the mudslide and quickly reached  Maria Parado de Bellido. The main road had been blocked by the mudslide, and they had no choice but to reaching community on foot. This community was not as affected as others thanks to its location, near the river but far from the mountains. Impacts were also mitigated through adequate community preparedness, resulting “only” in the partial flooding of the streets and some houses. In the neighboring communities, houses have been destroyed by falling rocks and sand.

    2015 03 30 Obra Maria Parado de Bellido 2 (2)As a response to the event, Practical Action assisted in damage assessment and preparation of the list of affected communities, taking advantage of an extensive knowledge of the area. The lists were given to the Emergency Operations Center Chosica, a public organization for Disaster Response, so that humanitarian relief could reach the neediest communities.

    In addition, the team provided direct support to the community of Maria Parado de Bellido, which had suffered the loss of its main water pipe and a broken sewer pipe.  We supported the community with technical knowlege to repair the pipelines.

    Next steps include reconstruction and bringing psycho-emotional care, especially for children and teenagers, in coordination with public and private actors.


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