Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • Women are key to agriculture and food security in Sudan

    Siham Osman

    March 7th, 2016

    The face of agriculture around the globe is often female. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that “women produce between 60% and 80% of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production”. But, more often than not, women’s contributions to the agricultural sector go unrecognised.

    women laying irrigation pipes In Sudan, women have always been active in agriculture and food security, constituting 17% of the total agricultural labor. Women also bear almost the entire burden of household work including water and fuel wood collection and food processing and preparation (FAO, 1994). Women’s participation is significant in subsistence food production for household consumption. In Northern and Eastern states, women’s participation in agriculture is confined to their households, while in Western and Central states; women have always been active in agriculture within and outside household compounds. They contribute 80% to 90% of labour for household production and 70 percent of total labour for agricultural production.

    Yet, despite all their contributions and the role they play in the agricultural sector and household food security, they have restricted access to land ownership, agricultural inputs and credit; all of which are needed to be economically successful and can make it difficult for them to escape poverty or provide food for their families. In this regard, Practical Action for the last 15 years has been working with rural women in North Darfur, Kassala and the Blue Nile states addressing these issues through a series of projects focusing on economic and social development programs with the expectation of achieving the goals of empowering women with productive capacities and skills. Practical Action has identified two approaches as imperative for women empowerment, the first is social mobilization and collective agency; second is economic security. As long as the disadvantaged suffer from economic deprivation and livelihood insecurity, they will not be in a position to mobilise.

    Practical Action prioritise women-headed households in all its interventions, ensuring women have access to project benefits. The women’s farm is one of Practical Action’s initiatives to improve food security for the targeted families. This activity targeted the most vulnerable people; through increasing availability and quality of food for targeted groups and improves their access and utilization of nutritious food. On the other hand, it offers them a source of income. Moreover, they developed higher self-steam, became more visible in their communities and more mobile.

    In Kassala state, six women group farms have been established as agricultural associations, with involvement of Kassala Women Development Associations (KWDAN) for organizational building, and the Ministry of Agriculture-horticulture department for technical support in vegetable cultivation.   Practical Action facilitated implementation through strengthening linkages between the partners, women farmers and the Village Development Committees (VDCs). With support and guidance, the women farmers have gained the necessary skills in agriculture and successfully harvested vegetable crops (okra, cucumber, Jews mallow, purslane, rocket & carrots) which are used for home consumption as well as marketing the surplus to other villagers. Furthermore the women farmers are received training in cooking demonstrations to use the farm products for the first time in the villages facilitated by KWDAN.

    We are happy to have a piece of land where we are able to cultivate and gain experience in vegetable farming methods. We are proud to be a farmer to produce, eat and feed our families with nutritious food and thus ensuring better health,” said one woman farmer.

    Another woman from the  Group said: “I grow cucumber, okra, mulukhia (Jute leaves), and some fruits. The price of fresh okra in the market is 5 SDG and the dry one is 2 SDG. I use it for cooking twice a day, which means I save from 4 to 10 SDG each time during the harvesting period – from okra alone, besides the other vegetables grown in the farm”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Local innovation in agriculture in North Darfur

    Awadalla Hamid Mohamed

    February 22nd, 2016

    Over the past few years Ibrahim Hamid Mohamedain, a farmer from Magdoub A in North Darfur, has been selectively breeding his millet crop, the region’s foremost staple grain. Like farmers across the region, Ibrahim has struggled with increasingly low yields of millet year on year. Whereas twenty years ago one mukhamas (equivalent of 1.25 acres) used to produce 6-8 sacks of millet, it now rarely produces more than half a sack. The reasons for the falling fertility of the sandy soils on which the crop is grown are many, chief among them is widespread deforestation across the region.

     

     

    Ibrahim realised that one of the (albeit lesser) causes of this deforestation was the practice of local farmers cutting down trees on their farm land, and uprooting tree seedlings, as a preventative measure to reduce the number of birds, seen as one of the main pests of the millet crop.

    As an environmentally conscious farmer, he sought a biological and natural form of bird control. One day, his wife Aisha Adam observed that a few of the millet plants grown by her sister were covered in small hairs and were thus resistant to birds and grasshoppers. He took some of these seeds back to his farm, so beginning his three-year endeavor to selectively breed a bird-resistant millet variety which would also have high tolerance to drought (essential in an arid area increasingly prone to rain shortages) and a high yield.

    In this attempt, he drew on his experience accumulated as a Practical Action trained agricultural extension agent (from 2004). In 2005 he participated in an exchange visit to neighbouring North Kordofan state with the State Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Corporation, where he was taught how to select and propagate seeds. More recently, he participated in a refreshment training course in agricultural production techniques for village extension agents, organised as part of the Wadi El-Ku catchment management project for peace and livelihoods.

    IMG_1063

    Close-up of Abu Suf (hairy) millet

    In the 2014 agricultural season he tied a strip of cloth around the first millet stalk to flower, considering this as an early maturing variety and resistant to drought. He also observed that as it grew, the millet head was the biggest, a sign of high production. Most importantly, he also he observed that the same millet head was covered in long hairs which made it difficult for the birds to eat. He observed a second millet variety with a compacted seed head with large seeds that made it hard for locusts and bird to dislodge and eat.

    He selected these millet heads and stored them as seeds for the coming year. This second crop was harvested in October/November 2015 with stunning results. Despite being one of the worst rainy seasons in many years, he produced a surplus of millet beyond his annual household’s needs, the only farmer Magdoub A to do so in 2015. The crop was virtually untouched by birds.

    Scaling up use of new millet variety

    Ibrahim invited Practical Action to attend the harvest, with the aim of seeking support to scale-up the propagation of this new millet variety. Practical Action, accompanied by a team from the State Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC), visited the farm to assess the seeds and to discuss with Ibrahim how his millet variety could best be expanded to the benefit of other farmers in the state.

    This scale-up began with Ibrahim training 250 other farmers in Magdoub, and from neighbouring satellite villages, in identifying, selecting and breeding seeds. The next step in the scale-up plan is still being discussed but the provisional plan entails distributing the seeds to 50 farmers in the state who will then grown the seeds; keeping half the crop and passing the other half on to a further 50 farmers. Practical Action also hopes to use these seeds to encourage farmers to adopt agro-forestry. As they no longer need to fear birds damaging their crops, planting Acacia trees on their sandy soils after 4 or 5 years will significantly improve soil fertility. At this point they can also benefit from the trees as Arabic gum gardens supplying reliable source of additional income, through the sale of gum Arabic.

    IMG_1017

    Aisha Adam harvesting her Abu Suf millet

    While this variety of millet is not new to Sudan as a whole, with other pioneer farmers developing similar locally propagated improved seeds in several states, his efforts show how with limited training and outside support, farmers can find locally appropriate solutions to their livelihood challenges.

    This is in line with Practical Action’s vision of promoting local knowledge that contributes to improving the livelihoods of poor communities. By connecting farmers with governmental institutions such as MOA and ARC, we encourage sustainable development.

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  • Being Young

    Ananta Prasad

    February 17th, 2016

    At least, a smile means something;
    The satisfaction of being the reason of it,
    The happiness to see someone happy,
    The accomplishment of honest efforts,
    The realization of contributing for a cause
    All these matters, all this you count
    When you are young, Young at heart!

    It’s neither the space you work,
    Rather the environment of positivity,
    Which propels you
    Towards goodness and inspires.
    The spirit of an action hero
    To being the saviour
    Not in a dream but by action.
    This is what you fantasise
    This is what makes you Young
    Young at heart.

    1965-2015
    The philosophy of a Visionary
    Visions of Change and prosperity
    Traveled through countries
    Enabling lives better and happier
    Translating the words into action
    Action being real; being Practical.
    Creating comrades of development
    Young Minds and young thoughts,
    Because, we are Young at 50.

    Lights, life and Livelihood
    Water, toilet and self-respect
    Disaster, fights and self-sustain
    Agriculture and caring the climate
    Its power to you, energising lives
    In-hand with Tech-Justice
    Hopes multiplied and lives dignified.
    Aging is just a myth.
    We are 50, Young at heart.

    IMG_6262 (Cópia)

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  • Community-led 3D mapping of natural resources in North Darfur

    Awadalla Hamid Mohamed

    February 16th, 2016

    The primary goal of the Wadi el Ku Catchment Management Forum Project is to demonstrate how the promotion of inclusive natural resource management (NRM) systems and practices can help rebuild inter-community relations, enhance local livelihoods and contribute to peace in North Darfur.

    Locating natural resources on 3D map

    Practical Action and project partner the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have adopted a range of interventions targeting both local natural resource users and custodians, with the latter including technical support for government institutions responsible for natural resource management in North Darfur.

    Students prepare 3D map

    Activities to promote NRM at the local level include:

    • Community participatory action plan development for all 34 village clusters in the project area;
    • Training of local natural resource management extension agents to act as champions of natural resource management and pass on knowledge and techniques to their wider communities;
    • Building water-harvesting structures designed to meet the needs of diverse water users upstream and downstream. (see my other blogs for more information)

    UNEP and Practical Action decided to try a different approach to building consensus over natural resources in North Darfur through the creation of a three dimensional map with the participation of local communities and facilitated by a 3D mapping expert from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project targets a 50km stretch of Wadi (seasonal rain-fed river bed) El Ku. However, to produce a three dimensional map of sufficient detail and topographical scale, the mapping exercise concentrated on only 25km of the project area, with the intention of later producing a second map of the rest.

    This participatory process took a little over three weeks. Farmers, pastoralists, native administration, youth, and other community leaders from more than 10 villages took part in the map.  Students from two local secondary schools were also enlisted help in the labor-intensive process of creating the papier-mâché base map.

    3D mappingLively debates were held by community representatives as they discussed the location and types of different natural and man-made resources to be featured in the map, including  migratory routes, gullies, clay soils, sandy soils, mountains, water points (e.g. boreholes, shallow wells, and hafirs), water-harvesting structures, crop growing areas and forests. All the while, they were cutting out, glueing, and painting these resources onto the map.

    Throughout the mapping exercise, and as more and more layers and resources were added to the map, facilitators from UNEP and Practical Action asked communities what had surprised them about their resources in their area when looking not just at their own communities but the wider mapping area. Five observations were repeatedly heard.

    • The almost total extent of deforestation in the area, whereas only 10 years ago significant areas of natural and government forests had existed.
    • Many farmers came to realize that while pastoralists are mostly held responsible for crop damage that occurs when they seasonally migrate with their animals, it was evident that greater and greater areas of what used to be open land had been encroached by farmers seeking new cultivable land, making crop damage increasingly unavoidable.
    • The extensive formation of deep gullies across what used to be a relatively flat wadi bed had lead to greater water concentration and the consequent reduction in arable land.
    • The proliferation of unplanned earth embankments, designed to capture water as it flows down the wadi, played a critical role in the gully formation described above.
    • Over reliance on millet growing in sandy soils has had a highly negative impact on soil fertility.

    Through the process of creating this map, the community participants gradually reached consensus around the key natural resources in their areas. How far this consensus can be extended to their wider communities and government institutions is yet to be seen, but it is a good start and the map represents an effective physical tool for NRM planning and advocacy to that effect.

    The 3-dimensional map, which measures approximately 4.5 meters by 2.5 meters, is on display at the Women’s Development Association Network where it is easily accessible to visitors from communities, NGOs, government staff.

    Putting the finishing touches on 3D NRM map

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  • Sandbar cropping to eradicate extreme poverty in Bangladesh

    Haseeb Md Irfanullah

    February 2nd, 2016

    Every year in monsoon, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna and their hundreds of branches carry enormous amounts of water and silt and flood at least a quarter of Bangladesh. The scenario is very different in winter. As the water reduces in the main river channels, thousands of hectares of sandbars (sand-covered silty riverbeds) surface.

    Sandbar cropping is an innovation, tested and scaled up in northern Bangladesh by Practical Action over the last decade, making these uncultivable lands arable.

    A life changing nature-based innovation

    In this agro-technology, numerous pits a couple of feet deep are excavated on sandbars reaching down to the silt layer to sow pumpkin seeds. After a few weeks’ nurturing, green plants come out of these pits and spread over the sand. Over the next few months, flowers bloom, fertilized ones turn into green fruits, which ripen into orange pumpkins.

    pumpkins gaibandhaThis fascinating innovation transforms the silver sandbar first into a green then into an orange landscape.

    This visual metamorphosis of ‘sandscape’ has effectively been used through a series of initiatives over the past 10 years transforming the lives of 15,000  extreme poor families, who were without any land or productive assets, often lived on embankments, earned only a couple of dollars a day, and lacked most basic services.

    The fantastic positive impacts of sandbar cropping on the ultra-poor have been achieved by overcoming many social, environmental, technological and systems challenges.

    Sandbar access

    Existing laws of Bangladesh put sandbars, which are dried up riverbeds and temporary in nature, under the ownership of the government as unsettled land. But the ground scenario is different; most of the sandbars are claimed by local people.

    Although left unused, getting consent from the land claimants for sandbar cultivation by the landless people can be very difficult, especially when there are multiple claimants. After negotiating in presence of local governments, administrations and NGOs, a sandbar can be accessed by an extreme poor family for free or in exchange for cash or by sharing a part of the production.

    Access in exchange of harvest has a downside. Some extreme poor farmers hide their hard-earned pumpkins by harvesting them green. This causes crop damage during storage, leading to lower prices and reduced production.

    A fantastic production of pumpkin not only upholds the success of the sandbar cropping technique, but also increases the value of the sandbar. Seeing the production, some land claimants who initially gave free access began to demand a share in the middle of the season. In other cases, the land claimants increased the percentage of the share the following year. In severe cases, no access was given to the extreme poor as the owner decided to practice sandbar cropping himself. All these indicate a ‘success backlash’ to this nature-based venture.

    Access to land is further constrained by uncertain geomorphology of the rivers. In the upstream of a river, sandbars are temporary. Their extent and characteristics, like position in the river and depth of sand layer, vary significantly from one year to another. If a piece of land appears without a sand layer, it is leased out for cash crops, like tobacco, maize, potato, chilli, onion and garlic. Such uncertainties make long-term land-tenure arrangement for sandbar cropping impossible. Every year, new negotiations have to be opened up for access to new sandbar or to fix the percentage of share cropping.

    To minimize land access challenges, it is important that the local administration and local government formally facilitate the extreme poor’s ‘operational access’ to sandbars, since such a natural-resource-based, innovative cropping system can directly contribute to extreme poverty eradication − the core of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Environmental factors

    Another challenge of sandbar cropping is the dependency on seasons. The starting of sandbar cultivation depends upon the first exposure of sandbars in autumn (October−early November). Late availability of sandbar delays the whole cultivation process. It may lower pumpkin seed germination rate due to severe winter/cold wave. Sand storm may cover young plants causing stunted growth. Sudden rainfall in March can cause crack on mature fruits just before harvest due to lack of micronutrients, like boron, in the soil. Early flooding in late March−early April may also push for early harvest of crops before they mature properly. All these reduce the overall pumpkin production.

    Timely availability of seeds, compost, fertilizers, micronutrients and irrigation has therefore been a basic prerequisite of the success of sandbar cropping. Such need has been met by building farmers’ capacity, establishing effective market linkages, and making financial resources available.

    Human capacity and economic aspects

    Sowing of pumpkin seed in the sandbar pits usually takes place in mid November and the first harvest of green pumpkins occurs in the late February. It is difficult for extreme poor to cope with this three-month lean period as they need to give time to sandbar cropping in lieu of their regular work.

    Sandbar cropping is also labour intensive for a significantly long period. Ability of individual farmer is thus a major factor. It is very difficult to work (e.g. for irrigation, artificial cross-pollination, and pest control) in February−March under strong heat. Ripening fruits also need 24-hour guarding from theft. All these may cause loss of regular daily wages affecting household income. Further, women and adolescents of the family also need to get involved in sandbar cropping, particularly when the male family members migrate the area at the beginning (October−November) or end of the sandbar cropping season (March−April) to work in winter rice fields.

    Cultivating some quick-harvesting crops, like squash, on sandbars has been found to be very useful to cover the lean period by earning money within a couple of months. Further, linking the extreme poor families with other government initiatives, like social safety net programmes, could be useful to partially compensate income loss during sandbar cropping season.

    Managing and marketing the harvest

    pumpkin storagePumpkin, the major sandbar crop, has a long shelf-life. If ripe pumpkins can be stored for a few months, a good price can be expected in the monsoon season. As they mostly have small houses, however, extremely poor farmers cannot store their whole harvest.

    Practical Action helped to install simple, low-cost bamboo shelves within farmers’ houses which helps them store much of their produce for several months. Creating a community storage facility has also been considered, but the farmers have expressed unwillingness to keep their produce somewhere distant.

    Finally, given a huge pumpkin production in a small area, selling them with a reasonable understanding of the market system is a major challenge. The extreme poor have a limited understanding of market mechanisms as they work in the agriculture sector as day-labourers. When they produce crops, usually they produce for themselves, not in bulk for formal markets. Limited access to markets and market information, and over-saturation of pumpkin market may lead to low prices.

    Capacity development of farmers on market systems and value chains, organizing them into formal producers’ associations, facilitating their access to microfinance, and connecting them with big buyers and markets in the region and beyond have therefore been important aspects of sandbar cropping projects in Bangladesh.

    A stepping stone

    Sandbar cropping has effectively shown its potential and strengths to help the extreme poor. In the long journey of promoting this technology, development organizations and their partners have been crucial initiators, facilitators, advocates and catalysts. But the question remains, whether sandbar cultivation alone is robust enough to push ultra-poor families out of extreme poverty.

    Given the uncertainty around the availability of sandbars every year, the low bargaining power of the extreme poor to access sandbars, labour intensiveness, initial and recurring costs, complex market mechanisms, and environmental risks, sandbar cropping may not be practiced by an extreme poor family as the sole livelihood choice year after year.

    sandbar cropping

    A mechanism needs to be built in the sandbar cropping promotion, whereby the income from this practice can be efficiently invested in livelihoods diversification and asset creation (see figure above), creating a staircase to get out of extreme poverty. Sandbar cropping is thus an effective ‘stepping stone’ to bring the riverine extreme poor out of poverty.

    Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is the programme coordinator of IUCN in Bangladesh. He used to lead the disaster risk reduction and climate change programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Haseeb can be reached at hmirfanullah@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

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  • Mobilization is vital to sustainable governance

    Erwin Rathnaweera

    January 20th, 2016

    Mobilization plays a critical role in every development project. This is the strategy used to ensure that beneficiaries actively participate in development planning, implementing and monitoring. One may say that mobilization brings beneficiaries from a state of non participation or passive participation to a stage of active participation. However, this is an immensely challenging process.

    Sherry R. Arnstein, the author of “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” (1969), explains eight rungs of participation. Understanding the eight rungs is of vital importance in building sustainable governance. The highest rung in the ladder of participation is ideally “Citizen Control” in which good governance comes into action. In practice, there are a whole range of tools used to mobilize people. The argument is “too much of mobilization activities lead to passive or no participation of fisher communities”. In other words, too many mobilization activities lead the participation process to move downward in the ladder of participation. Because issues and constraints related to governance of fisheries resources are the key incentives for the participation of the communities, unless they are addressed within reasonable time duration, communities tend to lose their faith in the process.

    The Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods (SLL) project experience is that levels of participation of fisher communities vary and that needs to be understood before devising mobilization activities. Failure to do so, only leads to either passive participation or no participation. It has been found that with some fisher communities a whole lot of mobilization activities need to be carried out for them to be motivated, whereas others need only one or two activities. Blog post 5

    “Urgency” is a prominent characteristic among fisher communities. Their sense of urgency is clearly manifested in the activity of fishing. However, this characteristic can be found in most of their routine actions daily. Fishers are quick in every aspect of life when compared to most other communities.  The argument is if the mobilization activities do not match the essential nature of fishers, less participation or even insubordination will result. The baseline studies or initial mobilization actions help to understand the level of participation of fisher communities that fits in the ladder of participation. Therefore, mobilization strategies need to be chosen and implemented accordingly.

    The project plans or proposal contain time-frames with a flow of mobilization strategies. However, the implementers need to understand the community first and adapt and adopt strategies to match the communities and motivate them to do better.  Experience indicates, with one community, a transect walk will trigger stewardship in the fishers whereas in other fisher communities, this will happen at the end of the project.

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  • Happy Floating Gardening!

    Haseeb Md Irfanullah

    January 5th, 2016

    The year 2015 ended well for floating-garden-enthusiasts!

    On 15 December, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared floating gardening of Bangladesh as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). This agricultural system has now become one of the 36 systems around the globe, and the first from Bangladesh. A GIAHS is essentially an outstanding land use system or a landscape that has been evolving with a community meeting their needs and desire for sustainable development.

    Floating gardening is a traditional agricultural practice in the southern part of Bangladesh. In this farming system, rafts are made on stagnant waters with aquatic plants, mainly water hyacinth. On these platforms, crop seedlings are raised, and vegetables, spices and other crops are cultivated during monsoon. In winter, when water recedes from the wetlands, these rafts are dismantled and mixed with soil as compost to grow winter crops.

    gathering produce from a floating garden 21778

    In addition to supporting food and nutrition to rural Bangladeshis, this indigenous technology is a good tool for disaster management and climate change adaptation in the wetlands. Floating farming has also been an useful income generation option for wetland dwellers, thus their poverty alleviation, by managing aquatic resources.

    Over the past few years, floating gardening has received much global attention, specifically as a means of adaptation to climate change. It has now found its place in the latest authoritative Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Practical Action’s work on floating gardening in Bangladesh is showcased by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a farmer-led sustainable agricultural adaptation technology.

    FAO’s latest recognition is a step forward to appreciate the contribution and opportunity of this indigenous technology to mitigating some basic global challenges, like food insecurity, extreme poverty and climate change. Such global appreciation is indeed a result of long-term efforts by many organizations, like, Practical Action, IUCN, CARE and Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), to name a few.

    It is interesting to note that Bangladesh’s centuries-old floating gardening technology had never left its ‘centre of origin’ − a small area of about 25 sq km − until NGOs started promoting it in the late 1990s. This is particularly fascinating since about 50% of Bangladesh’s 147,570 sq km is basically wetlands.

    The recent robust promotion of floating gardening is an excellent example of how an indigenous technology can transform  poor people’s lives as an innovation − in new areas, to meet new challenges. There, however, has not been any assessment per se to check if floating gardening is really a sustainable option under changing climate. Such testing is very logical as the growth and survival of water hyacinth is very much dependent on amount of rainfall, length of flooding period, and salinity of water − all to be affected by climate change.

    The need for research on floating gardening has repeatedly been raised in recent years. But very limited studies on floating agriculture, however, do not match the overwhelming interest in and increasing recognition of this technology.

    It may be argued that floating agricultural practice has reached its pinnacle in Bangladesh by being in practice over centuries. But ever-changing climate and hydrology, people’s economic conditions and aspirations, and our development approaches have been continuously changing the face of floating gardening in newly introduced areas. To cope with these changes and uncertainties, promotion of floating gardening should be backed by organized innovation, planned research, and effective knowledge management.

    As we start 2016, floating gardening gives us a fantastic opportunity to go about nature-based solutions to basic development challenges − extreme poverty, food insecurity, climate change − duly supported by evidence, not only by emotion.

    Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is the programme coordinator of IUCN in Bangladesh. He used to lead the disaster risk reduction and climate change programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Haseeb can be reached at hmirfanullah@yahoo.co.uk

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  • The Emolienteros: organised labour as the driving force of technology advancement.

    Bami Dagu

    December 29th, 2015

    The ‘Emolienteros’ are vendors of Emoliente, a beverage made with medicinal plants sold on the streets of Lima. With the availability of different flavours, mixtures and consistencies of the herbal beverage, they provide an unrivalled service for inexpensive on-the-go breakfast/snacks, in Peru’s densely populated capital.

    As the third largest city in the Americas, Lima presents a huge market for the Emolienteros, with much potential for growth. This fact is not lost on these ambitious workers. They have been able to form a robust labour union, well-structured into associations in the districts in which they function most.

    emoliente stall LimaIn a discussion with Walter Villegas, the leader of the Association of Emoliente Workers in the Pueblo Libre district of Lima, as well as the interviews and focus groups we have conducted so far, we have learned about the progress they have made so far, the role technology change has played in their livelihoods, and their plans to start an enterprise.

    From zero to hero

    Emolienteros that have been working in this sector for 15-20 years recount their earlier experiences of not having associations. As informal workers, they had lacked representation in the city council and in Peru’s Ministry of Labour and Promotion of Employment. As informal workers, they were constantly harassed by the city’s officials for ‘unauthorized’ vending in the streets, making it very difficult to sell their products and make a decent living.

    In response, they formed their own labour union association in 1999 (officially recognised in 2007), known as ‘Tradition of the Incas: Natural Product Workers’. Since then, they have been able to push for better rights and recognition, even in the Peruvian parliament. On May 16, 2014, The ‘Law of the Emolientero’ was passed by the congress, hailing them as generators of productive self-employed micro entrepreneurs. Also declared, was the national Day of Emoliente and other traditional natural beverages on 20 February. Furthermore, the local governments signed cooperation agreements with the Emolienteros within the jurisdictions where they work.

    Their association has since enjoyed more publicity through wide media coverage of the new Peruvian law.  Today, it is considered one of the most prestigious informal sectors in Lima to work in.

    Technology change and livelihoods

    The impact of technology change on their livelihoods is best understood when analysing The two major benefits of association membership, which are:

    1. Representation of their interests on a national and city level
    2. More informed economic decisions through transfer of knowledge.

    Having an interconnected network of Emolienteros within different sectors means that news of better and more efficient technologies are more easily accessible by all members of the association, thereby decreases the occurence of asymmetrical information between these informal workers.

    mobile emoliertoro cartThe main technologies used by the emolienteros are mobile carts or ‘carretillas.’  They also use freezers to store excess supplies on days with low purchases.

    The change from older to better models of carretillas improves efficiency and productivity. As a result they earn slightly more and some have increased leisure time for childcare, or a second job.

    This use of improved technology has allowed them to capitalize on the growing industry of Peruvian cuisine, especially since as it has recently gained ground on the international food market.

    Due to the advancement of this sector, most of the change within this sector is brought about by reinvestment of income into newer technology.

    As a result, today the Emolienteria industry has an economic value of 700 million soles a year, with reported sales exceeding 1,000 million soles a year.

    Future prospects

    Although the Emolienteros have come a long way, they believe that there is room for improvement. In their plans for technology advancement in the near future, they hope to rent a shop outlet, since rolling the carretillas to and from work is one of their biggest challenges.

    Also, they are putting plans in motion to start an enterprise where they manufacture, package and sell the natural products used in their emoliente. This would enable mass production at cheaper rates to cater for the increasing demands of their products and services.

    The association of Emolienteros in Lima demonstrate the importance of unionized informal workers in challenging existing bureaucratic conditions, and how advancing the uses of technologies can bring about real positive impacts to improvement of their livelihoods.

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  • A giant step in mainstreaming small-scale lagoon fishery in Sri Lanka

    Erwin Rathnaweera

    December 18th, 2015

    Blog post 4 photo

    Practical Action’s Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods Project (SLLP)has been building collaborative governance institutional systems in 18 lagoons in Sri Lanka since 2012. The Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) is the strategic partner of the project and both DFAR and Practical Action have together been implementing the project. The collaborative or co-governance concept of this project includes law making and policy making processes to decentralize lagoon governance. Thereby, all levels of decision makers and stakeholders are gathered into a single decentralized institutional framework to make unified decisions on utilization, conservation, management, and protection etc. of a lagoon.

    Largely due to the successful implementation of this project and positive outcomes generated by this concept, the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources on 17th December, 2015 inaugurated a special unit to facilitate fisheries co-governance in lagoons and estuaries in Sri Lanka.  This is the first time in history a special unit meant solely for the governance of lagoon and estuarine fisheries sub-sector has been initiated. The DFAR was established in 1940, even before Sri Lankan independence and has had a management division for the marine fisheries. It can be said that this was one of the key reasons why the lagoon fisheries sub-sector was marginalized. However, the lagoon fishery sub-sector is very important in terms of food security, producing commercially important species and generating varied forms of employment. There are over 200,000 small scale lagoon fishers and fish-workers dependent on lagoons and estuaries for livelihoods in Sri Lanka.  This special unit has been named; “Brackish Water Management Unit” (BMU), which will facilitate the required services to govern the lagoons and estuaries in Sri Lanka responsibly and sustainably.

    Honorable Fisheries Minister , Mr.Mahinda Amaraweera speaking at the event....

    Honorable Fisheries Minister , Mr.Mahinda Amaraweera speaking at the event….

    This has been the most significant achievement of the project in terms of internalizing the project concept in the country and bringing the small scale lagoon fisheries sub-sector to the forefront of national development. This process has not been at all easy. Firstly, convincing DFAR on the concept by demonstrating and learning from lessons to change policies often went beyond the financial scope of the project. Thus, the decision to open a special unit was a positive outcome to the project as well as a challenge. The project team had the formidable task of creating networking and facilitating partnership building among numerous stakeholders at all levels. To enable this complex process, UNDP Sri Lanka agreed to co-finance the project’s internalization work along with Practical Action and DFAR.  This tri-party work has yielded favourable results. Besides that, the government budget has allocated 30 million Sri Lankan Rupees (around £140,000) for the lagoon fisheries sub-sector, to implement BMN’s action plan next year.

    Among the project’s other achievements worthy of mention is the official endorsement of the project concept: fisheries co-governance which was included in the 2013 Amendment to the existing Fisheries Act in Sri Lanka, which has added much value to this process. This legislation will be further updated with lessons of the project’s second phase. This will be a top priority for BMU next year.

    The project is now stepping into the final year of its five-year operations and will mainly focus on strengthening the BMU to carry-forward the project concept and replicate it in 116 other lagoons and estuaries in Sri Lanka.

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  • Transforming lands, transforming lives

    Nazmul Islam Chowdhury

    December 15th, 2015

    In Bangladesh, the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers are both vital and threatening to nearby inhabitants. Monsoon rains cause these great rivers to swell, often flooding villages and fields.

    However, during the other months, drought leaves crops, livestock and communities praying for water. Land is scarce, population density is high and poverty and food security are major concerns, especially in the face of this seasonal feast and famine.

    The pumpkin harvest

    It is in this environment that Practical Action’s Pathways From Poverty project was launched in 2009 in the north west part of Bangladesh to lift 31,850 households out of poverty.

    The project goal is to reduce the vulnerability of men, women and children to the physical, social and economic effects of river erosion, flooding and other natural disasters in the five districts in northwest Bangladesh. It aims to help those whose villages and farms have been lost through river erosion and are forced to live illegally on flood protection embankments. We offer these communities a wide range of technological support programmes in agriculture, fisheries, livestock, food processing, light-engineering, disability, education, health and nutrition to improve their ability to manage productive livelihoods, including our sandbar cropping project.

    A life changing innovation to eradicate extreme poverty

    The sandbar cropping project started with the objective “something is better than nothing” but today it has transformed the lives of the landless poor through access to barren transitional sandy land.

    Sandbar cropping is a ground-breaking approach to ensuring these harsh landscapes provide for their inhabitants. After each rainy season, large islands of sand appear in the main rivers of Bangladesh. These ‘lands’ are common property resources that generally tend to disappear during the following wet season and, until now, have not been used for any productive purpose. However, this project has successfully used this ever-changing landscape to demonstrate that the growing of pumpkins in small compost pits dug into the sand is both possible and profitable. Large-scale irrigation is not necessary as the land is close to the river channel.

    From 2005 to 2014, a total of 15,000 farmers, many of who were women, produced over 80,000 tonnes of pumpkins worth £5.5million at farm gate price by utilising 7,973 acres of sandbar land…and the technology is now spreading to new areas, with a further 15,000 individuals benefiting from it in north west Bangladesh.

    Transforming barren landscapes

    pumpkin storeThe pumpkins produced on these sandbars can be stored in people’s houses for over a year. They help poor households both in terms of income generation and year-round food security and lean season management. Sandbar cropping has transformed a barren landscape, and these ‘mini deserts’ have now been turned into productive, green fields.

    This innovative cropping technology opens up otherwise unproductive lands and is ideally suited to adoption by displaced and landless households. The technology appears to be low risk, yet shows an impressive financial return. Sandbar cropping is so simple and yet, to our knowledge, no one had thought of this application until the project was first experimented with in 2005. The technology would seem to have a much wider application in other dry areas and could even become an important coping strategy in some areas both at home and abroad adversely affected by climate change.

    Revolutionary socio-economic changes for millions

    Anwar with pumpkinAn earmarked policy for the erosion-affected communities to use transitional sandy land for 5-6 months of a year can bring revolutionary socio-economic changes for millions on production, processing and marketing chain on the ground.

    Barren land management will enable food production to meet the demand of local, regional and national markets. It will support families by ensuring year-round food security and nutrition, income and employment.  It will reduce dependency on external relief and migration to urban areas in search of employment.

    The tested innovation can be disseminated in a number of erosion prone districts in Bangladesh to benefit hundreds of thousands of the poor embankment dwellers, affected by river erosion.

    Want to help?  You can donate to Practical Action’s Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal.  This is matched pound for pound by the UK government until 31st December, doubling the impact of your donation.

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