One of the greatest challenges facing rural farming communities in Sudan is their limited or non-existent access to agricultural technological innovation or knowledge services.
Clearly, if smallholder farmers are to have a future in a region already under threat from a changing climate, something will have to be done to open up the communities to new ideas and technology.
Practical Action’s Farmer Field School (FFS) approach is designed to address this issue; a show-and-tell method of introducing knowledge through demonstration. The Farmer Field Schools explore novel agricultural and natural resource management (NRM) practice.
In collaboration with the Kassala State Extension and Technology Department, Practical Action designed a training syllabus specifically for rain fed agriculture. Made up of ten sessions, it was designed to be simple, comprehensive and highly specific to local needs, with the end goal of changing farmers’ behaviour to increase and diversify production, improving their food security.
The most positive impact we see of the farmers’ field schools is the empowerment of farmers (especially women farmers) explained the Extension Officer, before farmers were asking for cash, now they are asking for training and support to develop new activities, and of course they are also more food secure now.
Farmer field schools are held on demonstration sites. Groups of 20-25 farmers meet between once a week and once a month to discuss how the demonstration plots are progressing and to receive lessons from a locally trained extension worker. This combination of information exchange and demonstration ensures that the knowledge is accurate, innovative and suited to local needs.
|Um Alhassan, a woman from Kassala, is a member in one of the women’s farm groups.“I grow cucumber, okra, jute leaves and some fruit. The price of fresh okra in the market is 5 SDG and dry okra is 2 SDG. I use it for cooking twice a day, that means I save from 4 to 10 SDG each time during the harvesting period, from okra alone, as well as from other vegetables grown in the farm. Another thing I didn’t expect at the beginning of this farm is the parasitic weeds we use for feeding our animals, which truly helped us in this part generously. I have a big desire to try cultivating potatoes and onions in the coming period of cultivation. We tried seedlings of tomatoes and Aswad(eggplants); we weren’t satisfied with the results, but we’ll try again.”She added; “Not only does cultivating this farms benefits us, but our work together as team shows the true meaning of participation and collaboration.”|
To facilitate impact at scale, the farmer field school approach has been introduced to North Darfur in collaboration with the El Fashir branch of Sudan’s Agricultural Research Corporation.
But the upscaling hasn’t stopped there. Following the FFS organised by Practical Action and community based organisations in Kassala, a number of our partners including the UN’s Food and Agriculture and Industrial Organisations and the Butana Integrated Rural Development Project, have supported FFS in Kassala State and German Agro Action has included it in their staff training sessions.
This is a perfect example of an agricultural knowledge initiative that taken a local success and replicated it to have a positive impact across a nation, creating farming practices that are innovative and future proof.1 Comment » | Add your comment
The opening ceremony of the Sail Gedaim dam on 13th of August was attended by over 1,000 people from the 20 villages that will benefit from the dam in addition to representatives from local CBOs, women’s development associations, village development committees and the private sector.
More than a dozen senior representatives from various government ministries and departments also attended the ceremony, including the Deputy Governor of North Darfur State members of the technical committee of the Wadi Alku project. The engineers responsible for designing, and supervising construction of, the dam were also present as were staff from project partners UNEP.
The ceremony was responsible for a number of other achievements including:
- Linkages established between village communities and higher level authorities in North Darfur, including the Darfur Regional Authority.
- The voice of poor communities was heard by government authorities through speeches by representatives from the local communities who spoke about many livelihoods, social and environmental issues that affect them.
- The government endorsed the dam and agreed to provide legal protection for the dam as a shared community-owned asset.
- Important advocacy and awareness raising issues were raised by the government in relation to stopping the construction of haphazard terraces and earth embankments, which could divert or change the flow of water upstream with disastrous consequences for the dam and threaten to increase soil erosion and degradation wherever constructed. The government promised to form a committee to assess these terraces and remove them if need, replacing them where feasible with more technically appropriate and planned terraces.
- The Chairman of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) used the opportunity to promise to build a new primary school and health clinic in the area.
My expectation is that by the end of the project there will be a great change in the policies and practices which will benefit and improve the livelihoods of Darfur’s rural communities including farmers , pastoralists, and IDPs.No Comments » | Add your comment
September 21st is the International Day of Peace.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All”
Throughout history, Darfur has witnessed many tribal and ethnic conflicts between the communities living in the region. Most are caused by competition over resources between the nomadic pastoralists and farmers, and exacerbated by climate change caused by drought and desertification.
Pasture is scarce in some areas of Darfur, and there is also a shortage of surface water and because of its proximity to traditional rain-fed agriculture areas. Conflicts between pastoralists and farmers have often erupted into armed conflicts and tribal wars.
For generations, Darfur people settled arguments through making peace agreements between different tribes by demarcating, or opening, animal routes for pastoralists to follow during their annual round trip from south to north within the Darfur region. These agreements met pastoralists’ needs and also guaranteed farmers’ rights, preventing the invasion of animals onto farms, while preserving the customs, traditions and rights of everyone.
Practical Action in North Darfur has successful experience in promoting peace and resolving conflicts between farmers and pastoralists through facilitating the demarcation of migratory animals’ routes, and increasing access to water and grazing lands alike. The Darfur Community Peace and Stability Project (DCPSF) was implemented in North Darfur, with its main goal being: to build Effective Communities’ Capacities and Livelihoods to Contribute to Peace Building and Stability in North Darfur State.
We achieved this through:
1. Identifying conflict areas and villages.
2. Collecting information about the selected villages: Identifying the tribal or community leaders, population, ethnicity, numbers of farmers and/or pastoralists, infrastructure, natural resources and village mapping.
3. Identifying main routes: Drawing maps with support from authorities, such as the Ministry of agriculture, Ministry of Urban Planning, Farmers and Pastoralists Unions.
4. Applying Practical Action participatory development planning following these steps:
- Bringing a facilitator who has background knowledge of the community.
- Meeting with the community, stakeholders, women, youth, pastoralists, farmers, labourers, government and splitting them into groups and having them write their group’s concerns and problems.
- Bringing them back for an open discussion about their problems.
- Placing all issues in a list and vote on which is the biggest problem; identify top three problems, discuss the cause and its impact and target affected groups.
- Completing a survey with the community.
- Assessing the surveys, data and vote and return them to each group to give analysis and find solutions.
- Developing an action plan with the community after formation of a committee of one representative from the groups mentioned earlier.
5. Presenting the plan to the relevant government agencies for approval and support and provide security.
6. Finally implementing the plan, preparing tools, equipment and the necessary machinery to demarcate routes.
Equipment and tools required
- Concrete pillars 2.5 m long
- Metric measuring tape
- Three colors of paint
- Hand Tools
- Drill 1\2 metre down in specified areas and install pillar.
- Measure a width of 150 metre and install another pillar opposite the first.
- Measure a further 500 metre along the route.
- Mark pillars as agreed. Paint red if it is in a close Agriculture zone, and pastoralist should commit to demarcated route. Paint yellow if the agriculture zone is some distance away from the route. Paint white to mark a ‘no cultivation area’ which is open for grazing.
- Siniah: is a rest area for both people and animals after traveling more than 20 kilometres distance. A 5-square kilometres area where pastoralists stay for more than a month to rest. There are some services, such as water and an amount of pasture. Usually they are close to the market where they can sell meat, dairy and buying basics such as sugar and food.
- Al-Mabrak: a pastoral area , about 2.5 square metres. It is a place to rest, for no longer than two weeks. One of the main purposes of Al-Mabrak is to enable small and vulnerable animals to regain strength and then continue the journey.
Finally, institutions such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP – funder of DCPSF) recognise that “development cooperation itself needs to apply the lessons of experience, and improve its own flexibility and practices to maximise its contributions in helping build peace and prevent violent conflict” (Wood 2001, 10). Here comes the importance of mobilisation and exchange of knowledge between all peace building different entities. In the words of Kofi Annan, “we realise more and more that knowledge is what makes the difference: knowledge in the hands of those who need it, and of those who can make best use of it” (Clarke and Squire 2005, 110).No Comments » | Add your comment
Goat farming is one of the major income source for small holder farmers. It can be done in small scale, without huge investments. In many parts of Nepal goat are referred as “poor people’s cow”. But there are a set of challenges that goat farmers of rural areas have to face. Different kinds of diseases and untimely deaths of the goats causes burden to the farmers.
The local small-holder farmers in the Bajhang District of farwestern Nepal have been rearing goats from generations but lack of commercialisation and other risks were an enormous challenge to them. They had to bear huge loss when diseases attacked the goats and a number of goats died at a time. But in the recent times, they are very excited about their goat-farming enterprise. This change happened after the introduction of Goat Insurance scheme by the POSAN-Food Security project.
Under the goat insurance scheme, 400 goats in the district have been insured so far. The scheme was initiated by POSAN-Food Security project in partnership with a government owned District of Livestock Office (DLSO), Bajhang and a local Cooperative. There are certain rules and regulations that farmers have to follow to get their goats insured, like – the goats should have received all required vaccines and health certificate from DLSO to be eligible for insurance. If the insured goat dies then the farmer receives 90 per cent of the valuated price of the goat. This is a huge relief to the small-holder farmers who have to contribute to only a small amount initially for the insurance.
One of the local farmers, Ramgiri Dhami has already insured 24 of his goats. “I am very hopeful that the goat insurance will minimize the risks involved in goat rearing and make it profitable for farmers like us. This kind of scheme is entirely a new concept and I am very excited about it!” says Dhami.
This is indeed a new concept for the whole district thus, the farmers were unknown and a bit skeptic about it initially. But more and more farmers are getting their goats insured after learning about its benefits. The farmers like Ramgiri want the service to be expanded further so more farmers like him can benefit from it. These kind of new schemes can be very beneficial for poor farmers who are doing farming on a small scale and it would be great if such initiatives could be introduced to other parts of the country as well.
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Practical Action is advocating for greater use of agroecology to achieve more inclusive and sustainable agriculture. This is because we believe smallholder farmers have the potential to make an invaluable contribution to global food security and the elimination of poverty. Our work with communities across Latin America, Africa and South Asia has shown us that the application of agroecological practices can increase smallholder productivity, build resilience to climate change and build on the assets and knowledge they already have.
The problem is taking such ‘project’ examples to scale. We believe the answer to that problem is to better understand and work with market systems. Effective market systems can support and scale the technical and social benefits of the application of agroecology. They can provide financially viable and commercially attractive alternatives to intensive agricultural monocultures for which the negative social and environmental effects are well documented.
Research and investment in the further intensification of monoculture is the main strategy of donors and governments to increase production and achieve agricultural growth. However, intensive farming drives a reliance on externally developed technologies and access to capital or credit to buy external inputs. For the majority of resource poor smallholders it increases risk and limits their options. Taking a global perspective where we seek low carbon pathways – aiming for decarbonisation by 2050 – these strategies are simply not sustainable.
Practical Action’s proposition for a food secure and sustainable future is to research, invest and incentivise agroecological production within markets systems – the same systems that currently deliver for intensive agriculture. If this can be achieved our food systems will also be environmentally and socially sustainable systems that will be equitable and work for future generations.
We also need to be pragmatic. There is no point advocating for agro-ecological production if it cannot provide the income farmers need. We believe it can. If agro-ecology can be incorporated within viable inclusive market systems, then the positive benefits of agroecology can spread.
We are working with communities, governments, development agencies and the private sector to learn from success and build the evidence and incentives that are needed for policy makers and investors to move away from the high input methods of conventional agriculture.
Together we must show that agroecology is viable, and that the negative impacts of conventional agriculture affect everyone, if we are to reverse the trends of environmental and social damage whilst preserving food and income security.No Comments » | Add your comment
Sail Gedaim Water Harvesting Dam: An integrated approach to water resource management in North Darfur
Over the past six months, Practical Action and its local partners have been busy designing and constructing a new water-harvesting dam in El Fashir North Darfur. This is one of three dams to be constructed as part of the Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project, a three-year project implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Practical Action, with funding from the European Union.
The primary purpose of the 775 metre long earth dam is to divert water from gullies and to spread it across as wide an area of agricultural land as possible upstream, while ensuring water is also diverted and spread downstream. By thus slowing and spreading the flow of water, a greater area of land will be irrigated increasing the level of water retention which will increase agricultural productivity while also ensuring higher levels of ground water recharge.
A range of potential sites for the dam were identified and an area named Sail Gedaim, north-west of Zamzam village and 7km south of El Fashir town, the capital of North Darfur state, was selected. A technical study and design of the dam was carried out by technical specialists from the Water Harvesting Centre at the University of Nyala, South Darfur.
The selection of the final dam site and the design of the dam were made in accordance with the key principles of an integrated water resource management (IWRM) approach. Three of the most important IWRM principles used were as follows.
- Widespread consultations with all key stakeholders were held. The needs and usage patterns of different water users upstream and downstream of the proposed site were taken in to consideration. At the same time, key technical, government and policy bodies were also consulted, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Physical Planning and the Ground Water and Wadis department. These diverse consultations ensure all relevant voices and needs are integrated into the design and function of the dam.
- The dam is designed to ensure equitable access to water. The dam is designed to improve access to water for agricultural purposes for more than 20 villages upstream and downstream of the dam. As part of the planning process, it was agreed with local leaders that land irrigated by the dam would be fairly divided up between all members of the community.
- The long-term impact and sustainability of the dam has been taken into consideration. It was through community consultations, in the form of Practical Action’s Participatory Action Plan Development (PAPD) approach, that the idea of constructing a dam was identified as a priority by all of the nearby 20 communities. As it reflects their own development priorities, the community willingly contributed financial resources, unskilled labour and locally-available raw materials to the construction of the dam. A community dam committee was established that is responsible for dam management and maintenance. This committee includes members from upstream and downstream communities and is gender balanced. Over the coming months the committee will receive managerial and technical training. In terms of environmental sustainability, a social and environmental impact assessment was carried out prior to construction of the dam to study and document the positive impacts of the dam, such as, increasing soil moisture contain, improving soil features such as soil aeration and to promote greater biodiversity. In addition, the study identified solutions to address potential negative impacts of the dam.
Construction of the dam was completed in July 2015. The total cost of the dam was a little under US $300,000. Given the dam is expected to irrigate more than 4,000 feddans of land (1,680 hectares) which is farmed by approximately 11,000 households (66,000 people), it represents exceptionally good value for money, especially given an expected lifetime of more than ten years if well managed, operated and maintained. It is also anticipated that the dam will provide seasonal agricultural employment opportunities for IDPs living in the nearby IDP camp in Zamzam, while also providing crops and vegetables for thousands of inhabitants of El Fashir town. To ensure further value for money, locally available raw materials (sand, soil, rocks) were used wherever possible. (Large quantities of soil were extracted for the construction of the earth embankment from a nearby village called Umroawaba, which suffers from acute seasonal water shortages, which in turn presented the opportunity to dig a new hafir (reservoir) for the village.)
Following the first rains this year, many farmers reported that water had reached areas that have not been irrigated for over 20 years.
From my point of view, dam technology applied above will change the life of thousands of Darfurians who are seriously affected by ongoing conflict. That is the reason behind the promotion of Technology Justice in Practical Action’s programs.4 Comments » | Add your comment
A simple concept with clear benefits is something to be explored and scaled up
In development, as in most fields, anything that can quickly improve the productivity of an existing agricultural industry is an advantage and something likely to be seized upon by both NGOs and governments. And who can blame them?
However, the rush to get more from less can lead to a situation in which intensive solutions with short term gains take precedence. This leads to concepts with greater potential for long term sustainability and environmental protection being passed over because the benefits are lower or not immediately visible. So, when a project emerges that is not only environmentally and economically sustainable, but also provides a clear and tangible return on investment, it is something to be celebrated. We can see such an opportunity in Practical Action’s development of Rice-Duck Farming in Nepal.
Duck and rice is something that sounds like it should be picked up in a warm plastic box from your local Chinese takeaway. And, while the two might be a good culinary pairing, they also work together remarkably well in the production of food itself.
Simplicity and incentives
There is a symbiotic relationship between the duck and the rice paddies and the benefits of such a relationship are also very clear. It requires little additional input aside from the initial investment. Not only this, but the success of innovation has also prompted farmers to take the initiative and introduce their own ways of increasing productivity; as documented by this article by Menila Kharel. For the farmers we have been working with, rice-duck farming has been a great success. So, what have we learned from rice-duck farming that can be carried over to other projects?
- Simplicity is not always a bad thing. Practical Action has long focused on providing useable technology and ideas that fit the needs of those they are designed for, as opposed to grand ideas that sound good on paper but are either impractical or of little use without developed infrastructure to support them. Rice-duck farming is a good example of simple ideas having a positive impact where they are implemented. It shows the necessity prioritising end goals over having an elaborate project that promises more than it can achieve.
- Clear incentives. When trying to implement ideas on the ground, any project that cannot provide stakeholders with proof of benefits to be made is at an instant disadvantage. People are less likely to invest in something that does not offer clear benefits. This is especially true of those with very little, as you only gamble what you can afford to lose, and for many in the world, that is nothing.
- Scaling up is necessary for programs to survive in the long term. The nature of farming and the environment means that what your neighbours do also has an effect on your farm. For example, if a farm has adopted the rice duck method, but neighbouring farms engage in the heavy usage of pesticides, then the number of pests that the ducks feed off will be reduced. If a nearby farm is using large amounts of water, then everyone else in the area is forced to reduce their consumption to compensate for this.
There are lessons to be learned from the success of duck-rice farming, there is a lot more to it than simplicity and incentives. Every project is influenced by a multitude of external factors and pressures ranging from socioeconomic to meteorological. But, basic human nature and rationale remains the same wherever you are in the world, meaning that the need to demonstrate clear incentives is necessary before a project can move ahead.
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Authors: Jack Spoor, Menila Kharel, Dr. Sujan Piya
Women in innovation
Rice is a staple food crop in Nepal, accounting for about 67% of cereal consumption. Ensuring maximum yield and minimising loss is a vital in ensuring food security. Here, women farmers are transplanting rice seedlings that have been grown in a nursery with specific spacing into a flooded paddy field. A project like rice-duck farming which helps to empower smallholders will have a great effect on gender equality, as many smallholders are women who are often excluded from innovation due to a lack of access to funds, information or connections.
Ducklings as input support
Rice farmers are given ducklings as part of a project. Additionally, they are given intensive training on rice-duck farming technology and duck raising.
Ducks in rice: win- win
Rice-duck farming is a perfect example of agro-ecological farming, in which both the environment and productivity benefit. The rice-duck farming technique increases yield and decreases reliance on external inputs such as inorganic fertilizer which is costly and can damage the environment.
The ducklings are introduced to the paddy after 15-20 days of tra nsplanting, where they feed off the small weeds that would compete with the rice for space and nutrients, and also the pests. The relationship between rice and duck is symbiotic, with each benefiting from the relationship. Not only do the ducks eat weeds and pests, but their droppings also provide an organic source of nutrition for the rice plants, reducing the need for the farmer to buy inorganic fertilizer.
Best use of local resources
A farmer uses locally available materials to make a fence. The ducks are vulnerable to predators like any other livestock, and care must be taken to ensure the rice paddies are adequately protected.
While the ducks can help increase crop yields, some agricultural land must also be given up to house the ducks, as they cannot remain constantly on the water.
Ducks for nutrition and income
Not only do the ducks benefit the rice crop, but they can also be sold for extra income. Some are kept for next year’s crop while others are either consumed or sold for the high value meat.
Private sector business extension
The most prominent private sector Bilas Haas from Janakpur District, has been supplying ducklings across the country and is connected with rice farmers for supplying the Hong Kong and Pekin cross ducklings, most suitable for paddy. The firm also buys back the ducks from farmers and sell to local and national markets.
A new depot is opened up in Chitwan District by Bilas Haas to provide farmers with a source of young ducks for the project, as the existing supply was not able t o meet the increased demand. Initiatives driven through market demand enable the project and its benefits to be scaled up. Private sector involvement provides the necessary capital and entrepreneurship to spread rice-duck farming across the country. The supply and demand effect on the private sector also ensures that gaps in the system (such as a lack of young ducks) are filled efficiently as possible.
A new business start up
Two new duck meat outlets are opened up, one in each project district. Previously, there was no system of selling duck meat from meat outlets. Hotels and restaurants used to collect ducks from individual farmers. Now, consumers have easy access to duck meat.
Linking with urban market
The ducks from the project districts are also sold for meat in the capital, Kathmandu. The meat is considered healthier and more nutritious than locally produced fowl and also has improved taste.
Working together for influencing
The project worked closely with the District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) in Chitwan and engaged them in planning and implementation of the project. Now, they have owned and included the technology in their annual plan with a commitment to disseminate it more widely.
The success of the rice-duck farming project shows that sometimes simplicity is the key to success. It is just one example of agro-ecological techniques being combined with private sector innovation to provide a positive outcome for those marginalised the most in society. Hopefully, the success fo this project can be replicated in other areas in order to achieve Practical Action’s Change Agenda.
 World Bank, Food Price Increases in South Asia, p109, 2010, Washington1 Comment » | Add your comment
In my recent blog, I narrated some of the factors that contribute success and failure of any individual’s efforts to tackle poverty. In this post, I am going to detail an individual’s success and future aspiration that was fuelled by development intervention.
Samsunnahar (50) like many other poor people lives in the flood protection embankment (village of Moddhyo Belka), Sundergonj Upazilla of Gaibandha district. Due to river erosion, her family had to move home six times, lost all their homestead resources and arable land. They became extremely poor after losing all their assets. Her husband, day labourer Nobbas Ali earned an insignificant amount for their living. Their only child, a son of school age, also required some education expenses. Therefore, they had a very hard time and often suffered from having inadequate food.
In 2012, along with 500 other households, Shamsunnahar was enrolled as a beneficiary in 2012 in the Shiree project (with the support of local NGO AKOTA). Afterwards, she received 3 days training on sandbar cropping and inputs such as seed, fertilizer, equipment and irrigation and storage support (worth US$64). As a result of this support, she harvested 420 pumpkins from 100 pits, and earned BDT 19,450.00 (US$253) from the sale of 340 pumpkins (the rest t they used for own consumption). In 2013, the project also supported her with equipment worth BDT 4229 and she had a similar size harvest. To build alternative earning sources and generate some assets, she also invested the income. For example, she purchased a heifer at price of BDT 12000.00, and leased 25 decimal lands with BDT4000.00 for crop production.
Now she longer has project support but has been continuing sandbar cropping on her own initiative, beside production of high valued crop from leased land (which she has taken by BDT40, 000). Additionally, she owns four cows, worth BDT 80,000.00. In monetary terms, she owns assets worth of BDT 120,000 (US$1558). Moreover, one year ago, she also bought a solar panel with BDT 22,000 in instalments over 3 years. She pays BDT 750 every month. They have been using 2 ceiling fans and 4 lights with the power of solar panel- which makes a great difference to them!
Samsunnahar and her family received the following support from the project:
|Project Investment||Amount in BDT|
|Investment Year 2012||4896|
|Investment Year 2013||4229|
|Total in USD||118.00|
Over the last three years, she and her family generated then following assets:
|Type of asset generated||Amount in BDT|
|Total in USD||1844.00|
|Project investment versus assets generation||16 Times|
They are relatively better off compared with 2012. Their son, Sujan Mia happily studies at home as they have lights at their home. To Samsunnahar,
“Solar panel shudhu barite alo dichche tai na, ata amar cheler vobishshat keo alokito korche”
“This solar panel not only gives light to our home but it has also lightened my son’s future”.
Recently, her husband has been selected as member of local mosque management committee (which portrays as dignified member of the community). She believes that these multiple endeavors will help them to get out of poverty and secure food and nutrition for her family members. They are dreaming Sujan Mia will get access to higher education and manage a good job in future.
In conclusion, it is worthwhile to note that poor people struggles against poverty, development intervention accelerates their efforts and brings some impacts. However, sustainability of the impacts and impacts at a scale require broad structural changes. Over the last 44 years, very insignificant efforts were seen from Government of Bangladesh to address the root cause of the vulnerability of the river eroded people.
[The author acknowledges the contribution of Mr. Salam, Coordinator, M&E of Practical Action’s Extreme Poverty programme for providing information and images]1 Comment » | Add your comment
Karaya Gum is one of those obscure substances that you often see on the list of ingredients, but no one really knows what it is. Tapped from Sterculia urens, a deciduous tree native to the Indian Subcontinent, it is a relatively common substance in commercial products, turning up in everything from cheesecakes and energy drinks to eyeliner and laxatives. Because of this ever-present demand, regions that supply Karaya Gum and similar products such and the more widely known Gum Arabic stand to benefit greatly from anything which can improve production or open up new markets.
To facilitate this growth, Practical Action teamed up with the private sector Africorp International, the ATTA Foundation and the National Forest Cooperation (Blue Nile State) to carry out a Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) analysis of the Karaya gum supply and markets in Sudan, focusing on the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. While this may sound like a long and wordy piece of jargon, the idea behind it is fairly simple. If you can identify market weaknesses, openings that have not been taken advantage of, and improvements that can be made, you can train Karaya Gum farmers to increase their opportunities, and let the private sector incentives finish the job. In the case of Sudanese Karaya gum, it is not a lack of trees or those willing to exploit them that is the barrier to development, but inefficient harvesting practices and market links that reduce both supply and quality and limit the ability of farmers to profit from the international Karaya markets.
The PMSD identified several gaps and flaws in the market, along with improvements that could be made to harvesting techniques.
Firstly, it found that awareness of the potential of Karaya Gum as a cash crop was very low when compared to other gums such as Gum Arabic. Karaya Gum is very similar to Gum Arabic but has a slightly higher viscosity, meaning that it is worth more. Unfortunately, the lower price of Gum Arabic means that it is more popular on the international market and thus it’s more viscous but less easy to harvest cousin is relatively unknown in Sudan. Given the high value of Karaya Gum and the number of trees present in Sudan, there is no doubt that increasing awareness of its value will lead to increased investment.
Lack of awareness, however, was not the only barrier. According to Ahmed Mohammed Ibrahim -the head of the Alrudwan Association for producers of Gum Arabic- “The principle obstacle is the lack of financing”. The situation is not without remedy though. In 2012 Africorp International in partnership with the local NGO The ATTA Foundation financed a program targeting Karaya producers in South Kordofan. With the aim of making Sudanese based producing communities players in the international market, the program supported and expanded links between markets, farmers and communities, creating a viable demand driven Sudanese Karaya Gum business.
The training workshops on marketing based on the results of the PMSD have also been remarkably successful. Shaker Gandeel Ahmed, the head of the Gum Arabic Producer Union in Blue Nile State said that there had been “A real increase in production of Karaya Gum in Blue Nile State”. This in itself would have been a success, but according to Shaker, stakeholders have started to “make plans after training to train other local gum producers”. This is an excellent result, as it shows Practical Action’s work is being propagated by the farmers themselves, who have recognised the benefits and want to spread them to others independently of external help. This is a true example of long term development of the kind advocated in Practical Action’s Change Agenda.
But the benefits don’t stop there. In order to increase production, training was given on how to extract the most gum from trees without causing permanent damage. Not only has this increased production and quality of the product, but it also ensures that trees are not killed unnecessarily in the tapping process. As Ali Alnour Nimer from the Association for producers of Gum Arabic put it “We are happy […] because Karaya Gum production will reduce deforestation”. So expanding production not only provides economic development, but also promotes sustainable farming practices, meaning that Karaya Gum production should provide a consistent income for future generations to come.
Sustainable forests are not the only environmental benefits of Karaya Gum production. The trees the gum is extracted from – sterculia urens – also happens to be very beneficial to bees, which can help pollinate the trees and any nearby agricultural crops. This means we now have an environment that provides the local economy not only with gum, but also wax and honey that can either be used locally, or sold as a cash crop. The perfect example of agroecology in action.
It may be surprising that something as simple as PMSD, a look-before-you-leap in terms of making an investment, can have such wide ranging effects. But, no matter how large your budget, if it is not spent in the right places alongside educating and informing, then you might as well not have bothered.
When money is put towards the right areas, and when investment is used in conjunction with training and planning, then results can be achieved that benefit the economy, the people, and the environment. The development of Karaya Gum production is a case in point. Increased production of a cash crop benefits the local economy greatly. The education, training and skills are passed on by farmers independently, spreading the knowledge further than the original program. The environment is used in a more sustainable manner and preserved for longer.No Comments » | Add your comment