Archive for December, 2015

Nairobi’s informal water vendors: heroes or villains?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015 by

Nairobi’s informal settlements are places of startling juxtaposition. Holding 60% of the city’s population on only 5% of the total land mass, they house some of the nation’s poorest citizens and immigrants at the edge of Eastern Africa’s most developed city. Change has flooded in in some respects, contrasting with persistent socio-economic divides. While almost all residents have access to a mobile phone network, for example, very few have access to clean drinking water.

buying water in NairobiThe statistics available on poverty levels are deceptive of the economy within the informal settlements, which is highly functioning and complex. Frequent water shortages and the absence of a public water supply throughout the settlements have created a competitive market space for water vendors, many of whom sell by illegally tapping into water lines or, if they are some of the fortunate few to have a residential water connection, sell it on the side for supplementary income. In Nairobi, it is expensive to be poor. There are complaints among the residents of extortion, with many water vendors inflating prices. Those that purchase city water do so for between Ksh 18 (12p) per 1,000 litres, and resell it from Ksh 3- 10 per 20 litres.  The price rises during shortages.  This leads many to view water vendors as ‘villains’, cashing in on one of life’s most basic necessities.

IMG_0144 (2)But are the vendors villains, or merely good business men taking advantage of an opportunity to earn income for their own daily needs? Narayan and Petesch (2007) identify informal settlements as places of “hidden and invisible battlegrounds where poor people strive to realize their aspirations”, part of a “hidden symbolic world of competing values and norms that shape what people believe and do not believe and what they perceive they can and cannot do” (13). Many water vendors are pragmatists, justifying their actions based on opportunism (I have a water source, I might as well sell it to earn a living), social coherence (other people with a water source are selling it, so I should too) or as redeemers of a broken social system (if we don’t provide water, who will?). As one vendor said, “We wouldn’t be doing this if the city just did their job. Don’t blame us; blame them (the city).”

Within the settlements, those who posses the technology of pumps, pipes and tanks control the access to flowing water, and divide the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’. But even the owners of technology have their limits; their businesses are wholly dependent on the city releasing the water supply, which only occurs 2-3 times a week in most settlements. The water sector has become a frontline for the power plays between the informal and formal and the rich and the poor, all occurring within a spatial-social divide, the remnant of colonial-era segregation.

water vending So are informal water vendors the villains or the Robin Hoods of Nairobi’s informal settlements? They are the former, the latter, neither and both. The answer lies within one’s position within the water supply chain. That the question should even be asked signifies a failure at state level to reconcile the gross inequalities of access to life’s most basic needs, with access determined by one’s geography rather than the right to it as a human being.

Informality and illegality is a spectrum here. The beauty and the challenge of the informal economy is that people constantly defy generalisation into neat boxes of being ‘this’ or that’. Morality battles with pragmatism, and innovation is born from human resilience in a context of deeply imbedded inequalities, injustice and corruption.


The Emolienteros: organised labour as the driving force of technology advancement.

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015 by

The ‘Emolienteros’ are vendors of Emoliente, a beverage made with medicinal plants sold on the streets of Lima. With the availability of different flavours, mixtures and consistencies of the herbal beverage, they provide an unrivalled service for inexpensive on-the-go breakfast/snacks, in Peru’s densely populated capital.

As the third largest city in the Americas, Lima presents a huge market for the Emolienteros, with much potential for growth. This fact is not lost on these ambitious workers. They have been able to form a robust labour union, well-structured into associations in the districts in which they function most.

emoliente stall LimaIn a discussion with Walter Villegas, the leader of the Association of Emoliente Workers in the Pueblo Libre district of Lima, as well as the interviews and focus groups we have conducted so far, we have learned about the progress they have made so far, the role technology change has played in their livelihoods, and their plans to start an enterprise.

From zero to hero

Emolienteros that have been working in this sector for 15-20 years recount their earlier experiences of not having associations. As informal workers, they had lacked representation in the city council and in Peru’s Ministry of Labour and Promotion of Employment. As informal workers, they were constantly harassed by the city’s officials for ‘unauthorized’ vending in the streets, making it very difficult to sell their products and make a decent living.

In response, they formed their own labour union association in 1999 (officially recognised in 2007), known as ‘Tradition of the Incas: Natural Product Workers’. Since then, they have been able to push for better rights and recognition, even in the Peruvian parliament. On May 16, 2014, The ‘Law of the Emolientero’ was passed by the congress, hailing them as generators of productive self-employed micro entrepreneurs. Also declared, was the national Day of Emoliente and other traditional natural beverages on 20 February. Furthermore, the local governments signed cooperation agreements with the Emolienteros within the jurisdictions where they work.

Their association has since enjoyed more publicity through wide media coverage of the new Peruvian law.  Today, it is considered one of the most prestigious informal sectors in Lima to work in.

Technology change and livelihoods

The impact of technology change on their livelihoods is best understood when analysing The two major benefits of association membership, which are:

  1. Representation of their interests on a national and city level
  2. More informed economic decisions through transfer of knowledge.

Having an interconnected network of Emolienteros within different sectors means that news of better and more efficient technologies are more easily accessible by all members of the association, thereby decreases the occurence of asymmetrical information between these informal workers.

mobile emoliertoro cartThe main technologies used by the emolienteros are mobile carts or ‘carretillas.’  They also use freezers to store excess supplies on days with low purchases.

The change from older to better models of carretillas improves efficiency and productivity. As a result they earn slightly more and some have increased leisure time for childcare, or a second job.

This use of improved technology has allowed them to capitalize on the growing industry of Peruvian cuisine, especially since as it has recently gained ground on the international food market.

Due to the advancement of this sector, most of the change within this sector is brought about by reinvestment of income into newer technology.

As a result, today the Emolienteria industry has an economic value of 700 million soles a year, with reported sales exceeding 1,000 million soles a year.

Future prospects

Although the Emolienteros have come a long way, they believe that there is room for improvement. In their plans for technology advancement in the near future, they hope to rent a shop outlet, since rolling the carretillas to and from work is one of their biggest challenges.

Also, they are putting plans in motion to start an enterprise where they manufacture, package and sell the natural products used in their emoliente. This would enable mass production at cheaper rates to cater for the increasing demands of their products and services.

The association of Emolienteros in Lima demonstrate the importance of unionized informal workers in challenging existing bureaucratic conditions, and how advancing the uses of technologies can bring about real positive impacts to improvement of their livelihoods.

A challenging year ~ troubles in Nepal continues

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015 by

2015 has been such a challenging year for Nepal. We were already in the middle of political turmoil when it started. April and May were the hardest months; we faced two massive earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks. Many of us lost our families, friends, loved ones and parts of our heritage that were indispensable parts of our lives.

We came to know how ruthless nature could be and how fearful and helpless life can get. I remember the second night, after the April 25 earthquake, when my family was sleeping in an open space near our house under a makeshift tent due to frequent strong aftershocks. It rained that night and my mother was struggling to keep us warm but somehow some raindrops would get into our tent and it was cold – very cold. I felt so helpless at that moment, I felt sad not just for myself but for all the people who were outside and who probably didn’t even have a plastic sheet to keep the rain off. I thought about little children and people who don’t even have another change of clothes or a blanket to cover up. The cold was too much to bear, I got up from the tent and went to my home and slept on the ground floor. But unlike me, many people didn’t even have a home to go back to.

IMG_9210Almost eight months past, they still don’t have a house to sleep properly. People whose houses were destroyed are still living in the temporary shelters, made up of tins and galvanised iron sheets. Things, instead of improving, are only getting worse for them!

Winter this year is remarkably cold. Temperatures are at a record low. The most popular conversation starter these days is – oh this year’s winter is too cold, isn’t it? And cold it is. On the top of everything, Nepal is facing an economic blockade (I will not get into political details of that) due to which there is shortage of every possible thing. There is no fuel to run the vehicles, to cook food, to keep ourselves warm – just imagine no fuel, no cooking gas and not even electricity. we are living the energy crisis nightmare! Price of everyday items have sky rocketed.

How does a poor person living in a temporary shelter survive in such a situation? How do they cope with the cold in their shelters? How do they keep their children warm?

Arjun Sunar of Asrang Village Development Committee (VDC), Gorkha District shares about his family’s experience of living in a temporary shelter, “We were adjusting in the temporary shelter but it is getting colder by the day. It gets so cold that dew drops start dripping from 11 pm making it difficult for the whole family to sleep.” Practical Action along with its partner organisation had supported Arjun to construct a temporary shelter.

Apart from cold, there are also other problems such as lack of adequate space and the difficulty of maintaining privacy. Due to lack of enough rooms, some of the families are using the kitchen and bedrooms of their partially damaged houses on the verge of collapse. This is keeping them at great risk with aftershocks still returning.

To ease the problem of cold, Arjun has tried to insulate his shelter with cardboard. “There is a scarcity of insulating materials in the market, so I have used cardboard. There is some control in the dropping of dew from roof in night time after that. But cold air passes inside from different corners which is still a problem for my family members. We have all started getting sick from the cold,” says Arjun.

Arjun have only heard that the government is going to provide some resources to build a house. And he wants to make it earthquake resilient. “I don’t think the amount which will be provided by the government will be enough for a good construction. And I don’t know when the relief will be provided, winter is becoming increasingly hard for us.”

Arjun is only a representative, there are many families struggling to survive cold, along with the pain of losing their loved ones and homes. The situation is even more challenging for families with small children, lactating mothers and senior citizens. Most of the health posts’ records show that there is a huge increase in the number of people compared to previous year visiting these posts this year due to cold related diseases. There are headlines in newspapers of earthquake victims losing their lives due to cold. This loss cannot be blamed to the nature alone; deaths due to cold could have been prevented.

Seems like the challenges for Nepal is not ending anytime soon; even after the year ends. With the winter getting more severe by the day, it is high time that priority be given to reach out to these people. Government as well as non-government organisations should prioritise making winter easier for the people – who must be feeling cold and helpless out there.


Gender equality and social inclusion in ODF Gulariya project

Friday, December 25th, 2015 by

Gender inequality and social exclusion are issues of global concern. Over the last decade, Asia and the Pacific region have made remarkable progress on these issues. Nepal is no exception. The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of Nepal has been executing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Building Construction, Housing and Urban Development (BCHUD) sector programmes throughout the country. It has recognised that the programmes in these sectors have not adequately incorporated gender mainstreaming and other social development concerns in their policies, programmes, services and institutional arrangements so far.

Practical Action has prioritised gender equality and social inclusion as one of the cross cutting themes working across all its projects and programmes.

Practical Action has been implementing a two-year project entitled “SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya (Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015)” in Gulariya Municipality, Bardiya District in Nepal since August 2014. The project is funded by DFID under UK Aid match funding and is being implemented through ENPHO (Environment and Public Health Organisation), a national NGO. The project is integrating gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in all its activities as a cross-cutting issue.

In the areas that the project is being implemented as well as in other parts of the country, women and girls are affected by the lack of sanitation facilities which has an adverse effect not only on their health and hygiene, but also on their safety, education, dignity and quality of life. Additionally, women are being mobilised at the community level as part of sanitation campaigns and movements. However we have learnt that both men and women should be targeted while carrying out sanitation related awareness activities as men and women prioritise and perceive sanitation differently. Likewise, individuals from excluded or minority groups and those from poor and marginalised areas may not be able to adopt new hygiene behaviours or build improved sanitation facilities. In such a context, the project aims to ensure the needs of women and men from a range of social groups (including the marginalised) and are taken into account, the effective participation is promoted at all levels prioritising GESI.

Gender equality and social inclusion is integrated in the project activities by following approaches;

Participatory Planning Process

The project has supported to develop community action plans with participation from urban-poor/slum dwellers comprising mostly marginalised groups within the municipality. As these communities are mostly missed out in the local government planning process, the project enabled them to include their needs in the municipal planning process and have them addressed by the municipality. Local people now understand the importance of planning rather than demanding improvements on an ad-hoc basis.


IMG_3804The project had adopted low cost toilet promotion approach with ‘7 B’ option. The 7 B stands for the seven different types of locally available materials which can be used for the construction of super structures which are: bamboo, bag (jute or plastic bags), bush (hay), bricks, boulders (stone masonry), blocks, and blend (mixture of two or more materials).  It can be expected that these options support the poorest and socially excluded groups to have access to toilets and supporting an informed choice to meet the needs of all users.

Behavioural change communication

Different kinds of behaviour change activities were carried out by using messages targeted at different audiences; using appropriate communication channels; avoiding stereotypes that reinforce gender inequality and social exclusion; using the language and traditions of excluded groups to reinforce change; and promoting informal discussions about menstrual hygiene and household decision making processes.

Improved sanitation for all

Gulariya Municipality has achieved life-changing improvements in sanitation. All 60,379 (29,300 female) residents including marginalised groups have benefited from improved sanitation and live in an open defecation-free environment. In the past, when there were no toilets, the majority of the community people defecated in open fields or bushes. Open defecation was humiliating, risky and shameful for women and girls who often had to wait until it was dark to ensure privacy. It was very difficult for those females who were elderly,  had young children, sick and pregnant to go to bushes. Ending open defecation has transformed the lives of women and girls who faced the daily humiliation of having to struggle to find somewhere to go each day for their basic needs, risking sexual harassment and abuse due to not having a toilet.  Access to sanitation is central to defending women’s dignity and equality as well as their safety.

Inclusive public toilet

A public toilet is under construction in Gulariya Bazaar in partnership with Gulariya Municipality and the project. This structure will have separate facilities for male, female and third gender.

Mobilisation of local change agents

Female community health volunteers, trained on WASH operate in the communities so that women and girls have no hesitation in discussing their sanitation issues openly.

Project staff

More than half of the social mobilisers are female which supports easy communication with the women (particularly in Muslim communities). Special attention is paid in the timings of orientation and awareness campaigns, so that women from different groups can easily participate.

Creating demand for sanitation

Triggering activities from demand creation approaches such as community-led total sanitation (CLTS) require the participation of all community members. Whilst women’s participation is often high, a lack of men’s participation can reduce uptake of sanitation facilities in families where men control household expenditure. Monitoring the sex, class and ethnic background of participants in triggering processes and subsequent meetings has helped the programme to identify excluded parties and adapt strategies.

Hence, to achieve safe and sustainable sanitation for all, it needs to address disparities between social groups and advancing gender equality and social inclusion which are critical steps in achieving the project goal.

A giant step in mainstreaming small-scale lagoon fishery in Sri Lanka

Friday, December 18th, 2015 by

Blog post 4 photo

Practical Action’s Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods Project (SLLP)has been building collaborative governance institutional systems in 18 lagoons in Sri Lanka since 2012. The Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) is the strategic partner of the project and both DFAR and Practical Action have together been implementing the project. The collaborative or co-governance concept of this project includes law making and policy making processes to decentralize lagoon governance. Thereby, all levels of decision makers and stakeholders are gathered into a single decentralized institutional framework to make unified decisions on utilization, conservation, management, and protection etc. of a lagoon.

Largely due to the successful implementation of this project and positive outcomes generated by this concept, the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources on 17th December, 2015 inaugurated a special unit to facilitate fisheries co-governance in lagoons and estuaries in Sri Lanka.  This is the first time in history a special unit meant solely for the governance of lagoon and estuarine fisheries sub-sector has been initiated. The DFAR was established in 1940, even before Sri Lankan independence and has had a management division for the marine fisheries. It can be said that this was one of the key reasons why the lagoon fisheries sub-sector was marginalized. However, the lagoon fishery sub-sector is very important in terms of food security, producing commercially important species and generating varied forms of employment. There are over 200,000 small scale lagoon fishers and fish-workers dependent on lagoons and estuaries for livelihoods in Sri Lanka.  This special unit has been named; “Brackish Water Management Unit” (BMU), which will facilitate the required services to govern the lagoons and estuaries in Sri Lanka responsibly and sustainably.

Honorable Fisheries Minister , Mr.Mahinda Amaraweera speaking at the event....

Honorable Fisheries Minister , Mr.Mahinda Amaraweera speaking at the event….

This has been the most significant achievement of the project in terms of internalizing the project concept in the country and bringing the small scale lagoon fisheries sub-sector to the forefront of national development. This process has not been at all easy. Firstly, convincing DFAR on the concept by demonstrating and learning from lessons to change policies often went beyond the financial scope of the project. Thus, the decision to open a special unit was a positive outcome to the project as well as a challenge. The project team had the formidable task of creating networking and facilitating partnership building among numerous stakeholders at all levels. To enable this complex process, UNDP Sri Lanka agreed to co-finance the project’s internalization work along with Practical Action and DFAR.  This tri-party work has yielded favourable results. Besides that, the government budget has allocated 30 million Sri Lankan Rupees (around £140,000) for the lagoon fisheries sub-sector, to implement BMN’s action plan next year.

Among the project’s other achievements worthy of mention is the official endorsement of the project concept: fisheries co-governance which was included in the 2013 Amendment to the existing Fisheries Act in Sri Lanka, which has added much value to this process. This legislation will be further updated with lessons of the project’s second phase. This will be a top priority for BMU next year.

The project is now stepping into the final year of its five-year operations and will mainly focus on strengthening the BMU to carry-forward the project concept and replicate it in 116 other lagoons and estuaries in Sri Lanka.

Merry Christmas, goodbye and thank you!

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 by

At the end of December I’ve chosen to leave Practical Action after 15 years. For me it’s time for a new challenge and I’ll start 2016 full of the spirit of adventure – news of any challenging opportunities gratefully received. I’m excited to explore what next.

But I leave too with great hope and great sadness.

Hope because of the transformation I’ve seen in the lives of people who work together with Practical Action across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Because of the brilliance of our education work which is helping European citizens think differently about technology, poverty, and our world. We need to work for a changed world together.

And because of our work at Practical Action on knowledge – maximising the impact of everything we do, and helping others share their learning through podcasts, answering enquiries on a one to one basis often face to face, our call centre serving farmers and fisherfolk in Bangladesh, web based info in Peru….. and so much more. I first came to know Practical Action through Practical Action Publishing and remain a huge fan. Today our work on knowledge – sharing rather than hoarding – helps millions of people each year. It’s just amazing!

I not only hope, but know, Practical Action will continue to make a difference in our world – providing practical solutions to poverty, working together with communities, sharing learning and respecting the finite nature of our planet.

But I also feel sadness.

Sadness because I leave a great group of people – committed individually and as a global organisation to helping communities escape poverty. Their passion, hard work, dedication to inclusive development is just amazing.  I will miss all of the Practical Action teams for different reasons – but the golden thread throughout is their commitment.

Sadness too because I’ve had some great times – I remember listening to two amazing children in a remote village in Bangladesh talk not only about Practical Action but their aspirations for their lives, laughing with women in Zimbabwe building a micro hydro who when I tried to help discovered how weak I am, and the posher things too – talking at conferences, meetings with our Patron, HRH, The Prince of Wales, exploring ideas and work with big business, even being forced to give impromptu speeches in various parts of the world. I’ll miss lots of things I’ve got to do with Practical Action – it’s been challenging, exciting and fun.

But my biggest sadness is that we haven’t achieved what we set out to do – the lives of many people are better, access to energy for poverty reduction is now firmly on the global agenda, and indoor air pollution ‘Smoke – The killer in the Kitchen’ (the first Practical Action campaign I led – together with the brilliant team) is recognised as a major health hazard  – but technology – which could help so many people and issues, is still is developed primarily to meet the wants of the rich not the needs of all and our planet.  I am not in any way arguing that technology is all that’s needed to change our world but technology is a lever, a way of making a difference in a big way – people talk about systemic change (big picture, the long term). Technology can be a driver of systemic change – a different approach to technology, one that focused on the big challenges in our world would be soooo exciting!

One of the things I like about Practical Action is that we work with the pragmatic, the possible, the now, but we also dream of bigger change – a world where technology is used to help end poverty and protect our planet.

Whatever I do next I will continue painting a picture of the exciting and different way our world could be.

And finally in what’s turned out to be a much longer piece than I imagined – I want to say goodbye to our supporters – you have inspired, challenged, enthused and humbled me, and you are brilliant!

Have a wonderful Christmas.  And I hope we all – around the world – have a brilliant and peaceful 2016.

Margaretdarfur boy with goats


Ps The picture is of a boy in Darfur, Sudan where I saw some of the most amazing work Practical Action was doing in the middle of conflict, and through our work trying to lessen conflict. Reminded me that change is possible.

Global commitment to reduce carbon and fund adaptation

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 by

The historic moment finally came on Saturday 13 December 2015, with the adoption of the Paris Agreement.

Agreement signedWhile every party was not able to get all their demands, overall the agreement is a good balance between the different positions of the negotiating groups and a commendable outcome of the process. The consensus suits the diverse legal structures of the parties thus improving the odds for speedy ratification.

There is much to be done to make the document perfect but even more so to implement the various provisions of the legal instrument and the decisions. One of the most exciting aspects to me is the recognition of adaptation as a global priority and the commission of all countries to communicate their adaptation actions thus making adaptation a global priority.

The further commitment towards putting global warming below 1.5°C to accompany the current hard limit of 2°C is another really big plus especially for the African group which stood firmly on this warming ambition target, benchmarking domestic climate commitments set out in the submitted  Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This presents a balanced priority on mitigation and adaptation, further augmented by the decision for all countries to communicate their adaptation actions while also reporting on their mitigation activities and support, both given and received.

Gaps on Loss and Damage and climate finance

flooding in BangladeshThe agreement however leaves a lot of gaps on Loss and Damage.  It excludes liability or compensation for losses and damages even though it directs countries to create a special process to address those that stem from unavoidable climate impacts which overwhelm the limits of adaptation, following the procedures laid out in the Warsaw International Mechanism.

A similar dilemma is in the climate finance element where despite the pledge of an annual minimum $100 billion from developed countries by 2020, it is not yet clear which finance mechanism will be used. However the shared vision is that this may be through the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and/or Least Developed Countries Fund which essentially are the financial decision making bodies of the COP. The Adaptation Fund may eventually be part of the GCF but that’s for us to wait and see. It also not yet clear what the determinants of the $100b floor target are as it is not backed by any scientific or technical ground. So whether it will be enough or too little is hard to say at this stage.

Ambitious and broad INDCs, especially for the African countries that submitted individual targets, will need to inform national development agendas to be consistent with the agreement. Donors and supporting countries have further pledged to support a climate proof development agenda, reinforcing the need have a climate lens in planning for development in all the sectors where Practical Action works.  This can already be seen with the DFID SUED programme for example.

The GCF  and the Adaptation Fund have also pledged to work on improving their efficiency and opportunities for direct access. Coupled to this is a great commitment towards green energy in Africa as well as opportunities that create wealth, generate jobs and multiply the capital injected.

Transforming lands, transforming lives

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 by

In Bangladesh, the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers are both vital and threatening to nearby inhabitants. Monsoon rains cause these great rivers to swell, often flooding villages and fields.

However, during the other months, drought leaves crops, livestock and communities praying for water. Land is scarce, population density is high and poverty and food security are major concerns, especially in the face of this seasonal feast and famine.

The pumpkin harvest

It is in this environment that Practical Action’s Pathways From Poverty project was launched in 2009 in the north west part of Bangladesh to lift 31,850 households out of poverty.

The project goal is to reduce the vulnerability of men, women and children to the physical, social and economic effects of river erosion, flooding and other natural disasters in the five districts in northwest Bangladesh. It aims to help those whose villages and farms have been lost through river erosion and are forced to live illegally on flood protection embankments. We offer these communities a wide range of technological support programmes in agriculture, fisheries, livestock, food processing, light-engineering, disability, education, health and nutrition to improve their ability to manage productive livelihoods, including our sandbar cropping project.

A life changing innovation to eradicate extreme poverty

The sandbar cropping project started with the objective “something is better than nothing” but today it has transformed the lives of the landless poor through access to barren transitional sandy land.

Sandbar cropping is a ground-breaking approach to ensuring these harsh landscapes provide for their inhabitants. After each rainy season, large islands of sand appear in the main rivers of Bangladesh. These ‘lands’ are common property resources that generally tend to disappear during the following wet season and, until now, have not been used for any productive purpose. However, this project has successfully used this ever-changing landscape to demonstrate that the growing of pumpkins in small compost pits dug into the sand is both possible and profitable. Large-scale irrigation is not necessary as the land is close to the river channel.

From 2005 to 2014, a total of 15,000 farmers, many of who were women, produced over 80,000 tonnes of pumpkins worth £5.5million at farm gate price by utilising 7,973 acres of sandbar land…and the technology is now spreading to new areas, with a further 15,000 individuals benefiting from it in north west Bangladesh.

Transforming barren landscapes

pumpkin storeThe pumpkins produced on these sandbars can be stored in people’s houses for over a year. They help poor households both in terms of income generation and year-round food security and lean season management. Sandbar cropping has transformed a barren landscape, and these ‘mini deserts’ have now been turned into productive, green fields.

This innovative cropping technology opens up otherwise unproductive lands and is ideally suited to adoption by displaced and landless households. The technology appears to be low risk, yet shows an impressive financial return. Sandbar cropping is so simple and yet, to our knowledge, no one had thought of this application until the project was first experimented with in 2005. The technology would seem to have a much wider application in other dry areas and could even become an important coping strategy in some areas both at home and abroad adversely affected by climate change.

Revolutionary socio-economic changes for millions

Anwar with pumpkinAn earmarked policy for the erosion-affected communities to use transitional sandy land for 5-6 months of a year can bring revolutionary socio-economic changes for millions on production, processing and marketing chain on the ground.

Barren land management will enable food production to meet the demand of local, regional and national markets. It will support families by ensuring year-round food security and nutrition, income and employment.  It will reduce dependency on external relief and migration to urban areas in search of employment.

The tested innovation can be disseminated in a number of erosion prone districts in Bangladesh to benefit hundreds of thousands of the poor embankment dwellers, affected by river erosion.

Want to help?  You can donate to Practical Action’s Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal.  This is matched pound for pound by the UK government until 31st December, doubling the impact of your donation.

Managing Fisheries is not about Managing – Reflections for World Fisheries Day

Monday, December 14th, 2015 by

World Fisheries Day falls on the 21st of November of each year. The world observes many events happening around the world commemorating the day; so too this year. Generally, the discussions and themes that revolve around this year have been related to over-exploitation and management of fisheries and aquatic resources. One web-page; Resource for Rethinking says “World Fisheries Day was established to draw attention to overfishing, habitat destruction and other serious threats to the sustainability of our marine and freshwater resources. Observance can also help bring awareness of the importance of aquatic environments in sustaining life both in and out of water.”  This basically stresses the importance of raising awareness on the wider concern of site-specific environments of aquatic resources in world fisheries today, whereas another blog by Property Environmental Research Centre reiterates the importance of granting fishers property rights to fish; “… property rights matter – when fishermen have ownership of a share of the fishery, they manage the resource in a sustainable manner. This work has been instrumental in evolving property rights in marine fisheries.”A third blog notes about World Fisheries Day: It is not Just About Fish, that draws the attention on the politics in the fisheries sector by commenting; “World Fisheries Day — established in 1998 and celebrated each year on November 21 — highlights the importance of conserving the ocean and marine life. Sixteen years later, President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continue to make environmental sustainability a foreign policy priority, recognizing the linkages between fisheries, food security, economic welfare, and the health of people worldwide”. All three sample blogs highlight three key aspects.

  1. World fisheries is in peril largely due to over-exploitation, habitat degradation, pollution, undermining community institutions, Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and a host of other factors.
  2. Giving property rights help manage fisheries. This raises the common property theories and management of natural resources or one may call it as right-based approach to fisheries management.
  3. Thirdly, how decisions of policy makers and politicians affect the exploitation of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources or Oceans and lagoon ecosystems. This aspect has more to do with the decisions made by politicians or policy makers that get implemented eventually.

These three aspects raise many questions with several grey areas.  However, it is clear that there are many players, actors, influencers etc. in the fisheries sector. These actors operate at many scales and levels, it might be in one country with many divisions or multi-country or a continual level. The challenge is, if there is a way to get all types of players involved in making decisions and responsibly managing aquatic resources. To do that, obviously, the legalDSCN0733

and policy environments need to be changed or adjusted accordingly and collectively. Can a process that involves, making law or changing polices and collectively implementing them be called management? I think it is more to do with making decisions and directing, which is more than mere management. Practical Action’s Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods Project is implementing such a concept that involves all levels of players making policies, law and implementing them in a legally decentralized institutional framework to responsibly manage the lagoons ecosystems in Sri Lanka. This concept is called collaborative fisheries governance for lagoons which extends beyond mere management of lagoons. The project jointly implemented by the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has generated many lessons in terms of involving different players, decision makers at different levels into a decentralized forum. On the world fisheries day this year, the project attempted to share the lessons of the co-governance process in Chilaw lagoon Sri Lanka.  Chilaw lagoon is one of the largest lagoons in Sri Lanka with about 2,000 fishers and fish-workers. The co-governance process in Chilaw lagoon involves all actors from bottom to top and vice versa engaging in making law, policies and implementing them to govern the lagoon ecosystems. The project facilitated sharing and publicizing this experience by means of a nation-wide radio program which involved all levels of actors from fisher communities to policy makers. The program talked about the lessons of setting up a decentralized institutional framework to facilitate interactions among different actors of Chilaw lagoon fishery value chain.  The lessons learned have proved to be invaluable in introducing co-governance mechanisms in 17 other lagoons in Sri Lanka that come within the purview of Practical Action’s Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods Project.

A New Hope?

Sunday, December 13th, 2015 by

It was almost 10pm in Paris, as a tired looking Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said “I see no objections”, barely glancing at the rows of country delegates packing the room, then sharply banged his gavel bring the Paris Agreement to life. After more than 20 years of negotiations by 196 countries, a global climate deal had finally been sealed. On Saturday 12th December 2015, rich and poor countries alike agreed to differ, but in the process adopted 31 pages of dense, legal text which, just possibly, could set the world on a different, cleaner, safer, development path.


In recognition of climate change as a symptom of unsustainable development, the world met in Paris over the last two weeks to negotiate the text for a new global climate agreement to combat the threat of climate change and indirectly put development on a more sustainable pathway. At several moments during the last few days such an agreement appeared impossible, but finally after an extension of one day the Paris Agreement was struck.

Agreement signedThe French delegation along with UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-Moon and Christiana Figueres celebrate the moment

So what is in the agreement?  The Paris Agreement aims to limit global temperature increases to at most 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit them to 1.5°C, recognising that this would significantly reduce risks and the impact of climate change. The agreement also established a system to review each country’s emissions every five years, and conduct regular global “stocktakes” of the targets. To facilitate the process the developed countries have committed to provide $100 billion a year of finance by 2020 to support developing countries. So with a target, a longer term ambition and a mechanism to monitor and “ratchet up” ambition every five years, the basics have been put in place to reverse decades of fossil fuel dependency.

During the closing speeches the role of civil society in the successful outcome of the deal was recognised by many of the parties attending. Civil society organisations, such as Practical Action who participated in many of the annual meetings and sub-committees, were recognised for their contribution to the debate, especially their assistance to developing country delegations. Presentations made at side panels and questions asked of country delegations help to highlight the challenges faced by the poorest and most vulnerable. This interaction helps to put a human face on what can become faceless negotiations. But in addition to our project experience civil society will also have a key role to play to ensure the political promises are delivered. Organisations such as Climate Tracker, that monitor governments performance in decarbonisation and reforestation using global monitoring systems, are vital to hold governments to account on their climate actions.

Overall the Paris Agreement sets us on a new path, hopefully one that is not only more sustainable, but one that is fair, just and equitable. The global fall in oil prices may finally be bringing home the message that we need a new global system and a new economic model. The fall probably has more to do with over production, falling demand and a glut in stored capacity, than the ramifications of the agreement in Paris, but the #Keepitintheground campaign among others highlighted the risks we are taking.  Financial resources and research capacity should be focused not on fracking and identifying new fossil fuel reserves, but instead at answering the challenges of renewable energy storage and distribution, necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.


We need to start to thinking outside the box. Our current economic structures and processes were designed by thinkers who lived over a century ago; that world no longer exists. The agreement signed on Saturday has changed this world, by establishing a finite barrier of temperature increase. This agreement must send a clear message to investors, businesses and citizens that the fossil fuel age is over. We must ensure the transition to renewable energy is made as quickly as possible, and ensure this is done in a way that does not limit the development aspirations of those less fortunate than ourselves. As our founder said over half a century ago “Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility” E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.

Increased action is needed to achieve universal energy access before 2030