To find out how a very small project can show so much meaning about the real values of rural poor people, which make them happy and give meaning to their lives, read about the day I made a visit which made that day exceptional.
My visit to Silkyay village in the rural area of Kassala was a routine field visit like many others but my encounter with a woman called Nafisa changed that visit into an inspirational lesson.
Nafisa is involved in Practical Action’s “chicken for eggs” project. This aims to enhance nutrition and provide income for poor households. She has 20 hens in her small, clean den, and managed and cleaned this den every day, until she began producing 20 eggs per day. Some of these she consumes and the rest she sells. The day I met Nafisa happiness overwhelmed her and joyfully she told me that now she has work, and she owns something, she has control of her life.
In the beginning she faced difficulties marketing her produce in her village, because people weren’t used to eating eggs. The varieties of food they ate were very limited – mainly porridge and milk and this culture led them to refuse anything unfamiliar and prevented them from having a healthy and diversified diet.
Nafisa started introducing the egg as a main meal in her own house, as breakfast for her children before school. Then she began an awareness campaign about the nutritional value of eggs. Gradually the skeptical village changed to be less hesitant. In a short period the whole village began to depend on eggs for breakfast. Nafisa proudly stated that now she alone cannot supply the increasing demand and has other five women working in this project.
Nafisa said that now she feels appreciated by her family and community, and she is happy about the simple tangible change her project introduced to the life of the people in the village. The happiness of Nafisa and her pride at her achievement taught me that helping women to access and control resources, is the right approach for justice and for improving the status of women and mothers in our communities. Productive work gives women a proud feeling of ownership and control of their resources as Nafisa reflected as she enthused about her hens.
The change happened when people began buying eggs after being convinced of their nutritional value. This taught me the meaning and practicality of such small activities when they relate to people’s real needs.
Before concluding this story, I would like to tell you about my own experience when I bought some eggs from Nafisa and cooked them myself. I learned something else important – that the home-produced egg from this village is a natural egg, free of chemicals and is tastier and more beneficial than the ones we purchase from markets which are produced by companies using chemicals and hormone injections.
How inspiring are these small works when powered by a strong will and the strength of women like Nafisa!No Comments » | Add your comment
“One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that ‘the problem of production’ has been solved.” E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, Economics as if people mattered.
The global food system is close to breaking point: growing populations and dramatic changes in dietary habits are fuelling increasing demand. Whilst increasing severity of natural disasters and escalating competition for water resources are further complicating the situation. The food system’s vulnerability is characterised by soaring food prices and more frequent food crises.
So, the question facing us today is how can increasing demand be met when conventional yields are flatlining? Is the solution to be found in the research laboratory, or is there a cheaper, sustainable and already tested solution staring us in the face?
Today, over 500 million smallholder farmers, fishers and agro-foresters supply food, fuel and fibre to almost 2 billion people living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world.
A recent visit to the people living in Wokin Kebele in Amhara region of Ethiopia highlighted the difficulties that these people face in accessing support. The government extension office was over one hour drive away on an unmade road and was staffed by a handful of government officials who have significant demands placed upon them. As a consequence the villagers that I met were self-reliant. They used basic technology and largely renewable inputs. If these smallholder farmers were to receive one tenth of the support available to farmers in developed countries, their production gains would be considerable.
The potential for production gains with more investment is show in the entrepreneurial way that these farmers have innovated using their own resources. I visited one farmer who had developed a new plough to cope with increased water logging in low lying fields and met a second who had started to plant small areas of Teff (Eragrostis tef), a traditional Ethiopian staple, as warming winter temperatures allowed cultivation of the crop in an area that was previously unsuitable.
However, to encourage further local innovation as a vanguard to smallholder-led growth, a major transformation of the global agricultural system is required. This would reward innovation and optimise production by making the most of each unit of existing agricultural land.
The first step of such a transformation would be a change in the way in which small scale production is viewed, recognising the benefits of the diversity, traditional skills and potential for crop improvements that smallholder systems present.
The second step would recognise the potential for human agency and requires a change in the future choice for smallholder farmers. Smallholder producers should be offered appropriate rewards that recognise their role as custodians of the planet. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past and driving smallholders off their land through the gradual conversion of small-scale into large-scale industrial systems, a new and alternative agricultural future for smallholder farmers should be promoted. A future that meets their livelihood aspirations while delivering a global food system that doesn’t cost the Earth.
What I saw in Ethiopia reconfirmed my belief that by improving the capacity of the poorest performing producers, the largest gains in terms of global food production can be made. Importantly these gains would be delivered where they are needed most.
This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/No Comments » | Add your comment
In September I had the chance to visit our work in Kassala in the eastern part of Sudan. Travelling there took 9 hours. Although it was an exhausting journey, we enjoyed the beauty of the journey, the green spaces and towering mountains covered with trees, like a beautiful painting painted by a masterful artist. Pastoralists and farmers were grateful for the blessing of rain this year, despite the difficulty of storing water in those rural areas.
We visited Bagadir village, 30 Km from Kassala, which is inhabited by tribes called Bani Amer, who have migrated over the years from the Arabian Peninsula. Some also live in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Eritrea and different parts of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Women are not considered a good omen for this tribe and their role is limited. Moreover women are not allowed to leave the village for any reason and their fundamental role is parenting and serving men.
Food in times of scarity
Practical Action Sudan has introduced ‘Jubraka’, small farms for women, usually established near the house to provide food for farmers’ families during the critical time of food scarcity. In these farms women have been cultivating crops such as okra, watermelon, henna and bananas, using our new advanced drip irrigation technique. Our visit coincided with the period of fruiting and I’ll never forget the scene. I see the taste of success in women’s eyes, their efforts paid off.
My colleague Nahid Ali Awadelseed started to talk with the women, gathering in the corner where a thatched umbrella is erected. Usually, during irrigation and taking care of the farms women gather to do craft work or drink coffee. We start to chat with them and find out their opinions of Practical Action’s work in their community
One 16 year old girl, Afrah Karar, spoke on behalf of all the women. I admired her courage and her ability to express herself and asked if she had education or training. I knew Practical Action had offered her agricultural training in Kassala but unfortunately her father refused her permission to leave the village. We were able to send a trainer to her village to help pass on this knowledge to the rest of the women.
Then Siham Mohamed Osman, the leader of this programme of work for Practical Action, asked the women a question:
“Do you sell your farms’ production in the markets outside the village or do the men not allow it?”
I was impressed by the swift answer from one of the women telling us that the men had began to abandon their stupidity. I felt this was an amazing answer. Women’s work has started to change the customs and traditions of the tribe and then to change the status of women within their community.
Small works lead to small change and small change is the start of big success.
Much can be done to empower women. Practical Action is taking action by putting women’s empowerment at the center of development plans in our work. There can be no development, and no lasting peace on the planet, if women continue to be relegated to subservient and often dangerous and back-breaking roles in society.7 Comments » | Add your comment
….there was a little girl who loved stories. As a little slip of a thing, she used to stand and swing on the garden gate, waving to passers-by in the hope that she could chat to them and ask them questions to find out their stories (she was a very curious little girl). A few years later, her very patient, very wonderful mother would read her favourite Maurice Sendak stories Outside Over There and Where The Wild Things Are to her every night. When she was at school, she’d set her alarm super early so she could wake up and read Enid Blyton books before going to lessons. English was always her favourite subject, and characters such as Elizabeth Bennett, Scout Finch, Jo March and Scarlett O’Hara were as familiar to her as her oldest friends. And then she studied the art of telling a story – for it is an art – during an English Literature degree at university.
Now that little girl (who’s not so little anymore) works for Practical Action.
I am that girl. And I work at Practical Action because I want to change the world. But my passion is storytelling: both discovering a good story, and then telling it in the best possible way. But how do you change the world with a story?
Well, this week, we at Practical Action launched our next five year strategy. It is bold and ambitious and exciting – but challenging too. The targets, both in terms of fundraising and impact at scale, are high.
But that’s because there are huge problems to solve. Right now 1.3 billion people across the world don’t have clean, safe water. 1 billion people don’t have enough food to eat. 2.6 billion people don’t have adequate sanitation. And 1.6 billion people don’t have access to modern energy. Too many people live in abject poverty. It is a world of great technology injustice.
There is no question that this needs to change. So over the next five years we will work towards four universal goals:
- Sustainable access to modern energy service for all by 2030
- Systems which provide food security and livelihoods for people in rural areas
- Improved access to drinking water, sanitation and waste services for people living in towns and cities
- Reduced risk of disasters for marginalised communities
And by the end of this next strategy period, in 2017, we will have transformed the lives of 6 million people.
That is an exhilarating prospect for me.
Because 6 million people = 6 million stories to find and tell.
Each of those 6 million is not just a ‘project beneficiary’ but a living, feeling, thinking human being with their own unique life story. And those 6 million life stories are 6 million more reasons to support Practical Action, today and for the future.
I can’t wait to get started.
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I am writing this blog from a conference hosted by the German Government in the old parliament building in Bonn.
Influencing the Rio +20 summit
The Bonn conference is being attended by over 500 people, including ministers, senior government officials, representatives from the UN agencies and development banks, researchers and civil society groups. It is the German Government’s attempt to put an issue on the agenda for the next ‘earth summit’ – Rio + 20 summit next year, and it is confirming for me the relevance of our work to the subjects which will be increasingly central to future international development policies.
The Germans held a similar conference, which I also attended, just ahead of the last ‘Earth Summit’ in 2002. That conference focused on freshwater, with a big emphasis on water and sanitation. It gained momentum for the move to get a sanitation target into the MDGs and ensured the topic got a good airing at the Johannesburg summit. So this conference has a bit of a track record of getting issues onto the ‘Earth Summit’ agendas.
The subject of the conference this time is the critical importance to both poverty reduction and a sustainable future for all of us of three inter-related ‘securities’ – food security, energy security and water security – and it this that the German Government would like to see centre stage of the discussions for Rio +20. Interestingly, the EC has just announced its new ‘agenda for change’ which outlines a new and tighter focus to its development assistance, with a big emphasis on two of these three securities – food and energy.
There are some fascinating figures being quoted in the various sessions here. Did you know, for example, that globally 70% of freshwater extraction and nearly half of energy production is consumed by the agriculture sector? Or that the amount of cultivated land per capita is expected to be just 1.61 ha per person by 2050, compared to 7.91 ha per person in 1900?No Comments » | Add your comment
On a recent holiday in Sicily I visited the tomb of Archimedes, engineer and inventor of the 3rd century BC – famous for his ‘eureka’ moment. Born in the rich and powerful city of Syracuse, he benefited from the financial support of its ruler Hiero II.
He was considered the greatest mathematician of the ancient world and was responsible for many important discoveries. The Archimedes screw is still extensively used throughout the world as a method of raising water.
His home city of Syracuse was at war with Rome and under siege for two years with the result that Archimedes was obliged to devote a great deal of his time to the design of the machinery of war. He proved remarkably good at this. But imagine what he might have achieved if his work had been devoted to inventions for human good rather than human destruction.
In our sophisticated modern world we still devote a disproportionate amount of our budgets and great scientific minds to the pursuit of war. The technologies in which we invest most in the developed world are designed either to provide us with an even greater level of comfort and ease than we already enjoy or to destroy our enemies. And we expend vast sums in the destruction of our beautiful planet. Only a small proportion of our enormous wealth is devoted to finding solutions to the basic needs of more than a billion people in the world who live in poverty.
This is a great injustice and one which Practical Action is determined to address. Providing clean, sustainable energy systems, more easily accessible water supplies and better sanitation give poor men and women the opportunity to live healthier and more rewarding lives. Surely that’s worth fighting for?3 Comments » | Add your comment
2011 Blog Action Day on 16 October – World Food Day – is, naturally, themed around food
The hill and mountain districts of far and mid-western Nepal have been hit by persistent food insecurity. The agricultural produce is not sufficient for household consumption in many areas of the country due to high dependency on subsistence agriculture, very small land holdings, inequality in land holdings, low productivity, limited agricultural infrastructure, use of traditional tools and lack of appropriate technologies.
In my recent visit to one of the Practical Action’s project sites in mid-west Nepal I saw a ray of hope where people were continuing the land leasing approach for food production introduced by Practical Action.
Practical Action, with support of the European Union, implemented a food security project in this area, focusing on a land leasing approach targeting smallholder farmers who owns less than 0.05 hectare of land or are landless.
The project has supported the group of small land-holding or landless farmers in accessing the land through a land leasing approach. The project has also people in accessing various appropriate agricultural technologies, extension services, agri-infrastructures and linking with markets.
A survey indicated that the proportion of project households having food sufficiency for less than three months has been decreased to 6.7% from 58.3%. The study also revealed that the food sufficiency for three to six months, six to nine months and more than nine months have been increased to 41, 33.8 and 18.5% from 28, 10.7 and 2.9 per cent respectively.
The smallholding farmers, who I met recently, were very happy and were continuously practicing the plastic house technology and micro irrigation technology in their leased land. They were receiving support from the local agro-vets and local resource people developed by the project. It is encouraging that from the selling of the vegetables and other agricultural produces, they were able to buy some pieces of land on their own where they can grow more produce to fulfill their food need.
With this evidence, I think the land leasing approach can be a sustainable approach that can be replicated elsewhere while working with the smallholders or landless farmers to secure or improve their food security conditions.5 Comments » | Add your comment
This morning before work I spent my usual few moments educating myself about today’s news on the BBC website.
I was especially interested in reading the latest about the Horn of Africa drought and famine because in five days I will be travelling to Kenya myself to visit a range of Practical Action’s projects. My trip will include four days in Mandera, an area in the very north of the country, and one which is severely affected by the worst drought in 60 years.
However, it took me much longer than I expected to read news about the drought. In fact, it took me four mouse clicks to reach any sort of update about the current crisis. The drought does not even headline the Africa section of the BBC news page.
This horrifies me perhaps even more than I can express. Since when did the suffering of 12 million people stop being headline news?
When reading the comments section underneath virtually every article on Africa and development and poverty on any mainstream news website, there is a worryingly high number of opinions along the lines of “Africa brings its poverty on itself”, “it’s not the West’s problem anymore, we’ve done enough”, “charity begins at home”, “just give them condoms” and a whole host of other ill-thought out, lazy and ignorant attitudes.
Of course development has its problems. But when the lives of 12 million people – and most of these children – are at risk these do not matter.
You have two choices. Bury your head in the sand and ignore the suffering of so many because it has nothing to do with you - which is a very easy choice, as demonstrated by the absence of the crisis from mainstream news.
Or support relief efforts of other NGOs, and the long-term development work of Practical Action.
You can give, and try to help.
Or you can choose not to. And more many innocent girls and boys from Africa will die.
I will be reporting from Kenya throughout my time there. Stay tuned.No Comments » | Add your comment
…..and think about how closely you agree with the statement ‘I should only eat food grown in my country ’ was something the President of the West African Farmers Federation ( ROPPA) was asked to do at the kick off meeting for a new EC project on African Agriculture called EuropeAfrica2.
Along with about 20 other attendees he took part in an activity called a belief circle. Designed by Practical Action Education it will be one of a number of educational activities to raise awareness of how food choices we make in Europe affect farmers in Africa. It’s a three year project and Practical Action will be working with partners from Belgium (VECO) and Italy (Terra Nova) to produce material for schools which can be adapted to fit the needs of a number of European countries.
A belief circle can be used to stimulate discussion on a number of issues related to international development including sustainability in engineering. Looking at the enthusiastic response of the president of ROPPA it certainly stimulates engagement!No Comments » | Add your comment
I was in good company (approx. 12 million people in fact!) by spending my Friday night curled up at home watching BBC’s bi-annual charity telethon Comic Relief. For the most part, I was entertained by the host of comics and celebrities, moved by the footage of vulnerable families in the UK and Africa, and inspired by the efforts of Comic Relief-funded projects to transform lives for good.
However, I found one video extremely unsettling. This short film showed comedian Jack Dee handing out nutritional bars named “Plumpy’Nut” to malnourished children in Kenya. Now I realise that the children receiving this high-protein peanut paste bar were gravely underweight, and in need of urgent help ultimately to save their lives. And I do believe that R.U.T.F. (or ‘ready to use therapeutic foods’) have their place – in times of famine or disaster, for example. But as an example of how Comic Relief strives to “create a just world free from poverty”, I think it was flawed.
After a bit of research today I discovered that a French company named Nutriset manufactures “Plumpy’Nut” bars and protects its intellectual property fiercely. Apparently the inventor of the product envisaged people making it for themselves wherever they were in the world (developing nations grow the majority of the world’s peanuts) but Nutriset’s patent means that this is illegal – although obviously this doesn’t always stop local producers from making their own versions of “Plumpy’Nut”. Regardless of this, it seems that business is profiting from poverty. Maybe it’s naÃ¯ve, but to me this seems profoundly unjust.
And furthermore, the eradication of malnutrition and weeding out its roots – poverty – is not as simple as distributing a one stop solution to hunger. The answer is far less flash and glamorous. We need to work together with poor people to ensure that they are not condemned to a life of reliance upon Western interventions. And we do that by empowering poor people around the world to challenge their own poverty. At Practical Action we believe that simple, practical solutions can help poor people escape their poverty forever, and we provide the tools and opportunity they need to drive their own development. Read about our work here.
This is the point that our recent spoof video ‘Fat of the Land’ was trying to make. In my opinion handing out “Plumpy’Nut” is no better than donating fat at the Klaxon Institute. Watch it here if you haven’t seen it yet and tell me, what do you think? I’d be interested to hear other thoughts on this. Because the only one echoing around my head is that to achieve fair, long-term and lasting development we should be giving people a hand-up, not a hand-out.No Comments » | Add your comment