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  • Seed cum fertiliser maize planter: how it works?


    December 12th, 2017

    The Developmental Challenge

    The Developmental Challenge Being one of the professional working in the sector of Market Development in Agriculture Sector in Nepal, the issue of farm mechanisation has always been the one of the sector of my interest. Even though the concept of farm mechanisation is ploddingly increasing, farmers access to related information and machineries in different crops are stumpy. In addition, the effort for farm mechanisation awareness and extension services are insufficient in the country.

    Alike the national scenario, I found the situation similar in the Maize Subsector in Bara District; during initial assessment under the Promoting Climate Resilience Agriculture (PCRA) Project. Maize farmers in the project area were unaware and did not use modern farm plantation equipment which resulted low productivity and high cost of production.

    On a positive note, this developmental hitch possessed a silver lining for promotion of farm mechanisation in the subsector. Thus, this challenge led identification and promotion of appropriate maize plantation machine in the area.

    Exploring Solutions
    With the help of the project team I started to identify possible service providers in nearby area of Bara district, which could fulfil our requirement. Though not a “Herculean Task”, the hunt was quite intricate and iterative to meet with service providers and select appropriate machine. After a week of market assessment, “Trishakti Traders” a supplier of farm machine and equipment was identified.

    To our ecstasy, Mr. Dhurv Shah (Proprietor- Trishakti Traders) was not only supportive towards our concept but also extended support to the project by offering us a free demo of the machine along with technicians support. Though Mr. Shah knew that though there would not be an immediate return for his investment, he was guided by his deep rooted values that being a responsible citizen he should be contributing for the society through ways he can.

    While returning from his sales outlet, a question kept knocking my mind: How vibrant would our society be, if we had more such heart warming people in the sector?

    Execution of Identified Solution
    Seven plots based upon developed criteria were selected for the demonstration activity. Those include; Affinity towards technology, having suitable land type for machine use, connector in the area for information dissemination and location. Based upon those criteria the selected plots were in Chiutaha, Kachaurwa, Paterwa, Pipradi and Lead Firm Plot Birgunj and the demonstration activities were conducted during 28 Nov- Dec 3, 2017.

    Trishakti Traders provided the “Maize Seed Cum Fertiliser Plantation Machine” for demonstration period and also called two machine technicians from Punjab, India to support the process.

    Major Outputs
     The demo was successful in planting the maize as per the expectations. During the event, effectiveness, efficiency and economic benefits of the machine were also tested. The machine has been found to be simple to operate and could be employed to plant at least 2.5-3 hectares per day under normal conditions . Farm economics shows that it would save about 100 USD per hectare plantation through savings from seed, manure and labour. When the machine would be used as per the calculations above the machine purchase cost (1250 USD) recovery would take less than 5 days. This information was shared to the farmers during the demo activity.

    Apart from the demo, the activity also raised a degree of curiosity and awareness in the areas. Being a new technology, farmers and passerby’s were keen to know about the technology and its benefits along with the purchase details. Some of the farmers wanted to test the machine to plant maize in their fields but due to inadequate time and incoming election, it was not possible.

     

     

     

    The Final Takeaway: Though this activity cannot be considered as a “Silver Bullet” to solve all the farm mechanisation issues, it has undoubtedly added a brick to lay foundation for farm mechanisation in the maize subsector in the area. PCRA is hopeful that the purchase and use of machine in upcoming maize plantation season will initiate.

     

     

    Description: Seed cum Fertiliser Maize Planter

    The Seed Cum Fertiliser Maize Plantation Machine used for the demonstration consists of five trench liners through which seeds and fertilizers are shown in the field and covered subsequently. The machine acts as an add-on-unit in tractor which is used for agriculture purpose and is easy to operate as it does not have complicated mechanism. It can be handled by two persons after they have a general idea of how the machine operates and can plant up to 3.5 hectares per day. The major parts of the machine along with their functions are described below:

     a) Seed and Fertiliser Holder: The seed and fertiliser holders have been designed in the machine at the topmost level of the machine. There are five seed holder compartments where the maize seeds are kept. Each compartment can hold more than 5 kg of seed. In case of fertiliser, there is only one compartment but has five drains from where the fertilisers fall down along with the maize as shown in the picture aside. The capacity of fertiliser holder is more than 50 Kilograms.

    b) Rotating Wheel Rotating wheel in the machine is connected to the main body with the help of a chain and provides thrust to move the machine forward. It also balances wheels on two sides in order to maintain the required plantation depth. As the wheel rotates forward, the chain provides rotational force to the Axle and Pivot.

    c) Axle and Pivot: As the axle and pivot receive torque, they rotate the seed holder and open the fertiliser holder. Due to the rotation, each seed move into the vacant space of the holder and are pushed down to the outlet. The seed holder is designed to accommodate only one seed and is pushed down by the brush attached in the seed holder. Similarly the opening of the fertiliser also allows a specific quantity to fall down the pipe to the trench developed.

    d) Trench Liners and Outlet: As the rotating wheel pushes forward in the plot ready for plantation, the trench liner develops five trenches where the seeds and fertilizers get dropped. The trench is covered with the soil by base opening of the trench liner. The continuous rotation motion of the axle and pivot enables a specific spacing amongst the seeds shown. Generally the spacing maintained amongst the seed is about 17-20 cm and the spacing between two trench lines is about 60 cm.

    e) Extra Liner for Mark up purpose: One of the peculiar characteristics of this machine, compared to zero till planter is the provision of extra trench liner. Due to the presence of extra liner, it helps tractor driver to mark up the planted area and maintain the crop spacing for proceeding plantation.

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  • From a kitchen worker to an evolving agriculture entrepreneur: an inspiring story of Rudra Chaulagain


    July 26th, 2017

    Rudra Prasad Chaulagain, a 40 year-old man is a skilled farmer, technician and an evolving entrepreneur.  Before 2009, his identity was different – he was a kitchen helper at one of the capital’s hotel casinos.

    Rudra grew up in a low income family of 7. Due to poverty, he was unable to complete his formal education and had to leave his family at 18 to earn a living. He worked in the Royal Casino as a kitchen helper for 13 years.  This due to the national conflict and insurgency and he was out of job and in a state of anxiety over what to do.

    “For 13 years, I only worked in kitchen. I had no other work skills besides kitchen experience. The country was in a state of insurgency and my family was worrying what to do next.”

    At the time, poultry farming was popular all over the country and he too was inspired to take up poultry farming as his new career. He purchased an old house in Godavari, a former VDC (Village Development Committee) of Lalitpur district. With his small savings, he leased one ropani (1 ropani = 508.72 sq m) land and started poultry farming with 1000 broiler and 1000 layer chickens. However, the things did not go as per his expectation.

    Rudra feeding chicken. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “We were unfortunate. We lost most of the chickens to unknown diseases. We could not recognise the actual cause of death on time and even local agro-vet could not help us. We incurred great loss…”

    Rudra and his wife realised that they lacked necessary knowledge and skills to effectively run the poultry business. They thought about switching to dairy . They already had good experience of keeping cows (they had kept one cow for household milk consumption), so they started a dairy farm by buying two additional cows. In the meantime, his wife got information about Practical Answers services being run through a community library from her neighbours. They visited community library- RIRC (READ Information and Resource Centre), Badikhel and shared their story seeking help.

    Rudra participated in the expert interaction on “Animal Health and Livestock Management”.  Under his leadership,  a ‘Professional Farmers Group’ was formed and registered at the local authority  as the local government prioritises registered farmers’ groups while providing services, subsidies and grants. With the help of the CLRC, Rudra was also selected for a two month long “Community Livestock Assistant (CLA) Training”, organised by the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) Nepal.

    Rudra in cow shade. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “I had passion to do whatever I needed to do but knowledge matters in all cases. If you do not have enough knowledge, you will never succeed. I had faced huge loss and economic crisis earlier. Thanks to RIRC Badikhel, without their help I would have never come to this stage. I am here only because of my dedication, family support and most importantly the continuous support and guidance of Practical Answers services run by the CLRC.”

    After being trained on poultry farming, he took it up again. Now, he has 800 layer and 2000 broiler chickens, all healthy. He has also added two more cows to his herd.

    Rudra and his wife collecting eggs. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    Recently, after participating in three day training on “Dairy Product”, jointly organised by Practical Answers services of CLRC and VSO International on October 2016, Rudra has started a milk collection and chilling centre. In addition to 45 litres of milk produced in his own farm, he collects 200 litres milk on an average daily. He sells paneer, ghee and surplus milk from his chilling centre.

    Rudra participating in “Dairy Product” training. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “I feel very happy. Now I am making profit from my business. I am helping other small farmers as well. Now, they don’t need to worry about the market.”

    Now, his children (one son and one daughter) are studying in one of the reputed English medium schools. He has also bought 10 anna (1 ropani equals to 16 anna) land by the side of his house and started kitchen gardening.

    Rudra selling his farm produce to a costumer. Photo (c) RIRC/Archana Adhikari

    “We are very much hopeful and optimistic about the future. My family especially my wife supports in making decision and managing all the business. We both participate in each and every activity of the CLRC alternately. We also share our knowledge and experience to other community members through the library. In fact, we are indebted by the library and its knowledge works.”

    (Information and photographs collected by Archana Adhikari, RIRC Badikhel.)

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  • Progress in Pictures


    July 13th, 2017

    Prepared by Rabindra Singh and Yugdeep Thapa

    Practical Action has been implementing the project “Strengthening the Supply Chain of Construction Materials” in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts  of Nepal since June 2016. The UKAID funded project aims to help the earthquake affected households acquire quality construction materials at competitive price while rebuilding their houses. The following pictures portray the project activities

    On the cutting edge: The stone cutting machine, a simple technology, introduced in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts after the earthquake can cut upto 90   corner/through stones in a day, an exceptionally high number compared to 5- 6 stones produced manually. This reduces the cost of the corner/through stones by more than half and significantly saves labour cost for building stone houses. A household can save up to Rs 25,000 ($250) while building a 2 rooms stone masonry house using the machine made corner/through stones.

    Stone cutting work underway at Bhorle, Rasuwa/Thapa Y

    Stone cutting machine/Thapa Y

    Crushing rocks, building dreams: Sanu Tamang has been living in a temporary shelter in Dhunche since the 2015 earthquake, which reduced her house and nearly all of her village in Hakku-3  Rasuwa into rubbles. Ever since, she is making her living by crushing aggregates and nursing her dream to return to her village one day. The project is helping her and internally displaced people like her by organising them into groups, providing tools and safety gears and linking them to potential customers. Their income has increased  by 2 folds after the project support .

    Sanu Tamang at work/ Singh R

    Breaking boundaries:  With the current trend of the male population, especially in rural villages, migrating abroad for better employment opportunities, the female workforce has stepped up in the reconstruction process. They are engaged in construction materials production as entrepreneur and workers,  and as skilled mason in house construction.The women are earning Rs 700 ( $70) per day working in the enterprises and Rs 1200 ( $120) working as the skilled mason.

    The all-women workforce busy producing earth blocks in a project supported Compressed Stabilized Earth Block ( CSEB) enterprise in Uttargaya rural municipality/Thapa Y

    A Female mason building project supported model house at Rasuwa /Shrestha S

    Hitting the airwaves: Radio Langtang, partner radio station of the project, is yet another example of women breaking barriers. The station is operated by an all-female staff and is a bold statement in the traditional hilly areas of Rasuwa. The Radio broadcasts the project supported programme Suraktshit Baas for raising awareness on construction materials.

    Production team at Radio Langtang/Thapa Y

    Fate failed her but technology  helping her rise : Nigma Waglung, 48, migrated to Karmi dada Rawuwa, after a devastating landslide razed her house at Ramche to ground in 2057. She worked really hard to build a new house at Karmi Dada, only to lose it  to the earthquake in 2074. Nigma, single mother of two children, has been living in a temporary shelter, with no means ( and real zeal ) to build yet another house. However, a new Cement Stabilized Earth Block (CSEB)  factory supported by project in her village, has rekindled her hopes. CSEB are cheaper than fired bricks and requires less mortar and labor to build wall with. She has also been chosen for building project supported model house, which will save her labor cost.

    Nigma Waglung in front of her under construction house /Singh R

    Reining in the price : Maha- laxmi Cooperative, a women’s cooperative in Bhorle, Rasuwa, is responsible for demand aggregation of the surrounding communities. The cooperative in coordination with a national level supplier is able to provide construction materials to earthquake affected people up to 10% in discount rates than the market. This is possible through the project developed demand aggregation model, where collective demand and direct linkage with national level suppliers eliminates several middlemen whereby making construction materials prices significantly lower than the market prices.

    Mrs Chandra Kumari Paneru, the Chairperson of Maha Laxmi Co-operative sharing the benefits of demand aggregation/Singh R

    Weighing a sack of cement in Bhorle resource centre/ Singh R

    Quality assurance :  The influx of substandard construction materials is one of the major challenges for building resilient houses. To put a check on it , the project has been providing  local cooperatives engaged in demand aggregation  basic skills and simple equipment to check the quality of construction materials.

    Resource person at Bhorle checking the diameter of iron rebar with vernier caliper/Singh R

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  • What’s next for ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’?


    June 1st, 2017

    Each year the World Bank bring together their country representatives from around the globe to measure progress and push forward on new initiatives.  ‘World Bank land’ in Washington DC becomes a bustling mini-city within a city. Even the bus stops get the messages out.  My favourite this year was Rich countries shouldn’t define poverty for poor countries’world bank

    I was there to participate in a panel discussing the relevance and progress of their four year pilot of the Enabling the Business of Agriculture program (EBA).

    Work began on this in 2013, funded by donors like DFID, USAID and Gates Foundation. It set out to become a high profile global programme that assesses countries regulatory environment for agri-business. The intention is to provide governments and others with information which will help them to make better policy and investment decisions.

    Over the past four years Practical Action has been engaging with this program because we know that:

    1. Farmers and other agri-business players are deeply affected by the enabling environment and, whatever the context, it can have a direct impact on their ability to make money from their activities. Part of this is determined by the regulatory environment, but only part.  Our work highlights many more issues not covered by the EBA.
    2. Regardless of what NGOs think of tools like the EBA, they can be influential, whether we like them or not! The World Bank’s flagship program Doing Business is in its 14th year and has been shown to shape regulation in the 190 countries that use it. So however imperfect, we recognise that this type of information is used by policy makers and investors.

    Throughout the pilot phase the EBA program has had harsh criticism from a high profile campaign Our Land Our Business. This group are concerned that the EBA will “create a race-to-the-bottom between countries as they clamor for World Bank investment dollars”.

    Practical Action has not joined this campaign but instead has been working closely with other INGOs like Christian Aid to engage with the EBA team to push for a stronger focus on:

    • Ending poverty – we’ve argued for the EBA to focus more on those aspects that will promote inclusion, i.e. benefit smallholders and others who struggle to achieve gains from agri-business, particularly women, despite their dependency on the sector for their livelihoods.

    end povertyWe want this ambition to move from obscurity to full visibility. A bit like these pictures I took of the World Bank building during the meetings. A big (literally!) reminder for all of the primary purpose of the World Bank.

    • Long-term environmental sustainability, making agricultural sectors towards fit for purpose in a changing climate. This needs to be bedded into key areas of the EBA (seeds, fertiliser, mechanisation) not sitting on its own, as a special island of optimism without regulatory teeth.

    Agri-business as usual is not an option

    There is global consensus that agri-business as usual is no longer an option. Kristalina Georgieva the World Bank’s CEO, opened a packed session on “The Future of Food” with a strong call for changes to a failing food system. We’re interested in how the EBA can support (as opposed to undermine) those changes to happen. The ‘Our Land our Business’ campaign is deeply concerned that it will exacerbate the failings of the food system. We are more optimistic. Over four years we’ve had some good conversations with the EBA team. However it’s been challenging for them to incorporate feedback because of their very tight data collection schedule and the limitations of the tool, because the donor mandate of the project means the focus is solely on regulation.

    EBA2017-Report17 1It is encouraging to see that in this recent progress report  attention is given to both environmental sustainability and gender. The EBA team are clear that it’s still very much work in progress. They are moving the program to biennial data collection and reporting which is very positive because it means they can take some time to address the more challenging issues. This is vital if the EBA is not to skew decision-making on agriculture in the future.  For the next phase of this program as they continue to develop and expand it there needs to be a clear intent to deliver:

    • Deeper engagement and meaningful consultation in-country – dedicated to incorporating views of agri-business and civil society as well as public actors.
    • More attention on inclusion and environmental sustainability – integrate them properly into the EBA so they are in the data sets and scores which will get the attention of policy makers. Make them what this is about. It’s a great opportunity for the EBA to make the shift that is needed actually happen.

    It is so important for users and supporters of the EBA to take a balanced approach, given that regulation is a very small part of the picture when it comes to an effective enabling environment for agriculture. In particular the World Bank and the EBA donors should focus on delivering the SDGs by supporting wider investment in processes that will shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable agriculture.

    For Practical Action that means investing in systems that rely on fewer external inputs, creating lower risk agriculture for the majority.

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  • Telling better stories


    May 26th, 2017

    After a long 1.15 hours flight and 5 hours ride in a pickup truck, we reached Dadeldhura, which will be our home for the next three days.  Dadeldhura lies in the far-western district of Nepal and holds many historic significance.   As I was told by one of the locals, Amargadhi Fort in Dadeldhura was built in 1790 AD by General Amar Singh Thapa to serve as a military base.  During the unification of Nepal by then King Prithvi Narayan Shah, General Amar Singh Thapa fought the British troops from this very fort.  That’s some interesting piece of information there!  I really didn’t know about this until now.  The story somehow was vaguely embedded in my head, I guess we read it in our history class, during our primary days but now the story became as fresh as a daisy.  I just couldn’t wait to see the fort.  I wonder if that’s when the world knew about the bravery of we Nepalese???  Made me scratch my head.  Nevertheless, I was not here to dig the history, neither was I here to find the answers to my own questions.  I was here for a training workshop on “telling better stories” for BICAS project staff and partners.

    BICAS project intervention in the far west

    Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project is funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas. The project aims to build the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest based enterprises in the remote mid and far western districts of Bajhang, Bajura, Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu.

    Building capacity of staff is an essential part of an organisation

    Telling better stories- A family photo

    A well-trained and well-qualified workplace definitely boosts the efficiency of an organisation. Therefore, to enhance the abilities of staff and to encourage them to reflect their attitudes and beliefs; a two and a half day workshop was organised in Dadeldhura. The participants were from the Nepalgunj cluster office and partners/ project coordinators from BICAS project. The workshop included a wide range of topics from story writing, photography, videography to social media.

     

    Day 1- Nepali Braveheart: A thought tickler

    The session kicked off with an introduction, followed by a story writing session; which was later followed by photography and video making sessions. I could sense a strong enthusiasm amongst the participants. They seem very eager to learn the practical hands-on tips. We tried to make the sessions as informal as possible, as we did not want to restrict the workshop within the PowerPoint slides and lengthy speech. It was more of an open platform where one could ask questions and/or share experiences on similar topics. The first day went by in a blink of an eye. I could tell from my previous experiences that the first day is always fun and easy-going. The most challenging is always the next day, as the participants start to wear off – lose their focus and things start to get monotonous. It was in the back of my head but I did not bother to think about it. As the clock ticked five, we wrapped up the session and called it a day.

    L-R: Statue of Amar Singh Thapa, Secret tunnel of Amargadhi Fort

    A bunch of us decided to go for a walk to refresh ourselves after spending the whole day inside a hall. I would never dare to go for a walk while I am in Kathmandu, thanks to the pollution and the crazy traffic of the K-town. But the air in Dadeldhura was so fresh and clean. We walked out from the hotel and went all the way up to the Amargadhi Fort. We spent more than an hour walking around the fort. One of the police guards was generous enough to show us around and explain the details of each and every corner and the architectural built. The most interesting part was the tunnel which was built in such a way that it was connected to a water resource. As we were told, this passage was used by then queen whenever she had to go for a bath or by the armies to fetch water. You can never tell from the outside that the tunnel leads to a water source, it was quite fascinating. The whole tour seemed surreal to me, I felt like I was one of the soldiers from the Anglo-Nepalese war.  I read about brave Amar Singh Thapa during my school days and now I was at the same place where all the magic happened. Seeing his statue at the main entrance even left me awestruck. There are so many similarities between Amar Singh Thapa and the character of William Wallace from the movie, “Braveheart”- the same determination and resistance. I was just there staring at the statue of Amar Singh Thapa and seeing him as a Nepali William Wallace. After dinner I was just hanging out in my room and a random thought came in my head – how cool will it be if I was to make a Nepali Braveheart? I am sure it will be epic – easier said than done. That can go in my bucket list AKA fantasies (I’m just a dreamer).

    Day 2- The unpredictable weather of the far west

    I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm. I checked the time on my cell phone and it read 6:30 am. I could hear the heavy pour of rain from inside the room. I just wished I did not have to get up at all. After aimlessly staring at the ceiling for half an hour, I finally managed to get off from my bed. I opened the door and it was raining cats and dogs. In the corner of the balcony, there was a big pile of hailstone, which looked like a mini Mount Everest. I took out my camera and started taking pictures of the magnificent landscape of Dadeldhura from my balcony. I did not bother about the rain; I was going crazy with my camera. There was something very unique about the landscape; it was priceless. I just could not get enough of it. Before I realised it was actually raining, I was already half soaked. I am glad my camera was water-proof though. I felt like a stubborn kid enjoying the early monsoon rain.

    Clouds in motion as seen from the hotel roof

    We were informed that we would not need any warm clothes for the trip. During March usually the weather is nice and pleasant. But somehow I did not want to take a risk. I had my warm jackets and boots with me. The last time I visited the far west (two years before); I regretted not caring any warm jacket. One of our partner office colleagues was kind enough to lend me a jacket- that was a life saver. “Once bitten, twice shy.” I was well prepared (just in case). The rain was battering the roof like a bullet. There was no sign of rain stopping anytime soon, it was hammering down relentlessly. I could feel a gust of cold wind on my face. At least for once I was glad I made the right decision. Usually, I tend to over pack and half of the stuff I never use it. What’s even more interesting was that the field office colleagues were also fooled by the unpredictable weather of the far west. They thought the weather would be pleasant, so they did not bring any warm clothes. As the day progressed, it became even colder. By evening, it was crazy; the rain kept pouring and the temperature dropped like a rock. It was freezing cold. So, these three blokes had to go buy a sweater for NRS. 1500 (11 GBP) each. They said it was the best buy ever (with a satirical smile).

    The second day was a bit mellow and less hectic. My colleague Sanjib Chaudhary opened the session highlighting the importance of social media in the development sector. It was well received by the participants. The later session was followed by hands-on tips on film making. After lunch it was more of a practical session. The participants were divided into three groups and were sent to the nearby location to collect stories, pictures and videos of their interest.

    Day 3- Here comes the sun

    I slept like a baby. It always takes a while to get used to the new hotel bed. Finally, after two days, I guess I slept well. When I woke up it was already 7:30 am. I peeped through my window curtain and much to my surprise there was the sun shining bright. I was so happy that the sun was here, FINALLY. Now, I can relate why George Harrison wrote “Here comes the sun” with the Beatles. Ever since we stepped in Dadeldhura it was raining like crazy and finally we were able to see the sun. The feeling was just amazing. I was already late for breakfast though. I had to rush myself, got ready and met the folks downstairs for breakfast. By 8 am, I was all ready and having breakfast with my colleagues.

    Today was the final day of the workshop. We reviewed the stories, photos and video clips of all the groups and gave feedbacks and comments.

    Adieu – Until we meet again

    Our two and a half day workshop was coming to an end. All of us enjoyed our stay in Dadeldhura amidst the crazy weather. I hope the workshop was a fruitful one. We never know until we see the end result from the participants. Fingers crossed, I hope our effort will be an aspiration for all the participants to produce the quality output that we are aiming for the BICAS project. I just cannot wait to read the first post-workshop story/ blog and/or see the pictures they send. Until then all I can do is wait patiently.

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  • With improved agricultural practices, farmers in far-western Nepal are avoiding the seasonal exodus to India


    May 25th, 2017

    The scene was heart-breaking. A group of women and children were running after a bus while the men were waving goodbye from the vehicle. I was witness to this scene almost two years ago during a field trip to Achham in far-western Nepal. The women and children were crying and so were some of the men. They kept on running after the bus till it was out of sight.

    Relatives of foreign-bound men running after a bus carrying the seasonal migrants. (c) Bishnu Paudel

    According to my colleague Bishnu Paudel, the men were leaving for India. He said, “The belief is that the more people come to see off a foreign-bound man, the more fruitful will be his stay in Mumbai and other cities in India.”

    It’s not an unusual scene here in this part of Nepal where hordes of men leave for India every year to earn a paltry income. This practice of seasonal migration hasn’t done much good to the people of this region. In India they engage in and hold petty jobs of a janitor, dishwasher, porter, and a factory worker among others and get harassed, despised and scolded at a drop of a hat. When they return from India, they bring a meagre amount of money but also the dreaded HIV and AIDS with them, not to mention the Hindi words and accent that’s ubiquitous in the far-western Nepal.

    This year, when I returned to Bajura district, the scenario was a bit different. I interviewed some beneficiaries of BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project. They have resolved not to get back to India but to work in their own land for a better future.

    Here are their stories – straight from the horse’s mouth and how the project has supported them to lead a dignified life.

    Dambar Saud chose to stay in Nepal. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Supplying quality seeds and agricultural inputs to farmers

    Dambar Saud, an agro-vet at Bamka Bazaar, chose to stay in Nepal and start a business selling agricultural inputs, equipment and pesticides. With support from BICAS, he expanded his business and later diversified his business by starting an agriculture produce collection centre and a poultry farm. He now earns enough to lead a contented life.

    I was lured to go to India but now I’m happy with my income,” he said. “My peers want to copy my ways.

    Providing technical support to farmers

    Chitra Bahadur Bishta, a farmer from Bail of Budhiganga Municipality-7, went to India 22 times and each time he worked in different localities as a watchman staying awake throughout the night and washing vehicles. He also worked in restaurants.

    When everyone slept, I had to stay awake and many times I cried,” he said.

    However, he hasn’t returned to India after he started growing vegetables one and half years ago. Having received technical support from BICAS, he has been growing tomatoes and other vegetables.

    Now I feel happy to see the plants bearing fruit,” he told with a twinkle in his eyes.

    Tek Bahadur Thapa, an award winning lead farmer, is an inspiration to fellow farmers. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Building irrigation facilities for better productivity

    When we went to Tek Bahadur Thapa’s farm in Triveni Municipality – 8, he was tending to the saplings of bottle gourd and bitter gourd. Nearby were rows of fruit trees.

    Thapa, a model farmer who recently received an award from the President for being the best farmer in the region went to India at an early age of 8 years. One night while he was sleeping, the ‘seth’ (master) he was working for knocked on the door but he didn’t wake up immediately. When he woke up, his master slapped him for not getting up on time. He was meant to drive a rat that was running around in his seth’s bedroom!

    He then returned back to Nepal. When everybody was leaving their homes during the Maoist insurgency, he started growing vegetables. And he hasn’t looked back since.

    We built a multi-use water system with support from BICAS,” he said, pointing to the reservoir. “We now have sufficient water for irrigation.

    The 25 families in the area are planning to turn it into a vegetable production pocket area. An inspiration to other farmers, he has vowed never to return India for work.

    Delivering services at doorsteps

    Deu Singh Saud, a lead farmer from Budhiganga Municipality-10, is farming vegetables with his fellow group members Dan Bahadur Budha, Kamala Saud and Buddhi Singh Saud. He worked in India for over 17 years and since the last 10 years he hasn’t returned back to India.

    Deu Singh Saud is happy with his group farming. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    According to him, when he started farming there was no agro-vet and it used to be a hard job getting good quality seeds. Then he started getting the seeds from Saud Agro-vet in Bamka. Thanks to BICAS, now he gets quality seeds at his doorsteps from barefoot agro-vets, paying only 20 per cent of the actual price. He also gets technical advice from these agro-vets.

    Although he can’t read and write, he easily earns over NRs 100,000 (1 USD = NRs 103) per year from the farming.

    It’s better to farm here,” he said. “I could only earn around IRs 2,000 (1 IRs = NRs 1.60) per month in India.”

    Ignorant of the seed varieties earlier, he told us name of several varieties of vegetables suitable for farming in that region.

    I can do anything here,” he quipped hinting at the long working hours in India. “I can work as per my plan and I can rest whenever I get tired.

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  • Technologies to put a roof over the heads of earthquake victims


    March 23rd, 2017

    Simple technologies can bring down the cost of house construction and enable the poor earthquake victims build their houses within their means.

    Chhabilal Acharya’s house reduced to a pile of rubbles in less than a minute when the powerful earthquake stuck his village in Laharepauwa Rasuwa on 25th April 2015. His poultry farm, his major source of income, wasn’t spared either. Acharya (62) and his daughter narrowly escaped from the collapsing house.

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    He had built the house in 1995.

    “I gave up even the smallest indulgences in life to save money for the house,“ he said.

    It took him five years to save money for the house as his job at Lagtang National Park would pay very nominal.

    He has been living in a temporary shelter since the earthquake. With his poultry farm gone, his family is scarping by on his meagre pension of $101 a month.

    Government of Nepal has decided to provide $2778 grant to affected households for building house in three instalments. The house should be compliant to the government approved designs to secure the grant. Chhabilal has received the first tranche ($ 500) of the grant. However, he is yet to start building the house.

    “The money is not enough even to prepare ground for foundation and I have no other means to supplement the grant“ he mentioned.

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Building simple 3-room brick masonry house costs more than $5000 in his village. Stone masonry buildings are equally expensive as the stones are not available locally.

    Chhabilal is planning to take loan from a local money lender by mortgaging all his land at half the value to top on the grant.

    Banks don’t accept farm land in the village as collateral. Hence, for people like Chhabilal who don’t have any other fixed assets, the local money lenders are the only resort for the loan. The money lenders rip them off with the exorbitant interest rate.

    “If my son does well in life, he will be able to pay the loan and release the land,“ Chhabilal said with misty eyes. He knows he may never get the land back as his son is just 16 years old now.

    Two hundred and forty two households in Laharepuawa lost their houses in the devastating earthquake. Only 11 households who are well to do or have family members abroad have built their houses so far. Rest are facing the impossible choice, roof over the head or the land that feed them, like Chhabilal.

    However, simple technologies can save them from this predicament and help them rebuild their house within their means.

    Cement Stabilised Earth Block (CSEB) is one of such simple technologies. It is a very good alternative to bricks. It can be prepared from a simple mixture of local soil, sand and cement (10%). It costs almost three times less than the brick. Besides, it requires less labour and cement mortar to build a house with CSEB. And, it provides better earthquake resistance as the blocks are interlocking. A CSEB compacting machine costs around $ 7000 including installation and all the accessories. The machine can produce up to 450 blocks per day. The pictures below shows the CSEB production at Kalikasthan, Rasuwa. The enterprise was set up with the support of Practical Action.IMG_1508

    IMG_1511

    Another technology which can save cost is a simple stone cutting machine. It can reduce cost of through stones and corner stones, which are mandatory inthe government, approved stone masonry buildings, by 2 to 3 times. A labour can prepare maximum 6 corner/through stones in a day manually whereas as the machine can produce up to 200 pieces of corner stones.

    A simple one story house requires more than 150 corners/through stones, which approximately costs $300, if prepared manually. However, with the machine, the cost can be reduced to $100. The stone cutting machine costs only about $1200.

    Stone cutting Machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle Rasuwa

    Stone cutting machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle, Rasuwa

    Practical Action has been promoting the technologies in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts through a DFID funded project in a small scale.

    It is an irony that better-off households are better poised to receive the government housing grant as they can fully comply with the government standards. Poor households, who are solely dependent on the grant, are at the risk of losing it as the grant is not enough to build government design compliant house. The technologies can avert the risk by reducing the cost of building house.

    Likewise, the technologies can  provide alternative livelihood opportunities to the people in the earthquake affected districts as they can be promoted as the local enterprises. Hence, larger diffusion of such technologies is across the earthquake affected  districts is important not only for accelerating reconstruction but also improving livelihood.

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  • Talking shit at FSM4 Conference – Feedback on our sanitation work in Bangladesh

    Talking about shit for a week in India — a fascinating context to present our sanitation work! India, a country that has undertaken a huge and ambitious national scale clean-up campaign (Swachh Bharat/Clean India Mission), hosted the LOGO4th_faecal_sludge_management_conference4th Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Conference in Chennai this February. In total, 1,100 practitioners, governments and private sector representatives from all over the world participated in the conference. This was a truly unique sharing and visibility opportunity for our organisation. As a result, we ran out of our latest Technology Justice paper on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) on the second day of the conference!

    During the conference, we shared lessons from the preliminary operation of the business model we are implementing in Faridpur, Bangladesh, as part of the ‘Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for Sustainable Sludge Management Services’ project  (Gates Foundation – DFID funding). We also provided the community of practice with some key insights on the relevance of business modelling and market-based solutions in FSM, and received some excellent feedback from the participants, because we were addressing the following issues:

    Why work on FSM  The dreadful economic and health costs of poor sanitation

    The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program estimates the economic costs of poor sanitation in Bangladesh to be USD 4.2 billion each year. This was equivalent to 6.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s GNP in 2007! This shows that the health impacts dwarf the economic costs. In Bangladesh, open defecation has remarkably decreased to only 1 per cent (from 34 per cent in 1990). However, in most secondary towns, like Faridpur, there are no sewers. Residents rely on on-site sanitation, combined with unsafe FSM practices. In addition, 90 per cent of the sludge in Faridpur was not safely emptied or transported when we first assessed the situation in 2014. The absence of drainage or emptying facilities in the low-income settlements results in overflowing toilets, which simply leads to the problem of open defecation reoccurring! This is the main reason why we developed our programme in Bangladesh. This project now mixes hardware (e.g. treatment plant) and software solutions (e.g. private entrepreneurs and municipality partnership around FSM business).A national FSM framework to fill the legal vacuum in Bangladesh
    Bangladesh FSM NetworkThe health and economic risks presented above are what we call a “second-generation sanitation challenge”.  Bangladesh has achieved 99 per cent access to sanitation. However, the key challenge now is: how can both, public and private sector actors, safely manage all the sludge that is contained in these new on-site systems.  Practical Action and ITN-BUET (our partner University) work on developing viable business models for the problem. In addition, we have been developing a National Institutional and Regulatory Framework for FSM. This was inexistent in Bangladesh but is now being approved. This framework will significantly clarify roles for the municipalities in charge. It is now complemented by the strategic policy advocacy and knowledge dissemination; role played by the newly created National FSM Network, including I/NGOs, CSOs, government, private sector and industries. Practical Action was a key founder of this network.

    Lessons and highlights from the FSM4 Conference

    • Awareness raising and demand generation are the key to kick-start new FSM businesses.Street Drama, World Toilet Day
    • Early indications show, that pit-emptiers in Faridpur are now seeing an increase in demand. As a result, faecal waste is now safely disposed at the treatment plant. While some projects have tended to underestimate activities such as street drama, cycling events, cleanliness drives, quiz contests and cycle rallies. These have proven to be the central drivers of a progressive increase in revenue from pit-emptying. Further, they create a sense of ownership and environmental awareness. Increased demand for a trustworthy service demonstrates good potential for uptake of such models.

    • A cross-subsidised tariff system is required to attain a responsive service in these cities.

    Income that pit-emptiers get from fees cannot fully cover the cost of collecting, transporting, treating and disposing the sludge. This is why business models explore the possibilities to have other sources of revenues; such as a smart subsidy from the Municipality, and sales of co-compost from sludge in medium-long term.

    FSM Business ModelTaking a system’s approach helps seeing the bigger picture and to forsee interconnected issues.

      • Looking at FSM as a system (i.e. including all stakeholders, rules, norms beyond the mere service chain household-to-treatment plant) allowed the project team to see hidden strengths and blockages that would only have been uncovered later on. By doing so, the Faridpur project could:
        • Build on the informal sector as an existing and relatively efficient service provider and
        • Understand conflictive incentives in providing pit-emptying services.
        Practical Action is good at facilitating participatory and inclusive design of partnerships between Municipalities and the private sector,

    e.g. between FaridpurMunicipality, formalised pit-emptiers, and a treatment plant operator. Years of collaboration with municipalities have helped to build trust, and therefore, to facilitate the design of such business models that are flexible, modular and adaptable to how demand for pit-emptying evolves over time.

    Outstanding questions and food for thoughtPreliminary operation of the FSM business model, Faridpur, Bangladesh

    • The multi- stakeholder’s steering committee, set up in Faridpur Municipality to oversee the performance of the service, will play a key role in rolling out and scaling up the service – is it possible to use this model in other Water & Sanitation projects to ensure ownership and to take this approach to scale?
    • We should have a better understanding of pro-poor sanitation services in our projects. Our projects are focusing on scale and profitability, however the question of the affordability of emptying services for the poorest in Faridpur was raised by our peers.
    • Could we not complement our systems and business approach with a “Rights-Based Approach”? Human rights based approaches (HRBAs) are successfully used to build citizens’ capacity to claim this basic right to the Government.

    For more information about why our sanitation work matters, watch our Bangladesh Director Hasin Jahan’s TED Talk.

     

     

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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


    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. (more…)

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