Archive for June, 2015

What CF can offer to ICT4D project evaluation?

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 by


Just throw it on the ground! Waste disposal in Nairobi’s informal settlements

Monday, June 29th, 2015 by

From May, 2015, three university students joined Practical Action, Eastern Africa, as interns within the Urban WASH team to assist in conducting research for the “Technology and the Future of Work” project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The WASH intern team consists of Eric Mugaa and Charles Kwena, both in their fifth year at the University of Nairobi in the Civil Engineering programme, and Megan Douglas, a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh in the International Development programme. The project is examining the enabling and disabling impacts of technologies on work opportunities among informal workers in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Read about Megan’s reflections from her time in the field…..

By Megan Douglas

Megan pic

On a recent research trip to Kawangware, one of Nairobi’s informal settlements, our field guide contact treated me to a large slice of watermelon from a roadside vendor, packaged in plastic wrap to keep it fresh. After finishing my slice, the warm juice running in rivers down my arms and the wrapper growing sticky in my hand, I looked around for a bin to dispose of the waste. “There are no rubbish bins around here,” my contact laughed. “Just throw it on the ground!”  I couldn’t bring myself to do such a thing; throwing waste on the ground just seemed wrong, despite the multitude of old watermelon rinds and plastic wrappers strewn across the road in front of me. After carrying the rubbish for several minutes, the flies began to come. Begrudgingly, I bent down and gingerly laid the rind in a ditch, where it floated away to join the garbage dam choking Nairobi River. The plastic wrapper I ‘nobly’ stuck in my purse pocket, where it later formed a large sugary stain.


Is it about having ‘principles’ or having options?

Being from a relatively clean city in Canada, littering feels foreign to me. It is not only illegal in Canada, punishable by hefty fines, but is also considered by many to be immoral in a sense. I had never seen anything like the sheer enormity of human waste competing for space with homes in Kawangware.

It isn’t that residents of Kawangware produce more waste; it is that there are few viable options for rubbish disposal. Nor are informal residents apathetic. Many of those interviewed make ‘tsk tsk’s with their tongue against their teeth when surveying the carpet of garbage across the streets. “It’s a shame,” expressed one woman, in response to my question about her opinion of the waste situation, then, immediately following, tossed a black plastic bag she had been eating a samosa out of into a ditch. While it was amusing, I didn’t consider her a hypocrite; her littering doesn’t necessarily discredit the genuineness of her displeasure with the amount of waste on the ground. At times, pragmatism must trump ‘moral’ sentiments in the informal settlements. Either she tossed the oily plastic bag, or carried it in her purse (most likely indefinitely, unless she ventured to the outskirts of the district, costing her time and money, all for the sake of not littering).

Do I not litter in Canada because I am against littering? Or is it because I don’t have to? Most likely, a combination of both, but the two are likely mutually reinforcing.  Some sort of innate concern for environmental conservation isn’t likely the principal reason I grew up with such an adversity to littering. When you have accessible, affordable and sustainable methods of human waste disposal, one never has to be reminded of the volume of non-biodegradable waste you produce every day; garbage is simply thrown in the trash bin, which is collected once a week, never to be seen again. Canada isn’t without waste. It is one of the world’s largest producers of it. But the difference is that garbage is just shipped off to dumps far away from urban centers, or sent across the ocean to fill another country’s dumpsite, allowing citizens the comfort of never having to be visually reminded of the size of their carbon footprint.

The poorest of the poor in Nairobi, however, must constantly live with their waste and that of others, piled high in mountains and overflowing into rivers, a visual reminder of the spatial and socio-economic and political marginalization of informal residents. The combination of a high concentration of people (60 percent of Nairobi’s population live on only 5% of the total land mass), the increase in non-biodegradable waste, and the lack of a public waste-collection service within informal settlements, culminates in a shockingly large amount of garbage on the ground, leading to a myriad of environmental and health issues.

Reflection on the Asia Clean Energy Forum ACEF2015

Friday, June 26th, 2015 by

Spending a week in Manila at the Asia Clean Energy Forum was an excellent opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn about what is going on in the energy access space in this key region of the world. What I learned there was both inspiring and disappointing however. Check out my thoughts on what the Asian Development Bank and others need to do to begin seriously addressing the global challenge of energy poverty.


Thank you for watching this video blog, which will be followed up next week by a more comprehensive written blog reflecting on how we can move forward together to promote the decentralized energy services needed to quickly end energy poverty in a climate smart, economically empowering manner.

Climate Smart Agriculture: why avoiding ambiguity is vital to success

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 by

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is a phrase that has been gaining increasing prominence in both the sphere of international development and in mainstream media. But despite some powerful backers, CSA has not been without criticism. There are growing calls for clear guidelines in order to distinguish between what is ‘climate-smart’ and what is just business as usual under a different name.


Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes

Adapting and building resilience to climate change

Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible”

(FAO, 2015)

These are what the FAO considers the three main pillars of CSA. If you were to ask most development practitioners what they thought of such goals, you would probably get a variation of same answer: “wonderful, but how do we achieve this?”. This is the question asked by Practical Action’s second Technology Justice briefing paper: “Climate Smart Agriculture and smallholder farmers: the critical role of Technology Justice in effective adaptation”.

More specifically, how do we ensure that CSA is actually achieving its aims?

This question is an important one because it is underpins many objections to CSA. In October 2014, the Guardian published an article that criticised the involvement of certain large multinationals in the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. It warned against “false solutions under vague “climate-smart” rhetoric”, and noted that the “looseness of the term” opened up the CSA label to exploitation. This article echoed the September 2014 paper by the same author from Actionaid International: Clever name, Losing game?, which was also highly critical of the ambiguity of CSA.


farmer adaptation climate change

Agricultural farmers in Jequetepeque, Peru


These criticisms are legitimate and expose serious flaws in a large-scale international initiative. As such, it is imperative that these flaws are addressed as soon as possible. Without clear definitions, CSA is vulnerable to being reduced to a buzzword, to be used to boost green credentials without making vitally important changes to food production systems.

The risks are twofold: firstly, if CSA initiatives are seen as risky, participation and commitment will wane. Secondly, if the claims of Actionaid International, La Via Campesina and other critics become reality, then massive damage could be done to both the environment and the reputation of future projects.

Practical Action’s policy brief sets out how the three pillars of Technology Justice – access, innovation, and sustainable use – can be used as a lens for analysing whether CSA initiatives are really ‘climate-smart’. It explores whether these initiatives support smallholders, or simply ‘greenwash’ business as usual.

For CSA initiatives to achieve equitable and sustainable agricultural development, initiatives must, at a minimum:

  • Improve and support access to agricultural production for marginalized smallholder farmers in a way that minimizes risk
  • Promote user-centred innovation that improves the adaptive capacity of smallholder agricultural systems
  • Facilitate sustainable use of the natural resource base to ensure the viability of continued production and adaptation

The paper shows how practices that could currently be labelled CSA would be excluded if Technology Justice criteria were applied. For example, the use of inorganic fertilizer for quick returns on investment is cited as something which can be both harmful to the environment and fall under the banner of CSA. However, if Technology Justice criteria are applied, inorganic fertilizer can no longer be classed as climate-smart, as it supports neither accessibility nor sustainability. These principles can be used to assess all agricultural and CSA practices to ensure their long term impact is sustainable and positive for smallholder farmers.


adaptation climate change farmer agriculture

Woman farmer showing successful salt-tolerant rice crop, Bangladesh


The criticisms of CSA in its current form have been effective in highlighting the risk of its exploitation and misuse. However, it is possible to distinguish between the concept’s flaws and its potential. CSA is here to stay; as such, it is vitally important that it is as effective and equitable as possible. Working towards Technology Justice in agricultural adaptation is truly climate-smart.

Practical Action’s Technology Justice Policy Briefing Series can be found here.

Supporters’ day out!

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 by

On June 13th we held our annual Supporters’ day in London. Taking inspiration from our heritage the theme of the day was ‘Grassroots to Muddy boots’ it was a fantastic opportunity for supporters to get closer to the work their support has made possible – and what a day!

Margaret Gardner opened the proceedings, followed by our Nepal Country Director, Achyut Luitel who gave an update on the recent Earthquake and, explained our involvement at present and going forward. There was an introduction from Muna Eltahir the new Sudan Country Director, who spoke about why she chose to work for Practical Action, and the work already achieved in Sudan.

Supporters Day 2015

Supporters Day 2015

During lunch there was a drop in session giving supporters the opportunity to speak to our new Country Directors – Muna Eltahir, Sudan, Hasin Jahan, Bangladesh and Kudzai Marovanidze, Zimbabwe. We were also shown some great Technology Justice videos from the education team.

Throughout the day we had some great workshops such as Doing it better led by Margaret Gardner and Kudzai Marovanidze, who spoke about Marula nut production in Zimbabwe. Supporters heard how we are working with women’s communities who earn their living from marula nut products.

Supporters Day 2015Supporters Day 2015

There was an interactive exercise that involved cracking Marula nuts using similar tools to the women in Zimbabwe.  The exercise highlighted the difficulties faced without the right equipment and support.


Supporters Day 2015

Rob Cartridge hosted a Project pitch session showing four short videos about Knowledge services in Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Peru. Supporters were asked ‘If they had £5K which project would they give it to?’

Following the videos and the pitch about each one, they were then asked to vote – the winner was the Krishi call centre in Bangladesh. Supporters were really impressed with the examples they were shown and said “the work was amazing” and “I couldn’t believe it’s so cost effective”. 

Everyone had a fantastic day and couldn’t wait to get home and spread the word – they were even tweeting from the venue.

Supporters Day 2015

RECAP: The Energy-Agriculture Nexus

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 by

This is a guest post from WRI’s Lily Odarno about the joint Energy Engagement Series Practical Action hosts with WRI each month in Washington, DC. This event is meant to be a discussion that brings together leaders in the energy access  space. This summary is from an event we held in May discussing the Energy-Agriculture nexus. 

Lily Odarno from WRI

Lily Odarno from WRI

Discussions on the role of energy in development are becoming increasingly focused on the nexus between energy and other aspects of development. The energy-agriculture nexus centers on the interlinkages between energy, water and food. Water is a key requirement in energy production. At the same time the production of water is dependent on the availability of sufficient quantities of energy. Food production, processing and storage are all dependent on the availability of water and energy resources. The May installment of the Energy Engagement Series focused on the energy-agriculture nexus. It specifically focused on some of the big questions about the nexus and how the most can be made out of it.

Here are the three key takeaways from the discussions:

  1. There is the need for an approach to addressing nexus issues which integrates the bottom-up with the top-down. Seen exclusively from the top-down, the challenge of maximizing the energy-water-food nexus may be seen as a solely technical one. Such a perspective may translate into purely technical solutions such as making solar water pumps and other technologies available to agricultural communities. Whereas this may be of some benefit in itself, it fails to address underlying political and social inequalities which may impede access to water resources for poor farmers in periods of drought, even though they may be equipped with appropriate technology.


  1. A careful consideration of nexus issues is crucial to designing effective development projects. A development project which focuses exclusively on introducing water pumps for rural agriculture and fails to consider what will be done with the produce from the now more productive agricultural sector could potentially fail in reaching its overall objectives. Here, a focus on the energy-water-nexus will enable provisions for the storage of agricultural produce to be anticipated and planned for early in the development initiative.


  1. We also discussed the need for a greater focus on promoting decentralized energy options where they can plan a role in filling the energy gap in the nexus. Participants agreed that in many cases, the focus on centralized large-scale energy options tends to crowd out the potential role decentralized options could play in addressing nexus challenges. There is an obvious need to build an evidence base for the role of decentralized options and garner the support of governments and other development actors for their implementation, where they can play a role. Likewise, a strong focus on community engagement could facilitate the effective adoption of these decentralized options in agricultural communities.

The Energy Engagement Series is a monthly event held in Washington, DC. If you would like to be invited to future events, please click here.

Technology Justice: a new paradigm for the SDGs

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 by

We are now entering the final few months of discussions that will cement global development targets for the next 15 years.  As discussions on goals and targets conclude and we look towards the vital task of implementation, Practical Action is launching a new series of policy briefing papers that capture the learning from our programme and policy work with technology and development.

The first paper, launched today, introduces Technology Justice: a new paradigm to inform the design and implementation of these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A woman cooking over a traditional stove in Nepal

The critical link between technology, poverty reduction and wellbeing is now well understood.  For many people, technology is so pervasive that it is hard to imagine life without it, and harder still to keep up with the constant technological change and innovation.  Yet, at the same time, billions of people living in poverty around the world lack essential technologies that could help them to meet their basic needs.

This stark inequality in how the costs and benefits of technology are shared is not just bad luck, but an injustice that results from choices made in how technology is innovated, disseminated and used.  These choices largely ignore or exclude the poor.

In our new paper, we put forward recommendations on how to ensure development planning and approaches address  three key global technology injustices: inequitable access to existing technology; innovation that ignores the poor; and unsustainable use of technology. We evaluate current global technology mechanisms and the role the private sector can play to realise Technology Justice in order to ensure that when the SDGs end in 2030 we can celebrate a world free of poverty.

You can read the paper here..

Let us know what you think!

Nepal Earthquake: Top Thirteen “Not to Do’s”

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015 by

Nepal saw a devastating earthquake of 7.8 Richter scale on 25 April 2015. The country was hit by other two powerful aftershocks measuring 6.6 Richter scale on April 26, and 6.8 Richter scale on 12 May. A total of 270 aftershocks over 4 Richter scale were recorded in a period of a month, according to National Seismological Centre (NSC). Over 20,000 tremors including mild ones were felt in this period. These altogether affected over 40 districts, while 14 districts experienced the worst impact of the earthquake.

One of the oldest and historical Durbar School severely damaged by the earthquake

One of the oldest and historical Durbar School severely damaged by the earthquake

According to Nepal Police, until 25 May, a month after the devastating earthquake, altogether 8,673 people lost their lives, while 21,944 were injured with 4,877 still in different hospitals. Likewise, a total of 470, 991 houses recorded to have sustained partial and complete damage in the quake, while Kathmandu Valley alone saw 67,188 damaged houses. Hundreds of temples and monuments of historical importance including the ones enlisted in the World Heritage Sites also sustained significant damages; while the historical tower, Dharahara, has been reduced to rubble.

According to the Home Ministry, more than 4,000 military personnel and medics from 34 different countries were mobilized in the search, rescue and relief operation in support of Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police including representatives of several organisations and volunteers following the tragic earthquake.

Although Practical Action is not a relief organisation, it was necessary to get engaged when the country was crawling through the hardest period of modern times. Practical Action immediately mobilised funds to initiate necessary response and recovery works. We decided to focus ourselves in Gorkha and Dhading districts due to our long engagement with people in these districts and coordinated with District Emergency Operation Centre (DEOC) and District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) of both the districts.

Relief operation by Practical Action in Gorkha close to the epicentre of the quake

Relief operation by Practical Action in Gorkha close to the epicentre of the quake

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this earthquake. Being vigilant of initiatives and the works of the government, relief organisations, media and social networks and our own working experiences, I have come up with following thoughts.

1. A designated National Authority to handle disasters like the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in India would have better managed and coordinated disaster management including the rescue and relief. Due to multiple roles across the ministries and departments, the coordination aspect in Nepal had noticeable shortcomings. Countries prone to disasters should have a dedicated disaster management authority to be better prepared and manage similar situations, and the disaster management as a whole.

2. Almost 17 years have elapsed since the last local elections were held in 1997. The five-year term of the elected body expired in 2002 but the government failed to hold local elections thereafter owing to violence and other political problems. Had there been local bodies, the rescue and relief operations would have been better coordinated. There were many instances of overlapping and lack of statistics that resulted powerful communities getting repeated reliefs, while the needy ones failing to get even for a single time.

3. There has been no uniformity of approach and relief package across the relief organisations too. The World Food Programme (WFP) is under severe criticism by media and National Human Rights Commission for distributing poor quality rice while many relief organisations provided unusable clothing items. This created severe criticism of relief organisations including the Red Cross Society.

4. In many villages, food was available since the houses did not fully collapse. Shelter was the main issue as the houses were damaged and unsafe to live in. Many relief organisations had shortcomings in addressing people’s needs.

5. All relief organisations distributed tarpaulins for shelters. However, distributing tarps is an ad hoc measure – the tarps having limited durability in view of the soon approaching monsoon. This shortcoming was realised by some organisations and instead, they decided to supply corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) sheets. The CGI sheets are useful for building temporary shelters with bamboo and wood available in villages, and can be reused once the affected people are able to build a permanent house.

6. People developed a dependency syndrome. They were wasting their time queueing up for relief materials although that was not an absolute necessity for many of them. Rather they were expected to be in the maize fields for weeding to ensure food security for the winter.

7. Inappropriate construction practices have been one of the main reasons for the destruction of houses. Often in the villages, the common practice of constructing house is by using random rubble masonry with mud mortar which is highly vulnerable in case of earthquakes, even of moderate magnitude. There is dire need of developing resilient construction technology and practices.

8. Because of massive quakes and aftershocks, numerous cracks are formed across the hills making them highly vulnerable towards landslides. The recent big landslide in Baisari of Myagdi which blocked Kaligandaki River for 16 hours even before the monsoon was an alarm to take protective measures well on time.

9. Media should act responsibly during such hard and trying times. The irresponsible act of some Indian media triggered the hashtag #GoBackIndianMedia and it became a rapidly popular trend across twitter. Likewise, the local media provided space to astrologers which demoralised people’s confidence to get back home.

10. It was widely accepted that “Drop, Cover, and Hold On (DCH)” is the appropriate action to reduce injury and death during earthquakes. However, this concept does not work in case of failing of structures. Most of the dead bodies were found in DCH position under the tables. Massive awareness is required to identify the best location a person should try to occupy during an earthquake.

11. There was strong indication to the government that a devastating earthquake in Nepal was already overdue following the 1934 earthquake. But this signal was not seriously respected to reflect in preparedness activities. The preparedness works were limited to celebration of earthquake days. As a result, the protection measures for the cultural, historical and government infrastructure were overlooked.

12. The government asked to channelise the relief works through government system using one door system. However, this was not possible and also was not an appropriate mechanism given the bureaucratic process of the government that takes time and undermines the urgency of the relief works on the ground. There is still a need to discuss and draw lessons on how the relief works can be expedited at the quickest possible manner to reach the most needed ones at the time of such large disasters by mobilising all stakeholders and individuals

13. The government asked the rescue teams coming from India, China and from other countries to leave as soon as the rescue operation was thought to be over. But in fact by extending the stay, they could have also been mobilised to deliver relief materials to the remote areas since they came with helicopters that help reaching out to the remote communities.

Note: Originally published in All India Disaster Mitigation Institute AIDMI’s monthly publication,; Issue 131

Will agroecology, smallholder farmers and technology justice be adequately considered in Bonn?

Friday, June 5th, 2015 by

Climate Change is a recognised threat to global agriculture and places in jeopardy the wellbeing of the poorest people whose fragile livelihoods are primarily dependent on agricultural production. Millions of farmers own less than one hectare of land, live on less than $1 a day and struggle to produce enough to feed their families, these are the people on the frontline when famine strikes. The fragility of their livelihoods will increase if serious climate action isn’t taken.


Pramila Bote age 28 making organic pesticide

At the Bonn climate change talks the UNFCCC secretariat must be congratulated for dedicating time to discuss the climate change threat to global agriculture. The secretariat organised a series of workshops at which parties were asked to present on a number of critical agricultural issues, this blog reports on the first of these workshops, which explored forecasting and early warning systems highlighting progress and outstanding challenges.

Overall the workshop reflected the current state of play, with developed countries presenting fairly coherent approaches that linked meteorological services, with extension advisors, policymakers and most importantly farmers and others whose livelihoods are dependent on primary production. Unfortunately the developing countries struggled to report on more than a few isolated pilot projects.

The workshop clearly recognised the immense benefits that forecasting and early warning systems can deliver, unfortunately very few farmers in the developing world are receiving these benefits and their productivity is therefore compromised. These countries recognised a number of almost universally barriers to these systems, which included issues of compatibility of existing software and hardware designed for a developed country context and the need for technology transfer and supportive financing.  They recognised their huge limitations in technical capacity, especially human capacities to install, maintain and manage these systems. They also highlighted the need for systems that deliver useful and meaningful information for local farmers. This will require an interface that can support local languages and indigenous knowledge, linking science to local systems and making forecast and early warning information usable for local people.

Interestingly at the same time on the other side of the world the ICT for Agriculture community (#ICTforAg and #ICT4Ag) were discussing the role of technology.  It was reported that agricultural yields can be boosted by access to up to date information, about markets price, short term weather information and longer term seasonal forecasts, with a 11% increase reported for text messaging[2], however when this information was provided as recorded messages the productivity benefits jumped to 26%[3].  This clearly demonstrates the need not only for information but for information in a form that can be acted upon.

So let’s hope the Paris Climate agreement to be signed at COP21 recognises the potential of forecasting and early warning systems and puts in place effective mechanisms for technology transfer, not just handing out bespoke systems, but also how to work with developing country partners to develop appropriate systems that meet local needs. Technology transfer will also require financing, it’s not fair to only hand out technology, it is vital to support countries to develop and adapt systems which meet their particular needs.  In the spirit of technology justice, sharing knowledge and finance will empower developing countries to design systems that build on their existing skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions that reduce the fragility of the poorest and most vulnerable, those on the frontline when natural hazards strike.



The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn this week.

Gulariya Municipality declared “Open Defecation Free”

Thursday, June 4th, 2015 by

On Monday, 25 May 2015, I headed to Gulariya to participate in the declaration ceremony of Gulariya Municipality as “Open Defecation Free” (ODF).  I was amazed to see the huge crowd enjoying cultural music bands in the backdrop, with indigenous groups like Tharu, Pahadi and Godiya in their traditional costumes singing and dancing to the music. I could see delighted faces beaming with joy, everybody had come together to celebrate the success – the fruit of the hard work they had contributed to.

Constituent Assembly (CA) member Hon. Sanjay Kumar Gautam inaugurating the ODF declaration ceremony

Constituent Assembly (CA) member Hon. Sanjay Kumar Gautam inaugurating the ODF declaration ceremony

It was quite hard for me to believe that we finally succeeded in turning Gulariya Municipality into an ODF zone.

Reminiscing about the situation seven months back, only 53 per cent households had toilets in the municipality. People from around 5,134 households used to go to the bushes or river banks for open defecation.

But things have changed for better since the Constituent Assembly member Hon. Sanjay Kumar Gautam made the much-anticipated declaration, “As of 25 May 2015; Gulariya Municipality has been declared as Open Defecation Free” at the ODF declaration event.

The ODF status was achieved with construction of 11,246 toilets (Individual – 10,922, institutional – 319, and public – 5) and discontinuing the common practice of defecating in the open. As of now 60,379 (female – 29,300) people in Gulariya will gain access to an open defecation-free environment. During the ceremony, the audience expressed their delight and I applauded along with them. I was glad to be part of the celebration.

Locals including the high level government officials like Chief District Officer, Local Development Officer and Chief Executive Officer of the municipality, political leaders, representatives from I/NGOs, students and media had all come together, eager to celebrate the success in such a short period of time.

The chief guest, Sanjay Kumar Gautam opined during the event, “The achievement of ODF status is an inspiration towards national target on sanitation – universal access to sanitation by 2017, and will contribute to the Millennium Development Goal’s (MDG) sanitation target.”

UK AID“For us, this event is a major success, as all of us have worked very hard and this is a gratifying moment. This event should be taken as a motivating factor by other municipalities; especially terai region throughout Nepal for expediting their action towards declaring themselves as ODF,” said Dharma Raj Neupane, Chief Executive Officer, Gulariya Municipality.  “We would like to thank Practical Action and all the agencies who have worked hard to make this possible.”