Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • Traditional goat rearing in Odisha

    Arun Kumar Hial
    November 27th, 2014

    My recent visit to Manapalli (a small village in Odisha) brought about a story of traditional business families and their knowledge requirements.

    It is not always necessary that, if a person is engaged in some business traditionally for years, she/he might be proficient in the business or its trends. I found that these people are doing traditional business because it was their family forte or is a social status or an identity. Whether they lose or win they continue with the same sector of business (may be in small-scale), they normally don’t change like other communities living by doing business. The attitude that they have with these business sectors is that it was their ancestors who used to do this and that they HAVE TO DO, no matter how well they do it. One such case is about A Mangulu Patra and his Golla community.

    DSCN1672Manapalli is a village in the Practical Answers Project area in Khallikote Block of Ganjam District. Golla Community is the primary inhabitants of this village and they have their original inheritance from some part of Andhra Pradesh in India. The Golla community or caste is a cattle-rearing caste in Andhra Pradesh in India, are predominantly sheep, goat and cattle herders. The village has 397 households with population of over 1600. Almost every household does goat rearing as their primary or secondary income source.

    A Mangulu Patra is one among the others who do goat rearing for a living. Mangulu lives with his mother, grandfather, wife and two kids. He has about one acre of non-irrigated agriculture land from where he earns roughly about 16 bags (100 Killo a bag) of paddy a year after putting enormous efforts. The rice is tightly enough for his dependents to survive throughout the year. He depends on the income of the goat rearing business for all other expenses starting from health, festivals, food items etc. He owns about 120 Goats at present. He is able to sell about 30 heads every year cost ranges from INR 4500 to 5000. He has appointed one person to take care of the goats and pays about INR 35,000/- per annum + one meal a day. Like many others Mangulu has been rearing these goats and getting whatever profit from this since years. He has never calculated minutely about his profits and losses. However, the problem with the traditional business people is that, they just accept the loss very easily. One such case he explains us is about the diarrhea among the goats which normally comes with other diseases too, “such diseases happen each year to these goats, we try our best to treat them, if they are not cured, we sell them or we are at loss if they die” he said.

    When there was a diarrhea in goats last month, he requested the govt. vet service provider, after giving the medicine, it did not work. The Knowledge Facilitator under Practical Answers came to know about it, he then connected an expert to get the solutions. Mangulu did exactly as directed by the expert and few days later his goats were treated well. Now, he is happy and assured from Practical Answers to get any sort of information and knowledge support that he needs.

    There are others in his village that are having questions on goat rearing even though they have been doing goat rearing for years. It is planned to have an expert session on ‘Goat Rearing, its issues, problems and solutions’ in this village which would help other people like Mangulu to get their questions answered.

    Practical Answers program has been initiated from July 2014 to extend knowledge services to 1000 households in 10 villages under Khallikote Block of Ganjam District in Odisha.

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  • Technical education an alternative of local level adaptation for breaking the vicious cycle of poverty

    Halim Miah
    November 26th, 2014

    Child labour is a big concern in Bangladesh.  The situation is worse in the northern region when natural disasters like riverbank erosion, tornado and hailstorms cause their poor parents loss of their crops, shelter and employment. It has been revealed that  in recent years frequency of climatic disasters increased with unpredictable effects and these environmental victims take shelter on the embankment after losing their home and livelihoods.

    Both qualitative data and quantitative tools were used in this study, which was conducted during September and October 2013 under “Pathways From Poverty”  project of Shiree and Practical Action Bangladesh .

    Time trend analysis and other qualitative data shows that parents of child labourers were often also child labourers themselves.  Children of illiterate parents are also more likely to become child labourers. Children of parents with the skills of reading, writing and using different scale are less susceptible to be child labourers as they had higher earnings . They have the scope to be enrolled in different crafts and artisan work where minimum reading and measuring skills are required  Existing studies also found that child labourers with no literacy are more likely to work in agricultural and labour intensive work and they are lower paid whereas current child labour with five or more years schooling are found in technical based employment like workshops, carpentry, motor repair and driving. Children working in technical areas earn more compared to child workers in agricultural and other daily wage sectors.

    11311Gender parity is an issue among the extreme poor living in embankments. Girls are more likely to work as low paid domestic workers often with experience of physically torture.  Domestic workers and agriculture labourers have similar experiences as this work does not bring long term economic resilience.   Some positive changes have been revealed among the poor parents. If there are more more children in the household parents send the elder one to work and invest money in education for the younger children. Therefore younger children have better opportunity to work in a job with higher earnings and scope of to be small entrepreneurs.

    Therefore the study recommended that policy implementation needs to be reinforced in the Primary Education so that poor parents can understand the importance of completion at least Primary Education both for girls and boys. Also some social protection measures need to be taken in the climatic  hot spot areas particularly for the children of extreme poor households where they will have scope to learn vocational skills along with formal basic education so that they can compete better in the changing situation.

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  • Practical Action, floods and the Bolivian Amazon

    Margaret Gardner
    November 24th, 2014

    The Amazon. Its big. Very green. Amazing. And scary.

    After 11 attempts that’s the best I can do as a description. Sorry!

    marg Bolivia + 124 My first attempts were poetic in a bad poetry kind of way. Reading them back I hit delete each time. Fortunately though one of the reasons I’m here in Bolivia is that Sam Jones, The Guardian Global Development Correspondent, is also here to see Practical Actions work – and Sam from what I’ve seen so far is brilliant with words.

    But let me tell you a little about our work and the people we are working with.

    As a result, probably of climate change, the Amazon region is experiencing more, and more severe, weather events. The communities we spoke with yesterday talked of once in a generation floods happening twice in the last 3 years. The rivers rise by 4 or 5 metres and everything is washed away. People are trapped. Everything is lost.

    Practical Action started working with these communities before the last and most severe flood improving nutrition through diversifying and enhancing farming practices but when the floods came the emphasis had to shift firstly to help re-building with new and more resistant seeds, re-stocking animals and helping communities put plans in place so they were as ready as possible –for example so that everyone knows what to do the next time a flood comes. We are working on this now. We are also exploring other support the communities are desperate for  like access to a decent, clean water supply – getting technical drawings in place so together we can work to get permission to build (in the Bolivian Amazon building is now tightly regulated) and starting  to look for funding.

    I’ll let Sam tell you more when he writes his article.marg Bolivia + 100

    However I do want to share 5 things that have stuck in my mind

    • It might have been harder to believe what people were saying about the extreme river level rise if I couldn’t still see the marks of the flooding in the trees.
    • People talked about how they were stuck without help for 27 days and the children – who wear flip flop type shoes – got ill and their feet affected by water.
    • Animals can swim and are desperate too.
    • The communities we visited were some of those closest to the towns – for example 100 minutes by boat and a 35 minute walk through the jungle. Others were more than 10 hours away.
    • The Bolivian met office is forecasting heavy rains again this year – although hopefully not as bad as last (desperately hope they are right).

    And finally I want to talk about dogs. As we walked through the jungle and got closer to the village first one man and then another joined us each had dogs with them. The first dog I saw was a mid-sized terrier type wagging its tail and sticking close to its master. When I looked more closely, just below its neck, at the top of its shoulder the dog had a very nasty raised pink wound – when I looked again it had obviously been caused by teeth – too big for any of the other dogs I saw. A few minutes later I saw another dog with a whole series of bite scars down its back. Sam who is fluent in Spanish asked about the cause – and we learnt that the dogs protect their people and the domesticated animals from pumas.

    The Amazon is immensely beautiful but a very difficult place to live. Living with the threat of floods made worse by climate change is scary.

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  • Counterfeit Products Make the Poor Poorer

    Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan
    November 20th, 2014

    Protection of counterfeitLast year, I presented a paper in ICT4Ag conference, Kigali, Rwanda.  One of the most interesting presentations I saw was ‘Counterfeit Products Make the Poor Poorer’ by Kisitu Bruce, Consultant, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC).

    According to Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), fake agro chemicals account for about 30% of the total agrochemical market. Research reveals that our farmers are using 10-15 times more pesticide for fruit production and 10 times for vegetable production, which really are very bad for environment and peoples’ health. This also increases production costs and decreases the crop production.

    A farmer goes to an agro dealer shop to purchase herbicide to spray on weeds in his garden. After 7-14 days of spraying, he goes to the garden again and realizes that the weeds have instead grown further. This is possibly because he used fake herbicide.

    Fake products not only affect the farmers but lead to unfair trade, undesirable effects to the environment, loss to the economy, loss of employment and people become poorer.

    The International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) developed a simple mobile tool, which, works with both smart and standard phones. It was piloted by IFDC with collaboration from Croplife Africa Middle East (CLAME), Croplife Uganda (CLU) and Government of Uganda by using a technology similar to that used by telecoms for airtime top-up. This technology is widely used even in rural areas and on standard mobile phones. This technology was developed by Sproxil and was first used to protect Nigerian consumers from fake diabetes medication.

    Croplife Africa Middle East (CLAME) developed a sticker with three levels of authentication. These included a holospot (ideal for inspectors), barcode and scratch off label. The stickers were placed on three product categories and distributed in the market. A farmer visited an agro dealer shop, paid for the agro chemical and was encouraged to scratch and authenticate immediately after purchase. After scratching, a 12 digit number is displayed which you send via SMS to a short code and within 20 seconds receive a message notifying them whether the product is genuine or fake.

    The results were captured using a very simple mobile inventory tracking application developed by the IFDC team. The tool was used by the agro dealers to track as well as report the movement of their stock.  The partners concluded that the methodology – a combination of e-verification, retailer training and outreach to farmers – represents a viable means of substantially reducing, and eventually eliminating, counterfeit inputs.

    The key issue here is to get all telecoms and governments agree that this type of intervention is of potential economic benefit.  So, everyone should collaborate to enable cross-carrier toll free numbers or drastically reduce the SMS costs for such interventions.

    One of the things, I have learnt, is you cannot implement such a project on your own. You need to capitalize on existing expertise, knowledge and resources.

    The pilot presents and promotes an intelligent and well-designed strategy for the elimination of counterfeit inputs, informed by past experience and this strategy can easily be adopted in other sectors like health and consumer products, which are equally affected by counterfeit.

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  • My five biggest worries

    Andy Heath
    November 18th, 2014

    This morning I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia after a 30 hour journey from the UK. For the next four weeks I will be blogging from Latin America as I meet up with journalists, film crews, vicuñas, alpacas and the hurly-burly of the COP 20 talks in Lima at the start of next month. The trip is by far the longest I have done since starting work at Practical Action, and, for me, it will present me with some major challenges.

    Project Amaguaya BoliviaBelow are the five most things I am most worried about in Peru and Bolivia.

    1) Altitude – At the moment, my main concern is not getting, or at least coping with, altitude sickness in La Paz – the highest capital city in the world at 3,500 metres above sea level. I’ve felt light headed and breathless throughout the day here, but tomorrow I go up a further 1,500 metres to Apolobamba to see Vicuña farmers herding and shearing their animals against a stunning backdrop. Either that, or I turn green, vomit and spend a humiliating two days next to an oxygen tank.

    2) Language – I aware of how annoying us Brits can be with our refusal to learn other languages using the age old tactic of bellowing loudly until we make ourselves understood, so I have been diligently trying to brush up on my Spanish in the weeks leading up to this trip so that I can interview the people we work with and interact with my colleagues properly. Trouble is, when confronted by some machine-gun fast Español, any confidence rapidly drains and the blank look on my face gives the game away…

    3) Getting heard at the COP talks - I´ve managed to get entry into the COP20 talks later this month, so that I can help our policy team get their messages across to the politicians who hold the purse strings and the power. This represents a fantastic opportunity for me to do all those things I´ve been asking my colleagues to do all this time. On the other hand, it is also a huge intimidating event, the likes of which I´ve never experienced before. Achieving what we want will undoubtedly be a challenge.

    4) Speaking at the University in Bolivia - in a moment of unparalleled weakness I agreed to speak to up to 200 Bolivian students about my work & the British media in a sort of a Q&A session, alongside Guardian journalist Sam Jones. The scale of the task, not to mention the weakness of my Spanish, is now dawning on me. I am truly terrified.

    5) Filming in Peru - BBC World are putting together a new series of their Horizons programme in 2015, which looks at the use of technology to overcome problems we face in the world today. Naturally, Practical Action´s work is a great fit for them, so they approached us to see if we had any ideas. Recklessly, I told them I would be in Peru looking at how we use mobile phone technology to help predict landslides and guard against them in future. The result? This section of the programme will now consist of a fly-on-the-wall style documentary looking at my visit and interviews with the people involved in the project. Cue more terror.

    So that´s that…keep up to date with whether they come to pass here!

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  • Building HOPE for women farmers in Chikwawa

    Martha Munyoro Katsi
    November 14th, 2014

    In September, I spent a few days in Chikwawa, in Malawi’s lower Shire region. My mission was to collect case studies on the current situation facing farmers before the implementation of the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project.

    Esnath WillisonDuring this process, I got to hear and witness some of the difficult situations women in the area face. Indeed women can do anything to ensure that there is food on the table to sustain their families.

    Thats the story of Edith Willison, a smallholder farmer in Chikwawa. She is a single mother and she is responsible for fending for her family. Life has not been easy for her and her children. She wakes up very early every day and walks up to four kilometres to fetch water for her family’s domestic use before she goes to the fields. She grows maize, cassava and vegetables which she sells to get money to buy food and to pay for her children’s school fees and upkeep.

    For the crops to grow well she uses a treadle pump to irrigate the crops. This is no easy job especially on an empty stomach given there are times when there will be nothing to eat in her house. She spends about five to six hours pedalling the treadle pump in order to water her plot.

    Edith is now suffering from back pains because of all this hard work. When she gets tired from using the treadle pump, her 11 year old son Musani takes over this task.

    Chikwawa-2This system of pumping water which Edith and other farmers in the area are using is not reliable. As a result, Edith had low harvests and is struggling to provide food for her children. During these hard times, she resorts to borrowing from colleagues who also do not have enough so at the end of the day the family can retire to bed with empty stomachs.

    Practical Action will be introducing solar powered irrigation to farming areas in Zimbabwe and Malawi. The areas which the project will be implemented from are so poor and remote. They are not connected from the national electricity grid and unlikely to ever be connected because of their remoteness. Even if they were, the cost of the electricity would be exorbitant. However, using the abundant, free resource of the sun for solar voltaic panels to power pumps, water can be drawn from significantly deeper depths than a treadle pump. Instead of spending up to six to seven hours incessant pumping to irrigate their farms per day, Edith and other women can be using this valuable time to do other things like household chores, start small businesses, and attend to their children. Furthermore children can also attend school. With this technology the farmers can be sure of a viable and consistent supply of water for their crops.

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  • Crab Fattening as a livelihood option in coastal areas of Bangladesh

    S M Alauddin
    November 8th, 2014

    The rapid increase of salinity and high tidal inundation has been a great problem for agricultural crop cultivation in the coastal areas over the last few decades in Bangladesh. Shrimp cultivation started in the mid-eighties and is still popular, although production has fallen tremendously due to cultivation  year after year on the same land, where paddy cultivation is not possible due to severe salinity.

    People of the coastal area cultivate saline tolerant fish as adaptive livelihoods options, mainly tilapia and pangus . The Department of Fisheries (DoF) has established a saline water tolerant fish breeding centre in Paikgachha Upazila in the western Khulna District several years back, however, there is no Crab Hatchery to produce young for fattening by the rural poor, though, it’s a very profitable livelihoods option in the coastal area of Bangladesh. There are crab hatcheries in Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

    Photo of CrabsCrab fattening has been a profitable adaptive livelihoods option in coastal areas of Bangladesh as it is both low in cost and easily available.  There is a good market for crab in South East Asian and European countries. Some are also purchased by restaurants in metropolitan cities serving Chinese, Japanese, Korean or other western foods. The fattened crab is sold at a very high price and is 2-3 times more profitable than shrimp cultivation. But, population pressure and over exploitation of crabs from natural sources are threatening the crab population. There was only 3 – 4 crab ghers (farms for fattening) in Munshigang and Atulia Unions under Shyamnagar Upazila of the southern Satkhira District in 2010, which, after 13 years in 2013, has been increased to about 300 ghers. Such increase of crab fattening has put pressure on crab biodiversity, which may also be harmful for the aquatic ecosystem of the coastal areas. So, developing crab hatcheries is essential to produce young crabs to facilitate this important adaptive livelihoods option for thousands of the poor coastal people.

    Crab fattening as an adaptive livelihoods option has been increasing. Crabs are collected from shrimp farms and natural sources i.e. rivers and river channels around the Sundarbans. They prepare small pond/gher, often adjacent to their homestead, put pata (made of bamboo), so that crabs can’t escape. Rotten fishes are the main food for the crabs in the gher. Crab fattening takes a cycle of two weeks only. Thus, it could be done many times by a farmer and can be continued for almost throughout the year. Poor fishers/farmers can get a significant financial return from crab fattening on a sustainable basis and can break out of the poverty trap within a reasonable timeframe.

    So, to facilitate the livelihoods of thousands of coastal poor people and to protect the aquatic ecosystem, establishing a crab hatchery is important without delay. Government, NGOs and private sector could take on the intervention.

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  • The Injustice of Research and Development

    Jonathan Casey
    November 5th, 2014

    There are many great challenges facing the world in the coming years, from climate change to feeding and housing a rapidly growing population. Yet the direction of the research, innovation and development efforts globally are acutely failing to meet the needs of billions of poor and disadvantaged people. Even worse is that even the research which is specifically targeted towards addressing these global challenges is based on a flawed system of ‘technology transfer’, rather than locally developed appropriate solutions.

    Practical Action is helping people to cope with climate change. In flood prone places like Bangladesh where it’s impossible to grow crops, Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land.

    Harvesting crops from a floating garden

    It was reported yesterday by Grain that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest donors with over $38bn of funds, provided just 4% of its agricultural funding to African NGOs, with more than three quarters of all funding going to research institutes in the USA. The picture becomes even more stark when the types of research and projects funded by the Gates Foundation are considered – they are almost exclusively supporting large-scale, industrialised monoculture solutions, an approach which almost completely excludes smallholder farmers. Yet these smallholder farmers comprise over 70% of farmers globally, produce nearly three-quarters of food, and are the single biggest group in extreme poverty.

    But the Gates Foundation is not alone. SciDev.Net recently reported on the misdirection of government funded research in Bangladesh, with the former Minister of Science and Technology, Abdul Khan, stating, “The priority of promoting scientific research has drifted to one which is concentrated on commercialism and unethical money-making. Budget allocation is now often seen from a point of view of investment and commercial profit.” Instead, Khan argues that budget allocation should be need-based.

    Food security is generally understood by policymakers as requiring increased production. But for many smallholder farmers living in marginal lands and with limited resources, minimising the risks of crop failure and crop wastage is the overriding concern.

    This misdirection of funding and research incentives is creating technology injustices on an enormous global scale. Poor people are unable to access the appropriate technologies they need to live decent lives; innovation practices are failing to address global challenges such as climate change and food security while concurrently undermining poor farmers; and the use of many technologies, such as monoculture farming which is dependent upon massive use of chemical inputs, is damaging both the land and the environment, now and for future generations.

    The very research which should be tackling inequality and meeting the needs of humanity are sustaining and exacerbating existing inequitable systems and unsustainable practices. We need Technology Justice to meet existing Millennium Development Goals and the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals, to eradicate poverty, and to ensure our world can sustain the growing global population for generations to come.

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  • The woes of inequality

    Sanjib Chaudhary
    October 16th, 2014

    What comes to your mind when you think about inequality? To me, it’s living in a sea of woes. Not because you are unworthy, but due to external factors that persist in the society and surroundings.

    Touch someone and be prepared to get ostracised
    I hail from a small village in Eastern Nepal and whenever I get to my native place, I like savouring local delicacies. While I was gulping down the mixture of puffed rice and chick-pea curry, an elderly man, in his late fifties approached the shopkeeper with a glass in his hand. The shopkeeper, keeping a distance from the man, poured tea from a kettle into his glass. With other customers, he would go to them with the glasses of tea and serve them with respect.

    I know both the men quite well. The tea-seller is a Haluwai whose traditional occupation is making sweets. Another man is a Dom whose traditional occupation is making household items from bamboo and rearing pigs. While the former is free to mingle with anybody, the latter is not even allowed to touch anybody. He is not even allowed to touch a hand-pump from where other people fetch and drink water. People still avoid touching him. And if by chance he touches anybody, he gets severe scolding and one who is touched runs towards a water source. To sprinkle water over his body in order to get purified.

    This is inequality to the extreme.

    Rare toilets and ubiquitous mobile phones
    The next thing that baffles me is the non-presence of toilets. In the urban areas almost every household has a toilet but it is a rare item here and people think having a toilet is leading a lavish lifestyle.

    This, to me, is inequality that can be addressed. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued orders to construct 5.2 million toilets in 100 days which turns out to one toilet every second.

    While almost everybody here has a mobile set today, people are not willing to construct toilets in their backyards. Since they are able to afford buying mobile phones and bearing the expenses of recharging from time to time, they simply need cheaper toilets. A little bit of change in behaviour and technology support from government and non-government organisations.

    Electricity at night means no sleep at all
    Adding to the woes is the frequent electricity cut-downs. While rest of the country too faces the power-cuts, the problem here is extreme. It affects agriculture as well. The sea of wires across the fields to run electricity-powered pumps remains useless most of the times during the day. And while people sleep at night, the farmers are busy running their motorised pumps to irrigate their pieces of land.

    Coping with the inequalities
    In spite of living amongst inequalities, people here are cooperative and always smiling. The scenario of untouchability is changing. People now have started communicating properly with Doms and other so-called lower castes, thanks to the social change and awareness brought by different agencies. Practical Action has supported such communities in Nepal and Bangladesh as well.

    While toilets were wonder items in the village, people returning from the Gulf and other countries (where most go to work as menial labourers) have started building toilets. The variety of different technologies used by Practical Action, as appropriate to each community, will be helpful to improve sanitation and health.

    Treadle pump

    Treadle pump

    Practical Action offers simple solution to sleepless nights for the farmers. The introduction of treadle pumps has increased the income that farmers generate from their land, both by extending the traditional growing season and by expanding the types of crops that can be cultivated. Called dhiki pump, it can be operated by legs. No electricity required!

    People are happy that the situation is changing and I am proud that Practical Action is one of the change-makers.

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  • Youth Employment Matters!

    October 13th, 2014

    “Employment opportunity to above 5000 rural youths in just three years is definitely an amazing figure!! More encouraging is that 50 per cent of these youths have turned themselves to an entrepreneur – having started their own business”

    This is an outcome of a recently completed project ROJGARI – Raising Opportunities for Jobs in Gramin Areas for Rural Incomes, funded by the European Union. Practical Action implemented this project in three rural districts (Doti, Achham and Kailali) of Far-Western Nepal targeting youths aged 16 to 40 years. The project capacitated six Technical and Vocational Training Centres (TVTCs) to offer market-driven courses to rural youths. Parallel to several capacity building activities, the project also promoted fee based trainings that was equally popular among the youths. We launched a rural job information web portal in close collaboration with the private sector where one can search and post job offerings. To make the job related information more accessible, the project also promoted a SMS service; which is being extensively used to generate enough revenue to make the system viable.

    A rural youth becomes an entrepreneur

    A rural youth becomes an entrepreneur

    No doubt, access to information is key towards entry to job market. In order to help unemployed rural youths with the self-confidence, networking and accessing the potential employers, the project has established 11 job resource centres. During the project period alone, a total of 107 youths were employed through these JRCs. The project has established and strengthened several local level networks and groups so that the youths come together, discuss and be informed about the job market.

    These are some of the examples of what the project did and what it resulted into. Many rural youths would otherwise migrate to the closer urban centres, and abroad to earn their livings; they are now spending quality time with their families and making money in their own place using the local resources. Having realised that youth energy is vital for the overall development of the nation, the project also analysed and made appropriate recommendations on the existing employment policies and provisions for enhancing rural employment in Nepal.

    Practical Action’s work in this project is surely remarkable and has contributed in enhancing the quality of rural life. The innovative approaches and practices promoted by Practical Action through this project is worth-replicating in other parts of Nepal and word-wide with similar socio-economic settings!

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