Archive for April, 2013

Understanding Equine Draught Harness

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by

A one-day workshop designed to enhance the understanding of equine draught and harness related issues, is being presented as an in-depth guide .

The outcome of a recent harness related meeting made clear the need and desire for an improved understanding of equine draught harness amongst operational NGO’s working in animal welfare in developing countries.

To further this, a one-day workshop designed to enhance the understanding of equine draught and harness related issues, is being presented.

The venue for this will be at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm in Shropshire, United Kingdom, on the 8th May 2013 between 10am – 4pm.

Open to all vets, veterinary students and NGO’s with an interest in animal welfare, it will consist of an in-depth guide to understanding the principles and dynamics of equine draught, the harness used, its component parts and how they work in relation to the animal.

We will also look at the application of harness to enable optimum draught and harness related injuries, their cause and methods of prevention.

Advice to assist NGO’s in identifying inappropriate harnessing methods or misaligned application of harness will also be offered.

These are just some of the issues to be addressed. If time allows we will look at harnessing animals in multiples and the variations in harness in relation to the task to be undertaken.

‘Without the application of fit-for-purpose apparatus, equine can serve no purpose. They will remain but humble beasts of the field’.

The day will begin with a power-point presentation to illustrate the above and to address other issues of concern. This will be a flexible presentation open to questions and answers as issues arise, taking us through until lunch.

In the afternoon there will be a follow-up, practical demonstration on equine harnessing using the Acton Scott horses/donkey. Much of what was discussed during the morning session will be corroborated.

Simon, the horseman at Acton Scott will be on hand to answer any questions on harness usage and equine handling. Field activities using the horses may also be possible depending upon Simon’s planned farming schedule.

This will be followed by a visit to the wheelwright’s workshop where issues relating to cart/wagon production can be aired.

If you wish to attend this workshop the cost will be £70 per person. Lunch in Acton Scott’s café will be included. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be available as required throughout the day. Those interested in attending should apply in advance with cheques being made out to HarnessAid and posted to the address below.

As a gesture to the proposed establishment of a harness development working group to address harness related issues in developing countries, 50% of any proceeds will be held in abeyance to support its much needed formation.

HarnessAid, (Atten. T. Davis.)
c/o. Acton Scott Historic Working Farm,
Wenlock Lodge, Acton Scott,
Church Stretton,
Shropshire. SY6 6QN,
United Kingdom


On my bike with Ricky…

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 by

Easter hols are over…and I’ve a nagging feeling that with less than 50 days until Ricky and I take to the streets of London for a 100km night ride…I need to step up my training.

Nightrider Bren and Ricky

I’ve started in the past two days biking to’s only a 8 mile journey…a comparable distance to the journey made by women and children on a daily basis to collect water in Northern Kenya.

I’m feeling a little daunted by the prospect of cycling 100km through London at night with Ricky (the puppet above)…but keep reminding myself it’s a small price to pay to make a difference to the lives of people who Practical Action work with.

  • £250 could pay for early warning systems’ equipment, such as hand operated sirens and megaphones, needed for a community to give people sufficient warning to move their families and livestock to safety.
  • £1540 could pay for the construction of a shallow well.
  • £2000 could pay for a putting a solar pump into action.

Please donate as much as you can – I promise it will go to a great cause.

Any training tips are welcome…and better still if anyone would like to join us…we’re signed up to leave from Alexendra Palace at 23.00 on the 8th June.

Thanks in advance for your support.

Best wishes,

Bren and Ricky x

PS. Ricky has been kindly donated to us from Millgate House Education..find out more about what Ricky’s been up to with Practical Action on his blog.


Charity, Justice or both?

Friday, April 19th, 2013 by

People write into Practical Action about all kinds of things and we always try to reply. Some of the more difficult questions occasionally get passed to me for an answer. This week I’ve had two very big questions

• The first ‘why is there still so much poverty in Africa?’ After writing a page and a half about world trade systems, education, disasters, colonial legacy, inequality, gender, marginalised land, low commodity prices to benefit manufacturers and consumers of processed product etc. – I ended with a ‘sorry this is something of a ramble, I could write a book and my best answer is that its multifaceted’. In truth, it really is one of those questions where I would have to write at least a dissertation to then summarise into a short answer. (For any of you who would like more on this ‘From Poverty to Power’ which you can find at Practical Action Publishing is a great starting point).

• The second, in some ways equally complicated question, was ‘is Practical Action about justice or charity?’ My immediate reply was justice – our values are about fairness and equity, sustainability, starting with people. Our vision is of a sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used to the benefit of all. We hope to bring about technology justice.

But then I started to think about it and the whole thing gets more complex. Maybe too the two questions are deeply interrelated.

We live in world where the richest 500 people have more income than the poorest 416 million people.

If you are one of those 416 million is it reasonable that we say to you ‘stand on your own two feet – we can’t help’? Surely recognising the massive imperfection- one example being climate change – and inequality for now its right to say ‘we want to help’. Thinking this through I came to the personal but I suspect not unique conclusion that for now justice and charity are intertwined. In an imperfect world its right that we feel compassion and want to help.

I was reminded of film I saw on Monday showing a community in the remotest and one of the poorest parts of Kenya working together with local Practical Action staff, to install a solar water pump. The community were deeply engaged – digging trenches for the cables, helping erect the scaffold needed for the solar panels, etc. the equipment and technical engineering provided by Practical Action. It felt like a partnership. The end result clean water for a village where previously there had been drought.

This isn’t in my view charity, its pragmatically making justice happen in a practical way.

We are a ‘muddy boots’ type of organisation and understand the need to deal with the reality of the now, while also working for a just world.

I feel the need to end with the same caveat – this is complicated – a book rather than a blog is probably the best way to provide an answer – and if you want a great read to start your thinking ‘Small is Beautiful – a study of economics as if people mattered’ published 40 years ago is still a great place to start (but do ignore Fritz’s slightly old fashioned views of women!)

Have a good weekend.


Community Early Warning Systems in Nepal turning good ideas into practice

Friday, April 19th, 2013 by

On a recent trip to Nepal I was introduced to Practical Action’s work on flood preparedness and in particular the development of Early Warning Systems to provide poor communities with advance warning of devastating floods. Poor people living in the Terai plains in Nepal are all too familiar with the danger posed by flash floods, which according to UNDP have on average killed 178 people, affected a further 114,000 and caused over US$ 34.5 million worth of damage each year since 1980.

Recognising this threat, Practical Action started in 2002 by engaging vulnerable local communities in flood prevention planning and it was quickly realised that the major problem was a lack of prior warning.  Hence regardless of when the flood struck the losses were considerable, particularly for the poor and marginalised families that lived in the most vulnerable locations. Therefore Practical Action and the community constructed the first watch tower in Bhandara village, Chitwan district in 2002 and provided a basic siren that they could use to provide advance warning. The benefits this system provided were immediately realised as only a few moments’ advance warning enabled families to move to higher ground, protect their most vulnerable assets and importantly collect their official papers, documents that were critical to access relief services and to return to their farms once the floods had abated.

Community watch tower with the benefits being highlighted to a visiting community

Community watch tower with the benefits being highlighted to a visiting community

However, the limitations of the system were quickly realised. It only provided advance warning of a few minutes governed by how far the observer could see and the system was dependent on the observers remaining vigilant and was only effective during the monsoon when flash floods were most likely. Another limitation was the noise generated during a downpour when rain drops hitting a corrugated roof quickly overwhelmed the ability of the siren to be heard, so Practical Action subsequently modified the system with higher powered and linked sirens so that they could be heard by more people simultaneously.

Based on the lessons learned and the feedback from the local community it was realised that this technology was effective and could easily be taken to new areas.  So Practical Action approached the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology of the Government of Nepal, with a proposal to link their river monitoring stations using mobile communications to communities downstream to extend  advance warning from a few minutes to at least a couple of hours. Following the agreement of the department, Practical Action worked with local communications specialists Real Time Solutions Pvt. Ltd to link this information to SMS services and also connecting the data to the internet, allowing real time flood warning information to be disseminated to many different users. This system is now operational in 5 river systems in Nepal, the West Rapti, Narayani, East Rapti, Babai and Karnali Rivers, providing between 1.5 to 5 hours advance warning depending on the river system. This has reduced the flood vulnerability of poor communities living along these rivers and has enabled local authorities to deliver more responsive flood relief.

Community rescue training, ensuring everyone knows what to do when the siren sounds.

Community rescue training, ensuring everyone knows what to do when the siren sounds.

The system I viewed in the Karnali River basin has water levels displayed in real time at the district police station with a warning alarm linked to moderate, high and dangerous levels. The district police station in the administration centre was chosen as this is one of the few local offices that is manned 24 hours each day, and the police have good communications to the necessary agencies should a devastating flood strike, thus shortening the time needed for mobilisation and avoiding the need for the plea for help to come from the affected communities. One community member I met, mentioned that previously his family had spent two days living on their roof before an army helicopter was spotted heralding the arrival of assistance to their community.

Local villager we met who explained his families ordeal, living on their roof for two days before help arrived

Local villager we met who explained his family’s ordeal, living on their roof for two days before help arrived

Practical Action plans to roll out the system to other locations and is advocating for the system to be adopted nationwide.  A first step was the demonstration of how effective and practical this technology can be to the United Nation’s hosted Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium a key platform driving Disaster Risk Reduction in the country. We are also exploring with key stakeholders how our developing expertise can be applied across borders to reach larger populations and to tackle more problematic early warning challenges such as Glacial Lake Outburst Floods and Landslides, so watch this space!

Who is that man…Schumacher perhaps?

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 by

“That man!”

“Ooh that man” and the rhythmic tones of Caro Emerald reverberate around the room. Feet start tapping, hips start swaying and a general feeling of all is well in the world descends on my conscience …or does it? You only have to pick up a newspaper or listen to the news to know that all is not well in the world.

With increased nuclear activity creating tension worldwide, conflict in war torn countries and despair in the economic climate, the world seems a very unfair place. Add the billions of people still living in deplorable conditions and trying to survive with less than adequate shelter, water, sanitation, food or electricity, and it’s not just an assumption that the world is unjust.

So gender aside it must be some man (or woman) to so catch the imagination of the musician they felt inspired to write a song depicting such an image of someone who could make a difference to them.

Music, whatever your taste transcends boundaries and it only takes a couple of bars to evoke thoughts and memories. The line from the song, “ooh that man” could refer to many great men (or women) either living or that have since passed through this life that have truly made a difference to mankind.

Was Fritz Schumacher “that man?” He had a vision, a dream and a realisation of what was required to change the world and change it for the long term. He had knowledge, integrity and insight, but above all else, he had a belief and faith that through simple technologies, change was possible.

We could all take a leap of faith and use Practical Action to change the world. Through innovative ideas, dreams could be realised, through knowledge, dreams can be achieved and through a gift, no matter how small, dreams could be fulfilled and we could all make a difference to our fellow man.

So when you next hear Caro Emerald’s rhythmic tones, when you feel your feet start tapping, your hips start swaying and you start to hum along to “Ooh that man” remember, one man did make a difference and “that man” was Fritz Schumacher. You, through Practical Action, could make a difference too.


David Cameron talks to students about Practical Action project

Monday, April 15th, 2013 by

Students show David Cameron their ideas of how science and technology can be used to improve lives of the poor at the Big Bang Fair 2013

David Cameron talks to students about Practical Action project

David Cameron talks to students about their Practical Action  CREST project

Students at Ursuline Academy had an experience of a lifetime at the Big Bang fair in March. The Science Angels were one of just two teams interviewed by David Cameron when he visited the Big Bang Fair.  In his speech  captured in the video clip below the Prime Minister  said that ‘ it is important that students make that connection between what they study in the classroom and real lives…the problem you want to solve in the developing world’.

Watch David Cameron at The Big Bang Fair 2013.

I joined the students on the second day of the fair where they won and the UKFT Textile edge prize and another group of students from the same school  won the Shell Prize for sustainability  in the National Science and Engineering competition. They were presented with their prestigious awards from the Big Bang at the Award ceremony.  Both groups were also proud to achieve their silver CREST awards.

Both teams used Practical Action’s Global CREST challenges materials as inspiration for their projects.  The material provides students with support in using real life problems in the developing world to work on for  their CREST awards . It gives students starting points for projects and links to Practical Action’s technical briefs as support material.  The Sustainables were looking at materials suitable for housing in Bangladesh whilst the Science Angels focused on solutions to help grow crops in Kenya.

As well as an amazing achievement for Ursuline Academy I think it is great recognition of Practical Action’s Global CREST challenges which were launched just over a year ago.

The Sustainables, winners fo the UKFT Textiles Edge prize  proudly showing their CREST silver certificates

The Sustainables, winners of the UKFT Textiles Edge prize proudly showing their CREST silver certificates


The Science Angels, Ursuline Academy, winners of the Shell award for Sustainability

The Science Angels, Ursuline Academy, winners of the Shell award for Sustainability

LPG A Clean Energy Source in North Darfur

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 by

On 25th March 2013 Practical Action Sudan launched a new report titled ‘Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO) 2013’. The third edition of the publication of the PPEO series prioritises energy issues from the point of view of poor people to meet their needs and achieve universal energy for all by 2030.

On 3rd April I attended an energy programme review in our North Darfur office that involved numerous stakeholders participating in our Low smoke stoves project. The review was attended by members of community based organisations, government representatives, and the private sector.  I feel that the E.F Schumacher’s phrase “Small Is Beautiful” is applied to its fullest in this project. The project started in 2008 with the main goal of ‘Contributing to poverty alleviation through improving the livelihoods of poor families by switching to a clean energy source, LPG, for cooking purposes.  Recently the Low smoke stove project team has been awarded the gold standard and has been officially registered as the first greenhouse gas emission reduction project in Sudan.DSC01023

In the Darfur region fuelwood (firewood and charcoal) is the main energy source used in the household, services and industrial (bricks, bakeries, oil) sectors. At the household level firewood and charcoal are burnt in traditional inefficient stoves, such as the three-stone stove and traditional metal stove which causes indoor air pollution and serious health and environmental problems.

The most enjoyable and useful part in the discussion was when Izdehar Ahmed Mohamed (Project Manager) asked the attendees what lessons they had learned and the positive impacts of the project? I found their answers impressive:


The Forest National Cooperation representative said that ‘less deforestation in the project areas  compared with the past, and the culture of afforestation is increased which will have a positive environmental impact. We just need enthusiasm to continue what we have started together’.

The Women Development Association Network (WDAN) representative answered ‘there is less indoor pollution as the result of low smoke in the kitchen, which has led to a noticeable improvement in the health of women and children’.

The Civil Defense representative said that ‘community awareness has increased about the correct and safe use of LPG’.

The Nile Petroleum representative who supplies the LPG to WDAN added ‘the WDAN are a valued customer through which we apply the principle of Social Responsibility.’

I’m really proud of our team in North Darfur and the achievements they have made. We will continue to adhere to our principles to reach technological justice, a world free from poverty, and find a solution to climate change to reach a sustainable urban environment.

Just back from the Geography Association Conference…

Monday, April 8th, 2013 by

We’ve just spent three days at the GA conference at Derby University and are feeling inspired!

It’s the first time since we’ve added a Geography section to our schools website that Practical Action has exhibited at the conference and we’ll definitely be going again.

We’ve been impressed by the enthusiasm of teachers, lecturers and HMI who came to the conference during their Easter holiday to attend workshops and the exhibition to update themselves on the future of Geography.

We were there to launch our new EuropAfrica education materials…offering a broad range of activities for 11-16 year old students on small scale family farming systems in Africa. Lots of teachers we met seemed enthused by the case studies and and in particular the Shamba Shape Up activities with an opportunity to develop a TV script based on a real life TV series.

We’re looking forward to hearing from schools over the next year about how the materials have been used.

Our new Floating Garden Challenge based on climate change and flooding was really well received too.

We’re looking forward to a new chapter of keeping Geographers updated with developments at Practical Action.

GA conf 2013 001