Blogs tagged as East Africa

  • Insects for food – yuk or maybe not?

    August 19th, 2014

    I’m just back from  Zimbabwe, in Gwanda I met people worried about how they will feed their family –  the rains have failed or at best been poor – so the harvest is likely to be inadequate. Many people will spend months hungry and poorly nourished.

    Yesterday was Food Revolution Day – and while I agree with Jamie Oliver that educating kids about the food they eat is vital, it wont end global hunger. With a rising global population, increased demand for meat and agricultural production hit by climate change how we all  access adequate food must be part of a global debate. We may also need to change the way we think.

    A couple of months ago now I read an article in the Guardian which argued that as we head for 9 million people on our planet we need to find a new approach to food. One of the ideas mooted alongside reducing waste and 3D printed food, was the widespread consumption of insects. My immediate reaction was ‘hurray for waste reduction’,  distrust of printed foods (why distance ourselves even further from nature) and ‘yuk!’ to insects.

    While I’ve been offered Mopane Worms in South Africa and a much recommended snack of fried Locusts in The Philippines, I’ve never been tempted – I don’t even like prawns. But maybe on reflection I’m just not open-minded enough in my choice of food.

    Food chainThe latest edition of Practical Action Publishing’s journal ‘Food Chain’  focuses on insects for food and feed. It points out that

    • Insects are traditionally consumed by more than 2 billion people worldwide;
    • There’s great diversity – about 2,000 species known to be edible;
    • Environmentally there are significant benefits over eating meat (lower emissions of greenhouse gases, low requirement for land and water etc.);
    • There is a huge opportunity for insects as animal and poultry feed (In the EU this is currently hindered by legislation);
    • They are good for you – termites for example are particularly rich in oleic acids, the same type of fat found in olive oil
    • The ‘Yuk’ factor is possible to overcome – think of worms’ lava in Tequila and Beer.

    Turns out Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, is a big fan! “When you consider the imprint of cattle and other stock on the environment you are better off with insects. Insects have a very good conversion rate from feed to meat. There is no way that we can sustain conventional livestock production environmentally if we want to meet the needs of the growing human population”.

    Rather than encouraging the unsustainable growth of a Western type diet shouldnt we be looking at more traditional foods? If 2 billion people around the world eat insects – and appear to like them – they are good for our planet, and can be good for us – Surely the question is why wouldnt we try them?

    So if you have a taste for insects I recommend ‘The Insect Cookbook – Food for a Sustainable Planet’ published by Columbia. Great recipes including Bitterbug Bites, Bugitos and Buffalo Worm Chocolate Cupcakes.

    I don’t think I’m ready for a cricket lollipop yet but if the rather indistinct protein in say my occasional ready meal was made of insect – maybe I wouldn’t mind (or more likely I wouldn’t think about it). Good for people and the environment – what is there to dislike?     insect lolipop

    Insects could be the food of the future.



    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • EU needs to take action on climate change now!

    March 20th, 2014

    Our world leaders are working towards action on climate change – not a grand top down plan but a bottom up approach whereby all countries will set out their intended national contributions on the basis of what’s fair and equitable. The contributions are then pulled together to form the agreement. The intention is that this treaty will be agreed and signed at a meeting in Paris at the end of 2015.

    Should we be worried about this? I think so – let me explain why

    1. My action’s bigger than your action!

    Have you noticed that governments have a tendency to talk up commitments but somehow when it comes to delivery everything is smaller or somehow more difficult?  One current example –where there has been confusion at least over funding – is the Green Climate Fund.  It’s a UNFCCC flagship programme intended by 2020 to provide by $100 billion a year to assist developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.  It started operations this year after three years of planning but so far has been mired in debate about the level of finance to be provided by governments and what can be provided by the private sector.  Currently  only a fraction of this sum has been pledged so far, mostly to cover start-up costs’ according to Climate Finance and Markets 

    Kenyan women march against climate change2.  Maths – will the sum of the parts be enough?

    Today 49 less developed countries (LDCs) are calling for the process towards the Paris meeting to be speeded up. They worry that looking at all the commitments as a whole it just won’t be enough to deliver a maximum 2 degree average temperature rise, protect vulnerable countries like Bangladesh and/or that the timetable will be so elongated that by the time all of the pledges are in there won’t be sufficient time to work out if what’s proposed is enough.

    3. What about the poorest and most marginalized people?

    Keeping average global temperature rises to 2 degrees will now require urgent and transformational action. However even if we do managed to contain warming the impacts on poor people often living in the poorest and most marginal areas will still be significant. Their voices and needs are not sufficiently heard and represented in the climate change processes. Read our East Africa director, Grace Mukasa’s blog where she talks about the current unreported drought in Kenya.

    4. Why now?

    Today and tomorrow we could see the EU lead the way – leaders are coming together for a crucial EU Council meeting where they could decide Europe’s climate and energy targets until 2030. They could set ambitious targets supported by binding actions, they could lead the world on climate change action and by their decisions prompt other countries to be ambitious, to make declarations early and to adopt legally binding frameworks.

    Paris is still the best hope for global action on climate change. Now is the time to work hard and push for action. But even if we get a deal in Paris we are still likely to exceed the 2 degree rise. So climate adaptation must go up the agenda on the UN and all the countries attending the talks. Practical Action will be pushing for this at the next UN climate talks in Peru in December.

    Take action

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Shit matters – World Toilet Day

    November 19th, 2013

    Today is World Toilet day.

    Every day, several times (I hope) each one of us goes to the loo. We in the rich world take sewage systems that not only function but are pretty invisible and don’t smell for granted. But it hasn’t always been this way;

    In London in the 1860s terrible smells from the Thames caused the government to develop new sewerage systems which in turn dramatically improved health – death rates per 1,000 dropping from 24 in 1870 to 19 in 1890.

    And then there was Florence Nightingale fresh air, soap and water reduced the death rate of hospitalised soldiers in the Crimea from 42% to 2.2% in 4 months.

    But why the history lesson? Well today is World Toilet Day and shit matters!

    Sanitation remains one of the biggest development challenges – it’s just something we don’t like to think or talk about. Im told by collegues in fundraising that appeals for clean water get a good response whereas appeals to help people get access to sanitation often receive less interest – people prefer not to think about crap and pee! But thinking about it and taking action is vital. Practical Action - Kibera

    According to WHO 37% of the developing world’s population – 2.5 billion people don’t have access to decent sanitation facilities. In urban slums lack of access to household sanitation is a particular issue for women. For some social norms about women not been seen to defecate in the open keep then confined until the hours of darkness, leading to medical problems and much greater risk of being attacked. For women and particularly young girls as they start to menstruate no access to loos can mean no school and embarrassment.

    You will of course have heard of flying toilets – plastic bags people crap in and then fling as far as possible often pretending it wasn’t them and/or caring who the bag hits or where it lands.

    Transmission of waterborne diseases such as cholera are exacerbated by environmental pollution and low levels of personal hygiene. In Zimbabwe an inspirational cholera nurse described the disease as eating or drinking a stool – not a good thought!

    This is technology injustice. We’ve known about the advantages of sanitation for more than 100 years yet many millions of people don’t have access.

    Practical Action are delivering big WASH (water supply, sanitation and hygiene) programmes and we are ambitious to do more. For example in Kenya we plan in our current strategy to directly improve the water and sanitation access of 850,000 people. We will work in the slums of 10 cities and towns on things like the construction of loos, hand washing facilities and showers, latrine emptying, etc.

    Shit matters and is personal – I can’t imagine life without my loo, when I’ve had to for short periods on visits overseas without access to a toilet I’ve crossed my legs, felt embarrassed by bushes and thanked God for even the most basic latrine. We have to be prepared to talk about sanitation as it’s too easy to pretend shit really doesn’t happen. We can’t end shit we can make sure it’s well taken care of!

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Solar powered water pump installed in Kenya

    Over the weekend Practical Action installed a solar powered water pump in Northern Kenya (Click here for more pictures). The benefits for the community will be huge, especially for Meshack.

    Meshack can now access clean water

    Meshack can now access clean water

    Meshack is 12 and he wants to be a teacher. However, his chances of doing so had been severely disrupted because he couldn’t get hold of clean water. Listen to a heartfelt account of a boy who has suffered greatly because of a lack of clean water:

    Find out how solar water pumps can help people like Meshack.

    9 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Dying for a drink in Turkana, Kenya

    I’m writing from Practical Action’s office in Lodwar, Turkana having returned from an intense three days in the field visiting our water and sanitation projects here. I’m particularly interested in how our solar powered pumps are improving the lives of the Karamoja people who we’re working with.

    First of all, I have huge respect for these proud people. Turkana is Hot! Every day the temperatures soared above 35 degrees, and at night things cool down to a balmy 25 … The environment is harsh – dry sandy soil, a few scrubby bushes and acacia trees, very little water. The fact that they make any living at all here is testament to their toughness, determination and ingenuity. I also have to thank them for their hospitality. I slept under the stars in the chief of the Lobei Karamoja’s compound disturbed only by gunfire (once) and cockerels (lots).

    I’m dirty and dehydrated but what I’ve seen really makes think about what ‘dying for a drink’ really means.

    In Turkana there are 3 ways to die for a drink …

    1 … From the dirty contaminated water that most people are forced to drink – hand scooped holes in dry riverbeds many miles from home are the most common water source and they are shared with animals. Cholera is common here.

    2 … In the act of collecting water from 5-metre-deep pits, hand-dug in the sandy bed of a dried up river – these collapse regularly, and last week in Lorengippi 3 people died collecting water in one of these.

    3 … Or by violence – water, even dirty, contaminated water, is so precious here that people guard their access rights forcefully. I watched two women and a girl lifting water from the bottom of the pit for their goats and donkeys – all the while watched over by two warriors with loaded guns.  Come to collect water at the wrong time here and you will be risking your life.

    But things are changing in Lobei and now in Lorengipi. In October last year Practical Action, working in partnership with the people of Lobei, installed a solar pump, pipes, storage tanks and tap-stands so that now the women and girls have to walk no further than 500 metres to collect the water they need. Specially constructed troughs have been built to water the animals, meaning now that they don’t share a water source with people. Girls are now able to go to school, and in Lobei, the number of girls enrolled at the primary school exceeds that of boys for the first time. The head-teacher there is a trailblazer in many ways – one example was his kitchen garden and we saw the first ripe maize picked as we visited. So much change in so short a time.

    In Lorengippi I watched as a new solar pump was installed, storage tanks raised and tap-stand built. For this community, water is a life and death matter. Conflict over water here is common. The boarding school has existed here since the late 60s. Children board as it is too dangerous to walk back and forth. In all those 40+ years the school has never been connected to water and never had latrines. Pupils walked 3km to collect water for breakfast and again for dinner, each time risking their lives to get it, and their health by drinking it. Open defecation in the fields surrounding the school was common, and the whirlwinds and seasonal rains brought all the faecal dust back into the school. Illness was common, learning didn’t happen and exam results suffered. Now the school is connected to the solar system, water is on tap at the school and new latrines have been built for boys and girls. Small, but important changes for these children, yet dramatically impacting their future.

    I need to stop writing now, the sun is overheating my laptop and I need to get a drink before sunstroke sets in … I’m going to be thinking more carefully about where that drink comes from now.

    5 Comments » | Add your comment
  • No Waste to Waste

    Nairobi, Kenya, Nairobi | February 21st, 2013

    I am at the Kibera DC’s grounds and all I see are men and women wearing white branded T-shirts with EEP, Practical Action and ETC logos. It is a beehive of activities. Women are busy lighting up jikos (stove) and men are preparing the truck fitted with a public address system ready for a briquette end-user promotional roadshow in Nairobi.

    As a team player, I check with the zangalewa troupe, an entertainment group using art to communicate information about the technology in a simple and clear manner. They dramatize the production process, the selling and use of the technology. The young men, disguised as old men, have a unique costume. A costume that speaks volumes of what they are about to do; educate as they entertain.

    With everything ready, the entourage starts making its way into the infamous Kibera informal settlement. The men behind the public address systems call on the locals to gather and learn about briquetting technology, an alternative eco-friendly renewable energy option for the poor in society. The route is clear with stops at various points in the settlement.

    At every point the truck would stop, our team would usher locals to come and witness the ‘magical’ cooking technology. They demonstrated to the crowds, using lit jikos, and asked them to confirm the advantages of the technology and its appropriateness to their environment. A technique I found interesting to check whether individuals in the crowds were following them was the use of members from the crowd to summarize the benefits and appropriateness of the technology. A few Tshirts, caps and fliers on the technology were given to those that demonstrated an understanding of how the technology works. Others were given a packet of briquettes to test the efficiency of the technology. Fliers on the technology with contact information of all the briquette entrepreneurs in their area were also distributed. This was to promote their business.

    According to Emmanuel Cyoy, the briquette commercialization project Officer, “the end-user promotional roadshow in Nairobi targets to create awareness among the locals on the availability, affordability and appropriateness of briquette technology as an alternative energy source for poor. The technology uses wastes from the environment to produce the renewable energy source.”
    My interaction with the entrepreneurs gave me an opportunity to have a feel of what their profits are from selling briquettes. Meet Isaiah Maobe one of the entrepreneurs. He has been in the business since the project started and acts as a mentor to upcoming briquette entrepreneurs. He says the promotional event is an opportunity to expand his market reach for briquettes. He says he chose to join other entrepreneurs on the truck to market himself as well as his business. And true to his objective, at each stop, he sold a portion of his briquettes.

    “I have not only sold a few bags of briquettes today but have orders to be delivered this week worth KES 12,000”, he explained.

    Maobe is not the only one who has benefitted from the sale of quality briquettes. Josephine Ngumba, a trained journalist, is also a beneficiary of the project. “After the numerous trainings on the production processes and business development systems, my business has tremendously improved for the better. I now produce quality briquettes that I sell mainly to institutions. I now have orders to supply more than a tonne of briquettes to a number of renown institutions including hospitals in Nairobi. Business is good. Such events have not only helped me sell more.”

    The Nairobi event follows a similar promotional event held last week in Nakuru. It was a success, thanks to the project team members and all who supported it. Special thanks go to our development partners Energy and Environment Partnership Programme with Southern and Eastern Africa, a programme funded by the governments of Finland, Austria, United Kingdom and hosted by the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • My camel milk experience

    Recently I have realised that I have a powerful urge to visit my toilet. I am so attracted to it not only because of the advantages I get from the weight reduction process, but because I am also getting a lot of inspiration from the occasional visit. So when I was in Mandera recently, the urge appeared in its subtle demeanour; even if it took me days to finally get to one comfortable secluded patio next to a crowded street.

    I was not going to get my inspiration nonetheless. Actually I really needed to get to it because I was in trouble. I had done what everybody in their right minds was never allowed to do – drink raw camel milk. But it was not supposed to go this way, right? I mean everybody takes a glass and they live to speak words of wisdom not on their death beds like I was seeing my body leading me to but amongst other men. What did I do wrong? Whose goat did I steal to be bewitched?

    The events following this particular visit to the loo needed to be outlined singularly and expounded in my head to see what went wrong. And with my mouth dry in dehydration (hey, I was losing a lot of water from the processes), I started to count the trusses on the roof of my seclusion.

    “I never washed my hands,” I began. “In the hurry to complete all the activities I had during the morning and evenings I just dug my miniature paws into the food plate.” Why? Am I not the one telling communities to clean up before and after daily activities?

    In addition, I had found out earlier in the day, the guy who kindly gave me my calabash – that one that is causing my belly and cells to be flaccid – had found washing the udder and teats of the camel a waste of time. “We do not want to spend a lot of time milking because the animal would get jittery and start to make noise awaking everyone in the morning.” Moreover, all milking is done out in the open. So think flies; think brucellosis. Think my death-wish – and not that the milking has anything to do with my punishing outstretching in C-fashion.

    The last time the calabash with a chip just next to my point of contact with my lips was ever washed was sometimes between when it left its branches and its trimming, before it became my cup to my bending; sometimes in the 4thcentury. And no sieving was done, if at all, an old work hijab was used to dry-scrub and off dust.

    So the visions of old saliva filled cloths so reused until it is not clear whether the colour was as a result of dirt or the original dye that has seen better days, came to my head. When Dhahabu, my translator, untied the teats during the milking, she placed these pieces on the camel’s back!

    Normally, the exposed teats are dry and to wet them she applied saliva on to her fingers, spreading evenly on the teat massaging it slowly until milk poured. She sprinkled a little on to her hand to check its colour. She told us that this helped her find out if there was any sign of a disease. There being no negative signs, she sucked it in to her mouth. This also, she said, helped her ensure that the milk was in good taste. Everything in order, I got my calabash fill. I guess that tells the story of my whole destiny.

    However, this was before I went to Mandera to have a feel of what goes on in the lives of the common residents. When I was taken through the whole process by the project team, I realised that the project dubbed “Camel Milk Project” also known as ‘Pastoralist Women challenging drought and chronic food insecurity through dairy production and marketing,’ funded by Practical Action’s Track Record budget had been working with communities to change their attitudes towards good hygiene practice. It trained the milk producers on proper milk production process which in turn has increased the income of the milk producers in Mandera. The team has raised awareness on hygienic practices and implemented innovative activities and interventions with milk producing communities. This is envisaged meeting the demand for milk in the town and make a way to expand to reach many other regions within Mandera County.

    Video: Camel milk now a ‘white gold’ in Mandera

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Soon, no more flying toilets

    I gazed at the toddlers giggling playfully as their mothers bathed them, one squatted without a thought to relieve herself. I marveled at their innocence, and how happiness is self-generated from within despite our circumstances. Their water had been warmed under the midday sun. The narrow corridor on which they stood was covered with polythene bags of all shapes and colors. One could only hope that the polythene bags were not flying toilets in their previous lives.

    The residents of the plot often suffered from water borne disease that reduced on their productivity. The residents of this plot in the Kaptembwo low income settlement in Nakuru have had to contend with the filth that surrounds them, simply because they are not able to pay more than the Kshs1,800/= rent required of them here. In this particular plot, the 15 household members share two toilets, there is no bathroom. However, last month, the rains were rather heavy and one of the toilets just collapsed. The plot owner was now dragging his feet about putting up another one because the costs are exorbitant and the soils in the area are unstable.

    A Comic Relief funded partnership between Practical Action and Umande Trust is implementing a Community Led Total Sanitation Project with modifications to suit the urban setting. The project aims to eliminate Open Defecation and change the residents’ attitudes towards improved hygiene practices. Through this project, the landlord is beginning to see changes within his plot. The residents have attended a couple of hygiene training and are now more eager to maintain cleanliness. He looks forward to the credit facilities that have been organized through this project to construct a modern ablution block complete with two bathrooms!

    By Aileen Ogolla

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • From the mora geel to the Mandera Camel Milk Market

    December 3rd, 2012

    My trip up north, as I have always shared, comes with many lessons for me. This time I had a personal objective. My mission was not just to pick peculiar aspects of the Cushitic culture but to learn a word or two. The ‘classes’ were random. All my acquaintances were my teachers. They all wanted to teach me a word or two. The daring ones ensured I sang along to their satisfaction. I enjoyed their enthusiasm.

    At the Mora geel
    Among many new lexicons I managed to comfortably take home with me was the word mora geel. Mora geel is a place where camels are sheltered. It is the same place where camels are milked. It was easy to memorize since I was leading a team of videographers to document Practical Action’s innovative camel milk project in Mandera County. And in our numerous trips to capture the moods, the changes, interview locals and filming the environment in general, I noticed that a lady milking a camel’s stubby udders at sunrise is not a novelty, but a daily chore to get milk valued by their tribe for generations.

    So how do I say I want camel milk, I asked? Cano geel ayan raba said my teacher.

    To them milking of camels is not only an act of work, but an integral part of the local culture and heritage. The milking itself has its own rules. Two teats are left for the calf, while the other two are milked-out for the family. The milk is either consumed fresh or sour.

    Mandera County
    This arid region in northern Kenya, like much of the greater horn of Africa, has in recent years been hit with less predictable and more intense droughts. Many pastoralists have lost their mainstay – livestock. The changing weather condition has not only led to loss in thousands of livestock but it has also hindered cow’s milk production. However, the value of the camels has been boosted. Milk and meat from the animal now enjoys the highest prices in the market, both nationally and internationally.

    Although camels are more expensive to buy than cows, they are cheaper to keep and their milk fetches more on the market. Camel milk is said to be three times as rich in Vitamin C and is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins,” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s website.

    According to Viola Sugut, Practical Action’s project officer, “Camels produce milk all year round and produce when other livestock stop or die from dehydration. This ensures a steady income for the family. Businesses have also been established selling camel milk and other milk products like yoghurt and sweets. This has generated a lot of interest among local women and other women are looking at the Bulla women’s group and seeing that they can also just come out and participate in business,” she explained.

    The women milk traders have found their niche says Sugut. The women’s business model has proved to be successful. The hope is that camel milk will continue to empower women, feed their families and change lives in Mandera.

    See also: My Camel Milk Experience – a personal view on working with milk producers on good hygiene practice

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • My challenge for serenity

    November 23rd, 2012

    There is a man I meet by the road on my way to work who makes me envious. He sits by the trench surrounded by a heap of waste polythene bags he collects every morning. This heavily dreadlocked man does not show even a trait of fear on his face. The lines on his face instead represent a proud ‘general.’ He reminds me of the feeling one gets when a beautiful woman walks by a boys’ dance party; either smiling at the angels in the sky or just speaking to the invisible souls that seem to be seated around him. On chilly mornings I see him lighting a fire whose smoke engulfs the air above his head as he shifts his knees beside it. In most times, I have found him puffing his cigarette away, the ensuing smoke forming either burbles or singular lines that seem to draw the faces of fond ‘brethren’ who passed on in one of the past world wars. As he reclines on the heap behind his head, I can hear him speak like one contented warrior, “It is well, it is well.” I have not had or felt in the distant past such a moment of contentment as this man. They call him Jahman Shepherd.

    No Comments » | Add your comment