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  • Technologies for bringing back roofs over the heads of earthquake victims

    Rabindra Bahadur Singh

    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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  • Roxana Añez – Empowered by emergency

    Sarita Heikkinen

    March 22nd, 2017

    Roxana Añez is a Bolivian woman and a mother of nine children. She lives in small indigenous community in Tacana Altamarani which is located onroxana the river Beni, three hours downriver from San Buenaventura.

    Roxana, an intelligent and driven woman, has always wanted to study and increase her knowledge for the benefit of herself and her community. Unfortunately, because of the social and cultural norms, it has not been possible. Like in many other indigenous communities in Bolivia, a woman’s role is to ‘serve’ her husband and children. This meant that Roxana, like other women in Altamarani, had to spend her days walking to the river bank and back to collect water and to do the washing. After these daily chores, there was no time left for anything else.

    “That was our life. To climb up that ravine under the burning sun, with all the bottles of water and clothes that needed washing.”

    In 2014, the course of Roxana’s life suddenly changed. This was the year when heavy rains and flooding tormented the little community in Altamarani. Because of the flooding, the people in the community lost over 80 per cent of their crops. In addition, their access to clean water was cut – leaving the whole community on the brink of survival.

    roxana2Practical Action, in partnership with Christian Aid, responded to the emergency. Based on the analysis of the situation, they quickly identified, that the primary need in the area was clean water. Because of the flooding, the water was difficult to access. In addition to this, the water in river Beni was contaminated, causing severe health problems.

    In order to solve the problem, Practical Action installed a solar-powered water pumping system which is a great technology for emergency response because it does not require any fuel costs. Thanks to this new technology, people in Altamarani now have access to clean water at their homes.

    Because of the installed water pumping system, Roxana no longer spends her days walking to the river bank and back. This means that she finally has time to educate herself and to do other things she has always dreamt of. Shortly after the pumping system was built, she participated in the agroforestry knowledge exchange programme that thought her new, sustainable ways of farming.

    “I have now returned to my community to put all that knowledge into practice. I wish everyone had the opportunity to leave and participate in these kind of activities, so they can learn. I want to keep learning.”

    Because of her knowledge and eagerness to learn, Roxana is now one of the leaders in her community. Together with her husband, she owns a farm that produces fruits and medical plants. In the future, Roxana wants to keep on learning and developing herself for the benefit of the community.

    Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Roxana!

    Want to help women like Roxana this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here. 

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  • Story of Kopila Chaudhary — how knowledge transformed my life


    March 20th, 2017

    The gift of material goods makes people dependent, but the gift of knowledge makes them free”, these profound words of E.F.Schumacher still hold true today. In fact, they are the foundation of Practical Action’s last mile knowledge service, Practical Answers. Knowledge sharing, skills development and capacity building allows vulnerable communitieMushroom farmings across the globe to improve their own livelihoods and thrive in future years to come.

    Meet Mrs Chaudhary, a mother to five. She lives in the far west rural region of Nepal. This area has a past. The 17th July 2000 was a milestone in Nepalese history, the day the Government of Nepal abolished the Kamaiya systemthe abolishment of bonded labour. Kamaiyas were freed, Mrs Chaudhary was freed. Yet, life remained difficult. These families were sent to live in Mukta Kamaiya,­ communities of freed bonded labour set up by the government. Life remained difficult for Mrs Chaudhary, although she had been re-housed the promises of rehabilitation had not be fully fulfilled. Wage labour was essential if she was to support her family and change her livelihood for the better:

    “The government had provided us four Kathha (approx. 14,500 sq.ft) of land with some money to start our new life as a freed Kamaiya, but it was insufficient to fulfil the daily needs of the family. I along with my husband worked as daily wage labour for 15 years but still struggled to make ends meet for our family and fulfil our children’s basic needs. Many organisations came to us in past; they sympathised on our situation and showed us hopes and inspirations but almost to no effect.”

    Gyanodaya Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC), supported by Practical Answers, is located in the area. Owned by the local community, staff knew that the Kamaiya community must be supported through the gift of knowledge. Social mobilisers encouraged individuals, like Mrs Chaudhary, to join their training and learning sessions. These participatory trainings focus on income generation activities and diversification; key skills to improve the livelihoods of these vulnerable communities. Sceptical at first, participants of these sessions are now thriving commercial farmers specialising in agribusiness. Mrs Chaudhary is one of them. Social mobilisers from the CLRC Mushroom farminghad encouraged her to participate, sharing the benefits that neighbouring communities had gained since joining the training. During the training, she learnt how to write business proposals to apply for government grants:


    “Surprisingly, I got a grant of NPR 40,000 (£300) along with some machinery for mushroom farming and now I have started commercial mushroom farming. I was able to produce 50kg of mushroom. With the money, I am building another tunnel to grow 200 more bags… CLRC has built hope on us to change our lives”

    Knowledge sharing and skills development for individuals, like Mrs Chaudhary, enables vulnerable individuals to improve their own livelihoods by their selves, to grow and prosper without handouts. Knowledge empowers. Knowledge empowers women like Mrs Chaudhary to be business women supporting their family, community and growing their own confidence day after day after day.

    Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Mrs Chaudhary!

    Want to help women like Mrs Chaudhary this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here

     

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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 FSM4 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 addressed the following issues:

    Why working 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 Model
    • Taking 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 thought:Preliminary 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.

     

    More information about why our Sanitation work matters: Watch our Bangladesh Director Hasin Jahan’s TED Talk.

     

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  • Life as a Barefoot Agro-vet; Govinda Khadka’s Story

    Archana Gurung

    March 14th, 2017

    Things were bleak for Govinda Khadka (47) of Gajra village in Achham District a few years back. After being a primary school teacher for over a decade until 2014, Khadka quit his job due to low remuneration and instability. Before being a school teacher, he was a migrant worker alike most of his fellow villagers. He lived and worked as a labour in India for many years. His meagre income never paid enough for his family of five including his wife and three sons. With mere three ropani (1 Ropani = 508.83771 m²) of land and Indian labour job, there was no way that his children could be educated and well brought up. Hence, just like most of the youths in Achham, two of his sons were off to India to manage two square meals. At his mid-forty’s, Khadka had no job and just a small plot of land. All his sons had to take care of their own families. He and his wife barely had a source of income.

    Alternative? Taking an Indian labour job!

    Still healthy and fit, taking an Indian labour job crossed Khadka’s mind many times. But it was not an easy decision to leave his wife Rajyaswari Khadka (45) all by herself. Just like Khadka, many of the Achham dwellers opt for Indian labour jobs. Every year, 28,323 men and boys of Achham District leave to neighbouring India aspiring for a better living. In absence of better livelihood options back home, India seems most palatable platter in their plate. However, migrant labourer is not a great choice of life given the hardships and consequences that come along. Khadka, despite bearing a School Leaving Certificate (SLC) level education had such a thought; we can imagine the livelihood choice of more than half of Achham population who are not literate.

    Transformative Barefoot Agro-vet Career

    Khadka might have to leave as an aging migrant worker but thanks to POSAN, he was offered 35 days agro-vet training when things were at edge for him. After the training, he was able to pass test to receive an official agro-vet license. He was also supported by the project to establish an agro-vet shop with financial assistance of NPR 25,000 (£ 193). His fellow villagers came to a great sigh after his agro-vet was established to cater them veterinary and agriculture related services. Since many villagers residing uphill and away from his agro-vet shop also started demanding his service, his wife started looking at the shop while Khadka started providing a barefoot agro-vet service whenever he is called. Khadka shared with us, as a barefoot agro-vet, he found more satisfaction than any other profession. It has not just been a source of income for him but he gets to socialise with fellow villagers. He also thinks the profession has given him more happiness than ever as he loves to interact with people.

    Govinda Khadka providing barefoot agro-vet service on an urgent call by fellow villager at night

    Govinda Khadka providing barefoot agro-vet service on an urgent call by fellow villager at 8:00 in the night

     

    “Being a barefoot agro-vet, I am able to make above NPR 40,000 (£ 310) annually. This is a lot of money for me. I have been saving most of the income for my retirement and possible medical expenses for me and my wife in future. However, it is not just about money, I get to socialise in every nook and cranny of this village and sometimes even beyond. People regard me for my service which means a lot to me. I imagine, only if I was not given this opportunity, I would not be leading such a respectful life.”

     

    A Sigh that POSAN Brings….

    Khadka is also supported by the project in vegetable farming techniques. While the Khadkas never grew enough vegetables for their own consumption due to lack of knowledge, now they barely spend any money in buying food. This also in a way has helped them make more saving. In fact, they sell the surplus once or twice every week in nearby Bayelpata market through which they make enough for their day to day expenditure. All in all, Khadka’s plans to save the income made through barefoot agro-vet service for his retirement explains how a small contribution from POSAN has helped ensure social security for him and his wife. His service is not just a business for him but is also associated to his wellbeing.

    The Khadka couple today leads a happy life with least things to be worried about. They have food growing abundantly at their backyard and an agro-vet shop as a small scale enterprise. Above all, Khadka has his barefoot agro-vet profession which gives him pleasure and decent pay at the same time.

    Almost every other household in Achham rear goats and barefoot agro-vet is high in demand

    Almost every other household in Achham rear goats which clearly signals high demand for barefoot agro-vet

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  • Knowledge matters and it empowers

    Sanjib Chaudhary

    March 13th, 2017

    Three female Muscovy ducks were splashing in greenish water kept in a small concrete tub when we reached Bhumisara Poudel’s house. The drake was tethered to a post near the coop and the area was covered with a mosquito net. Nearby, a manure yard measuring 6 ft x 4 ft made from cement blocks was also covered with a mosquito net.

    I wondered why they had mosquito nets everywhere around the manure yard.

    The net stops rats and moles from eating earthworms,” said Baburam Poudel, Bhumisara’s husband. “These are not ordinary earthworms, each one costs NRs 3. We bought half a kilo of earthworms for NRs 1,500 (Around 15 USD) and these creatures have been helping us produce vermicompost enough for our seven kattha (1 kattha = 338 sq. m) farm.”

    Demand-driven training to farmers

    Jyoti Ale Magar, a social mobiliser at the Sauraha Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC) told us how Bhumisara started raising the earthworms for vermicompost. “We trained 20 farmers from this area on vermicomposting,” she said. “We organise the trainings as per the demand from the community.

    With the support from Practical Answers Knowledge Services Programme, 22 CLRCs in 15 districts of Nepal have been organising trainings for farmers, interaction with agriculture experts and practical sessions at regular intervals.
    Linking farmers to government and non-government organisations

    During one of the interaction sessions, the CLRC connected Bhumisara with the Agriculture Service Centre in the area. The service centre provided a grant of NRs 25,000 to Bhumisara to construct a shed and a manure yard, and buy earthworms for vermicomposting.

    As we were talking about the benefits of organic fertiliser, Baburam dug out a handful of vermicompost from the pit. Two small earthworms wriggled out of the dark brown compost. Putting them back to the pit, Baburam showed us how to determine whether the fertiliser was ready to use.

    The ready-to-use compost is like a handful of dry CTC tea (black tea made by crush, tear, curl method),” he said. “It’s easy to carry and administer to the soil – not like the wet livestock manure.”

    All they needed to do was to add livestock manure, dried leaves to the pit, keep it cool by sprinkling water at regular intervals. The earthworms would do the rest of the work.

    Improving food security and livelihood

    Learning how to prepare and handle vermicompost, we went to the adjacent farm to see how the vegetables were faring. The couple had recently harvested a crop of potatoes and the newly planted bitter gourd saplings were climbing up the stakes, with their tendrils coiling around them.

    We harvested 10 quintals of potatoes in this three kattha plot,” said Baburam beaming with joy. “Earlier the plot yielded not more than 5-6 quintals. We sold some and have stored a quintal of potatoes in a cold store.”

    The manure pit produced vermicompost enough for the potato cultivation. In addition, they had applied the compost to the bitter gourd saplings and the flowers at the front of their house.

    Bhumisara Poudel is happy with her vermicompost venture. She happily shares her knowledge with others.

    Bhumisara Poudel is happy with her vermicompost venture. She happily shares her knowledge with others. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Spreading the knowledge

    Close to the vegetable farm, I could see an outlet protruding from base of the manure pit and a reddish brown liquid dripping from the pipe. The water sprayed on the manure yard converts into a nutrient after getting in contact with the manure and earthworms. And according to Bhumisara and Baburam, it is more nutritious than the compost and can be collected in a bottle.

    Bhumisara quipped, “Earlier the fertiliser used to be carried in truckloads, then in sacks and now in bottles.”

    Appreciating his wife’s knowledge, Baburam said, “She learnt all this at the CLRC and I learnt from her.

    Many people come to see how we are raising the earthworms and producing vermicompost,” added Bhumisara. “We are happy to teach them all the tricks of the trade.”

    Now, they no more need to carry truckloads of wet livestock manure. It used to be a back-breaking chore before cultivation and lasted for 5-6 days at a stretch. The vermicompost can be stored and stacked in sacks and the liquid nutrient adds to the productivity of the crops.

    Practical answers to the farmers’ queries

    As we were having coffee after the snapshot of the manure yard and vegetable farm, Baburam let go the tethered drake. It started chasing the other three ducks and the place became lively with the ducks’ quacks.

    The social mobilisers at the CLRCs respond to the queries of the farmers. They provide the related knowledge materials and invite experts to interact with the farmers.  This gives the farmers a better idea on managing their land, cultivating crops and starting alternative income generating activities.

    I’m planning to dig a pond by the side of the coop,” told Baburam. “So that these ducks can swim and we can get fish to eat.”

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  • Margaret Kariuku — A self-established businesswoman

    Sarita Heikkinen

    March 10th, 2017

    Margaret Kariuku is a Kenyan woman who has not had the easiest path to success. As a mother of four, she has struggled to find a stable income to provide for herself and her children.

    “Three times, I have had to start again. Three times, I have had to rebuild my livelihood. It all begun in 2005, when I stopped working as a secretary in Nakuru town. I thought that I would get my life sorted, but as fate would have it, this would not be.MargaretKariuki2 (002)

    After she finished working as a secretary, she moved to her father’s farm, hoping to re-establish herself as a farmer. At first, her maize crops yielded well. However, as the days passed, her crops went down. By the third year, there was nothing left to harvest, and Margaret needed to decide what to do next.

    “I picked up the pieces and decided to set up a milk collection centre. I bought milk from the farmers and sold it to the residents. I also decided to buy a motorcycle. When it was not used to collect milk, it would be a taxi. That way, I had two income streams.”

    In the beginning, Margaret’s new business did well. Two income streams guaranteed a stable income. Sadly, after couple months, she realised that her employees were embezzling money from her. She needed to close the business. “I almost got disoriented when I lost my second business. But I collected myself again and set up once more.”

    This time, she decided to establish a business on her own. She opened a grocery store which provided just enough income to keep her going. One day, she overheard her neighbour talking about a new source of energy called briquetting. This sparked her interest. She participated in a conference, organised by Practical Action Eastern Africa and SCODE (Sustainable Community Development Services), where she saw a demo of the production process. After the conference, her neighbour suggested a visit to the briquetting production site in the neighbourhood.

    Although reluctant at first, she accompanied her neighbour to the site – pretending to be an entrepreneur. At the site, she quickly learned, that she could earn better income as a briquettinbriquettesg entrepreneur than owner of a grocery store. Meanwhile, the costs and availability of the raw materials made it easy to enter the market. She went back home feeling energised and thoughtful.

    “My hope was that even if my grocery store was not performing well, I had briquettes. I knew that if I’d start producing them, I would be able to make a better income. So I started to produce them manually. I thought to myself, this is really hard! However, Practical Action and SCODE helped me. They rented me a machine to aide production. I had found my salvation.”

    Margaret launched her briquettes business in 2015 and has increased her sales ever since. She has also participated in Practical Action’s training programmes, aimed to enhance women’s energy enterprise opportunities in Kenya. In 2017, she won the Energia Women Entrepreneurship Award – A prize that recognizes individuals that have done outstanding work in the sector.

    In the future, Margaret wants to further expand her business and create jobs in the community. “Many young people are jobless, and many women are frustrated because they have no way of getting income. So I can use the prize money to give them a chance, to teach them, and to give them skills so that they can benefit the way I have.”

    Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Margaret!

    Want to help women like Margaret this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here.

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  • Kamala Joshi — A woman who broke the cycle of discrimination

    Sarita Heikkinen

    March 9th, 2017

    Mother’s Day is one of my favourite days of the year. Not because of all the festivities or pastries (which I don’t mind!), but because it reminds me of all the amazing women I have met, but I haven’t had a chance to tell you about yet.

    Meet Kamala Joshi, a Nepalese single-mother who, like many other women in rural communities, got married in her early twenties. She had a baby soon after wedlock, sadly, kamalaher husband left her shortly after the baby was born. Kamala struggled to provide for herself and her child, and had to move out of her home. She found a temporary refuge from a women’s shelter (‘maiti’) but knew that she could not stay there for long. A fear to end up homeless was strong.

    In Nepal, especially in rural areas, women’s fate is still linked to that of their husbands. A broken marriage leaves a social stigma that most of the women will have to carry for the rest of their lives – no matter what the reasons led to the separation. Women with unlucky marriages, often face discrimination and social exclusion without much hope for the future.

    Kamala, however, refused to accept this and wanted to fight for a better life for herself and her daughter. She started working in agriculture and with some time, determination and a bit of luck, she was selected to participate in a training programme in agriculture with Practical Action’s partner, District Agriculture Development Office (DADO). From this, she gained the right tools and knowledge to establish herself as a self-sufficient small-scale farmer.

    In 2014, couple years after Kamala had started as a small-scale farmer, she had another training opportunity through Practical Action’s Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture for Nutrition and Food Security project. This time, she learnt skills and knowledge to support other local farmers. Since then, she has demonstrated and facilitated workshops in her community to share her knowledge of small scale farming for the benefit of all.

    kamala2Kamala Joshi managed to break the cycle. Since she started to work in agriculture, she has no longer struggled to provide for her family and even managed to send her daughter to a boarding school. She is now one of the most respected women in the community, despite the social stigma of her marital status. Her story is an inspiring reminder that right knowledge, opportunities and determination have the power to break the social dynamics that cause discrimination against women.

    Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Kamala!

    Want to help women like Kamala this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here.

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  • Women at the heart of the development agenda – interview with Farida Bascha

    Sarita Heikkinen

    March 7th, 2017

    Farida Bascha joined Practical Action as Eastern Africa Regional Director in January 2017 and is a strong advocate for Gender equity and women’s rights. We caught up with her prior to the International Women’s Day to learn more about her and her thoughts about women and development.

    Hi Farida, farida profile

    Congratulations and welcome to Practical Action! Can you tell us little bit about your background?

    Thank you, I’m really excited about this opportunity! My mother once joked that my faith and beliefs are human rights – I don’t think she was wrong as that perfectly sums up my background! With my first degree in law and human rights, my career has been embedded in the principles of dignity, equality and accessibility of human rights. That continues to be my drive and also led me to my position today.

    What inspired you to join Practical Action?

    It is a great time to be part of Practical Action as the organization is embarking on a new Strategy. Being part of this change, and leading the change in East Africa, inspired me to join the organization. Practical Action’s ‘small is beautiful’ approach means that we get to work with those communities who are often left behind. This is an approach I want to be part of.  The new Strategy also puts women and climate change at the centre of our work which is something that I am excited to drive within the region.

    What are your thoughts on current state of women’s rights?

    At the global level, the influence of women has become more and more visible. Women’s rights are being discussed again as human rights and this has escalated the need to understand the marginalisation of women in society and decisions that affect them. Women are more educated and work more, however, the social dynamics haven’t changed in many societies. Could this be the time to address the structural causes of discrimination against women, and social gender norms and perceptions that act as barriers to an equitable society?

    Farida and bellyWhy women and girls should be placed at the heart of the development agenda?

    With the adoption of the SDGs, the need to place women squarely within the development agenda has never been stronger. The targets under the SDGs look at enhancing the opportunity towards equal access to work and reducing the different dimensions of discrimination. To understand these needs and realize sustainable solutions, we need to involve women in all these discussions. Practical Action’s new Strategy puts the needs of women at the centre of our work which is in line with the SDGs, and provides an exciting opportunity to address the barriers to gender parity.

    What are your thoughts on women in leadership positions?

    We need more women in leadership positions. Leadership to me means being competent and confident to make and uphold decisions. It is extremely important to have women in these decision making positions. That might be the biggest challenge yet but very possible. Women in decision making positions sets the pace for change for millions of women who strive for the same. No one better than a woman herself to understand the change that is needed and be in a position to make this change.

    What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders?

    Stay driven and keep your dreams and ambitions alive. It might not be an easy road, but every moment wasted looking back stops us from moving forward. Women are the most untapped resource and talent in society. If we can inspire more women leaders, we can achieve an equitable society.

    Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women like Farida!

    Want to help empowering women this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here.

     

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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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