West Africa | Blogs

  • Can Climate Information Services be mapped? 

    Colin McQuistan

    February 2nd, 2017

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

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

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

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The Role of Digital Technology in Development

    Minata Coulibaly

    September 28th, 2016

    Runner Up Entry to Practical Action Strategy Contest

    In June 2016,  in partnership with the International Institute of Environment and Water, 2IE, Practical Action launched a contest called “Fit for the Future.” Intended primarily for students of the Institute, this competition was to involve them in strategic thinking about the future of Practical Action in a decade.

    Launched on June 23, 2016, the candidates were invited to submit their ideas and contributions in different forms and to submit them to Practical Action.  A total of 22 contributions were received by the closing date. After analysis, Practical Action has selected two papers for publication and the winning contribution was chosen. This blog is the contribution awarded runner up, written by:

    Mr Ibrahim NEYA: water engineering design and environmental engineer 2iE electrical and power engineering option (EGE) from Burkina Faso

    The award of 80,000 CFA was presented to the winner on 2 September 2016 at 2IE. You can read the winning entry here.

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    Gauge reader at Karnali River in Chisapani, Nepal monitoring the river levels sponsored by the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme

    Gauge reader at Karnali River in Chisapani, Nepal monitoring the river levels sponsored by the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme

    Our world is experiencing spectacular advances in the field of technology and the speed of progress shows no sign of slowing down over the years.

    In a decade the internet of things, already well known by its English name, will enable the development of more sophisticated tools, accessible to a much bigger portion of the world’s population. We can easily imagine that by 2027, technology will occupy a determining place in all human activities and have a direct influence on people’s lives, and on existing models and structures.

    The proliferation of technological applications in the near future does not however signify prosperity and peace for all sectors of society. The rich countries, which will be the instigators of this future thanks to their immense technological potential, will take advantage of it, and the gap between rich and poor countries will widen.

    In such circumstances the contribution of NGOs which work to combat poverty, such as Practical Action, will prove interesting to the extent that this NGO aims to make use of technology to take concrete actions to benefit poor communities. To do this Practical Action should support, accompany and promote projects to develop digital applications in the areas of health, environment and education for all, which will benefit the world’s poor. These projects will enable us for example to: provide remote medical consultations for the poor; to monitor environmental issues and raise awareness of pollution and to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds access to the same quality of education, as children of the rich, through online training.

    By Ibrahim Neya, Student of Electrical and Energy Engineering at 2iE
    Runner up in our Fit for the Future Competition

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  • Technology and the future of Africa

    Minata Coulibaly

    September 28th, 2016

    Winning Entry of Practical Action Strategy Contest

    In June 2016,  in partnership with the International Institute of Environment and Water, 2IE, Practical Action launched a contest called “Fit for Future.” Intended primarily for students of the Institute, this competition was to involve them in strategic thinking about the future of Practical Action in a decade.

    Launched on June 23, 2016, the candidates were invited to submit their ideas and contributions in different forms and to submit them to Practical Action.  A total of 22 contributions were received by the closing date. After analysis, Practical Action has selected two papers for publication and the winning contribution was chosen. This blog is the winning entry by:

    2 (2)Ms. MAATCHI Audrey NTAFAM: Master of Engineering, Infrastructure and Hydraulic Networks (IRH) HYDRAULIC ENGINEER from Cameroon.

    The runner up was awarded to Mr Ibrahim NEYA: water engineering design and environmental engineer 2iE electrical and power engineering option (EGE) from Burkina Faso. You can read his entry here.

    The award 80,000 CFA award was presented to Maatchi on 2nd September 2016 at 2IE.

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    “… Africa must broaden its knowledge and skills in science and technology. Whether it’s to increase agricultural productivity or energy production, to improve efficiency and accessibility of ICT services or to provide skilled workers for the extractive industries, it is absolutely essential to strengthen our human capital in science and technology…” (Makhtar Diop, 2014).

    Practical Action has anticipated this issue and worked on it for the last 50 years, with a strategic vision to continue to do even more. This vision, based on technology justice, should be used to arouse a desire for research, creativity and innovation among young people, who constitute an inexhaustible potential for the future of Africa. Indeed since technology is the future, the training of young Africans in science, technology and mathematics must be strengthened.

    This can be achieved through research and development programmes initiated by Practical Action in partnership with schools and universities, training and research centres, and youth associations. One way for example, as currently happens in some French schools, is to give groups of say 3 students the task of developing an innovative, feasible idea.

    Examples might be:

    • To set up software to track crops on smallholder farms or monitor pregnancies
    • To design closed systems so that farmers reuse crop residues and waste as fertilizer for the next crop, and so on.

    The best idea is rewarded not necessarily financially, but by monitoring the practical implementation of the idea. Another way is to organise challenges, contests which enable young people to show their talents and for the winners to turn their ideas into action. This challenge open to students of 2iE, for the best ideas for a strategic vision of Practical Action, is an example of this.

    Practical Action should focus its initiatives on an increasing scale, ranging from the youngest elementary school pupils to adults, accompanying all who not have means to achieve their ambitions. Access for the poorest and for young girls, to quality training must be improved. Many rural establishments have no laboratories or libraries. Practical Action could work in partnership with local authorities to establish exchange systems to enable the best students to move to the city to complete their training. A culture of technology must begin at the grassroots level. This means fostering in the very youngest, a taste for creativity oriented towards clean development; producing films in partnership with people in positions of authority and local elites, showing how to make organic fertilizer from water hyacinth, design autonomous irrigation systems or solar powered water supplies.

    Moreover Practical Action should direct its policy to look at how to increase project financing by local elites. Experience shows that African elites do not have much involvement in funding social initiatives. Organising competitions in their name may help to win their support, as they are being held up as role models for the younger generation. One example of this is the “Aliko Dangote Prize” which focuses on the topic of greener production of cement and on sharing experiences.

    Practical Action promotes inclusive development, one of the pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is a major advantage because almost all emerging countries (in sub Saharan Africa in this case) have aligned themselves with this goal. Proposing to governments and donors, actions to strengthen the capacity of rural people, such as participatory support for agricultural initiatives, providing electricity (solar panels), teaching techniques for transforming, recycling and reusing waste, will leverage their desire to fund them.

    As President Macky Sall (2016) said: “Science, technology, mathematics and innovation, used in the service of the community, can contribute to finding solutions to the major problems of Africa such as food insecurity, the energy crisis, poverty, climate change and public health. ”

    By Audrey Maatchi, Student of Master in Engineering (Option Water) at 2iE, 
    Winner of Fit for Future Competition

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  • Knowledge Point in West Africa

    Mary Allen

    January 27th, 2015

    Knowledge Management for Development (KM4D): WaterAid and Practical Action West Africa Regional Offices working jointly for knowledge sharing through KnowledgePoint

    kp-logo-largeWaterAid and Practical Action prioritise knowledge management and research (action and collaborative). We continually review, refine and adapt our methods and thinking to make sure our work is sustainable, innovative, relevant and effective. To maximize the life-changing potential of ideas, we publish books, journals, newsletters, technical briefs and web pages. We offer a technical enquiry service, communicate with the print and broadcast media and influence the content of learning materials to educate and inspire young people.

    KnowledgePoint as a platform of exchange is an amazing and interesting way to share knowledge and to respond effectively to people’s needs for reliable information. It is designed to help us expand our work to deliver direct impact to millions of people whilst reaching many more though our knowledge sharing and practical policy change.

    5 Good Reasons to use KnowledgePoint

    (i) Simple and easy to use

    (ii) Answers to Questions reliable and updated;

    (iii) Interactivity and possibility to ask questions and look for documents/tools in French or English

    (iv) Diversity of topics

    (v) Discussions archived: which allows an asynchronous communication

    KnowledgePoint access is easy and registration is very user friendly. Go to the link: http://knowledgepoint.org/

    KnowledgePoint – Providing support in the Global Ebola response

    Organizations from around the world have responded to help stop the ongoing Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa. In July 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened an emergency meeting with health ministers from eleven countries and announced collaboration on a strategy to co-ordinate technical support to combat the epidemic. In August, they declared the outbreak an international public health emergency and published a roadmap to guide and coordinate the international response to the outbreak. Currently, aid agencies and governments of some western countries as well as China and Cuba are providing assistance. However, the epidemic keeps spreading and the number of confirmed cases in doubling every four weeks.

    As part of their response to this crisis, WaterAid and Practical Action and other NGOs are contributing to the efforts to control the spread of the disease by setting up a KnowledgePoint site for questions and answers for Ebola responders in collaboration with the UN WASH Cluster, WHO, International Red Cross, US Centre for Disease Control and Médecins Sans Frontières.

    The link to the Ebola KP: http://ebola.knowledgepoint.org/ and although anyone can respond, we have a panel of 11 technical specialists here: http://ebola.knowledgepoint.org/en/users/by-group/337/ebola-wash-tg/ .

    WaterAid

     

    www.wateraid.org

    Tel: +221 33 859 08 30

     KP
    www.knowledgepoint.org
    Practical Action
    www.practicalaction.org

    Tel: +221 77 881 27 81

     

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  • Handwashing with soap – more relevant than ever

    On 15th October, people in oct15-engmore than 80 countries are celebrating Global Handwashing Day.  With impacts reaching far beyond the day itself, the event raises awareness that hand washing with soap, such a simple gesture, can save lives.

    The battle against Ebola highlights once again how important this practice is for preventing disease. Handwashing with soap is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to « self-vaccinate» against the transmission of viral diseases according to Sanjay Wjiesekera head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “Our teams on the ground in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are stressing the importance of handwashing as part of a raft of measures that are needed to halt the spread of Ebola. It is not a magic bullet, but it is a means of additional defence which is cheap and readily available.

    One more reason to redouble our efforts to ensure hand washing with soap is firmly anchored in the habits of every man, woman and child – everyone, everywhere, at all times.

    Prevention is better than cure!

     

    Resources

    tippy tapThe Tippy-Tap is a simple device to wash hands where there is no running water.

    You can find instructions to make a Tippy-Tap  in our collection of technical briefs at Practical Answers

     

     

    To read about Practical Action’s work to improve access to safe water and sanitation visit: http://practicalaction.org/urban-water-sanitation-waste

    To support our work visit: http://practicalaction.org/make-a-donation

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  • Living in the shadow of Ebola

    We haveebola been living in the shadow of Ebola for six months now, here in West Africa. Can you believe that?  6 months? I didn’t at first, when I saw a headline on the UN website. So I checked back through my West Africa office weekly diary and, yes there it was on April 7th, my first reference to Ebola in Guinea.

    At the time my immediate concern was twofold: would it affect our strategic partnership with Concern Universal in Guinea; was my family in Mali at risk? But I calmly put the outbreak into perspective and convinced myself that this wasn’t really something that would have a significant effect on my life.

    And I wasn’t alone. In fact for the next three months Ebola was like a storm cloud on the horizon – visible, but no immediate threat. Mary Willcox, Senior Energy Expert, spoke at a renewable energy conference. Rob Cartridge, Head of Practical Answers, came to visit.

    Everything changed at the end of July, just after Rob returned home. Nigeria had reported its first case of Ebola. America had decided to evacuate two health workers, infected in Liberia. Suddenly we had to face up to the fact that we are all at risk from Ebola to some extent: as Senegal discovered later in August, then the USA and now, Spain.

    The good news is that Senegal’s one victim, a young man from Guinea, has made a full recovery and there was no cross infection. In Nigeria the situation is stable and as the WHO saysif Nigeria can control an outbreak caused by such a deadly and highly contagious virus, right from the start, any country in the world can do the same”.  Any country that is, which provides adequate training and good quality protective gear for all its staff all the time, and secure isolation units with beds, food, water and medicines for all the patients. Does that sound like where you live? If so, breathe a sigh of relief.

    The bad news  is that, in the area where this outbreak is focused, some countries are dealing with the aftermath of terrible civil wars and healthcare systems are in collapse. To make matters worse the outbreak developed in a remote, densely populated region where traditionally people are buried in the community where they were born. So not only was it more difficult than usual to track down contacts but there were highly contagious Ebola corpses travelling across borders in all directions in pick-ups and taxis. The result was an epidemic that kept flaring up in different places. Ebola had found itself in ideal conditions for a perfect storm; when every individual circumstance is a bit worse than normal and they then combine to create a disaster.

    The disaster for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is only just beginning. With already more than 3300 dead  the number of new cases is said to be doubling every 20-30 days. The WHO predicts 20,000 cases by early November and, looking further ahead, the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) warns that if nothing changes there could be 1.4 million cases by late January.

    Moreover, it is a disaster which goes deeper than the suffering of victims and their families. There are fears of food shortages as quarantines and border closures disrupt farming and pile pressure on food imports. In fact the whole economy of the sub-region is threatened mainly, say the World Bank, by costs which result from fear of contagion – for example when people don’t turn up for work, businesses are closed, flights are suspended or sea ports closed.

    It is encouraging that a coordinated international response is underway at last, but will governments and frontline organisations be able to act together sufficiently quickly and at the scale required, to break the chain of transmission? Your guess is as good as mine. It is an immense logistical and human challenge and time is fast running out.

    What is the effect on Practical Action? Well, with every international event which we had planned to attend or organise in Dakar, Bamako and Ouagadougou now cancelled or postponed indefinitely, the most immediate effect is that we need to completely rethink our strategy to promote Practical Answers, Knowledge Point and the Poor People’s Energy Outlook in French. Apart from this though, it is very much business as usual.

    We keep calm and carry on – a bit like citizens in wartime Britain. Why? Because, what I understand now is that for as long as this storm of infection rages unchecked and possibly, for many years to come, we are all of us, everywhere, living in the shadow of Ebola.

    Me, here in Dakar and you, wherever you are, too!

    keep calm

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  • Looking for Practical Answers in West Africa?

    Practical Answers is a collection of hundreds of free resources (technical briefs, manuals, video and audio files…) which has been built up over the years based on the knowledge and real life experiences of Practical Action project staff and others. It is also a free technical enquiry service. If you don’t find the answer you need you can send us your question.

    Now that we have opened an office in Dakar we hope to capture and share more technical knowledge generated within West Africa. Here for example are some excellent technical manuals which draw on decades of practical experiences from across West Africa. Written by practitioners as part of the Global Water Initiative West Africa, they are essential reading for engineers, project managers or anyone looking for practical answers to that thorny question: How do you ensure rural water and sanitation infrastructure operates reliably throughout its design life?

    We will also be launching a website in French to make Practical Answers accessible throughout West Africa. If you would be interested to contribute to writing or translating technical briefs or by joining our network of technical specialists, please write to us here:

    Construction of a Gravity-fed Solar Powered Water Supply: A Training Guide

    Community Monitoring During the Construction of a Gravity-fed Solar Powered Water Supply: A Training Guide

    GWI-A-Simple-Pit-Latrine

    A Practical Guide for Building a Simple Pit Latrine.

    Community Monitoring of Borehole Construction: A Training Guide

    Community Monitoring of Borehole Construction: A Training Guide

    Contracting for Water Point Construction: Provisional and Final Acceptance Forms

    Contracting for Water Point Construction: Provisional and Final Acceptance Forms

    Making the Right Choices:  Comparing Your Rural Water Options

    Making the Right Choices: Comparing Your Rural Water Options

    The Essential Steps Before Handing-over a Borehole (With Hand Pump) to the community

    The Essential Steps Before Handing-over a Borehole (With Hand Pump) to the community

    GWI-Assuring Quality-An Approach-to Building-Long -Lasting Infrastructure-in West-Africa

    GWI-Assuring Quality-An Approach-to Building-Long -Lasting Infrastructure-in West-Africa

    Contact our West Africa office via infoserv@practicalaction.org.uk

    www.practicalaction.org/fr

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  • Practical Action West Africa – the journey begins

    Mary Allen

    Dakar, Senegal, Dakar | November 29th, 2013

    It’s always a pleasure for me to step off the plane in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and to  breathe in the cool, fresh sea-breeze – such a contrast to the heat and dust I have left behind in Bamako over 1000 km to the east. In more than 25 years spent living and working in West Africa, I have been to Dakar many times, but it feels quite different knowing that this short visit is my last before moving here in January 2014 to open a new West Africa office for Practical Action.West Africa Map

    Different, and a bit daunting too! West Africa is big place – the 15 member states of the ECOWAS community alone (see map) cover 5.1 million km2, that’s 21 times the size of UK. It is also full of contrasts; from the busy buzzing, port towns of Dakar, Accra, Abidjan, Lomé and Lagos which are key hubs for regional trade and economic growth, to the semi-desert landlocked countries of Mali, Burkina and Niger, amongst the least developed in the World. Here recurrent drought, compounded by recent armed conflict, have left an estimated 10.3 million people facing food shortages in 2013 with, critically, 4.5 million children under 5 at high risk of acute malnutrition.

    So during my meetings in Dakar this week I have been talking to a wide range of people, learning more about what government, the private sector and farmers themselves, are already doing and discussing how Practical Action can support this, bringing its unique blend of knowledge, skills and over 45 years of experience of using technology to challenge poverty in developing countries.

    Assata Diarra – West African farmer

    Assata Diarra – West African farmer, tree planter, market gardener and trader [Photo credit: Sahel Eco]

    And I have been thinking of Assata Diarra who I met in Mali in March 2012, just the day before the coup d’état (photo left). Assata is farmer, a tree planter, a market gardener and a trader. She uses her mobile phone (hung round her neck) to help sell her fruit and vegetables and to keep in touch with family members who live far away.

    Practical Action in West Africa will be working to ensure that farmers like Assata, can develop more resilient farming systems – better able to resist and recover quickly from climate shocks – and can have access to affordable locally-sourced sustainable energy solutions enabling them to work their way out of poverty and improve the health and wellbeing of the whole family, and especially their children.

    If you are working in West Africa and would be interested to partner with Practical Action on small scale energy or agriculture, or to be on our register of associate consultants, please write to me at:

    infoserv@practicalaction.org.uk

    www.practicalaction.org/fr

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