50 years of Practical Action


November 9th, 2015

IMG_2263 (Medium)Practical Action is celebrating our 50th Anniversary. We’re celebrating working together with people, huge impact, great technological innovation, people’s lives changed. For me it’s the stories of those individuals who have worked together with Practical Action that are the real testament to our work.

People like John who I met in Gwanda, Zimbabwe and who started working with us in January this year. Rainfall in Zimbabwe is increasingly erratic and he wanted to know about planting techniques that would increase the resilience of his crops. When I met him in May the news was good and bad.

 IMG_2256 (Medium)Good – the crops planted using the new pit and mulch technique were flourishing. From what I could see the technique involved digging rows of small pits, with slightly raised sides to keep in rainfall, planting in the pit and then mulching – if well enough mulched as well as needing less water the crop required very little if any, weeding.
  Bad – The rains had proven fickle, not arriving as normal but with downpours too late in the season to support the traditionally planted crops that had started to grow. His standard planted crop was ruined.

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John said to me “this year’s not good enough. I have failed, this season I have failed. From this improved way of planting I will get about 30 sacks – the rest of the crops are no good, I will get nothing”.

But even as he was despairing of this year’s crop (the agro ecological approach to harvest would help the family get through – but only just) he was already preparing and getting ready for next year’s planting and looking ahead to the future.

IMG_2255 (Medium)It’s hard work to plant like this but it is an advantage. I will continue to expand pit cultivation. It delivers good results and it improves, rather than destroys soil structure – this is important”. John’s story is a great example of the tangible impacts of Practical Action’s work. His work also exemplifies our agro ecological approach to farming – looking to improve productivity and returns while at the same time caring for the environment.

Listening to John and his wife Patience I was hugely impressed by their determination and resilience. And pleased that we had been able to help – a little bit this year, and hopefully much more into the future.

However Practical Action’s 50th Anniversary is not a time only for congratulation and celebration , it’s a time to remind ourselves that our work is needed yet more.

 I’ve just been asked what makes our work different? My answer:
• Recognising the important role of technology
• That development and environment are not separate – but for sustainable development we need to work on both
• Importance of local ownership
• Equality – that for our world to change there needs to be more equitable sharing of resources.
• Recognising the importance of work – people want to be part of, to lead their own development.
• Urbanisation – working both in cities and protecting and supporting rural livelihoods.

What enthuses me most about Practical Action is our practical approach – working to help end poverty and protect our planet.   But more about that next time …

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