Bami Dagu

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Bami Dagu is a Master's student of International Development at the University of Edinburgh on our Lima, Peru research project on Technology and the Future of Work. With a background in Economics, she has experiences in development practice and policy in Nigeria, South Africa, Canada and the UK.

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Kate Bami

  • Waste and recycling: health concerns herald technology change

    January 4th, 2016

    Waste recyclers in Lima, the capital of Peru, have overcome tremendous adversities to function as a recognised and legitimate sector.

    When they had started to pick waste around the city, they were branded ‘nut cases’ or drug addicts and were sometimes chased away by the police when foraging for recyclables. This presented a social challenge since they became a marginalized group.

    After unionizing and pursuing their labour rights, the Peruvian government passed the ‘Law of the Recycler’ in 2009- the first of its kind in the world.

    Their labour unions, known as associations, provide them with representation and the ability to negotiate better prices as a group. The recycling sector has boomed ever since.

    Although their jobs help make the earth greener, the same cannot be said for their own health, as the waste picking process presents many health risks.

    Technology change

    recycling tricycleMany of the recyclers started to collect waste with sacks, wheelbarrows, or industrial trolleys, mostly without protective uniforms, hygiene masks, or rubber gloves. The handling of unclean waste left them exposed to germs and the stress of transporting the collected waste across long distances caused constant backache. One of our interview respondents, Roberto, recounts how he broke his spine and switched from a wheelbarrow to a tricycle, and then to a moto-taxi. Like Roberto, many recyclers have switched to more automated, locally produced, transport technologies to curb these potential health risks. Other technologies that are changing or disappearing from use include transport scooters, pedal bicycles and pedal tricycles.

    mototaxi These health issues have created a market for newer technologies, enabling changes to technology they use. New and emerging technologies include auto-tricycles, known as ‘tricimotos’ and motor taxis. This is accompanied by an increase in the use of protective wear such as gloves, uniforms, rubber boots and hygiene masks.

    The fundamental shift from manual to automated technologies enables them to be more productive, collecting more waste in lesser amount time and ultimately, higher incomes, or increased leisure time.

    Collection centres

    Although many recyclers have been able to reduce excess physical effort by switching to more automated means of waste transportation, they still face a major challenge- the lack of a central waste collection centre.

    Currently, most of the waste they collect are sorted in their homes before being sold. This presents huge health risks, since they are constantly surrounded by waste acquired from different parts of the city. Good hygiene is difficult to maintain in such circumstances.

    waste for recyclingThis also causes problems with some of the recyclers’ relations with neighbours in their local communities. In an interview with Luzuela, a recycler in the Lima district of Los Olivos, she laments on how she has constant problems with her neighbours because she constantly brings home large amounts of waste to their shared communal space.

    Evidently, many of Lima’s informal recyclers stress the need for a central collection centre; so they can all sort their waste there, rather than in residential areas.

    The recyclers spend a substantial part of their income on basic expenses such as food, rent, childcare, education and other living expenses. The balance left is put in savings for upgrading their technologies. Since these informal recyclers earn so little, they barely have enough left to contribute towards a central collection centre.

    However, there are prospects for the development for the sector as the Peruvian government, in 2013, committed to the promotion and increase recycling practices within the city. The leaders of their associations intend to form an enterprise to capitalize on this opportunity, which could potentially become a lucrative business.

    The once looked-down upon sector of recycling in Lima is now recognised as a pivotal part of environmental efforts the city is increasingly making.

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

    December 29th, 2015

    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.

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