Over the past few years Ibrahim Hamid Mohamedain, a farmer from Magdoub A in North Darfur, has been selectively breeding his millet crop, the region’s foremost staple grain. Like farmers across the region, Ibrahim has struggled with increasingly low yields of millet year on year. Whereas twenty years ago one mukhamas (equivalent of 1.25 acres) used to produce 6-8 sacks of millet, it now rarely produces more than half a sack. The reasons for the falling fertility of the sandy soils on which the crop is grown are many, chief among them is widespread deforestation across the region.
Ibrahim realised that one of the (albeit lesser) causes of this deforestation was the practice of local farmers cutting down trees on their farm land, and uprooting tree seedlings, as a preventative measure to reduce the number of birds, seen as one of the main pests of the millet crop.
As an environmentally conscious farmer, he sought a biological and natural form of bird control. One day, his wife Aisha Adam observed that a few of the millet plants grown by her sister were covered in small hairs and were thus resistant to birds and grasshoppers. He took some of these seeds back to his farm, so beginning his three-year endeavor to selectively breed a bird-resistant millet variety which would also have high tolerance to drought (essential in an arid area increasingly prone to rain shortages) and a high yield.
In this attempt, he drew on his experience accumulated as a Practical Action trained agricultural extension agent (from 2004). In 2005 he participated in an exchange visit to neighbouring North Kordofan state with the State Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Corporation, where he was taught how to select and propagate seeds. More recently, he participated in a refreshment training course in agricultural production techniques for village extension agents, organised as part of the Wadi El-Ku catchment management project for peace and livelihoods.
Close-up of Abu Suf (hairy) millet
In the 2014 agricultural season he tied a strip of cloth around the first millet stalk to flower, considering this as an early maturing variety and resistant to drought. He also observed that as it grew, the millet head was the biggest, a sign of high production. Most importantly, he also he observed that the same millet head was covered in long hairs which made it difficult for the birds to eat. He observed a second millet variety with a compacted seed head with large seeds that made it hard for locusts and bird to dislodge and eat.
He selected these millet heads and stored them as seeds for the coming year. This second crop was harvested in October/November 2015 with stunning results. Despite being one of the worst rainy seasons in many years, he produced a surplus of millet beyond his annual household’s needs, the only farmer Magdoub A to do so in 2015. The crop was virtually untouched by birds.
Scaling up use of new millet variety
Ibrahim invited Practical Action to attend the harvest, with the aim of seeking support to scale-up the propagation of this new millet variety. Practical Action, accompanied by a team from the State Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC), visited the farm to assess the seeds and to discuss with Ibrahim how his millet variety could best be expanded to the benefit of other farmers in the state.
This scale-up began with Ibrahim training 250 other farmers in Magdoub, and from neighbouring satellite villages, in identifying, selecting and breeding seeds. The next step in the scale-up plan is still being discussed but the provisional plan entails distributing the seeds to 50 farmers in the state who will then grown the seeds; keeping half the crop and passing the other half on to a further 50 farmers. Practical Action also hopes to use these seeds to encourage farmers to adopt agro-forestry. As they no longer need to fear birds damaging their crops, planting Acacia trees on their sandy soils after 4 or 5 years will significantly improve soil fertility. At this point they can also benefit from the trees as Arabic gum gardens supplying reliable source of additional income, through the sale of gum Arabic.
Aisha Adam harvesting her Abu Suf millet
While this variety of millet is not new to Sudan as a whole, with other pioneer farmers developing similar locally propagated improved seeds in several states, his efforts show how with limited training and outside support, farmers can find locally appropriate solutions to their livelihood challenges.
This is in line with Practical Action’s vision of promoting local knowledge that contributes to improving the livelihoods of poor communities. By connecting farmers with governmental institutions such as MOA and ARC, we encourage sustainable development.No Comments » | Add your comment
The primary goal of the Wadi el Ku Catchment Management Forum Project is to demonstrate how the promotion of inclusive natural resource management (NRM) systems and practices can help rebuild inter-community relations, enhance local livelihoods and contribute to peace in North Darfur.
Practical Action and project partner the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have adopted a range of interventions targeting both local natural resource users and custodians, with the latter including technical support for government institutions responsible for natural resource management in North Darfur.
Activities to promote NRM at the local level include:
- Community participatory action plan development for all 34 village clusters in the project area;
- Training of local natural resource management extension agents to act as champions of natural resource management and pass on knowledge and techniques to their wider communities;
- Building water-harvesting structures designed to meet the needs of diverse water users upstream and downstream. (see my other blogs for more information)
UNEP and Practical Action decided to try a different approach to building consensus over natural resources in North Darfur through the creation of a three dimensional map with the participation of local communities and facilitated by a 3D mapping expert from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project targets a 50km stretch of Wadi (seasonal rain-fed river bed) El Ku. However, to produce a three dimensional map of sufficient detail and topographical scale, the mapping exercise concentrated on only 25km of the project area, with the intention of later producing a second map of the rest.
This participatory process took a little over three weeks. Farmers, pastoralists, native administration, youth, and other community leaders from more than 10 villages took part in the map. Students from two local secondary schools were also enlisted help in the labor-intensive process of creating the papier-mâché base map.
Lively debates were held by community representatives as they discussed the location and types of different natural and man-made resources to be featured in the map, including migratory routes, gullies, clay soils, sandy soils, mountains, water points (e.g. boreholes, shallow wells, and hafirs), water-harvesting structures, crop growing areas and forests. All the while, they were cutting out, glueing, and painting these resources onto the map.
Throughout the mapping exercise, and as more and more layers and resources were added to the map, facilitators from UNEP and Practical Action asked communities what had surprised them about their resources in their area when looking not just at their own communities but the wider mapping area. Five observations were repeatedly heard.
- The almost total extent of deforestation in the area, whereas only 10 years ago significant areas of natural and government forests had existed.
- Many farmers came to realize that while pastoralists are mostly held responsible for crop damage that occurs when they seasonally migrate with their animals, it was evident that greater and greater areas of what used to be open land had been encroached by farmers seeking new cultivable land, making crop damage increasingly unavoidable.
- The extensive formation of deep gullies across what used to be a relatively flat wadi bed had lead to greater water concentration and the consequent reduction in arable land.
- The proliferation of unplanned earth embankments, designed to capture water as it flows down the wadi, played a critical role in the gully formation described above.
- Over reliance on millet growing in sandy soils has had a highly negative impact on soil fertility.
Through the process of creating this map, the community participants gradually reached consensus around the key natural resources in their areas. How far this consensus can be extended to their wider communities and government institutions is yet to be seen, but it is a good start and the map represents an effective physical tool for NRM planning and advocacy to that effect.
The 3-dimensional map, which measures approximately 4.5 meters by 2.5 meters, is on display at the Women’s Development Association Network where it is easily accessible to visitors from communities, NGOs, government staff.
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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.
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.4 Comments » | Add your comment
The word “technology” means many things to each of us. Who does not want to use mobiles or the internet to smooth her/his life and get the information required quickly?
As we enjoy this life changing technology in towns, there are poor people in rural areas lacking all of these technological benefits. Those people do not even know about such technologies.
ICT4D (Information Communication Technology for Development) is nowadays established in most western universities because of the important role that ICTs can play in the field of development and humanitarian aid.
Within Practical Action many ICT projects have taken place to benefit of poor communities, such as the energy portal website in Practical Action Peru that allows access to Practical Action offices globally and the transfers knowledge to rural communities. Also the mobile real-time application introduced by Practical Action Kenya that uses smart phones to monitor what is actually happening in the field day by day.
In Practical Action Sudan we contributed to information management software (IWG project) which assists in decision making on programmatic and geographical interventions across the Sudan. The project maps areas in Sudan covered by UN agencies, national and international NGOS, to identify interventions, gaps and facilitate sectoral programming.
In addition Practical Action Sudan with the cooperation of experts and telecommunication companies planned the distribution of agriculture and pastoralism techniques to beneficiaries through mobile phones.
We now have to decide – is it part of the government’s responsibility to handle technology justice and convince the commercial sector to contribute more to enhancing the lives of poor communities? Or is it the responsibility of INGOs to convince governments at a strategic level to play a serious role in benefiting poor communities?
I believe it is the responsibility of every one of us trying to push for technology justice throughout Sudan, especially in the rural areas that deserve better chances and choices of technology.
This will offer the chance of giving a new generation a better way of life.No Comments » | Add your comment
Generally, many challenges face the world (Sustainable Development and Climate Change – Clean Water – Rich poor Gap – Health Issues – Peace and Conflict – Energy – Status of Women …etc.). Specifically, most African nations suffer from military dictatorships, corruption, civil unrest and war, underdevelopment and deep poverty.
The picture looks very dark and depressing but if the nations are capable of producing a Mandela we will get to make the change that we want.
Nelson Mandela’s influence extends around the world, the last noble man, a figure of heroic achievements and an inspiration to generations around the world.
Mandela will be remembered as a remarkable man for all activists across the world.
“Millions of people . . . are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free, like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome . . . Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.” he said in 2005.
“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.”
We can learn from influential personalities like Nelson Mandela how to change the world; all it takes is a little time, effort and dedication. We don’t have to change the world for everyone; we can change the world for a couple of people and still leave a positive impact .
Rest in Peace father of Africa, you’ve earned your place in history.
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In the last 60,000 years humans have expanded across the globe and now occupy a wider range than any other terrestrial species. Our ability to successfully adapt to such a diverse range of habitats is often explained in terms of our cognitive ability. Humans have relatively bigger brains and more computing power than other animals and this allows us to figure out how to live in a wide range of environments.
Here we argue that humans may be smarter than other creatures, but none of us is nearly smart enough to acquire all of the information necessary to survive in any single habitat. In even the simplest foraging societies, people depend on a vast array of tools, detailed bodies of local knowledge, and complex social arrangements and often do not understand why these tools, beliefs, and behaviors are adaptive. We owe our success to our uniquely developed ability to learn from others. This capacity enables humans to gradually accumulate information across generations and develop well-adapted tools, beliefs, and practices that are too complex for any single individual to invent during their lifetime.
Practical Action followed the methodology of extracting the potential power of familiarization in communities in rural areas by targeting effective members in villages to provide them with knowledge about local possible technologies to challenge poverty. In other words, to adapt with the existing limited resources to reach sustainable development by providing means of improving adaptive capacity and adaptive needs to identify and develop adaptive measures or practices tailored to the needs of the community.
Back to Darfur- the source of my inspiration. If you visit Darfur and especially Shagra (G) village, remember to look up Nadia Ibrahim Mohammed, who is 33 years old and married with two sons. Practical Action has practical initiatives that tangibly address and improve her adaptive capacity and adaptive needs.
She was recommended by Mr. Mohammad Siddig (North Darfur’s Area Coordinator) in 2006 to be trained as a midwife then was registered as the legal midwife in the village. Later, she has become president of Women Development Association in her village and a member of Community Development Association in Shagra (A –B – G).
In 2009 she worked with Practical Action on the project Greening Darfur. More than 14,000 women were trained by her in making low smoke stoves and community forest management. She has been nominated to be part of the Active Citizens Programme run by British Council with aim of increasing the contribution of community leaders towards achieving sustainable development, both locally and globally.
For a woman from poor community in a challenging environment with a minimum level of education this is impressive. Her ability to store and deliver knowledge to others is really noteworthy. Now in Shagra- G village, she is always there dealing with her communities’ problems. She is gathering real time local information to adapt the best decisions and actions with the methods of her own experience.
My personal point of view, as we are working in a very challenging development field, is that adaptation is a word that we should dig deep inside, because all the possible solutions are hidden behind it:
- Adaptation to poverty means we can adjust the resilience of communities to change and find solutions to poverty
- Adaptation to limited resources means, we can direct targeted community to use them effectively to satisfy their needs
- Adaptation to Climate Change means, we can reduce projected effects for the environment and for human life.
- Adaptation to changing economic environment means we can set adaptation plans as better prepared for new opportunities.
Adapting with our problems would be a more effective means of dealing with them in order to reduce adverse impacts and take advantage of new opportunities.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Sudan is the third largest country on the continent (after Algeria and DR Congo) and the sixteenth largest in the world with an area of 1,886,068 km2. It is a vast country rich in natural resources represented in the fertile agricultural lands, livestock and minerals, forestry, fisheries and abundant water. However, many of these resources remain underutilised, in part because of protracted civil wars.The sheer size of the country means that it covers a diverse range of peoples; there are 597 tribes that speak over 400 different languages and dialects with clear differences in customs and traditions demonstrated in their ways of living, behaviors, practices, and beliefs.Differences in language, religion, ethnicity, and political view make Practical Action Sudan’s work a big challenge. Nevertheless, we want to reach our targeted beneficiaries and we want to make a great impact.
When Practical Action started working in North Darfur 26 years ago, it adopted a strategy of developing and strengthening civil society to enable them to meet the needs of their communities. The organisation started by establishing community based organisations (CBOs), including Village Development Committees (VDCs) and Women’s Development Associations (WDAs) that were capable of leading and implementing their own development activities. CBOs were supported with a range of interventions including seeds and tools banks, grain banks, animal drug revolving funds and micro credit revolving funds. By the end of 2002 Practical Action had helped establish 28 of these CBOs providing outreach to over 50,000 households.When the conflict started in Darfur in 2003, Practical Action found it difficult to access the field for security reasons, so we decided to depend on the CBOs for monitoring and later implementing project interventions. From these efforts it was clear that the CBOs could take on more responsibility. As a result in 2003 a group of WDAs came together to form the Women’s Development Association Network (WDAN) which mainly represented WDAs either inside or in close proximity to Elfasher town. Then in 2005, due to continued instability in Darfur, Practical Action helped in the formation of the El Fasher Rural Development Network (FRDN), this was the beginning of giving autonomy to the VDCs. Following this success, in 2006 a second group of VDCs came together to form the Voluntary Network for Rural Helping and Development (VNRHD). The three networks succeeded in registering with the Humanitarian Aid Commission as Sudanese NGOs.Practical Action then replicated the model in Kassala, with the formation of a Women’s Development Associations Network (KWDAN) and Al-Gandool Network.
Practical steps had been taken to develop the orgnisational capacities of the networks through training and strategic planning. Forms of training provided included: Human Resource Management, Proposal Writing, Report Writing, Financial Management and Monitoring & Evaluation. As a result we are proud to see the networks have continued to evolve, expand, and serve increasing numbers of highly supportive members. They have effectively increased their social capital by consolidating and improving relations between communities and livelihood groups, and their political capital by engaging and influencing state, non-state actors, and market institutions. Most impressive, the Networks have the capacity to build and utilise strategic relations and secure their own funds. For example, by 2011 the three networks in Darfur had accessed nearly USD 4,000,000 from a range of UN and INGOs donors. Presently, the Networks have become empowered to improve the livelihood of their communities, promote the culture of peace, introduce micro-credit system to finance petty trade (goats, donkey carts and tea making), contribute to the delivery of basic services (Health, Education, water),whilst maintaining environmental balance.
The success of our experience has proved that community ownership is the source of change.We will be very happy to replicate and reflect our success with others.
“An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.”
E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered
First, I always dreamed to build an aircraft and fly, but that hasn’t yet come true, anyhow I love all aviation issues.
On Friday 14th June I was watching a live TV show, the first launch of Airbus350, made of composite of light carbon-fibre and a light fuselage. I was very happy to see this innovation and initiative of 20% more fuel efficient. When the aircraft took off, all the attendees applauded and clapped, as did I.
How is this news linked with Practical Action, an organization that works with the poor people around the world? It does in fact have a strong relation. Here is the story, I’m quoting from carbonplanet.org:
“It is widely acknowledged that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, predominately from the consumption of carbon-based fossil fuels, are causing major changes to the planet’s climate. Aviation emissions differ in that they have a greater climate impact than the same emissions made at ground level at ground.” Emissions from aircraft flying at cruising altitudes (8 to 13 km) affect atmospheric composition in a height region where there might be significant climate impact through changes in the chemical and physical processes that have climate change consequences. Future emissions from aircraft are expected to increase much more rapidly than emissions in general, with global aviation annual growth currently estimated between 4 to 5%. Therefore, not only will the overall impact of aircraft emissions increase, but also the importance relative to the total climate impact. In order for carbon credit offsetting to be credible, the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from flights requires a special approach”
Therefore, fuel efficiency differences can be explained largely by differences in aircraft operations. Here are the factors that determine the fuel saving and reduction:
1. Higher passengers load, contributes to fuel reduction.
2. Fuel carried in aircraft (extra load).
3. Fuel efficient aircraft engines used.
4. Engine-wise: regional jets are 10%-60% less efficient than turboprop.
5. Body-wise: regional aircraft are 40%-60% less efficient than narrow, large body.
Since these emissions are still there and those form aviation flights are more harmful, Practical Action, in responding to these issues, is committed to reduce its GHG footprint in its daily operation around the world, this year our Sudan office has emitted a total of 262.3 tons of carbon during the period April 2012 to March 2013 (93% of its target for that period).” I am proud to be a part of Practical Action.No Comments » | Add your comment
Do you believe that everyone has the right to a decent quality of life, no matter where they live?
At Practical Action we do.
We believe that everyone has the right to technologies that enable them to lead a live they value, as long as that does not harm others now or in the future.
We recently held a competition among our staff to find some of the best images we have illustrating what we are doing to make technology justice a reality in the developing world.
We had some amazing entries, the best of which we have put together in the short Youtube video below. We hope you like them.
If you want to find out more about our work and technology justice please visit our website.
For some great teaching resources which help students and look at their own needs and wants in relation to technology, and explore their feelings around technology justice please look at our schools material. They include a top trumps style activity where technologies are given a technology justice rating.No Comments » | Add your comment
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