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  • The impact of technology on street food vendors – part 2

    S M Alauddin

    July 22nd, 2015

    This is a continuation of ‘The impact of technology on street food vendors‘.  Part two covers technology disruption and investment considerations in the street food sector.

    In part one we learnt about technologies used in the sector, technology changes and emerging technologies along with their impact on work opportunities for the informal workers engaged in selling street food.

    Technological disruptions

    street food vendorsTechnologies used for transportation in the street food vending sector are mostly, wooden and steel vans. These are manually operated, very heavy and hard work to pull or push. They also have maintenance problems and health hazards. Both juice and fuchka sellers said that their fruit squeezers are easily damaged. Modification of these technologies have reduced their sufferings gradually, though many vendors lack the financial capacity to modify their vehicles.

    Street food vending is mostly unapproved by the government. Vendors face many social problems like harassment by the police and local politicians. Street food vendors are mostly poor informal labourers and because their business is at the side of the street, it often creates problems for passers by as well as environmental pollution. There is no institution- government or private to look after or monitor the street food vendors. Thus, they frequently have to pay illegal tolls to the police and local politicians. The glasses they use often get broken and have to be replaced. The van can also be damaged and need to be maintained. Pulling a loaded van from home in the morning is very difficult.

    Addressing technological disruptions:

    Modification of existing technologies and the adoption of new emerging technologies are taking place, though these depend on financial capacity. It is very important to adapt to changing trends in technologies used to sell the food. Further, there has been a tremendous shift in trends in food items because of the change of food habit of the city people. So, addressing the technological disruptions is important and also modification of the existing technologies or adoption of new emerging technologies is also very important to sustain in the sector, increase their business and cope with the changing trends of technologies, food items and habits of the city people.

    Investment considerations 

    The selection of technology depended on cost and affordability, seeing how others used it and the technological skills to operate the technology. Similarly, regard to investing in new technologies, the street food vendors considered a number of issues such as safety, cost and affordability and ‘technological knowhow.’  Further, most street food vendors emphasized that they would modify their existing tools and technologies instead of purchasing new ones, since cost always mattered to the street food vendors as most of them are poor.

    Other factors also influenced change of technology in street food vending. Participants shared that when they observed others using a new technology, they themselves become interested in acquiring new and better technology; those in a family business were sometimes told by family members  about new technologies; sometimes customers suggested improvements in food safety, ingredients and tools.

    Their sources of information about technology were mostly other workers and friends and seeing others to use the technology. None of them reported any government or private institutions as sources of information of those technologies.

    The impact of technology

    Technology changes have brought multiple benefits to the labourers by reducing hard physical labor, health and environmental hazards, trust and  confidence of citizens and increasing work opportunities, income and comfort in work as mentioned in my previous blog.

    The way forward

    There remains huge scope for work with technologies for the informal labourers involved in street food vending in Dhaka City.  There is scope for developing entrepreneurship and increasing work opportunities by supporting them with appropriate in the sector. Such support would help informal labourers to increase their income and reduce health and environmental hazards.

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  • The impact of technology on street food vendors

    S M Alauddin

    July 21st, 2015

    Thousands of informal labourers are involved in various types of street food vending in Dhaka, one of the most populous city of the world and the capital of Bangladesh, home to 15 million people. Hundreds of people migrate to Dhaka each year in search of work, driven by the opportunity of work as well as disasters and poverty that force them to migrate. Most of these people find shelter in  slums and start working in areas such as street food vending, rickshaw pulling or construction. Practical Action in partnership with WIEGO conducted a study entitled “Technology and the Future of Work” in five cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America in the energy, transport, urban waste and ICT sectors, where a large number of poor people are involved in informal labour.

    street food1The study was conducted from the perspective of Technology Justice and looked at the use of technologies, technology disruptions, emerging technologies in these sectors and the impact on work and income opportunity, as well as how this may influence work opportunities for street food vendors in the future. Practical Action, Bangladesh carried out the study in Dhaka from April to June 2015 covering domestic waste transportation (from home to local dump station) and the street food vending sector, especially considering energy issues. Participants from two sectors – juice sellers and fuchka sellers attended the focus group discussions. They also shared experiences of other categories of street food vending such as singara/somocha, chop, pianjo, beguni; sweets; sarbat; cakes; popcorn; halim; etc. This article is based on the preliminary findings of that study.

    Technological changes

    Earlier, the earthenware stove was the dominant cooking method for street food vendors followed by the kerosene stove, modified kerosene stove, IPS battery and more recently, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) all of which are being used to make street food. The changes are shown sequentially below:

    kerosene

    Changes have also occurred in the transportation used for street food vending. For example, the basket and push cart was dominant about twenty years ago, later the four wheel wooden cart was introduced and this was followed by the three wheel van, modified van and recently the truck/pick up van, as shown below:

    food vending transportation

    The truck or pick up van is used by the more well off and companies such as Sajna, Yan Tun, etc. which the poor informal street food vendors usually cannot afford.

    There were changes with regard to use of other equipment associated with street food vending, as shown in the following chart:

    saucepan

    Emerging technologies

    street food vendorThe charts above already include some emerging technologies – the IPS battery and LPG are the emerging technology in the street food sector from an energy perspective. And the modified van and truck/pick up van are the major emerging technologies for transportation. Changes in equipment include the bigger saucepan, larger modified stoves, water filters; blenders and digital measuring scales.

    In specific case of juice and sarbat selling, vendors are currently using water filters and blenders powered by a battery, a fruit squeezer, a van with a compartment in the bottom, and sometimes a glass chamber on the upper part of the van. Fifteen to twenty years ago they carried a bucket on their heads to sell the juice and later, began to use a van. Now, some juice vendors have a van with a fibre glass chamber, since it is light and easy to push.

    New technologies bring new opportunities

    For example a blender allows the vendor to make new kinds of juice. One with only a lemon squeezer can only sell lemon juice. A water filter is important for cool and safe drinking water and attracts customers. A glass chamber allows storage of different kinds of juice.

    Fuchka vendors use kerosene stoves, battery powered lights, a modified enlarged van with fibre glass surrounding. Fifteen years ago they used a four-wheel, wooden pulling cart for their business. Later, they started using a three wheeled larger, steel van. Recently, they are trying to make their vans attractive through installing fiberglass. Fuchka vendors considered that a larger van would help them to manage larger stove, produce and sell more food. They used to use small, ready made stoves, but now use larger, modified stoves. Before, the flame for the stove would top out, but now the flame is more reliable. However, the adoption of new technologies or modification of their existing technologies always depends on financial capacity. These technological changes have been adopted in other categories of street food like fried food as well

    street foodParticipants also shared information about other street food vending, like snack shops or popcorn sellers, who also previously used the four-wheel cart. Then, they also used the three-wheeled metal van. Now, snack sellers are using modern food carts with colorful designs. Popcorn sellers use gas to make the food and battery lights and vans with airtight glass, and the popcorn machine. In this connection, participants shared example of Yan Tun Company that used an automated van with a motor, which can both keep food hot and frozen. But, for the fuchka and juice vending, this van is not applicable; rather, it is very useful and applicable for fast food such as burgers. The example of a burger shop was also shared that used a modified van with a motorcycle engine. The selling of fast food items on the street is a recent phenomenon in Dhaka (initiated around 5-7 years ago), which was and still is a business in sophisticated shops. But, improved technologies have made it possible to bring on the street, where many people could be involved if they could afford the technology. There remains a huge demand for such fast food at a cheap price in this highly populous city.

    Technology changes have brought multiple benefits to the informal sector with regard to reducing hard physical labor, health and environmental hazards, building the trust and confidence of citizens about quality and hygiene issues of food, increasing work opportunities, expanding business and earning good income and improving working conditions.  However, the sector lacks attention from government, NGOs or the private sector. There is no institution to provide information, technical or financial support to street food vendors. There remains huge scope for working with these thousands of street food vendors. Unless, they manage the technology changes and emerging technologies in the sector, they might lose their opportunity for work.

    Note: The technological disruptions, technology choices and consideration for future investment in technologies in street food vending will be covered in the part two.

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  • Climate Smart Agriculture: why avoiding ambiguity is vital to success

    Jack Spoor

    June 25th, 2015

    Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is a phrase that has been gaining increasing prominence in both the sphere of international development and in mainstream media. But despite some powerful backers, CSA has not been without criticism. There are growing calls for clear guidelines in order to distinguish between what is ‘climate-smart’ and what is just business as usual under a different name.

     

    Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes

    Adapting and building resilience to climate change

    Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible”

    (FAO, 2015)

    These are what the FAO considers the three main pillars of CSA. If you were to ask most development practitioners what they thought of such goals, you would probably get a variation of same answer: “wonderful, but how do we achieve this?”. This is the question asked by Practical Action’s second Technology Justice briefing paper: “Climate Smart Agriculture and smallholder farmers: the critical role of Technology Justice in effective adaptation”.

    More specifically, how do we ensure that CSA is actually achieving its aims?

    This question is an important one because it is underpins many objections to CSA. In October 2014, the Guardian published an article that criticised the involvement of certain large multinationals in the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. It warned against “false solutions under vague “climate-smart” rhetoric”, and noted that the “looseness of the term” opened up the CSA label to exploitation. This article echoed the September 2014 paper by the same author from Actionaid International: Clever name, Losing game?, which was also highly critical of the ambiguity of CSA.

     

    farmer adaptation climate change

    Agricultural farmers in Jequetepeque, Peru

     

    These criticisms are legitimate and expose serious flaws in a large-scale international initiative. As such, it is imperative that these flaws are addressed as soon as possible. Without clear definitions, CSA is vulnerable to being reduced to a buzzword, to be used to boost green credentials without making vitally important changes to food production systems.

    The risks are twofold: firstly, if CSA initiatives are seen as risky, participation and commitment will wane. Secondly, if the claims of Actionaid International, La Via Campesina and other critics become reality, then massive damage could be done to both the environment and the reputation of future projects.

    Practical Action’s policy brief sets out how the three pillars of Technology Justice – access, innovation, and sustainable use – can be used as a lens for analysing whether CSA initiatives are really ‘climate-smart’. It explores whether these initiatives support smallholders, or simply ‘greenwash’ business as usual.

    For CSA initiatives to achieve equitable and sustainable agricultural development, initiatives must, at a minimum:

    • Improve and support access to agricultural production for marginalized smallholder farmers in a way that minimizes risk
    • Promote user-centred innovation that improves the adaptive capacity of smallholder agricultural systems
    • Facilitate sustainable use of the natural resource base to ensure the viability of continued production and adaptation

    The paper shows how practices that could currently be labelled CSA would be excluded if Technology Justice criteria were applied. For example, the use of inorganic fertilizer for quick returns on investment is cited as something which can be both harmful to the environment and fall under the banner of CSA. However, if Technology Justice criteria are applied, inorganic fertilizer can no longer be classed as climate-smart, as it supports neither accessibility nor sustainability. These principles can be used to assess all agricultural and CSA practices to ensure their long term impact is sustainable and positive for smallholder farmers.

     

    adaptation climate change farmer agriculture

    Woman farmer showing successful salt-tolerant rice crop, Bangladesh

     

    The criticisms of CSA in its current form have been effective in highlighting the risk of its exploitation and misuse. However, it is possible to distinguish between the concept’s flaws and its potential. CSA is here to stay; as such, it is vitally important that it is as effective and equitable as possible. Working towards Technology Justice in agricultural adaptation is truly climate-smart.

    Practical Action’s Technology Justice Policy Briefing Series can be found here.

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  • Will agroecology, smallholder farmers and technology justice be adequately considered in Bonn?

    Colin McQuistan

    June 5th, 2015

    Climate Change is a recognised threat to global agriculture and places in jeopardy the wellbeing of the poorest people whose fragile livelihoods are primarily dependent on agricultural production. Millions of farmers own less than one hectare of land, live on less than $1 a day and struggle to produce enough to feed their families, these are the people on the frontline when famine strikes. The fragility of their livelihoods will increase if serious climate action isn’t taken.

    farmer

    Pramila Bote age 28 making organic pesticide

    At the Bonn climate change talks the UNFCCC secretariat must be congratulated for dedicating time to discuss the climate change threat to global agriculture. The secretariat organised a series of workshops at which parties were asked to present on a number of critical agricultural issues, this blog reports on the first of these workshops, which explored forecasting and early warning systems highlighting progress and outstanding challenges.

    Overall the workshop reflected the current state of play, with developed countries presenting fairly coherent approaches that linked meteorological services, with extension advisors, policymakers and most importantly farmers and others whose livelihoods are dependent on primary production.  Unfortunately the developing countries struggled to report on more than a few isolated pilot projects[1].

    The workshop clearly recognised the immense benefits that forecasting and early warning systems can deliver, unfortunately very few farmers in the developing world are receiving these benefits and their productivity is therefore compromised. These countries recognised a number of almost universally barriers to these systems, which included issues of compatibility of existing software and hardware designed for a developed country context and the need for technology transfer and supportive financing.  They recognised their huge limitations in technical capacity, especially human capacities to install, maintain and manage these systems. They also highlighted the need for systems that deliver useful and meaningful information for local farmers. This will require an interface that can support local languages and indigenous knowledge, linking science to local systems and making forecast and early warning information usable for local people.

    Interestingly at the same time on the other side of the world the ICT for Agriculture community (#ICTforAg and #ICT4Ag) were discussing the role of technology.  It was reported that agricultural yields can be boosted by access to up to date information, about markets price, short term weather information and longer term seasonal forecasts, with a 11% increase reported for text messaging[2], however when this information was provided as recorded messages the productivity benefits jumped to 26%[3].  This clearly demonstrates the need not only for information but for information in a form that can be acted upon.

    So let’s hope the Paris Climate agreement to be signed at COP21 recognises the potential of forecasting and early warning systems and puts in place effective mechanisms for technology transfer, not just handing out bespoke systems, but also how to work with developing country partners to develop appropriate systems that meet local needs. Technology transfer will also require financing, it’s not fair to only hand out technology, it is vital to support countries to develop and adapt systems which meet their particular needs.  In the spirit of technology justice, sharing knowledge and finance will empower developing countries to design systems that build on their existing skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions that reduce the fragility of the poorest and most vulnerable, those on the frontline when natural hazards strike.

    [1]http://unfccc.int/land_use_and_climate_change/agriculture/workshop/8935.php

    [2] https://twitter.com/wayan_vota/status/606105520966148096

    [3] https://twitter.com/wayan_vota/status/606105990652674048

    The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn this week.

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  • Now is the time to stand against food adulteration

    mehrab

    May 15th, 2015

    They say, “You are what you eat.” For me, it means, the food I eat shapes my health and behaviour.

    Let me describe it briefly. Food gives you energy through providing vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. All these ingredients keep you physically fit or unfit. When you feel physically fit, you are okay with your everyday life – work, sleep, etc. But what happens when your stomach is upset? You get physically ill, that leads you to be mentally disturbed. Your mental disturbance reflects on your behaviour – you get irritated, lose patience, and in the end, you lose your ability to work. Often for a shorter time, sometimes for longer, and could be for a lifetime.
    _MG_7218Let’s take a look on what we the Bangladeshi people eat normally: rice, dahl, vegetables, fish, meat, fruit, etc. I could make this list longer, but for the average Bengalis, these items are common. Although, as far as fruit is concerned, we are not that big “fruit eaters.”

    Fruit comes on to our plate, mostly seasonally. Other than banana, coconut, papaya, guava, and some insignificant fruits, most of our fruits are seasonal. However, you can find imported fruits round the year.

    Bangladeshi fruit-months are approaching. The Bengali month “Jyeshtha” (second month of Bengali year; and mid of May) regarded as the “Madhu Mash,” means the month of honey. Honey, because of the sweet fruits, we are going to eat this month and the following one-two months.

    Every market along with supper shops and roadside makeshift shops will be flooded with many different fruits: mango, jackfruit, blackberry, litchi, pineapple, plum-seed, variety of melons, and many other fruits. The month is also a festive month in the rural Bangladesh. Grooms are often invited to visit their in-law’s houses. Friends send fruits as a gift. Even sometimes, fruits like special quality mango (from Rajshahi; north-western division) and lychee (from Dinajpur; also northern district) are given as a bribe instead of money.

    But what do we eat with our fruit?

    formalin-kitThis is a really big question for the last couple of years. For most of the roadside shops, fruits are adulterated. They apply carbide for early ripening and formalin for longer shelf life. 

    When I say “they,” it’s not necessarily the shop keepers or fruit sellers. Sometimes, at source, during harvesting, carbides and formalin are applied. It’s an open secret for us, but no significant steps are taken to stop this. I must say, adulteration does not go only with fruits, but with many kinds of foods.

    Do the Bangladeshi people aware of this not eat fruit?

    Funny question indeed. But the fact is: we pay more, sometimes double than the normal market price, to buy fresh fruit/food. There are some shops, especially in the big cities, that sell unadulterated fruit and food.

    Should this be the solution?

    I must say “no.” it’s a human right for everybody to eat safe food at a reasonable price. To be healthy, both physically and mentally is needed by all.

    As a Practical Action staff member, I feel that we should do something about this. With our Food, Agriculture and Markets programme, in Bangladesh, we could innovate an affordable technological device that would help people to test their food/fruit to see whether it is adulterated or not. I know that there is a formalin testing machine out there somewhere. We need to take initiatives to make this machine available for the commoners. We also could take part in the campaign against food adulteration to raise awareness. If necessary we should have a fresh study on it, and start policy influencing work as soon as possible.

    In the beginning, I was saying that the food you eat shapes your behaviour, but if the food, you eat kills you, you are beyond behaviour. Should we wait until then?

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  • Climate Smart Agriculture: making adaptation work for smallholder farmers

    Jodi Sugden

    April 27th, 2015

     

    The 9th Community Based Adaptation Conference  (CBA9) will take place in Kenya from the 24th to the 30th April. Practical Action is a co-sponsor of this event, and is sending speakers from Nepal, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the UK and Sudan. On Tuesday 28th April, Chris Henderson will be participating in a session on ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’.

     

    Agriculture is fundamental to climate change adaptation in developing countries:

    • 50% of the population is employed in the agricultural sector – in the Least Developed Countries, it is 72%
    • Agriculture is dependent on biodiversity and other natural resources, and is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events
    • One billion people continue to suffer from food insecurity – this is expected to rise by 15-40% by 2050 as a result of climate change
    • In developing countries, women are usually responsible for collecting fuel and water, and are often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods – they will bear the greatest burdens of climate change, and have the potential to contribute to adaptation

     

    Technology choice is key in agricultural systems, and is never neutral. Which technologies are utilized in particular contexts will have social, economic and ecological impacts.

    ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is a broad term with relevance to all actors in the agricultural sector, from large-scale commercial farmers in the US to market vendors in Bangladesh. As such, it is being used to define diverse agricultural technologies and approaches, some of which are unsustainable and do not contribute to long-term food security or adaptive capacity.

    If Climate Smart Agriculture is to be useful for smallholder farmers in developing countries, it must embody the principles of Technology Justice:

     

    • It must be inclusive

    Existing production and market systems should be modified to be facilitate equitable access for smallholders to the technologies they need to reduce vulnerability and risk, capitalise on opportunities, and improve their livelihoods, resilience and well-being.

    Agro-ecology is a powerful tool for the inclusion of resource poor or otherwise marginalized farmer groups. It is knowledge-intensive rather than capital-intensive, minimizing financial outlay and the risks associated with taking loans to cover costs. By making production less expensive, agroecological approaches increase access to market systems for smallholder farmers, and in particular, women.

     

    Treadle pump agriculture technology women farmers

    Farmers in Nepal use a treadle pump to water their crops. Credit: Peter Crawford

     

    • It must support pro-poor innovation

    Agricultural innovation in response to climate change must move beyond vulnerability reduction; policies and interventions must be designed to increase the dynamic ability of communities to respond to unpredictable climate change.

    Key to appropriate innovation is user-centred design; the most effective technologies are developed in conjunction with those who will use them. Both women and men must be fully involved in the design and management of technologies and the institutions that affect their use. Knowledge and capacity-building for adaptation to climate change should integrate both scientific knowledge and the experiential, context-specific knowledge of end users.

    Investment in pro-poor innovation should focus on identifying alignment between private sector interests and development objectives for mutually beneficial relationships.

     

    • It must be sustainable

    High external input, fossil fuel-based monoculture production systems are unsustainable. Agro-ecological systems generate less greenhouse gas emissions, and the diversification of crops increases the resilience of smallholder farmers to extreme weather events and climate change.

     

    Biodiversity agriculture resilience adaptation

    Indigenous farmers in Bolivia display just a few of the 256 varieties of potato that can survive the harsh growing conditions of the high Andes. Credit: Ana Castañeda

     

    In many cases, agro-ecological production systems produce greater yields than high external input systems, particularly in unfavourable environments (e.g. here, here  and here). However, agroecology is fundamentally about optimizing production for the maximum sustainable yield. The natural resource base should nto be an after thought once the maximum yield has been attained; it is fundamental to continued food production.

     

    For further information on Practical Action’s participation at CBA9, see here

     

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  • The 9th Community-Based Adaptation Conference: ensuring adaptation works for smallholder farmers

    Jodi Sugden

    April 17th, 2015

    The 9th Community-Based Adaptation conference (CBA9) will take place in Nairobi, Kenya from 24-30 April, 2015. Organized by the International Institute of Environment and Development, and co-sponsored by Practical Action, the conference will bring together development practitioners to discuss current challenges and opportunities facing community-based adaptation to climate change.

    The challenge of climate change adaptation

    Climate change will exacerbate the global challenges we face: delivery of basic services, providing enough food for a growing and urbanizing population, and responding to increasing natural disasters. The impacts of climate change will be difficult to predict; however, it is clear they will be unequally distributed. The poor and the marginalized, particularly women and girls, will bear the greatest burdens.

    Women smallholder farmers community-based adaptation

    Women and girls are often more dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and will bear the greatest burdens from climate change. Credit: Samuel Rendon/ Manuel Seoane

    It is vital that adaptation funding is targeted to benefit those who will find it hardest to respond. Adaptation must move beyond vulnerability reduction to building long-term adaptive capacity, empowering communities to make livelihood decisions in the face of unpredictable climate change.

    To take adaptation to scale, we must re-vision the role of the private sector. Development practitioners must facilitate equitable market access for those living in poverty, and inclusive, pro-poor technological innovation that benefits both smallholders and private investors.

    Technology choices affect communities’ adaptive capacity

    Technology choices made by farmers, planners, policy makers, research and the private sector to enable or promote agricultural adaptation to climate change are not neutral. Choices between different technologies and systems of governing these technologies have consequences for access (inclusivity), sustainable use (choices available for future generations), and resilience.

    As a sector, agriculture is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and climatic change, and in developing countries it employs over 50% of the population. Therefore, agricultural technology choices will have a huge impact on food security and economic development. If agricultural adaptation is to be beneficial for smallholder farmers in developing countries, technology choices must improve adaptive capacity and maintain the natural resource base upon which livelihoods depend.

    Key messages for CBA9

    • All actors – government, civil society, private sector – must recognise that technology choices are not neutral and have consequences for adaptive capacity, inclusivity, and sustainability
    • Communities must be re-engaged in analysis, planning and innovation in response to climate change
    • If community-based adaptation is to be effective, it must utilise both indigenous knowledge and experience and climate information and forecasts, with acknowledgement of what we do not know about the future
    • The gendered impacts of climate change and the additional burdens it will place on women and girls must be placed centre stage
    • We need to re-vision private sector involvement in community-based adaptation to take it to scale – this will require access to markets for products and inputs, and mutually beneficial relationships
    Market Bangladesh private sector community-based adaptation

    Taking community-based adaptation to scale will require access to markets for products and services. Credit: Mehrab ul Goni

    Practical Action at CBA9

    Practical Action will be sending representatives from Bangladesh, Nepal, Peru, the UK, Sudan and Zimbabwe to CBA9, who will present  a selection of Practical Action’s community-based adaptation projects from around the world (posters here, under ‘Key Publications‘). They will also facilitate several interactive learning sessions on a range of key issues, including the use of climatic information, the role of the private sector, and Climate Smart Agriculture.

    Find Practical Action at CBA9 here, and remember to follow us on Twitter! #cba9 @Jodi_Sugden @Chris_P_Hen @ColinMcQuistan

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  • So what exactly is Technology Justice?

    Rebecca Morgan

    April 10th, 2015

    If you work in the development sector, the term may be familiar and you may well know the answer. But as an outsider, joining the Practical Action team in Kathmandu for three weeks in January, I had no idea.

    Tuin river crossing nepalHere’s the first thing I found: It does not mean giving everyone an iPhone. Joking aside, it is something more conceptual, best explained through examples:

    Practical Action uses simple technologies to help improve the lives of poor people. For villagers in remote parts of the Himalayas, something as simple as a rope and pulley system to a neighbouring village across the valley, can mean the difference between isolation and access to market.

    For the inhabitants of the Karnali basin, a flood early warning system further upstream warns them when the water level starts to rise. This means the difference between watching their belongings, their hut, their livestock and possibly their family members wash away and getting to higher ground, out of harm’s way in time.

    waste pickers kathmanduFor Sarab Maharjan, in Kritipur, in the suburbs of Kathmandu, a composting machine means that the organic waste he collects from 580 local households can be treated and resold as fertilizer. This machine means the difference between being marginalised and being a recognised, respected member in the community. Sarab is just one of the 4,000 waste workers that Practical Action worked with in Kathmandu.

    Worldwide, 1.3 billion people do not have access to water and 1.2 billion have no access to electricity yet the bulk of global investment in technology research and development continues to cater to the advancement of the world’s wealthiest. Practical Action is trying to close that gap and bring justice in technology to those people whose lives depend on it. That is what Technology Justice  is about.

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  • Turning cow poo into electricity

    Sanjib Chaudhary

    April 6th, 2015

    It was drizzling when we drove to the biogas electrification project site. Going through the maze of roads, it took us 45 minutes from Narayanghat, the main market in the Chitwan district, to reach there.

    Chitwan, in the southern plains in Nepal, is home not only to the magnificent royal Bengal tigers and one-horned rhinoceroses but also a happening trade hub. Regarded as the country’s poultry capital, with the establishment of Nepal’s largest milk industry, Chitwan is seeing a wave of innovation in agriculture sector.

    Adding to the list of innovations is the biogas electrification project being run at the Livestock Development Resource Centre of the Annapurna Dairy Producers’ Cooperative (ADPC). The project, supported by Practical Action, boasts of being the first in Nepal to generate electricity for commercial use from biogas.

    A small scale study on bio-electrification through agricultural and livestock waste was carried out by students of Kathmandu University earlier, producing electricity to light 9 LED lights, each of 5 W.

    When I reached the site, Bodh Raj Pathak, the vice-president of the cooperative, drenched in the rain, was waiting for me to show the centre.

    The first thing he did was to switch on the system. He then one by one switched on the bulbs and fans. For a technology loving person like me, it was a real pleasure – all were working as if they were running from regular electricity.

    The gas generated from the dung of 85 cows is enough to generate electricity that can run a generator of 5kW load continuously for 8-9 hours, according to Pathak. Few months ago the centre had more than 100 cows. Some of the cows were sold to the community people on demand.

    The cows at the Dairy produce a trailer of cow dung daily that goes into the digester for biogas generation. There are two inlets and two outlets.

    “Currently, only one inlet is being used and it works for 8-9 hours,” said Pathak. “If both the inlets operate, it will produce electricity for 16 hours.”

    The process is simple – the dung, urine and water are mixed into a concoction. The mixture is then fed through the inlet to the chamber. The gas generated is passed through a filter to get rid of the precipitates and then to the generator that produces electricity.

    Right now the Dairy is using the electricity for light bulbs, fans, water pump and a chaff cutter. The gas is also being used to cook food for six staff at the Dairy.

    The Dairy has plans to utilise the biogas for pasteurisation of milk. Right now it is saving Rs. 30,000 – 35,000 rupees per month in fuelwood. After the full utilisation, the Dairy will save around Rs 100,000 (USD 1000) per month.

    However, the slurry, a precious fertiliser has not been well managed. It was left to dry in the open. Pathak told me that they have plans to dry the slurry and package it as organic fertiliser.

    Looking at the outputs of the pilot project, the prospects are promising in spite of the dismal data of electricity contributing to the total energy consumption and use of biogas in Nepal.

    According to the Water Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) Energy Sector Report 2010, electricity contributes only 2% to the total energy consumption by fuel types in Nepal. As per Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, the government apex body for the development and promotion of renewable energy, there are more than 300,000 biogas plants in Nepal.

    In Nepal, cooking and lighting are the main purposes biogas has been mainly used for, amounting to 80% and 20% respectively. The successful biogas electrification in Chitwan has opened doors for using biogas to produce electricity and scaling up the technology at the cooperatives throughout Nepal.

    While 1.3 billion people are still living in darkness with no access to electricity and 2.7 billion still cook over open fires, replication of innovations like biogas electrification will help us move from a state of technology injustice, to find a way to remove the barriers that now prevent poor people from using the technologies they need for the most basic of services.

    With technical details from Ganesh R Sinkemana

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  • Establishment of agro-vet opens new doors

    Sujan Piya

    April 1st, 2015

    Bhakta Bahadhur Saud, a resident of Kuldevmandu VDC of Bajura District, earned his living by selling agricultural inputs to local farmers which he bought from the agro-vets of other districts. He was carrying out this work in a very basic way but changed his working modality after participating in a training workshop. He was one of the participants of the market mapping workshop organised by Rural Access Programme (RAP) – 3 in the Bajura District. During the workshop, he was identified as a potential market player who could do input business formally and provide services to many farmers in the community.

    Rural Access Programme (RAP) – 3 is a four years project being implemented by Practical Action through IMC Worldwide with the financial support from DFID in 22 Village Development Committees (VDCs) Doti, Achham, Bajura and Humla Districts.

    Bhakta Bahadhur Saud

    In all these districts, market system analysis was carried out through participatory market mapping (PMM). In the working VDCs of Bajura District, it was found that, there were no agro-vets accessible to the local community. Farmers had to purchase inputs either from adjoining districts or from the regional market at Dhangadhi which was arduous requiring a long day travel. Thus, there existed limited opportunity for farmers to go beyond the subsistence farming.

    Further analysis indicated that small and fragmented markets in rural areas with higher transaction costs for carrying out business is a root cause of the poor functioning of input markets in rural areas.

    RAP project initiated a deal to motivate Bhakta Bahadhur Saud to establish himself as an agro-vet. He participated in entrepreneurship training and pesticide training which is a pre-requisite for getting license to sell pesticides. He also developed a business plan after being a part of the training. As the initial market size was small enough to discourage any potential entrepreneurs to start a business, the project facilitated him to engage in multiple businesses like poultry hatchery and vegetable collection along with his agro-vet business to generate enough income. A linkage between with regional level agro-vet and input suppliers was also developed.

    Bhakta Bahadur established himself as an agro-vet at Bamka Bazar of Kuldevmandu VDC of Bajura, which is now functioning as a major agro-vet service in the district. This agro-vet is currently serving about 6,500 households of seven VDCs of the district. Daily sales exceed NPR 4,000 on an average. Veterinary service is another major service provided by the agro-vet as Bhakta Bahadur is also a trained Vet JTA.

    On top of all these, Bhakta Bahadur has currently initiated poultry business to sell live chicks not only in the corridor VDCs but also beyond them. After diversifying his business, he has started making transactions of NPR 8,000 (£27) per day. He is planning to integrate collection and marketing of vegetables and other agriculture produce in near future.

    As a result of the establishment of agro-vet and barefoot services, local communities now have easy, affordable and timely access to input services and micro-irrigation equipment. There are number of farmers who have up-scaled their farming from subsistence to commercial in a short time. The services provided by Bhakta Bahadur not only help him to increase his own income but also help other farmers to gain access to necessary services.

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