Katie Welford

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Katie is the Project Communications Assistant for Practical Action Consulting, working in particular on the PISCES bioenergy research initiative. Before joining Practical Action she was the Visualising Advocacy Intern with the Tactical Technology Collective, who work with human rights advocates in the global South to use information and digital technologies effectively in campaigning. Katie has lived in Zambia and Uganda working on school-based sexual health projects and has a Masters in International Development from the University of Bath.

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Posts by Katie

  • Who wants to come to the Small Ears Festival?

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    August 6th, 2012

    The WHAT? I hear you cry. Let me explain….This year sees the fourth instalment of the Small is…Festival. A growing annual gathering of curious minds, creative spirits, debators, creators, green thinkers; and some of you bring your little tinkers, who will be looked after by the fabulous Woodcraft Folk.

    Presented by us here at Practical Action and our like-minded friends over at Engineers without Borders-UK, we put on this festival for people who want to come and get their hands dirty learning how to make charcoal, build traditional mud walls, test out fuel efficient stoves, and generally learn about the technologies and ideas behind the fantastic work we do to challenge poverty around the world every day.

    There will be stalls, demonstrations, hearty food, a cocktail caravan and music to tickle every tastebud around and keep you thoroughly entertained.

    This year sees the introduction of the Schumacher Lectures, named after Practical Action’s founder, and inspiration behind the festival. The lectures are full of leading environmental and social thinkers, including Tony Juniper, who has this to say:

    “After years of debate and awareness-raising, and despite quite a lot of progress in some areas, the solutions to the massive ecological challenges we face remain elusive. This is not a time for despair, however, it is the moment to deepen the discussion and to look harder for the best ways forward. This is why the Small is…. Festival is so important, in providing a forum for people to come together and to compare perspectives on how best to make the rapid progress needed”.

    The name ‘Small is…’ comes very naturally to us here at Practical Action as it is the name of Schumacher’s famous book ‘Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered’. However, if you say “Small is Festival” to someone who might not be familiar with the name, you can get some funny looks. “Small Ears Festival?” or “The Smallest Festival- how small are we talking about?”

    To get around this, we need your help. We need you to go out and tell people about the Small is…Festival. You can do it by liking the Facebook page, following us on twitter, and sharing this lovely stop animation video.

    Then we would love you all to join us with your thoughts and contributions and ideas, to make it the biggest small festival around. A festival as if people mattered.

    See you around the campfire….

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  • Big Ideas = Small Gains for Energy Poverty

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    June 14th, 2012

    I’ve just read this great blog post from Julie Owono over at Global Voices.

    As a short aside: If you have never checked out Global Voices before, you should. It is really fantastic. Citizen reporting from all corners of the globe at its best. A small utopian vision of how the world should be: all voices are equal, and all voices are heard.

    Julie’s article is about electricity access in Cameroon, and is relevant to my work here at Practical Action for three reasons. If you want this blog in a nutshell, these reasons are:

    1)   We are both advocating for and working towards energy provision and services that genuinely benefit the urban and rural poor

    2)   We are both interested in finding ways of measuring energy access from the ground up

    3)   We have both featured photos in our blogs of giant electricity pylons sweeping past rural African villages (hers in Cameroon, mine from Kenya).

    The Government of Cameroon, led by President Paul Biya, apparently have Big Ideas on moving up the ladder to ‘emerging market’ status by 2035. At the heart of this leap is generating electricity to drive growth. Or, more specifically, expanding the national grid through implementing large-scale projects such as the Lom Pangar dam hydro-power project.

    However, as highlighted in another blog by Christiane Badgley, it is not clear that this project will meet the energy needs of poor Cameroonians, but will rather benefit big industry such as the country’s largest aluminium smelter, owned by a Canadian firm.

    Understanding how (or if) energy reaches, and is used by, people in rural or otherwise marginalised communities is a key component of our series of Poor people’s energy outlook reports. As part of the 2012 report, we have also set up a Total Energy Wiki with Energypedia. The aim is to get people involved in a grassroots attempt to record and measure what access households and communities in developing countries have to different energy services.

    Julie Owono is also attempting this in Cameroon, with her involvement in an interesting project called Feowl. This project is using a different method, but the ground-up approach at the heart of it is the same as our Wiki. Feowl is an online platform that seeks to record information sent in by residents of Cameroon’s largest city, Douala. The focus here is on electricity, and residents are asked to send in when they have powercuts, how long for and what the impact is. The platform aims to generate data to build a picture of who is affected, and how, by an unreliable or unavailable power supply.

    Getting this information is critical for civil society to understand where gaps in energy supply are, and to advocate to governments and the private sector for change. I look forward to following the progress of Feowl, and also the Total Energy Wiki, and I hope that it enables us all to work towards less photos such as the ones Julie and I have featured in our blogs.

    In reality, big ideas can often mean small gains for marginalised people and communities. However, as with everything at Practical Action, we believe that the right idea, however small, can and does change lives. Big data on small-scale energy access can do just that.

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  • Power to the people?

    Kisumu, Kenya, Kisumu
    February 27th, 2012

    I have always thought of electricity pylons as giants walking across the land. I am not sure I have ever thought where they are going, just that they look like they have a sense of purpose.

    Visiting a rural charcoal producer in Bondo district, western Kenya, made me think again about where these metal giants were off to. They walk through rural Kenya, but they do not stop there. They are striding along to towns and cities where people who can afford to pay for grid electricity access welcome them home.

    Households in the countryside sit underneath electricity lines, but they do not benefit from them, relying instead on charcoal for cooking their food, and candles or kerosene for lighting.

    Another thought struck me, though, as I stared up at this powerline: Is this energy access? And if so, for who? When it comes to collecting data, the terms ‘access to energy’ or ‘energy access’ are hard to pin down, and there is not one single definition. A government employee may pass through this village and, seeing the electricity lines, record them as having ‘access to energy’- the connection is possible, but, given the costs involved for these households, certainly not probable.

    This is the main issue with using supply side data- you can count all the available pylons and the megawatts of electricity running through them until the cows come home, but if people can’t access it, then it’s just numbers really, isn’t it?

    With the Poor people’s energy outlook reports 2010 and 2012, Practical Action has proposed a way of measuring energy access from the other perspective. They look at whether someone actually has a light source, and if so, the quality of that source. They measure what people really cook on, and how they keep their food cool. All of this can build up a more genuine picture of how poor people use energy, rather than if they have the potential to do so.

    Half of humanity, 3 billion people, cook on traditional fuels every day, and their energy needs are not going to be met through connections to the grid any time soon.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Practical Action has shown for over four decades that off-grid sustainable solutions are possible to provide households with an energy supply.

    However, we can’t do it alone. That’s why we campaign for Energy for All by 2030 with a broad network of civil society organisations. Why we have released the Poor people’s energy outlook report 2012. Why we have asked all of you to Make Your Point.

    So what are you waiting for? Join us.

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  • Now that’s razor sharp!

    Bondo, Kenya, Bondo
    February 14th, 2012

    I’m lucky enough to be in Kisumu, Kenya at the moment for some PISCES project meetings (more on that in later posts). Today we went to a small town called Bondo to do some research on the charcoal markets and the challenges involved in producing this vital energy source sustainably.

    We met a feisty group of young women who sell charcoal in the town market. During the rainy season, it is harder to make charcoal and transport it to town, so these women can struggle to buy any off the transporters and sell it for profit.

    In order to combat this, as well as some of the other ups and downs that go with being self-employed, they have set up the Charcoal Sellers Bondo, a 17 member collective of men and women who transport and sell charcoal in the town. If someone doesn’t have any cash due to a sudden shortfall, then the rest of the group can help out, and they hope to put some money into a storage facility so that they can store charcoal in the dry season and sell it in leaner times.

    It’s not rocket science, but helping to organise markets more effectively is so essential to their incomes, and something we work on at Practical Action. We left the ladies with a joke about the fact that many of them are unmarried or divorced, so they look after their charcoal better in the absence of a man- we all agreed the charcoal was probably better behaved anyway!

    Just as we were about to head out of town, we saw a touch of genius. A gentleman riding a bike, but rather than heading down the street, he was stationary, and using the mechanical power to spin a stone that he was using to sharpen knives. Judging by this photo, you can see he was a bit of a poser, but I would be more than smug with myself if I had cornered that market. What a simple, brilliant use of an everyday technology.

    What a brilliant day. Thanks Bondo!

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  • Keeping Sri Lanka Green Hot

    November 16th, 2011

    “Practical Action has made an immense contribution to renewable energy in Sri Lanka! Everywhere you go there is solar or wind power and people will say it is thanks to Practical Action,” Professor R. Shanthini enthusiastically told attendees at the International Conference on Bioenergy, organised as part of the PISCES consortium visits. As someone who works for Practical Action, this is always great to hear.

    Professor Shanthini is a chemical engineer interested in particular in the link between CO² emmissions and a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is one way of measuring how big a country’s economy is. Sri Lanka’s GDP is growing and it now has ‘middle-income country’ status, meaning that average incomes per person have gone up. Whilst this is in many ways welcome, it brings a new set of challenges and one of them is on energy.

    As country’s go, Sri Lanka’s green credentials seem full of potential. The Government has a mandate to supply 20% of the country’s energy through renewable sources by 2020. There is an awareness and use of small-scale, off-grid renewables in the country, that Practical Action has, as Professor Shanthini said, made a fantastic contribution to- take a look at a small-scale wind case study here.

    The challenge now is keeping this momentum up. As families get wealthier, the status quo is changing, and middle class families’ expectations are turning to energy supplied by fossil fuels. Rather than using an improved cook stove, such as the Anagi II model, kerosene is in vogue.

    “We already use renewable energy in this country, and our struggle will be to keep it. Now only poor people use it, or economically disadvantaged people, but if we can make it very hot, or very stylish, if we can do something so that the poor people don’t feel like they are disadvantaged because they are using renewable energy. It is at that scale that we need it.”

    Changing attitudes is certainly a tough one, and the need to do so pops up in some unexpected contexts. On our way from Kandy to Colombo for example, we stopped to chat with a lady called Chandrawathi who was cooking corn on a very smoky stove made out of an old oil drum for her roadside business. When we got back in the car, we learnt that sellers such as Chandrawathi were reluctant to use improved cook stoves as they didn’t produce smoke. For hungry drivers, smoky stoves means that food is freshly cooked, and so better stoves may mean less wood use and less smoke in your lungs, but it won’t sell corn.

    Making sustainable energy choices is definitely not plain sailing, but it is influenced by government policy, and this is what the PISCES project is trying to do. By taking lessons from the success of the Anagi II cook stove, which is now used in hundreds of thousands of households across Sri Lanka (but not yet, as we have learnt, at roadside stalls), PISCES is now working on national clean cook stove standards, meaning more efficient, cleaner burning stoves for more people. Now that, Professor Shanthini might say, would be green hot!

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  • Kilns in Kandy Could be Cleaner!

    Kandy, Sri Lanka, Kandy
    October 31st, 2011

    I have just got back from a really interesting 2 weeks in Sri Lanka where I got a snapshot into the experiences of small- and large-scale businesses who use bioenergy efficiently and sustainably. And also some not so efficiently…

    The lush green surroundings of Kandy have given way to a quarried valley and air misty with smoke. It catches your breath as you climb out of the car, and gets right into your nose and lungs. This is Digana, about 15km from Kandy, Sri Lanka, where a number of small, family-run limekilns line the valley.

    Upali, a jovial 65-year old, has lived here all his life, and his father ran this operation before him. Fifty metres behind Upali’s house, a shirtless man steadily piles up lumps of limestone that have been blown off the rock face by dynamite. It is late in the afternoon but still hot, and this is certainly backbreaking and dangerous work.

    Once broken down into smaller lumps the limestone is put through a grinder, then taken over to the kilns. Standing about 3 metres high, the limestone is fed into the top along with large lumps of wood that are burned to provide the heat. It takes two days for the limestone to pass from the top to the bottom of the kiln, which requires a continuous stream of energy. This process is essential to prepare the limestone to be used in cement mix. It is also used as a basic whitewash for walls, and is mixed with the Arica nut and chewed as a mild narcotic.

    The process is hugely inefficient, and produces thick smoke from the wood, explaining the town’s air quality. Alongside the terrible health effects of breathing smoke like this on a daily basis, it is also not good for business. The wood cannot be sourced locally, and just one log costs around $0.6. Burning methods such as this account for deforestation on a wide scale, and the returns are slim, with Upali earning just $0.25 per KG of limestone produced.

    The challenge presented here is complex. Upali learnt this trade from his Father, and not much has changed about this process in the 65-years he has been living here. Adapting mind sets to newer, more efficient ways of doing things requires a sensitive approach that may take some time, and local buy-in is essential.

    Another huge barrier is the cost. Installing a modern kiln would be far more efficient, but the initial price is high. Without funding avenues such as microfinance loans and reasonable repayments, people such as Upali simply don’t have the savings to make the investment.

    Read more about Practical Action’s work to tackle energy poverty here: https://practicalaction.org/energy-poverty. Upali is exactly who could benefit from increased knowledge, skills, financing and political commitment to energy, so that he can access clean, efficient and sustainable energy that will benefit both his health and his pocket. I was in Sri Lanka as part of the PISCES project, which is generating new research on sustainable and affordable bioenergy use, and is working to influence policy change in East Africa and South Asia, visit www.pisces.or.ke.

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  • Jargon busting! How do you communicate research?

    October 11th, 2011

    For development practitioners, words and phrases like ‘value chains’, ‘bioenergy’, ‘gender and equity’ roll off the tongue, but for a lot of us it is not always clear what is meant by them. As I discussed in my last blog post, one of the challenges of working on the PISCES project is trying to reach (and interest) wider audiences when you are dealing with jargon.

    One of the themes of the PISCES project is to ‘strengthen capacity’, which is really about working with individuals or groups to build their skills and knowledge in bioenergy (energy from biomass: think wood and charcoal). Through our partners at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Dar es Salaam, Masters and PhD students research a number of technical and social issues relating to bioenergy. You might call this ‘Training tomorrow’s bioenergy leaders’.

    In early August I spent a few days up in rainy Edinburgh listening to some fantastic student presentations on PISCES and PISCES-related project. Their Powerpoint presentations, with some audio attached, can be viewed here. Whilst these are excellent presentations, I am always aware that these might not be the best way to engage people who don’t know a lot about the topic.

    I don’t know about you, but with an arts and social science background, Powerpoint does not scream ACCESSIBLE to me! So I also worked with a smaller number of students to create some digital slideshows and podcasts. Below is one I made with Alannah Delahunty, and her research on ‘Gender in the Charcoal Value Chain in Western Kenya’.

    Take a look at the 5-minute slideshow and let me know what you think: is this a good way of introducing people to a topic? Have you learnt anything new?

    For more in-depth publications from PISCES and our international research on bioenergy, visit www.pisces.or.ke

    This also ties in with Practical Action’s work on market mapping.

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  • PISCES project – A red herring?

    June 29th, 2011

    A key project I am working on in my new role of Project Communications Assistant at Practical Action is the PISCES project, of which Practical Action Consulting UK, Sri Lanka and East Africa are all consortium members.

    Naturally after my first few days at work, I had a chat with my Mum. It went something like this:

    Mum: So, what are you doing at work?

    Me: Well I am developing communications for the PISCES project

    Mum: Oh, right. So is it to do with fish?

    Me: No it isn’t actually; the acronym is a bit of a red herring (Sorry). It actually stands for ‘Policy Innovation Systems for Clean Energy Security’

    Mum: Erm…OK. So what’s that then?

    Me: The tagline is “New Knowledge for Sustainable Bioenergy.” Does that help?

    Mum: Ah yes, that helps. Wait, no, on second thoughts, it doesn’t help me much.

    And that reaction is understandable, because unless you work in Policy Innovation Systems for Clean Energy Security yourself, you might argue that this name isn’t exactly crystal clear.

    So it’s become obvious to me that I need to do something very important: be able to describe PISCES to my Mum in a couple of sentences. This will obviously be a work in progress as I talk about the project more, but here’s a first stab at it- I’ll run it past my Mum and let you know what she thinks:

    ‘Through research in East Africa and South Asia, the PISCES project is developing new ideas on bioenergy (energy from biomass) that can influence national policies and ultimately improve energy access and livelihoods in poor communities. This is critical because bioenergy, in particular wood and charcoal, is relied upon by 2.5 billion of the world’s poorest women, children and men for their basic energy needs everyday.’

    I would love to know what you think too, so please visit the website and let me know.

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