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  • What’s next for ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’?


    June 1st, 2017

    Each year the World Bank bring together their country representatives from around the globe to measure progress and push forward on new initiatives.  ‘World Bank land’ in Washington DC becomes a bustling mini-city within a city. Even the bus stops get the messages out.  My favourite this year was Rich countries shouldn’t define poverty for poor countries’world bank

    I was there to participate in a panel discussing the relevance and progress of their four year pilot of the Enabling the Business of Agriculture program (EBA).

    Work began on this in 2013, funded by donors like DFID, USAID and Gates Foundation. It set out to become a high profile global programme that assesses countries regulatory environment for agri-business. The intention is to provide governments and others with information which will help them to make better policy and investment decisions.

    Over the past four years Practical Action has been engaging with this program because we know that:

    1. Farmers and other agri-business players are deeply affected by the enabling environment and, whatever the context, it can have a direct impact on their ability to make money from their activities. Part of this is determined by the regulatory environment, but only part.  Our work highlights many more issues not covered by the EBA.
    2. Regardless of what NGOs think of tools like the EBA, they can be influential, whether we like them or not! The World Bank’s flagship program Doing Business is in its 14th year and has been shown to shape regulation in the 190 countries that use it. So however imperfect, we recognise that this type of information is used by policy makers and investors.

    Throughout the pilot phase the EBA program has had harsh criticism from a high profile campaign Our Land Our Business. This group are concerned that the EBA will “create a race-to-the-bottom between countries as they clamor for World Bank investment dollars”.

    Practical Action has not joined this campaign but instead has been working closely with other INGOs like Christian Aid to engage with the EBA team to push for a stronger focus on:

    • Ending poverty – we’ve argued for the EBA to focus more on those aspects that will promote inclusion, i.e. benefit smallholders and others who struggle to achieve gains from agri-business, particularly women, despite their dependency on the sector for their livelihoods.

    end povertyWe want this ambition to move from obscurity to full visibility. A bit like these pictures I took of the World Bank building during the meetings. A big (literally!) reminder for all of the primary purpose of the World Bank.

    • Long-term environmental sustainability, making agricultural sectors towards fit for purpose in a changing climate. This needs to be bedded into key areas of the EBA (seeds, fertiliser, mechanisation) not sitting on its own, as a special island of optimism without regulatory teeth.

    Agri-business as usual is not an option

    There is global consensus that agri-business as usual is no longer an option. Kristalina Georgieva the World Bank’s CEO, opened a packed session on “The Future of Food” with a strong call for changes to a failing food system. We’re interested in how the EBA can support (as opposed to undermine) those changes to happen. The ‘Our Land our Business’ campaign is deeply concerned that it will exacerbate the failings of the food system. We are more optimistic. Over four years we’ve had some good conversations with the EBA team. However it’s been challenging for them to incorporate feedback because of their very tight data collection schedule and the limitations of the tool, because the donor mandate of the project means the focus is solely on regulation.

    EBA2017-Report17 1It is encouraging to see that in this recent progress report  attention is given to both environmental sustainability and gender. The EBA team are clear that it’s still very much work in progress. They are moving the program to biennial data collection and reporting which is very positive because it means they can take some time to address the more challenging issues. This is vital if the EBA is not to skew decision-making on agriculture in the future.  For the next phase of this program as they continue to develop and expand it there needs to be a clear intent to deliver:

    • Deeper engagement and meaningful consultation in-country – dedicated to incorporating views of agri-business and civil society as well as public actors.
    • More attention on inclusion and environmental sustainability – integrate them properly into the EBA so they are in the data sets and scores which will get the attention of policy makers. Make them what this is about. It’s a great opportunity for the EBA to make the shift that is needed actually happen.

    It is so important for users and supporters of the EBA to take a balanced approach, given that regulation is a very small part of the picture when it comes to an effective enabling environment for agriculture. In particular the World Bank and the EBA donors should focus on delivering the SDGs by supporting wider investment in processes that will shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable agriculture.

    For Practical Action that means investing in systems that rely on fewer external inputs, creating lower risk agriculture for the majority.

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  • Telling better stories


    May 26th, 2017

    After a long 1.15 hours flight and 5 hours ride in a pickup truck, we reached Dadeldhura, which will be our home for the next three days.  Dadeldhura lies in the far-western district of Nepal and holds many historic significance.   As I was told by one of the locals, Amargadhi Fort in Dadeldhura was built in 1790 AD by General Amar Singh Thapa to serve as a military base.  During the unification of Nepal by then King Prithvi Narayan Shah, General Amar Singh Thapa fought the British troops from this very fort.  That’s some interesting piece of information there!  I really didn’t know about this until now.  The story somehow was vaguely embedded in my head, I guess we read it in our history class, during our primary days but now the story became as fresh as a daisy.  I just couldn’t wait to see the fort.  I wonder if that’s when the world knew about the bravery of we Nepalese???  Made me scratch my head.  Nevertheless, I was not here to dig the history, neither was I here to find the answers to my own questions.  I was here for a training workshop on “telling better stories” for BICAS project staff and partners.

    BICAS project intervention in the far west

    Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project is funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas. The project aims to build 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 Bajhang, Bajura, Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu.

    Building capacity of staff is an essential part of an organisation

    Telling better stories- A family photo

    A well-trained and well-qualified workplace definitely boosts the efficiency of an organisation. Therefore, to enhance the abilities of staff and to encourage them to reflect their attitudes and beliefs; a two and a half day workshop was organised in Dadeldhura. The participants were from the Nepalgunj cluster office and partners/ project coordinators from BICAS project. The workshop included a wide range of topics from story writing, photography, videography to social media.

     

    Day 1- Nepali Braveheart: A thought tickler

    The session kicked off with an introduction, followed by a story writing session; which was later followed by photography and video making sessions. I could sense a strong enthusiasm amongst the participants. They seem very eager to learn the practical hands-on tips. We tried to make the sessions as informal as possible, as we did not want to restrict the workshop within the PowerPoint slides and lengthy speech. It was more of an open platform where one could ask questions and/or share experiences on similar topics. The first day went by in a blink of an eye. I could tell from my previous experiences that the first day is always fun and easy-going. The most challenging is always the next day, as the participants start to wear off – lose their focus and things start to get monotonous. It was in the back of my head but I did not bother to think about it. As the clock ticked five, we wrapped up the session and called it a day.

    L-R: Statue of Amar Singh Thapa, Secret tunnel of Amargadhi Fort

    A bunch of us decided to go for a walk to refresh ourselves after spending the whole day inside a hall. I would never dare to go for a walk while I am in Kathmandu, thanks to the pollution and the crazy traffic of the K-town. But the air in Dadeldhura was so fresh and clean. We walked out from the hotel and went all the way up to the Amargadhi Fort. We spent more than an hour walking around the fort. One of the police guards was generous enough to show us around and explain the details of each and every corner and the architectural built. The most interesting part was the tunnel which was built in such a way that it was connected to a water resource. As we were told, this passage was used by then queen whenever she had to go for a bath or by the armies to fetch water. You can never tell from the outside that the tunnel leads to a water source, it was quite fascinating. The whole tour seemed surreal to me, I felt like I was one of the soldiers from the Anglo-Nepalese war.  I read about brave Amar Singh Thapa during my school days and now I was at the same place where all the magic happened. Seeing his statue at the main entrance even left me awestruck. There are so many similarities between Amar Singh Thapa and the character of William Wallace from the movie, “Braveheart”- the same determination and resistance. I was just there staring at the statue of Amar Singh Thapa and seeing him as a Nepali William Wallace. After dinner I was just hanging out in my room and a random thought came in my head – how cool will it be if I was to make a Nepali Braveheart? I am sure it will be epic – easier said than done. That can go in my bucket list AKA fantasies (I’m just a dreamer).

    Day 2- The unpredictable weather of the far west

    I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm. I checked the time on my cell phone and it read 6:30 am. I could hear the heavy pour of rain from inside the room. I just wished I did not have to get up at all. After aimlessly staring at the ceiling for half an hour, I finally managed to get off from my bed. I opened the door and it was raining cats and dogs. In the corner of the balcony, there was a big pile of hailstone, which looked like a mini Mount Everest. I took out my camera and started taking pictures of the magnificent landscape of Dadeldhura from my balcony. I did not bother about the rain; I was going crazy with my camera. There was something very unique about the landscape; it was priceless. I just could not get enough of it. Before I realised it was actually raining, I was already half soaked. I am glad my camera was water-proof though. I felt like a stubborn kid enjoying the early monsoon rain.

    Clouds in motion as seen from the hotel roof

    We were informed that we would not need any warm clothes for the trip. During March usually the weather is nice and pleasant. But somehow I did not want to take a risk. I had my warm jackets and boots with me. The last time I visited the far west (two years before); I regretted not caring any warm jacket. One of our partner office colleagues was kind enough to lend me a jacket- that was a life saver. “Once bitten, twice shy.” I was well prepared (just in case). The rain was battering the roof like a bullet. There was no sign of rain stopping anytime soon, it was hammering down relentlessly. I could feel a gust of cold wind on my face. At least for once I was glad I made the right decision. Usually, I tend to over pack and half of the stuff I never use it. What’s even more interesting was that the field office colleagues were also fooled by the unpredictable weather of the far west. They thought the weather would be pleasant, so they did not bring any warm clothes. As the day progressed, it became even colder. By evening, it was crazy; the rain kept pouring and the temperature dropped like a rock. It was freezing cold. So, these three blokes had to go buy a sweater for NRS. 1500 (11 GBP) each. They said it was the best buy ever (with a satirical smile).

    The second day was a bit mellow and less hectic. My colleague Sanjib Chaudhary opened the session highlighting the importance of social media in the development sector. It was well received by the participants. The later session was followed by hands-on tips on film making. After lunch it was more of a practical session. The participants were divided into three groups and were sent to the nearby location to collect stories, pictures and videos of their interest.

    Day 3- Here comes the sun

    I slept like a baby. It always takes a while to get used to the new hotel bed. Finally, after two days, I guess I slept well. When I woke up it was already 7:30 am. I peeped through my window curtain and much to my surprise there was the sun shining bright. I was so happy that the sun was here, FINALLY. Now, I can relate why George Harrison wrote “Here comes the sun” with the Beatles. Ever since we stepped in Dadeldhura it was raining like crazy and finally we were able to see the sun. The feeling was just amazing. I was already late for breakfast though. I had to rush myself, got ready and met the folks downstairs for breakfast. By 8 am, I was all ready and having breakfast with my colleagues.

    Today was the final day of the workshop. We reviewed the stories, photos and video clips of all the groups and gave feedbacks and comments.

    Adieu – Until we meet again

    Our two and a half day workshop was coming to an end. All of us enjoyed our stay in Dadeldhura amidst the crazy weather. I hope the workshop was a fruitful one. We never know until we see the end result from the participants. Fingers crossed, I hope our effort will be an aspiration for all the participants to produce the quality output that we are aiming for the BICAS project. I just cannot wait to read the first post-workshop story/ blog and/or see the pictures they send. Until then all I can do is wait patiently.

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  • With improved agricultural practices, farmers in far-western Nepal are avoiding the seasonal exodus to India


    May 25th, 2017

    The scene was heart-breaking. A group of women and children were running after a bus while the men were waving goodbye from the vehicle. I was witness to this scene almost two years ago during a field trip to Achham in far-western Nepal. The women and children were crying and so were some of the men. They kept on running after the bus till it was out of sight.

    Relatives of foreign-bound men running after a bus carrying the seasonal migrants. (c) Bishnu Paudel

    According to my colleague Bishnu Paudel, the men were leaving for India. He said, “The belief is that the more people come to see off a foreign-bound man, the more fruitful will be his stay in Mumbai and other cities in India.”

    It’s not an unusual scene here in this part of Nepal where hordes of men leave for India every year to earn a paltry income. This practice of seasonal migration hasn’t done much good to the people of this region. In India they engage in and hold petty jobs of a janitor, dishwasher, porter, and a factory worker among others and get harassed, despised and scolded at a drop of a hat. When they return from India, they bring a meagre amount of money but also the dreaded HIV and AIDS with them, not to mention the Hindi words and accent that’s ubiquitous in the far-western Nepal.

    This year, when I returned to Bajura district, the scenario was a bit different. I interviewed some beneficiaries of BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project. They have resolved not to get back to India but to work in their own land for a better future.

    Here are their stories – straight from the horse’s mouth and how the project has supported them to lead a dignified life.

    Dambar Saud chose to stay in Nepal. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Supplying quality seeds and agricultural inputs to farmers

    Dambar Saud, an agro-vet at Bamka Bazaar, chose to stay in Nepal and start a business selling agricultural inputs, equipment and pesticides. With support from BICAS, he expanded his business and later diversified his business by starting an agriculture produce collection centre and a poultry farm. He now earns enough to lead a contented life.

    I was lured to go to India but now I’m happy with my income,” he said. “My peers want to copy my ways.

    Providing technical support to farmers

    Chitra Bahadur Bishta, a farmer from Bail of Budhiganga Municipality-7, went to India 22 times and each time he worked in different localities as a watchman staying awake throughout the night and washing vehicles. He also worked in restaurants.

    When everyone slept, I had to stay awake and many times I cried,” he said.

    However, he hasn’t returned to India after he started growing vegetables one and half years ago. Having received technical support from BICAS, he has been growing tomatoes and other vegetables.

    Now I feel happy to see the plants bearing fruit,” he told with a twinkle in his eyes.

    Tek Bahadur Thapa, an award winning lead farmer, is an inspiration to fellow farmers. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    Building irrigation facilities for better productivity

    When we went to Tek Bahadur Thapa’s farm in Triveni Municipality – 8, he was tending to the saplings of bottle gourd and bitter gourd. Nearby were rows of fruit trees.

    Thapa, a model farmer who recently received an award from the President for being the best farmer in the region went to India at an early age of 8 years. One night while he was sleeping, the ‘seth’ (master) he was working for knocked on the door but he didn’t wake up immediately. When he woke up, his master slapped him for not getting up on time. He was meant to drive a rat that was running around in his seth’s bedroom!

    He then returned back to Nepal. When everybody was leaving their homes during the Maoist insurgency, he started growing vegetables. And he hasn’t looked back since.

    We built a multi-use water system with support from BICAS,” he said, pointing to the reservoir. “We now have sufficient water for irrigation.

    The 25 families in the area are planning to turn it into a vegetable production pocket area. An inspiration to other farmers, he has vowed never to return India for work.

    Delivering services at doorsteps

    Deu Singh Saud, a lead farmer from Budhiganga Municipality-10, is farming vegetables with his fellow group members Dan Bahadur Budha, Kamala Saud and Buddhi Singh Saud. He worked in India for over 17 years and since the last 10 years he hasn’t returned back to India.

    Deu Singh Saud is happy with his group farming. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    According to him, when he started farming there was no agro-vet and it used to be a hard job getting good quality seeds. Then he started getting the seeds from Saud Agro-vet in Bamka. Thanks to BICAS, now he gets quality seeds at his doorsteps from barefoot agro-vets, paying only 20 per cent of the actual price. He also gets technical advice from these agro-vets.

    Although he can’t read and write, he easily earns over NRs 100,000 (1 USD = NRs 103) per year from the farming.

    It’s better to farm here,” he said. “I could only earn around IRs 2,000 (1 IRs = NRs 1.60) per month in India.”

    Ignorant of the seed varieties earlier, he told us name of several varieties of vegetables suitable for farming in that region.

    I can do anything here,” he quipped hinting at the long working hours in India. “I can work as per my plan and I can rest whenever I get tired.

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  • Technologies for bringing back roofs over the heads of earthquake victims


    March 23rd, 2017

    Simple technologies can bring down the cost of house construction and enable the poor earthquake victims build their houses within their means.

    Chhabilal Acharya’s house reduced to a pile of rubbles in less than a minute when the powerful earthquake stuck his village in Laharepauwa Rasuwa on 25th April 2015. His poultry farm, his major source of income, wasn’t spared either. Acharya (62) and his daughter narrowly escaped from the collapsing house.

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    He had built the house in 1995.

    “I gave up even the smallest indulgences in life to save money for the house,“ he said.

    It took him five years to save money for the house as his job at Lagtang National Park would pay very nominal.

    He has been living in a temporary shelter since the earthquake. With his poultry farm gone, his family is scarping by on his meagre pension of $101 a month.

    Government of Nepal has decided to provide $2778 grant to affected households for building house in three instalments. The house should be compliant to the government approved designs to secure the grant. Chhabilal has received the first tranche ($ 500) of the grant. However, he is yet to start building the house.

    “The money is not enough even to prepare ground for foundation and I have no other means to supplement the grant“ he mentioned.

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Building simple 3-room brick masonry house costs more than $5000 in his village. Stone masonry buildings are equally expensive as the stones are not available locally.

    Chhabilal is planning to take loan from a local money lender by mortgaging all his land at half the value to top on the grant.

    Banks don’t accept farm land in the village as collateral. Hence, for people like Chhabilal who don’t have any other fixed assets, the local money lenders are the only resort for the loan. The money lenders rip them off with the exorbitant interest rate.

    “If my son does well in life, he will be able to pay the loan and release the land,“ Chhabilal said with misty eyes. He knows he may never get the land back as his son is just 16 years old now.

    Two hundred and forty two households in Laharepuawa lost their houses in the devastating earthquake. Only 11 households who are well to do or have family members abroad have built their houses so far. Rest are facing the impossible choice, roof over the head or the land that feed them, like Chhabilal.

    However, simple technologies can save them from this predicament and help them rebuild their house within their means.

    Cement Stabilised Earth Block (CSEB) is one of such simple technologies. It is a very good alternative to bricks. It can be prepared from a simple mixture of local soil, sand and cement (10%). It costs almost three times less than the brick. Besides, it requires less labour and cement mortar to build a house with CSEB. And, it provides better earthquake resistance as the blocks are interlocking. A CSEB compacting machine costs around $ 7000 including installation and all the accessories. The machine can produce up to 450 blocks per day. The pictures below shows the CSEB production at Kalikasthan, Rasuwa. The enterprise was set up with the support of Practical Action.IMG_1508

    IMG_1511

    Another technology which can save cost is a simple stone cutting machine. It can reduce cost of through stones and corner stones, which are mandatory inthe government, approved stone masonry buildings, by 2 to 3 times. A labour can prepare maximum 6 corner/through stones in a day manually whereas as the machine can produce up to 200 pieces of corner stones.

    A simple one story house requires more than 150 corners/through stones, which approximately costs $300, if prepared manually. However, with the machine, the cost can be reduced to $100. The stone cutting machine costs only about $1200.

    Stone cutting Machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle Rasuwa

    Stone cutting machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle, Rasuwa

    Practical Action has been promoting the technologies in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts through a DFID funded project in a small scale.

    It is an irony that better-off households are better poised to receive the government housing grant as they can fully comply with the government standards. Poor households, who are solely dependent on the grant, are at the risk of losing it as the grant is not enough to build government design compliant house. The technologies can avert the risk by reducing the cost of building house.

    Likewise, the technologies can  provide alternative livelihood opportunities to the people in the earthquake affected districts as they can be promoted as the local enterprises. Hence, larger diffusion of such technologies is across the earthquake affected  districts is important not only for accelerating reconstruction but also improving livelihood.

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  • Talking shit at FSM4 Conference – Feedback on our sanitation work in Bangladesh

    Talking about shit for a week in India — a fascinating context to present our sanitation work! India, a country that has undertaken a huge and ambitious national scale clean-up campaign (Swachh Bharat/Clean India Mission), hosted the LOGO4th_faecal_sludge_management_conference4th Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Conference in Chennai this February. In total, 1,100 practitioners, governments and private sector representatives from all over the world participated in the conference. This was a truly unique sharing and visibility opportunity for our organisation. As a result, we ran out of our latest Technology Justice paper on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) on the second day of the conference!

    During the conference, we shared lessons from the preliminary operation of the business model we are implementing in Faridpur, Bangladesh, as part of the ‘Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for Sustainable Sludge Management Services’ project  (Gates Foundation – DFID funding). We also provided the community of practice with some key insights on the relevance of business modelling and market-based solutions in FSM, and received some excellent feedback from the participants, because we were addressing the following issues:

    Why work on FSM  The dreadful economic and health costs of poor sanitation

    The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program estimates the economic costs of poor sanitation in Bangladesh to be USD 4.2 billion each year. This was equivalent to 6.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s GNP in 2007! This shows that the health impacts dwarf the economic costs. In Bangladesh, open defecation has remarkably decreased to only 1 per cent (from 34 per cent in 1990). However, in most secondary towns, like Faridpur, there are no sewers. Residents rely on on-site sanitation, combined with unsafe FSM practices. In addition, 90 per cent of the sludge in Faridpur was not safely emptied or transported when we first assessed the situation in 2014. The absence of drainage or emptying facilities in the low-income settlements results in overflowing toilets, which simply leads to the problem of open defecation reoccurring! This is the main reason why we developed our programme in Bangladesh. This project now mixes hardware (e.g. treatment plant) and software solutions (e.g. private entrepreneurs and municipality partnership around FSM business).A national FSM framework to fill the legal vacuum in Bangladesh
    Bangladesh FSM NetworkThe health and economic risks presented above are what we call a “second-generation sanitation challenge”.  Bangladesh has achieved 99 per cent access to sanitation. However, the key challenge now is: how can both, public and private sector actors, safely manage all the sludge that is contained in these new on-site systems.  Practical Action and ITN-BUET (our partner University) work on developing viable business models for the problem. In addition, we have been developing a National Institutional and Regulatory Framework for FSM. This was inexistent in Bangladesh but is now being approved. This framework will significantly clarify roles for the municipalities in charge. It is now complemented by the strategic policy advocacy and knowledge dissemination; role played by the newly created National FSM Network, including I/NGOs, CSOs, government, private sector and industries. Practical Action was a key founder of this network.

    Lessons and highlights from the FSM4 Conference

    • Awareness raising and demand generation are the key to kick-start new FSM businesses.Street Drama, World Toilet Day
    • Early indications show, that pit-emptiers in Faridpur are now seeing an increase in demand. As a result, faecal waste is now safely disposed at the treatment plant. While some projects have tended to underestimate activities such as street drama, cycling events, cleanliness drives, quiz contests and cycle rallies. These have proven to be the central drivers of a progressive increase in revenue from pit-emptying. Further, they create a sense of ownership and environmental awareness. Increased demand for a trustworthy service demonstrates good potential for uptake of such models.

    • A cross-subsidised tariff system is required to attain a responsive service in these cities.

    Income that pit-emptiers get from fees cannot fully cover the cost of collecting, transporting, treating and disposing the sludge. This is why business models explore the possibilities to have other sources of revenues; such as a smart subsidy from the Municipality, and sales of co-compost from sludge in medium-long term.

    FSM Business ModelTaking a system’s approach helps seeing the bigger picture and to forsee interconnected issues.

      • Looking at FSM as a system (i.e. including all stakeholders, rules, norms beyond the mere service chain household-to-treatment plant) allowed the project team to see hidden strengths and blockages that would only have been uncovered later on. By doing so, the Faridpur project could:
        • Build on the informal sector as an existing and relatively efficient service provider and
        • Understand conflictive incentives in providing pit-emptying services.
        Practical Action is good at facilitating participatory and inclusive design of partnerships between Municipalities and the private sector,

    e.g. between FaridpurMunicipality, formalised pit-emptiers, and a treatment plant operator. Years of collaboration with municipalities have helped to build trust, and therefore, to facilitate the design of such business models that are flexible, modular and adaptable to how demand for pit-emptying evolves over time.

    Outstanding questions and food for thoughtPreliminary operation of the FSM business model, Faridpur, Bangladesh

    • The multi- stakeholder’s steering committee, set up in Faridpur Municipality to oversee the performance of the service, will play a key role in rolling out and scaling up the service – is it possible to use this model in other Water & Sanitation projects to ensure ownership and to take this approach to scale?
    • We should have a better understanding of pro-poor sanitation services in our projects. Our projects are focusing on scale and profitability, however the question of the affordability of emptying services for the poorest in Faridpur was raised by our peers.
    • Could we not complement our systems and business approach with a “Rights-Based Approach”? Human rights based approaches (HRBAs) are successfully used to build citizens’ capacity to claim this basic right to the Government.

    For more information about why our sanitation work matters, watch our Bangladesh Director Hasin Jahan’s TED Talk.

     

     

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  • Making climate Information services work for poor farmers in Africa?

    Next week in Cape Town the African climate and weather forecasting community will gather for the fifth global conference on Climate Information Services (CIS). A conference organised to share knowledge between climatologists, meteorologists and practitioners in key sectors such as agriculture, water, and health etc., sectors that can be better planned and managed if access to up to the minute climate information is available. Over the last decade there has been considerable investment in improving the technology, equipment and capacity of meteorology and forecasting departments across Africa. This is in recognition that accurate weather and climate information can deliver tangible benefits. However, despite these investment the benefits have largely been recovered at scale with less impact on the ground. The poor and marginalised communities, those with the most to gain from this information have largely failed to see these benefits. Therefore, Practical Action has been invited to attend the conference and present our innovative approach to CIS systems mapping that aims to respond to recognised deficiencies in existing CIS systems;

    1. Firstly, coming up with a simple system mapping process that is understood, owned and works for actors and for beneficiaries;
    2. Making sure that the system map can adapt CIS delivery in such a way that complements (and not replaces) existing local, indigenous knowledge systems; and
    3. That the CIS reaches those who would benefit the most, those facing famine if crops fail, those on the frontline of climate disaster.
    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Practical Action has spent many years developing and perfecting the Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) approach, one of the central components of PMSD is co-producing a map of the value chain for the selected commodity. For mapping climate information, we have refined the methodology replacing the value chain with the information services chain. In discussion with partners we have focussed the CIS system map on the network that connects CIS producers with CIS users. CIS producers are the operators of weather stations, satellites etc. with CIS users being rain fed farmers. Existing challenges include;

    • Mapping how information moves across this system;
    • What are the boundaries to this system;
    • What are the nodes in the information service network, and;
    • What are the flows of information that take place.

    The value of a systems map is that it not only identifies existing blockages and barriers, but also allows different users to interrogate the system to identify alternative pathways which might deliver improvements. Finally, the systems map is inclusive allowing non-traditional and informal components of the system to be included.

    Generic map of a Climate Information Services system

           Generic map of what a Climate Information Services System map may look like

    We recognise that CIS on its own may not be practical or valuable, so we will be looking at information carriers, alternative systems such as information on markets prices that could be linked to CIS information to enhance their delivery. In all cases we will use the CIS system maps as a planning and learning tool. Therefore the map once produced will not remain static but it will live and be owned by the systems actors and be refined as we learn more about how they system behaves and adapts over time. We recognise that we are working in a space where there is already a lot going on, so we need to ensure that our systems approach is open and inclusive of these other initiative so that they are complementary and we can learn and share between them.

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    What are we aiming for? We are looking at making improvements to the CIS system. Making sure that information reaches rain fed smallholder farmers in drought prone areas and enables them to make the right short and long term choices about their farming practices. It is not enough to just supply the information, they also need to be able to act on it. Therefore if we make the existing system operate more efficiently or faster, but the farmers do not benefit then we will have failed. This is a unique focus for this project and challenges us not to think of what changes can we make to improve the system, but what are the systemic changes that need to take place to benefit rain fed farmers (CIS information users).

    For more information on the conference follow @ColinMcQuistan, #ICCS5 and @maryallenballo

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  • Youth driving transformation of African agriculture


    February 15th, 2017

    On 16th and 17th February, the MasterCard Foundation will host the Young Africa Works Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, to address the opportunities for empowering young people to drive transformational change in African agriculture. Practical Action will be there to share evidence from its work of how technologies – from MP3 podcasts, to solar irrigation systems – can support young people to lead productive lives in agricultural areas, and move towards more sustainable, resilient farming. (more…)

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  • Hard work paid off!


    February 15th, 2017

    Chuunu Kathariya is a proud agri-entreprenuer who runs a commercial pig resource centre in Dodohara VDC, Kailali. Currently, he has 19 pigs in his resource centre. He makes a yearly income of NPR 7,00,000 (£5,243). Apart from the pig resource centre, he has recently started banana farming in 14 Kattha (4740 sqm) land.

    Chunnu Kathariya at his pig resource centre

    Chunnu Kathariya at his pig resource centre

    Kathariya  took us to his days back in 2011 when he had returned from Saudi Arabia after spending 26 months there as a labourer.  After his return, he was confused on what to do next in life. But thanks to wise advice he got, he didn’t remain in a limbo for too long.

    Practical Action’s staff from the ROJGARI (Raising Opportunities for Jobs in Gramin Areas for Rural Income) project advised him to invest in a pig resource centre. The idea worked well for him. Together with four friends, he initiated the enterprise. He partially received infrastructure support along with three day pig raising training from Practical Action. He still recalls how the support and encouragement brought a tremendous change in his life.

    Kathariya  clearly looks extremely happy and satisfied with the wise decision he took five years ago. He shared, “I have been selling piglets to Kailali, Doti and Bardiya. So far, I have sold around 700 piglets at the cost of NPR 3,500 (£26) per piglet. After the 2015 earthquake, I provided 42 piglets to affected farmers in Dhading District who had faced huge loss and damage. I was really happy to be able to support them. Besides selling piglets, I am also providing technical support to pig raising farmers. Many farmers have visited my place and have also sought technical support from me. This keeps me going on my business. I am very satisfied and happy.”

    Pig resource centre

    Pig resource centre

    Chuunu has realised that perseverance paid off. He believes support  comes to the door of those who keep striving for their aim. He will soon receive financial support of NPR 200,000 (£1,500) from the government’s pig and poultry promotion programme to further expand his business. He is thankful to Practical Action’s ROJGARI project who guided him to move ahead with this enterprise.

    I think Kathariya  is a remarkable outcome of Rojgari project. This project was implemented from 2011 to 2014 with the financial support from the European Union. The project aimed to provide gainful employment opportunities for rural youths in Nepal.  Looking at the experience of people like Kathariya  we realise ROJGARI has indeed transformed people’s livelihood.

    Two years after the end of the project, many enterprises begun during the projecthave accelerated momentum and are moving ahead sustainably. ROJGARI helped locals increase entrepreneurship skills, develop business plans, provided technical support and links with market actors necessary to lead a successful enterprise.

    Being a part of ROJGARI myself, I look back and think of all the hard work the team did to address youth unemployment.  We are now witnessing the positive change in the lives of people like Kathariya.  I can only say “all our hard work has been paid off.”

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  • Energy market development and scaling up


    February 14th, 2017

    To increase access to clean fuels and spread the benefits to health and environment, Practical Action is scaling up by using the Participatory Market System Development Approach (PMSD).

    This approaches involves all actors and stake holders in a dialogue with communities to discuss barriers and ways to overcome these barriers to further develop market systems for LPG as a clean fuel.

    DSC03049Workshops were held at state and federal levels with government agencies and ministries, the private sector, LPG companies, LPG distribution agents, the Ministry of Finance, energy research and financial institutions.  They joined community representatives to map the market chain and discuss LPG markets, their constraints and how these could be solved.

    The LPG project team leads an influencing process to address barriers. An environment protection forum including all stakeholders at state level and a sustainable energy network at national level, have been established by Practical Action to advocate for alleviation of barriers to the access of poor people to environment friendly technologies. These cover aspects such as tax and duty charges.

    Other activities include:Asha LPG stoves

    1. Linking Women’s Development Associations to LPG companies and financial institutions
    2. Forming saving and loan groups to access loans where the initial cost is a major barrier to poor people’s access to clean fuel technologies
    3. Awareness raising through local and international media, sharing knowledge and experience with all stakeholders and linking private sector social investment departments to carbon finance experience
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  • Can Climate Information Services be mapped? 


    February 2nd, 2017

    “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather”.  Groundhog day 1993

    Practical Action has been approached by a consortia of partners to explore the issue of Climate Information Services in West Africa. We have been posed the question “Is it possible to map the Climate Information Services system in the region and would mapping help to make the system work better for rain fed marginalised farmers?” This is partly to respond to the challenge of why despite investment in rolling out modern forecasting systems on the continent, farmers especially small holder farmers fail to benefit from these investments? Why is crop productivity still lagging behind other regions and why is food and nutritional security still highly susceptible to seasonal and shorter term weather events?

    We are interested in mapping the CIS system for both long range forecasts of the season ahead as well as shorter duration forecast of the week or day ahead.  These forecasts must consider and accurately reflect weather, climate variability and must also anticipate the uncertainty surrounding the consequences of climate change for the region.

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Accurate seasonal forecasts can help farmers make the right crop choice for the subsequent growing season, for example if the predictions are for a wetter or dryer season then the farmer can adjust the seed they purchase to grow crops best suited to the expected conditions. By contrast accurate weekly and daily weather forecasts can enable farmers to choose the right husbandry activities for the crop at that particular moment in time. For example advance warning of heavy rain may prompt a farmer to speed up harvest to prevent storm damage to a standing crop or perhaps for a herder to find safe high ground prior to heavy rains leading to flash flooding.

    However in both cases there are a number of issues that need to be considered to make the forecast practical. These include;

    Believable, currently many farmers have zero or limited access to climate information services and have for generations relied on traditional knowledge systems.  These include observational information on the behaviour of species, timing of events or observation of atmospheric conditions.  It is vital that modern climate information services respect these indigenous approaches and compliment or reinforce these messages. Over time as reliability increases farmers can make a shift in trust and belief, but even in the developed world many farmers still look to local signs to interpret the outcome or as back up to the information provided by the climate information service for their locality.

    Actionable, the farmer needs to be able to make a change based on the information they receive.  For a farmer to switch crops based on a seasonal forecast they will need access to those alternative crops, not just access to seeds but also the activities that support these crops, such as technical knowledge, extension services and other supporting services. If the information cannot be acted upon by the farmer with the resources they have to hand it is next to useless.

    Understandable, providing blanket forecasts will not be useful if they cannot relate the forecast information to their individual situation. As we move down to finer scales weather forecasts become less reliable and it is therefore vital that CIS delivery is tailored to what we know about local conditions. We are all aware of the anomalies in the landscape and these are usually best known by local people. So tailoring the forecast to the local conditions will be vital.  Related to this is the need to make forecasts practicable to the diversity of users in the area. Forecasts need to explain the application of what the information means for different farming systems. The forecast may predict favourable condition for certain crops or livestock species but may herald warnings for others, so tailoring the advice to specific cropping recommendations will make the climate service more user friendly.

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    We have started to elaborate a participatory mapping approach which builds on the success of our Participatory Markets Systems Development (PMSD) approach. This has been adapted to map not a value chain but to focus on the transmission of climate services from information sources to information recipients. We will aim to map the transmission of information across the system as it is converted from one form of information to another and turned into action through different service providers.  Crucial to the success of this approach will be the need to make it bottom up and as participatory as possible.

    There are plenty of other issues that we will consider as this project develops. For example the use of SMS messaging and other types of Information Communication Technologies to disseminate climate information.  However, one of the most important aspects that we are hoping the system approach will help us understand is the role and potential for feedback loops. Established Climate Information Service systems work because they are reliable and trustworthy. This is only possible if regular experiential learning and feedback takes place between the end users and the CIS system components. We are excited to be a part of this project, but recognise that there is a lot still to learn about climate information services and what makes them tick.

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