Blogs tagged as New Technologies

  • Can Climate Information Services be mapped? 


    February 2nd, 2017

    “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather”.  Groundhog day 1993

    Practical Action has been approached by a consortia of partners to explore the issue of Climate Information Services in West Africa. We have been posed the question “Is it possible to map the Climate Information Services system in the region and would mapping help to make the system work better for rain fed marginalised farmers?” This is partly to respond to the challenge of why despite investment in rolling out modern forecasting systems on the continent, farmers especially small holder farmers fail to benefit from these investments? Why is crop productivity still lagging behind other regions and why is food and nutritional security still highly susceptible to seasonal and shorter term weather events?

    We are interested in mapping the CIS system for both long range forecasts of the season ahead as well as shorter duration forecast of the week or day ahead.  These forecasts must consider and accurately reflect weather, climate variability and must also anticipate the uncertainty surrounding the consequences of climate change for the region.

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Accurate seasonal forecasts can help farmers make the right crop choice for the subsequent growing season, for example if the predictions are for a wetter or dryer season then the farmer can adjust the seed they purchase to grow crops best suited to the expected conditions. By contrast accurate weekly and daily weather forecasts can enable farmers to choose the right husbandry activities for the crop at that particular moment in time. For example advance warning of heavy rain may prompt a farmer to speed up harvest to prevent storm damage to a standing crop or perhaps for a herder to find safe high ground prior to heavy rains leading to flash flooding.

    However in both cases there are a number of issues that need to be considered to make the forecast practical. These include;

    Believable, currently many farmers have zero or limited access to climate information services and have for generations relied on traditional knowledge systems.  These include observational information on the behaviour of species, timing of events or observation of atmospheric conditions.  It is vital that modern climate information services respect these indigenous approaches and compliment or reinforce these messages. Over time as reliability increases farmers can make a shift in trust and belief, but even in the developed world many farmers still look to local signs to interpret the outcome or as back up to the information provided by the climate information service for their locality.

    Actionable, the farmer needs to be able to make a change based on the information they receive.  For a farmer to switch crops based on a seasonal forecast they will need access to those alternative crops, not just access to seeds but also the activities that support these crops, such as technical knowledge, extension services and other supporting services. If the information cannot be acted upon by the farmer with the resources they have to hand it is next to useless.

    Understandable, providing blanket forecasts will not be useful if they cannot relate the forecast information to their individual situation. As we move down to finer scales weather forecasts become less reliable and it is therefore vital that CIS delivery is tailored to what we know about local conditions. We are all aware of the anomalies in the landscape and these are usually best known by local people. So tailoring the forecast to the local conditions will be vital.  Related to this is the need to make forecasts practicable to the diversity of users in the area. Forecasts need to explain the application of what the information means for different farming systems. The forecast may predict favourable condition for certain crops or livestock species but may herald warnings for others, so tailoring the advice to specific cropping recommendations will make the climate service more user friendly.

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    We have started to elaborate a participatory mapping approach which builds on the success of our Participatory Markets Systems Development (PMSD) approach. This has been adapted to map not a value chain but to focus on the transmission of climate services from information sources to information recipients. We will aim to map the transmission of information across the system as it is converted from one form of information to another and turned into action through different service providers.  Crucial to the success of this approach will be the need to make it bottom up and as participatory as possible.

    There are plenty of other issues that we will consider as this project develops. For example the use of SMS messaging and other types of Information Communication Technologies to disseminate climate information.  However, one of the most important aspects that we are hoping the system approach will help us understand is the role and potential for feedback loops. Established Climate Information Service systems work because they are reliable and trustworthy. This is only possible if regular experiential learning and feedback takes place between the end users and the CIS system components. We are excited to be a part of this project, but recognise that there is a lot still to learn about climate information services and what makes them tick.

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  • Technology Justice is critical to reduce risk for the poorest


    February 7th, 2016

    Technology can greatly enhance the ability of disaster-affected communities to reduce their risk thus preventing natural hazards turning into human disasters.

    Technology has driven our development. Key technological innovations have heralded revolutions in the way we interact with the environment, but this drive for development has now started to threaten our future. Many scientists are proposing that we have now entered a new epoch “The Anthropocene”. This started when human activities began to have a significant impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Climate change is a symptom of the anthropocene, as unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels threatens the future viability of this planet as a home for us and future generations.

    technology

    The consequences of this global imbalance is felt most by those who are least responsible for causing the problem in the first place. Climate change threatens to deprive poor people of their livelihoods, damage infrastructure, lower productivity and ignite social tensions. The response to climate change will consume resources that could otherwise be directed towards productive activities, and can wipe out years of development in seconds. Humanitarian assistance often arrives too late, when loss and damage has already occurred. Practical Action believes that the goal of development should be to create sustainable wellbeing for all, wellbeing that is resilient and not easily eroded by external shocks and stresses. We must not rely on humanitarian response alone. Communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of changing climate should be prioritised for action and under the Paris agreement technology will be central to how the global community responds to climate change. But the way in which technology is accessed, innovated and used is critical to the effectiveness of this response, especially for communities who face extreme or recurrent natural hazards.

    Technologies exist that have the potential to reduce the exposure of poor and vulnerable populations around the world, but technologies are either not rolled out or are not functioning to provide communities with usable information about their risk. Technologies can manifest in different ways to alter community risk. Technology is central to monitoring risk exposure and technology is central to support people to respond to risk. But poor communities continue to be hit by regular disasters with no advance warning. What are the underlying conditions that create this disconnect between technology and vulnerability?

    technology tramsformation

    It is clear that access to technology and its benefits are not equally shared. The current innovation system is not working. Without change, it will continue to drive injustice, inequality and lead to avoidable damage and destruction. It is time to overhaul how technology and its innovation are governed, in order to ensure the wellbeing of all people and the planet.

    Technology Justice Call to Action

    Be part of a movement for Technology Justice. Check out our call and be part of the change!

    • http://www.anthropocene.info/
    • http://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

     

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  • Merry Christmas, goodbye and thank you!


    December 15th, 2015

    At the end of December I’ve chosen to leave Practical Action after 15 years. For me it’s time for a new challenge and I’ll start 2016 full of the spirit of adventure – news of any challenging opportunities gratefully received. I’m excited to explore what next.

    But I leave too with great hope and great sadness.

    Hope because of the transformation I’ve seen in the lives of people who work together with Practical Action across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

    Because of the brilliance of our education work which is helping European citizens think differently about technology, poverty, and our world. We need to work for a changed world together.

    And because of our work at Practical Action on knowledge – maximising the impact of everything we do, and helping others share their learning through podcasts, answering enquiries on a one to one basis often face to face, our call centre serving farmers and fisherfolk in Bangladesh, web based info in Peru….. and so much more. I first came to know Practical Action through Practical Action Publishing and remain a huge fan. Today our work on knowledge – sharing rather than hoarding – helps millions of people each year. It’s just amazing!

    I not only hope, but know, Practical Action will continue to make a difference in our world – providing practical solutions to poverty, working together with communities, sharing learning and respecting the finite nature of our planet.

    But I also feel sadness.

    Sadness because I leave a great group of people – committed individually and as a global organisation to helping communities escape poverty. Their passion, hard work, dedication to inclusive development is just amazing.  I will miss all of the Practical Action teams for different reasons – but the golden thread throughout is their commitment.

    Sadness too because I’ve had some great times – I remember listening to two amazing children in a remote village in Bangladesh talk not only about Practical Action but their aspirations for their lives, laughing with women in Zimbabwe building a micro hydro who when I tried to help discovered how weak I am, and the posher things too – talking at conferences, meetings with our Patron, HRH, The Prince of Wales, exploring ideas and work with big business, even being forced to give impromptu speeches in various parts of the world. I’ll miss lots of things I’ve got to do with Practical Action – it’s been challenging, exciting and fun.

    But my biggest sadness is that we haven’t achieved what we set out to do – the lives of many people are better, access to energy for poverty reduction is now firmly on the global agenda, and indoor air pollution ‘Smoke – The killer in the Kitchen’ (the first Practical Action campaign I led – together with the brilliant team) is recognised as a major health hazard  – but technology – which could help so many people and issues, is still is developed primarily to meet the wants of the rich not the needs of all and our planet.  I am not in any way arguing that technology is all that’s needed to change our world but technology is a lever, a way of making a difference in a big way – people talk about systemic change (big picture, the long term). Technology can be a driver of systemic change – a different approach to technology, one that focused on the big challenges in our world would be soooo exciting!

    One of the things I like about Practical Action is that we work with the pragmatic, the possible, the now, but we also dream of bigger change – a world where technology is used to help end poverty and protect our planet.

    Whatever I do next I will continue painting a picture of the exciting and different way our world could be.

    And finally in what’s turned out to be a much longer piece than I imagined – I want to say goodbye to our supporters – you have inspired, challenged, enthused and humbled me, and you are brilliant!

    Have a wonderful Christmas.  And I hope we all – around the world – have a brilliant and peaceful 2016.

    Margaretdarfur boy with goats

     

    Ps The picture is of a boy in Darfur, Sudan where I saw some of the most amazing work Practical Action was doing in the middle of conflict, and through our work trying to lessen conflict. Reminded me that change is possible.

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  • ICT outreach in Zimbabwe


    July 26th, 2012

    Gwanda knowledge nodeThe Ministry of ICT in Zimbabwe have three digital programmes. They want to encourage e-government (improving their own webistes etc.), e-learning (equipping schools) and they are interested in setting up Community Information Centres, where people can gain one stop access to a whole heap of services and information. It is this last initiative which Practical Action is interested in partnering with.

    Fibre is a relatively recent arrival in Zimbabwe – previous the only connection to the internet was via satellite and microwave links. In the last couple of years two new companies have brought the internet through fibre cable – and now all the major roads seem to have a recently completed trench at the side deomnstrating the progress of the fibre cable to different towns.

    The idea of the Ministry is to use a handful of public buildings (possibly Post Offices) to host these community information centres. Our contribution would be to create a technical information point for our Practical Answers service where people could view our technical briefs, ask questions of trained staff, view “how to” videos and listen to podcasts.

    Working with the government in Zimbabwe is of course fraught with challenges – nothing in Zimbabwe is apolitical. But equally you can’t build any kind of communications infrastructure without government endorsement. So as we go forwards we will need to ensure that whatever partnership we come to, our independence is assured.

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  • Podcasts for Poverty


    July 20th, 2012

    We travelled for a day and a half to reach Ntepe – a ward in Gwanda district, south western Zimababwe. A crowd of 50 – mainly women greeted us beneath the spreading arms of a huge, but dead,Gwanda livelihoods podcast tree. Around us the earth was completely parched and there was red dust in the air as the winter wind was picking up.

    I was travelling, with the Permanent Secretary of the Zimbabwean Ministry of ICT and a number of our key local partners – to witness for myself the podcasting work that Practical Action is delivering there.

    Podcasting is effectively a way of communicating with people who have no access to the internet, no access to mobile phones, no TV and no radio. We use it to share information with remote and vulnerable people around agricultural techniques and issues of water and water conservation.

    Local knowledge workers charge their MP3 players and are given new materials through our local partners who operate from the nearest market town (Gwanda) some 70 km away. They take the new messages out to community meetings where they play them. Unlike traditional extension services – where the Ministry of Agriculture employee comes, delivers a lecture, and then goes, the podcast and MP3 is left in the community, so anyone who missed it or wants to listen again can do so.

    The most effective thing about the podcasts is that they are recorded in local languages and dialects. This means that unlike many knowledge materials – they really do reach the last mile. One of the women told me that what she liked best was that she could trust the podcast – it was accurate where, she suspected the men from the Ministry did not always tell the truth!

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  • Does the call for responsible capitalism include responsible technology?


    January 20th, 2012

    Unless you have been on a different planet this week you cannot have escaped the rhetoric around responsible capitalism.   If you don’t know what this means try “googling” “responsible capitalism”; I have just tried that and found over 13 million hits, many of them within the last 24 hours.  So certainly we have a public relations success.   Still wondering what the term really means?

    The core idea appears to be that fairness matters.   In other words inequalities in society such as high salaries and the bonus culture amongst failing non-profitable banks is being recognised as challenging most people’s concept of fair.   High on the political agenda in the UK is the rhetoric around making markets work for all.   Basic notions of “justice” in most people’s minds is based on equal treatment of people.   Indeed thinkers like Sen go further and claim justice is about what is reasonable.   He further argues against parochialism, saying that we must adress global injustice.

    For those who care about equity in the wider world these are exciting times.   But the debate needs to be broader than the somewhat narrow economic definitions of markets and capitalism.   Injustice is something we can come together and fight against.   One of the less obvious sources of injustice in the global society is the way access to technologies is limited.   Among the key questions we need to ask are:

    • How do we address technology injustice?
    • What is a reasonable and fair access to technologies such as clean water and sanitation?
    • How can we deliver access to energy services to more than 1 billion people who lack them by 2020?

    Let us know what you think about the technology injustices that are current in our global society.   Join in the conversation…remember we can only change the world one conversation at a time.

     

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  • An era of innovation for the poor?


    January 6th, 2012

    In the 19th Decmber 2011 issue of the magazine New Statesman, Bill Gates authored an opinion piece on why he believes that “the world is on the cusp of finally unleashing innovation for the poorest”. As evidence he cites a number of examples including the development of new varieties of maize that can be 50% more tolerant of drought, a breakthough last year in the development of a more accurate and simple TB test, the Serum Institute of India releasing a low cost vaccine for meningitis A, and recent examples of technology transfer from Brazil and China.

    Bill Gates has, in recent years, consistently raised the issue of a ‘tragic misallocation of resources’ in global technology research and development, complaining in an often referenced TED talk a couple of years ago that more money is spent annually on research a cure for male baldness than for a vacinne for malaria. He is absolutely right to raise this as an issue and a barrier to the poor having access to the technologies they need to achieve a reasonable standard of living.

    But the New Statesman article reads as if technological innovation is all that is needed to end poverty (e.g. “Yes we have a global food crisis. But with innovators all over the world focussed on the problem, we also have a good chance to fix it”). But its not. Many of the technologies poor people need already exist, and in some cases have been in existance for centuries. Its their inability to access to them that is the core issue – due to a assortment of barriers ranging from simple affordability, to the poor having no voice in decisions around allocation of investments for basic services.

    We need innovation not only in technology itself, but also innovation to over come the social, political and economic barriers that prevent poor people from accessing existing technology and that prevent innovation really focussing on the interests of the poor. So, for example, we need innovation to help utilities in urban centres in the developing world overcome their reluctance to provide water, sanitation and electricity supplies to the residents of informal settlements and shanty towns, which often make up half or more of the population of developing country cities. And, in an era where governments have largely handed over resonsibility for technology R&D to the private sector, we need ways of sponsoring research and innovation into knowledge which cannot be commodified but which is never the less helpful to the fight against poverty – for example research into improving the productivity of traditional agro ecological forms of agriculture.

    Like Bill Gates, I too am an optimist. I believe this is possible and that a growing number of people are beginning to understand and respond to the challenge.

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  • Local voices heard in Zimbabwe


    November 18th, 2011

    image

    At a second community near Gwanda the loudspeakers, carefully placed on a wheelbarrow delivered messages about the local governance of the recently installed water pump.  The language was Sotho, so my Shona speaking colleague was unable to translate for me.
    However, it was clear that the borehole and pump were transforming the livelihoods of the community.  There was a very genuine desire to learn. The knowledge sharing in local voices was clearly owned by the community extensionist, an elected member of the community.
    Going beyond technology the digital extension service is building a community driven process of change.

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  • Can you repeat that?


    November 18th, 2011

    image

    We visited communities in Gwanda south to discuss their information needs.  They told us that water was their biggest problem. We listened to a podcast about water, in their local language.
    We then asked them what they liked about the podcast and they said being able to listen again. This is something that all communities have welcomed.

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  • Can you repeat that?


    November 11th, 2011

    image

    We visited communities in Gwanda south to discuss their information needs.  They told us that water was their biggest problem. We listened to a podcast about water, in their local language.
    We then asked them what they liked about the podcast and they said being able to listen again. This is something that all communities have welcomed.

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