Francis Muchiri

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Francis is a Communications Documentalist in Kenya.

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Posts by Francis

  • Providing food security through appropriate technology

    October 4th, 2016

    Technological advances have increased the quality of life expectancy, productivity and income. However, as technology advances, developing countries have consistently missed out on the opportunities to increase their production potential in the varied development fields. Appropriate technological solutions are not easily accessible to poor people who need them most. Food production, for example, offers a clear distinction between technology justice and injustice. The lack of appropriate technology to improve systems denies vulnerable populations off sustainable food production. There is technology available for enhanced food security when appropriate resource management systems are employed.

    IMG_1894It therefore behoves development practitioners to review access rights and supply needs with a bias to safeguarding human rights. Practical Action is leading in maintaining the challenge to the world to see technology ‘as the bringer of consumer gain’ and its potential as a world changer – ‘a lever out of poverty.’

    Practical Action Eastern Africa focuses on areas that impact the poor through an integrated – approach, taking into consideration the unique demands in society realizing that each individual requires solutions customized  to their needs. The overall aim is to ensure that communities gain sustainable livelihoods that create a food secure society and we shall illustrate how.

    Sustainable food production technologies

    Access to adequate and nutritious diet is a major challenge among pastoralists’ communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL’s) in East Africa. The region remains highly dependent on food aid. The persistence for this is not a lack of potential but rather a misconception of policies and reluctance to invest in sound agricultural technologies that are responsive to the changing climatic patterns. The persistence of this challenge requires urgent attention and adoption of more practical options to secure sustainable food production.

    Practical Action’s work in Northern Kenya (Mandera and Turkana) is geared towards ensuring food security (increased availability, access and utilization) to the most vulnerable groups; women and children through increasing their access to appropriate technology, knowledge and skills for equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. Through participatory processes, Practical Action engages with the communities to undertake activities and approaches that touch on all aspects of their livelihoods from agriculture, environment, governance and social equity.

    In order to achieve this, Practical Action has adopted the vulnerability to resilience (V2R) framework. This holistic approach assesses the needs of the resource poor communities and identifies skills and opportunities for them to build more secure and resilient livelihoods. This is to empower the communities to meet their food security and nutritional needs. It also enhances their capacity to cope with the recurrent hazards; drought, floods, livestock disease outbreaks and resource conflicts that are endemic in Northern Kenya.

    Improvements to pastoralist production systems

    Practical Action through the Food Security, Agriculture and Disaster Risk Reduction programme makes sustainable improvements in pastoralist and agro-pastoralist production systems through providing simple technology solutions and promoting ecological utilization of the natural resources.

    This has been achieved through direct and people centered technical assistance on rain water harvesting (sand dams, earth pans, rock catchments) and water lifting technologies (foot pumps, hand pumps and solar water pumping systems),micro-irrigation systems for food cropping (Drought Tolerant Crops) and environmental conservation measures (agro-forestry, contour bands and trapezoidal bands). Practical Action also empowers the pastoralists with skills needed to increase the productivity of their livestock assets through improved animal health and husbandry practices, through the Pastoralists Field Schools (PFS). We use our unique approach; Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) to improve the marketing of livestock and livestock products and generate profit and incomes for the pastoralists.

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    FrancisMuchiri@Practicalaction

    Over the years Practical Action has undertaken to promote equitable use of natural resources through interventions such as; Land Use Planning and Management, Pasture Management/Grazing Patterns, Soil and Forest conservation. This has enabled the creation of wet and dry season grazing zones to cushion pastoralists against climatic shocks and provide opportunities for diversification of livelihoods into other dry land production systems; aloe vera cultivation, beekeeping, poultry rearing, and agro-pastoralism as alternative options for pastoralists.

    In order to reach impact at scale Practical Action is working with partners and policy makers in developing policies that promote, sustain and create an enabling environment for pastoralism and dry land production systems. Specifically, Trans-Boundary Animal Mobility and Trans Boundary Animal Disease surveillance policies are key for ensuring enhanced productivity of pastoralist systems and have been Practical Action’s priority areas of influence. Due to the changing land use needs, expansion of extractive industries and the demographic surge, Practical Action is leading in influencing adoption of favorable Land Use and Natural Resource Management policy aimed at responding to the threats to pastoralism and their livelihoods by the emerging land use demands.

    The overall goal of Practical Action’s intervention in Northern Kenya is to establish productive and disaster resilient systems for food production and improved livelihood security for the well-being of the communities. This will be measured through increase in food availability, access and utilization, strengthened marketing systems and improved management and governance of natural resources.

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  • My camel milk experience

    Isiolo - Mandera Rd, Mandera, Kenya, Mandera
    February 21st, 2013

    Recently I have realised that I have a powerful urge to visit my toilet. I am so attracted to it not only because of the advantages I get from the weight reduction process, but because I am also getting a lot of inspiration from the occasional visit. So when I was in Mandera recently, the urge appeared in its subtle demeanour; even if it took me days to finally get to one comfortable secluded patio next to a crowded street.

    I was not going to get my inspiration nonetheless. Actually I really needed to get to it because I was in trouble. I had done what everybody in their right minds was never allowed to do – drink raw camel milk. But it was not supposed to go this way, right? I mean everybody takes a glass and they live to speak words of wisdom not on their death beds like I was seeing my body leading me to but amongst other men. What did I do wrong? Whose goat did I steal to be bewitched?

    The events following this particular visit to the loo needed to be outlined singularly and expounded in my head to see what went wrong. And with my mouth dry in dehydration (hey, I was losing a lot of water from the processes), I started to count the trusses on the roof of my seclusion.

    “I never washed my hands,” I began. “In the hurry to complete all the activities I had during the morning and evenings I just dug my miniature paws into the food plate.” Why? Am I not the one telling communities to clean up before and after daily activities?

    In addition, I had found out earlier in the day, the guy who kindly gave me my calabash – that one that is causing my belly and cells to be flaccid – had found washing the udder and teats of the camel a waste of time. “We do not want to spend a lot of time milking because the animal would get jittery and start to make noise awaking everyone in the morning.” Moreover, all milking is done out in the open. So think flies; think brucellosis. Think my death-wish – and not that the milking has anything to do with my punishing outstretching in C-fashion.

    The last time the calabash with a chip just next to my point of contact with my lips was ever washed was sometimes between when it left its branches and its trimming, before it became my cup to my bending; sometimes in the 4thcentury. And no sieving was done, if at all, an old work hijab was used to dry-scrub and off dust.

    So the visions of old saliva filled cloths so reused until it is not clear whether the colour was as a result of dirt or the original dye that has seen better days, came to my head. When Dhahabu, my translator, untied the teats during the milking, she placed these pieces on the camel’s back!

    Normally, the exposed teats are dry and to wet them she applied saliva on to her fingers, spreading evenly on the teat massaging it slowly until milk poured. She sprinkled a little on to her hand to check its colour. She told us that this helped her find out if there was any sign of a disease. There being no negative signs, she sucked it in to her mouth. This also, she said, helped her ensure that the milk was in good taste. Everything in order, I got my calabash fill. I guess that tells the story of my whole destiny.

    However, this was before I went to Mandera to have a feel of what goes on in the lives of the common residents. When I was taken through the whole process by the project team, I realised that the project dubbed “Camel Milk Project” also known as ‘Pastoralist Women challenging drought and chronic food insecurity through dairy production and marketing,’ funded by Practical Action’s Track Record budget had been working with communities to change their attitudes towards good hygiene practice. It trained the milk producers on proper milk production process which in turn has increased the income of the milk producers in Mandera. The team has raised awareness on hygienic practices and implemented innovative activities and interventions with milk producing communities. This is envisaged meeting the demand for milk in the town and make a way to expand to reach many other regions within Mandera County.

    Video: Camel milk now a ‘white gold’ in Mandera

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  • Soon, no more flying toilets

    Nakuru, Kenya, Nakuru
    February 21st, 2013

    I gazed at the toddlers giggling playfully as their mothers bathed them, one squatted without a thought to relieve herself. I marveled at their innocence, and how happiness is self-generated from within despite our circumstances. Their water had been warmed under the midday sun. The narrow corridor on which they stood was covered with polythene bags of all shapes and colors. One could only hope that the polythene bags were not flying toilets in their previous lives.

    The residents of the plot often suffered from water borne disease that reduced on their productivity. The residents of this plot in the Kaptembwo low income settlement in Nakuru have had to contend with the filth that surrounds them, simply because they are not able to pay more than the Kshs1,800/= rent required of them here. In this particular plot, the 15 household members share two toilets, there is no bathroom. However, last month, the rains were rather heavy and one of the toilets just collapsed. The plot owner was now dragging his feet about putting up another one because the costs are exorbitant and the soils in the area are unstable.

    A Comic Relief funded partnership between Practical Action and Umande Trust is implementing a Community Led Total Sanitation Project with modifications to suit the urban setting. The project aims to eliminate Open Defecation and change the residents’ attitudes towards improved hygiene practices. Through this project, the landlord is beginning to see changes within his plot. The residents have attended a couple of hygiene training and are now more eager to maintain cleanliness. He looks forward to the credit facilities that have been organized through this project to construct a modern ablution block complete with two bathrooms!

    By Aileen Ogolla

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  • My challenge for serenity

    November 23rd, 2012

    There is a man I meet by the road on my way to work who makes me envious. He sits by the trench surrounded by a heap of waste polythene bags he collects every morning. This heavily dreadlocked man does not show even a trait of fear on his face. The lines on his face instead represent a proud ‘general.’ He reminds me of the feeling one gets when a beautiful woman walks by a boys’ dance party; either smiling at the angels in the sky or just speaking to the invisible souls that seem to be seated around him. On chilly mornings I see him lighting a fire whose smoke engulfs the air above his head as he shifts his knees beside it. In most times, I have found him puffing his cigarette away, the ensuing smoke forming either burbles or singular lines that seem to draw the faces of fond ‘brethren’ who passed on in one of the past world wars. As he reclines on the heap behind his head, I can hear him speak like one contented warrior, “It is well, it is well.” I have not had or felt in the distant past such a moment of contentment as this man. They call him Jahman Shepherd.

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  • The pain of change

    November 23rd, 2012

    “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
    ― Friedrich Nietzsche

     So after 13 years Practical Action is moving from the AAYMCA Building on State House Crescent off State House Road to a new office block in the leafy suburbs of the city. I hear that the new building will also allow us to enjoy the sights and sounds of the informal – or should I say untamed villages west of the city. I will have to get there and find out.

    Just the thought of moving office I am in tormental angst, although it is not immediately evident. I only know because recently I am dreaming in black and white, horror visions causing me to wake up in tears. And you know what they say about a man in tears. My cat Brian has refused his usual breakfast – a mixture of yesterday, today and an alternative proposal of tomorrow’s stew, a menu he has faithfully taken since he moved in with me a number of years ago. Even Thande our old Rottweiler has begun being extremely attaching. I think I am expressing my emotions too openly when I am supposed to be a man – take a hold of yourself mister!

    I joined Practical Action about nine years ago. And I liked it. During those days there were about 100 living experts on the available work stations. Everybody seemed busy. I remember that we needed both the second and the third floor of the building to fit everyone. Our office hosted three other organizations; Community Livestock Initiatives Programme (CLIP), International Labour Organization’s Advisory Support Information Services and Training for Employment-Intensive Infrastructure (ILO ASIST) Department; and Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN).

    There was so much activity at the office that it was like a small town, it even required policing – I guess one of the greatest reasons why “the General” our good watchman at the gate had such a well-defined role. He was always proactively involved in even keeping order not only in the compound but also in our office. Our Director walked about encouraging and motivating staff and residents with a phrase “the struggle continues.” What was evident then and there are traits of it even now, was the passion and drive that kept the organization vibrant. I guess we also made a lot of money then because everyone looked happy – but I digress again.

    Fast forward, we have moved to the Methodist Ministries Centre.  And I am sad. In fact, I am slowly seeing my ‘waist tires’ grow, my belly hanging and my neck blowing up. We had the hill on State House Avenue to cure this. Now it is good bye England’s rose. I miss the roof top even though it was associated with credulities of the grapevine. I miss the inspiration I always got when I looked at the view of the central business district. I miss how easy it was to simply stroll to the city on the break and back. I simply cannot come to terms with the fact that there is no short-cut to town anymore. Indeed I miss the sense of insecurity we had at the office block that anyone would walk in and out and only stop peremptorily to find directions and not seek permission.

    Although we have moved to this uptown neighborhood, I really want to cry. Will we ever get a prettier car park? The trees at the old car park would lavishly and gently paint our cars with flowers; except when one weekend when the most beautiful Acacia Nilotica in the yard faced the detriments of a storm and just gave up the ghost. Much metal and steel was lost in the incident.

    Then there is the economics. My accountant – who happens to be the Vice President of my household, tells me that if we are not careful we might be facing a down turn that will see our GDP fall to levels equivalent to those of the great depression. When I married my profit and loss account presented to me an image of progression and profit. My Vision 2015 indicated positive variables with no effect on the principle. It now seems that my advisors were wrong. I now have acquired a new status – “Mrs. Food-Fare Poverty.”

    The other day I told myself that just because I am hungry I could sample the eating places in the neighborhood. Afterwards, I spent the whole afternoon in the restroom. The following day I told myself, “It is just a reaction to a new dish.” So I asked a friend to accompany me to the eating joints in the leafy suburb. You can believe it when I say I spent the weekend on my corridor – between my living room and my place of worship. I guess we got so used to the germs in our old neighborhood that we became immune to the ailments. It is all in the process of natural selection and our own evolution.

    My new genetic make-up will have to live without the monotonous Mama-party dishes, Migingo Island assortment menu and the watery stew and greens of the church bunker. As a new species I will have to adapt to climate change in the form of the comfort of the loo (did I just say loo?), move from the watery boily and fatty to the hotty, spicy, hygienic lifestyle.

    Although I miss the AAYMCA building and we all have to embrace the new culture and living, the new office package does not come with the freedoms I had. I will have to spend more on my second life. Otherwise as Jay Asher says in Thirteen Reasons why, “You can’t stop the future; you can’t rewind the past; the only way to learn the secret…is to press play.” I rest my case.

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  • Not that Jamie…

    November 23rd, 2012

    First of all I must confess that I got over excited a few months ago. I had promised myself that I would request to host the next celebrity visitor we got to our office. And I had been granted my wish even though this was not ‘the’ celebrity I was expecting.

    When I was informed that I was going to accompany Jamie Oliver to visit our projects in Kenya, I immediately read “The Naked Chef,” a show on BBC. I even started to think about all the recipes I would learn from him, all the ‘Return to School Diners’ I would be experimenting on during the visit and probably be a graduate of ‘Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals.’ In any case this was a dream come true.

    I remember my anxiety, the sweat on my face; the dark smudge under my armpits; and my dry mouth. I thought, would I just say ‘hi,’ or just ‘Welcome to Kenya Jamie.’ Would I bow with my left or right knee? Would I smile when they take the pictures or would I just be official? Would I plough in to his chest with my already musty abdomen or would I just stretch out my hand?

    And shamefacedly I had announced to everyone during an official update session at the office that I would be travelling the country with a celebrity, who was, in fact a cook! I could see the grin on most of my colleagues’ faces burning with envy. I was going to have an experience of a lifetime and of course learn from the best.

    When I ‘Googled’ him, I found a face – a handsome dude in his late thirties. In fact in his pink background website (pink?), I found out that he was more than just a cook; which in essence meant that I would be chatting up a man with diversity in his experience. (This, I like). You can now see how baited-breath-eyes-out I was as I waited for him at the Lodwar airstrip. I was experiencing bouts of movie-like dreams and visions during the day and night in expectation.

    I was expecting to see a guy carrying a full suitcase, a horde of camera crew and a thin-looking tall female escort. Of course I did not expect him to have hauled his pans and ladles with him from the UK to Turkana – a remote hot and dusty region in beautiful Kenya. I never knew how thoroughly embarrassed I would be.

    My jaw dropped when I met the handsome young man – a little thinner than the guy in my fantasy. And yes, I got the experience of a lifetime. My mouth went dry for days afterwards and I could not tell why. My speech was affected. The Jamie I hosted was not the Jamie who cooks and writes. This Jamie is quiet and it is contagious. This was my celebrity. I have never recovered.

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  • 6 Years after Practical Action’s Intervention

    September 13th, 2011

    When we left for Kitale I knew I was going to meet my old acquaintances and friends and even probably share in their excitement since the last time I had met them. The road from Kisumu is remarkably improved. The distance seemed to have been reduced because they are done well. I was not disappointed. However, during the two-and-a-half hour drive, it was the good thoughts of the people I had spent time with in Kitale that were flowing through my mind and neither the landscape nor smooth roads. I knew we had started a good thing with this community and I was certain that they had flown with it.

    I was certain that if this was true, Practical Action’s on-going project People’s Plans in to Practice (PPP) would definitely be scaling up good initiatives started by the organisation. I was anxious throughout the journey. What would I see in Kipsongo slum our first stop in Kitale the following day?

    We met members of Akiriamriam group, a women’s group formed in 2001, still focussed on their core activities. Their activities revolve around initiating and sustaining income generating activities. In order to improve their shelter they were encouraged to start a savings scheme. The savings will be used to improve their shelter using cheaper but better building technologies that last longer introduced by Practical Action. The group was also supported to construct a water and sanitation facility and received training on building and construction and hygiene practices.

    Equipped with the skills, they faced another hurdle – they couldn’t put their acquired skills into practice in the village due to the challenge of land tenure in Kipsongo. They were however linked with other players in the building industry to provide services as masons. This has since had positive impact in the people’s lives.

     

    Akiriamriam Women Centre in Kipsongo

    “When we started practicing what we had been taught, our lives changed for the better. It was an eye opener.” said Patricia a group member.

    The transformation evident in the people’s lives is a sure sign that proper application of appropriate technology and skills is a good starting point to improve the well-being of the poor.

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  • The future of relief efforts in drought prone regions in Kenya

    July 28th, 2011

    I had an opportunity to travel to a drought mitigation project in Kapuus in Turkana County. The beneficiaries of the project were asked a question I will never forget.

    “From now on there is no more aid coming. What will you do?”

    Nobody from the group had a response to it. In fact, they were still presenting the ‘shopping list’ of the issues they would like well-wishers to support them with. I had never been certain before how deep dependency had sunk in until I saw the reaction of the faces of these poor people.

    Frequent drought and famine in Northern Kenya has caused donor and relief agencies working in the country to literally camp in villages for timeless periods. Little regard has been paid to the long term development initiatives in the region.

    While the Government of Kenya has declared the drought in Northern Kenya a national disaster, what is prominently circling the airwaves and the discussion tables is emergency relief. However, it is unclear how long this must go on. At Practical Action we agree that emergency relief is good, but is it enough?

    At the moment, most relief efforts by organisations and donor agencies are focusing on these drought-ridden areas through implementing approaches for distributing emergency food relief. How these are coordinated is an issue for another day. In the end, when the communities wake up to find that there is no relief coming, what will happen?

    The reactive nature of donors towards crisis and calamities cannot be understated. In fact, there is better prospect during emergency much more than in building concrete development plans that reduce our dependence on relief.

    Kenya now has a government ministry solely devoted to developing and addressing arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya. Its capacity is overwhelmed by the task and so in the short term it is relying on other agencies to be able to deliver its mandate. Its efforts must be lauded although much more needs to be done.

    However, the daunting task of fighting poverty is not only on the shoulders of governments. In order to improve coherence and effectiveness, appropriate policies regarding increasing food security and economic capacities of the poor need to be executed. International agencies need to strengthen the link between humanitarian and development policies. This cannot be addressed if we continue to rely on emergency relief.

    Efforts must be made to ventilating instead of increasing refugee camps. Suitable environments in calamity and conflict prone areas must be established, service provided to the residents and the displaced resettled here. Mechanisms on how to manage natural resources must be established within community frameworks to enable amicable relationships between members of the community during and after drought and famine.

    An exit strategy must be thought out of emergency relief. Only then will the residents of Kaapus illustrate an appropriate response to the question of aid.

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