Practical Action West Africa – the journey begins

Dakar, Senegal, Dakar | November 29th, 2013

It’s always a pleasure for me to step off the plane in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and to  breathe in the cool, fresh sea-breeze – such a contrast to the heat and dust I have left behind in Bamako over 1000 km to the east. In more than 25 years spent living and working in West Africa, I have been to Dakar many times, but it feels quite different knowing that this short visit is my last before moving here in January 2014 to open a new West Africa office for Practical Action.West Africa Map

Different, and a bit daunting too! West Africa is big place – the 15 member states of the ECOWAS community alone (see map) cover 5.1 million km2, that’s 21 times the size of UK. It is also full of contrasts; from the busy buzzing, port towns of Dakar, Accra, Abidjan, Lomé and Lagos which are key hubs for regional trade and economic growth, to the semi-desert landlocked countries of Mali, Burkina and Niger, amongst the least developed in the World. Here recurrent drought, compounded by recent armed conflict, have left an estimated 10.3 million people facing food shortages in 2013 with, critically, 4.5 million children under 5 at high risk of acute malnutrition.

So during my meetings in Dakar this week I have been talking to a wide range of people, learning more about what government, the private sector and farmers themselves, are already doing and discussing how Practical Action can support this, bringing its unique blend of knowledge, skills and over 45 years of experience of using technology to challenge poverty in developing countries.

Assata Diarra – West African farmer

Assata Diarra – West African farmer, tree planter, market gardener and trader [Photo credit: Sahel Eco]

And I have been thinking of Assata Diarra who I met in Mali in March 2012, just the day before the coup d’état (photo left). Assata is farmer, a tree planter, a market gardener and a trader. She uses her mobile phone (hung round her neck) to help sell her fruit and vegetables and to keep in touch with family members who live far away.

Practical Action in West Africa will be working to ensure that farmers like Assata, can develop more resilient farming systems – better able to resist and recover quickly from climate shocks – and can have access to affordable locally-sourced sustainable energy solutions enabling them to work their way out of poverty and improve the health and wellbeing of the whole family, and especially their children.

If you are working in West Africa and would be interested to partner with Practical Action on small scale energy or agriculture, or to be on our register of associate consultants, please write to me at:

12 responses to “Practical Action West Africa – the journey begins”

  1. Joseph Heineck Says:

    Hello Mary Allen,

    Thank you for your blog. Good luck in setting up a PA office in Dakar; please post your progress and activities in future blogs. Our interest is in Ghana agriculture and food security.

    Joe Heineck
    Pres., CleanPwr Inc. Lake Stevens WA, USA 98258

  2. Mary Allen Says:

    Hi Joe, Many thanks for your interest and good wishes. I’ll be posting regular updates in English and in French too. I’d love to know more about your work in Ghana – if you send an email to it will be forwarded to me.

    Best wishes

  3. Adetola Ajala Says:

    Hi Mary,

    I am excited that PA now has an office in West Africa. I have been following PA activities for over 5 years (ITDG). In fact i proposed establishing a regional office in Abuja, Nigeria. I will forward the mail to you. I was in the U.K in October and spoke with Vicky Erickson. She advised me to register as a consultant which i have done.

    Really looking forward to starting the “Practical Action West Africa journey with you earnestly.


    Adetola Ajala

  4. Liz Martin Says:

    Hi Mary,

    Congrats on this new endeavor! I’ve been trying to email and it keep coming back as ‘undeliverable’. Is there a better email address yo reach you at?

    I work for an organization called CREATE! and thought we could be a great partner organization in some capacity. CREATE! stands for the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology for the Environment. We work in three sectors – food, water, and renewable energy – in six villages in rural Senegal. You can learn more about our various programs at

    Looking forward to learning more!

    Kind regards,
    Liz Martin


    Hello Mary A.,
    Complement of the season and happy Xmas to you in advance.i have been following PRACTICAL ACTION (PA) for some times now and stand bold to say the establishment of ( PA) is one of the best thing to have happened to the poor communities of the world.i have read so much documents from (PA) on its activities and resources.the truth is that experts too learn from the organization works. i am therefore wishing you well in your new place of assignment as We look forward to have (PA )in Nigeria ( just like Ajala Adetola have rightly pointed in one of the comments above ) .Thank you and Remain blessed!
    Renewable regards,
    Shittu Suraj Bamidele (M.ENG, MICCON)
    (site engineer)
    ( A renewable energy solution company)

  6. Peter Kappenberger Says:

    Hello Mary,
    Congratulations for your new and challenging assignment ! I am working in GUINEA and I would like to correspond with you. Unfortunately, the mail address given does not seem to accept my message. Could you give me another mailbox address?
    ind regards,

  7. Yakubu L. Badarawa Says:

    Hi Mary,
    You are most welcome. I am a Nigerian (like Ajala Adetola & S.S. Bamidele). I am wishing to learn and share with the less-privilege specially, Practical Action on Affordable Science & Technology – Agricultural Biotechnology in particular. Best of luck. Yakubu L. Badarawa.

  8. Mary Allen Says:

    Mystery solved – there was a “v” missing in the email address which should read :

    Thank you for all the good wishes – from Guinea, Senegal and Nigeria so far. If you are reading this blog in another West African country please get in touch and let me know.

    I hope to be travelling quite a bit over the next 6 months and hope to meet up with as many of you as possible

    with very best wishes for 2014

  9. Hennie Venter Says:


    I am a South African and on a construction project in North Liberia
    born in African and with a passion for farming i am always supporting and advising local farmers and small bussinesses of an engineering or tradesman nature to uplift people.
    I have worked in Mali , Ghana and now in Liberia
    I would like to make contact and will appreciate any advise and info which i can apply in the Liberian conditions to uplift local bussinesses or individuals


  10. Mary Allen Says:

    Hello Hennie – thanks for your interest.

    If you are looking for information and advice for farmers I suggest you first take a look at the Practical Answers online library which you can find here:

    Then if you dont find the answer you are looking for, you can send your question to our experts by filling in the online form available here:

    In some cases farmers face problems which are more related to issues of market access. We have developed tools which can be used to help small scale producers map and analyse their particular situation and help them decide what needs to be done. You can read more about Participatory Market Mapping here:

    best wishes

  11. Emmanuel Darkey Says:

    Hello Marry AAFEX is an association of Agriculture producer and exporters of Africa we have membership in almost the all the West Africa Country’s and with its HQ in Dakar Senegal l am the president of the Ghana branch as a framer and exporter l am happy of the small small solution you have and will be happy to work with you in implementing your findings especially in the rural areas where l work hope to get in touch with you soonest
    best wishes
    Emmanuel Darkey

  12. Vic Heritage Says:

    Hi Mary, I have been a Practical Action supporter for a few years, and have a particular interest in The Gambia. It is great to see that West Africa is now within the area of influence of Practical Action. It will be beneficial to be able to draw on the experience of others who are aware of the local problems in the region

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