Globally, 1.3 billion people have no access to energy and it’s this lack of access that is keeping people living in poverty. Energy has the power to transform lives, it enables clinics to offer 24 hour care, for school children to study at night and it enables farmers to irrigate their land with reliable water pumps.
Practical Action has been working with people across Malawi and Zimbabwe to bring clean and sustainable solar energy to their communities. This project is called Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities and I recently travelled to Zimbabwe to see how energy is changing lives.
I met Miss Mumpande, who works at the Mashaba Primary School in the Gwanda District. She has taught at the school for eight years and teaches 12-13 year olds. The school now has access to solar power, which means they have electricity for lighting.
Sadly, it hasn’t always been this way. For years, the school had no access to electricity and they struggled to attract teachers because of it. Teachers would also have to prepare lessons by candle light and the students couldn’t stay late to study because the school was in darkness.
“Before solar, it was difficult, I wouldn’t prepare the school work well. I had to light candles and prepare. It took two hours, now it only takes one. My eyes would hurt. I wouldn’t prepare my work well, sometimes I made mistakes and had to buy candles myself.”
Having no electricity also affected her student’s education, she explained how they couldn’t study outside of school, but now they are able to stay late and study in the light. Their grades have improved and they’re now excited to come to class. The school has even started offering night classes for older members of the community.
Having electricity has had a huge impact on Miss Mumpande, her students and the rest of the school. She said, “Some teachers left because of the problems but now many want to come here because of the electricity.”
Mashaba Primary school is proof that electricity really can change lives.
To find out more about the project, click here.No Comments » | Add your comment
On 16th and 17th February, the MasterCard Foundation will host the Young Africa Works Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, to address the opportunities for empowering young people to drive transformational change in African agriculture. Practical Action will be there to share evidence from its work of how technologies – from MP3 podcasts, to solar irrigation systems – can support young people to lead productive lives in agricultural areas, and move towards more sustainable, resilient farming.
Education drives social change
Significant improvements in the access to, and quality of, education in Africa in recent years has led to a great improvement in the skills, capacities, and indeed work opportunities for youth. But in part, this has been a major driver of urban migration, with educated young people leaving their rural towns and villages to seek employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in larger towns and cities. For many young people, agriculture has become synonymous with poverty, vulnerability, and drudgery, and their education has raised their aspirations for lives beyond the farm.
The triple challenge – poverty, productivity, resilience
Yet we need youth in agriculture now more than ever. As the world’s population rises to an estimated 9 billion people by 2050, there is increasing pressure to grow sufficient, nutritious food to feed the growing populations and changing consumption patterns of consumers globally. At the same time though, the impacts of climate change on agriculture are predicated to pose significant challenges for food production, particularly among those with the least assets, knowledge, and technologies to adapt and be resilient to changing climates and environments – smallholder farmers. We need the skills, knowledge, energy, and innovative approaches of the youth in Africa – and beyond – to drive a change in agriculture; to leverage new technologies and technical knowledge to create resilient, productive and sustainable agricultural systems; and to work with nascent market systems between rural and new urban areas to ensure affordable, nutritious food is available for all, and that agricultural activities provide sufficient, stable incomes.
Young women face particular challenges. There has been a ‘feminisation’ of agriculture, as social norms and the burdens of unequal gendered roles and responsibilities for care and household tasks have led to more men, with their greater social mobility without such restrictions, to be the majority of those moving out of agriculture and rural areas. Thus young women often face the double burden of labour-intensive smallholder farming, combined with the care and reproductive roles and responsibilities – not just of children, but also of elderly relatives and other family members. Gender inequalities are also often imposed through unequal laws, such as land rights and access to financial services. To ensure the equitable empowerment of youth in agriculture, we must ensure that we do more, in targeted ways, to address these gender inequalities, and provide additional support to young women.
Technologies catalysing change – big data, small data, and renewable energy for climate-smart agriculture
Practical Action has pioneered the way for two areas of technology to catalyse the transformation of African agriculture. Access to technical knowledge is crucial for ensuring smallholder farmers are able to continually improve their yields, diversify their crops, and to foster innovation – particularly to adapt to climate change. This also requires effective, accessible, and actionable climate information services, combining big data from metrological services, long term climate forecasts, and local-level sensors. With over 90% of young farmers in Kenya saying they regularly access internet-enabled services on their mobile devices, digital technologies provide an exciting and appropriate medium for providing this critical information. Combined with improved access to technical information for climate-smart agricultural practices, provided by services like Practical Answers, and accurate market information through platforms such as Agro-Mall, young farmers can leverage digital technologies to propel them towards viable agricultural businesses and livelihoods.
Renewable energy technologies are rapidly becoming evermore accessible and affordable for remote and low income consumers. Yet most attention to date has been paid to household energy access, for lighting, heating and cooling, and cooking. But the productive uses of energy are vital if we are to support youth to remain in agriculture. Systems such as solar-powered drip irrigation, like those used by communities supporting by the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities project by Practical Action in Zimbabwe and Malawi, can not only significantly reduce the labour burden of farming, particularly for women whose role it often is to collect and use water, but also to utilise such natural resources more efficiently and effectively, improving both yields and sustainability. Renewable energy can also be transformative for value addition too, enabling the mechanised processing of goods, and improved storage options so that farmers can sell their goods at times when prices are highest.
Youth as changemakers
This gives great hope that young people, with their better education and higher ambitions, can see a positive future in agriculture – and concurrently that agriculture can see a positive future despite the challenges it faces, powered by the technologies used innovatively by young people.
I will follow up this blog with a short vlog after the Young Africa Works Summit, and I hope to share with you all many more exciting and positive ways technology can challenge poverty presented at the event.No Comments » | Add your comment
This article is informed by research conducted at Practical Action’s Southern Africa offices in Harare, Zimbabwe as part of a work-based placement at the University of Edinburgh.
Distributed renewables for access
The ongoing energy poverty that leaves 1.2 billion people in the world without access to electricity, and 2.7 billion people relying on traditional biomass for cooking is one of the great injustices of our time. Innovation systems need to shift in order to ensure the goal of enabling universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 is achieved. Technologies and business models have emerged that have the potential to live up to the challenge. In particular, Distributed Renewable Energy System (DRES) have tremendous potential to respond rapidly and efficiently to energy poverty, especially in rural areas.
Still, the development of pro-poor innovation systems for sustainable energy access based on DRES faces challenges at multiple levels, as large energy projects continue to be promoted by governments in developing countries and attract support from major development financiers, as go-to solutions for electrification. When small-scale renewable energies are financed, the sum of the smaller projects usually does not even come close to matching the large-scale project both in terms of total capacity of sustainable energy generation and of funding. However, considering the urgent demands of energy poverty, the speed by which small-scale renewables can become operational and the ever-decreasing cost for their installation should favour rural electrification policies based on DRES. The habitual preference for large and mega-projects is also inadequate to effectively address energy poverty as well as provide a sustainable and reliable source for energy in the light of climate change.
Opportunities for pro-poor innovations
Technology justice demands stronger efforts by all actors in the innovation systems to address the needs of the poor. Innovation is needed across the board to promote a more holistic understanding of the long-term impacts of energy projects taking account of:
- Their resilience to climate change and the vulnerability of highly centralised national/regional energy systems to extreme weather events and disasters
- Their water footprint (cooling of coal power plants) and water requirements (in particular run-of-the river hydro-power plants) in the light of climate change-related decreases in water security and more frequent droughts
- The relatively low energy return on investment associated with high-input, large fossil-fuel based infrastructure (e.g. the energy it takes to extract, transport coal and build a power plant, etc.), the greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental impact of the entire lifecycle of the project.
The benefits of DRES as opposed to big power projects need to be made more explicit in economic terms for decision-makers who are concerned with growing the aggregate national economy. Currently, the economic calculations do not take sufficiently into consideration the impacts listed about or the impacts of fossil fuel plants on public health, or the potential for DRES to be an engine for sustainable growth in rural areas.
Whereas prioritising access to energy enables education and promotes entrepreneurship, the creation of local businesses and sustainable energy services, e.g. via refrigeration, irrigation, powering machinery and recharging batteries for electronics; large projects tend to benefit energy-intensive industries rather than aim at the alleviation of energy poverty. Given the appropriate incentives via transitioning towards a cost-reflective tariff for electricity and by including models of climate risk and ecosystem services in economic calculations, the private sector can be galvanised to innovate for the benefit of people in rural areas where there are large levels of energy poverty. After all, the rural poor do not merely have the willingness but also the ability to pay if provided with suitable financial instruments.
However, access to finance is arguably the core barrier for the alleviation of energy poverty at the moment. Innovation accompanied by capacity building needs to occur in the financial sector, where there is a need for financial instruments that are accessible and affordable to the energy poor. Innovative initiatives are being rolled out by development organisations that de-risk rural, small-scale renewable energy investments in the developing world. Still, the challenge for the development sector remains to ensure that financial institutions give out loans for sustainable energy access as well as invest in local entrepreneurs offering energy services and building businesses on the back of the productive uses of energy.
Finally, in terms of technological solutions, there is a large demand for affordable and effective solutions to energy storage. Likewise, the full potential of both solar PV and especially concentrated solar power remains to be unleashed. Whereas some solutions require high-input R&D, national and local innovation systems in the developing world should build on the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of the youth to find accessible, affordable and sustainable solutions responding to local needs.No Comments » | Add your comment
Enneta Kudumba is one of the many farmers in Mutasa district, Manicaland Province who have successfully employed new farming technologies and methods to enhance their harvests given the detrimental effects of climate change.
54 year old Enneta from Nyachibva Village explains.
“I have been growing maize on large pieces of land for years, but with limited satisfaction due to erratic rainfall patterns. However, I am happy that the zai pit technology has brought fortunes and my productivity has improved.”
Zimbabwe, like most Southern African countries, has experienced the worst ever El Nino induced drought that left a number of farmers in Mutasa and other parts of the country counting their losses after a poor harvest.
Located at the heart of the high veld region, Mutasa District has variable agroecological zones with maize farmers at the other end of the area experiencing rainfall shortages. This has affected the agro-based livelihoods both socially and economically. The area also boasts small to large dams that are utilised by the farmers for their horticultural activities.
The Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) introduced zai pit technology in a bid to arrest the problem of hunger in areas experiencing massive crop failure.
“Zai pit technology, introduced by the Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme, changed my life,” said Kudumba. “I am very happy with the results. This year, for instance, I managed to harvest a tonne of maize. Prior I would till acres of land and harvest less than a tonne of maize”
Kudumba said she dug 400 pits, with one pit accommodating six maize plants and managed to grew 2,700 plants on her one acre piece of land.
What is a zai pit?
Zai pits are infield conservation works which are being adopted as a climate smart way of farming in view of the threat of climate change induced drought. The zai pit is prepared well in advance starting in July soon after harvesting. The zai pit measure 60 cm x 60 cm by 30 cm deep. You can plant six to eight plants in the pit. You need to apply 5 litres of well decomposed manure and a cup of compound D in August-September to give the soil adequate time to react with the manure. When the effective rains come in November and December you then plant and maintains the plots. You can use the principle of mulching in Zai pits and herbicide usage is encouraged.
Despite the practice being labour intensive, it has proved to be an effective weapon against hunger. Zai Pit technology is one of the most popular ways of conservation farming that keeps moisture in the soil for a longer period and also helps prevent soil erosion.No Comments » | Add your comment
The 2016 SEEP conference was my second. At my first. in 2012 I was one of the presenters on Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) this time I was a full participant. Thus I had time to follow proceedings as well as network. I would like to share with you the learning I took home with me.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Expanding market frontiers’ and indeed we expanded the boundaries.
As I prepared for the conference two tracks caught my mind ‘Enhancing Food Security through Market-oriented Interventions’ and ‘Getting and Using the Right Kinds of Evidence’. I liked these two tracks mainly because at Practical Action we have several projects on livelihoods and food security where we are using a participatory markets systems development approach to transform markets to become more inclusive and to benefit all market actors including the small-scale farmers. The second reason is that I have been working in the sector for some time now and one area I need to explore further is getting and using the ‘right evidence’. How do we measure, report and share systemic changes in the market system?
However my most interesting learning was about how to integrate gender into market systems work. This is not a totally new concept, we have tried doing this for many years. But, quite honestly,we have not been getting the results we want. This probably won’t happen overnight as some of the factors are so dynamic and cultural so much that they are difficult to change.
One session was on ‘Using ex-ante evidence to promote gender responsive market system change’. Ex-ante means ‘before the event’ so this focussed on using evidence that we collect to inform our program design. More often we rush to do a quick feasibility study and go on to design a program, racing against deadlines. In such circumstances our design misses some of the critical data that we might need and we sometimes end up disaggregating data to men and women to tick the box on gender mainstreaming.
Significantly this session focused on the need to centre attention on the skills women have and to come up with business models that either take advantage of these skills or build on them. That way, women take part meaningfully and are integral to the project design.
Common business cases we discussed included women as an important market segment, capturing underutilised female skills/talent, improved reliability, improved productivity, improved quality, improved reputation, social impact and diversified distribution channels.
In our recent projects we have had women taking negotiating roles with buyers and other market actors because they are regarded as the best negotiators. Have you ever wondered why most women are involved at the fresh vegetable markets? It is simple.Women have the best negotiating skills. They are also involved in grading not because of their ‘patience’ but because they have the skill and eye for good quality. So a program built around women’s skills and capacities is better placed to address gender issues and enhance women empowerment.
Moving forward we are going to use such thinking when designing our programs and also see how we can incorporate such lessons in our existing projects.1 Comment » | Add your comment
The 19th of June is Father’s Day, so I thought what better time to share some stories of some amazing fathers that Practical Action has worked with around the world, only made possible because of our kind and generous supporters.
5. Anthony Ndugu, Kenya
Before Practical Action began working with Anthony, a pit latrine emptier in Nakuru, Kenya, he was shy and felt ashamed of the job he did. He didn’t feel respected by his community and would often come home covered in waste. He even felt too ashamed to tell his son what his job was. Now, Practical Action has provided him with protective clothing and the tools to carry out his vital role safely, he is proud of his job and feels that the community finally recognises how important it is.
“The family are so happy, they are fed and my children can get an education.”
By buying a Practical Present today, you could help Fathers just like Anthony. A Sweeper Safety Kit could help sweepers like Anthony, from a similar project in Bangladesh, to stay safe from disease whilst they carry out the important task of protecting their community.
4. Richard Tlou, Zimbabwe
Richard is 46 years old and lives in Mphaya village in the Gwanda district of Zimbabwe. He has been blind for 5 years. Life is tough for Richard and his wife. They have three of their own children and also care for his brother’s children. For as long as he can remember, he hasn’t had access to clean and safe toilet facilities. This means that they have no other choice but to relieve themselves in nearby bushes causing health risks for the community and a lack of dignity for all. For Richard, this was especially hard. Having lost his sight, he had to rely on someone to take him and he could not see if there were people passing by. But Richard now has regained his dignity. Through Practical Action’s support, he is the proud owner of his own clean and safe toilet and his family are now protected from the risk of disease.
“It has given me my dignity and will improve the health of my family.”
By buying a Practical Present today, you could help fathers just like Richard. A gift of Marve-loos training from you could help train toilet builders, enabling families in Zimbabwe to earn a living to provide for their children as well as ensuring they and their communities are safe from disease.
3. Winnie Sebata, Zimbabwe
Winnie is 67 years old and lives in Mashaba, a rural village in the Gwanda district of Zimbabwe. All of his children are grown up but he is now caring for his 3 nieces who are orphans. Up until his retirement, Winnie was a primary school teacher, but now he works in his wife’s shop in the business centre of Mashaba. This shop is now benefitting from being connected to Zimbabwe’s largest off-grid solar plant, built by Practical Action, in an area that previously had no access to electricity. Not only does the shop now provide local members of the community with an opportunity to access electricity, Winnie and his wife have now also been able to expand their business, providing employment to local people and generating additional income with which he can care for his orphaned nieces.
“We really hope this project will change the lives of this community and change the lives of people of Zimbabwe.”
By buying a Practical Present today, you could help Fathers like Winnie. Energising Education could help provide energy to a school in Zimbabwe, giving children a brighter future.
2. Adam Ibrahim Mohamed, Sudan
Adam is a farmer in North Darfur, Sudan. He is 52 years old and married with children. He lives in Zam Zam village, an arid area of Darfur where farmers struggle to grow their crops because of the lack of water. But that has all changed. Practical Action has helped Adam and others like him by constructing a dam, which provides vital water to enable him to grow his crops. He can now grow enough to feed his family and even has enough to sell, so he can generate an income and send his children to school.
“As fathers, we have responsibilities; feeding our families, sending our children to school. Our life has improved and our children will continue to get an education.”
By buying a Practical Present today, you could help Fathers just like Adam. A Super Sapling could help farmers in this drought-prone area to re-build their communities and plan a brighter future for their children.
1. Your Dad!
Order a Practical Present from Practical Action today and tell your Dad why you think he is number 1! When you order a Practical Present, you will be making a real difference and changing the lives of people around the world and at the same time, you can let your Dad know how special he is to you.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Some rural areas of Zimbabwe are currently in a state of disaster after being hit by a severe drought. But there is hope that a new Practical Action project in the country using solar power to irrigate land could help overcome the problems that climate change is causing.
A couple of hours’ drive from Gwanda in the south west of Zimbabwe, close to the border with Botswana, you come across an extraordinary sight. A bank of solar panels – 400 in total – make for a dazzling spectacle under Mashaba’s blazing midday sun.
They constitute Zimbabwe’s largest off-grid solar farm and are heralding a new era in solar power for some of Africa’s most marginalised communities.
For Winnie Sebata, 67, retired school teacher turned budding entrepreneur, energy access has come at a perfect time. “We really hope this project will change the lives of this community and the lives of people of Zimbabwe. So we are lucky to have been chosen. We are 8km from the border, so hopefully cross-border traffic will open up more business opportunities”.
Electrification has given Mr & Mrs Sebata the chance to diversify their retail business, selling meat from local farmers, opening a hairdressers and providing a range of solar powered products to meet growing local demand.
Practical Action is leading a consortium of public and private partners both to deploy the technology in Mashaba and develop a sound business model to establish viable mini grids. With the majority of up-front investment for the 99kW project being met by the European Union, the four year project to install and bed down the scheme is well under way.
Apart from the Sebata’s business, the other early beneficiaries include the health clinic, the primary school, local smallholder farmers and several energy kiosks. By 2019, the grid will be serving more than 10,000 people in the surrounding area.
According to Shepherd Masuka, Practical Action’s project technician (pictured above), the imminent arrival of pre-payment meters to aid the collection of fees will enable users to be charged for their electricity usage, with subsidised rates for the school and the clinic. Reliable revenue will allow for on-going maintenance of the grid with an estimated payback period of between 8-10 years.
The Mashaba scheme is just one of a growing number of such developments. A recent Economist article (Follow The Sun, April 16th 2016), highlighted the growth of solar power across the developing world with growing demand for energy, the falling price of solar panels (80% in the past five years) and technological improvements in generation and storage contributing to that growth.
Lessons are still being learned about improving the policy environment, providing access to finance across the value chain and protecting consumer’s rights. But certainly for Mr and Mrs Sebata, their new business venture looks to have a very bright future indeed.
For more information on Practical Action’s work towards universal access to modern energy services for all, visit us at http://practicalaction.org/energy3 Comments » | Add your comment
As the world celebrates World Water Day, the situation in Zimbabwe is still grim even though it has dropped off the news headlines. A serious drought gripping the country has left a third of the population facing food shortages and needing urgent aid.
The drought induced by the El Niño weather phenomena is the worst seen in Zimbabwe for three decades. It has had a catastrophic effect – devastating harvests, causing food prices to soar and leaving tens of thousands of cattle dead.
But there are simple technological solutions that could ensure drought-prone communities have access to water all year round. Such crises can be averted so they aren’t impacted by hunger and have to rely on food aid.
What is the current situation with the drought in Zimbabwe?
- This time of year is the peak of the rainfall season in Zimbabwe. However, over 95% of the country has received less than 75% of what they would have normally received.
- Dam levels are decreasing and boreholes are drying up. Women and children are forced to walk long distances to find water to survive. Each journey putting them at risk of attack as they walk alone, far from home.
- Zimbabwe is dependent on maize as a staple food but as much as 75% of the crops have failed.
- The corn that is a food staple for much of southern Africa is now so expensive it has become a luxury many can’t afford
- Zimbabwe is facing its worst malnutrition rates in 15 years. Nearly 33,000 children are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
- 35% of households have inadequate water supply and water scarcity is exposing children to higher risks of diarrhoea, typhoid and other water-borne disease including cholera.
Practical Action needs your urgent help. In our project areas of Gwanda and Mwenezi the situation is worsening day by day. The crisis also affects livestock, with a staggering 2,000 deaths reported in the districts; forcing poor and vulnerable families to sell their precious cattle at rock bottom prices. Livelihoods are in tatters.
How are Practical Action projects being affected?
I spoke to Martha Munyoro, our Communications and Knowledge Management Officer in Harare after she visited our projects in some of the worst affected areas.
“The situation in Zimbabwe is very bad,” she said. “The delivery of our agriculture projects has been affected as they are in low rainfall regions.”
- We’re working on a seed multiplication project in Gwanda District but due to the lack of rain most of the demonstration plots are a complete write off. Many farmers did not even plant the crops due to the severe drought.
- Our work with farmers in Mutasa District to improve their food, nutrition and income has been impacted. We were demonstrating good agricultural practices to improve farmers’ productivity. However, 80% of our maize crops are a in a very poor state and the rest are a write-off.
- A project delivering water and sanitation facilities and championing health and hygiene behaviour has also been affected as water becomes scarce. The little water available is kept essentially for cooking, drinking and washing utensils. Taps for hand washing at some homes and schools can’t be used due to the unavailability of water, compromising the health of the communities.
What is Practical Action doing to help?
- We’ve increased the number of new boreholes we are digging from 20 to 31 to try and increase access to safe water.
- We’re trying to ration water for irrigating crops and promote climate smart agriculture practices such use in-field soil and water conservation techniques, which is paying off.
- We’ve also identified great potential for fish farming and are currently working on 22 renovating or constructing fishing ponds.
- Honey production has also been identified as a potential area and the project is now focusing on identifying interested groups for training and linking to the market.
The drought serves as reminder that communities vulnerable to changing weather patterns need longer-term help adapting.
There will be more droughts in Zimbabwe. In the past it was one big drought every 10 years, then it came to one drought every five years, and now the trends are showing that it will be one every three to five years. It’s climate change…it’s going to be the new norm.
Bringing lasting change to drought-hit communities
Practical Action is working with communities to bring lasting change – helping provide a permanent source of clean water and helping them earn an income so they can buy food.
In Himalaya in the Mutare District of Zimbabwe, we have been constructing a micro-hydro scheme and two solar-powered irrigation schemes to provide water to communities, particularly for farming which is a major source of income for rural poor people.
Farmers Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje have always struggled to get a good harvest from their two hectare plot due to lack of irrigation but thanks to the solar-powered irrigation scheme they are able to grow a variety of crops throughout the year.
“We have received a good income from the sale of the sugar beans and this has enabled us to send our children to school, buy food for the family and clothes for everyone,” said Lindiwe.
13-year-old Cornelius Mayengamhuru said the project will help generations to come.
He said: “I hope my parents will start to grow potatoes now that there is plenty of water being powered by electricity, so that I will be able to eat healthy. I study agriculture at school so when I grow up I want to be a farmer, own a piece of land here and develop my community. This project just came at the right time”.
We are also delivering solar-powered garden projects in Gwanda District, Zimbabwe.
54-year-old Janet Moyo, a vegetable and maize farmer in Sibula village, said: “This place is dry and water is a challenge. We have not yet received any rains since October. This project came as a miracle to us. Most farmers are now able to sell their excess crops to other people in their communities as well as other neighbouring communities.”
60-year-old Masotsha Leslie Tshalibe said the solar powered projects have transformed the lives of people there.
“The projects enable families to increase food security and income generation and have also improved access to clean water as submersible pumps are buried in dry river beds and they tap directly from the water table. The water is clean and safe for households use.”
So many more drought-prone communities could get access to these simple technological solutions to give them access to water all year round.
This World Water Day we’re calling for action. We’re calling on donors and Zimbabwe government officials not only to address the imminent crisis but also to scale up technological development for agriculture, energy and water to help mitigate the impact of climate change on the region’s poorest people and help communities become more resilient to future weather events.
How can I help people impacted by drought in Zimbabwe?
And we’re calling on you to make a difference this World Water Day by giving an urgent donation today.No Comments » | Add your comment
Not a history lesson but a reminder of the urgency of moving from talk to practical action.
In 1972 a group of scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a highly respected US university) published a report ‘The last call’. In it they argued that the planets resources were finite and we were getting close to the limit. We could slow down, change course, find a new pattern to our existence slowly or continue as now eventually leading to catastrophic change.
Whichever way change was coming.
A few months ago I sat in the House of Commons and watched a film about the report and what followed. The Club of Rome published a book called ‘The Limits to Growth’ which sold 30 million copies. President Carter embraced the idea and talked to the American people about change. But President Reagan who followed revoked the idea, insisting growth was good, growth was essential to the American way of life.
Forty plus years on it was a history lesson. But in some ways the Carter – Reagan tension continues played out on a bigger, now global scale.
Change is happening.
For many poor communities catastrophic change is already happening with the increased frequency and strength of cyclones, more flooding, more drought. In Ethiopia they are facing the worst drought for 30 years. In Zimbabwe when I was there earlier this year I heard people talking about changes in rainfall patterns that were devastating harvests.
In the UK this weekend in the North of England and Scotland we’re experiencing severe flooding. And over the past decade in the UK we’ve seen record breaking rainfall (and our records go back to 1879). It’s impossible to link any individual severe weather event with climate change – but these increases in the severity of rain i.e. harder, more intense rainfall, tie in with the predicted impacts.
The reality is that poorest and therefore most vulnerable people – whether in the developing world or in the UK – feel the impact of climate change first and hardest . We need to take action.
The Time for Change is now.
The perceived tension between protecting our planet and economic growth continues to polarise the climate change debate. But if we grow in a way that destroys our ability to inhabit our planet – how does that make sense?
As world leaders gather in Paris for the UNFCCC meeting I read in the press that there’s optimism a deal can be agreed – not enough to keep warming below the vital limit of 2 degrees but a step in the right direction.
I also read that we may have hit a peak in emissions.
And that renewable energy is now outperforming fossil fuels.
Maybe change is starting?
But for change to happen it needs to move beyond political agreement
Agreement in Paris will be a first step in the right direction. But even if there is agreement the ‘devil will be in the detail.’ Fine words are relatively easy but implementation more difficult – and sometimes easy to ignore, or just too difficult to make happen.
So sadly to repeat the words of MIT 43 years ago – change is coming, it will happen, we can plan or we can have it forced upon us but the days of choice are getting shorter and the human stakes much higher.
I believe that if we care about poverty reduction, about people and our planet, we will make immediate, deep and binding change happen now. And plan so that what I hope will be the amazing rhetoric of the UNFCCC conference, the great agreement becomes experienced reality.
This next week is a time of opportunity – lets hope our world leaders step up and make change happen.
No Comments » | Add your comment
Today 13 August is Earth’s Overshoot Day – the day when we have used up all of the ecological resources available for the year. From now on we – as a planet – are in ecological deficit –using up resources we don’t have. And what’s worse according to The Guardian the pace at which we gobble up resources is getting quicker – with this year’s Earth Overshoot day 6 days earlier than last.
And our response?
I worry we’ve turned to the ecological equivalent of a payday loan – continuing to squander resources irrespective of the cost, long term implications, and hugely high impact inflation. Fracking, oil exploration and drilling in the Artic, food waste – in the UK retailers and consumers throwing away between 30 and 40% of all food, etc.
We experience ourselves not as part of nature but somehow separate from it – or at worst dominant, scarily in control of our ecology with the faith that technology will somehow bail us out.
Why does this matter?
Climate change is already hitting the poorest people hardest. They live in the main on some of the most marginal and therefore vulnerable land.
In April I was in Zimbabwe talking with farmers struggling with increasingly erratic rainfall. Crops yields were poor as the rain came late after the crops had already ripened and wilted. John Siambare Practical Actions Field Officer explained ‘this year crops planted using conventional farming techniques died before they did anything’
We at Practical Action can work with farmers to help them cope – through
agroecological farming techniques that maintain moisture in the soil, crop diversification, food preservation, solar irrigation etc. And to help build peoples resilience – if you don’t know what environmental change is going to throw at you – and one of the biggest impacts of climate change is increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather – how can you plan – you just need to get as good as you can at responding to change.
But ultimately climate change is catastrophic and we will get to a stage where adaptation is impossible and land where people now live no longer viable.
If the increases in consumption continues as now – in 2 to 3 years Earth Overshoot day will be in July, 5 years after that in June.
Time to change our ways?
Fritz Schumacher, Practical Action’s founder, in his book ‘Small is Beautiful’ , talked about moving to a world where we look to maximise wellbeing with minimum consumption. Small is Beautiful was published in 1973. The time for change is now.
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