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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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  • 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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  • Hard work paid off!

    Menila Kharel

    February 15th, 2017

    Chuunu Kathariya is a proud agri-entreprenuer who runs a commercial pig resource centre in Dodohara VDC, Kailali. Currently, he has 19 pigs in his resource centre. He makes a yearly income of NPR 7,00,000 (£5,243). Apart from the pig resource centre, he has recently started banana farming in 14 Kattha (4740 sqm) land.

    Chunnu Kathariya at his pig resource centre

    Chunnu Kathariya at his pig resource centre

    Kathariya  took us to his days back in 2011 when he had returned from Saudi Arabia after spending 26 months there as a labourer.  After his return, he was confused on what to do next in life. But thanks to wise advice he got, he didn’t remain in a limbo for too long.

    Practical Action’s staff from the ROJGARI (Raising Opportunities for Jobs in Gramin Areas for Rural Income) project advised him to invest in a pig resource centre. The idea worked well for him. Together with four friends, he initiated the enterprise. He partially received infrastructure support along with three day pig raising training from Practical Action. He still recalls how the support and encouragement brought a tremendous change in his life.

    Kathariya  clearly looks extremely happy and satisfied with the wise decision he took five years ago. He shared, “I have been selling piglets to Kailali, Doti and Bardiya. So far, I have sold around 700 piglets at the cost of NPR 3,500 (£26) per piglet. After the 2015 earthquake, I provided 42 piglets to affected farmers in Dhading District who had faced huge loss and damage. I was really happy to be able to support them. Besides selling piglets, I am also providing technical support to pig raising farmers. Many farmers have visited my place and have also sought technical support from me. This keeps me going on my business. I am very satisfied and happy.”

    Pig resource centre

    Pig resource centre

    Chuunu has realised that perseverance paid off. He believes support  comes to the door of those who keep striving for their aim. He will soon receive financial support of NPR 200,000 (£1,500) from the government’s pig and poultry promotion programme to further expand his business. He is thankful to Practical Action’s ROJGARI project who guided him to move ahead with this enterprise.

    I think Kathariya  is a remarkable outcome of Rojgari project. This project was implemented from 2011 to 2014 with the financial support from the European Union. The project aimed to provide gainful employment opportunities for rural youths in Nepal.  Looking at the experience of people like Kathariya  we realise ROJGARI has indeed transformed people’s livelihood.

    Two years after the end of the project, many enterprises begun during the projecthave accelerated momentum and are moving ahead sustainably. ROJGARI helped locals increase entrepreneurship skills, develop business plans, provided technical support and links with market actors necessary to lead a successful enterprise.

    Being a part of ROJGARI myself, I look back and think of all the hard work the team did to address youth unemployment.  We are now witnessing the positive change in the lives of people like Kathariya.  I can only say “all our hard work has been paid off.”

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  • Energy market development and scaling up

    Izdehar Ahmed Mohamed

    February 14th, 2017

    To increase access to clean fuels and spread the benefits to health and environment, Practical Action is scaling up by using the Participatory Market System Development Approach (PMSD).

    This approaches involves all actors and stake holders in a dialogue with communities to discuss barriers and ways to overcome these barriers to further develop market systems for LPG as a clean fuel.

    DSC03049Workshops were held at state and federal levels with government agencies and ministries, the private sector, LPG companies, LPG distribution agents, the Ministry of Finance, energy research and financial institutions.  They joined community representatives to map the market chain and discuss LPG markets, their constraints and how these could be solved.

    The LPG project team leads an influencing process to address barriers. An environment protection forum including all stakeholders at state level and a sustainable energy network at national level, have been established by Practical Action to advocate for alleviation of barriers to the access of poor people to environment friendly technologies. These cover aspects such as tax and duty charges.

    Other activities include:Asha LPG stoves

    1. Linking Women’s Development Associations to LPG companies and financial institutions
    2. Forming saving and loan groups to access loans where the initial cost is a major barrier to poor people’s access to clean fuel technologies
    3. Awareness raising through local and international media, sharing knowledge and experience with all stakeholders and linking private sector social investment departments to carbon finance experience
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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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  • 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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  • Knowledge is Power; #LetsdoPeriodTalk

    Ananta Prasad

    December 22nd, 2016

    Written by Pratikshya Priyadarshini

    A hot, sunny afternoon in the Sikharchandi slum of Bhubaneswar does not evoke the imagery of a drab, lazy life that it typically must. One can hear the din from a distance, hard rubber balls hitting against wooden bats, followed closely by the voices of young boys appealing instinctively to an invisible umpire. As we walk along the dusty paths, the roads wider than the adjacent houses, a number of young girls flock to us, greeting us with coy smiles. Young and old women, sitting on verandas, welcome us with pleasantries and call out to their daughters, “The Sakhi Club Didis are here!” We stop in front of a small pakka house, the purple paint shining brightly in the slanting afternoon sun while the rice lights from Diwali night hanging down the roof wait for the evening to be lit. 15 year old Sailaja comes out of the little door, wiping her hands and wearing an infectious smile on her face as she briskly lays down the mats for us to sit down. She then speaks to us about the Sunalo Sakhi program and her participation in it.

    Sailaja

    K. Sailaja Reddy, 15years old, Sikharchandi Cluster 2 Slum, Bhubaneswar

    Sailaja was 13 years old when she first got her periods. Anxious and fearful, she informed her mother about it. She knew very little about menstruation before the onset of her menarche. In fact, even after she got her periods, she had very little knowledge about the process and had harbored a number of misconceptions that she had begotten from her previous generations. She recalls that when she got her periods for the first time, she was isolated from everyone and kept inside her house owing to the customary practices of her culture. Moreover, she was placed under a number of restrictions by her family in terms of moving and playing, interacting with boys and men and speaking openly about periods. Sailaja had been using cloth to prevent staining back then. She was facing a number of difficulties in keeping herself clean since she had to wash the cloth on her own and dry it. It used to be inconvenient during the monsoons and winter as there would be no sunlight and the cloth wouldn’t dry up. Add to that, she was not even aware of the health repercussions that using unhygienic methods like cloth instead of sanitary napkins might bring about. Sailaja tells us that when the CCWD and Practical Action program ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ started in her community, a lot of young girls and women were reluctant to go and join the meetings. With the constant efforts of the community mobilizers, the Sakhi Club was created in the area as a forum for dissemination of knowledge and discussion regarding menstrual hygiene and related issues. A number of women and girls started actively participating in the programme. The community mobilizers used a number of strategies like audio visual screening, radio podcasts, visual charts, action learning, songs and dance in order to educate the participants about the various facts related to menstruation. They discussed the scientific reasons behind menstruation and busted many myths regarding periods. They also discussed various health issues pertaining to menstruation, ways to maintain hygiene during periods and practices to be followed for proper healthcare during adolescence. Gradually, the girls who were initially reluctant began to open up and started discussing their own menstrual problems with the community mobilizers who tried their best to clarify their queries. Sailaja herself was facing problems with her menstrual cycle. Her menstrual blood was thick and clotted which caused her severe abdominal pain and nausea. She spoke about it to the expert doctor on the radio programme ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ and the doctor advised her to drink 4-5 liters of water every day. She followed the doctor’s advice and noticed changes within a few days.

    Exif_JPEG_420

    Sakhi Club Meetings in the Slums by ‘Sunolo Sakhi’

    Today the Sikharchandi Sakhi Club has 32 members. All of them, including Sailaja have switched to sanitary pads instead of cloth. Sailaja now changes her pads 3-4 times per day and disposes the used pads by either burning or burying them. She monitors her periods using a calendar. She uses the methods suggested by the community mobilizers like hot water press and ajwain water consumption to handle her abdominal aches during periods. Her problem with blood clot has also been completely resolved. She tells us that the conversation regarding menstruation has changed a lot at her home and in her community with most women now speaking openly about it and discarding the taboos and myths in favour of factual understanding. All the girls in the area now go to school during their periods while they were earlier stopped by their families. Sailaja now exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet and takes care of her health. She promises that she will keep spreading the message of the club among her younger friends and urge them to not be fearful or reluctant, to take care of their health and hygiene as well as to listen to the Sunalo Sakhi programme by Practical Answers on Radio Choklate so that their issues can be addressed.

    (Ms Pratikshya Priyadarshini, Student of TISS, Mumbai interned with Practical Answers and was engaged in Sunolo Sakhi project)

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  • What I took home from the 2016 SEEP Conference

    Hopewell Zheke

    November 17th, 2016

    The 2016 SEEP conference was my second.  At my first. in 2012 I was one of the presenters on Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD)  this time I was a full participant. Thus I had time to follow proceedings as well as network.  I would like to share with you the learning I took home with me.

    Small business in MozambiqueThe theme of this year’s conference was ‘Expanding market frontiers’ and indeed we expanded the boundaries.

    As I prepared for the conference two tracks caught my mind ‘Enhancing Food Security through Market-oriented Interventions’ and ‘Getting and Using the Right Kinds of Evidence’. I liked these two tracks mainly because at Practical Action we have several projects on livelihoods and food security where we are using a participatory markets systems development approach to transform markets to become more inclusive and to benefit all market actors including the small-scale farmers. The second reason is that I have been working in the sector for some time now and one area I need to explore further is getting and using the ‘right evidence’. How do we measure, report and share systemic changes in the market system?

    However my most interesting learning was about how to integrate gender into market systems work. This is not a totally new concept, we have tried doing this for many years. But, quite honestly,we have not been getting the results we want.  This probably won’t happen overnight as some of the factors are so dynamic and cultural so much that they are difficult to change.

    One session was on Using ex-ante evidence to promote gender responsive market system change’. Ex-ante means ‘before the event’ so this focussed on using evidence that we collect to inform our program design. More often we rush to do a quick feasibility study and go on to design a program,  racing against deadlines. In such circumstances our design misses some of the critical data that we might need and we sometimes end up disaggregating data to men and women to tick the box on gender mainstreaming.

    Significantly this session focused on the need to centre attention on the skills women have and to come up with business models that either take advantage of these skills or build on them. That way, women take part meaningfully and are integral to the project design.

    Common business cases we discussed included women as an important market segment, capturing underutilised female skills/talent, improved reliability, improved productivity, improved quality, improved reputation, social impact and diversified distribution channels.

    In our recent projects we have had women taking negotiating roles with buyers and other market actors because they are regarded as the best negotiators. Have you ever wondered why most women are involved at the fresh vegetable markets? It is simple.Women  have the best negotiating skills. They are also involved in grading not because of their ‘patience’ but because they have the skill and eye for good quality. So a program built around women’s skills and capacities is better placed to address gender issues and enhance women empowerment.

    Moving forward we are going to use such thinking when designing our programs and also see how we can incorporate such lessons in our existing projects.

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  • Providing food security through appropriate technology

    Francis Muchiri

    October 4th, 2016

    Technological advances have increased the quality of life expectancy, productivity and income. However, as technology advances, developing countries have consistently missed out on the opportunities to increase their production potential in the varied development fields. Appropriate technological solutions are not easily accessible to poor people who need them most. Food production, for example, offers a clear distinction between technology justice and injustice. The lack of appropriate technology to improve systems denies vulnerable populations off sustainable food production. There is technology available for enhanced food security when appropriate resource management systems are employed.

    IMG_1894It therefore behoves development practitioners to review access rights and supply needs with a bias to safeguarding human rights. Practical Action is leading in maintaining the challenge to the world to see technology ‘as the bringer of consumer gain’ and its potential as a world changer – ‘a lever out of poverty.’

    Practical Action Eastern Africa focuses on areas that impact the poor through an integrated – approach, taking into consideration the unique demands in society realizing that each individual requires solutions customized  to their needs. The overall aim is to ensure that communities gain sustainable livelihoods that create a food secure society and we shall illustrate how.

    Sustainable food production technologies

    Access to adequate and nutritious diet is a major challenge among pastoralists’ communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL’s) in East Africa. The region remains highly dependent on food aid. The persistence for this is not a lack of potential but rather a misconception of policies and reluctance to invest in sound agricultural technologies that are responsive to the changing climatic patterns. The persistence of this challenge requires urgent attention and adoption of more practical options to secure sustainable food production.

    Practical Action’s work in Northern Kenya (Mandera and Turkana) is geared towards ensuring food security (increased availability, access and utilization) to the most vulnerable groups; women and children through increasing their access to appropriate technology, knowledge and skills for equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. Through participatory processes, Practical Action engages with the communities to undertake activities and approaches that touch on all aspects of their livelihoods from agriculture, environment, governance and social equity.

    In order to achieve this, Practical Action has adopted the vulnerability to resilience (V2R) framework. This holistic approach assesses the needs of the resource poor communities and identifies skills and opportunities for them to build more secure and resilient livelihoods. This is to empower the communities to meet their food security and nutritional needs. It also enhances their capacity to cope with the recurrent hazards; drought, floods, livestock disease outbreaks and resource conflicts that are endemic in Northern Kenya.

    Improvements to pastoralist production systems

    Practical Action through the Food Security, Agriculture and Disaster Risk Reduction programme makes sustainable improvements in pastoralist and agro-pastoralist production systems through providing simple technology solutions and promoting ecological utilization of the natural resources.

    This has been achieved through direct and people centered technical assistance on rain water harvesting (sand dams, earth pans, rock catchments) and water lifting technologies (foot pumps, hand pumps and solar water pumping systems),micro-irrigation systems for food cropping (Drought Tolerant Crops) and environmental conservation measures (agro-forestry, contour bands and trapezoidal bands). Practical Action also empowers the pastoralists with skills needed to increase the productivity of their livestock assets through improved animal health and husbandry practices, through the Pastoralists Field Schools (PFS). We use our unique approach; Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) to improve the marketing of livestock and livestock products and generate profit and incomes for the pastoralists.

    SAMSUNG CSC

    FrancisMuchiri@Practicalaction

    Over the years Practical Action has undertaken to promote equitable use of natural resources through interventions such as; Land Use Planning and Management, Pasture Management/Grazing Patterns, Soil and Forest conservation. This has enabled the creation of wet and dry season grazing zones to cushion pastoralists against climatic shocks and provide opportunities for diversification of livelihoods into other dry land production systems; aloe vera cultivation, beekeeping, poultry rearing, and agro-pastoralism as alternative options for pastoralists.

    In order to reach impact at scale Practical Action is working with partners and policy makers in developing policies that promote, sustain and create an enabling environment for pastoralism and dry land production systems. Specifically, Trans-Boundary Animal Mobility and Trans Boundary Animal Disease surveillance policies are key for ensuring enhanced productivity of pastoralist systems and have been Practical Action’s priority areas of influence. Due to the changing land use needs, expansion of extractive industries and the demographic surge, Practical Action is leading in influencing adoption of favorable Land Use and Natural Resource Management policy aimed at responding to the threats to pastoralism and their livelihoods by the emerging land use demands.

    The overall goal of Practical Action’s intervention in Northern Kenya is to establish productive and disaster resilient systems for food production and improved livelihood security for the well-being of the communities. This will be measured through increase in food availability, access and utilization, strengthened marketing systems and improved management and governance of natural resources.

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