Energy literacy is a relatively new term being used to describe knowledge of the basics of energy. It has strong associations with sustainability and the efficient use of energy by consumers.
Every practitioner wants to install a energy scheme that is sustainable and wants that energy to be used efficiently, rationally and productively. A number of different approaches, tools and guidelines have been developed over time to facilitate this.
The energy team in Practical Action Latin America began to use the description ‘energy literacy’ back in the early 2000s in our project in rural Latin America called “Sustainable energy options for poor isolated communities in Latin America.” This work was building the capacity of rural and isolated communities in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, to understand, assess and articulate their energy needs. It involved providing information on energy options and issues to rural communities to help them make appropriate energy choices.
Right at the start we realised that people in those communities had no idea what we were talking about, when we used the terms “renewable energy” or “sustainable energy.” They could hardly identify electricity and had no understanding of the terms “efficient cooking” or “clean cooking.” We realised that to get their attention we needed to provide very simple information and simple explanations with practical, visual examples.
Our objective was that when we left the communities, local people understood the basics: Energy sources, small scale renewable energy technologies, micro hydropower, solar PV, micro wind systems, tariffs, reasons for tariffs, life span of the energy systems; they could also recognise the difference between grid and off-grid electricity and others. We applied the term “energy literacy” to this process of providing simple information to communities with little or no knowledge on energy
Once people know the basics about energy and understand that implementation costs are high and that every energy scheme requires operation and maintenance, they become more responsible for these aspects their energy generation system as well as its replacement when it ends its life span. And this makes a vital contribution to its sustainability.
We also learned from this project that, “energy literate people” can assess their needs and can engage more effectively with local and regional authorities and demand their needs in a more organised and coherent manner. Several communities who benefited from that project with “energy literacy”, they had been able to fine tune their demands and already have energy access.
I’d be interested to hear what you think about the concept of energy literacy. Could it be useful and how could it contribute to the sustainability of off-grid systems?3 Comments » | Add your comment
If you were hoping for an environmental twist on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, I would move on now. But if you’re interested in how communities living in the cloud forests of Peru and Bolivia are beginning to experience the fifty shades of green forest that their ancestors once enjoyed, then read on.
For many years, settlers have lived in areas of the forests also inhabited by the Awajun, the indigenous communities. Renting land from the Awajun, the settlers’ preferred method of farming was to clear away the forest and plant seasonal crops to feed their families until the quality of the soil was so depleted that it was no longer productive. The families then had to move on. This was clearly not sustainable and led to conflict with the Awajun, whose land no longer had any value.
Working with the Awajun and settlers, Practical Action researched how the forests used to look, using local knowledge to identify the diversity of plants and trees (hence the fifty shades of green) that once grew naturally in the area. Using this knowledge, we worked with the communities to find ways of recreating the cloud forests while still providing them with a realistic living. An agro-forestry system was devised, which ensures that areas of indigenous forest are conserved for future generations, while at the same time communities are able diversify their crops, for eating and selling. I love the diagram below, illustrating simply how by working together, the Awajun and the settlers really can bring ‘fifty shades of green’ back into their lives now, and for future generations. It’s also a partnership beyond the cloud forest communities – we have been able to achieve this because of the partnership with three great Foundations: Innocent foundation, Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation.
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If, like me, you’re filled with excitement at the thought of tonight’s final of The Great British Bake Off, I think you’ll enjoy this story of how the fortunes of Peruvian baker Luz Marina Cusci Cáceres have been transformed, with a little help from Practical Action.
It is a Thursday morning in September 2012, and visitors are gradually arriving at a huge food festival that is a highlight for many Peruvians. Within a few hours, the place will be packed with hungry diners and long queues will form at the myriad food stalls. There is no respite for Luz Marina Cusi Cáceres, who has just returned to her stall after she has run out of stock. Her stall is to be found among the organic producers section, where delicious home-grown Peruvian goods are sold.
But what is so special about Luz Marina? And what does her story have to do with Practical Action?
Several years ago Luz Marina participated in Practical Action’s project ‘Development of productive uses of electricity in the Cusco region’. During her participation in this project, she developed her baking knowledge, and learnt how to bake traditional kiwicha [a traditional Peruvian cereal] biscuits in a more efficient manner.
Luz Marina used to make kiwicha products by hand until Practical Action came to her town, San Salvador, and worked with the community to introduce a variety of electricity-generating technologies such as solar panels.
“We knew nothing about electrified machinery before, but with the help of Practical Action engineers we began using kitchen appliances, like the electric whisk, which need electricity to operate.”
Luz Marina had always sold kiwicha, but she did not do anything to the raw kiwicha to add real value to it. An Italian woman in the town who knew how to make biscuits shared her baking skills with Luz Marina.
“She taught me that I could sell biscuits made out of kiwicha, which would fetch higher prices at market than raw kiwicha products.”
Once Luz Marina learnt how to bake the biscuits, rumours of her delicious culinary treats spread across town, and people started asking for more.
“People would eat them and then buy them. So I kept making the biscuits better, and although there is still room for improvement, I am now a much better baker than I was before. In 2009 I decided to start a baking business with three of my friends who also cook with kiwicha. It is very helpful to work as a group; we have a lot of confidence, we know each other, and we are united.”
The real turning point came when Luz Marina met a customer named Hugo. He was so impressed by the biscuits and the commitment of Luz Marina and her friends he helped the bakers to obtain the official hygiene certification they needed in order to sell their products in larger markets.
“Now we sell our biscuits in Ayacucho and San Gerónimo. We have to stock the stalls with 1000 packets every two weeks! What would we do without electricity? We use an electric whisk to make our biscuits. It saves us time and means we can make better quality biscuits that sell in their thousands! We still need more encouragement from the council though – it would help if they advertised and promoted our products.”
In addition to the biscuits, Luz Marina and the bakers are now selling kiwicha-based pastries and honey. At the bustling food festival these have been hugely popular.
“We have sold 6000 packets of biscuits in three days! I am very grateful to Practical Action – without electricity we could not have made a productive or profitable living from baking. The electricity has transformed our baking. And baking has changed our lives”.No Comments » | Add your comment
To celebrate International Women’s Day we have two stories from Peru which demonstrate how Practical Action’s work helps to empower women in the developing world.
The Chilihua community in Cusco, has a new ‘kamayoq’. This term is an ancient Inca word for an extension worker who advises a community on agricultural practice.
42 year-old Rebelina Tijeras Salas undertook a year of studies at Practical Action’s kamayoq school along with 44 other women from the region. At the end of year fair she stood in her booth preparing to receive her guests and explain to them how to control diseases in their alpaca herds.
From a young age Rebelina (whose name means ‘rebellion’) had been taught everything she needed to know to become a good daughter, wife, mother and alpaca farmer. But her rebellious spirit helped her also to become a leader within a culture in which women are still not valued the same as men.
“I had the chance to move on from being a simple alpaca-breeder to assuming a role that required more dedication, better techniques and implied much more knowledge”, she pointed out. She knew from her ancestors that becoming a kamayoq implied being a teaching authority. From a common alpaca-breeder she would become a leading alpaca-raising technician.
“My second husband never wanted me to be a kamayoq, but this was a commitment I had made to myself and I am determined to fulfill it”, she recalled cheerfully.
“My purpose in life is to be more than a mother and a wife. I want to share my knowledge of development with my community to achieve general progress instead of being the only one to benefit from this opportunity.”
Whilst she was speaking, six year-old Paul, her fourth child, stood next to her. He is accustomed to listening to her talk that way because he accompanied her to the kamayoq school thanks to the nursery available at every monthly meeting.
Yolanda Barrientos is the 24 year-old teacher in charge of the nursery. Some of the lessons she uses with the children include alpacas as the protagonists, so that they feel they are learning the same thing as their mothers. More than 80% of the participants have children between 1 and 5 years of age, which can be an excuse for not attending workshops. This was a determining factor for Rebelina, as she was able to take Paul with her at all times.
After so many months of studying, Rebelina is taking advantage of her experience. “It has been a great change for both my family and my sector. This has helped me develop, to feel more inclined to participate and to be valued not only for who I am but for what I know”, she remarked.
Her next goal is to specialize in leadership in addition to animal health. “Previously, my alpaca herds would be attacked by disease without my realizing it, but now I know the technical names and how to prevent them. Look at everything that has happened to me, but yet I have succeeded”, she added. “Nothing is impossible in life when you want it badly enough and in this case, achieving it has not only made me happy, but benefits my whole community.”
Rebelina’s farewell smile softened the hard look she has acquired over time. She continued explaining about the medication she must apply to her alpacas, with the self-confidence acquired as a result of the training she received at Kamayoq school.No Comments » | Add your comment
After an intensive year of studying at Practical Action’s Kamayoq School, one of the 45 women will make a presentation about what they were taught in their course for Alpaca farmers in Toxaccota, Cusco, Peru.
July Quispe Quincho is full of enthusiasm, nervous but excited about speaking in public. A year ago she found out that her mother would be joining the school and she wished with all her might that she too could do so, although she was only fifteen. “I was waiting for an opportunity to develop my love for animals.,” she recalls, “But I was told that the minimum age was 25.”
Because of her passion for animals, she gained the confidence of her community who proposed that she should become a Kamayoq alongside her mother Vistación Quinco. So July became the youngest Kamayoq student.
July and Vistación feel that the alpaca-raising classes they attended at the Kamayoq school went beyond the limits of a simple learning experience. In the Peruvian highlands, farming and livestock-raising are the main source of income for families like theirs. Moreover, it is the women in the households who carry out those chores. That is why learning to improve their production and market their wool has made them feel much more secure in their role in the household and in the community.
“This has been the greatest challenge of my life”, said July, as she stood in the midst of the alpacas that will be her own within a few years. The bright colours of her clothing and the sparkle in her eyes still show the innocence of a child. But her determination to educate herself conveys a sense of self-confidence that makes her stand out among the other girls of her age.
Her mother, 36 year-old Vistación, is very proud of July. She is the eldest of her three children and although she had her doubts when July suggested going to the Kamayoq School with her, she now has the utmost confidence in her. “To see my daughter learning from such a young age is very satisfying. I only completed grade three of primary school,” said Vistacion, who had to leave her studies when she was very young to bring up her family.
Many households in the so-called “puna” – the highest region in the Peruvian highlands – have preserved many of their ancestors’ customs. Initially, July’s father was not at all pleased at the idea of his wife and daughter leaving home for five days a month and it was difficult for Vistación to convince him. Now, as she listens to July talking confidently about the shearing process or how the women should act in their communities, she knows that supporting her daughter was right. “My husband has also understood this and now he stays home taking care of the alpacas when we go to the school for training”, she explained.
July’s father talks to her about the alpacas that she will soon manage on her own. “It is the inheritance my parents will leave me and I must look after them in the best possible way”, she confirmed. She began talking about the beautiful sweaters she could make.
July’s success is replicated at school. She is in the third year of secondary school and is the new leader of her classroom. “My friends have noticed something different in me” she added with a broad smile. “I have explained that they must obtain the support of their community, but they are eager to learn more about the alpacas”, she continued. She has promised them that she will teach them about mating techniques, business management and handicrafts, three of the subjects that have most attracted her attention during her year of studies.
“I already feel like a Kamayoq and I am proud to have been part of this course. I could live in the “puna” forever, alongside my animals, as long as I am a professional” she ended. That is her goal in life and she will always consider the Kamayoq school as the first step towards her preparation for the future.No Comments » | Add your comment
For a number of years now, we have been helping to give people access to electricity through small hydro-electric schemes, which take the water from a stream, channel it into pipes. A water jet coming from the pipe drives a turbine, which in turn generates electricity. After the water has driven the turbine, it can be returned to the stream, or in some cases then used for irrigation. Typically a scheme might give power to a small community of 40 or 50 households.
I’ve visited some of these schemes, and it’s amazing what a difference an electricity supply can make. I went to one village where, a few years after the scheme was installed, people talked to me about the difference it had made to their lives. Electric lights had replaced candles which was far better for school homework (important if school is a one hour walk away); lots of people had bought a mobile phone, since it was now possible to charge them; the clinic had lights for the labour ward, and a fridge for vaccines; the school had its first computer; and one villager had set up a small wood turning business.
We invest a lot of time and effort to ensure that schemes like this are well maintained, and so I am confident that they will still be going 20 or 30 years more.
It’s amazing that we can achieve all of this change from one simple piece of technology, and even more amazing that it’s all powered from water!1 Comment » | Add your comment
Aunt Lucy’s Marvellous Marmalade Express is causing quite the stir on Twitter. With celebrity backers Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas and Richard Madeley already throwing their might behind the cause there’s no telling who might be next.
So what’s all the fuss about?
Imagine a motorbike. Then imagine a smaller one. Then cut it in half and stick a not terribly comfy sofa on the back. With three wheels, a throbbing heart of 125cc, steering that works faultlessly in straight lines, brakes that slow you in mph and enough room for your mum and her pet donkey.
This is the mighty steed that myself and Jonno Bourne will be using to travel from one end of Peru to the other in January 2012 as part of the Mototaxi Junket – risking life, limb and sanity across mountains, desert, jungle and all manner of mechanical and mental trials and tribulations. The distance is dependant very much on how lost we get but amounts to thousands of kilometres!
The team is named after Paddington Bear’s aunt, Lucy, who we are led to believe still resides somewhere in Peru, dangerously low on marmalade!
However, even more important than our preserve related motivations is the fact that we’re raising money for Practical Action to support all the amazing work they do in South America, as well as Africa and Asia.
For more information and to donate to the cause visit Aunt Lucy’s Hullabaloo through darkest Peru – team website
If you can spare some money for this great cause any amount would be hugely appreciated. If you’d also like to help spread the word by Tweeting about the adventure then please do and add to the over 2.5 million followers reached so far (@OllieLB if you’d like to find us there).No Comments » | Add your comment
As a researcher, my main goal is not simply to collect information. Rather, I am focusing on organising and interpreting information in a way that allows me to understand better lessons from Latin America and how they can best be applied in different continents. Moreover, I believe that information is a tool that can really help to improve the lives of people living in poverty.
An important aspect of the ELLA programme is that it will help fill the gap that exists in knowledge relating to evidence and lessons from development policy that is emerging from Latin America. I believe that this programme could encourage researchers to make contact and interact around common themes and interest. The incomes and livelihoods of poor people will only improve when policy-makers think and read more about real life experiences. Furthermore, most think-tanks would probably agree that reading and thinking about evidence helps to generate new ideas to improve quality life and solve problems.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Whether drinking, cooking, showering, swimming or relaxing by it, I love clean water. It’s something that I have always taken for granted and so I was shocked at what I saw when I went to visit some of Practical Action’s water and sanitation projects:
Deep in the Peruvian Amazon jungle is a community in the middle of nowhere: We had to drive for about 2 hours from the nearest town across rough, muddy, mountainous terrain, take a ferry over a large river and then trek by foot for an hour down a mountain to reach it. The people who live here are literally in the middle of nowhere and they used to rely on nearby, (and by that I mean a good walk away) natural resources for their water needs.
They took me to see where they previously collected their water. It was a small, dank and dark pit with flies buzzing around it and a nasty smell. I couldn’t believe it; these people drank, wash up and bathed in this water. Thankfully our local team in Peru have worked with them to build showers and clean running water in the village using micro hydro. The community told me that they are delighted with the work Practical Action has done and I imagine it will bring huge benefits such as not having to walk so far to collect the water and cut down on water borne diseases. One man even jumped in the shower with all his clothes on and started dancing. That’s how much it means to these people.
Another very remote project I went to see was above La Paz in Bolivia. The community told us that until we helped them to create eco-toilets, via a micro hydro scheme, they had used the local river as a toilet as well as to wash and drink from. One lady said that needing the toilet at night was awful because it was pitch black, freezing cols – the temperature can reduce to below minus 20 degrees – and there are wolves and sometimes men that roam around, so it was dangerous too. A toilet outside their house with running water changed their lives.
Clean, running water is a wonderful thing, but there are millions of people around the world don’t have access to it. Practical Action is doing some fantastic work to help people gain access to water and sanitation. How can you help us do more of this?No Comments » | Add your comment
Unsurprisingly, at this altitude, the climate is very variable, with temperatures reaching up to 17oC in the day and plummeting to -10oC at night.
This year, however, over 400 people have died in the Peruvian Andes during ‘El Friaje’ (the cold wave), which saw temperatures plummet to -23oC, far below the normal lowest temperature of -10oC.
The night I spent in this family’s house was the coldest I’ve ever experienced. Whipping out my Tesco’s Emergency Blanket, I drifted off to sleep. This didn’t last long, as I remember waking up to the sound of incessant coughing, it was the worst cough I’ve ever heard, and it was haunting to hear that sound coming from an 8 year old child. I went to the next room to see if my overstocked first aid kit could be of use, and was astonished to find that the mother was trying to sooth Stefania (the 8 year old) by the light of the fire.
While this may sound like a normal situation for such an isolated location, and sadly it often is, the reality was that the fire was filling the room with smoke, stinging my eyes on entry, and certainly aggravating the illness and cough. Open fires are often the only means of providing warmth and light, but without proper chimneys to remove the smoke, smoke inhalation causes more deaths a year than Malaria. Access to modern energy would eliminate the need for children, particularly ill children, to be sleeping in smoke-filled rooms. I dread to think how the family coped with the unprecedented temperatures of ‘el friaje’ this year.
Half of the world’s population have no access to modern energy, and predictions show that if we continue with ‘business as usual’, that figure will be exactly the same in 20 years time. This is why Practical Action are launching a campaign called ‘Make the Call: Energy for All’, which asks people to leave a ‘missed call’ for their MP or MEP, telling them the importance of access to modern energy. Energy access impacts on every area of development, modern energy allows maternity wards to have much higher survival rates, it can provide light so that children can study after dark, or warmth to families suffering the most from extreme temperatures.
Modern energy can also provide refrigeration for lifesaving vaccines, access to the internet (which as you probably know if you’re reading this blog, provides access to a wealth of information, especially things like Practical Answers, which are vital for further escaping poverty) or even the ability to start small businesses such as sewing syndicates. Modern energy is the link which allows that much needed escape from poverty, modern energy is the catalyst out of poverty.No Comments » | Add your comment