Archive for February, 2010

Livestock farmers looking for help

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by

On our way back to Nairobi, Peter Mang’ala and I went to see officers from the Ministry of Livestock’s vector disease control unit at Kiboko.

The team here worked with us in helping develop tsetse control systems during our project, and has remained in touch with and supportive of the communities in Kathekani. Unexpectedly, in preparation for my visit, they had prepared a concept note, to indicate what they felt the communities needed, to help them adapt to climate change. I was very impressed!

The activities encompassed most of those that villages had requested, and were those that I would have included in an adaptation programme. The total, to help 30,000 people, according to their calculations, was around £1.2m.

I asked whether this sum should not be available from Kenya government resources, given that a recent report has expressed commitment for helping the arid and semi arid areas, and that the government is also committed to spending 10% of its resources on agriculture. But these officers not only felt that this was impossible, but even that sending their proposal forward to senior levels would be pointless. They had hoped that I would be able to promote their idea! Unfortunately, our Kenya Office now works mainly in the even more arid northern parts of the country.

The best I could offer was to raise the issue of resources with other Kenya government people I will be seeing, and any donors I meet next week at the conference I will be attending in Tanzania, on Community Based Adaptation.

Three clear messages …

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by

There are three clear messages I am getting from all these meetings:

  • Firstly, that shortage of water is the major barrier to more productive farming. A request for boreholes, or sand dams – a very simple technology that Practical Action has used, but only in two places in Samburu – came from every group we visited. 
  • Secondly, there is no shortage of commitment to hard work and ideas for self-improvement, and clear organisational capacity. Their need was usually for some training, technical advice, and perhaps small funding for materials.
  • Thirdly, that accessing these from government is almost impossible – fees are demanded for officials to visit villages, and accessing funds supposedly available for local projects is also impossible. This doesn’t bode well for community level adaptation in Kenya.

Today we went to villages to the east of the main road – and in a short distance of 5 kms, it was clear this was an area with higher rainfall, and better soil: the vegetation and crops were green, and tall growing. Earth bunds have been constructed, which are an effective way of ensuring scarce rain nourishes crops for longer. Nora’s crops were doing noticeably better than her neighbours.

Despite this, the messages were similar – no shortage of ideas, but people who cannot save (especially after a 4 year drought has killed their cattle and destroyed their harvests) do need resources to kick start their plans.

After we returned at dusk, we had a final discussion on the network’s plans for the future. It has been difficult meeting so many people, hearing their quite modest demands, and having nothing to offer them. I have gone to gather information, and since Practical Action no longer works in this part of Kenya, I can make no promises of any kind of support, other than some contacts, and some technical information.

The end of the world or the beginning

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by

An article in last Sunday’s Observer reminded me of a conversation in the office recently. Apparently a growing number of people in the USA are preparing for the possible breakdown of civilisation by acquiring skills more familiar to us from ‘The Good Life’.  Along with growing your own veg and keeping a pig, goes the generating your own power – just in case the worst happens.   And the reason we were talking about this is that these groups often download information to help them from our very own Practical Answers.

In the UK, I think, we are a bit more laissez faire about such things, perhaps because the pioneer spirit is less deeply ingrained in our genetic make up. So to us, it all smacks a little of over reaction. But we might do well to consider the advantages of self help for simple, easily maintained power generation.

For 1.5 billion people in the world, the opportunity to generate their own power would make the difference between  survival and a productive life.  Lack of access to energy blights the lives of thousands of remote rural communities in the developing world. Most are too far away from centres of population ever to have hope of connection to grid electricity. For these communities, it’s not a question of preparing for the end of civilisation but for the start of a new life.

Access to electricity enables children to study after dark (which arrives pretty early in equatorial regions), to operate a fridge to store vaccines or to start up a small business such as carpentry or welding. Practical Action has some amazing stories of communities transformed by the arrival of power – projects that ensure that the technology is both appropriate and sustainable. This is hope for the future in the developing world in stark contrast to the pessimism prevalent across the Atlantic.

Victory for rickshaw pullers

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by

The number of poor people living in urban slums are expected to reach 1 billion in the next 2 to 3 years. These people need basic services, secure tenure and a right to livelihoods.

Practical Action’s programme on improving urban infrastructure and services takes a holistic view on this. We aim to promote technologies and approaches, which increase the employment of the urban poor and enhance their opportunities to work.

Within this context, we would like to congratulate the concerned judge and appreciate the court ruling on not to restrict the number of rickshaw pullers in Delhi, India.

We agree with the view of pro-sustainable transport campaign that rickshaws is an important livelihood asset for the urban poor and it provides a non-polluting means of transport for narrow streets and short distances, especially for women and children.

We believe that sustainable development from the investments in infrastructure and services could only be achieved if it does not reduce the income and employment opportunities for the urban poor. Tell us what you think about this decision! 


Visits to lots of farmers

Monday, February 15th, 2010 by

An amazingly rich day, but tiring!

We arrived to watch the spraying against tsetse fly before the farmers! Our project had trained people to control the tsetse fly, which leads to serious illness in livestock and humans, using simple traps that can be home made, and a cheaply available chemical. I heard how trapping was no longer enough, since during the drought, the only grazing available was in the nearby Tsavo National Park, where there are no traps, and tsetse is endemic among the wild animals. (Grazing in the Park is illegal, but the Kenya Wildlife Service turned a blind eye given the desperate situation in the country.)

We then visited a fairly wealthy woman farmer -she employs 19 people on her farm. She is not someone we included in our project, but she is an innovative farmer, willing and able to try new technologies, who then host visits of farmers who come to learn. She has built many earth terraces to capture the scarce rainwater; besides the usual maize, she is growing a variety of sorghum which does well in drought, and finds a ready market with the Nairobi based breweries.

We then visited another community outside the project area, to meet a women’s group and their seed bank, constructed by a German NGO. Sadly, it was empty: built to store different varieties of seed for future planting seasons, four dry years meant that there had been no harvest from which to select the best seeds.

By this time, it was lunchtime. As part of my information gathering, I asked each group what assets they had for farming – livestock and land – and whether they felt they were doing well, OK, or badly. This group was clearly quite poor; I asked how many meals they typically ate – 1 or 2 (people here rarely have 3.) They told me they have only one, in the evening so that their children can share it. I was shocked at the idea of them working all day on no food, so I asked surely they had at least some milky tea? No, they said, just water. I ignored my hunger pangs from then on.

Our next stop was the seed bank that Practical Action helped finance in 2005 for Kathekani. This was empty too, for the same reasons as the first one, but it was good to meet people who had benefited from our work, and were still using the technologies they had learned. We finally returned for lunch at 3.30! We set off again straight after, to visit another community group. This one was very well organised, and included people with significant resources and education. They had received no project support, but were very innovative and resourceful – though some of their ideas had failed for a lack of appropriate technical advice.

Two more villages to visit, before we finally got back close to 7 o’clock. A brief meeting to plan the following day, before we separated for the night.

Travels to the drylands of Kenya’s Eastern Province

Sunday, February 14th, 2010 by

Gideon, the office driver who is accompanying me to the villages, collected me at 9. The roads were lovely and quiet, compared with the weekday. Our destination is situated very close to the Main Highway to Mombasa, and the quality of the road was really good – unlike my visit nearly 5 years ago, when there were dreadful potholes which made the journey uncomfortable and hazardous.

We arrived around 1pm, we met with Peter Mang’ala, one of the community organisation’s leaders, and I was dropped at my guesthouse – a church run place, used by NGO visitors. There wasn’t another room for Gideon, so he stayed near Peter’s home. I last met Peter at the UN climate conference in Nairobi in 2006, when he gave a presentation at a side event I organised, talking about how climate change was affecting communities in Kenya.

After lunch at Peter’s home, we met with the chair and vice chair of the Mungano community Development Organisation, a network of community groups, to discuss what I was hoping to see and learn, and plan the meetings for the next 3 days.

Then after supper , again with Peter’s family, time for an early night – we were to set off by 6.30, so that we could see livestock being sprayed by one of the community groups in Kathekani, the areas where Practical Action ran its Marginal Farmers’ Project, which ended in 2002.

Greetings from Kenya

Friday, February 12th, 2010 by

Hi, I’m Rachel Berger, climate change policy adviser with Practical Action’s head office.

I am on an eight-day visit to Kenya, before going on to a conference in Tanzania. I have come here to talk to colleagues and Kenyan government about how to respond to climate change impacts in Kenya.

After a frustrating day long delay due to a fault on the Kenyan Airways plane, (this meant I missed a key meeting with senior government climate change experts) I am off to a village in the semi-arid area, called Kathekani.

Practical Action ran a 5 year long programme here, ending around 2002, to help people cope with drought by improving their farming methods. I want to talk to people to see whether the technologies and practices that were introduced are still working for them, and whether they are adapting to the changing climate.

I am going with Gideon, one of the office drivers, and we will be helped by Peter Mang’ala, a village leader who runs a local development organisation set up by the community at the end of our project.  I will report back in a few days.

On Friday I had lunch with Emily Massawa, formerly the Kenyan head of climate change negotiations, who now works with the UN Environment Programme, which is based in Nairobi.

We had a frank discussion about the problems of the climate change negotiations, and the outlook for Kenya being able to obtain funds for supporting communities in adapting to climate change. Not enough funds are available yet, and accessing them is not going to be easy! the need among vulnerable countries is so great, and developed countries have been very slow to offer funding.

It is still not clear if the $20bn promised over 3 years in the Copenhagen Accord will actually be new money – or just existing aid money, moved to climate change adaptation from other important sectors like health and education. But now, I must pack my bag ready to go to the field!

Taking a lead on energy for poverty reduction

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by

I want to talk about the Prince of Wales and how great he is for taking a lead on issues – ones that are often unpopular and sometimes old fashioned.

HRH The Prince of Wales, Practical Action's patron, with Stephen Watson (chair) and Simon Trace (chief executive)In my mind he championed good architecture when badly designed concrete was seen as a modern ideal, he encouraged us to take a wider view of health and to be open minded to the many ways of being healthy when straight science was king, he encouraged sustainability when most people thought that growth and maximising the profit to be made from endlessly exploiting natural resources was the only way forward.

He is a champion who speaks his mind and leads where others are sometimes scared to follow.

Yesterday at a meeting at Clarence House, together with Practical Action, he made people think about another unpopular and much ignored issue – energy for poverty reduction.

But like good architecture, like sustainability, like a holistic view of being healthy, I believe this is a cause ignored at our peril. And even more so at the peril of poor people, a lost opportunity to powerfully deliver change.

Energy is the debate of the 21st Century. Energy and the scourge of climate change, new energy sources, dwindling energy supplies, energy security, energy pricing, and so on. Yet there is little or no discussion of energy for poverty reduction.

If it’s thought about at all, it’s a few projects paid for by carbon credits that help us in rich nations continue polluting.

Energy is vital for poverty reduction and it was great to hear the Prince give his voice in support of the work of Practical Action: our work to build a new vision for renewable energy for poverty reduction. To hear him speak of the need for joined up thinking and an integrated approach, to hear his words of encouragement.

His Royal Highness reflected on his thirty years as Practical Action Patron and spoke of the continued need for a new approach to technology, a new approach to poverty – one which takes poverty seriously.

Renewable energy can be a powerful lever for poverty reduction. Without energy, poverty is pretty always permanent.

Multi-agency EMMA in Haiti, Feb 2010

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 by

A coordinated multi-agency EMMA study, led by IRC, took place in Haiti on Feb 7th – 19th.  Four critical market-systems were selected for analysis.  For more information see Notes from the Field posted on USAID’s MicroLINKS site.

Today I met with Prince Charles

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 by

It’s brilliant that HRH The Prince of Wales, is Practical Action’s Patron. Today he hosted a meeting for us at Clarence House with senior managers of energy businesses, energy investment companies, and others. The whole thing was a great success, we talked about how we could get modern energy to poor people in the developing world, the relationship between energy access and the stalled climate change talks, how we  ensure the voices and views of communities are heard.

It was exciting to be talking about a vision for energy access.

Too often when we think of energy we think of projects, but the scale of the problem is so big we need visionary thinking and a new approach. HRH endorsed this and encouraged us to link not only with the companies present, but also with his own charities and initiative. Just a start, but hopefully the beginning of a step change for poor communities.