Archive for September, 2013

New York and the future of Global Development

Monday, September 30th, 2013 by

Last week in New York the United Nations General Assembly came to an important agreement about how global development will be shaped in years up to 2030.

It was agreed that there will be a ‘single framework and set of goals – universal in nature and applicable to all countries’, and that this will bring together concerns about both poverty eradication and sustainable development (people and the environment). This will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that have guided much of global development efforts since 2000 and which expire in 2015.

The content of those new goals is still very much up for grabs. The inter-governmental negotiations will only start next year. The third stream of a complex consultation process (the ‘Open Working Groups’) has yet to report, and last week I heard about an additional set of events to will be hosted by the President of the General Assembly. Even on some basic concepts there is still disagreement. In the General Assembly debate, when some governments were talking about ‘development’ they were referring to economic growth, while others used the term to mean progress against the MDGs, and still others used the term more broadly to refer to issues around governance and rights.

At Practical Action we are following the debate with interest and trying to ensure that the messages coming from the ground, from the communities we work with, and from the things we collectively believe in, are being heard. We are doing that in collaboration with others, of course, such as the Beyond 2015 campaign which brings together over 800 NGOs from around the world. We want to see issues of technology and equity of access to technology being addressed. We want to see issues of well-being prioritised rather than simply measures of poverty based on $ per day, or growth of GDP. We want to see separate goals for Energy and Water and Sanitation, and the needs of small-holder farmers addressed.

So what is the mood among NGOs? We had a stocktaking meeting at the end of the week, and much of the sentiment reflected my own feelings. While of course we welcome the announcement about a single set of goals – isn’t that the least we could ask for? Imagine explaining all this in straightforward terms to a village community somewhere – it doesn’t sound that dramatic! “How will it change our lives?” – they might ask. Well, a single set of goals offers more chance that things will change for them: that the inequalities and injustices they experience will be addressed. On the other hand, Mwangi Waituru a co-chairs of the campaign from a relatively small Kenyan NGO said “I will be going home a bit disappointed that the outcome of this process will not be as ambitious as it needs to be if it is to be truly transformative”.

In our work on energy, we are optimistic that there will be a goal that aims for ‘energy access for all by 2030’. However, we know that ‘business as usual’ will not address the problem. Continuing to put the majority of funding into generating more electricity for the grid, or even to extending the grid, will still leave many people in the dark. As part of the broader groupings of organisations around the world fighting for the needs and interests of poor people to be heard, we will continue to push for the future framework to be ambitious, and to take its stated aims of equity and universality seriously. David Cameron has been part of the process as a co-chair of the High Level Panel which reported in earlier this year, and in a meeting with our supporters in his constituency confirmed that he would like “these ambitious and measurable goals [as set out in the HLP report] to succeed the MDGs”. A small step has been taken in the right direction, but more will need to be done!

What’s Great about Practical Action?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by

Our Finance Director Mark Woodbridge is leaving – he has been brilliant to work with and I will miss him! Today I was contacted by the people helping with the recruitment of his successor. It was like being grilled by a very lovely female John Humphrys – and I loved it!

Ambulance boat in Bangladesh

Ambulance boat in Bangladesh

‘What’s brilliant about Practical Action?’ she asked first – such an easy question, but so many things I could say.

Relevance was the first thing that came to mind. We work on four of the biggest issues that affect people living in poverty today

Agriculture – how do we support small scale farmers to have more food and a better income, how do we connect farmers to market, how do we work to tackle the impacts of climate change on the most marginal lands (where poor people often live) etc.

Energy – we’ve been working on energy for more than 30 years. It’s a huge issue! Without access to decent energy it’s so much harder to escape poverty. It’s not just about what you can’t do, it’s also about what you have to do – like collect fire wood, cope with ill health from diseases caused by breathing in dirty smoke, etc. Energy is also vital for running hospitals – incubators, x-ray machines; fridges to keep vaccines cool, for education … It’s an exciting time to work in access to energy: the Sustainable Development Goals being debated at the UN General Assembly this week has energy as one of the targets and we are one of a handful of organisations helping keep it on the agenda. Getting funding on the other hand for energy for poverty reduction is hard.

Disaster Risk Reduction – A report from Paddy Ashdown (last year I think) talked about how much money we as a world could save if we helped people be ready for disasters rather than waiting for the disaster to strike and then trying to sort out the mess – how much better for people too. We have a huge experience in DRR, including helping people prepare for and escape from floods, building earthquake-resilient housing (and now retrofitting schools and hospitals to try and make them more resistant to earthquakes). We are even working on early warning systems with communities in Nepal to warn of an impending landslide (I was just five when the Aberfan landslide happened in Wales killing 150 people, mainly children – but it still sticks in my mind).

Urban water, sanitation and waste – 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas –  the issues of waste and sanitation are huge. I was recently in Nepal visiting with waste pickers, and a few years in Zimbabwe I talked with a cholera nurse about how terrible the outbreak in Harare had been (my blog on our meeting is probably still on this site).

Beyond relevance: all the people I’ve met whose lives have been helped by us. I’ve met some amazing people who have wanted to share their stories. Our values of working with people – starting where they are, great impact – almost a million people helped directly last year; caring for the environment; helping people help themselves; sharing everything we learn so as to maximise our impact …

She did say I was quite succinct, but that must be on the phone rather than in writing! There are so many brilliant things about Practical Action I could go on for pages (and that was just her first question!).

So if you have the skills, would like to work for us and fancy being our Finance Director do have a look at the jobs pages on our website. A high ranking requirement from me (I’m not on the panel) is that you love our work too!

Black carbon

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by

According to the BBC News on Tuesday, black soot-containing smoke from cook stoves is heating the atmosphere and accelerating glacial melt in the Himalayas and elsewhere. Soot (or black carbon) released from the incomplete combustion of biomass and biofuels among other things, enters the atmosphere and eventually is deposited on ice and snow, causing it to attract solar radiation rather than reflecting the sun’s rays. As millions of people in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region rely on the melt water from snow and ice melt, the disappearance of glaciers and the resulting impacts of this, is unimaginable.

A haze of smoke hangs over a village in Nepal

A haze of smoke hangs over a village in Nepal

The first part of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be released on Friday 27 September, will provide the most up to date assessment of the physical science basis of climate change (i.e. the man made and natural causes of climate change). The report will include evidence on black carbon and its impacts.  The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which focuses on addressing short-lived climate pollutants that can have harmful impacts on human health, agriculture and ecosystems, has released literature which provides evidence that while there are several sources of black carbon, a significant one is believed to be from household cooking in developing countries.Practical Action has been addressing the problems associated with indoor smoke from cook stoves for more than twenty years.  Currently almost 3 billion people worldwide still cook on open fires using wood, animal dung, crop waste or coal. Every year this results in the death of 4 million people, of which the majority of victims are women and children under five. This is more deaths than malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB combined!

In addition, tackling black carbon releaed from cook stoves, is not as “straightforward” as the BBC suggests, especially if you consider the development as well as environmental challenges. In the 3 years since its inception, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (a partner of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition) has led the drive to promote the uptake of clean cookers, but progress has been slow. Although there are a number of improved cook stoves on the market – the challenge is to persuade women (who invariably do most of the cooking in most developing countries) to purchase and use these improved cook stoves for all their cooking needs.

Improved cook stove with smoke hood

Improved cook stove with smoke hood

Improved stoves and smoke hoods are designed to use less wood, so that women spend less time collecting fuel and it burns more efficiently – and healthily.   The environmental impact of minimising black carbon from more complete combustion should be considerd a positive co-benefit rather than what motivates us to promote cleaner cook stoves, or the reason for poor women to use them.As part of Practical Action’s programme of work on energy, household energy is a key focus area; delivering clean energy to poor men and women who need it most.  As an issue of justice, reducing carbon emissions must be regarded as a secondary issue to people’s health and well-being.  Why should those people who have contributed nothing to the warming of the planet be unjustly burdened with lowering their emissions of black carbon or other greenhouse gases? If the International Community is going to start focusing its attention on black carbon, we should rather start with our own activities that contribute to the problem, such as gas flaring and fossil fuel power plants.

If household cooking is found to be responsible for some of the world’s black carbon, this might result in more funding and a higher profile for this serious health problem, but should not be the driving force for taking action.

Still visiting Kenya

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 by

I am sure that everyone reading this will be aware of the awful events still unfolding in Nairobi with over 60 people killed, and almost 200 hundred injured following attacks by an armed group.

On Saturday I was still at home in the UK with a ticket booked for Nairobi the following day. As the first news filtered through, I began to get concerned calls from friends and relatives checking I was not already in Kenya, and asking if I felt safe to proceed with my planned trip.  My immediate answer was  – “yes of course”.  Though I did check with the local Practical Action office that they were still happy to host me.

Having been here for three days now, and with the final stages of the hijacking not yet fully resolved, it’s impossible to understate how horrific events must have been for people involved or their relatives.  Thankfully none of our own staff were directly affected.  However, at the same time I think it’s important to recognise how much Nairobi, and Kenya is determined to “get on with business”.

Hygiene lessons in Nakuru

Hygiene lessons in Nakuru

Yesterday I was in Nakuru, with two new Board members of Practical Action Kenya, and while they were keen to keep up to date with events, they were also excited to discover our work on the ground.  Here we are working in an amazing partnership with local county authorities; water companies; banks; landlords and civil society groups. Our target?  To ensure that everyone in Nakuru has access to a toilet.  While this may not sound that challenging, when you think that of the 190,000 people living in the low income areas of Nakuru, only 15% currently use a toilet today, you might begin to understand that this is quite a stretch.

In the middle of the day I met Joseph, an entrepreneur who we helped to set up a waste collection company which cleans up low income communities and also makes him and his colleagues a small income.

Having made the decision to come to Kenya, do I still think it was the right thing to do?  Yes, absolutely.  It has made me realise that while there is terrible news unfolding in Kenya, there are also some really positive stories.  Of course the story of Practical Action, toilets, and waste collectors won’t reach the headlines, but I do think it important that people know that there are other things going on.


On Saturday 21st September, between 10-15 heavily armed terrorists invaded the busy Westgate mall, in upmarket Nairobi (Westlands). The mall has several food courts and on that particular day, there was a young chefs competition – which meant, that there were several children at the Mall with their mothers.  Al-Shabaab/Al Qaeda groups have claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack was conducted at midday, when the Mall is at its busiest. The official number of deaths currently stands at 68 (official figure) and several others (around 200) with varying degree of bullet/shrapnel injuries. Official reports state a minimal number of hostages are yet to be rescued. The operation is led by the Kenya Defence Forces and the Kenya Police with assistance from Israeli, US and UK advisors. The terrorists have refused to negotiate – they want Kenya Defence Forces to pull out of Somalia.  On the fourth day, as Kenya enters a three day period of national mourning, we are all hoping and praying that the siege is over,  people can grieve, bury their dead, and nurse their wounds.

Meeting the Prime Minister

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 by

Everyone tells you that it must be a mixed blessing having the Prime Minister as your local MP. The most powerful politician in the country has so many pressures on their time that their constituency can become neglected. Whether this has been true for past prime ministers, I can’t say. What I do know is that the current PM was very interested when I and other supporters of Practical Action in his constituency wanted to meet him to discuss the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Following the meeting the following message was received from the Prime Minister.

“I want to see a national campaign to put pressure on the UN to keep the 12 newly proposed international development goals, as set out in the 2013 High Level Panel report. These ambitious and measurable goals should succeed the Millennium Development goals when they expire in 2015.

To end poverty we need a new global partnership to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and champion sustainable development. With a sustained and concerted effort, I believe we can end extreme poverty by 2030 – and we are determined to do so.”

This is not to say that organising the meeting was as smooth as it might have been. My first letter to him was in February. This led to the offer of a meeting which was cancelled because of urgent business. Eventually, another date was set. As it came closer, and the newspapers filled up with political crises, I began to worry about opening my emails in case this one had to be cancelled too. But I’m glad to say it went ahead – although the time was changed at short notice.

So, on Friday lunchtime, I and three other long-time supporters of Practical Action, Susy Mundy, Dr Monica Holmes-Siedle and her husband Dr Andrew Holmes-Siedle, found ourselves queuing outside David Cameron’s constituency office in Witney. Suddenly in a blur of Range Rovers and red boxes he appeared and hurried inside. As we were ushered in to meet him he was on the phone, but he immediately broke off and, along with supporters from Oxfam, Unicef and Save the Children, our meeting began. Despite not having a huge amount of time we managed to cover a lot of ground.

David Cameron meeting Practical Action supporters

David Cameron meeting Practical Action supporters

We were impressed that David Cameron was clearly well informed about the subject.  And we were cheered to hear him express his pride that the UK was the only large developed nation which met the 0.7% of GDP target for its aid and development budget. We left him in no doubt that we all strongly supported his commitment and said how valuable a job we thought he had done co-chairing the UN High Level Panel to draft the new international Sustainable Development Goals to replace those developed for the Millennium.

David talked passionately about the work of the Panel and his personal involvement in drafting its report. These new SDGs, which will be discussed at the United Nations in September, are a carefully balanced set of goals designed to help lift the poorest people in the world out of poverty and enable them to build a more sustainable future. The emphasis is – as it should be – on helping people to help themselves. But too much emphasis on means will probably not deliver the ends, and setting out the ends without the enabling means is a sure recipe for failure. So the balance is crucial.

And it was this balance which we, as supporters of Practical Action, wanted particularly to commend to David Cameron prior to the UN discussions. We came to talk about the importance of energy access for everyone, especially the poorest. It might seem rather boring when compared with ending hunger or eradicating disease. But actually it is a fundamental basis for achieving progress. As Fritz Schumacher said. energy is not just another commodity but the precondition of all commodities. He might equally have asserted that developing energy capacity is not just another development programme but the precondition for all such programmes.

The discussion became quite technical and it was clear that the Prime Minister had an excellent grasp of the issues. We debated the value of smaller scale local energy generation versus bigger power plants and large scale grids. He was concerned that sufficient base-loads could not be guaranteed without larger scale conventional production; we were concerned that conventional grids would never reach those with the greatest need. While we may not have agreed on everything, we left our meeting convinced of the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to the goals developed by his Panel.  We hope he left convinced of the strong support from people in his constituency for this continuing drive.

David said that some years ago he had visited Turkana in Kenya -before Practical Action had completed their solar powered water pump project. So we were delighted to present him with a framed photo of the unit in operation to show what can be achieved through this sort of practical action.

He was clearly impressed and as he tweeted after the meeting – it was ‘inspiring to hear about the work’ Practical Action is doing.


Talking shit and prizes

Friday, September 20th, 2013 by

Sometimes the most practical problems are ones you want to ignore. But you can’t! Getting rid of/managing shit is something we all need to do but maybe don’t want to think about. Here in the UK, for most of us flush toilets take everything away – just requiring a clean and an occasional visit from a plumber. For me, cleaning the loo is a necessary but not exactly looked-forward-to task!

For poor people in the developing world, things are very different and shit – literally – is sometimes all around them. Helping people get access to decent latrines is one important step, but with no sewer system and often a shortage of space, planning for the management of excrement is vital.

Just wondering if you are still reading this blog, or if the topic has put you off? I can understand why it would. But now for news – one piece good. the other interesting but basic!

Two things I’ve read today:

The good news is that Practical Action has won a prestigious innovation award from the International Water Association for our work on ‘faecal sludge management’ in Bangladesh.


4200There is a huge need for decent excrement management in Bangladesh. Just have a look at the stats (thanks Wateraid):

– About 80,000 tons of sludge are generated every day in Bangladesh
– 24,000 tons in urban areas
– 960 tons go to a water treatment plant in Dhaka

If you do the maths, it’s easy to see there is an awful lot of shit (I can’t keep saying excreta) around that’s probably not being treated – I make it 79,000 tons a day. Is that right? Sounds huge! Coming up with new options for shit management is brilliant.

The other thing I read was an article in Practical Action Publishing’s journal Waterlines. It talked about smell and how it’s an overlooked factor in sanitation promotion – basically people are being put off building and using latrines by the smell!  The report says that in Ghana, where 57% of the population use public latrines, foul smell is a major reason why people don’t build latrines close to their homes. And with public loos there are all sorts of issues around hygiene, proper management, safe access for women, etc.

I have to say, I get that – so if smell is a major barrier to people getting latrines, finding successful ways to empty them and so manage the smell is vital.

Well done to Practical Action in Bangladesh.

And while I have an on-going obsession with loos, two days off work with a nasty tummy bug has made me love decent toilets even more. So not a nice thing to do, but let me ask you to think back to the last time you had a tummy bug and remember how vital loos – and the management of shit – really is. You will easily understand why great shit management is vital!


Networks of Community Based Organisations leading on poverty reduction

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 by

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.

Picture 021

scan0001 Old pictures show WDN’s activity in food processing

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.

Food Processing Training in Kassala

Food processing training in Kassala

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.

Visit with FRDN to school in Al-Fashir

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

Global Dimension award

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 by

The Global Dimension in Engineering Education is proud to announce the result of the 1st European award for best practices for the integration of Sustainable Human Development into technology & engineering education.

The Committee was made up of experts from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya), Universitat Politècnica de Valencia, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Loughborough University, Università degli Studi di Trento, ONGAWA, Practical Action, Engineers Without Borders and Training Centre for International Cooperation.


It decided to award with a price of €3000 the next proposals:

  • B.E.S.T. (Best Environmental Sustainable Technologies) for International Cooperation, presented by Sabrina Sorlini from University of Brescia.
  • Beyond traditional education in Engineering: a systemic approach to strengthen development, presented by Emanuela Colombro from Politecnico di Milano.
  • The integration of Education for Development in the Civil Engineering School of the University of Granada, presented by Javier Ordóñez from Universidad de Granada.

To give a special mention to the following proposals:

  • Hacking and Translating for Social and Economic Development, presented by Adolfo Villafiorita from ICT4G Fondazione Bruno Kessler and University of Trento.
  • Introducing Sustainability and Human Development skills at the Barcelona School of Informatics using Service Learning, presented by David López from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.
  • Integrating Sustainable Human Development into Engineering Design, presented by David Toll from Durham University.
  • Sustainable Human Development in Mainstream Undergraduate Engineering Education, presented by Alison Furber from University of Edinburgh.
  • Introducing Humanitarian Engineering and Computing, presented by Elizabeth Miles from Coventry University.

The Committee wants to recognize the high quality of all the presented proposals, and encourage all the participants to follow the European Project Global Dimension in Engineering Education – (

The awards was presented in Cambridge (UK), Robinson College on September 24th during the Parallel Activities Sessions of the EESD13 Rethinking the Engineer:

Congratulations to all the awarded and thank you for participating in this activity.

Look at for the next award to be announced later in the year.

The role of construction in development and economic growth: challenges and opportunities for developing and emerging economies

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by

Thank you to Dr. Tabaral Ballal for inviting me to the recent international workshop at the University of Reading on the roles of construction in development and economic growth.

The starting point for the workshop was the notion that the construction industry plays a pivotal role in the economic growth and development of nations. Economic activities are highly dependent on a strong construction presence for the provision of investment opportunities, job creation and development of infrastructure in all types of economies. In developing and emerging economies, this reliance is all the more significant.

The objective of the workshop was to create a forum to discuss and debate issues concerning developing and emerging economies. We hope this discussion and debate can continue beyond the two days of the workshop. This potentially will be in the form of collaborative research (on issues that matter to communities in developing countries) between Practical Action and the University of Reading’s School of Construction Management and Engineering.

However, this discussion does not need to be restricted to Practical Action and the School of Construction Management and Engineering, it could include anyone who has an interest in this area of development.

Dr. Tabarak Ballal

Dr. Tabarak Ballal talking at the workshop that took place on September 5th and 6th 2013.

The workshop attendees included contractors, consultants, the research community, government agencies, NGOs, Manufacturers and suppliers.

One approach that we have been discussing within Practical Action is a technical advisory service that brings diverse expertise together from a multiple base of organisations, institutions, consultants and companies thus providing a platform to exchange technical information and discuss significant issues that arise.
Some of you that have long memories may know that there was something similar called the Building Advisory Service Information Network which included a number of organisations such as GTZ (now GIZ), SKAT, Development Alternatives and ITDG (now Practical Action) and others. Could something like this work in the current development climate? Yours thoughts on this are very welcome.

Neil Noble at the University of Reading

Neil Noble presenting at the workshop.

The workshop gave me an opportunity to look at some of the work Practical Action has undertaken relating to construction and shelter. One of these topics that seemed to be of interest was the use for stabilised soil blocks and their building standards.
While building standards have been developed in Zimbabwe and Kenya for the appropriate use of stabilised soil blocks there does not seem to be the equivalent in other countries, during the workshop we were discussing difficulty in obtaining similar standards for Sudan.

These changes in standards were introduced to enable low-income communities gain access to decent and affordable housing rather than having standards that act as a barriers to better housing for the poor.



An image taken from Emerging Partnership for Implementing Sustainable Building Standards

An image taken from Emerging Partnership for Implementing Sustainable Building Standards

Providing healthy school breakfasts in Bolivia

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by

The first meal of the day is reckoned to be the most important, especially for children, but I heard from locals in the remote, rural district of Aroma, Bolivia, that school kids are turning up for class empty and hungry. This happens because they are too poor to afford breakfast, and it makes it impossible for them to concentrate on lessons, and their grades are suffering as a result.

However, two of Practical Action’s projects have come up with an innovative, and sustainable, solution.

One is a women’s collective which turns milk into yoghurt and cheese, to sell within the community. Practical Action trained them in dairy work, and more importantly, provided irrigation technology so their cows are well-nourished enough to produce milk.

The other is a social enterprise a few miles away, which makes cereal bars from quinua, a South American grain, mixed with natural ingredients like honey and raisins. Practical Action helped them establish the business, and supplied the necessary machinery.

Together, the groups approached Aroma’s mayor, and now they have government funding to provide yoghurt and quinua bars to 2,600 school children. They are excited not only by the commercial opportunity, but also by the fact that local kids will now eat a healthy and nutritious breakfast, and their school results will improve. I was excited to know that those breakfasts would be locally produced, and would support two great community enterprises, making them more sustainable.

And I must admit, having sampled both the yoghurt and the cereal bars, I wish my breakfast was as tasty!