Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • Improving Market Systems in Sudan: Developing the Karaya Gum Industry

    Jack Spoor

    August 26th, 2015

    gum arabic for liam MorganKaraya 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.
    21582Firstly, 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.

    gum arabic for liam MorganBut 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.

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  • Gender equality in agroecology – the hidden benefits

    Jack Spoor

    August 25th, 2015

    Co-author Javeria Hashmi

    Javeria is completing an MSc in Food Security at University of Warwick. She joined Practical Action on a research placement for her dissertation – Agroecology, Small farmers and Livelihoods: A Critical Analysis for Sustainable Development.

    Aside from trying to provide sustainable agricultural growth through the use of low input methods, one of the main goals of agroecology is actually social equity. Although you wouldn’t suspect it from its name – the words agriculture and ecology doesn’t sound much like social or equity – a key part of the concept is the inclusion of marginalised groups such as smallholder farmers, with the aim of creating a more sustainable economic system.

    A Woman holding ArboosIf the point of agroecology is to promote inclusion of the marginalised, then clearly it is impossible to ignore one of the most marginalised groups of people on the planet; women. Despite being approximately 50% of the population, women in developing countries are far more vulnerable to poverty and the associated problems of malnutrition and social exclusion, than men. Given this, the news that around 80% of women farmers diversify production for better risk management is something to celebrate.

    But, as uplifting as this news is, why is this? Why would a concept aimed at changing the way agriculture interacts with the environment have such a disproportionate effect on the gender that is normally disadvantaged by change? The answer to this lies in the nature of agroecological development. The areas in which women tend to be marginalised; access to credit, market contacts and knowledge of innovation, also happen to be the areas targeted by agroecology.

    Not only this, but agroecology promotes the introduction and expansion of niche markets as a form of sustainable development. Something else likely to benefit marginalised women. The relationship between agroecology and the empowerment of women is purely coincidental. Agroecology seeks to develop all marginalised groups, and it just so happened that one set of marginalised people were best placed to receive this help and act upon it.

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  • The Right to Seed: Picking apart ARIPO’s Arusha Draft Protocol on plant varieties

    Jack Spoor

    August 21st, 2015

    Co-authors Jack Spoor and Gigi Davies

    The Draft Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Seed (Arusha PVP Protocol) is hardly the most accessible of documents. Even to those used to wading through the humourless syntax of IGO resolutions, the document is rather dense. But, while the resolution itself may be a challenge to digest, its implications are wide ranging and troubling.


    Ironically, these implications are likely to be greatest for those that have never heard of the Protocol, namely smallholder subsistence farmers with limited access to external inputs and even more limited options when it comes to adaptation.

    Around the world it is common farming practice to save some of the seeds you have grown for use next year. This provides the farmer of a guarantee of a crop next year that can be relied upon to produce consistent results. Better still there is no requirement to buy in seed at a time when prices are likely to be high. But what if the rights to that seed were owned by someone else? And what if the ‘owner’ of these rights refuses to let you use them, or charges a prohibitively high amount? Smallholder farmers who would be unable to meet the costs of buying in seed would lose their business and livelihood to a set of regulations they had no way to influence.

    Of course, the argument goes that the rights will only be awarded to those that can prove their seeds are of a novel and distinct variety and therefore would not have been in the position of smallholder farmers anyway. The issue with this is that Article 8, distinct is defined as something that is distinct from another variety that is common knowledge. On the surface of it, this all sounds fairly reasonable, and so it would be if we were talking about the interconnected industrial sale farms in developed nations. Instead, we are talking about smallholder farmers with limited access to innovation and communications. What is common knowledge in their small community could be something entirely alien to an ARIPO board deciding who gets rights to which seeds. This could lead to a situation in which indigenous knowledge is patented, marketed and sold, putting those who previously relied on that knowledge in a difficult position.

    20741But according to Article 16, the smallholders whose indigenous knowledge has been sold can object, right? So what’s the issue? The Protocol does indeed contain provisions for objection, which is good. The downside is the little clause that is section 2 of Article 16 which states that “The objection shall be subject to a prescribed fee”. Now this is actually a fairly reasonable method to prevent the process becoming clogged up with frivolous objections and test cases, however it has the notable disadvantage of excluding the poor from the objections process. The people most vulnerable to having their indigenous knowledge commercialised are also the ones who have the fewest resources to do anything about it.

    The Protocol is not all bad news for smallholders though. Credit to those who wrote it, there are parts designed to protect non-commercial, subsistence farmers from having to abide by these regulations. Article 22 (1) (1) explicitly states that “The breeder’s right shall not extend to acts done privately and for non-commercial purposes”. While this is a step in the right direction, it goes nowhere near far enough. Yes, subsistence farmers are exempt in the food is for their own use, but in effect this creates a barrier for those seeking to leave subsistence farming and enter the market environment. The step from subsistence to commercial farming would involve an investment and risk of changing varieties of crop, something which is highly risky when your own food supply also depends on what you grow.

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  • Barsha – the perpetual water propelled pump

    Ganesh Ram Sinkemana

    August 14th, 2015

    Nepal, a predominantly agricultural country, has thousands of hectares of land located next to rivers and canals. Currently, few land plots are irrigated by diesel pumps that emit carbon dioxide polluting the environment. Looking at the current scenario, Practical Action is promoting Barsha pumps throughout Nepal. The irrigation pump, developed by aQysta B.V. based in the Netherlands, requires no operation costs and is environment-friendly.

    Barsha pump, also popularly known as a spiral pump, coil pump, manometric pump, or hydrostatic pump, is simply a water wheel with flexible hosepipe spiralling on it. As water enters through one end of the hosepipe, the rotating wheel imparts kinetic energy to it – enabling the water to force out of the other end and reach to a distance of two kilometres without use of fuel.

    Barsha pump installed in Kankai canal, Jhapa, Eastern Nepal.

    Barsha pump installed in Kankai canal, Jhapa, Eastern Nepal.

    Having installed four Barsha pumps in four development regions of Nepal, the fifth pump was installed in the eastern Nepal on 6 August 2015. A demonstration event, organised at Sundarpur in Shivasatakshi Municipality of Jhapa district, saw the presence of government officials, media persons and locals including the Deputy Director General of Department of Irrigation Mr Bashu Dev Lohani.

    The demonstration was organised in collaboration between Practical Action and aQysta as a part of the Securing Water for Food (SWFF): A Grand Challenge for Development Program supported by USAID, Sida and Ministry of foreign affairs of the Netherlands. The demonstration event, conducted with an aim to create demand for the Barsha pump by making organisations and people aware about the benefits and working of the pump, is expected to support the scaling up and wide use of the pump in Nepal.

    “Irrigation is of utmost importance for the rapidly growing sector of commercial farming in Nepal,” said Mr Lohani, praising the innovation. “Barsha pump can serve as a milestone innovation in providing adequate irrigation service to farmers.” The technology has the potential of irrigating the elevated fields nearby canals throughout the Nepal. Practical Action and aQysta are working towards localising the manufacturing and distribution value chain, and selling thousands of Barsha pumps across Nepal.

    The Barsha pump, installed in the Sundarpur site, is serving around 1.5 bighas (1 hectare) of vegetable farm. The water from the pump travels a distance of 800 metres from the canal where the Barsha pump is installed, before it reaches the site to be irrigated. Two micro-sprinkler heads are directly connected to the Barsha pump, which run continuously 24/7 without any fuel, electricity or operating costs.

    A sprinkler, 800 metres away from the water source and connected to the Barsha pump, irrigates the  vegetable crop.

    A sprinkler, 800 metres away from the water source and connected to the Barsha pump, irrigates the vegetable crop.

    All the people working in the farm need to do is to shift the sprinkler heads to different areas which need to be irrigated from time to time. For the Sundarpur farmers, who had used and abandoned electric pumps because of low voltage and also invested in diesel generators, the Barsha pump is an exciting solution to keep their irrigation costs low and help expand their cultivating area.

    Barsha pump, inspired by a similar technology from Morton Reimer implemented by Practical Action (ITDG at that time) to pump water from the Nile River to irrigate the vegetable farm in South Sudan during the 1980s, is based on the stream driven coil pump principle developed in 1746 AD.

    The output from a Barsha pump is suitable for irrigating anywhere between 1 to 4 hectares of land depending upon different variables such as type of crops, type of soil, season of irrigation and of course depends upon drip, sprinkler or furrow facility. The pump performs optimally in a river or a canal flowing at a flow rate greater than 0.3 cubic metres per second or a flow speed greater than 1 metre per second. Nepal, a country with more than 6,000 rivers flowing all the year round, is set to benefit largely from the use of these pumps.

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  • Today’s Earth Overshoot Day

    Margaret Gardner

    August 13th, 2015

    Today 13 August is Earth’s Overshoot Day – the day when we have used up all of the ecological resources available for the year. From now on we – as a planet – are in ecological deficit –using up resources we don’t have. And what’s worse according to The Guardian the pace at which we gobble up resources is getting quicker – with this year’s Earth Overshoot day 6 days earlier than last.

    And our response?

    I worry we’ve turned to the ecological equivalent of a payday loan – continuing to squander resources irrespective of the cost, long term implications, and hugely high impact inflation. Fracking, oil exploration and drilling in the Artic, food waste – in the UK retailers and consumers throwing away between 30 and 40% of all food, etc.

    We experience ourselves not as part of nature but somehow separate from it – or at worst dominant, scarily in control of our ecology with the faith that technology will somehow bail us out.

    Why does this matter?

    Climate change is already hitting the poorest people hardest. They live in the main on some of the most marginal and therefore vulnerable land.

    In April I was in Zimbabwe talking with farmers struggling with increasingly erratic rainfall. Crops yields were poor as the rain came late after the crops had already ripened and wilted. John Siambare Practical Actions Field Officer explained ‘this year crops planted using conventional farming techniques died before they did anything’

    We at Practical Action can work with farmers to help them cope – through

    Irrigation scheme Zimbabwe 2015

    Irrigation scheme Zimbabwe 2015

    agroecological farming techniques that maintain moisture in the soil, crop diversification, food preservation, solar irrigation etc. And to help build peoples resilience – if you don’t know what environmental change is going to throw at you – and one of the biggest impacts of climate change is increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather – how can you plan – you just need to get as good as you can at responding to change.

    But ultimately climate change is catastrophic and we will get to a stage where adaptation is impossible and land where people now live no longer viable.

    If the increases in consumption continues as now – in 2 to 3 years Earth Overshoot day will be in July, 5 years after that in June.

    Time to change our ways?

    Fritz Schumacher, Practical Action’s founder, in his book ‘Small is Beautiful’ , talked about moving to a world where we look to maximise wellbeing with minimum consumption. Small is Beautiful was published in 1973. The time for change is now.



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  • Floating garden set to become world agricultural heritage

    Halim Miah

    August 7th, 2015

    Bangladesh is riverine country. Before the Green Revolution of the 1960s most of the country was inundated by seasonal rainfall. People had alternative livelihoods and culture like different flood tolerant rice varieties or green vegetables and transportation such as boats and festivals of boat races and swimming. Now most of the flat land is covered by irrigation projects where embankments and roads are created to cultivate high yield varieties of rice. There are still some regions which are inundated for several of months of the year. Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change and already we are experiencing its symptoms like very heavy rainfall and therefore unexpected flood in some areas.

    Necessity is the Mother of Invention

    floating gardenThere is an old proverb that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, which has become true for our people and country and one ofthe best examples is the floating garden.  Reviewing history and documents has shown me that in some parts of the south of Bangladesh – Nazirpur of Piruzpur, Gopalganj ‘floating garden’ are used to produce green vegetables as there are vast areas which are inundated for long time. Scarcity of land led them to this innovative practice for their survival.



    Promotion of the floating garden at national level

    An article of Haseeb Irfanullah in Land & Food shows that in the year 2000 some national and international NGOs like Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies and IUCN began to promote it in the similar geographical locations of Bangladesh. Successively CARE Bangladesh took it at another geographical region called haor region, a water logged area which usually floods for half of the year.

    Practical Action’s contribution

    For people who live in areas covered by water during the monsoon season, such as the riverine areas of Bangladesh, it is impossible to grow crops. Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land.In 2005 Practical Action, Bangladesh took this local technology to Gaibhanda, a disaster prone area that suffers from flood and river bank erosion. River-eroded people sought refuge on embankments and lost their agricultural land and livelihoods. Practical Action wanted to help those internal refugees who had no land of their own, but live in areas surrounded by a large body of water, on common property making this challenge an opportunity. We introduced floating garden as an option for household consumption during the rainy season when the price of vegetables increases because of the lack of production. In 2010 this technology was extended at significant scale to other northern areas under DFID funded Pathways From Poverty project. Plenty of written material, both popular and technical, have been produced by Practical Action.  These include training materials, a technical brief in both Bengali and English, scientific write ups and presentations, blogs ands article for national and international publications. This practice is also taught in different schools as part of their curriculum.

    Finally the happiest news is that Bangladesh government and Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN are working together to declare this local practice as Agricultural Heritage of Bangladesh. We are looking forward to celebrate this as employees of Practical Action, who have made a significant contribution to the development and promotion of this technology..

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  • Dignity through diligence

    Rabindra Bahadur Singh

    August 4th, 2015

    In Nepal, it is unlikely that Dalits, placed at the lowest rung in the caste system, are considered role models for anything. It is even more unlikely in the far western region of the country where discrimination against Dalits is still rampant. However, this is exactly what has happened in Jhalgaon village of Kailashmandu Village Development Committee (VDC ) of Bajura district .

    Jhalgaon is on the wrong side of Safe-Martadi feeder road, across the Bhudhiganga River. More than 100 households ( HHs) of Dalits are huddled together at the lower end of the village, at a clear distance from the main settlement. Chhetri’s are the majority in the village.

    Remittances from India and traditional occupations are the main sources of livelihood for the Dalit households. They also take on other menial works available in the village and local market to complement their income. They also do some farming. But agriculture has never been a serious business for them as they own little or no land. However, things have started to change from last year.

    Women at Jhagaon at work

    Last year, as part of a UK Aid funded Rural Access Programme (RAP)- 3, which Practical Action has been implementing in the district, organised the Dalits into producer groups. It provided them technical training on vegetable cultivation and supported them with improved seeds and irrigation equipment.

    Many saw it as a futile attempt and the “upper caste” neighbours passed sarcastic comments both to the project and the Dalit communities.

    “We didn’t protest then. But, we took the comments to our heart and resolved to prove them wrong,” said Man Singh Sharki, 46, an active member of the Jhalgaon vegetable group, in Jhalgaon.

    “We grew various vegetables in our land. Some of us also leased land for it. The knowledge, skills and regular feedback we received from the project technicians were of great help,’’ he added.

    As there were not many success cases of Dalits doing well in vegetable farming in the district, the project was sceptical about this maiden venture of the Dalit community.

    “We were also not very optimistic. But, in two months, they surprised everybody with well-kept plots of vegetables. They religiously followed our advice and worked hard. Consequently they had a very good harvest last year, much better than their upper caste neighbours,’’ said Lalit Adhikari, junior technician of the project.

    They took their first harvest for selling to the main village instead of the local market. They took only the superior vegetables after grading and put price tags on them.

    “We were not expecting them to buy our vegetables as they wouldn’t even touch us. But, we had to show them our vegetables. It was our answer to their sarcasm” said Harka Bahadur B.K, Chairperson of Jhalgaon Vegetable group.Vegetables from Jhalgaon  displayed at the local market

    “To our surprise, they not only bought our produce but also appreciated our effort,’’

    Now, the ‘upper caste’ neighbours are full of praise for them.

    “Even we were not doing well in vegetable farming so we had serious doubt about them. But they proved us wrong. Their success has inspired us to embrace vegetable farming more seriously,” said Chandra Bahadur Thapa, the head master in the primary school in the village.

    Equally impressed are the traders at the local market. Jhalgaon’s vegetables have already gained the reputation of the best vegetables in the neighbourhood . And, the Dalit households are very conscious of the need to uphold their reputation.

    “They only bring the best produce to us to leave no room for complaint” said, Bhakta Bahadur Saud, a vegetable collector at Bamka Bazzar.

    “I think they even polish their vegetables before bringing here,” he quipped.

    Last year, the majority of the households in the village earned more than Rs 10,000 (£63) from selling vegetables. Lead farmers like Goma Sarki earned as much as Rs 60,000. (£377)

    Goma Sarki a lead farmer of Jahalgaon

    Goma Sarki a lead farmer of Jahalgaon

    It is a great achievement considering that the Dalits were never before engaged in vegetable farming, even for their own consumption. However, what is really significant is the social impact it has on the dignity and the social recognition of the Dalits households.

    Through vegetable farming, the Dailt households, previously looked down upon by their upper caste neighbours, have been able to assert their presence in the community.

    Perhaps other ethnic and marginalised groups in Nepal which have stepped up demonstrations for more rights as the country gears up to write a new constitution, could take cue from them. They offer an excellent example, in their own small way, of more constructive ways of protest and manifestation.


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  • South Asia Right to Food Movement

    S M Alauddin

    July 30th, 2015

    Practical Action, Bangladesh has been participating in the South Asia Right to Food (SARF) Movement for over the last year and a half. There are about 250 national and international NGOs and about 300 individuals of civil society representatives, academics and researchers. The individual dignitaries are from different fields like economics, education, social development, right based issues (human, women and child rights) and food security, from Bangladesh as well as in South Asia.

    South Asia Right to Food conferenceAt present, 925 million people of the world do not get enough food to eat and a huge portion of them (336 million) live in the South Asia Region (FAO 2012). These figures, however, don’t represent the true extent of food insecurity which also includes hidden hunger, micronutrient deficiencies, food wastage and unsafe food. An alarming situation exists in the South Asian (SAARC) countries. In Bangladesh 16.8% of the population are undernourished, 17.5% in India, 24% in Sri Lanka, 5.6% in Maldives, 19.9% in Pakistan and 18% in Nepal.

    The challenge of hunger and malnutrition in South Asia is a complex issue. It will require a multi-pronged approach, including interventions for greater availability of food through improved agricultural production and secure access to livelihoods; education for improved food utilization; clean water for improving health and nutrient uptake and agriculture; women’s empowerment and social protection for the equitable distribution of food with a focus on resources amongst other relevant interventions. These will also provide the basis for communities’ resilience to climate change.

    The movement aims to share experiences of civil societies and relevant entities on right to food and nutritional security movements, policies and legislation across South Asia; building perspectives and strategy of the movement for all relevant actors; strengthen networking among civil society organizations and networks, farmers’ organizations, CBOs, academia, researchers, individuals, and policy makers for effective campaign. And, thus, promote Legal Framework on Right to Food issue and relevant policy reforms at national and regional level engaging policy makers, political societies and relevant stakeholders. Among the SAARC countries India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are already going to implement several laws and policies regarding right to food and food security. Currently Bangladesh is in a better situation in terms of food security, nutritional scenario and social protection and safety net compared to the last decade. The ultimate goal of the movement is to formulate a food and nutritional security act in Bangladesh.

    South Asia Right to Food conferenceThe Objectives of the movement are similar to SAARC objectives. Peoples’ SAARC under the SARF Movement carry out parallel activities to uphold its objectives to attract and influence the SAARC leaders for its implementation such as SAARC Food Bank that was decided in 2007 upon critical gesture of the civil society. The progress, however, is yet to take place in reality that is supposed to work as a regional food security reserve for member countries during the time of food shortages and emergencies. The right to food movement wants to influence SAARC countries to establish the food bank with immediate effect. With all critical progress of food rights and emergence of food sovereignty in this region, neoliberal discourse and regime of excessive trade liberalization, privatization and deregulation continuing unfair trade system and corporate dominance in agriculture and benefiting the transnational corporations and the elites of our countries. Industrial and chemical intensive agriculture threaten the food and nutritional security and economic development of the people of south Asia.

    Multifaceted environmental and climatic challenges make it difficult for the small holder producers to maintain their livelihoods.  These include land grabbing and land degradation (agriculture, pasture) for industrial purposes, corporate agriculture, mining and logging.

    Of the 925 million hungry and undernourished people, 70% are women and girls; inclusion of gender dimension on right to food could bring down this gap in the region. We are confronted with intensifying economic, social and environmental crises in this region. Securing tenure of land and natural resources, investment in public goods and services, such as infrastructure are necessary to foster responsible investments in agriculture and food systems. At the same time, it contributes to food security and nutrition, and overall economic development. Responsible investment includes priority investments in, by, and with small scale producers, such as, peasant, small holder farmers, pastoralists, artisans, fisher folks, forest dwellers, and processors. The SARF movement wishes to deal with the food and nutritional security issue and raise voices in South Asia to achieve the ultimate goal.

    Issues with the movement will address are:

    • Right to food & nutritional security and food sovereignty,
    • Economic, social and environmental issues in the context of right to food & nutritional security in South Asia region,
    • Equal rights for women with regards to access to food, land rights, financing for farming, and ownership of resources,
    • Policy, legislation and regulatory framework regarding right to food and food governance,
    • Responsible agriculture investment and food sovereignty in this region,
    • Situation of small food producers, experience and learning sharing,
    • Social protection and rights of the peasants, working people and marginal groups in urban and rural areas,
    • Landlessness and insecurity of tenure over the lands, forestry and indigenous people’s rights,
    • Corporate dominance in agriculture, industrial, chemical intensive agriculture,
    • Excessive trade liberalization, privatization and deregulation,
    • Regional rice Strategy for Asia including South Asia,
    • Land, coastal and natural resources grabbing,
    • Access to water for aquaculture & agriculture and ecological diversity,
    • Water as common regional resources for right to food & nutritional security,
    • Access to potable water and sanitation,
    • Effects of grabbing on women, indigenous and marginal people.

    Expected Results:

    • Experiential sharing and critical learning on right to food & nutritional security and food sovereignty for surfacing the challenges and obstacles of existing policies, legislation across south Asian region,
    • Strategize common approach and plans for South Asian countries involving several streams of movements and networks on right to food and nutrition,
    • Initiate discussion on standardization of policies and procedures required for food governance at regional and national level,
    • Explore and streamlining the regional and national networks on right to food and nutrition,
    • Widening and reinforce South Asian regional Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) process,
    • Common statement of the conference considering Right to food obligation,
    • And, finally influence the Government to formulate a Food and Nutritional Security Act.

    Amongst the diversified challenges of South Asia strong solidarity among the people of this region is crucial. With this in mind, SARF recently organized a South Asian Right to Food (SARF) Conference in Dhaka (May 30 – June 1, 2015). Practical Action, Bangladesh was one of the organizers and was a member of the Organizing and Working Committee.  We also presented learning and experiences of our extreme poverty programme with special focus of our policy issue “Operational Access to Transitional Sandbars for the Extreme Poor” in the regional convention.

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  • Duck rice, water wheels and electricity from cow manure

    Simon Trace

    July 30th, 2015

    This is my third blog from Nepal, written at the airport in Kathmandu waiting for my flight back home. It’s always great to visit our programmes and catch up with our staff. Here in Nepal people are gradually picking up again after the earthquakes and life seems to be getting back to normal, at least for those who were not too badly affected by the events of April and May. Our staff all seem in good heart and very busy.

    I was pleased to be able to talk technology and innovation with colleagues while I was in Nepal, and see some examples of it on the ground during field visits. Here’s a taster; although I’m pretty both of the following two examples have been blogged on by others, I can’t resist!

    Ducks doing their stuff in a rice field

    Ducks doing their stuff in a rice field

    Duck rice (or rice duck, depending on your view point!). Practical Action believes in an agroecological approach to food production. That means finding ways of helping smallholder farmers boost production and maybe create surpluses for sale without having to resort to expensive and unsustainable inputs such as chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. This initiative is a great example of such an approach. The practice was originally seen by one of our staff during a visit to Japan, so he thought he would try it out here. Two ideas are involved. Firstly, planting rice in lines and a greater spacing than normal. Farmers in Nepal generally plant rice seedlings out in paddy fields in a random pattern and quite close together. Counterintuitively, spacing rice seedlings further apart increases the yield as the plants have more room to grow. Introducing small ducklings to paddy fields provides an added bonus, provided the lines are far enough apart to let the ducks swim around. The ducks graze on weeds and eat insects and pests while at the same time depositing their guano in the water, fulfilling the functions of fertiliser, weed and pest control without a dose of chemicals in sight! This is the third year we’ve been trying this out and 1000 farmers have now adopted the technique. Rice yields are up an average of 13% and incomes up 50% (because the ducks are ready to sell to market by the time the rice is harvested). Very simple but very effective.

    Bio gas being cleaned (green cylinder) and then fed to generator

    Bio gas being cleaned (green cylinder) and then fed to generator

    Bio gas from cows has been blogged on many times on this website. But at one dairy cooperative farm in Chitwan District we’ve gone further and, by using a simple device to remove the sulphur and moisture from the biogas, we’ve been able to use it to fuel a generator to produce electricity top run a milking machine and lights. The cooperative is also taking gas from the plant to heat a boiler which produces the steam used to pasteurise the milk, saving thousands of Rupees a month as a result of not having to buy of firewood.



    Water wheel irrigation pump under test

    Water wheel irrigation pump under test

    And third and finally, we’re testing out a new low lift water pump in the West of Nepal for irrigation. The pump is basically a modern waterwheel designed to be tethered in river and lift water from the river up to 20 metres into a storage pond, from which it can be sent by pipe to sprinklers or drip irrigation systems for high value vegetables and winter crops.

    Three inspiring uses of technology or technical knowledge in our Nepal programme!


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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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