Archive for July, 2014

Rice duck farming – an early adopter’s story

Monday, July 21st, 2014 by

Last month, during my field visit, I met with a farmer and an early adopter.

Rice Duck Farming Beneficiary

Rice Duck Farming beneficiary in Nepal

Raj Mani Chaudhary, a resident of Khaireni-7, Chitwan in Nepal is all smiles when asked about Rice Duck Farming. Before, he did not have any idea about rice duck farming. He used to plant paddy in his field in a traditional way like he always used to do. But it was not until last year when he found out about Practical Action’s Rice Duck Farming Pilot Project. He was really curious, so he attended the training. He says, “I found the concept of rice duck farming very fascinating, you not only benefit from the duck meat but also the droppings which is used as organic fertilizers, and at the same time the ducks in the field save your time and labour for weeding and manuring.”

“Addressing Malnutrition through Integrated Rice-Duck Farming in Nepal” is being implemented in Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts since April 2014. This is 1.5 years project funded by Grand Challenge Canada. The rice duck method for growing rice involves releasing ducklings into paddy fields about one or two weeks after the seedlings have been transplanted. The ducklings help rice grow by eating insects and weeds. It eliminates the use of pesticide and the farmer saves his time by avoiding the manual work of pulling out the weeds from the field. The ducks also stir up the soil in the paddy fields with their feet and bills which creases the oxygen content of the soil, making it more nutritious for the rice seedlings.

In April 2013, Mr. Chaudhary attended training on rice duck farming, where he learned about raising the ducklings, space transplanting the rice, integrating duck in the rice field, fencing and so on. As an initiation, Practical Action provided him with 81 ducklings for his 4.5 Kattha land (1 Kattha= 0.33 Hectare).

He recalls the very first day of releasing the 15 days old ducklings to his paddy field, “I was very anxious and curious, I did not know how the combination of rice duck farming work. I used to watch the ducklings play around in the paddy field for hours.” After exactly 5 months, his patience paid off. The yield rose by 20 percent and he was able to make extra money by selling the duck meat.

Being an early adopter, Mr Chaudhary cannot stop sharing the benefits of rice duck farming – higher yield, organic rice that can be sold at a higher price, the duck meat which fetches extra income, the droppings which act as fertilisers and the ducks which assist by pulling out the weeds and eating the insects.

He is a role model for fellow farmers in his village and urges them to adapt rice duck farming in their land. “I cannot wait for this year to start my rice duck farming,” he chuckles.

Although Practical Action’s innovative rice duck farming is in its early days, we believe the innovation will benefit more farmers financially in the future.

Rice Duck Farming

Rice Duck Farming

Hens bring happiness

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 by

My daughter has recently started keeping a few chickens in our garden.  I now have a daily supply of fresh eggs and ‘the girls’ (Audrey, Cherie and Margot) fortunately require very little input from me. Occasionally they escape their enclosure and excavate my vegetable plot but generally they have been a positive addition to our household.  Only the cat begs to differ.

Audrey, Cherie & Margot nesting among the potatoes

Audrey, Cherie & Margot nesting among the potatoes

Keeping chickens has a far greater impact on the lives of women in the Kassala region of Sudan.  Eggs provide their families with an excellent source of protein in a normally less than adequate diet.  But the ability to sell their produce offers the prospect of some extra income in a society where this is hard to achieve for women.

In an interesting collaboration with our energy work, some of the women in this project have been given solar lamps for their chicken houses.  Light is important for hens as they generally lay eggs when they have at least 16 hours of daylight – difficult to achieve in equatorial regions.

Our hens supply us with endless amusement and the luxury of a really fresh breakfast.  For women in Sudan they are an opportunity for financial independence and a key ingredient for a more balanced diet.


An updated podcasting device for farmers

Monday, July 14th, 2014 by

Chloe Tuck, an Industrial Design and Technology at Loughborough University worked with Practical Action in her final year project to help design a more contextually appropriate device that would suit the podcasting scheme in Zimbabwe. She writes about her design and her experience below.

About the Mp3 device  

Chloe at her project stand

Chloe at her project stand

Practical Action has been using Mp3 players in its  current project to share podcasts on farming techniques between communities. This provides more people with skills and knowledge which enable them to better their own lives. The technique of podcasting is preferred over traditional techniques like pamphlets and radio as users are not restricted by literacy ability and can learn at their own rate. The project has been well received by the pilot communities in Zimbabwe; the emphasis on local knowledge shared in local voices proved to truly be a vehicle for self-progression.­ However, despite the success of the programme, the devices currently being used are not optimally designed for the Zimbabwean rural community context. The main problem is the need for the batteries of the Mp3 player to be re-charge; a resource that is not easily accessible meaning it can be weeks between charges.

Newly proposed design

After conducting a considerable amount of research, test rigs, prototyping, user interactions and discursive design, a finalised design was proposed. This new design tackles some of the key problems faced by the current devices, and would be expected to bring ease of use and effective results to communities. The key features of the device are:

– Kinetically powered by hand: Renewable technology that requires little exertion. This is implemented through the use of a 3:1 gear ratio and a dynamo. 2 minutes of hand cranking at 120rpm generates up to 15 minutes audio feedback. Once charged the energy is stored in an internal replicable battery.

– Modularity: The product is split into two separate components, the dynamo unit and the Mp3 unit. The units self-locate together using magnets and pass charge from the generator unit using induction. This has many benefits to the design including improved sustainability; if broken only half the product is deposed of preventing unnecessary redundancy of technology. The dynamo unit can be used to provide charge to other devices when not in use such as lights and when available mobile phones. The weight of the product is dramatically reduced making for a more pleasurable user experience when in use in the field.

– Inter-changeable handle: Many hand cranked devices are prone to broken handles rendering the entire product defunct, creating waste. The key innovation here is the removable and replaceable handle. The device has a loop that is permanently attached that accommodates a handle that is held in place through tension and pressure, if this is lost it can be replaced with a similar shaped implement, something as simple as a stick. This considerably elongates the useable life of the product.

The colours and patterns chosen were directly influenced by research into decorative Zimbabwean patterns and basking weaving with a contemporary twist. Not only does this break away from the often dull colour schemes of most Mp3 players but also provides a stark contrast to the its surroundings making it easy to find if dropped. The device also allows the users to record their own podcasts and feedback.

Where to next?

Despite combating the main design flaws of the current device, after conducting user focus groups with the fully functioning prototype it became clear that some facets still need fine tuning to create the optimum results. To carry this project forward there needs to be more research into the user interface and user experience of the product to create a truly seamless and intuitive product.

See full project here Kemo-be; Bringing community minds together

Come and say hi to us in Yorkshire and Cardiff

Monday, July 14th, 2014 by

I have always been passionate about the work Practical Action does, the people we help and our approach to ‘giving communities a hands up, not a hand out’ I am proud to work for an organisation that empowers people to help themselves out of poverty.

As a fundraiser I want to tell as many people as I can about the amazing work we do and the brilliant solutions we have.

This week we have fundraisers in Yorkshire and the Cardiff area doing just that – talking about ingenious solutions that are saving lives. These are solutions like floating gardens in Bangladesh, providing vital food to families whose lives are devastated by floods, who are left with no way of feeding their families when everything they own is destroyed.

For people who live in areas covered by water during the monsoon season, such as the riverine areas of Bangladesh, it is impossible to grow crops. Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land.

We are also talking about solar powered water pumps in northern Kenya, bringing vital clean, safe water to communities who are desperately trying to survive. You can read more about why  Practical Action’s work is so important as northern Kenya is gripped with the worst drought in years.

children splashing clean water in Kenya from a solar powered water pump

So if you’re in Cardiff, Chesterfield, Halifax, Bridlington or Leeds this week and see one of our fundraisers please do say hi and ask them about our life saving work. They are a really friendly bunch and would like nothing better than to chat to you! 🙂

face to face fundraisers

Thank you to all the people that have stopped, chatted and donated to Practical Action so far. You are amazing people and your kind support will really make a difference to poor people’s lives across the world.

I’d like to share a lovely message we received from a lady who kindly donated recently:

I just got back from food shopping at the Co-op in Bromsgrove and just wanted to send you a message to say how lovely the two employees of yours are that I just met in there. Natalina and Sabrina signed me up to donate to your cause but I have to say and is the main reason for me sending you this is I wouldn’t have signed up to donate if it wasn’t for these great girls! They know how to have fun, great communication and very passionate about what they are doing for Practical Action- a great asset to your organisation. Thank you.”

If you would like to help today and take Practical Action against hunger, disease and poverty you can make a donation.

Thank you!

The beginning of the end for oil?

Monday, July 14th, 2014 by

Jeremy Leggett, ‘social entrepreneur’ and founder of SolarAid and SunnyMoney, alerted me to a recent article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper here in the UK. The full article can be see here but, in short, the piece suggests that the oil industry is the new great ‘sub prime’ investment of the current economic cycle, replacing the US housing market which, you will remember, triggered a global recession in 2008. Investment is pouring into exploration in oil shales and deep fields in the Arctic and elsewhere, but these investments are not yet returning any cash and, indeed, require higher oil prices to deliver a real profit.


Solar powered water pump in Kenya

Whilst gambling on higher oil prices might have seemed a fairly safe bet a few years ago, there are now two potentially significant threats to making money out of oil. Firstly, if a global deal is eventually done to maintain atmospheric carbon levels at 450 ppm then, according to the International Energy Agency, two thirds of the oil reserves that oil companies currently have on their books will have to stay in the ground, unburnt, as ‘stranded’ (i.e. unusable) assets. This means the book value of the oil industry is vastly overstated and we can expect to see a mass withdrawal of funds, or a demand for profits to be paid out as dividends rather than re-invested in more drilling, as this eventually becomes clear to the big institutional investors.

Secondly, the article notes that “staggering gains in solar power – and soon battery storage as well – threatens to undercut the oil industry with lightning speed”. The author (the Daily Telegraph’s International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard) goes on to note that photovoltaic energy already competes with fossil fuels in much of Asia without subsidy and that “once the crossover point is reached……it must surely turn into a stampede”, predicting that the energy landscape “will already look radically different in the early 2020’s”.

For this sort of article to be penned by the business editor of the Telegraph, a newspaper associated with the British establishment and business, is, as Jeremy remarks, truly momentous. The world’s current addiction to a fossil fuel based economy represents a massive inter-generational technology injustice – with the choice to use carbon emitting technologies by this generation having potentially profound negative consequences for future ones.

One can only hope that the Telegraph’s analysis is correct in this instance and that we are, indeed, seeing the beginning of the end of the age of oil.

‘Untouchables’ negotiate their terms in Jessore, Bangladesh

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by

‘It’s true that, at least in the public sphere, the Dalit community has made progress since the days within living memory when they were beaten if their shadow touched a higher caste person, wore bells to warn of their approach, and carried buckets so their spit wouldn’t contaminate the ground.’ – National Geographic

 Caste vs. Constitution

Making up approximately 20% of the populations of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the Dalit community is excluded from the caste system altogether, but sometimes referred to as a ‘scavenger’ caste, within which are more divisions, the lowest considered to be litter pickers, toilet cleaners, those preparing bodies for funerals, removing dead animals from roads and killing rats and other pests.

Under the 1950 India constitution the Dalit community was afforded affirmative action (in education and hiring quotas) and the concept of untouchability officially banned under Article 17. The Prevention of Atrocities Act in 1989 made it illegal amongst other actions to take away their land, interfere with their right to vote and burn down their homes.

However Dalits continue to face discrimination, especially in rural areas where access to communal water sources are restricted and land ownership is rare: ‘Most rural Dalit’s earn their living as agricultural laborers or as collectors of human waste to be used as fertilizer.’

In 2010 the Robert K Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights identified 98 distinct practices across 1589 villages pertaining to caste based discrimination (Page 5) including a ban on hiring cooking pots for weddings, smoking a pipe, touching vegetables in a shop and driving through a village in a vehicle.

Rural to urban movement

Many Dalit families left rural areas to live in the rapidly growing cities, usually in slum areas, and are often exploited. Many are not allowed to rent outside their communities .Urban services (water, sanitation, hygiene, waste management) are often not accessible to poorer communities. This is a combined failure of planning, financial and management capacity and governance. The fact that the Dalit community has little say in the services provided to them means that they rarely see improvements in access to services in their own communities. The conditions in which they live make it difficult for them to form effective representative organisations.

Delivering Decentralisation: slum dwellers’ access to decision making for pro-poor infrastructure services

Participatory planning

Participatory planning

Delivering Decentralisation focuses on improving the lives of 36,000 slum dwellers by enabling communities to engage in the planning and decision making processes of local government, helping them to form effective representative organisations to ensure that they are able to improve the delivery of public services in their area.The programme is taking place in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, in Faridpur & Jessore (Bangladesh), Butwal and Bharatpur (Nepal), Kurunegala and Akkaraipattu (Sri Lanka) fromApril 2012 – March 2016. Partners in Bangladesh include the Society for the Urban Poor (Faridpur, Bangladesh) and Development of Health and Agriculture Rehabilitation Advancement (Jessore, Bangladesh).

Old Pourasava, Jessore

One of the focus areas is Old Pourasava, one of 5 Dalit wards in Jessore, established in 1946. The main profession of the community is cleaning and empting safety pits and sewerage lines.

 At the beginning of the project the community had only two toilets for 80 women and 65 men. There was a water tap coming from the municipality water supply line. People would fetch water twice a day (7am-10am and 12pm-6pm). There was one tubewell which remained out of order most of the time.

Practical Action worked with the Dalit community in Jessore to help them form elected representative organisations (Settlement Improvement Committees) to lobby for improvements to the delivery of public services in their area. The election process was participatory with the supervision of an electoral body consisting of the Municipality Mayor, Councilors, Executive Director (or Field Coordinator) of partner organisations and representatives from Practical Action. The community also formed a Society Development Federation (SDF) as a platform to communicate and coordinate with Municipality, partners and other development agencies for different services like education, health and income generating activities. The committees have been elected for 2 years.

Coordination meeting

Coordination meeting

The community then prepared a participatory plan using social mapping, resource mapping, well-being analysis, Chapati diagrams, and priority ranking of needs. They identified and prioritised needs to address demand by seeking funding from development partners, the municipality and other potential service providers, providing a road map to the community for their next course of action. Before finalisation the action plan was shared with Municipality Councillors in the presence of the whole community.


jessore 2

Sharing the action plan


For community leaders to observe how development was being achieved in a similar context, exposure visits were organised to Gaibandha Municipality to gather knowledge on waste-to- compost, waste-to-biogas and other techniques which could be replicated in Old Pourasava.

Practical Action supported the community in the design, procurement and construction of drainage and footpaths. Prior to construction, the community volunteered to remove uncollected and accumulated waste.


Women and girls

Clearing waste in preparation for laying new footpath and drainage systems

Clearing waste in preparation for laying new footpath and drainage systems

The association and its members are motivating adult female and adolescent girls to diversify their economic opportunities to supplement family income to invest in better health and education for their children. Links with organisations who can support training and income generating activities as well as childcare have been made (e.g. Family Planning Association of Bangladesh). 

Challenges to the programme

The programme faced challenges to ensure the participation of extremely poor people in the planning and monthly meetings of slum improvement committees due to their long working hours. The programme also faced challenges in bringing synergy between different community associations; the community expressed concern that if they join other existing associations their special agenda inclusion will be lost since they would become a minority in a federation. Sharing meetings to discuss views, planning and progress were organised between other community organisations while they remained separate entities.


Beyond the programme

51dffcbb-66e4-4859-8327-6ed90a000074_WyI2MDB4NjAwIiwic2NhbGUiXQAfter Practical Action helped to facilitate development planning, a new organisation was formed with the aim of making Dalit settlements healthy and liveable through access to inclusive services. The organisation is helping 6 Dalit communities develop their neighbourhood plans, led by their respective community associations.

Members participated in Jessore Municipality’s pre-budget meeting and expressed the priority areas in which they want to draw down support from the annual development budget of Jessore town.


The project is advocating for Jessore Municipality to bring other stakeholders in to support other priorities reflected in their neighbourhood plans. Community Association leaders are also negotiating with non-state development agencies for access to doorstep health and education services at fair prices. The Association approached bodies such as the District Social Welfare, the District Women Affairs Office amongst other development agencies, and was successful in receiving different types of income generation training for the Dalit community. These follow on actions are building the aspiration of a healthy living environment and fuller integration into society; building relationships and accessing services and resources which will leverage change beyond the close of the programme in 2016.