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  • Making climate Information services work for poor farmers in Africa?

    Next week in Cape Town the African climate and weather forecasting community will gather for the fifth global conference on Climate Information Services (CIS). A conference organised to share knowledge between climatologists, meteorologists and practitioners in key sectors such as agriculture, water, and health etc., sectors that can be better planned and managed if access to up to the minute climate information is available. Over the last decade there has been considerable investment in improving the technology, equipment and capacity of meteorology and forecasting departments across Africa. This is in recognition that accurate weather and climate information can deliver tangible benefits. However, despite these investment the benefits have largely been recovered at scale with less impact on the ground. The poor and marginalised communities, those with the most to gain from this information have largely failed to see these benefits. Therefore, Practical Action has been invited to attend the conference and present our innovative approach to CIS systems mapping that aims to respond to recognised deficiencies in existing CIS systems;

    1. Firstly, coming up with a simple system mapping process that is understood, owned and works for actors and for beneficiaries;
    2. Making sure that the system map can adapt CIS delivery in such a way that complements (and not replaces) existing local, indigenous knowledge systems; and
    3. That the CIS reaches those who would benefit the most, those facing famine if crops fail, those on the frontline of climate disaster.
    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Practical Action has spent many years developing and perfecting the Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) approach, one of the central components of PMSD is co-producing a map of the value chain for the selected commodity. For mapping climate information, we have refined the methodology replacing the value chain with the information services chain. In discussion with partners we have focussed the CIS system map on the network that connects CIS producers with CIS users. CIS producers are the operators of weather stations, satellites etc. with CIS users being rain fed farmers. Existing challenges include;

    • Mapping how information moves across this system;
    • What are the boundaries to this system;
    • What are the nodes in the information service network, and;
    • What are the flows of information that take place.

    The value of a systems map is that it not only identifies existing blockages and barriers, but also allows different users to interrogate the system to identify alternative pathways which might deliver improvements. Finally, the systems map is inclusive allowing non-traditional and informal components of the system to be included.

    Generic map of a Climate Information Services system

           Generic map of what a Climate Information Services System map may look like

    We recognise that CIS on its own may not be practical or valuable, so we will be looking at information carriers, alternative systems such as information on markets prices that could be linked to CIS information to enhance their delivery. In all cases we will use the CIS system maps as a planning and learning tool. Therefore the map once produced will not remain static but it will live and be owned by the systems actors and be refined as we learn more about how they system behaves and adapts over time. We recognise that we are working in a space where there is already a lot going on, so we need to ensure that our systems approach is open and inclusive of these other initiative so that they are complementary and we can learn and share between them.

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    What are we aiming for? We are looking at making improvements to the CIS system. Making sure that information reaches rain fed smallholder farmers in drought prone areas and enables them to make the right short and long term choices about their farming practices. It is not enough to just supply the information, they also need to be able to act on it. Therefore if we make the existing system operate more efficiently or faster, but the farmers do not benefit then we will have failed. This is a unique focus for this project and challenges us not to think of what changes can we make to improve the system, but what are the systemic changes that need to take place to benefit rain fed farmers (CIS information users).

    For more information on the conference follow @ColinMcQuistan, #ICCS5 and @maryallenballo

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  • Learning from sharing in Sudan

    Manal Hamid

    February 23rd, 2017

    Wadi el Ku catchment management project is an EU funded programme jointly implemented by Practical Action, UNEP and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Irrigation in North Darfur.

    Wadi el Ku is situated near El Fasher town and covers an area of 50km with 34 villages.  There are a number of internally displaced people and the area suffers from conflict, poor government resources and poor water use which lead to environmental degradation and negative effects on people’s livelihoods.

     The project supports

    1. Development of inclusive Natural Resource Management (NRM) with a focus on water
    2. Promotion of better livelihood practices and techniques
    3. Building institutional capacities

    The project organised a learning visit to East Sudan for North Darfur extension officials and community leaders on Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), agriculture, livestock and forestry innovation.  This formed part of the project’s capacity building programme for government institutions.

    Objectives of capacity building for this project are: 

    1. To improve the state government’s capacity to deliver services to local communities through enhancing the knowledge and skills of government staff
    2. To coordinate natural resource management institutions for joint policy decisions at different levels of government and local community through relationship building.

    Objectives of the visit:

    Wadi el KuTo demonstrate relevant technological innovations, practices and approaches  in the fields of agriculture, livestock, forestry and IWRM in Sudan to government extension officials and community leaders that would be applicable and useful to North Darfur and to the Wadi El Ku catchment in particular.

    Specifically the in-country learning visit is aimed at the following objectives:

    • To provide exposure to extension officials and community leaders from North Darfur to successful IWRM and NRM practices in other parts of Sudan
    • Learn about successful agricultural, livestock and forestry technology adoption and practices in Sudan
    • To bring a rich learning experience on NRM and IWRM practices, an agricultural/livestock/forestry techniques to North Darfur

    On  August Ms. Mariam Ibrahim from UNEP, Sudan visited the Eastern States on a scoping mission to prepare for the visit. In October 2016 team from North Darfur visited the Ministries of Livestock, Agriculture and Forestry.  The met with His Excellency the Minister of Livestock and made field visits to Gedarif Center for Improved Animal Production Techniques, Shwak Quarantine Station and the Regional  Veterinary Laboratory.

    Meeting our brothers from west Sudan was a once in a life time opportunity that give the whole group the chance to interact on both a professional and humanitarian level.

    The visit provided a valuable opportunity to observe and learn about NRM practices from other parts of Sudan and allowed participants to share their own experiences from Wadi El Ku, making it truly a two-way learning exchange.

    The two parties presented their activities at a final work shop.  This was a great opportunity for the Gedarif State participants to learn about the Wadi el Ku project.

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  • Measured irrigation for smallholders: more crop per drop

    Bernie Omodei

    February 20th, 2017

    Bernie Omodei from Measured Irrigation writes about a very low cost innovation that may reduce the water consumption for drip irrigation by up to 50% without affecting the yield. The innovation uses the weather to control the irrigation scheduling rather than a program. The DIY (Do It Yourself) instructions in this blog can be applied to any drip irrigation application in any poor community.

    Upgrading drip irrigation to unpowered MI

    Measured irrigation evaporatorMany smallholders use gravity feed drip irrigation to irrigate a small garden (less than an acre). The most commonly used scheduling method is programmed scheduling and this method wastes a lot of water because it does not respond to the prevailing weather conditions. By upgrading from programmed irrigation scheduling to measured irrigation scheduling, water consumption may be reduced by 50% without affecting the yield. The cost of the upgrade is negligible.

    Measured irrigation evaporator

    Water level below level line

    Water level below level line

    The evaporator is any container with vertical sides with a surface area of at least of at least 0.75 square metres. Draw a level line on the inside of the evaporator about 3 cm below the overflow level. Position the evaporator in the garden, preferably exposed to full sun.

    Position a dripper so that it will drip water into the evaporator. This dripper is called the control

    Control dripper will drip water into the evaporator

    Control dripper will drip water into the evaporator

    dripper and it should be at the same level as the other drippers in the garden.

    The volume of water delivered by each dripper in your garden during an irrigation event is the same as the volume of water delivered to the evaporator by the control dripper.

     

    How to use the evaporator

    Start irrigating at sunset

    Start irrigating at sunset

    Stop irrigating when the water level reaches the level line

    Stop irrigating when the water level reaches the level line

    Check the water level in the evaporator at sunset each day.If the water level is below the level line, start irrigating. Stop irrigating when the water level reaches the level line.

     

     

    How to adjust the surface area of the evaporation

    An angle grinder can be used to make some slots in a length of steel pipe.

    An angle grinder can be used to make some slots in a length of steel pipe.

    The amount of water that your plants need will depend on many factors in addition to the weather. For example, as the plants grow and become bigger they will need more water. Plants growing in sandy soil will need more water than plants growing in heavy soil.

    To take account of all these additional factors, I recommend that you use a length of steel pipe to check the moisture level in the soil. I suggest that the diameter of the pipe be between 40 and 50 mm. An angle grinder can be used to cut some slots in the steel pipe to that you can inspect the soil inside the pipe. I suggest that the width of the slots be about 13 mm.

    Early in the morning after irrigation the night before, push (or hammer) the steel pipe into the soil near a dripper

    Early in the morning after irrigation the night before, push (or hammer) the steel pipe into the soil near a dripper

    By checking the moisture level in the soil through the slots in the steel pipe, you can decide whether the plants have been irrigated the night before with too much or too little water. If the plants have been given too much water then you can reduce the water usage by reducing the surface area of evaporation. For example, the surface area of evaporation can be reduced by placing full bottles of water in the evaporator. On the other hand, if the plants have not been given enough water then you will need to increase the surface area of evaporation. After irrigation and adjustments over several days, the surface area of evaporation should stabilise at an appropriate level for the plants at their current stage of growth.

    Remove the steel pipe from the soil and use the slots to inspect the moisture level in the soil and the position of the wetting front.

    Remove the steel pipe from the soil and use the slots to inspect the moisture level in the soil and the position of the wetting front.

    As your crop grows and the water requirement of the crop changes, you may wish to repeat the process of adjusting the surface area of evaporation.

    MI on sloping ground

    One sloping ground you will need to organise your plants into a number of zones so that the plants within each zone are at approximately the same level. Each zone should have its own evaporator, control dripper and inlet valve. The irrigation of a zone is independent of the irrigation of all the other zones.

    Read more about Measured Irrigation or get in touch with Bernie Omodei to find out more bomodei@measuredirrigation.com.au

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  • Establishing a water catchment network

    Entisar Mustafa

    February 17th, 2017

    Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is an important approach for the sustainable use of water resources, involving different sectors, while maintaining sustainability and observing regulation.

    Active community involvement is vital for a sustainable natural resources management approach. The principles of IWRM applied at a local level require a participatory community-driven approach where all water users and water sources are considered and prioritized by the communities.

    Aqua4East project in Kassala

    Under this project, IWRM committees were formed with 22 male and eight female members.  All were  experienced in water management and were trained to have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

    Aqua4East workshopOne of Aqua 4 East activities carried out by our partner the Elgandual network of rural development, was a 3 day training workshop about establishing catchment networks. Participants represented  all members of catchment committees in addition to Elgandual staff members and HAC representatives.

    The workshop introduced participants to:

    1. The concept of networking
    2. Preparing the network’s vision and mission
    3. Setting up the organizational structure
    4. Job descriptions for network members
    5. Developing a facilitation and coordinating committee for the network of representatives of participating committees.

    Aqua4East workshopBy the end of the training the network was set up with ten members – eight men and two women. The role and regulation of the network was discussed by HAC representative, network roles agreed and the committee trained on drafting their action plan

    The next step will be to hold a workshop in Kassala with representatives of IWRM committees at the catchment level and partners to identify the objectives of the network.

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  • Youth driving transformation of African agriculture

    Jonny Casey

    February 15th, 2017

    On 16th and 17th February, the MasterCard Foundation will host the Young Africa Works Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, to address the opportunities for empowering young people to drive transformational change in African agriculture. Practical Action will be there to share evidence from its work of how technologies – from MP3 podcasts, to solar irrigation systems – can support young people to lead productive lives in agricultural areas, and move towards more sustainable, resilient farming.

    Education drives social change

    Significant improvements in the access to, and quality of, education in Africa in recent years has led to a great improvement in the skills, capacities, and indeed work opportunities for youth. But in part, this has been a major driver of urban migration, with educated young people leaving their rural towns and villages to seek employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in larger towns and cities. For many young people, agriculture has become synonymous with poverty, vulnerability, and drudgery, and their education has raised their aspirations for lives beyond the farm.

    The triple challenge – poverty, productivity, resilience

    woman farming in ZimbabweYet we need youth in agriculture now more than ever. As the world’s population rises to an estimated 9 billion people by 2050, there is increasing pressure to grow sufficient, nutritious food to feed the growing populations and changing consumption patterns of consumers globally. At the same time though, the impacts of climate change on agriculture are predicated to pose significant challenges for food production, particularly among those with the least assets, knowledge, and technologies to adapt and be resilient to changing climates and environments – smallholder farmers. We need the skills, knowledge, energy, and innovative approaches of the youth in Africa – and beyond – to drive a change in agriculture; to leverage new technologies and technical knowledge to create resilient, productive and sustainable agricultural systems; and to work with nascent market systems between rural and new urban areas to ensure affordable, nutritious food is available for all, and that agricultural activities provide sufficient, stable incomes.

    Gender inequalities

    woman farming maize in ZimbabweYoung women face particular challenges. There has been a ‘feminisation’ of agriculture, as social norms and the burdens of unequal gendered roles and responsibilities for care and household tasks have led to more men, with their greater social mobility without such restrictions, to be the majority of those moving out of agriculture and rural areas. Thus young women often face the double burden of labour-intensive smallholder farming, combined with the care and reproductive roles and responsibilities – not just of children, but also of elderly relatives and other family members. Gender inequalities are also often imposed through unequal laws, such as land rights and access to financial services. To ensure the equitable empowerment of youth in agriculture, we must ensure that we do more, in targeted ways, to address these gender inequalities, and provide additional support to young women.

    Technologies catalysing change – big data, small data, and renewable energy for climate-smart agriculture

    Practical Action has pioneered the way for two areas of technology to catalyse the transformation of African agriculture. Access to technical knowledge is crucial for ensuring smallholder farmers are able to continually improve their yields, diversify their crops, and to foster innovation – particularly to adapt to climate change. This also requires effective, accessible, and actionable climate information services, combining big data from metrological services, long term climate forecasts, and local-level sensors. With over 90% of young farmers in Kenya saying they regularly access internet-enabled services on their mobile devices, digital technologies provide an exciting and appropriate medium for providing this critical information. Combined with improved access to technical information for climate-smart agricultural practices, provided by services like Practical Answers, and accurate market information through platforms such as Agro-Mall, young farmers can leverage digital technologies to propel them towards viable agricultural businesses and livelihoods.

    marula nut processingRenewable energy technologies are rapidly becoming evermore accessible and affordable for remote and low income consumers. Yet most attention to date has been paid to household energy access, for lighting, heating and cooling, and cooking. But the productive uses of energy are vital if we are to support youth to remain in agriculture. Systems such as solar-powered drip irrigation, like those used by communities supporting by the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities project by Practical Action in Zimbabwe and Malawi, can not only significantly reduce the labour burden of farming, particularly for women whose role it often is to collect and use water, but also to utilise such natural resources more efficiently and effectively, improving both yields and sustainability. Renewable energy can also be transformative for value addition too, enabling the mechanised processing of goods, and improved storage options so that farmers can sell their goods at times when prices are highest.

    Youth as changemakers

    This gives great hope that young people, with their better education and higher ambitions, can see a positive future in agriculture – and concurrently that agriculture can see a positive future despite the challenges it faces, powered by the technologies used innovatively by young people.

    I will follow up this blog with a short vlog after the Young Africa Works Summit, and I hope to share with you all many more exciting and positive ways technology can challenge poverty presented at the event.

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  • 8 steps to make farmers flood resilient

    Dinanath Bhandari

    February 7th, 2017

    By Buddhiram Kumal  & Dinanath Bhandari

    Building on the strength of the farmers’ field schools (FFS), Nepal Flood Resilience Project has devised the FFS to train and help farmers further to adopt flood resilient technologies, strategies and approaches to transform their vulnerability into resilience. Here’s how we are making farmers flood resilient through this academy for flood resilience.

    1. Organising to learn

    Farmers’ field schools are proven approaches and strategies to help farmers learn and adopt new technologies and skills. The FFS are discussion, practice and demonstration forums promoting learning by doing. Farmers from the community organise into a group and assemble together with a facilitator in regular interval, often weekly or fortnightly based on the need to discuss, learn and practice on growing crops of their choice. It is practised in the farmers’ field as a school to learn throughout the crop cycle, generally for a year and then follow up. Acquiring knowledge and skills is the crucial element of transformation. Farmers’ livelihoods and disaster resilience capacities are affected by the access of people to knowledge and skills on their livelihoods that would prevent, avoid and successfully cope with the impacts of floods they are exposed to.

    2. Empowering women

    In the project area, agriculture technicians have been facilitating each FFS where multiple strategies have been introduced to enhance access of marginal farmers to knowledge, skills and technologies on growing crops in different seasons.  These FFS are particularly focused to flood prone communities in Karnali flood plains in Bardiya and Kailali districts. They are smallholders and utilising the seasonal window-the winter-and non-flooding season is important to complement loss of crops from flood (however not always) and increase income utilising to grow cash crop in the land which potentially remained fallow in the past. So far in last two and half years, the project facilitated 31 FFS each in a community where 621 (Men: 85, women: 536) people – one from each family- participated and learned on technologies and skills to growing usual crops and new crops and varieties that could be sold instantly for cash income. Each field school consisted of 20 to 25 people mostly women. Since male migrate out seasonally in search of work in India or abroad, the agriculture is feminised. Therefore, participation by more number of women in the FFS contributed to enhance production and family income in particular.

    Apart from learning to better grow crops and livestock, the participants discuss on the strategies to prevent losses from the flood and better recover if losses were unavoidable. For example: one group near Tikapur town adopted growing mushroom and selling them into local market during winter which surpassed the loss of crops by flood during summer. The group discusses on the hazards, risks and potential interventions to reduce the risk and successfully overcome the disaster losses. The FFS have become like a Flood Resilience Academy fostering culture of learning, doing and sharing among farmers. The FFS have become instrumental to vulnerable people to change their cultivation practices to produce more yields of usual crops and multi-seasonal production has additional income that creates opportunity and confidence for resilience thinking. Many farmers’ group have developed into a formal institution with agreed group functioning protocols and registered with the respective government institution-District Agriculture Development Office or its Area Service Centre. This provides them better access to government services, information on technologies and practices. The service centres try to reach farmers through such groups.

    3. Academy of practice

    The FFS comprises of theory and practice on the subject matter. The course follows the crop cycle from soil preparation to post harvest and even further to marketing or final consumption/utilisation. A facilitator supports organization of farmers’ into the ‘School’. Farmers learn on concepts and practices and then they practice. For example, if they learn on nursery bed preparation, they prepare a nursery bed. The next week they would discuss on transplanting and would do transplanting in their demonstration plot, and so forth towards the end of crop cycle. Usually the facilitator designs and conducts the classes; however it is ensured that farmers have access to interact with a range of experts relevant to crops and other livelihoods of the farmers. In our case farmers also discussed on problems associated with flooding, health and social issues reflecting on the past to improve future. Demonstration and practice is priority for learning by doing.

    4. Building up confidence on technical knowledge and skill

    Each crop or livestock have different requirement, they are sensitive to a number of hazards and adversities. Therefore, technical knowledge and skills are important to build on confidence. Strategy, therefore, is to help farmers learn and do soil management, seed/breed/variety selection suitable to local climatic conditions, market potential and farmer’s individual preference. Later on, the process goes on to learn and apply growing seeds, transplanting, weeding,  pruning, top dressing- the intercultural operations through harvesting and selling of particular crop, variety or breed. Passing through a cycle of crop, farmers build up skills and confidence potentially becoming able to go for higher yield, greater in scale and more confident to prevent or recover the losses. They also build on confidence to utilise seasonal opportunities and switch to better crops or options.

    5. Improvement and changes in practices

    The strategy is both to improve existing practice and adopt new practices and technologies. Few farmers were engaged in the commercial farming in the past. Farmers have lost crops not only from flood but also from different diseases in crops like rice, wheat, maize etc. But now after a cycle of FFS in the community, the farmers have selecting improved varieties of vegetables (to name: Snow crown, Silver cup and Kathmandu local varieties of cauliflower; Madhuri, Manisha, Himsona and Shreejana varieties of tomatoes) to increase production. They also learned techniques to protect crops and vegetables from diseases and adverse weather effects. Considering the market and value of product, farmers have initiated grading of potatoes to increase the sale of good quality produce at higher prices.

    Vegetable farming in a plastic tunnel at Anantapur, Rajapur Municipality, Bardiya.

    Vegetable farming in a plastic tunnel at Anantapur, Rajapur Municipality, Bardiya.

    6. Enhanced skills, increased production and improved livelihoods

    Farmers’ field schools have been helping farmers to develop systemic thinking. At least 174 (28%) farmers in a FFS were growing mushroom which is new crop for them, 286 farmers have been growing green vegetables as new winter crop to most of them and selling them in local markets. In rainy season some members in the FFS tried planting flood tolerant rice variety Swarna Sub-1 recommended by research but new to them.

    Furthermore, FFS helped to improve community access to agriculture advisory services and weather information. Better access to reliable weather prediction services helps them to plan activities. Some farmers have altered input dates like preparing nursery bed or harvesting produce. The change in time depends upon the weather forecast of that period although not true for every time. FFS also changed farmers understanding on irrigation at vegetables. Farmers irrigate vegetables more efficiently comparing to past. Due to these knowledge and information, farmers are producing more and getting more income.

    7. Leveraging benefits to enhance flood resilience

    The FFS has been helping farmers grow different crops and increase income. Farmers have invested the income on their children’s formal education, health and fulfilling family’s daily needs. Some of them are saving for future. For instance, Mrs. Manju Chaudhary – a member of Navajagaran farmer group at Bangaun of Dhansinghpur Village Development Committee (VDC) is growing vegetables. She learned from FFS and made income NPR 85,000 (approximately $770) in the past two seasons. She has built her new home with a 2 feet 3 inches raised platform to avoid the flood impact, investing NPR 40,000. She has invested NPR 13,000 as a premium for insurance of her son. She has been paying monthly educational fee amounting NPR 1,500 for her two children and also constructed a biogas plant for NPR25,000.

    The FFS outcomes contribute to enhance family’s flood resilience making their economy and livelihood assets robust and resourceful and contributing to many themes that contribute to flood resilience. The learning process helps to find and adopt a number of choices and opportunity to innovate thereby building redundancy and enhancing rapidity to contain losses if any disastrous hazard hit them.

    Mushroom farming at Shantipur, Gola VDC, Bardiya.

    Mushroom farming at Shantipur, Gola VDC, Bardiya.

    8. Fostering flood resilience

    Sustainability of preventing losses of lives, assets and livelihoods is the prime outcome of flood resilience. This comes through a range of themes in at least five different livelihood capitals. The knowledge/skills and technologies gained by each farmer helps to maintain continuity of their household income even during ups and downs which will also influence other choices and decision making. The linkages developed with the local government and government service providers will be continued beyond project periods.  The institutional set up and linkage will help access support to recover the losses faster. These assemblies provide avenue for farmers to discuss with each other and learn together by doing and demonstrating. The approach has been instrumental in the area particularly for women to utilise time window of winter and dry season to grow lucrative crops and overcome the losses by flood during monsoon. Even during the flooding season, farmers have adopted flood tolerant varieties, different species mix and switching to different crops to diversify income sources. The farmers’ field school lasts for a year generally, however, enhanced confidence and learning sharing culture and access to their service providers and market will continue to improve fostering farmers’ resilience to flooding.

    Buddhiram Kumal is Project Officer, Nepal Flood Resilience Project and Dinanath Bhandari is Programme Coordinator, DRR and Climate Change, Practical Action South Asia Regional Office.

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  • Can Climate Information Services be mapped? 

    Colin McQuistan

    February 2nd, 2017

    “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather”.  Groundhog day 1993

    Practical Action has been approached by a consortia of partners to explore the issue of Climate Information Services in West Africa. We have been posed the question “Is it possible to map the Climate Information Services system in the region and would mapping help to make the system work better for rain fed marginalised farmers?” This is partly to respond to the challenge of why despite investment in rolling out modern forecasting systems on the continent, farmers especially small holder farmers fail to benefit from these investments? Why is crop productivity still lagging behind other regions and why is food and nutritional security still highly susceptible to seasonal and shorter term weather events?

    We are interested in mapping the CIS system for both long range forecasts of the season ahead as well as shorter duration forecast of the week or day ahead.  These forecasts must consider and accurately reflect weather, climate variability and must also anticipate the uncertainty surrounding the consequences of climate change for the region.

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Accurate seasonal forecasts can help farmers make the right crop choice for the subsequent growing season, for example if the predictions are for a wetter or dryer season then the farmer can adjust the seed they purchase to grow crops best suited to the expected conditions. By contrast accurate weekly and daily weather forecasts can enable farmers to choose the right husbandry activities for the crop at that particular moment in time. For example advance warning of heavy rain may prompt a farmer to speed up harvest to prevent storm damage to a standing crop or perhaps for a herder to find safe high ground prior to heavy rains leading to flash flooding.

    However in both cases there are a number of issues that need to be considered to make the forecast practical. These include;

    Believable, currently many farmers have zero or limited access to climate information services and have for generations relied on traditional knowledge systems.  These include observational information on the behaviour of species, timing of events or observation of atmospheric conditions.  It is vital that modern climate information services respect these indigenous approaches and compliment or reinforce these messages. Over time as reliability increases farmers can make a shift in trust and belief, but even in the developed world many farmers still look to local signs to interpret the outcome or as back up to the information provided by the climate information service for their locality.

    Actionable, the farmer needs to be able to make a change based on the information they receive.  For a farmer to switch crops based on a seasonal forecast they will need access to those alternative crops, not just access to seeds but also the activities that support these crops, such as technical knowledge, extension services and other supporting services. If the information cannot be acted upon by the farmer with the resources they have to hand it is next to useless.

    Understandable, providing blanket forecasts will not be useful if they cannot relate the forecast information to their individual situation. As we move down to finer scales weather forecasts become less reliable and it is therefore vital that CIS delivery is tailored to what we know about local conditions. We are all aware of the anomalies in the landscape and these are usually best known by local people. So tailoring the forecast to the local conditions will be vital.  Related to this is the need to make forecasts practicable to the diversity of users in the area. Forecasts need to explain the application of what the information means for different farming systems. The forecast may predict favourable condition for certain crops or livestock species but may herald warnings for others, so tailoring the advice to specific cropping recommendations will make the climate service more user friendly.

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    We have started to elaborate a participatory mapping approach which builds on the success of our Participatory Markets Systems Development (PMSD) approach. This has been adapted to map not a value chain but to focus on the transmission of climate services from information sources to information recipients. We will aim to map the transmission of information across the system as it is converted from one form of information to another and turned into action through different service providers.  Crucial to the success of this approach will be the need to make it bottom up and as participatory as possible.

    There are plenty of other issues that we will consider as this project develops. For example the use of SMS messaging and other types of Information Communication Technologies to disseminate climate information.  However, one of the most important aspects that we are hoping the system approach will help us understand is the role and potential for feedback loops. Established Climate Information Service systems work because they are reliable and trustworthy. This is only possible if regular experiential learning and feedback takes place between the end users and the CIS system components. We are excited to be a part of this project, but recognise that there is a lot still to learn about climate information services and what makes them tick.

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  • An interview with Nazmul Islam Chowdhury

    Elizabeth Dunn

    January 12th, 2017

    The Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal has been a major success, raising an incredible £1 million from people just like you.  This was then matched pound for pound by the UK Government.

    Almost every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh to swell, resulting in devastating floods.  They wash away fertile land and destroy homes and livelihoods.  Families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.  Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede; the soil is barren but can be made productive by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops.  It’s a simple solution that is truly changing lives, thanks to your support.

    "A small dream is now a big dream" Nazmul Chowdhury

    Nazmul Islam Chowdhury is the Head of the Extreme Poverty Programme in Bangladesh and manages the Pumpkins Against Poverty project.  Nazmul came up with the idea of using the barren land in this way many years ago and has gone on to develop and implement the solution in communities across Bangaldesh.  Below he explains just why this project is so important.

    “Firstly, I want to say thank you so much for everyone’s generous support of Practical Action and the Pumpkins Against Poverty project.  You are helping to reach thousands of people.

    “When I initially came up with the idea of sandbar cropping, I thought something is better than nothing, but we have been able to develop and improve the project. It now has a huge impact on the ground and there is potential to bring this innovation to other countries. The pumpkin is like a magic golden ball; it is a solution for food security, vitamin A deficiency, income and gender equality.

    “I have many stories from the people the project helps but there is one that sticks in my mind. In 2009, When I was visiting a community in Rangpur, I was interviewing a farmer when I heard a girl crying. She was only around three years old. Her cries interrupted the interview and I asked her mother what was wrong. She said she was crying because she was hungry and she had no food to feed her. I was shocked and thought, how can I help? I still think about that girl now. We must do something to help these families.

    “I always tell my children, imagine that you have no food at home and you are hungry. You should always try to help the people that need it.”

    Thank you to everyone who has supported the Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal. You are helping thousands of people to lift themselves out of poverty, for good.

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  • Participatory market systems development

    Fatima Mahmoud A/Aziz

    January 6th, 2017

    Kassala Talkok village is a place where many people produce and innovate. But there is one big problem – they do not know how to market their products.

    To address this Practical Action Sudan organised a workshop centered on the concepts and application methods of Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD), as part of the Aqua 4 East project.

    The rationale behind this training is the need to expand the understanding of project participants about their own obstacles and constraints in order to enable them to engage in community development with extensive perspective and knowledge.

    PMSD workshop Talkot

    Unlike other approaches PMSD  suits such situations where community capability and readiness is restricted by a variety of factors that hindering their applications.  Almost all the participants were new to this approach and were excited by its features.

    The facilitation of the training was done by an expert who has previous working experiences in the same field with Practical Action, which helped the workshop reach its objective

    The objective of this training was to enable representatives of local communities and Aqua 4 East project partners  to participate in their communities and institutions to contribute to the achievement of project goals through the application of market development systems.

    PMSD workshop Talkok

    Specific training objectives

    To enable participants to understand the approach to market development systems through identifying:

    • Tools used in the participatory market system development
    • Guidelines steps involved in development of markets systems
    • How to use the application method on the ground

    As a result of the training participant acquired the skills and knowledge of practical and scientific PMSD and its application on the ground.  They learned the basic steps of the road map approach to market development systems and how to apply them along with a knowledge of the markets systems partners of the market at various levels and roles of each partner’s specific market.

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  • Keeping the hope alive

    Menila Kharel

    December 27th, 2016

    In my more than a decade long development journey, I have travelled a lot. I have reached to remote corners of the country and have listened to the voices of marginalised people. No place compares to Karnali region in remoteness and marginalisation. I had heard about it but got the opportunity to experience it only in the last October.

    I started my journey of Karnali from Kalikot district.  Kalikot is often referred as   ‘youngest district’ in Nepal as it was separated from adjoining Jumla district only few decades ago. It is also the district where the likelihood of people dying younger is higher than other districts in Nepal as the life expectancy is just 47 years.  Majority of people in the district make their living from subsistence agriculture.

    Galje is one of the many places I visited in Kalikot. It at is about 3 hours’ drive from district headquarter, Manma. Practical Action has been supporting a farmers group in Galje to embrace the commercial vegetable framing through its BICAS project.

    The topography of Galje was challenging and climate was hostile. However, people were very welcoming. I was particularly impressed with the gender composition of the group.

    After the observation of the commercial vegetable plots, collection centre and agro-vets, we held a discussion with the farmer’s groups to know more about their new initiatives. The vegetable farming was indeed a new endeavour for them as there is the monopoly of the cereal based farming in Kalikot district as in other districts of Karnali. There was good participation of females in the meeting. They were little bit shy at the beginning however as the discussion progressed they became more active. I believe my presence in the meeting also helped them to open up.

    I encouraged them to share their stories and experiences, which they did turn by turn. Each had different and encouraging story to share. I was particularly impressed by the story of Radhika Shahi, a young and energetic girl of 21 years.

    Radhika is a plus two graduate. Unlike many youths in rural areas who find little hope in their villages, she is determined to make a difference in her own village. She has chosen agriculture to make the difference.

    Radhika Shahi working in her vegetable farm.

    Radhika Shahi working in her vegetable farm

    “Though all the households in our village make their living from agriculture, it is often looked down as something for old and uneducated people. I wanted to break the stereotype,” she shared.

    “Like other families in the village, we were only producing cereal crops in our land. We had little knowledge about the vegetable farming. Though we used to receive some vegetable seeds from the Agriculture Service Centre (ASC) sometimes, we never took it seriously as we didn’t have skill and technologies required for vegetable farming. Neither, we knew that the vegetable farming is more profitable than cereal crops,” Radhika continued.

    “BICAS project convinced us about the benefits of the vegetable farming and provided technical trainings on the improved farming practices. It also introduced us to new technologies like poly house for off-season production. An agro-vet and collection centre has been established at the nearby market with the help of the project. As a result, we have easy access to seeds, fertilisers and pesticides from agro-vet. Likewise, collection centre has made the marketing of vegetable easier,” Radhika added.

    Growing vegetable in poly-house

    Growing vegetable in poly-house

    Last season, she made a profit of NPR. 48,000 (1USD = NPR 107) from selling bean, cucumber, cabbage and tomato.

    “I think if we have better technologies and the access to market, we can prosper from the vegetable farming.  Gradually, other people in the village are realising it.” She looked more determined and hopeful when she said it.

    Listening to Radhika’s story, I felt like Karnali is not without hope as it is often portrayed. Young and energetic people like Radhika are keeping the hope alive in Karnali.

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