Archive for December, 2017

What is Information and Communication Technologies for Development and why it matters?

Monday, December 18th, 2017 by

Colleagues in Practical Action often ask how Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) can be defined. Is a radio program offering health information to young girls in India ICT4D? What about a web portal providing agricultural content in Peru? Or perhaps a mobile app used by M&E team in Kenya?

Practical Answers intervention in India, Sunalo Sakhi, uses ICT to raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health among young women and girls living in slums (credit: Ananta Prasad)

Different terms are used to describe the relationship between Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Development (D). Each term represents views of their advocates with its own merits and challenges. For example: ICTD, ICT4Dev, M4D, KM4D, Development Informatics, Digital Development and ICT4D. ICT4D is the most commonly used term among them.

A broad definition of ICT is devices or techniques for processing or communicating data. When discussing ICT, we narrow down the scope to digital ICT such as laptops, internet, software, smartphones, the Internet of Things etc. Other types of ICT, e.g. analog sensor technologies, may be relevant too, but they are increasingly being digitised. There are three main benefits of ICT: process benefits (cheaper, more, quicker, better, new), affordances  (communication, computation, transaction) and broader changes (automatisation, innovation and equalisation). The connector word ‘4’ (reads: for) brings the attention to what kind of ‘development’ we seek to address. Development usually refers to international development, that is both geographic and agenda-specific development.

ICT4D is therefore “the application of any entity that processes or communicates digital data in order to deliver some part of the international development agenda in a developing country”. As field of research, ICT4D is a combination of academic disciplines: computer sciences, information systems, development studies and others fields such as geography, economics, governance etc.

Development agenda determines why and how ICT used for development. For example, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify ICT-specific target under Goal 9: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”. Other ICT-specific targets are under Goal 4 (higher education), Goal 5 (women’s empowerment) and Goal 17 (innovation capacity).

Many ICT4D projects fall short of their promise. Critics argue that frequently flaws in implementation techniques lead to failing to deliver the intended benefits. Inadequate planning, hardware failures, insufficient technical support, lack of political support and financial constraints are among the most common reasons for that. Others point out at the unintended consequences and contradictory effects that ICT can have in development: ICT, including ICT4D, is often associated with inequality, environmental damage, health problems etc.

In order to make ICT work for development, we need to understand processes and challenges emerging from technical, social, cultural, institutional and political realms. ICT4D doesn’t simply mean ICT adoption in the development practice. ICT4D is ‘multifaceted, dynamic and contentious socio-technical processes’ (see Figure: ICT4D Value Chain).

ICT4D Value Chain (Source: Heeks, 2017)

A good example is Practical Action’s knowledge management system, Practical Answers. Practical Answers has served local communities and practitioners in a number of countries for years. It processes and distributes technical information through web portals, a mobile app, call centre, radio programmes and podcasts. Each country implements Practical Answers in its own way. In India, Practical Answers produces educational radio programmes for young girls living in slums. In Nepal, Practical Answers is embedded into community libraries. In Zimbabwe, Practical Answers trains government officials and community leaders to produce agricultural podcasts.

ICT4D may not solve all problems our societies experience, but it helps to materialise the  development agenda in new forms that haven’t existed before.

 

Reference:

Heeks, Richard. 2017. Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) (Routledge Perspectives on Development). Taylor and Francis.

Zheng, Y., Hatakka, M., Sahay, S. and Andersson, A., 2017. Conceptualizing development in information and communication technology for development (ICT4D).

The power to transform communities

Friday, December 15th, 2017 by

The village of Amaguaya sits on the slopes of the Cordillera Real mountain range in Bolivia about 4,000 metres above sea level.  Although it’s only just over 70 miles from La Paz, the journey there, mostly along a small single track, takes about five hours.

Vicente Poma FloresDespite their remoteness, Amaguaya’s 830 residents have recently witnessed an extraordinary transformation in their community.

Until 2014, Amaguaya was a village without power.  But the installation of a 60 kw micro hydro plant has transformed the lives of the residents. Electricity has brought light, hot water, safe storage of vaccines and access to the internet, radio and TV.

The construction of the scheme was overseen by colleagues from Practical Action in Bolivia who also provided training on technical issues and managing the supply company. This included agreeing tariffs and awarding contracts and deciding how to resolve issues of non-payment of bills. Whilst the local authority will undertake major repairs, the community itself will continue to be responsible for day to day operations.

According to Vicente Poma Flores, the chief operator of the hydro-electric plant,

“Now we have a way, we have light, it is as if we are climbing the steps to a better and better life.” 

Vicente grew up in the village and appreciates the transformation as much as anyone.  According to Vicente,

“My children no longer damage their eyesight working by kerosene lamp,”

Street lighting has helped people to move around safely after dark and access to electricity in the home has given students more time to do their homework. Vicente has five children in school and sees the benefits for himself. New computer equipment has been acquired by the school to enrich the children’s education, with seven computers now available. Vicente recalls that when he was a child he studied with a lamp. He said that in those days, it felt as though they had been “forgotten”.

Earlier this year, our team in Bolivia revisited Amaguaya to see how things were progressing.  One of the most striking impacts was that the availability of power had encouraged some former residents to return and resettle. A community that had been facing decline has turned the corner.

For those of us who’ve grown up with electricity, it can be almost impossible to imagine how much the advent of power can mean. But for Amaguaya, their new micro hydro scheme doesn’t just mean electricity, it also signals hope for a bright new future.

This article drew on Claudia Canales blog on her visit to Amaguaya in January 2015

Christmas: introducing the concept of giving

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 by

I love this time of year. I am not ashamed to admit that I am one of those that eagerly awaits the Christmas John Lewis advert with great expectation, in the hope that it lives up to the previous year’s festive treat.

Gorgeous Goat

My tree is ready and waiting to be decorated by the first weekend of December and plans are already in place for a Christmas feast with family and friends. Of course, being a mummy, I have unashamedly pushed my Christmas obsession onto my 5 year old daughter, although she never needed very much persuasion to join in with the Christmas spirit. The Christmas story has been requested half a dozen times already at bedtime and it’s still only November.

We have sat down together to write her Christmas letter to Santa. I spent most of the time trying to discourage her from adding the entire contents of the Argos catalogue to it and I found myself repeating “ but Santa only has a small sleigh and he has to deliver presents to all the children” several times over.

Introducing the concept of giving and not just receiving, I will be honest, is a slow burner for my little one. But she is coming round to the idea – slowly! She does however love the idea of picking presents for mummy;  which is a huge relief especially as daddy isn’t the best at presents – the minion bubble bath from last year still sits unopened on top of the bathroom cabinet and the singing Orangutan from the year before has found pride of place in the back of the cupboard.

Giving a charity gift at Christmas time, such as a Practical Present, is something I think that my daughter could get on board with. The novelty of purchasing a quirky gift such as a Gorgeous Goat to help farmers in Bangladesh, or some Snazzy Soap to help children in Kenya get access to clean, safe water, would make her feel very proud and would give her a great story to share with her class mates at share time.

Snazzy Soap

I find buying Christmas presents both a joy and a nightmare, especially if I have someone difficult to buy for. But rather than spending money on something that is likely to end up at the back of a cupboard, like my poor old Orangutan (just to clarify – it isn’t real!) why not use the money to buy a Practical Present and make a real difference to the lives of people living in poverty around the world.

Snazzy Soap is just one of the gifts from our Safe Pair of Hands collection which also includes Tippy Tap and Safe Pair of Hands. If you decide to purchase one of these special presents this Christmas, gifts will be matched £ for £ by The UK Government (up to a total of £5 million). Which means there really is no better time to get into the Christmas spirit, turn up those Christmas songs and buy a present that really does keep on giving, a Practical Present.

 

Seed cum fertiliser maize planter: how it works?

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 by

The Developmental Challenge

The Developmental Challenge Being one of the professional working in the sector of Market Development in Agriculture Sector in Nepal, the issue of farm mechanisation has always been the one of the sector of my interest. Even though the concept of farm mechanisation is ploddingly increasing, farmers access to related information and machineries in different crops are stumpy. In addition, the effort for farm mechanisation awareness and extension services are insufficient in the country.

Alike the national scenario, I found the situation similar in the Maize Subsector in Bara District; during initial assessment under the Promoting Climate Resilience Agriculture (PCRA) Project. Maize farmers in the project area were unaware and did not use modern farm plantation equipment which resulted low productivity and high cost of production.

On a positive note, this developmental hitch possessed a silver lining for promotion of farm mechanisation in the subsector. Thus, this challenge led identification and promotion of appropriate maize plantation machine in the area.

Exploring Solutions
With the help of the project team I started to identify possible service providers in nearby area of Bara district, which could fulfil our requirement. Though not a “Herculean Task”, the hunt was quite intricate and iterative to meet with service providers and select appropriate machine. After a week of market assessment, “Trishakti Traders” a supplier of farm machine and equipment was identified.

To our ecstasy, Mr. Dhurv Shah (Proprietor- Trishakti Traders) was not only supportive towards our concept but also extended support to the project by offering us a free demo of the machine along with technicians support. Though Mr. Shah knew that though there would not be an immediate return for his investment, he was guided by his deep rooted values that being a responsible citizen he should be contributing for the society through ways he can.

While returning from his sales outlet, a question kept knocking my mind: How vibrant would our society be, if we had more such heart warming people in the sector?

Execution of Identified Solution
Seven plots based upon developed criteria were selected for the demonstration activity. Those include; Affinity towards technology, having suitable land type for machine use, connector in the area for information dissemination and location. Based upon those criteria the selected plots were in Chiutaha, Kachaurwa, Paterwa, Pipradi and Lead Firm Plot Birgunj and the demonstration activities were conducted during 28 Nov- Dec 3, 2017.

Trishakti Traders provided the “Maize Seed Cum Fertiliser Plantation Machine” for demonstration period and also called two machine technicians from Punjab, India to support the process.

Major Outputs
 The demo was successful in planting the maize as per the expectations. During the event, effectiveness, efficiency and economic benefits of the machine were also tested. The machine has been found to be simple to operate and could be employed to plant at least 2.5-3 hectares per day under normal conditions . Farm economics shows that it would save about 100 USD per hectare plantation through savings from seed, manure and labour. When the machine would be used as per the calculations above the machine purchase cost (1250 USD) recovery would take less than 5 days. This information was shared to the farmers during the demo activity.

Apart from the demo, the activity also raised a degree of curiosity and awareness in the areas. Being a new technology, farmers and passerby’s were keen to know about the technology and its benefits along with the purchase details. Some of the farmers wanted to test the machine to plant maize in their fields but due to inadequate time and incoming election, it was not possible.

 

 

 

The Final Takeaway: Though this activity cannot be considered as a “Silver Bullet” to solve all the farm mechanisation issues, it has undoubtedly added a brick to lay foundation for farm mechanisation in the maize subsector in the area. PCRA is hopeful that the purchase and use of machine in upcoming maize plantation season will initiate.

 

 

Description: Seed cum Fertiliser Maize Planter

The Seed Cum Fertiliser Maize Plantation Machine used for the demonstration consists of five trench liners through which seeds and fertilizers are shown in the field and covered subsequently. The machine acts as an add-on-unit in tractor which is used for agriculture purpose and is easy to operate as it does not have complicated mechanism. It can be handled by two persons after they have a general idea of how the machine operates and can plant up to 3.5 hectares per day. The major parts of the machine along with their functions are described below:

 a) Seed and Fertiliser Holder: The seed and fertiliser holders have been designed in the machine at the topmost level of the machine. There are five seed holder compartments where the maize seeds are kept. Each compartment can hold more than 5 kg of seed. In case of fertiliser, there is only one compartment but has five drains from where the fertilisers fall down along with the maize as shown in the picture aside. The capacity of fertiliser holder is more than 50 Kilograms.

b) Rotating Wheel Rotating wheel in the machine is connected to the main body with the help of a chain and provides thrust to move the machine forward. It also balances wheels on two sides in order to maintain the required plantation depth. As the wheel rotates forward, the chain provides rotational force to the Axle and Pivot.

c) Axle and Pivot: As the axle and pivot receive torque, they rotate the seed holder and open the fertiliser holder. Due to the rotation, each seed move into the vacant space of the holder and are pushed down to the outlet. The seed holder is designed to accommodate only one seed and is pushed down by the brush attached in the seed holder. Similarly the opening of the fertiliser also allows a specific quantity to fall down the pipe to the trench developed.

d) Trench Liners and Outlet: As the rotating wheel pushes forward in the plot ready for plantation, the trench liner develops five trenches where the seeds and fertilizers get dropped. The trench is covered with the soil by base opening of the trench liner. The continuous rotation motion of the axle and pivot enables a specific spacing amongst the seeds shown. Generally the spacing maintained amongst the seed is about 17-20 cm and the spacing between two trench lines is about 60 cm.

e) Extra Liner for Mark up purpose: One of the peculiar characteristics of this machine, compared to zero till planter is the provision of extra trench liner. Due to the presence of extra liner, it helps tractor driver to mark up the planted area and maintain the crop spacing for proceeding plantation.

Energy Supporter Objects – The Variety of Energy Technologies and Uses in Refugee Settings

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017 by

A blog authored by Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen and Anna Okello. December 2017.

A ‘missing link’ in humanitarian energy access

Energy is a critical need for refugees and displaced people: millions of displaced people do not have access to energy, and humanitarian agencies and refugees themselves struggle to work with complex energy technology systems and products – as we discuss in the Moving Energy Initiative Report. Recognising this, Practical Action has developed an extensive portfolio of work on energy in humanitarian settings. This includes current research into how refugees practice and perceive energy, undertaken by working with communities to understand how refugees in Kenya engage with energy technologies and the objects that surround them, funded by the University of Edinburgh among others. By ‘objects’ or ‘energy supporter objects’, we mean items and technologies which are integral for, or attached to, sources of energy to make energy-use possible. These technologies can be seen as missing links between the energy supply (e.g. a solar panel) and the service (e.g. a fully charged mobile phone) – the energy supporter object is the phone charger, because without it the end energy use (charging a phone) is impossible. Other examples would include, matches, wires, cooking pots, vehicles for transport, and appliances such as clocks and headphones.

Our research shows the extent to which communities maximise their total energy access needs by using a variety of energy objects and technologies. This goes far beyond having solar lanterns and improved cook-stoves, as, for people to use these products effectively, they require a great many additional technologies and objects.

A comprehensive approach to energy poverty in humanitarian settings

For humanitarian decision-makers to be fully aware of how communities’ use and value energy, we argue that it is vital that the total energy life of refugees is taken into consideration. Energy supporter objects form a core part of the realities of refugee lives, and systems of support and humanitarian response need to consider these physical things as well as basic energy access technologies to effectively work with communities. For example, a bicycle may not be considered an energy technology, but many people are reliant on this form of transport to enable them to move batteries to be charged, to transport firewood, and to deliver diesel fuel.

Energy supporter objects in practice: Kakuma Refugee Camp

One area Practical Action works in is Kakuma Refugee Camp, which is in the Turkana District of the north-west of Kenya. In Kakuma there are many diverse communities; with people from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp population is currently estimated to be over 180,000 and has been in existence since 1992. In the past few years, the camp has expanded quickly with new arrivals coming from South Sudan or being relocated from Dadaab camp, which may close.

In Kakuma, there are a dynamic set of markets, energy products and services available within the communities. During our research several types of ‘energy supporter objects’ emerged as being key to the community, including matches, wires, and phone chargers. The table below provides a summary of some of these objects and the type of ‘traditional energy objects’ they are often connected with or to in the Kenyan context.

Communities solving their own problems

While we don’t suggest that humanitarian agencies should provide energy supporter objects as part of their responses or aid programmes, we want to draw attention to the ways local communities are already solving these problems themselves. Many of the refugee and host community businesses that exist within or close to refugee camps are already centred on energy supporter objects and are supplying this demand gap themselves. For example, the picture below shows a refugee business owner who sells solar panels. But in his shop, there are also batteries, matches, torches, extension cables, light bulbs, chargers, speakers, sound systems and radios. By supporting and facilitating these markets, humanitarian responders have an ideal opportunity to also support income generating opportunities and the self-sufficiency of refugees – which can lead to increased human development and wellbeing of communities.

Refugees’ energy access priorities in reality

In many cases, our research found that the energy supporter objects were more central to business owners and refugee households than the source of energy itself. The picture below shows a music store in Kakuma camp, the owner of whom has multiple energy appliances: a computer, screens, keyboard, fans, a television and sound system. The source of energy for this business was actually a mini-grid connection, however, when discussing energy, the business owner focused almost exclusively on the appliances and uses of energy. This finding is in-keeping with Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook report series, which has long maintained that it is not the energy supply but energy services that matter most to marginalised people – people care about what they can do with the energy, not where it comes from.

We suggest that NGOs and practitioners can focus on the way that people use energy and the practical realities of living as a refugee, to more successfully deliver support and energy access technologies. Understanding energy supporter objects is one angle that could be used to achieve this. More information on the energy lives of refugees and displaced people is available from the Moving Energy Initiative and Practical Action’s work on humanitarian energy.