Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • A step too many?

    As someone who hasn’t been near lycra or a gym for many years the idea of paying good money to pound away on a cross trainer is totally alien. And yet for many thousands, their Saturday morning would not be complete without an hour in the gym treading sweatily away, shedding, hopefully, the pounds.

    woman on treadle pump For thousands of farmers across Asia and Africa, they have their own cross trainers – the treadle pump.   For them it’s not about losing the pounds but gaining the taka, the rupee or shilling. The treadle pump, developed in the 1980s, has been a life saver for many poor farmers, enabling them to pump water from underground, providing irrigation in areas far from a river, or in drought prone regions. The only power needed is a pair of strong legs.

    This is a fantastic invention which Practical Action has been including for many years in its work with poor farmers, helping them to improve their produce and increase their production and incomes. But it’s not for everyone (like me and the gym!). In some areas, the water has to be drawn up from significant depths – because the treadle pump provides vacuum suction to raise the water, the deeper the depth, the less the flow of water, the longer the time spent on the treadle pump, or it’s not possible to use the treadle pump at all. So what is normally a benefit, can become a burden, often to women and children who are the ones who generally operate the treadle pumps.

    solar powered pumpWith funding from the European Commission, our energy team in Zimbabwe is introducing solar powered irrigation to farming areas which are remote from the national electricity grid and unlikely to ever be connected. Even if they were, the cost of the electricity would be prohibitive and possibly unreliable. 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 6-7 hours continuous pumping to irrigate 0.5 hectares of land per day, women can be using this valuable time to set up small enterprises, and children can attend school, and the farmers can be sure of a sustainable and reliable supply of water for their crops. A definite step in the right direction.

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Time and distance will not matter now….

    Shivani Jha
    August 11th, 2014

    In a diverse and vast nation like India, 68.7%of the population inhabits rural areas (Source World Bank 2011). There is still a high dependence on agriculture. Between 1980 and 2011 agriculture dependent population in India grew by 50%, which was the highest for any country in world (Source ToI). There is an increased demand for better technology, infrastructure and relevant accessible information to support agriculture and livelihood sector owing to high dependence.

    Soil Desalination for Vegetable CultivationHowever, despite the heavy requirement there exists systemic weaknesses,  complicated by low awareness about services, diversity (Soil, water availability and irrigation, climate) and climate change.

    Responding to this urgent requirement for practical answers to the complicated issues, an initiative has been taken in which time and distance will not be barriers any more for farmers at village level.

    This is a pilot initiative in of Practical Answers in 2 states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in partnership with READ India. Under the pilot project, the queries of farmers are collected by field based coordinators through individual and group interaction and the farmers can also post their queries through mobile phone on a toll free number. The queries are responded to by an agricultural expert based in Delhi. The answers are posted back through mobile technology within 72 hours which can then be  accessed by farmers.

    A very early reaction to the pilot initiative by Practical Answers has been welcomed by farmers in Geejgarh village in Rajasthan by saying “ time and distance will not matter for us now for obtaining practical advice on agriculture ……..”

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • The only boss that I have – “The DONOR”

    Samjhana
    July 30th, 2014

    Is your boss not satisfied with our work? What do you expect then? A pink slip? – It makes sense and is perfectly logical!  After all, you are hired to meet the expectations of the organisation.  However, as a fundraising professional, I have realised that– at the end of the day, there is the only one boss – “The DONOR”!.

    I recently participated in a week-long certificate course in fundraising and communications in New Delhi, India. I have always been keen on tapping funds from institutions, trusts, foundations and corporate houses. I was quite determined that my efforts/interactions/discussions during the training will mainly be in this line.

    Donor representatives visiting a project in Bangladesh

    Donor representatives visiting a project in Bangladesh

    On the very first day, the resource person somehow tried to give us an impression – “fundraising is all about individuals”. I had a reservation, and I was rather convinced that funding has to do a lot more than an individual. As the days passed, we discussed differently on direct mails, cold calls, donor acquisition and retention, and so on.  At times, I felt that it was a complete waste of time; the whole discussion each day ended with a conclusion – “It is actually about an individual”.

    During a practical session on telefacing, a pretty lady was on the phone talking to a stranger. She talked for about four minutes including her introduction, the cause for the call and the conclusion. I had an impression that the person on the other side gave her an appointment for the meeting. She put down the phone with a cheerful smile on her face. At the end, it is the impression you leave on a stranger. I thought about it over the night and was convinced that fundraising is not possible in isolation. First, it was a cold call that ended up with an appointment, which could turn into a request for a concept note and subsequently a full proposal. No matter how big or small the amount we are proposing, this is exactly the way it works. So, is it all about an individual?

    I wrote a case for support, a capacity statement, appeals and many more. I featured Practical Action’s energy and DRR works, because then I could showcase my project to be the most urgent of all. The question was again, why the projects should be considered urgent to receive funding? I remember many projects I have been involved in which were not as urgent as the others, but they were funded. The answer is – the case I proposed was actually URGENT for somebody at the donor organisation. I again took my stand, it is not about “Somebody” who decides; It is about the whole organisation! But remember, evaluation committee in each donor organisation is comprised of a group of individuals. We need to win their heart, soul and mind! It is them who make decision on whether or not to support our project – be it a 2000 worth activity or a multi-million multifaceted project. So, am I convinced that it is all about an individual?  Somehow, yes!

    Each evening, I analysed what I am doing, and what is my job. I assure quality of donor reports, communicate with them, accompany them to the project sites and make sure they are HAPPY! I swallow all the guidelines on donor call for proposals, and make sure that our proposals meet their needs and criteria. I follow my donors on Twitter, regularly check their sites and update myself on recent happenings. I greet them on their special days, I participate in events/functions mainly because I could talk to them. Every second, I am trying to be nice with them, become conscious on what I communicate, and gently/visibly/widely acknowledge them in every possible activity. What for? Because, I want them to be happy with my organisation and its works. And always, a donor is an individual – to impress whom, we put all our efforts. Having realised all these, what do you think? I strongly believe – “Fundraising is all about an individual”, and a donor in whatever form, ultimately is an individual!

    I don’t want to get fired and become unwanted;  each moment I have this strong desire to please  my boss;  Yes, the only boss that I have – “The DONOR”!

    4 Comments » | Add your comment
  • The Tao of #Feedingdev

    Andrew Clenaghan
    July 25th, 2014

    How Energy, Water, and Agriculture all need each other

    watering vegetable in Turkana

    Practical Action (@Practicalaction) and Devex (@Devex) are holding a Twitter Chat on Monday, July 28 at 3PM BST/10AM EST.   By following the hashtag #feedingdev you can join the discussion about how the different components of the development arena – energy, water and agriculture – are inter-related within a well-functioning agricultural value chain.  Water is needed to produce food and energy, energy is needed to move and treat water and to produce food, and often food is used as a source of energy.

    In implementing our four key thematic programmes in Agriculture, Energy, Urban WASH and Disaster Risk Reduction, @Practical Action have come to realise that these systems are becoming increasingly more complex and dependent upon one another.  A change in one system can cause significant impacts in another. The systemic approaches we are now implementing and advocating for support the #feedingdev initiative to reimagine solutions for food security.

    These and are based on four main principles

    • The supply of food, energy and water is irrelevant if it remains inaccessible to the poor.
    • The supply of food, energy and water should be adaptable to climate change and protect the world’s resources for future generations.
    • People do not need any technology, they need the appropriate technology.
    • Women and men have different needs and are impacted differently by the agriculture-energy-water nexus.

    Key questions to address during TwitterChat:

    At a recent virtual workshop, attended by Practical Action staff from our seven country offices around the world, a list of key questions emerged.  The answers to these will help us better address the challenges of implementing a nexus approach’ for food security. We’d like to raise these questions with the larger twitter community:

    • Q1: Does a ‘nexus approach’ require complex, high-cost program design & implementation, or can it be simple and low-cost?
    • Q2: What are the major ‘trade-offs’ for smallholder farmers in the agriculture-energy-water nexus?
    • Q3: How can a robust evidence base be established to measure the impact of a ‘nexus approach – what indicators are useful and appropriate?
    • Q4: How can civil society effectively work with the private sector to take appropriate technologies to scale?
    • Q5: How can gender considerations best be included in the agriculture-energy-water nexus approach?

    “Economic development is something much wider and deeper than economics…Its’ roots lie outside the economic sphere…in political independence and a national consciousness of self-reliance.” (E.F. Schumacher)

    Join the Twitter chat on Monday, July 28 at 3PM BST/10AM EST using #feedingdev

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Rice duck farming – an early adopter’s story


    July 21st, 2014

    Last month, during my field visit, I met with a farmer and an early adopter.

    Rice Duck Farming Beneficiary

    Rice Duck Farming beneficiary in Nepal

    Raj Mani Chaudhary, a resident of Khaireni-7, Chitwan in Nepal is all smiles when asked about Rice Duck Farming. Before, he did not have any idea about rice duck farming. He used to plant paddy in his field in a traditional way like he always used to do. But it was not until last year when he found out about Practical Action’s Rice Duck Farming Pilot Project. He was really curious, so he attended the training. He says, “I found the concept of rice duck farming very fascinating, you not only benefit from the duck meat but also the droppings which is used as organic fertilizers, and at the same time the ducks in the field save your time and labour for weeding and manuring.”

    The rice duck method for growing rice involves releasing ducklings into paddy fields about one or two weeks after the seedlings have been transplanted. The ducklings help rice grow by eating insects and weeds. It eliminates the use of pesticide and the farmer saves his time by avoiding the manual work of pulling out the weeds from the field. The ducks also stir up the soil in the paddy fields with their feet and bills which creases the oxygen content of the soil, making it more nutritious for the rice seedlings.

    In April 2013, Mr. Chaudhary attended training on rice duck farming, where he learned about raising the ducklings, space transplanting the rice, integrating duck in the rice field, fencing and so on. As an initiation, Practical Action provided him with 81 ducklings for his 4.5 Kattha land (1 Kattha= 0.33 Hectare).

    He recalls the very first day of releasing the 15 days old ducklings to his paddy field, “I was very anxious and curious, I did not know how the combination of rice duck farming work. I used to watch the ducklings play around in the paddy field for hours.” After exactly 5 months, his patience paid off. The yield rose by 20 percent and he was able to make extra money by selling the duck meat.

    Being an early adopter, Mr Chaudhary cannot stop sharing the benefits of rice duck farming – higher yield, organic rice that can be sold at a higher price, the duck meat which fetches extra income, the droppings which act as fertilisers and the ducks which assist by pulling out the weeds and eating the insects.

    He is a role model for fellow farmers in his village and urges them to adapt rice duck farming in their land. “I cannot wait for this year to start my rice duck farming,” he chuckles.

    Although Practical Action’s innovative rice duck farming is in its early days, we believe the innovation will benefit more farmers financially in the future.

    Rice Duck Farming

    Rice Duck Farming

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Hens bring happiness

    Amanda Ross
    July 15th, 2014

    My daughter has recently started keeping a few chickens in our garden.  I now have a daily supply of fresh eggs and ‘the girls’ (Audrey, Cherie and Margot) fortunately require very little input from me. Occasionally they escape their enclosure and excavate my vegetable plot but generally they have been a positive addition to our household.  Only the cat begs to differ.

    Audrey, Cherie & Margot nesting among the potatoes

    Audrey, Cherie & Margot nesting among the potatoes

    Keeping chickens has a far greater impact on the lives of women in the Kassala region of Sudan.  Eggs provide their families with an excellent source of protein in a normally less than adequate diet.  But the ability to sell their produce offers the prospect of some extra income in a society where this is hard to achieve for women.

    In an interesting collaboration with our energy work, some of the women in this project have been given solar lamps for their chicken houses.  Light is important for hens as they generally lay eggs when they have at least 16 hours of daylight – difficult to achieve in equatorial regions.

    Our hens supply us with endless amusement and the luxury of a really fresh breakfast.  For women in Sudan they are an opportunity for financial independence and a key ingredient for a more balanced diet.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Building a forest, building a future

    Liz Frost
    June 20th, 2014

    I’ve just sent the final report to the innocent foundation on Practical Action’s cloud forest project, ‘New Life to the Forests, New Life for the Amazonian People in Peru and Bolivia’. Really hope they like the report, but more importantly I’m sure they will be as proud as we are of the incredible impact that the partnership between Practical Action and the innocent foundation, together with fellow funders of the project, the Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation, has achieved over the last three years for communities living the tropical forests of the Amazon.

    If you watched, ‘I bought a rainforest’ on the UK’s BBC tv over the last three weeks, by the film director, Gavin Searle, which follows the journey of Charlie Hamilton James when he bought 100 acres of Peruvian rainforest, you will have seen the kind of challenges he experienced if he was to preserve his purchase from being felled.   By living and working with the local people he begins to realise that the way to help protect the forest is not just to buy it, but to engage with the people living in it, and to work with them rather than against them. Just the way that Practical Action has been working with the indigenous Awajun and settler families in Bolivia and Peru – working with them to better manage the cloud forests sustainably so that they, and generations to come, can make a living without removing majestic trees such as the mahogany, without growing crops and then leaving the land degraded and without having to resort to livelihoods such as illegal logging and mining, which destroy not preserve one of the riches ecosystems in the world, home to amazing flora and fauna and to more than 3.5million native and migrant people.

    two girls holding  tree seedlings

    We set out to work directly with almost 1,500 people living and working in the forest, and to indirectly help a further 20,000 people, through sharing lessons and good practice. At the end of the three years, we have improved the livelihoods and lives of not only the families we worked directly with, but have improved the quality of life for at least a further 63,000 men, women and children. Equally importantly, the communities, with the Foundations’ and Practical Action’s support, have begun to rebuild the forest, and to build a better future for their children, by planting over 105,000 indigenous trees, trees that will bring shade to their crops and will capture over 630,000mt of CO2 . With skills and knowledge now in place, with the Government supporting the work being carried out, this not the end of the project, but the beginning of a new life for the forests, a new life for the Amazonian people in Peru and Bolivia.

    Practical Action is keen to talk to Trusts and Foundations who would like to support our work in energy, access to markets, disaster risk reduction and urban water and sanitation.  Visit our dedicated Trusts and Foundations site for more information:  http://practicalaction.org/trusts-and-foundations

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Learning about climate change from trees

    Amanda Ross
    April 25th, 2014

    I love trees and we are all well aware of how important they are for the health of our planet.  So yesterday, I was fascinated to meet a dendrochronologist for the first time.  Dr Aster Gebrekirstos is a scientist at Erlanger University and the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi and is a specialist at interpreting climate fluctuations of the past through tree rings.

    WP_20140423_009Dr Gebrekirstos was one of two inspiring winners of the AfriCAN climate research award, which promotes the role of women in climate change research in Africa.

    Her research involves measuring the spaces between the rings of trees (cut down after they are dead) which indicate the amount of growth each year.  These show narrower rings relating to periods of drought.  Analysis of oxygen isotopes in trees shows their different reaction to carbon when under stress.

     It is vital that we are able to make informed decisions in our efforts at adaptation and mitigation of climate change.  Currently there is little data available relating to historic climate fluctuations in Africa, but the efforts of Dr Gebrekirstos will play a key role in supplying this valuable information.

    baobab treeThis research will enable tree species that are most resilient to climate change to be identified and to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right place.  This is just one of the many aspects of Climate Smart Agriculture addressed by this week’s AfriCAN climate/FANRPAN conference in Pretoria.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Living below the line

    Helena Molyneux
    April 17th, 2014

    In less than two weeks I start living below the line for 5 days, spending £5 or less on food and drink. I made this commitment to Practical Action a couple of months ago not long after taking over as Chair of Trustees. And now I am feeling OMG, what have I let myself in for. It will be hard.

    101012 Upper Guruwe - livelihoods improvement agri processing - peanut butter making

    Making peanut butter

    Truthfully, there are aspects which will not be hard. I like rice and pasta simply flavoured. I don’t mind forgoing meat.  Porridge is a great filler in the morning. I am OK with drinking lots of water – hot or cold. I will give what I would normally have spent on food and drink as a donation to Practical Action.

    But I will miss: a morning coffee, having lots of fruit and vegetables, a glass of wine and probably most of all, spontaneous decision making about what I eat. Living on £5 for the 5 days requires planning and research about where I shop. But these limitations and frustrations are what most people live with every day of every year.

    Reflecting on my experience of the five days is one of the things I want to get out of it. And that’s apart from raising awareness of the work Practical Action does in enabling people to lift themselves out of poverty by accessing simple, useful know-how and technology and of course raising funds for that work. If I can have the optimism and lack of self pity during these 5 days that the people I met in Zimbabwe when I went to visit Practical Action’s work there have, that will be something.

    Farmers from Upper Guruwe

    Farmers from Upper Guruwe

    I took this photo in northern Zimbabwe, a place called Upper Guruwe where Practical Action has enabled local communities to improve their vegetable growing. And not just that, but also enabling people to create higher value-added food products which they can sell at market and so earn more money for themselves and their families eg. peanut butter making also pictured here. One of the things that really impressed me was how people make sure that the elderly and the sick in their communities get the benefit of these vegetables – not just keeping them all for themselves or for selling at the local markets.

    Do have a go at Living Below the Line too.  Who knows what you might learn from the experience or how much money you might raise if you get people to sponsor you. And if anyone wants to sponsor me, please do.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Making real change in Oliver’s life

    He can hardly read or write in English. He only did a few years in primary school as his parents could not afford paying the ‘exorbitant’ school fees. He estimates his age at 31 years though not sure of the exact date of birth. He is married to Nyasha Rondozai who is 28 years old. The couple is blessed with three children, all girls named Tadiwa, Anna and Chiedza. With limited education and unemployed, Oliver Rondozai faced poverty and hopelessness in Domborutinhira, a village in the mountainous Mutasa District of Manicaland province in Zimbabwe.

    Although Mutasa District is endowed with natural resources – fertile soils, timber plantations and overflowing rivers – Oliver’s family could hardly afford three meals a day and were facing the grim prospect of failing to send their children to school. The crop yield from their fields was hardly enough to feed the family.

    Today, Oliver is one of the happiest persons in Domborutinhira. His family’s fortunes have dramatically improved. His fields are teaming up with a healthy potato crop, carrots and the staple maize crop. His family now has a source of income, access to nutritious food, health services and he boasts of having paid school fees for the whole year in advance for his two daughters in primary school. He has waved good bye to open defecation as he has built a Blair Ventilated Improved Pit toilet at his home.

    VivianAnother villager who saw a change in fortunes is 60 year old Vivian Mabika, who lives with her husband Lovemore Mabika and three grandchildren. The aging family had the extra burden of looking after their orphaned grandchildren. Vivian revealed that as a family, they used to look down upon themselves as they used to depend on food handouts from humanitarian relief agencies. Today Vivian boasts of being self-sufficent. They have managed to buy farming supplies from the proceeds of agricultural sales and send their grandchildren to school. Last year, Vivian and family did not have enough seeds or fertiliser and were only able to cultivate 0,8ha of their land, but this increased to 2ha this year as a result of profits from selling produce grown using seed supplied by the project, under the voucher system. They now plan to buy a grinding mill to augment the family income.

    The stories of Oliver and Vivian’s families are shared by many habitants in Domborutinhira Village. Like many people across the country, they had experienced hardships due to the meltdown of the Zimbabwean economy since the turn of the new millennium, mainly as a result of the prevailing political instability and the highly contested land reform programme. They had become chronically dependent on food hand-outs from donors and other humanitarian organisations.  

    Now Oliver and Vivian are some of the beneficiaries of Practical Action’s Promoting Smallholder Market Engagement (PSME) project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund.  Partners are The Farm Community Trust and Zambuko Trust and there is collaboration with the Department of Agritex under the Ministry of Agriculture and Mechanisation.  It is being implemented in the Chimanimani, Mutasa, Mutare and Nyangafour districts of Manicaland province.  As well as providing vouchers for agricultural inputs the project strengthening the livelihoods of smallholder farmers through eleven irrigation schemes, including one in Domborutinhira.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment