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  • Learning from failure: the untold story


    May 21st, 2019

    Absorbing failure and learning from it is not always easy. Building on failure is even more challenging and requires great strength of character. This Practical Action story has remained untold for a decade because looking at failure positively is not something we typically do.

    I’m taking this opportunity of sharing our faecal sludge management (FSM) journey – a story of how failure made us rethink a problem and develop a more ingenious solution that put addressing people’s fears and concerns at the centre. It took failure to make us see this. But from this small pilot project that failed, big transformational change is happening.

    Open defecation in Bangladesh has rapidly reduced over a decade and a half. A sanitation movement took place in Bangladesh where national Government and local Government Institutes, I/NGOs, the private sector and most importantly communities, participated with joint ownership. This social mobilisation resulted in the installation of millions of toilets, reducing open defecation. But we didn’t think much about faecal waste management. This resulted in another development challenge. Hence, the second generation sanitation problem evolved as ‘faecal sludge management’.

    In Bangladesh around 24 metric tons of faecal waste is generated every day in urban areas where two types of sanitation system exist. One is the ‘off-site’ system – a conventional sewerage network with a treatment facility. There is only one such system in Bangladesh situated in the outskirts of Dhaka city, in Pagla, which covers roughly a quarter of Dhaka city. The rest of Dhaka city and the urban areas of the entire country have on-site systems. These mostly consist of septic tanks with or without soak wells and pits connected to individual or community managed toilets. With the exception of a few municipalities, there are no treatment facilities. This poses a threat because of the increasing volume of faecal waste. Only around 7% of the total faecal waste is treated at Pagla treatment plant and the small number of FSM plants established very recently in a few municipalities.

    Usually septic tanks/pits are emptied manually using buckets and ropes. This is discharged into a nearby open drain manually in an unhygienic and primitive way. Sadly, in many cases the outlets of the septic tanks or toilets are connected to nearby public drains or storm sewers and remain out of sight as an invisible problem. This is a much less discussed issue and people often do not know where their sludge is going and the impact it has. The occasional spell of consciousness strikes when this invisible problem becomes visible by creating nuisance due to overflowing septic tanks.

    The first FSM plant in Faridpur

    Practical Action had long been active in the sanitation sector and was concerned about the potential threats of environmental pollution and public hazard of faecal sludge. To address the issue, Practical Action piloted the first ever FSM plant at Faridpur in Bangladesh back in 2008.

    When it started operation, it was soon realised that the elevation was too high and it was too difficult to lift the sludge. To correct that technical glitch an approach road with a ramp was planned to make the operation easier.  We continued to monitor the performance of the plant.

    Sadly, Practical Action had to shut down this plant not due to any technical fault but because of protests from the community. People were under the impression that the place would smell bad and that the value of their land, property and rent would depreciate due to the placement of such a plant. The issue reached such heights that it went as far as the then Minister and the plant had to be shut down within 7 days of operation.

    Participatory approach is key

    We realised that our site selection was not done with proper consultation with the community.  We really didn’t try to understand the socio-political implications of this plant and the concerns of the people. We did not make adequate effort for local and political buy-in as we had underestimated the significance of community engagement.

    In our professional life, in many cases, we often design projects considering the ideal scenario. Often people’s views, needs, expectations even emotions are ignored. We tend to go to them with prescribed solutions assuming ‘our thoughts’ are ‘their thoughts’ or even superior. We remain more accountable to ‘donors’ than ‘communities’ who should be the central attention of our work.

    Faridpur gets its FSM plant

    Learning from this failure, our subsequent approach became more participatory, inclusive and engaging. Eventually, after negotiations with the municipality, the Mayor of Faridpur was kind enough to allocate another tiny piece of land. But by the time we acquired the new land, the project period was almost over and the money had been depleted. With the remaining money, more research was initiated to sustain our FSM initiative in a consortium with WaterAid. Practical Action regained its strength after a successful demonstration of FSM.  Then following a global bidding process, we won a project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to provide city-wide FSM services to the citizens of Faridpur.

    It is nine years since the construction of the first plant and Practical Action has now successfully established a large scale FSM plant in the same city- Faridpur. The new plant started operation in 2017 offering citywide services. Practical Action gave the utmost importance to the citizens and rolled out a city wide communication campaign to convince all segments of the local population. It ensured adequate political buy-in and local engagement where citizens and authorities were brought under the same platform to make them mutually accountable.

    Don’t underestimate the strength of the community

    So this is what we learned from our failure: the strength of community is enormous, and that community is the key. If the planning is not done with proper community engagement, no intervention can be sustainable. Political will is essentially very important. Without political and local buy-in working in municipalities is not sustainable. The failure which remained as a monument, in reality added a star in our learning curve, giving us the strength not to give up but to build on failure.

    We need to accept that in our work failures may come and albeit not-so-desirable, we should harness their hidden benefits.

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  • Bridging the sustainable energy gap for smallholders in West Africa


    May 8th, 2019

    In West Africa, demand for food and processed food is increasing mainly due to demographic pressure  while smallholder farmers and processors face difficulties to respond to this demand. Producing and processing more could be facilitated thanks to sustainable and affordable energy.

    However, access to energy is still limited in West Africa, in particular in rural areas, where 9 out of 15 countries have rural electrification rates below 19% and policies for energy access are focused on the satisfaction of the household (domestic) demand. There is a gap in covering specific energy needs for agricultural value chains. To address this challenge, Practical Action through the project “Renewable Energy for Agricultural Livelihoods in West Africa – REAL” is engaging stakeholders for a nexus thinking to lift barriers that hinder access to adequate affordable and sustainable energy services that can be used for agricultural productive uses.
    (more…)

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  • Fashion comes at a price


    May 7th, 2019

    The impact of the fashion industry on water resources in Bangladesh

    Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporting country in the world. Around 80% of the country’s earnings come from the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector, which contributes 16% to the country’s GDP. A total of 4.4 million people work directly in the fashion industry, providing support to more than 40 million indirectly for their livelihood.

    The concentration of the fashion industries is high around the river banks surrounding Dhaka due to easy access to the capital city via waterways and the availability of essential amenities. Industries generate significant amount of wastewater and discharge them into the surface water without proper treatment, polluting the river eco-system. The effluent contains pollutants including salts, dyes and bleaches, heavy metals, chromium etc. Over the last twenty years, surface water quality in and around Dhaka has significantly deteriorated due to unregulated industrial expansion. Water pollution is creating stress in domestic water use as well.

    According to the ranking of National Water Security Index, Bangladesh stands at the 5th lowest. The major reason for that is the deterioration of water quality in rivers and waterbodies due to the discharge of inadequately treated industrial wastewater, unregulated groundwater abstraction and saline  intrusion.

    Photo by Sarah Beckhoff

    An analysis of industrial water use in Bangladesh in 2015, showed that a total of 11,000 industries are operating currently in Bangladesh, of which more than half originate from the fashion industries. Typically, water for industrial use mostly comes from groundwater abstraction. The result of unregulated groundwater abstraction is causing the depletion of groundwater aquifers. With the growth of fashion industries, the demand for water is also increasing. In 2014, estimated water demand was around 4,000 million litres a day. This will increase by 250% by 2030, of which 98% is expected to come from groundwater. Average groundwater depletion in Dhaka city is 3m/year and at some places it led to a ‘water mining situation’, which means water will not be replenished in the aquifer for hundreds of years. Unregulated water abstraction may cause irreversible damage in different parts of the country.

    The fashion industry creates livelihood opportunities for millions of people but at the same time, these industries are polluting natural resources – water in particular. We simply cannot ignore the significant financial contributions of the industry and its influence on the socio-economic dynamics of the country. The question now is how to strike a balance between the positive and negative impacts. The easiest solution could be understanding the causes of pollution and minimizing the impacts on the environment and people.

    Minimizing water use

    There are water-efficient technologies and products which can minimize water use. We need to invest more on research and development. With the forecast increase in the need of water for industry, we need to plan ahead the investment required for future water security towards saving the environment. Often effluent treatment plants are too complicated and expensive. Context specific effluent treatment systems could be designed and operated to suit local conditions. We can promote the reuse and recycling of water and wastewater from the fashion industry. A simple example could be harvesting rainwater and recycling water within industry premises.

    Tackling plastic pollution

    Another issue is that packaging plastic impedes the natural flow of water and aggravates water pollution. The time has come to handle plastic pollution globally. We need to find alternatives but more importantly we need to consciously recycle plastic products now. Technologies are available for recycling to a large extent, if not for all sorts of plastic. However, the very simple issue is that recycled plastic products are always costlier than new plastic. Therefore, to promote plastic recycling, it is essential to change the mind-set, understand the financial implications and adopt a conducive policy environment to make it happen.

    The fashion industry needs to revisit its investment paradigm and operational approach to reduce its adverse effects on the environment and become a trendsetter for the globe.

    Acknowledgement: This presentation was made on invitation from Drip by Drip  at an event FASHION FOR WATER in Berlin on the occasion of the World Water Day, 22 March 2019

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  • Better information helps build resilience that protects


    April 23rd, 2019

    Mary Allen leads Practical Action’s work on agriculture and climate resilience in West Africa.  She has lived in the region since 1986, working on natural resource management and resilience to climate change.

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    In West Africa Practical Action is helping smallholder farmers and people living in low income households, improve their management of and resilience to climate-related risks such as drought and floods, through access to information and adapted knowledge services.

    In 2015 we co-founded the social enterprise Jokalante, whose name means ‘dialogue’ in the Wolof language. It is delivering a range of innovative ICT-enabled services to support uptake of emerging agricultural technologies.

    Four years on, by combining local language radio broadcasts and mobiles phones, Jokalante can reach 600,000 producers across Senegal.  It offers its business, development and government clients a powerful set of tools to engage with men and women living in rural communities, collect feedback and measure levels of satisfaction.

    Jokalante began by promoting a range of locally produced, high quality seeds of staple crops such as millet, sorghum, cowpea and groundnuts. Most of these varieties have a short growing cycle, suitable for years with low rainfall. Their use, alongside existing long season varieties can help farmers to be more resilient to the increasingly variable and unreliable rains in the Sahel. To further strengthen resilience, Jokalante added advice on using organic matter to improve soil fertility, to the promotional campaign for high quality seeds.

    Targeted weather forecasting

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    Practical Action also works to build resilience to climate risks through access to improved information on weather and climate. Many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa face barriers of illiteracy, language and connectivity. This restricts their access to services based on text messages or smartphones. In Senegal, Jokalante is working with the national meteorological service to develop a sustainable business model for sending weather advisories to farmers and fishers, as voice messages recorded in the recipients’ preferred local language.

    Finding out how to increase effectiveness

    But improving access is only part of the solution. This information needs to be delivered to farmers in a way that improves their productivity, reduces risk or enhances resilience to climate shocks and stresses. We are using a systems approach based on the idea that everyone involved in the system works together to map the system and analyse how it works.  This will help identify possible changes to make, individually or collectively, to improve the flow of information and how it is used.

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    It will take into account all the various factors that may affect the effectiveness of the service including advisory services, social norms and institutional arrangements.

    In Niger and Senegal, participants in pilot studies identified ways to improve men and women’s access to and use of climate information services, forged new partnerships to deliver them and identified locally-driven solutions. The approach has also been useful for designing a new system and a step by step methodology guide is available here on Climatelinks.

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    This initiative in West Africa is part of a wider body of work on the subject around the world, including climate information in Bangladesh 

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  • A warm and thoughtful breakfast with the WASH ladies!


    April 12th, 2019

    I never thought that I would so enjoy such a charming breakfast and chit-chat with women from different corners of the world at the ‘Citywide Inclusive Sanitation Principles’ workshop in Khulna, Bangladesh. That morning, 2nd April took me by surprise! I met more than twenty beautiful faces working for the WASH sector in different capacities and roles who joined the conversation, bringing a wealth of thoughts and courage, breaking the silence.

    The conversation began with Alyse from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She introduced herself by saying how everyone had childhood dreams and over the years discovered themselves  as a grown up women in diverse roles. I had no idea that the conversation would be so interesting. A range of inspiring characters appeared, including the world class political leader who influenced the idiom – the sky’s the limit!

    Many women referred to their father as their dream icon. As an engineer, a quick mental calculation told me that around 40% mentioned that they wanted to be like their ‘fathers’. They portrayed their fathers as independent individuals, change makers, decision makers, or charismatic characters from their own perspectives and context, explaining why they wanted to follow their footsteps.

    I was surprised not to hear a single story from a woman wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps and asked myself why. Perhaps the traditional role of a mother doesn’t appeal to us – to be a blind follower rather than the glorious ‘father figure’, perhaps we were more attracted  to be an ‘achiever’ in our life.  This is just my assumption, I really don’t have the answer.

    Their enlightening stories continued, reflecting their lifestyle and work and I was mesmerised listening to them. They shared their aspirations and experiences along with their learning curves. The journey of one woman really touched me. She became a councillor, and as the wife of an official of the same municipality, overcame stereotyping and social stigma.

    Equal sharing of inherited property emerged as one of the critical issues for women’s empowerment, coupled with the state’s role in it. No one raised issues such as excessive workload, the capacity gap, extra support required to perform better and there were literally no complaints or frustrations. I personally knew that at least three of the participants are single mothers as well as performing very well in their professional and personal life. It made me proud seeing that all are making ‘efforts’ in a real sense, not ‘excuses’.

    While witnessing the inspiring stories, I recalled the time back in 1998 when I joined ITN-BUET as a Technology Specialist. At that time, the engineering curriculum contained neither low-cost water supply and sanitation technology nor gender aspects. The first formal effort was made in the book, “Water Supply & Sanitation Rural and Low Income Urban Communities” by Professor Feroze Ahmed and Prof Mujibur Rahman.  They introduced a light touch on gender awareness in Chapter 4 with deliberate effort, and with support from a Dutch woman, Ineka Vann Hoff from IHE Delft. I’m indebted to her for landing the first blow of gender thoughts on me.

    I have been working in the WASH sector for over twenty years. I have found myself talking about sh*t in front of hundreds of men, with a feeling of isolation on many occasions for many years. This scenario has changed over the years. Women everywhere are taking over leadership positions, even though globally amongst the total number of WASH professionals they don’t exceed 10% yet. We should encourage more girls in this sector and at the same time, girls should be able to carve their own way to create a brighter future, utilising the available opportunities to the full. Conscious efforts to raise voices and bring thoughtful arguments, take challenges and use opportunities for professional engagement will definitely take a girl in the right direction.

    I have one wish at the end! Maybe twenty years down the line, at another breakfast meeting, people will be stating their dream personalities to be their brave mother, sister or mentor from the WASH sector, the real trendsetters of the globe.

    With acknowledgments to SNV, Practical Action, ITN-BUET and BMGF

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  • What do Flood Resilience and Nepalese Thali have in common?

    After four years as a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (“the Alliance”), I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of our work in West Nepal. Practical Action and our local partner, CSDR, have been working for 5 years to support communities to become more resilient to the river Karnali’s floods.

    Improving flood resilience is a multi-faceted objective, which involves making the link between development and disaster risk reduction. The definition of flood resilience used by the Alliance recognizes this transversality: resilience is “the ability of a system, community or society to pursue its social, ecological and economic development objectives, while managing its disaster risk over time in a mutually reinforcing way” (Keating et al., 2017).

    To grasp better the variety of issues that flood resilience embraces, the Alliance has developed a conceptual framework called the 5C-4R: 5 “Capitals” (Human, Social, Physical, Natural and Financial) and 4 “R” (Robustness, Redundancy, Resourcefulness and Rapidity), based on the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) that was adopted by the UK’s DFID and the properties of a resilient system developed at MCEER at the University of Buffalo.

    After a one-hour flight from Kathmandu, a three hours’ drive and a delicious Nepalese Thali Set, a dish that accompanied me all along my time in Nepal, I started a three days visit to flood-prone communities where we implemented interventions to strengthen their resilience to floods. The field visit gave me an outlook of concrete actions related to some of the flood resilience properties described in the 5C-4R framework:

    – Banana is a crop that resist to minor floods and as such, is an example of increasing Robustness to withstand floods. Training 25 farmers, who then get organized to sell their banana products together, is a good example of improved Human and Social capital. Learn more about banana farming in flood deposited sandy oil in our Technical Brief.

     

     

    – Community shelters give villagers a Rapid way to safeguard goods and assets in case of floods, increasing thus the Physical capital of households. When there is no floods, these shelters are used for other tasks such as community meetings, adult education, and vegetable collection center. As such, there are an example of Resourcefulness, and a mean to strengthen Human and Social Capital.

     

     

     

    – When poor farmers with reduced lands are trained to grow mushroom in small huts, they improve their Financial capital, as they generate extra resources that can help them to cope with negative impacts of floods. They also improve their Redundancy, as they do no longer depend on a single source of income (for more information on Indoor Oyster Mushroom farming, you can download this Technical brief).

     

    After meeting such resilient people in Lower Karnali came the time to go back to the capital. But I would not leave without eating a last Nepalese Thali Set. And I started thinking on what the communities I met have in common with this delightful Nepalese dish. I realized that they share similar resilience properties:  Nepalese Thali Sets are usually served Rapidly, they provide different types of calories to make Redundancy a reality while the limitless refills definitely make you Robust. And Thalis always managed to balance flavours in a very resourceful way!

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  • What if the ‘last mile’ was our first priority?


    March 13th, 2019

    Empowering women in the energy access sector is a no brainer. Including the perspectives and skillsets of over 50% of the population is not just the right thing to do, it benefits businesses materially and financially – as Value4Women and Shell and BURN Manufacturing demonstrate. Given this win-win situation, why are some people still not convinced?

    Pushing for progress

    63rd Commission on the Status of Women logo

    CSW63 is taking place from 11 to 22 March 2019 at the United Nations in New York.

    At the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this week I heard that just 18% of Asian Development Bank investments/programmes have a gender equality component compared to 79% for the WASH sector, which is ‘better suited’ to gender mainstreaming. Given energy’s role in enabling health, education and productive and social development, surely we should all be doing better than 18% by now…

    SDG7 and SDG5 are mutually reinforcing

    Our work with energy-poor communities shows that gender equality and universal energy access are mutually reinforcing. When women participate meaningfully in energy access markets, they enjoy wider empowerment outcomes (i.e. improved intra-household power dynamics), and energy access is increased – including in ‘last mile’ communities living beyond the reach of the grid and outside the conscience of most decision-makers.

    But we also know it’s tough for women to thrive as energy consumers and entrepreneurs. As our Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2017 explores, women’s lack of access to appropriate finance, particularly when it comes to scaling their energy enterprises, is a huge challenge. In each and every session I have attended this year at CSW, the ‘access to finance issue’ has come up – across sectors and geographies – and I can’t help but feel like gender inequality will remain out of reach if we don’t crack this. Other challenges to women’s participation in energy access markets include reduced mobility due to family responsibilities; little knowledge of core business skills; and low self-belief.

    North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project

    In the North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project local Women’s Development Associations help provide finance for energy-poor households to cook more cleanly and safely.

    What are we doing to enable women energy entrepreneurs?

    We’ve teamed up with women across different energy access value chains in Kenya and Sudan, to build their capacities in business, computer and financial management skills, while also providing professional and personal mentorship to help build their confidence as valuable stakeholders. Crucially, we’ve done this in partnership with the private and public sectors to develop their understanding and activities around women entrepreneurs’ needs and contributions; and advocated for local and national stakeholders to proactively mainstream gender throughout energy policy, planning and delivery.

    It’s not rocket science!

    This is about creating systems and processes that proactively include people who are traditionally overlooked, at all stages of the project cycle: from design to evaluation. It’s at the heart of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2018, which explores how to deliver energy access at scale while also leaving no one behind. In fact, it’s a thread running throughout our work at Practical Action – in our Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) programme and the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), which provides support to last-mile distributors in the energy access (and other) sector. Taking an inclusive lens to energy access is not rocket science – but it IS the difference between catalyzing progress and stifling development.

     

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  • Ingenious water and waste solutions changing lives


    March 6th, 2019

    On Friday, the world is celebrating International Women’s Day. People around the world will be celebrating women’s achievements whilst calling for a more gender-balanced world.

    For Practical Action, the day is particularly important. We work with women around the world – helping them find solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems, made worse by persistent gender inequality. We do this by putting ingenious ideas to work so people in poverty can change their world.

    A good example of our ingenious approach to problem solving is the work we do with communities in Choudwar. Choudwar is a busy city in India where a lack of clean water services and inadequate and unsafe sewage management puts lives at risk on a day-to-day basis. Most of the slums don’t have proper toilets. Waste is dumped in local rivers, polluting the water sources.

    We visited one of the slums in Choudwar to understand how difficult it is for people to live under these conditions. During our visit, we met Kamala. She is 75 and lives with her five sons, their wives and children. Her community does not have access to clean water, sanitation or waste management services. People have to go to open fields nearby to relieve themselves and there’s no one to take care of the human waste afterwards.

    As you can imagine, living without a proper toilet and sanitation services is particularly challenging for older women like Kamala. She says: “Different seasons come with different problems. Monsoons are treacherous. The field is slippery. We have to carry water with us all that distance. My legs start to hurt half the way.”

    Practical Action challenges the idea that poor people should have to live in squalor and want to make cities healthier, fairer places for people to live and work. We are working with communities, municipalities and utility companies to deliver sustainable sanitation, water and waste management services. This ingenious combination of different solutions is going to change cities for good and transform the lives of women like Kamala.

    Kamala says, “The new toilets that are being built have given hope to my old and broken bones.”

     

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  • Striding Ahead – The Story of How the Livestock Business Centre is Changing Lives


    February 26th, 2019

    Livestock as an important segment of the agricultural sector of Bangladesh has seen an exponentially growing demand. Its prospects as a driver of substantial and sustainable socio-economic change are very promising, however, there remains a lot of room for improvement. There has been a dearth of knowledge with regard to the livestock sector, leading to unaddressed gaps. There is a lack of service and quality inputs for the rural farmers, affordable distribution network and absence of private companies’ business hubs in the community level. That is where the Livestock Business Centre (LBC) comes in. The LBC performs a facilitative role, with the underlying objective of working towards benefitting the rural poor farmers. It has been designed to address all the unmet knowledge needs of the farmers, with a goal of commercialization of rural livestock products and relevant services and inputs. It also ensures affordable output supply for the rural poor farmers, which is contributing to market access and income increase of the rural producers, value chain actors and other market players.

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC), in collaboration with a microfinance institute (MFI) established the Livestock Business Centre in Faridpur Sadr, which is an independent rural enterprise providing one-stop solution to farmers, with the vision of establishing a viable business model for products and services surrounding and including rural livestock products. This business aims towards a multi-pronged benefit approach for the producer community, for the traders as well as for the consumers. The objective of this project is to improve the supply chain by establishing rural business centre and distributions network and farmer groups and market-led production systems. 

    Many have made remarkable strides ahead benefiting from LBC. Stories of some have been brought to light.

    Sharifa Syed was a member of the Asha Committee when she heard about the Livestock Business Centre. She heard about the benefits of LBC and realized it was here to help. Inherently, she would face difficulty availing medical services for her cows. Quality feed was not readily available. Since LBC seemed like a welcome solution, she expressed her interest in availing the services of LBC. She first took a loan and bought one cow. Then she bought another a few months later. She then sold both the cows for a significant profit. After that, she never had to look back. She then repaid her loan to LBC and bought land with the rest of the money. She cultivated all sorts of vegetables, starting from cucumber, eggplant, gourd to onion, chili etc and made a huge profit from there as well. She invested some of her profit on renovating her house and the rest on her children’s education and household expenses. Riding on her initial success, she continued taking loans from LBC. She started from scratch and achieved resilience leveraging on the benefits of LBC. She now keeps busy all day tending her cows or working in the field. She boasted that her husband consults her for every major decision and her standing in her family and the society at large, has been cemented.

    Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have always been each other’s support throughout. They have been in the cattle rearing business for very long. When they first heard about the services LBC provided, they realized it tapped into a lot of their problem areas. They inherently faced some issues, particularly availing medical services for their cows. The local veterinary professional would not always be within reach. Additionally, availing medical services was a costly affair. It costed them BDT. 1000 to BDT. 1200, often as high as BDT. 2000. With LBC, medical services were now within their grasp, with just a phone call, and at zero costs. Things have become a lot easier for them since LBC happened. They collectively made the highest profit margin they ever made. In a very calculative move, they invested the profit in buying land and a trailer for cultivation, which led to greater profits for them. They can now support their children and cater to their needs with this safety net in place. The couple also hosts the LBC collection meeting in their courtyard, where all the cow rearers socialize, apart from talking about business. Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have set a wonderful example of how two partners have crafted a better life for themselves systematically, taking assistance from LBC.

    Afzal Hossain reaped the benefits of the LBC to the fullest with this timely planning. He sold the cow that he bought for a very lucrative profit for Eid, just a few months ago. He then systematically invested his profit to achieve a greater level of financial stability. He bought land with this profit and is looking to cultivate onions, which is particularly profitable in this time of the year. He estimates to earn an aggregate return of BDT. 4 lac through his clever investments, multiplying his initial investment by manifolds. He believes this was only possible because he had LBC’s support. LBC has made things a lot simpler for him. With living expenses increasing every day, he was having a hard time making ends meet with the profits he was making earlier. An underlying issue he had been facing was availing medical services for his cows. Not only would it be difficult to manage veterinary services, but it was also costly. The fee would range from BDT. 1500 to BDT. 2000. For cow rearers like Afzal, this kind of cash was not always readily available. If the fee of the vets was not ensured, they simply would not come, leading to catastrophic ramifications for the cow rearers. But Afzal feels the vets of LBC are one of their own. The vets are at his service any time the need arises, which has lifted a huge burden off his chest. With the convenience that LBC has brought, Afzal could diversify his income sources and become a more resilient individual.

    Abdul Kalam was sceptical about LBC at first but after hearing how his neighbours were benefitted through the service, he decided to try his luck. He previously had a bitter experience availing financial aid from the government microfinance scheme. The loan given then was a very meagre amount, not enough to meet his needs. Because of poor governance prevalent within the system, he also had to give away a huge portion of that loan as a bribe, ultimately not leaving enough for himself. He first took a loan from LBC and bought a cow. He then bought a second. He sold both his cows for a handsome profit, but he did not stop right there. With the huge profit he made, he cleared his loans and invested on land. He has been working relentlessly in the field to reap more profits. He was fortunate to have his wife Anowara by his side throughout. While he worked in the field, she would stay at home and tend the cows. Kalam wholeheartedly acknowledged his wife’s contribution. Leveraging on her enterprising spirit, he diversified his investment on goat, chicken, and turkey rearing. As a token of his appreciation, he made her a pair of gold earrings from the profits. Abdul Kalam and Anowara Kalam have a happy and prosperous life now. Because they are now more resilient, they hope to continue their youngest daughter’s education without restrictions. Abdul Kalam not only acknowledged his wife’s contribution, but he was equally thankful to LBC which gave him the footing to take up more ventures.

    It was evident from Naznin Akhter’s smile that things have been going in her favour. Naznin’s husband has a booming onion cultivation business, but she wanted to do something on her own and create an identity apart from her husband. Having heard about the benefits of LBC, she decided to avail the services. She bought a cow with her loan. When inspecting the feed provided by LBC, she found that it was of a much higher quality than local feed. She was also particularly impressed by the promptness of the medical services. Her effort in tending her cow yielded positive results for her, and she sold it for BDT. 3 lac 60 thousand, making a huge profit. With the additional income in hand, she was now able to contribute financially to her family as well. Some of the profit was invested in onion cultivation and the rest on her familial expenses. But Naznin made sure most of the investment went towards ensuring a better life for her daughters. Both of her daughters were students in the Faridpur Polytechnic Institute. Her oldest was receiving a degree in Civil Services and the youngest in Computer Studies. It would cost them around BDT. 6000 for their commute every month, which was now mostly covered from the profits made. Naznin wanted to set an example for her daughters, and she is proud to have done so. She believes because of the advises she received from LBC she now knows a lot more than what she had previously known. She can now transfer her knowledge and skill to her friends and acquaintances and help empower them. She is now very confident about her capabilities and is looking to buy two more cows in the coming months with support from LBC.

     

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  • Jute – the natural alternative to plastic


    February 18th, 2019

    Most families in north-west Bangladesh rely on farming small plots of land to make a living. But it’s hard to make enough and men often have to leave their families to work in cities, leaving women and children without support. Work traditionally done by women earns very low wages.

    Jute rettingJute is the second most important crop in Bangladesh after rice. The climate is ideally suited and it was once a major source of foreign exchange but lost out to artificial fabrics. As we become more aware of the environmental dangers of plastics, jute is popular once more.  In 2017 Bangladesh produced 9.2 million bales compared to only 5 million in 2016.

    Practical Action, with European Union funding, is working to address issues for farmers, processors and entrepreneurs to unlock the potential for thousands of poor jute producers to boost their incomes from the crop. Our approach combines a set of solutions that together bring about lasting change. Here are some that are reaping rewards in Bangladesh.

    jute processingImproved varieties of jute

    Nurul Haque grows rice, jute and maize on his 2.5 acres. Practical Action introduced him to a new, highly productive variety of jute called Kanaf. It grows tall, up to 16 feet, and the fibre is white, making it more valuable.

    Usually after harvesting, jute is soaked in water for a couple of weeks to make it possible to remove the fibre.  This processing is hard work and very time consuming.  We have sourced a simple machine which can strip out the jute fibre very quickly without requiring this soaking.

    For Nurul Haque using the new machine saved time and cost less.  He also has an extra 280 kg of jute to sell this year because the machine extracts the fibres more efficiently leaving less on the sticks.

    Leasing the processing machine

    The jute sector currently lacks entrepreneurs and growers are trapped at the bottom of the supply chain.  We have designed a leasing system to help people obtain the processing machines and set up businesses processing jute and other crops. Unemployed young people are being trained in metalwork skills that enable them to manufacture these locally.

    Sheuli Begum, from Bozra in Kurigram lives with her husband and two children. Her husband is a farmer. Their income from farming and selling jute fibre is inadequate and she has to borrow to support her children’s education or pay for medicines. Sheuli  struggles to repay these debts.

    It came as a pleasant surprise to her that women were getting equal access to this jute machine business opportunity. She expressed her keen interest to  join the initiative.

    After training, she leased a machine. Now she is earning 1500 taka (£14) per day with her jute extraction machine after meeting all her business expenses. She also hopes to get a better price for her jute fibre.  Full of ideas, Sheuli is looking for ways use the waste from the jute sticks. She plans to compost those to make organic fertiliser to use on their field.

    “I am a housewife and people did not encourage me to be an entrepreneur. They laughed at me. But I know, the machine has changed my way of living.” said Sheuli.

    Skills training

    Ruzina Begum, Jute projectRuzina Begum is 34 with four daughters.  Her husband is disabled so she is the family breadwinner. She used to work as a housemaid but was poorly paid and struggled to feed her family and afford her children’s educational expenses. With little education herself, Ruzina was unable to find better employment.

    When she found out about a local business employing women to make products made of jute, she was delighted.  She took the basic training and began an apprenticeship with the company Karupannya.  She was keen to prove herself and to do something for herself and her family.  Now Ruzina is able to pay her daughters’ educational expenses as well as providing proper meals. She no longer needs financial support from her neighbours. And through practise her skills are improving daily which should lead to more work.

    More than 400 women have undertaken similar training and are now working for small and medium sized enterprises creating jute products.

    The project is also supporting the production and marketing of jute products with some small and medium sized cottage industries. This has resulted in the development of new products such as sandals and yoga mats for the export market and sales are increasing.

    Limited mechanisation and a lack of skills and market knowledge inhibit development.  With the help of market development, skills training and loan systems these vulnerable communities can become more economically productive. And there are environmental benefits. Jute is environmentally friendly being both biodegradable and recyclable as well as strong and versatile. Plastic bags are banned in Bangladesh so there’s already a growing local market.

     

     

     

     

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