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  • Improving food security in Talkok


    February 16th, 2018

    Telkok is one of the most poverty stricken localities in the state of Kassala and needs a great deal of effort to build up the food security and resilience of its communities.

    clearing mesquite TalkokPractical Action and three local partners are leading a range of interventions in the area. These include limiting the spread of Mesquite trees which invade agricultural areas.

    One partner, the Elgandual network, is working to improve agricultural production and helpfarmers’ increase their income.  They held a practical demonstration on techniques for mesquite clearance, combined with skills development on mesquite charcoal production as a means of generating income. This was attended by 87 beneficiaries from four villages (Tahjer kumailab, Haladiat east, Drasta and Jabal Haboba);

    Hamed Ahmed Tahjer said:

    “The area of mesquite was increasing in the agricultural lands and we use it for firewood in the charcoal industry, to increase the income”.  

    Training in TalkokAnother partner, Sudan Vision, is working to improve access to water for agriculture and livestock. They have rehabilitated two hafirs, (reservoirs) which provide water for approximately 20,000 animals.

    The third partner, the Kassala Women’s Development Network, conducted 12 public sessions on healthy diets, targeting 800 women and 150 men in 6 communities (Drassta, Haladiat East, Twaite, Baryia, Tamay, and Jabel Haboba).  The aim was to challenge traditional diets which adversely affect women and children The sessions raised awareness about healthy nutrition in term of food diversity and food processing using video, direct dialogue, and practical training on food processing for nutrition.

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  • Managing the sanitation challenge for Rohingya refugees


    February 15th, 2018

    Nearly a million people of Rohingya community are living in the makeshift shelters in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

    Hasin Jahan, Practical Action’s country director in Bangladesh, recently visited the camp and describes her experience.

    It felt like one fine morning half a million Rohingya people just landed on the doorstep! It may be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis ever.

    It has been well managed with the government and agencies working together to provided the Rohingya communities with food, non-food items, shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

    All the greenery has disappeared from the hills around the camp. And when the monsoon season arrives, there will be the risk of flooding and landslides. But, against all odds, life goes on.

    An experience during my last visit still brings tears in my eyes. I met a woman whose husband and son were killed in front of her. When I entered her room at the shelter, I noticed that she had made a mud stove, a mortar and pestle out of rocks, and a small washing area from mud and bricks at the corner of her tiny room. She had also made an overhead shelf that had two cooking pots, her only possessions. The gravity of the situation touched me so much when I understood that she still had that desire to build a home and a family.

    Various agencies have constructed toilet facilities and drilled boreholes for drinking water to manage the immediate crisis. But it soon became obvious that the absence of proper management of toilet waste posed severe public health concerns. The toilets filled up quickly and were overflowing and contaminating  the water sources with E. coli.

    Because of our expertise in delivering faecal sludge management systems in Bangladesh, Practical Action was approached to help manage the safe disposal of this waste, in order to protect the health of these community, the environment and the quality of the water.

    It was not easy to tailor the technology, given the hilly terrain, lack of skilled labour, and space constraints due to a densely packed population. But Practical Action took up the challenge and devised portable faecal sludge management units made of steel with rainproof shed at the camps at Ukhyia.

    How does the technology work?

    The technology uses a simple upflow filtration system. The faecal sludge is collected mechanically using suction pumps

    and discharged through a series of filtration chambers to separate liquids from solids. The liquid passes through a number of filter chambers. The effluent is finally treated by a natural process in a ‘constructed wetland’ through the roots of of Canna indica plants. The solid parts are removed at a certain intervals to bury in pits with sand envelop. After a certain time, it get digested and can be used as compost.

    Another important consideration was the health and safety of the sanitation workers who clean and empty the toilets. So training and provision of safety equipment play a key part in this work.

    Need for safer energy

    There are two other ways Practical Action can help the displaced communities. In view of the danger of cooking in tents and the quantity of waste plastic lying around in the camp, we are planning to install a bio-gas cooking facility using gas extracted from the faecal sludge plants. Another facility planned is a plastic recycling unit to make toys out of waste plastic. This will not only reduce the pollution but also provide toys the children in these communities can play with.

    Further reading

    http://ibtbd.net/hasin-jahan-country-director-practical-action/

    http://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/politics-climate-change/tackling-the-environmental-challenges-coxs-bazar-1530940

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  • Bio-dykes: saving communities and instilling confidence in them


    February 14th, 2018

    As we approached Bangalipur, a closed-knit community of 135 households, dark clouds started covering the sky and a light sprinkle followed after. Enchanted by the fresh, earthy smell wafting from the gravelled road and ducks swimming in the brownish water in the canal running by the road, we thought of delving further into the rural life.

    The surrounding was verdant with freshly transplanted rice. Nearby a young man was ploughing to ready the field for rice transplantation while a group of women clad in bright colours were uprooting rice seedlings.

    Agriculture is the main occupation of people in Bangalipur.

    A man transporting the seedlings was singing a folk song from the depth of his heart. At the village outskirts, the Aurahi River, a distributary of Karnali River, had swollen to its brim. However, nobody was concerned – about the river, floods and soil erosion.

    Over the last 15 years the river eroded three bighas (2 hectares) of agriculture land owned by 10 families rendering some of them landless.

    The river used to erode 4-5 metres of land every year,” said Rongali Tharu, 70, of Madhuban Municipality-2, Phulbari, Bangalipur.

    Rongali Tharu is a witness to the soil erosion caused by Aurahi River.

    The river used to flow among those simal trees,” said Shree Ram Chaudhary, secretary of the community disaster management committee (CDMC), pointing to a row of red silk cotton trees on the opposite bank of the river. “The river would erode our fields and sweep away standing crops every year,” he said. “The river continued eroding our land for 10-15 years.

    For the communities, by the communities

    The river has shifted towards Bangalipur in the last decade and to further stop it from eroding the banks and getting closer to the village, the communities came forward to build a bio-dyke, an embankment along the banks of the river.

    The Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) formed a CDMC and supported technically and financially to build the bio-dyke.

    NFRP has supported financially and technically to build the bio-dyke.

    We worked for 25 days at a stretch to build this bio-dyke,” said Phularam Chaudhary, chairperson of the CDMC. “Two people from each household worked till we constructed 100 metres of the bio-dyke and one person from each household continued supporting the bio-dyke construction.

    Safe communities, safe crops

    The 220 m long bio-dyke has prevented the flood waters from entering the community and eroding the banks of the river. It has also saved the crops in the nearby fields from being swept away by the river.

    This year there has been no soil erosion at all,” said Rongali.

    They are planning to plant more Napier grass and bamboo on the bio-dyke. Since the area falls under the buffer zone of Bardia National Park, animals, mainly elephants from the protected area come and destroy houses and eat crops. So, they have avoided planting rattan, elephant’s preferred food according to them, although it is more beneficial, economically.

    More embankments, lesser the fear

    When we reached Budhi Kulo, the main canal irrigating lands in Rajapur, it had swollen into a wide river. I could see swathes of land being eroded slowly and slowly by the violent waves.

    The Budhi Kulo turns into a wide river during monsoons.

    Due to sand deposits, the water from the Budhi Kulo overflows into the adjacent settlement during the rainy season,” said Dinesh Chaudhary, the sub-engineer working with NFRP. “To stop the bank erosion and water from entering the village, the communities with support from Practical Action built a bio-dyke.

    The recently constructed 150 m long bio-dyke along the banks of the canal has been crucial in preventing the soil erosion and water entering the settlement at Mukta Kamaiya Tole, a village of freed bonded labourers.

    The recently built bio-dyke has stopped floods from entering into the communities.

    Looking at the new sprouts of bamboo and rattan saplings planted on the dyke, it is poised to be a strong green embankment. Adjacent to the dyke was a long patch of marshy land covered with long grass, which otherwise would have been filled with sand. Two little girls were busy cutting grass on the marshland. On the other end of the canal two fishermen were casting their nets in search of fish.

    And none of them feared the ferocious waters!

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  • World Urban Forum 9: The good, the same-old, the hopeful, the shocking…

    The World Urban Forum (WUF9) is a major conference run every two years by UN-Habitat. This year it took place in the city of Kuala Lumpur from 7-13 February 2018.

    The last time this global community came together was in October 2016 to negotiate the ‘New Urban Agenda’ – the global urban agreement endorsed by the UN General Assembly about the future of the world’s cities. It was meant to give a steer to how all 17 Sustainable Development Goals should be implemented in cities.

    WUF9 was therefore an opportunity to take stock ahead of the more formal process of SDG reviews that will take place later this year, which will include a review of SDG Goal 11 on cities.

    Practical Action has long been involved in questions of good urban development, speaking from our experience of 20 years or so of working with urban slum communities on building materials, livelihoods, participatory planning and access to basic services. Our current strategy reinforces our commitment to supporting urban informal and slum communities with access to water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management. We have had representation at almost all of such conferences since they began in 2002.

    Uttam Saha, Lucy Stevens and Hasin Jahan at the Bangladesh Exhibition Stand at WUF9

    This time, we were a team of four: I was there from the global policy perspective and to fulfil our role as a lead partner of the World Urban Campaign. Three team members came from Bangladesh including our Country Director Hasin Jahan on the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh’s Urban Development Division. The delegation included the Minister of Housing and representatives from academia, women’s groups, and NGOs. They had an exhibition stand and two events where we had an opportunity to talk about our work.

    So what were my impressions? Of course, with such a large event with over 25,000 participants registered and hundreds of sessions over 7 days, we could only scratch the surface, but these are a few reflections:

    The good

    • UN-Habitat has a good track record of taking multi-stakeholder participation seriously, and this was again the case. Slum dweller representatives talked freely and openly with Ministers: academics, professionals and planners shared their views without an overt sense of hierarchy getting in the way.
    • We were able to form new partnerships and re-energise old ones. For example, we talked with PLAN International colleagues who are very keen to trial some examples of our composting work in Bangladesh. And in Kenya, we have made a link with UN-Habitat’s energy team on issues of waste-to-energy, with an invitation to participate in an up-coming workshop.
    • Our sessions allowed us to showcase our work on Faecal Sludge Management both in the context of secondary towns and for the displaced Rohingya community. They helped us to cement our relationship with key government actors and other partners.

    The Same-old Same-old

    The New Urban Agenda was supposed to be a turning point, setting a new direction for good development in urban areas. It contains excellent wording about e.g.: policies to prevent “arbitrary forced evictions”, “recognizing the contribution of the working poor in the informal economy”, and allowing “all inhabitants, whether living in formal or informal settlements, to lead decent, dignified and rewarding lives and to achieve their full human potential“.

    However, I was left feeling that it has not had an impact. It is not providing a challenge to ‘business as usual’ for example:

    • The vision for cities expressed by those in authority, or sometimes by technocrats, is too often about glass, steel and highways, but people are rarely present in their vision. Certainly not people who provide services to the city, like recycling its waste, or feeding its office workers, or cleaning its homes. Slums and their resident are still talked about as a problem that other people need to solve – dismissing the people and their ability to be part of and lead their own solutions.
    • Federations of the urban poor represented by SDI (and also outside SDI), still have a struggle to make their voices heard at the local level with their municipalities

      Just outside the conference venue

    • Data collected at the global level (for example on WASH) still does not reflect carefully collected community enumerations despite continuing evidence that these numbers consistently underestimate urban poverty
    • The Special Session on Access to Basic Services seemed old-fashioned, with too much emphasis on city-wide master-planning and not enough on the latest thinking on markets-based approaches, and how to incorporate the formal and informal private sector.

    The Hopeful

    • UN-Habitat has drifted somewhat since Habitat III. It has not take the leadership it should have on SDG discussions, for example. However, a new Executive Director, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif  has taken up her position (just 3 weeks ago). She comes from being Mayor of Penang City in Malaysia for the last 7 years, so hopefully she has the skills to get things done, and to show the leadership the organisation so desperately needs. She is a champion of gender-responsive and participatory planning and budgeting.
    • Similarly the World Urban Campaign remains a growing and committed multi-stakeholder group: a project of UN-Habitat, with a collective aim of campaigning to raise issues of The City We Need. The group felt re-energised and with a clearer direction.

    The shocking

    Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked. but it was still horrifying to hear about the times when poorer, less powerful city residents are deprived of their homes and their livelihoods. And sometimes this is done in the name of ‘climate resilience’ if people are living on land that is prone to flooding for example (whether or not that flooding may actually caused by man-made actions further up the chain…).

    In my view, the best cities are those with vibrancy, local colour, life and mixing on the streets, safe public spaces that can be used by all for a variety of purposes, bringing together a diversity of people. Cities are their people as much as their physical fabric. It’s similar to Practical Action’s approach to technology: putting people at the heart of the solution. That is what we will continue to push for across all our areas of work, including our programmes in urban slums.

     

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  • Enhancing Flood Resilience through Livelihood adaptation


    February 7th, 2018

    “The 2014 flood was worse than the 2009 flood but the loss and damage was less because people had learned from the earlier event.” Dinanath Bhandari

    I am currently visiting the Practical Action Nepal flood resilience project in the western region, which has been supported by the Z Zurich foundation for the last five years. The project is working in 74 flood vulnerable communities adjacent to the Karnali River, located in the Terai plains, the flat lands that connect Nepal to India. The western Terai is one of the poorest regions of the country and has faced migration from the mid-hills by landless farmers looking for space to farm. When they arrived much of the unoccupied land was next to the river, the flood prone area which has fertile soil great for agriculture, as long as you can save yourself and your assets when the monsoon flash floods arrive. It is in this context that the flood project operates, and I’m fortunate enough to be exploring the lessons from phase one with my Nepali colleagues before we start a second phase.

    Mrs Mana Kumari Tharu and her elevated rice store

    The raised grain store

    In the Terai flooding is a matter of life and almost every year a flood event of varying severity occurs. For many of the poorest members of the community this can be a devastating loss as hurriedly harvested rice stored in traditional ground level storage jars are ruined by the flood waters. It only takes moisture reaching the jar for the rice to spoil. One simple measure to avoid this problem is to raise the storage bins off the ground. But the problem is the bins can be very heavy and wooden structures aren’t strong enough to support their weight. So the project has provided 40 of the poorest households with concrete platforms to elevate their rice storage bins. Mrs. Mana Kumari Tharu[1] told me that now when she gets the message to flee to the flood shelter she is less worried about her precious rice. She knows it has a much better chance of surviving. If she can preserve this staple food supply her family will have enough to eat and will not be forced to adopt erosive coping strategies such as selling equipment or livestock. This will also reduce their dependency on relief food aid, something that not all families will be fortunate to avoid, hence ensuring those supplies reach the remote families who need them the most.

    The off farm training

    Youth workshop trainees from Rajapur

    We joined a workshop in which 12 young people between 20 and 35 years old, came together to share their experiences of a series of off farm training courses in which they had enrolled. This gathering was organised 12 months after their training to learn about their experiences and whether they had been successful in their new careers. The 14 young people gathered had been trained in such diverse topics as carpentry, dressmaking, engineering, plumbing and construction. The course was validated by the district education office and each of the graduates received a certificate which greatly enhanced their employment opportunities. All of the participants reported success in finding work and the story of one young graduate Mr. Anil Tharu who went to Kathmandu was particularly interesting. After receiving his certificate he tried to find work locally but was unable, so he ended up paying a middle man to join a construction project in Kathmandu. Initially he had to pay back the travel loan and the finders fee for securing the work. But he quickly realised that there was more work in Kathmandu than there were skilled workers. So he was able to pay back his loan find work on his own and after three months, he has saved enough money to return to Rajapur. He is now employed with a local construction company building houses and earning 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per month.

    Mr. Sita Man Tharu and Mr. Prem Thapa discussing his Banana plantation

    The banana plantation

    Mr. Sita Ram Tharu is a traditional rice farmer who grew up in the Terai region. He was invited as a member of one of the target communities to attend a farmer field school at which a number of different cultivation methods were demonstrated. He said that most of the methods on show didn’t interest him, until they presented banana plantation. He and his wife, who suffers from high blood pressure, found that the annual chores of preparing the rice filed, growing the saplings, dibbing them out, caring for them during the rainy season and finally harvesting and winnowing his crop was getting too much. In addition the rice plants were vulnerable to flash flood events washing the young seedlings out of the ground. So Mr. Tharu replaced his seasonal rice plot with a banana plantation. He purchased the tissue culture produced saplings for 45 Nepali Rupees (30p) each and planted them in this plot. He admitted that the first year the labour was excessive, but now the 90 trees are established the job of wedding the plantation and harvesting the bananas is a lot less stressful than the challenge of producing a rice crop. And he knows that if a flood event does occur his banana trees have a much greater chance of withstanding the water providing him with continued income once the waters recede. The old rice plot used to generate a maximum of 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per year, his banana plot now generates over 200,000 Nepali Rupees (£1,400) per year. When I asked him what he did with the extra money, he said he had put some in the bank in case his wife needed medical treatment for her blood pressure, and the rest he had used to send his son to Kathmandu to study for a master’s degree.

    All these stories demonstrate the transformative power of well targeted interventions and local choice in their uptake and adoption. This wasn’t mass development but locally targeted appropriate development, but I am still wondering if this will be enough to make the people and their communities flood resilient?

    Next steps…

    I am interested to explore with my Nepalese colleagues how these individual successful pieces of the puzzle, could fit together to tackle the underlying resilience challenges facing these people. Floods will undoubtedly continue, and will be supercharged by climate change making the monsoon rains more intense as we saw last year. But what can the individuals, the communities, the local government, private sector, national government and international community do to build the resilience of these people? These three examples are all successes in building resilience, however we still have a long way to go to roll this out across this one river basin let alone the other twenty plus river basins that criss-cross Nepal.

    More to follow….

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [1] Tharu is indigenous to the Terai with over 70% of the population sharing this surname

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  • Financial capital and development, where’s the problem?


    February 2nd, 2018

    When Fritz Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful” he used the book to highlight two key challenges. The first that traditional development wasn’t working, he highlighted that it was failing to overcome pervasive and underlying challenges and second, that the economic assumptions guiding this development were flawed. He argued eloquently for a new approach to development, an economic development model in which finite resources were recognised and that the aim wasn’t capital accumulation but human wellbeing. Development in which people not money mattered.

    For the last five years, Practical Action have been working with Zurich insurance foundation on a global flood alliance programme. One of the aims of this programme has been an attempt to measure flood resilience. The degree to which flood resilience can be enhanced at the community level, through wise development choices, choices that enhance flood resilience, that reverse vulnerabilities and reduce risk. These efforts to measure community flood resilience are built upon the sustainable livelihoods framework, and outline an approach to resilience measurement that takes a holistic view across the five development capitals (Figure 1). The framework measures the contribution of components, or resilience sources from each of the five capitals and measures how they perform to either forewarn, mitigate or allow communities to live and thrive in spite of the flood event.

    Sustainable Livelihood Framework (DFID 2001)

    One of the questions we are hoping to answer is what is the role of financial capital? Or more importantly in the rush to generate wealth as the solution to poverty, how critical is capital formation to resilience building? In the context of the 5-capitals approach we are finding that, insurance schemes, microcredit and inadequately financed cash transfer programmes in general do not allow for financial capital formation – at best they enable consumption smoothing. So we want to explore sustainable capital formation, and explore this at multiple levels from the community up to national governments? If by using the tool we can identify measures to build flood resilience, this may allow enough people to be generating profits that allows a capital to accumulate. Is this capital accumulation sufficient to be used to pool risk? To create a proper capital buffer will be very hard, indeed methods currently being trailed in the development community use some form of micro-credit or similar process to enhance local capital accumulation. Preliminary results indicate that this may not be a good way of promoting capital formation.

    Converting the risk into an economic value and then paying this amount into a common pool thereby attempting to share the risk evenly among a large number of people.

    A recent and sobering study of Indian agricultural insurance schemes indicates they were ineffective from a financial perspective. It was found that regardless of their dubious impacts on the formation of the other capitals, they are not even useful for financial capital formation. The job of social insurance must be to smooth consumption shocks enough to allow capital formation, not to extract so much surplus that no new capital formation is possible. Perhaps the real problems are around distribution and redistribution?  Economics as if people mattered, this and other challenges await us as we try to explore the links between wealth creation and development. What we do know is that we need to be looking outside the box and exploring innovative options, not just rolling out business as usual, failed solutions.

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  • Flood Resilience Program extended for five more years


    January 16th, 2018

     

    Practical Action and partners will continue to work to develop solutions for community flood resilience and provide robust evidence for investment in pre-event resilience-building under a new five-year grant from Zurich.

    In July 2013 Practical Action signed a memorandum of understanding with the Z Zurich Foundation for a five-year programme aimed at building the flood resilience of vulnerable communities in Nepal and Peru as part of a multi-sectoral Alliance of partners. In December 2017, we received the excellent new that Zurich Insurance Company and the Z Zurich Foundation had agreed to a second five year phase, starting in July 2018.

    One of the significant achievements of the first phase was the development and piloting of a flood resilience measurement framework and tool. The Alliance and partners have used this tool to measure flood resilience in communities and to empirically validate the results and provide objective evidence of how flood resilience can be built and why. The tool has been piloted in over 100 communities around the world in Indonesia, East Timor, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mexico, the US and Peru in both urban and rural communities. By generating evidence using a robust and replicable tool we aim to influence investments in flood resilience so that ex ante action becomes the norm rather than the exception.

    Practical Action will be leading on the knowledge component of the new phase and we are excited to be the knowledge catalyst for the Alliance in Phase 2. We are committed to the use of evidence to influence policy and practice, combining both the human stories of flood resilience with supporting empirical evidence that can persuade decision makers of what works.

    The Flood Resilience Portal launched under phase 1 will continue to serve as a source of practical knowledge on how to build flood resilience, with lessons and solutions from all of the partners in the Alliance and beyond. The development of two additional locally-focused Portals – for Nepal and for Latin America – is helping to ensure that this knowledge is tailored to local communities and practitioners.

    The successes and failures encountered in the first phase have generated a wealth of lessons at local, national and global scales. These lessons have informed the development of this second phase, in which we aim to scale up our work building community resilience to floods, along with an expanded Alliance of partners. Practical Action greatly appreciates this long-term and flexible funding commitment, which allows us to focus on effective problem analysis and test out innovative solutions through robust community action, as well as generate and capture evidence of what works to influence at policy and practice at national and international levels.

    The new Alliance includes partners from the first phase; the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance company and has been expanded to include Concern, MercyCorps, Plan International, the London School of Economics, the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International (ISET) and ETH Zurich University. This enlarged Alliance brings more diverse skills and a shift in ambition to deliver flood resilience to communities at global scale.

    Practical Action is developing exit strategies with communities for the current programme work and ensuring that lessons are learned and knowledge is captured before the local projects come to a close. Looking ahead, Practical Action is extremely proud to be part of this Alliance and looks forward to five more years of innovative work, delivering resilience to flood prone communities around the world. Stay tuned for more.

     

    For more information: Chris Anderson Global Flood Alliance Programme Manager

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  • Ropeways: connecting rural communities


    January 12th, 2018

    By Sanjib Chaudhary and Ganesh R Sinkemana

    If you look up at the steep hills mounting over the Budhiganga River at Taptisera in Bajura district, you’ll believe why people call them ‘bandar ladne bhir’ – meaning cliff where even monkeys slip down.

    There are three options to get to the top of the hill – a dangerous vertical climb of one and half hour, a strenuous trek of three and half hours and a six hour long tiring hike along the ridges. In addition, you’ll need to cross the Budhiganga River to get to the foothills before you begin your climb. And not only the water is chilly but the depth of the river is also another thing to worry about. You don’t know how deep the waters might be until you step into it.

    Reducing the travel time to less than two minutes
    However, this seemingly unsurmountable height and distance has been reduced to a descent of one and half minutes, thanks to a gravity goods ropeway (GGR) installed recently at the bank of the river.

    A gravity goods ropeway carriage. (c) Practical Action/ Ganesh R Sinkemana

    The GGR was installed by BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project in coordination with government and other stakeholders. The project, supported by European Union, focuses on building the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest-based enterprises in the remote mid and far-western districts of Kalikot, Mugu, Jumla, Bajura and Bajhang.

    The GGR operator and chairperson of the users’ committee, Prem Saud, says, “It has made it easier to bring the produce from the upper part of Mana village and has encouraged the residents there to produce at commercial level.

    Prem Saud, the GGR operator at Badimalika Municipality. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    In return the items of daily need reach the otherwise rugged terrain at nominal charge. Prem charges Rs 2 per (1 USD = Rs 101) kg to get the items to the upper station from the bottom station. The vegetables and other agricultural produce now get to the roadside in Re 1 per kg which is way cheaper than employing a porter who would demand at least Rs 500 – 1000 per load of 50 kgs.

    The agricultural produce from the villages reaching market in no time means people are encouraged to produce more, eventually shifting to commercial farming. In a way, a ropeway acts like an enabler for inclusive business – integrating the smallholder farmers into national markets.

    Suitable transportation for mountainous topography

    Considering Nepal’s topography, gravity goods ropeways have proved to be a life-saver for communities where road construction is very difficult. The aerial ropeways, built to connect communities living high up in the hills to road-heads, operate by gravitational force. Two trolleys, running on pulleys, go up and down simultaneously on parallel steel wires – while the one with heavier load gets down to the road-head due to gravity, the other with lighter weight goes up to the upper terminal .

    According to studies, aerial ropeways are three times cheaper than the equivalent road construction in Nepal and installing a gravity gods ropeway costs around Rs 2,500,000. While descending through the hilly tracks take two to three hours of walking to reach the road-head, the same load can get to the lower terminal in less than two minutes. This reduces the drudgery of the community people and saves a lot of time.

    Women have many responsibilities,” said Sita BK, a midwife from Mana village. “For example, I have to do the household chores, cooking, farming and carrying loads. Here the GGR has helped because we no longer have to carry our rice up from the market.

    Shanti BK (45) receives goods from Tipada Bazaar at the upper station of the GGR at Mana village, Bajura.

    About 50 per cent of Nepal’s population still lives at least four hours walk away from the nearest dry-season road. Looking at Nepal’s topography the importance of installing ropeways, at places inaccessible to build roads, is obvious.

    Replicating the technology beyond borders

    In spite of the manifold benefits of the technology, only around 20 gravity goods ropeways have been serving rural people in Nepal. The first gravity goods ropeway was successfully run in Marpha, Mustang to transport apples from orchards to road-heads by Practical Action in association with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in the year 2001.

    Practical Action has also built gravity goods ropeways in Samtse, Bhutan and has been invited to Myanmar and Nagaland, India to survey and help construct the ropeways.

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  • Practical Action working to light Africa

    A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

    Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

     

    Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
    Photo by Sven Torfinn

     

    Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

    The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

    One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

    The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.

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  • What is Information and Communication Technologies for Development and why it matters?


    December 18th, 2017

    Colleagues in Practical Action often ask how Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) can be defined. Is a radio program offering health information to young girls in India ICT4D? What about a web portal providing agricultural content in Peru? Or perhaps a mobile app used by M&E team in Kenya?

    Practical Answers intervention in India, Sunalo Sakhi, uses ICT to raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health among young women and girls living in slums (credit: Ananta Prasad)

    Different terms are used to describe the relationship between Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Development (D). Each term represents views of their advocates with its own merits and challenges. For example: ICTD, ICT4Dev, M4D, KM4D, Development Informatics, Digital Development and ICT4D. ICT4D is the most commonly used term among them.

    A broad definition of ICT is devices or techniques for processing or communicating data. When discussing ICT, we narrow down the scope to digital ICT such as laptops, internet, software, smartphones, the Internet of Things etc. Other types of ICT, e.g. analog sensor technologies, may be relevant too, but they are increasingly being digitised. There are three main benefits of ICT: process benefits (cheaper, more, quicker, better, new), affordances  (communication, computation, transaction) and broader changes (automatisation, innovation and equalisation). The connector word ‘4’ (reads: for) brings the attention to what kind of ‘development’ we seek to address. Development usually refers to international development, that is both geographic and agenda-specific development.

    ICT4D is therefore “the application of any entity that processes or communicates digital data in order to deliver some part of the international development agenda in a developing country”. As field of research, ICT4D is a combination of academic disciplines: computer sciences, information systems, development studies and others fields such as geography, economics, governance etc.

    Development agenda determines why and how ICT used for development. For example, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify ICT-specific target under Goal 9: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”. Other ICT-specific targets are under Goal 4 (higher education), Goal 5 (women’s empowerment) and Goal 17 (innovation capacity).

    Many ICT4D projects fall short of their promise. Critics argue that frequently flaws in implementation techniques lead to failing to deliver the intended benefits. Inadequate planning, hardware failures, insufficient technical support, lack of political support and financial constraints are among the most common reasons for that. Others point out at the unintended consequences and contradictory effects that ICT can have in development: ICT, including ICT4D, is often associated with inequality, environmental damage, health problems etc.

    In order to make ICT work for development, we need to understand processes and challenges emerging from technical, social, cultural, institutional and political realms. ICT4D doesn’t simply mean ICT adoption in the development practice. ICT4D is ‘multifaceted, dynamic and contentious socio-technical processes’ (see Figure: ICT4D Value Chain).

    ICT4D Value Chain (Source: Heeks, 2017)

    A good example is Practical Action’s knowledge management system, Practical Answers. Practical Answers has served local communities and practitioners in a number of countries for years. It processes and distributes technical information through web portals, a mobile app, call centre, radio programmes and podcasts. Each country implements Practical Answers in its own way. In India, Practical Answers produces educational radio programmes for young girls living in slums. In Nepal, Practical Answers is embedded into community libraries. In Zimbabwe, Practical Answers trains government officials and community leaders to produce agricultural podcasts.

    ICT4D may not solve all problems our societies experience, but it helps to materialise the  development agenda in new forms that haven’t existed before.

     

    Reference:

    Heeks, Richard. 2017. Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) (Routledge Perspectives on Development). Taylor and Francis.

    Zheng, Y., Hatakka, M., Sahay, S. and Andersson, A., 2017. Conceptualizing development in information and communication technology for development (ICT4D).

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