If, like me, you’re filled with excitement at the thought of tonight’s final of The Great British Bake Off, I think you’ll enjoy this story of how the fortunes of Peruvian baker Luz Marina Cusci Cáceres have been transformed, with a little help from Practical Action.
It is a Thursday morning in September 2012, and visitors are gradually arriving at a huge food festival that is a highlight for many Peruvians. Within a few hours, the place will be packed with hungry diners and long queues will form at the myriad food stalls. There is no respite for Luz Marina Cusi Cáceres, who has just returned to her stall after she has run out of stock. Her stall is to be found among the organic producers section, where delicious home-grown Peruvian goods are sold.
But what is so special about Luz Marina? And what does her story have to do with Practical Action?
Several years ago Luz Marina participated in Practical Action’s project ‘Development of productive uses of electricity in the Cusco region’. During her participation in this project, she developed her baking knowledge, and learnt how to bake traditional kiwicha [a traditional Peruvian cereal] biscuits in a more efficient manner.
Luz Marina used to make kiwicha products by hand until Practical Action came to her town, San Salvador, and worked with the community to introduce a variety of electricity-generating technologies such as solar panels.
“We knew nothing about electrified machinery before, but with the help of Practical Action engineers we began using kitchen appliances, like the electric whisk, which need electricity to operate.”
Luz Marina had always sold kiwicha, but she did not do anything to the raw kiwicha to add real value to it. An Italian woman in the town who knew how to make biscuits shared her baking skills with Luz Marina.
“She taught me that I could sell biscuits made out of kiwicha, which would fetch higher prices at market than raw kiwicha products.”
Once Luz Marina learnt how to bake the biscuits, rumours of her delicious culinary treats spread across town, and people started asking for more.
“People would eat them and then buy them. So I kept making the biscuits better, and although there is still room for improvement, I am now a much better baker than I was before. In 2009 I decided to start a baking business with three of my friends who also cook with kiwicha. It is very helpful to work as a group; we have a lot of confidence, we know each other, and we are united.”
The real turning point came when Luz Marina met a customer named Hugo. He was so impressed by the biscuits and the commitment of Luz Marina and her friends he helped the bakers to obtain the official hygiene certification they needed in order to sell their products in larger markets.
“Now we sell our biscuits in Ayacucho and San Gerónimo. We have to stock the stalls with 1000 packets every two weeks! What would we do without electricity? We use an electric whisk to make our biscuits. It saves us time and means we can make better quality biscuits that sell in their thousands! We still need more encouragement from the council though – it would help if they advertised and promoted our products.”
In addition to the biscuits, Luz Marina and the bakers are now selling kiwicha-based pastries and honey. At the bustling food festival these have been hugely popular.
“We have sold 6000 packets of biscuits in three days! I am very grateful to Practical Action – without electricity we could not have made a productive or profitable living from baking. The electricity has transformed our baking. And baking has changed our lives”.No Comments » | Add your comment
This April and May we wrote to Practical Action supporters to tell them about exciting work we are doing in Bondo, Malawi installing small scale hydro systems that bring electricity to remote villages. Lots of people have been very generous – thank you!
But actually we haven’t managed to raise as much money as we did when we wrote to supporters last year. This is not a complaint! Our supporters are incredibly generous and we are all aware that economic times are hard.
But (again – and yes I know you should never start a sentence let alone a paragraph with a BUT – some of my team will be after me!) The question that’s exercising us is whether or not we have told the story of why energy is important sufficiently strongly.
Malawi is a very poor country and one story that sticks in my mind – told to me by a friend who runs a hospital there – was that when their president died in April this year they had to get his body out of the country quick because they didn’t have enough electricity to power the fridges in the morgue.
Not that a fridge for dead bodies is a very basic need but it does give a real sense – at least to me – of the energy poverty in the country.
We used to at Practical Action use the phrase ‘a hand up not a hand out’ and that is what access to decent energy is all about. Without electricity women have to spend hours searching for firewood, children and their mums are made really ill or die (sadly lots of them – more than die from malaria) from the effects of dangerous kitchen smoke, hospitals cant power incubators or fridges, more basically operations or treatment can’t take place at night, etc.
With decent energy people have time to do things that make money to pay school fees, they can run different small businesses – I once met a mum in Zim whose husband had died she was putting her kids through school by making a business from her freezer – selling Freeze its (ice pops) – I’ve met welders, tea stall venders, carpenters whose lives have been transformed by energy access.
When you hear news reports from Syria or previously from Libya or from a place where a disaster has struck you listen to how often people say they have no electricity or water – often in that order. Decent energy is vital for poverty reduction.
We’re maybe not very good at telling the story – we need to get better. So I’d like to challenge you – if you think from reading about our work or from what you know from your own experience you could tell a great story of why energy is vital for poverty reduction then write it down and email it to me – Margaret.email@example.com and we will publish the best ones as a blog. If I get lots I may even find a small prize. So please show us how it should be done – how we should tell the story of energy access.No Comments » | Add your comment
Last night I went to see Avengers Assemble 3D. I’ve been looking forward to it all week and it’s been one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2012.
With Ironman, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk blended together with more special effects than seem necessary, I was looking forward to two-and-a-half hours of pure action. What I wasn’t expecting was to start thinking about Technology Justice.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, I don’t want to ruin it for you so I’m avoiding any spoilers – please read on. In summary, the storyline is the battle for ‘The Tesseract’ – a sustainable energy source with unknown potential. This battle would have torn the world apart if it weren’t for the band of super-humans and a demigod who stood in the way.
I’m not saying our world is at war over energy, but there certainly is an unbalance. Whilst I was sitting in a dark room with silly glasses on with 200 others, there were 1.3 billion people with no access to electricity. And yes, it’s a shame that they won’t be able to see the theatrical delight that is Avengers Assemble, but there are far more basic needs that these 1.3 billion people don’t have access to. What if someone needs seek medical attention after dark? Once they get to the medical centre, there may be no power for lighting or refrigeration to keep the medication cool, or to adequately light a surgery room.
That certainly seems like an injustice to me.
Now these 1.3 billion people don’t have a Hulk to fight for their technology justice. They have Practical Action, and we want to see a world where everyone has access to clean sustainable energy (not necessarily The Tesseract) by 2030. If you want to see a world of technology justice and want to be a superhero then check out http://practicalaction.org/energyforall.1 Comment » | Add your comment
to water saving showers, we’ve had lots of fabulous designs submitted from students who’ve entered our Small Is…Challenge. The final winning designs, along with others that were shortlisted from primary and secondary schools throughout the UK can be seen on our site.
The design challenge was launched to celebrate the centenary year of Practical Action’s founder Fritz Schumacher.No Comments » | Add your comment
For a number of years now, we have been helping to give people access to electricity through small hydro-electric schemes, which take the water from a stream, channel it into pipes. A water jet coming from the pipe drives a turbine, which in turn generates electricity. After the water has driven the turbine, it can be returned to the stream, or in some cases then used for irrigation. Typically a scheme might give power to a small community of 40 or 50 households.
I’ve visited some of these schemes, and it’s amazing what a difference an electricity supply can make. I went to one village where, a few years after the scheme was installed, people talked to me about the difference it had made to their lives. Electric lights had replaced candles which was far better for school homework (important if school is a one hour walk away); lots of people had bought a mobile phone, since it was now possible to charge them; the clinic had lights for the labour ward, and a fridge for vaccines; the school had its first computer; and one villager had set up a small wood turning business.
We invest a lot of time and effort to ensure that schemes like this are well maintained, and so I am confident that they will still be going 20 or 30 years more.
It’s amazing that we can achieve all of this change from one simple piece of technology, and even more amazing that it’s all powered from water!1 Comment » | Add your comment
There are all sorts of widening fault-lines on energy policy within today’s Green Movement. In the good old days, we’d just rub along together happy in the knowledge that for almost all of us energy efficiency came first, reducing the use of fossil fuels and vastly ramping up renewables came next, with nuclear (and carbon capture and storage for that matter) largely seen as a bit of a sideshow.
No more. The emergence of an eloquent pro-nuclear green lobby has exploded that (admittedly frail and rather woolly) consensus. Energy efficiency now goes as disregarded as ever, as a new fight rages between the supporters of the nuclear industry versus the supporters of renewables.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that we’re now into a strict fight in terms of those two options. The days when people talked about “co-existence” are long gone; this is now either/or, not both/and. And disturbingly, in every single decision that the UK government has taken over the last few months, it’s clear that they’ve thrown in their lot, yet again, with the nuclear industry. Fukoshima doesn’t seem to have changed that.
There’s one simple test for this hypothesis: where do you think the debate would be if the UK Treasury put the same sort of cap on funding for the nuclear industry (including paying off historical liabilities) as it has put on funding for renewables?
It’s maddening, yet again, that the nuclear industry has succeeded in turning its wretched sideshow into the main show – even though everybody recognises that even the most optimistic scenario for nuclear means it won’t be generating any more electrons in 2040 than it is today. And I can’t help but admit to real anger at the growing number of leading Greens who’ve been co-opted by the nuclear industry as it rises once again from the dead.
So perhaps we ought to be trying harder to find common ground elsewhere – and in particular on what needs to be done now to address the needs of the 1.4 billion people in the world today who are still without electricity, and 2.5 billion people who are cooking on open stoves, often at great risk to their own health.
Our sad little nuclear vs. renewables spat obscures the fact that this is where our priorities should lie – as has been spelled out very eloquently both by Ban Ki-moon in his call for “universal energy access by 2030” and in Practical Action’s excellent campaign to persuade people to get behind this overarching priority.
There are moves afoot to tie this to the Rio +20 Conference next year – and given how dispiritingly uninspiring the current agenda looks for Rio +20, that has to make a lot of sense. It’s a goal that all our NGOs, in both the development and environment lobbies, could enthusiastically mobilise behind, and persuade us in the process to keep our falling-out over nuclear in rather more realistic perspective.18 Comments » | Add your comment
When I visited Zimbabwe, the different community representatives I met may have varied in age to the extreme but their views on why energy is vital remained very similar – apart from the man who jokingly said that having a hair salon would make his wife more beautiful!
Energy is vital for poverty reduction and fundamental for community development. Even the children recognise this, as illustrated beautifully in just one of the entries from a school essay competition in a village where we are working.No Comments » | Add your comment
Access to energy was the focus of discussion on the second day of the High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP). Having formally adopted the day before a target to provide access to modern and sustainable energy services to an additional 100 million Africans by 2020, the Partnership is faced with the question of how to deliver it.
The delegates’ debate was primed by an introductory, lively speech from Dr Kandeh Yumkella, Director General of UNIDO and Chair of UN Energy, the somewhat invisible institution that co-ordinates energy matters across the UN agencies. He is also Chair of the Advisory Group to the UN Secretary General on Energy and Climate Change, whose report earlier this year proposed ambitious international targets for universal access to energy and reducing energy intensity. Dr Yumkella emphasised the need for energy for productive purposes, not just lighting. To paraphrase: just providing solar panels on roofs is like shining a light on poverty.
The debate that followed picked up on Yumkella’s his emphasis on providing energy for productive uses, but the chicken and egg question whether to provide electricity first to stimulate future productive activities, or to provide electricity first for productive uses, had advocates of both views. The discussion on the respective roles of the public and private sectors in providing access also had advocates of different viewpoints.
Sadly a whole morning’s debate on access to energy in Africa talked only about access to electricity – despite being reminded at the start that it is women who bear the main burden of providing energy to African families, and the energy they provide is for cooking. When discussion in the Partnership is confined to people whose primary, sometimes only, interest is in electricity generation and distribution – and at a large scale as well – the AEEP risks completely overlooking the most important energy service for the great majority of the people in Africa.No Comments » | Add your comment
The Hofburg in Vienna, once an imperial palace, has no doubt witnessed many political declarations in its long history. This week it was the turn of the High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership, which agreed a Declaration that sets political targets for co-operation between the European Union and the African Union up to 2020. These targets cover access to energy, energy security, renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as a commitment to dialogue on “energy issues of mutual interest”.
No sooner than the proverbial ink had dried, representatives from the 20 plus countries attending the High Level Meeting began questioning whether the targets went far enough. Is the target of 10GW hydro-power capacity ambitious enough in relation to the potential? What about a target for geothermal power capacity? Is the target of 100 million additional electricity connections by 2020 enough? An observer could be forgiven for wondering what was going on, given that the text of the declaration and the targets have been in circulation amongst governments for months. This observer wonders whether these are these political targets or technocratic targets?
The gilt chambers of the Hofburg repeatedly heard of the crucial importance of energy for development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Ministers and Commissioners listed all the statistics and arguments. Commissioner Piebalgs went so far as to say energy should be central to international development policy. But this rhetoric, all of which could have been scripted by Practical Action, did not seem to square with the Declaration. Compare, for example, the AEEP’s energy access target of 100 million additional people connected to electricity by 2020. This could still leave over 400 million Africans without electricity in 2020, and amounts to saying the MDGs are not going to be met in Africa until after 2020. The Declaration’s access target does not appear to match with the African Union’s goal of reducing by half the number of people without access to modern energy services by 2020, an it falls some way short of the target of universal access by 2030, recommended by the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.
Though there is a pretty clear gap between rhetoric and practice, the AEEP High Level Meeting remains significant for international policy on energy and development. In the absence of any internationally agreed goals and targets on energy for sustainable development, the AEEP provides a forum for one of the largest donors, the EU, to agree priorities for energy, with the group of countries, the AU, which has the greatest need.No Comments » | Add your comment
Sometimes I think or maybe hope the Small is Beautiful message has won through and we are a world that thinks in terms of appropriate, local and increasingly sustainable. At other times articles such as the one below burst my optimistic bubble and prove again how far we have to go.
A sad if mad start to Monday. This is a snippet taken from a Canadian newspaper where an influential conference on energy is taking place with 5,000 international delegates.
MONTREAL – Space exploration may pay off in the quest for renewable energy supplies for all of the globe’s inhabitants, the president of the Canadian Space Agency said during opening ceremonies at the World Energy Congress in Montreal.
“There is a tremendous amount of energy out in the universe,” Steve MacLean said during a speech that urged delegates to look beyond the boundaries of Earth.
That untapped energy is manifest in such things as black holes, said MacLean who circled our “fragile yet resilient” planet during space missions in 1992 and 2006.
“We know that black holes exist … that they drive our galaxies but we don’t fully understand them (yet). But the important thing to recognize is there is more energy out there on the head of a pin than you can imagine.
“And you can drive that power (for use) on the Earth for a long, long time.”
We have less than six years to turn our planet away from its addiction to carbon intensive fuels and yet 50% of the world’s population have no access to decent, modern energies. The solutions are not in space, they exist now. The problem is that we pretend as with this article that miracles of technology will save us and that we don’t need to act.
Remember the saying no pain no gain? This applies to our planet and to our energy use.
Maybe black holes will have a use but we can’t rely on them and they certainly won’t be part of our energy mix as we envisage the next 20 years – imagine the length of the pipeline? Get real.
Where is the nearest black hole? No rude answers please.1 Comment » | Add your comment