Rachel Berger

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Climate change adviser, Practical Action

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

Posts by Rachel

  • I enjoyed No Tech Day

    Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK, Bradford-on-Avon
    March 30th, 2010

    I really enjoyed my no-tech – low electricity day! I guess I found it easy because I don’t have too many electronic gadgets to do without, and I never watch TV. I warned my family that I wouldn’t be accessible by phone on Saturday. To make my life a bit more challenging, I thought I would try to manage without electricity as well. So when I went to boil the water for tea, I used the gas cooker. (Cheating, really, because it has an electronic ignition.) But after I boiled two saucepans dry, because I got sidetracked, I realised I was rapidly exceeding my carbon footprint, and went back to the electric kettle.

    Apart from that, I made one landline call – to resolve something I didn’t want to wait till Monday for. And I did use the washing machine – which I guess I could have waited one day to day.

    So I spent a pleasant day in the garden, socialising with my neighbours (we live in an apartment of a shared house with 5 other families, so no need to travel to see people), with just a spade and fork for technology.

    I had intended to do without electric lights, since it was WWF’s Earth Hour from 8.30-9.30. But I forgot to cook supper early enough, and had to have lights on in the kitchen. I ate my meal by candlelight, then read a book until the end of Earth Hour at 9.30. 

    What did I miss most? Listening to music in the evening, and calling up friends.

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  • Influencing government policies on climate change adaptation

    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Dar es Salaam
    February 26th, 2010

    This is the fifth full day of the conference on Community Based Adaptation in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and my head is full of the experiences that people have presented, and of the plans people have developed in small groups meeting late at night or over breakfast for working together on particular topics. I have agreed to coordinate a group looking at how to ensure that right from the local level, people whose livelihoods are being affected by climate change can be involved in decision making and budget allocation on adaptation. My colleagues are also getting involved – several of them in a group on sharing knowledge about technologies that help people adapt.

    All five of us from Practical Action have now given presentations to the conference. Mohamed Siddig from Sudan, the only delegate from his country, gave a really brilliant talk this morning on our work under the Greening Darfur programme, showing how even with very low rainfall, people can have successful harvests and trees can thrive.

    It is not often that field-based staff get the opportunity to travel internationally to meet colleagues doing similar work, and over lunch today it was great to hear my colleagues talking about information they plan to share. Besides our work at the local level, it is clear that in several countries we are having significant influence and involvement in government planning for coping with climate change.
    This is so important, because ultimately if people are to adapt successfully to living with climate change, it will have to be government policies and planning that enable this to happen.

    The conference will conclude tomorrow morning with a clear plan for the next steps on community level adaptation; this plan will be developed over dinner and later tonight by a small group including myself, based on ideas which many people have put forward. After that – it is back to work, and remembering to keep up the contacts and learning!

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  • The conference begins

    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Dar es Salaam
    February 24th, 2010

    Rachel Berger, Practical Action, addresses the conference on governance and community-based adaptation to climate change. Photo: Tallash Kantai/IISDToday the conference sessions began. After initial welcome speeches, I was the first presenter, on the issue of how to ensure that governments plan adaptation with, and for the benefit of, their most vulnerable communities. Other presenters in the session spoke on linked aspects of the institutions necessary to enable adaptation, and how to involve communities. It seemed to go down very well, and I have been asked to chair a discussion group with people who want to discuss the theme further.

    In the afternoon, Bhatiya presented on experience in Sri Lanka in implementing a process of community planning, in a session on linking community based work with policy making, and he described how the successful experience of a couple of programmes of work have led to policy change in Sri Lanka, and even modification of the recently amended Disaster Management Act.

    One of the great benefits of these conferences is the opportunity in coffee and meal breaks to talk to people about their work, and to share experiences. One of the people I met works on advocacy for equitable access to water in Tanzania – Water Witness International. Building people’s capacity to fight for their rights for development is going to very important for adaptation, and Practical Action will benefit from building alliances with organisations that are experienced in this area.

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  • Climate change and environmental degradation

    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Dar es Salaam
    February 23rd, 2010

    We got back from our field trip by 6 – just time for a quick shower and then off to another dinner, sponsored by WWF at a rather smart hotel on the coast!

    The visit was worth the discomfort of the journeys, to see the rural landscape, and to meet the people of the coastal villages which are within the Saadani National Park – designated only a few years ago. The villagers are struggling, with changes that are attributable partly to changing climate, such as wind patterns, but probably more due to environmental degradation, such as cutting of the mangrove trees for charcoal in past decades. Loss of mangroves has led both to coastal erosion, leading to loss of people’s houses, and reduced fish catches; mangroves are the breeding grounds for prawns and many species of fish. A further major problem, whose causes are a bit harder to understand, is why the well water is now saline, rendering it far from ideal for domestic uses, and it has to be boiled for drinking – using even more fuelwood. These people were looking to government to help them – with new boats to enable them to access deep sea fish, and other options for earning a living.

    (Besides our field visit, we were lucky enough to have time for a swim, and a ‘game drive’ in our rather rickety bus, over tracks definitely more suited to 4WD vehicles than minibus. We saw giraffes, wildebeest, hartebeest, baboons and warthogs, definitely the icing on the day’s cake!)

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  • Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar

    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Dar es Salaam
    February 21st, 2010

    I travelled from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam yesterday morning early, and checked into the conference hotel – a vast place, but not that well run! Later in the day I met up with Mohamed Siddig from our field office in Darfur. Today, I went with a couple of other delegates for a day out in Zanzibar, travelling by ferry. The island has such a different feel from Tanzania – very Arab in its architecture, and though the old Stone town is run down, it is full of character. First impressions of Dar es Salaam is of greater poverty than Kenya, though people are extremely friendly and welcoming. This evening we all gathered together for the conference welcome dinner, and allocation to our different groups for the field visits that will take place over the coming 2 days. Guests included the Minister for Environment in Tanzania, Mrs Batilda Burian, and the Tanzanian climate change lead negotiator, Richard Muyungi, whom I have met a number of times at UNFCCC negotiations.

    All of us from Practical Action have arrived safely – Mohamed Siddig from Sudan, Eric Kisiangani from Kenya, Douglas Gumbo from Zimbabwe and Bhattiya Kekulandala from Sri Lanka, whom I am meeting for the first time. There are five different field visits, and we are each in a different group; I can’t believe my good fortune – I have been put in the group going to visit coastal communities within the Saadani National Park. Only downside is – it is over 4 hours drive in a minibus!

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  • Livestock farmers looking for help

    February 17th, 2010

    On our way back to Nairobi, Peter Mang’ala and I went to see officers from the Ministry of Livestock’s vector disease control unit at Kiboko.

    The team here worked with us in helping develop tsetse control systems during our project, and has remained in touch with and supportive of the communities in Kathekani. Unexpectedly, in preparation for my visit, they had prepared a concept note, to indicate what they felt the communities needed, to help them adapt to climate change. I was very impressed!

    The activities encompassed most of those that villages had requested, and were those that I would have included in an adaptation programme. The total, to help 30,000 people, according to their calculations, was around £1.2m.

    I asked whether this sum should not be available from Kenya government resources, given that a recent report has expressed commitment for helping the arid and semi arid areas, and that the government is also committed to spending 10% of its resources on agriculture. But these officers not only felt that this was impossible, but even that sending their proposal forward to senior levels would be pointless. They had hoped that I would be able to promote their idea! Unfortunately, our Kenya Office now works mainly in the even more arid northern parts of the country.

    The best I could offer was to raise the issue of resources with other Kenya government people I will be seeing, and any donors I meet next week at the conference I will be attending in Tanzania, on Community Based Adaptation.

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  • Three clear messages …

    February 16th, 2010

    There are three clear messages I am getting from all these meetings:

    • Firstly, that shortage of water is the major barrier to more productive farming. A request for boreholes, or sand dams – a very simple technology that Practical Action has used, but only in two places in Samburu – came from every group we visited. 
    • Secondly, there is no shortage of commitment to hard work and ideas for self-improvement, and clear organisational capacity. Their need was usually for some training, technical advice, and perhaps small funding for materials.
    • Thirdly, that accessing these from government is almost impossible – fees are demanded for officials to visit villages, and accessing funds supposedly available for local projects is also impossible. This doesn’t bode well for community level adaptation in Kenya.


    Today we went to villages to the east of the main road – and in a short distance of 5 kms, it was clear this was an area with higher rainfall, and better soil: the vegetation and crops were green, and tall growing. Earth bunds have been constructed, which are an effective way of ensuring scarce rain nourishes crops for longer. Nora’s crops were doing noticeably better than her neighbours.

    Despite this, the messages were similar – no shortage of ideas, but people who cannot save (especially after a 4 year drought has killed their cattle and destroyed their harvests) do need resources to kick start their plans.

    After we returned at dusk, we had a final discussion on the network’s plans for the future. It has been difficult meeting so many people, hearing their quite modest demands, and having nothing to offer them. I have gone to gather information, and since Practical Action no longer works in this part of Kenya, I can make no promises of any kind of support, other than some contacts, and some technical information.

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  • Visits to lots of farmers

    February 15th, 2010

    An amazingly rich day, but tiring!

    We arrived to watch the spraying against tsetse fly before the farmers! Our project had trained people to control the tsetse fly, which leads to serious illness in livestock and humans, using simple traps that can be home made, and a cheaply available chemical. I heard how trapping was no longer enough, since during the drought, the only grazing available was in the nearby Tsavo National Park, where there are no traps, and tsetse is endemic among the wild animals. (Grazing in the Park is illegal, but the Kenya Wildlife Service turned a blind eye given the desperate situation in the country.)

    We then visited a fairly wealthy woman farmer -she employs 19 people on her farm. She is not someone we included in our project, but she is an innovative farmer, willing and able to try new technologies, who then host visits of farmers who come to learn. She has built many earth terraces to capture the scarce rainwater; besides the usual maize, she is growing a variety of sorghum which does well in drought, and finds a ready market with the Nairobi based breweries.

    We then visited another community outside the project area, to meet a women’s group and their seed bank, constructed by a German NGO. Sadly, it was empty: built to store different varieties of seed for future planting seasons, four dry years meant that there had been no harvest from which to select the best seeds.

    By this time, it was lunchtime. As part of my information gathering, I asked each group what assets they had for farming – livestock and land – and whether they felt they were doing well, OK, or badly. This group was clearly quite poor; I asked how many meals they typically ate – 1 or 2 (people here rarely have 3.) They told me they have only one, in the evening so that their children can share it. I was shocked at the idea of them working all day on no food, so I asked surely they had at least some milky tea? No, they said, just water. I ignored my hunger pangs from then on.

    Our next stop was the seed bank that Practical Action helped finance in 2005 for Kathekani. This was empty too, for the same reasons as the first one, but it was good to meet people who had benefited from our work, and were still using the technologies they had learned. We finally returned for lunch at 3.30! We set off again straight after, to visit another community group. This one was very well organised, and included people with significant resources and education. They had received no project support, but were very innovative and resourceful – though some of their ideas had failed for a lack of appropriate technical advice.

    Two more villages to visit, before we finally got back close to 7 o’clock. A brief meeting to plan the following day, before we separated for the night.

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  • Travels to the drylands of Kenya’s Eastern Province

    February 14th, 2010

    Gideon, the office driver who is accompanying me to the villages, collected me at 9. The roads were lovely and quiet, compared with the weekday. Our destination is situated very close to the Main Highway to Mombasa, and the quality of the road was really good – unlike my visit nearly 5 years ago, when there were dreadful potholes which made the journey uncomfortable and hazardous.

    We arrived around 1pm, we met with Peter Mang’ala, one of the community organisation’s leaders, and I was dropped at my guesthouse – a church run place, used by NGO visitors. There wasn’t another room for Gideon, so he stayed near Peter’s home. I last met Peter at the UN climate conference in Nairobi in 2006, when he gave a presentation at a side event I organised, talking about how climate change was affecting communities in Kenya.

    After lunch at Peter’s home, we met with the chair and vice chair of the Mungano community Development Organisation, a network of community groups, to discuss what I was hoping to see and learn, and plan the meetings for the next 3 days.

    Then after supper , again with Peter’s family, time for an early night – we were to set off by 6.30, so that we could see livestock being sprayed by one of the community groups in Kathekani, the areas where Practical Action ran its Marginal Farmers’ Project, which ended in 2002.

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  • Greetings from Kenya

    February 12th, 2010

    Hi, I’m Rachel Berger, climate change policy adviser with Practical Action’s head office.

    I am on an eight-day visit to Kenya, before going on to a conference in Tanzania. I have come here to talk to colleagues and Kenyan government about how to respond to climate change impacts in Kenya.

    After a frustrating day long delay due to a fault on the Kenyan Airways plane, (this meant I missed a key meeting with senior government climate change experts) I am off to a village in the semi-arid area, called Kathekani.

    Practical Action ran a 5 year long programme here, ending around 2002, to help people cope with drought by improving their farming methods. I want to talk to people to see whether the technologies and practices that were introduced are still working for them, and whether they are adapting to the changing climate.

    I am going with Gideon, one of the office drivers, and we will be helped by Peter Mang’ala, a village leader who runs a local development organisation set up by the community at the end of our project.  I will report back in a few days.

    On Friday I had lunch with Emily Massawa, formerly the Kenyan head of climate change negotiations, who now works with the UN Environment Programme, which is based in Nairobi.

    We had a frank discussion about the problems of the climate change negotiations, and the outlook for Kenya being able to obtain funds for supporting communities in adapting to climate change. Not enough funds are available yet, and accessing them is not going to be easy! the need among vulnerable countries is so great, and developed countries have been very slow to offer funding.

    It is still not clear if the $20bn promised over 3 years in the Copenhagen Accord will actually be new money – or just existing aid money, moved to climate change adaptation from other important sectors like health and education. But now, I must pack my bag ready to go to the field!

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