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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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  • MasterCard Young Africa Works Summit


    May 26th, 2017

    Earlier this year I attended the second annual Young Africa Works Summit in Kigali, Rwanda hosted by MasterCard Foundation. The theme of the summit was built around shifting discussion from how to engage youth in agriculture, to youth as drivers of agricultural transformation. The summit explored three sub-themes that contribute to agricultural transformation, gender, technology and climate-smart agriculture.

    Almost a third of participants were young people from across the continent of Africa.  They shared their experiences, successes, challenges and innovations in agriculture related businesses. First of all, I was impressed by the confidence displayed by the young people presenting  in front of an international audience and how they challenged some of the ‘norms’.

    Key from all the presentations was how technology can act as a huge incentive to attract youth to take up agriculture as a business. Rita Kimani, Co-founder and CEO, FarmDrive uses new data­ driven technology to increase the availability of capital. Her work focuses on leveraging technology to enable smallholder farmers in Africa to achieve sustainable livelihoods.

    Alloysius Attah, CEO and Co-founder of Farmerline from Ghana, founded Alloyworld, a photography and video production company, and iCottage Networks, a Web and Mobile startup. Brian Bosire, Founder of UjuziKilimo, an agricultural technology company that brings affordable precision farming to smallholder farmers in Kenya, enabling them to produce more from their farm, curbing hunger and food insecurity. UjuziKilimo uses sensors to analyse soil and farm conditions to provide real-time, precise, actionable recommendations over mobile phones to rural farmers who lack access to extension services and information on weather and markets.

    On gender Pilirani Khoza is the Founder of Bunda Female Students Organisation (BUFESO), an organisation that supports disadvantaged university students at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi. Concerned with the lack of women participating in higher education, she empowers young girls to pursue studies in science and agriculture by helping to fund their tuition and other fees.

    My key takeaways from this summit were;

    • Let youth lead development of agri-business by creating an enabling business environment for them to exercise their innovativeness and experimentation
    • Technology plays a very important part in providing incentives for youth to participate in agriculture
    • Government is key to creating an enabling environment for youth-led agri-business to grow (very few African governments are doing this)

    Here are some inspiring quotes from the event.

    “We are all leaders and the role of leaders is to connect the problem to solutions.”

    “Technology is our mother tongue.”

    “If you are not in love with a farmer, raise your standards.”

    “If you can’t fly you can run, if you can’t run you can walk, if you can’t walk you can crawl, if you can’t crawl whatever you do keep moving!!”

    Learn more about the event on the Young Africa Works website http://youngafricaworks.org/resources/

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  • Building farmers’ resilience through ICT based weather information


    May 26th, 2017

    Bangladesh has made significant advancements in the field of disaster management. We are good at response, but there are areas of improvement for overall management—most importantly preparedness and early warning systems.

    We generally consider a cyclone as a ‘disaster’ but consider flooding as a regular phenomenon, not a disaster. If we look at the policy documents, we will see that drought, salinity and even arsenic have been considered under the definition of disaster, but have focused less attention on these so far.

    flooding in SiragonjWhen we compare the loss that occurs due to different disasters, flood is the highest while drought comes fourth. Again, if we analyse the loss and damage among different sectors, the agricultural sector is the most affected and farmers are the worst victims. Loss and damage from drought or flood could be minimized by providing agro-meteorological information to farmers well ahead.

    Practical Action demonstrated this in Sirajgonj by providing agro-meteorological services to farmers, catering to their needs by tailoring the agricultural advice with voice messages with support from local organisations. The year round information flow prepares farmers for receiving the messages as a part of their regular practice and thus makes them more likely to respond to the advice immediately during a disaster.

    Many organisations, including I/NGOs are setting examples of good and workable models which need to be mainstreamed by the government.

    Agro-meteorological services could save farmers to a great extent but it remains a challenge to communicate with them using simple, easily understood language. Increasing ICT access and services to the majority of the population in Bangladesh needs to be utilized to its full potential. The government needs to support cost minimization for disseminating agricultural advice and early warning messages to reach the last mile.

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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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  • Lights, Camera, Action: Reflections from the Access Agriculture video training in Bangladesh

    It is very easy to make videos with your mobile phone but when your aspirations are to share the film globally, and with a specific audience in mind, it is not

    Over the last two weeks colleagues from Bangladesh and Nepal participated in a video training workshop provided by Access Agriculture in the Northern part of Bangladesh. Access Agriculture are a key partner of Practical Answers, our technical information service, providing and sharing technical solutions to solve agricultural challenges!

    Practical Action staff learning how to use video

    The training took place over a 12 day period. Four trainers, from England, Belgium and Kenya, led the course- they were very friendly, and ensured an engaging and insightful experience for all involved!

    Prior to the training we selected, among our colleagues, three video topics: 1. Rearing sheep and goats on a raised platform, 2. Mango grafting and 3. Sorting and storing pumpkins. Before filming it is important to have a good script ; we discussed our prepared scripts so that we could receive feedback from the group.

    The video production process consists of:

    • Issue selection
    • Research desk work
    • Script writing 1st draft
    • Feedback from specialist or relevant persons
    • Recce (the process of visiting and quickly looking around a place in order to find out information)

    The recce process was  very new to me. After visiting the site we revised our scripts as we had gathered new information that would enhance the original drafts. In between this time we prepared some questions to take to interview: why should you store pumpkin, which pumpkins can be stored, how to protect pumpkins during storage etc. Then we went for filming.

    Around 280 clips of footage was collected in four days, ranging between 2-8 minutes in length. At this stage 70% of work is completed within the production process. The remaining 30% consists of:

    • Input footage-logging/selecting
    • Transcription
    • Translation of audio
    • Incorporating translations into the revised script
    • Record voice over
    • Final edit

    We used an editing software called Light Works, it is interesting as tasks are auto-saved. However, before editing we need to arrange the files into a specific computer drive. We learnt that for structured content it is important to consider using subtitle, voiceover and interview-translation using different voices. When using graphics you should consider cutaway pictures and moving shots. You should be aware of issues such as the height of the camera and ensuring there is action in the frame. You should also consider having music, title captions, name captions, background sound and edit credits.

    When taking footage it is important to understand the different types of shots, they are:

    • GV: General View
    • VLS = Very Long Shot
    • LS = Long Shot
    • MLS = Medium Long Shot, it also call 3/4 shot
    • MS = Mid Shot
    • MCU = Medium Close Up
    • CU = Close Up
    • BCU = Big Close Up

     

    When taking a shot we used a tripod to ensure the filming was smooth, and not shaky!

    Our video on pumpkin sorting and storing will soon be available online in French, Bangla and English. This training course was a fantastic learning opportunity, and I look forward to putting my learning into practice! These newly acquired skills will allow us to better share knowledge in video format! Videos produced will be shared through the Access Agriculture network meaning our technical knowledge and experience can be used by many more practitioners.

    Visit Access Agriculture to learn more about work, and future training opportunities.

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  • From despair to dignity – emergency response project in Sudan


    May 24th, 2017

    Heavy rain that hit the eastern region of Sudan in the summer of 2016 and flashfloods, caused substantial damage to communities in Kassala state.  This posed unique challenges and exposed local communities to different areas of vulnerability.

    In response, Practical Action and Plan Sudan, working in the Aqua4East Partnership, a water  project in the region, developed a six months emergency response initiative to protect the  area from the negative impacts of the emergency situation. The priority was to help the affected communities respond to, and rapidly recover from this disaster, and to strengthen their resilience to future natural crises. Practical Action focused on addressing the life-saving needs of vulnerable affected people through a holistic water, sanitation, and hygiene programme.

    This story of Adam and his family is just one of thousands of success stories of families that benefited from the this project in Kassala, one of the country’s poorest states.

    Await village is 35km north of Kassala city. The region suffers from chronic poverty, food insecurity, lack of access to basic facilities, and limited support from state government. The people of Await are extremely poor; they lack the basic facilities of life; including education, health, and hygiene. The local culture and social restrictions imposed by the community keeps girls out of classroom education.

    Adam Mohamed Abu Fatima is a 45 year old man whose life has been a hard struggle for him and his family.

    I used to have no hope and was never able to help my family.

    His wife is terminally ill due to unhealthy food and lack of income. Adam really wanted to help her, but the costs of medicines, and seeing a doctor were too high. He has five children, two boys and three girls. The two boys and the youngest girl are enrolled in primary school. The two older girls help the family make a living, look after their mother, and take care of other domestic work.

    Adam’s story shows how much change can come about when a family works together and supports each other.

    Adam used to earn his living from carrying water  and fetching firewood.  He earned around his earning were on average SDG 20 per day (£2.30). Things started to improve when the water committee in Twaite purchased him a donkey cart fitted with two water drums to supply water on a daily basis to the latrines newly constructed by the Emergency Response Project.  These were built to reduce the practice of open area defection and subsequently reduce contamination and spread of diseases in the village. Adam also uses this donkey cart  to sell water to the community. His income has increased by SDG 100 (£12) per day, after putting aside enough to feed the donkey and keep it healthy and for cart maintenance.  He also makes a daily contribution of SDG 20 (£2.30) to the water committee.

    The donkey cart contributed by the project and managed by the village Water Committee

    Adam is so pleased about how things are changing for him and his family. He can now help his neighbours by supplying water for them.  His family learned how to keep chickens and have bought six chickens and one cockerel and are now breeding hens.  The eggs were great for the children and the rest are sold at the local market. His daughters look after the chickens, clean the house, and cook for the family.

    One of the three latrine blocks constructed by the project in the village

    The family works as a team, Adam’s elder daughter attended the farm training facilitated by the project and is now starting to cultivate her own small home farm, making use of the availability of water and the donkey’s manure to improve the fertility of the soil on her farm for increased crop production.  Neighbours are now coming to find out how they farm and they help others whenever possible, so the family, their neighbours and the community are all better off.

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  • Bio-dyke protects Bangalipur community


    April 26th, 2017

    Healthy natural capital provides a buffer between flood hazards and communities. In flood emergencies it provides protecting ecosystem services and in normal time it is a livelihood resource. The vegetation growing along the strengthened river bank in Bangalipur, Bardia brings hope to at least 40 households and provides a site for others to ‘see and learn’.

    There are 135 households living in Bangalipur; 40 households in this community are at risk of flood from the Aurahi Khola, a tributary of Karnali River.

    The flood affects the community in three ways: it erodes the bank away and destroys agriculture and settlement; deposits sand and silt which damages harvests and makes it difficult to cultivate crops in the future; and during high flood events, the flood can inundate settlement leaving people homeless. Over the last 15 years the river has eroded three bigha (2.028 hectare) of agriculture land owned by 10 families rendering some of them landless. If this issue is not addressed the remaining 40 vulnerable household will be displaced.

    Working in isolation, communities did not have the capacity to construct any kind of embankment. The Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) brought communities together and a representative body was formed – the community disaster management committee (CDMC) of Bangalipur.

    The committee led a vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) which identified the Aurahi Khola riverside and nearby households as the most vulnerable to flooding. To address this problem the community identified the need to strengthen the embankment and flood defence structures and included it in their disaster risk management plan.
    Although initial community priority was for high investment concrete structure or a pile of stone filled gabion boxes, they agreed on vegetative measures of bio-dyke technology using locally available resources and mobilising communities through the leadership of the CDMC. The project supported the communities in survey and design, cost estimate, funding for materials that needed to be purchased or hired and the communities provided the locally available materials and labour. A written agreement was reached in between the CDMC and the project outlining the objective, roles and scope of work for both sides.

    River bank before constructing bio-dyke

    The bio-dyke building
    A junior engineer was brought in to technically advise and guide the work. Members of the community worked together to smoothen the bank slope between 30-45 degrees. A base foundation was dug out at the bottom of the bank slope. Then, grip walls were built in the foundation of sand bags supported with bamboo poles and systematically interlocked by gabion iron (GI) wire. These tow walls used 12 ft long bamboo poles in two rows running parallel at one metre and each driven into 8 ft deep holes dug by a driller and sand bag piled in between.

    Piling sand bags along the slope to construct the bio-dyke

    At every 20 m intervals along the bank, bamboo spurs (3 m long, 1.5 m wide and about a metre high) were constructed in the same way – filled with sandbags to deflect water flow away and to prevent water directly hitting the embankment. Sand bags were then piled up along the smooth bank slope – they were guided and interlocked with bamboo poles and GI wire. Lastly, the sandbags along the bank slope were covered with top soil in between hedge rows at 1-2 metres. Before the onset of monsoon (the growing season), locally available seedlings were brought from nurseries and transplanted on the slopes. The plants included bamboo, Napier and bushes that establish and extend their root systems rapidly. Bamboos were chosen at the face – the tow wall side. The community put a hedgerow of plants to prevent the slope from grazing and trampling. The community members monitored the area and prevented grazing.

    Opportunity to test
    The bio-dyke aimed to stabilise the 220 m river bank protecting about six bigha (4.056 hectare) land of 10 families. On the 26 July 2016, one of the biggest recorded floods in the river occurred, providing an opportunity for the community to test the strength of their structure. Although the dyke is yet to naturally stabilise to attain its full strength, it defended the flood well without major damage. The flood was 3 m high and rose over the bioengineering structure but there was no bank cutting and the land at the back was well protected. “There’s also less sand and silt brought in our field,” said Namrata who is one of the land owners. The coordinator of CDMC is ‘pleased to see the success’ and said, “We will extend the dyke further.”

    After bio-dyke construction at Bangalipur, Bardia

    The process built capacity within the community on how to build a bio-dyke. One hundred and thirty five community members worked on the process and have learned how it is done, increasing their awareness on the importance of riverbank protection. “We are now confident, we can do it,” one of the CDMC members said. He informed us that they are approaching local government to advocate for funding allocation to extend the embankment but the ongoing restructuring and elections may ‘lead to waiting for another fiscal year’.

    All information of this story were collected by Buddhi Kumal, Lok Pokharel, Narayan Ghimire and Prakash Khadka.

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  • Making the invisible Eco-Warriors; the informal Waste Pickers, visible


    April 24th, 2017

    I see few of them every morning; first while going for my walk and then while going to my office. They come to the locality little early before the municipal authorized waste pickers come for the waste collection so as they can segregate the reusable items beforehand, collect those and then can sell it to the kabadiwala. I am talking about the “informal waste pickers” who play a big role in keeping the city and neighborhood clean, but don’t get the recognition they deserve. Bhubaneswar generates around 600 tonnes of solid waste per day and the city is providing habitation to around 1500 numbers of waste pickers and their families.

    Some research report shows 90% of discarded recyclable PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) in India gets recycled, ahead of countries with formalized waste management. Most of these are collected by informal waste collectors who sell it to middlemen who then resell to recycling factories. In most of the cities the same business model is working.

    Go and meet few waste pickers you will clearly observe that lower caste or Dalits and other minorities are mostly performing this task. They belong to the most marginalized sections of the city. Most of them are uneducated and even their children perform the same task. And yes they are associated with dirt. The stray dogs bark at them and even the most of the city dwellers look at them differently.

    The misery is that they clean and appears dirty and we dirt the city and appear clean. Do not you think they do a great job !!! They need recognition for this job which they perform for their livelihood.  As most of them are not educated they are cheated by the middle man and sell their collected materials at a lesser price. As they are not into formal sector they perform the task without any safety gear and put their health at risk. I accept they do this job as per their own wish but from a different angle, they perform the task of the local municipality without being paid for that.

    We at Practical Action initiated a project among the children of the informal waste pickers few years back. And one component of that project was to formalize the informal waste workers and provide them with valid identity card so that they can take the benefit of the government schemes. I am not going to discuss the whole project achievement here, but the field team managed by a local NGO called as CCWD made tremendous efforts with technical support from Practical Action in influencing the municipality to recognize the work of the informal waste works. The project was funded by BVLF for 2 years.

    BMC Mayor Sri Ananta Narayan Jena handing over ID card to waste workers of Bhubaneswar

    When it came to the social security of the Informal waste workers, the state had no provisions for them and one of the major reason was, these waste workers were not identified in the labour category. We continued our advocacy for more than a year with taking up a lot of initiatives. We formed the ‘Abrajana Gotali Mahasangha’ the first of its kind formal union among the waste pickers of the city. A series of training programmes on different safety measures and awareness on getting their basic facilities from the municipality were organised. The union later took this up and went ahead to meet the municipal authorities along with the project staffs. After several meetings and approach, the authority finalized acknowledged the informal waste workers of the city and a process of identification was initiated.

    Deputy commissioner BMC Sri Srimanta Mishra among the waste workers with their ID cards

    The municipality agreed to provide valid identity card to the informal waste pickers and also some additional benefits in terms of safety and social security was assured. Though the project is over but a constant supervision has led to a number of 755 informal waste workers being provided with the identity card. They are now recognized as labours in other category and this makes them eligible to get benefits from various government schemes.

    Yet again, this number is not enough. This is the story of just one city. Odisha has more than 100 urban local bodies where we can find the similar set of people. This is high time, other municipalities and urban local bodies must consider the informal waste workers and provide them with the required social security and safety what they deserve.

    ( Download ‘LIFE DIGNIFIED’ a case study compendium on the said project here. )

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  • Success Story of a Water Initiative


    April 19th, 2017

    Haladete-East is a village located 40 km North from the city of Kassala, Eastern Sudan. It is a home of over 4800 people, from which 2850 are women. This is a story of an amazing water initiative that benefited not only one family but the entire village of Haladete-East!

    Access to water has always been a serious problem in Haladete-East. Because there was no water nearby, people had to walk every day nearly three hours, through deserted roads, to collect water. Their only source of water was a remote hand-pump that was unreliable. The walks to collect water were tough and because of the heavy weight, only limited amount of water could be brought back to the village. Because of this, water could only be used to absolute necessities such as cooking and drinking.

    To solve the problem, Practical Action launched a project called Aqua for East. The project, funded by DFID, aimed to improve the water security for the benefit of the whole community. To do this, Practical Action needed to build a water tank that would be big enough to provide water for 4800 people!

    The first step in the project was to identify a location with a steady underground water supply (through hydrological studies and water catchment surveys). This ensured that the water supply would not run dry – even during the driest times. Once the right location was selected, Practical Action build the water tank, including two different distribution stations. One station was for women and the other for men. Each station included six water taps.

    What makes this project so special, is the substantial community engagement. With the help of Practical Action, people living in the village established a Water Committee that looked after the management of the water distribution, including financial management and preparations should a damage occur.

    Because of the Aqua for East initiative, the life of the people living in Haladete-East is now easier, healthier, more dignified and joyful. To summarise:

    1. People do not need to walk long distances to collect water anymore. They now have an easy access to clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. In addition, small scale farming and animal farming have benefited from the secured water supply.

    2. The initiative has had a tremendous impact on improved hygiene. Villagers are now able to wash their hands and shower more often, to do laundry and clean their homes. Furthermore, the food is less contaminated and diet more healthier due to in-house cultivated vegetables.

    3. More girls are going to school instead of collecting water. In addition, they have more time to socialise and participate in income generating activities.

    Nafish O’shak, one of the villagers, said: Before, the community health promoters used to give us strong hygiene advice, but without water we could not do what we were advised to do. Now we have sufficient water and we are very hygienic. Our clothes, food and houses are extremely clean.

    Is that a revolutionary impact or what?

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  • Gender Transformative Change Is Our Priority


    March 31st, 2017

    The gender is at the center in our new Strategic Business Plan (SBP) 2017 to 2020. In terms of gender, the main shift in the strategic period is gender mainstreaming to gender transformation.

    The gender transformation process dedicates to rigorous gender analysis on capacity enhancement, institutional strengthen, research and development of gender responsive policies through meaningful participation of women and men. The transformative change process goes beyond identifying and exploring the symptoms of gender equality, socially constructed norms, attitudes, and relations of power that underline the cause of limitation of men and women.

    In context of Nepal, women are confined to the domestic spheres mostly in rural areas due to socially embedded and culturally accepted gender roles and responsibilities. So, this process examines the questions and seeks to change the rigid gender norms that causes power imbalances by encouraging critical awareness. The change process of gender transformation mainly focuses to unfold the causes and consequences of existing gender values and addresses them accordingly. This change process further encourages the society to promote the position of women by challenging the unequal distribution of resources and allocation regarding the power relationships. There are four different pillars for gender transformative change, they are:

    Pic. 1

    The first and foremost area that needs to be focused is capacity of women’s leadership. It helps to respond to the need and requirement of an organisation’s future strategy. The development of new policies and strengthening of existing policies from gender perspectives support women in leadership and decision making positions. Such policies support including the socially excluded, economically poor, and vulnerable in terms of disaster risk reduction and those deprived of access to information and resources. It further encourages partnering with like-minded government, non-government organisations and civil societies, additionally, the research on GESI helps to provide evidence for the areas of concentration to bring the gender transformation change in an organisation.

    In context of Practical Action, Nepal office, there are two areas that need to focus. They are;

    1. Capacity strengthening and women’s leadership
    • Focus on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) through project activities
    • Capacity building on Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) of staff and partners
    • Initiate the Gender Audit through our existing projects
    1. Inclusive policies and partnerships
    • Focus to implement of existing policies and development of new policies/ guidelines if required
    • Partnership with like minded organizations to contribute on GESI areas in the implementation level

    This comprehensive understanding of empowerment requires, not only the increase of women’s individual agency, but also changes to transform the structural barriers in order to shift social and cultural norms. This can be measured by examining three broad  domains of transformative changes on empowerment, they are:

    Agencies: Individual and institutional knowledge, skills and abilities

    Relations: Complex and multi-dimensional and pervasive relationships to analyse through diversified tools and techniques

    Structures: Power relationships governing collective, individual and institutional practices

    Pic. 2

    These dimensions help re-frame the discourse of empower to focus on women’s individual agency to collect responsibilities and actions.

    Overall, the gender transformative change impacts on institutional and individual level through gender inclusive policies keeping the women in front line positions in development interventions. This leads to rights of women along with gender related expectations. Eventually, it provides insights for gender transformative actions at organisation and programme implementation levels. Gender is so central to our new strategy. So, considering our organizational priorities, gender tansformative change is one of them.

     

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