Blogs tagged as food security

  • Will COP21 deliver a Paris Protocol?

    November 25th, 2015

    Have the global negotiations for a new climate agreement switched from a marathon to an egg and spoon race?

    We are now in the final leg of the marathon negotiations for a new climate agreement. At the last meeting in Bonn, the negotiators were expected to intensify their pace, but by the end of the meeting it was clear no one had sped up, if anything the pace had slowed. We are now entering the final sprint to the line. In 5 days the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Paris. Without a sprint finish it is unlikely that an effective Paris Protocol will be signed.

    Great Climate RaceThe Great Climate Race is just one example of what communities around the world are doing to tackle climate change. A fund raising run/walk to raise money for community solar power, because climate change is a race against time!

    So what are the core stumbling blocks in the way of delivering a Paris Protocol?

    The first barrier is a long standing one around whether developed and developing nations should be treated differently. The issue known as “differentiation” remains a significant hurdle. To be effective the new agreement must build on the original convention text around common but differentiated responsibilities. But it must update the text to match today’s reality and be dynamic to evolve as the world changes. Historical emissions must not be ignored, but the changing dynamics of global emissions means that the text must be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.

    The second barrier is around finance. For poor and developing nations allocating sufficient resources will be vital to deliver the agreement. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009 developed countries committed to mobilise jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. A lack of clarity around these contributions, double counting of existing development assistance and the role of the private sector all continue to hinder progress in this respect.

    Egg-and-spoon raceThirdly, Loss and Damage continues to divide parties. Some countries hope to see it embedded within the heart of the agreement, while others suggested it should be removed. Lack of action to reduce emissions will lead to a greater need for adaptation. Lack of finance for adaptation will lead to accelerating Loss and Damage. The logic is clear, but still Loss and Damage fails to receive the recognition and importance it deserves.

    The Paris COP is supposed to light the way for governments to finally deliver an effective global response to the threat of climate change. However, to avoid another failed UN sponsored global conference it will be vital for politicians to put in the additional legwork to make the Paris Protocol a reality.

    We don’t just want an agreement, we need a robust agreement that delivers. Human rights, gender equality and the issue of a just transition must be central to the agreement. A human rights centred agreement offers a holistic approach that makes the connections between the economic, social, cultural, ecological and political dimensions, and links what we are doing to tackle climate change with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction.  Is this too much for our children to ask for?

    Further information

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  • Dignity through diligence

    August 4th, 2015

    In Nepal, it is unlikely that Dalits, placed at the lowest rung in the caste system, are considered role models for anything. It is even more unlikely in the far western region of the country where discrimination against Dalits is still rampant. However, this is exactly what has happened in Jhalgaon village of Kailashmandu Village Development Committee (VDC ) of Bajura district .

    Jhalgaon is on the wrong side of Safe-Martadi feeder road, across the Bhudhiganga River. More than 100 households ( HHs) of Dalits are huddled together at the lower end of the village, at a clear distance from the main settlement. Chhetri’s are the majority in the village.

    Remittances from India and traditional occupations are the main sources of livelihood for the Dalit households. They also take on other menial works available in the village and local market to complement their income. They also do some farming. But agriculture has never been a serious business for them as they own little or no land. However, things have started to change from last year.

    Women at Jhagaon at work

    Last year, as part of a UK Aid funded Rural Access Programme (RAP)- 3, which Practical Action has been implementing in the district, organised the Dalits into producer groups. It provided them technical training on vegetable cultivation and supported them with improved seeds and irrigation equipment.

    Many saw it as a futile attempt and the “upper caste” neighbours passed sarcastic comments both to the project and the Dalit communities.

    “We didn’t protest then. But, we took the comments to our heart and resolved to prove them wrong,” said Man Singh Sharki, 46, an active member of the Jhalgaon vegetable group, in Jhalgaon.

    “We grew various vegetables in our land. Some of us also leased land for it. The knowledge, skills and regular feedback we received from the project technicians were of great help,’’ he added.

    As there were not many success cases of Dalits doing well in vegetable farming in the district, the project was sceptical about this maiden venture of the Dalit community.

    “We were also not very optimistic. But, in two months, they surprised everybody with well-kept plots of vegetables. They religiously followed our advice and worked hard. Consequently they had a very good harvest last year, much better than their upper caste neighbours,’’ said Lalit Adhikari, junior technician of the project.

    They took their first harvest for selling to the main village instead of the local market. They took only the superior vegetables after grading and put price tags on them.

    “We were not expecting them to buy our vegetables as they wouldn’t even touch us. But, we had to show them our vegetables. It was our answer to their sarcasm” said Harka Bahadur B.K, Chairperson of Jhalgaon Vegetable group.Vegetables from Jhalgaon  displayed at the local market

    “To our surprise, they not only bought our produce but also appreciated our effort,’’

    Now, the ‘upper caste’ neighbours are full of praise for them.

    “Even we were not doing well in vegetable farming so we had serious doubt about them. But they proved us wrong. Their success has inspired us to embrace vegetable farming more seriously,” said Chandra Bahadur Thapa, the head master in the primary school in the village.

    Equally impressed are the traders at the local market. Jhalgaon’s vegetables have already gained the reputation of the best vegetables in the neighbourhood . And, the Dalit households are very conscious of the need to uphold their reputation.

    “They only bring the best produce to us to leave no room for complaint” said, Bhakta Bahadur Saud, a vegetable collector at Bamka Bazzar.

    “I think they even polish their vegetables before bringing here,” he quipped.

    Last year, the majority of the households in the village earned more than Rs 10,000 (£63) from selling vegetables. Lead farmers like Goma Sarki earned as much as Rs 60,000. (£377)

    Goma Sarki a lead farmer of Jahalgaon

    Goma Sarki a lead farmer of Jahalgaon

    It is a great achievement considering that the Dalits were never before engaged in vegetable farming, even for their own consumption. However, what is really significant is the social impact it has on the dignity and the social recognition of the Dalits households.

    Through vegetable farming, the Dailt households, previously looked down upon by their upper caste neighbours, have been able to assert their presence in the community.

    Perhaps other ethnic and marginalised groups in Nepal which have stepped up demonstrations for more rights as the country gears up to write a new constitution, could take cue from them. They offer an excellent example, in their own small way, of more constructive ways of protest and manifestation.


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  • Will agroecology, smallholder farmers and technology justice be adequately considered in Bonn?

    June 5th, 2015

    Climate Change is a recognised threat to global agriculture and places in jeopardy the wellbeing of the poorest people whose fragile livelihoods are primarily dependent on agricultural production. Millions of farmers own less than one hectare of land, live on less than $1 a day and struggle to produce enough to feed their families, these are the people on the frontline when famine strikes. The fragility of their livelihoods will increase if serious climate action isn’t taken.


    Pramila Bote age 28 making organic pesticide

    At the Bonn climate change talks the UNFCCC secretariat must be congratulated for dedicating time to discuss the climate change threat to global agriculture. The secretariat organised a series of workshops at which parties were asked to present on a number of critical agricultural issues, this blog reports on the first of these workshops, which explored forecasting and early warning systems highlighting progress and outstanding challenges.

    Overall the workshop reflected the current state of play, with developed countries presenting fairly coherent approaches that linked meteorological services, with extension advisors, policymakers and most importantly farmers and others whose livelihoods are dependent on primary production. Unfortunately the developing countries struggled to report on more than a few isolated pilot projects.

    The workshop clearly recognised the immense benefits that forecasting and early warning systems can deliver, unfortunately very few farmers in the developing world are receiving these benefits and their productivity is therefore compromised. These countries recognised a number of almost universally barriers to these systems, which included issues of compatibility of existing software and hardware designed for a developed country context and the need for technology transfer and supportive financing.  They recognised their huge limitations in technical capacity, especially human capacities to install, maintain and manage these systems. They also highlighted the need for systems that deliver useful and meaningful information for local farmers. This will require an interface that can support local languages and indigenous knowledge, linking science to local systems and making forecast and early warning information usable for local people.

    Interestingly at the same time on the other side of the world the ICT for Agriculture community (#ICTforAg and #ICT4Ag) were discussing the role of technology.  It was reported that agricultural yields can be boosted by access to up to date information, about markets price, short term weather information and longer term seasonal forecasts, with a 11% increase reported for text messaging[2], however when this information was provided as recorded messages the productivity benefits jumped to 26%[3].  This clearly demonstrates the need not only for information but for information in a form that can be acted upon.

    So let’s hope the Paris Climate agreement to be signed at COP21 recognises the potential of forecasting and early warning systems and puts in place effective mechanisms for technology transfer, not just handing out bespoke systems, but also how to work with developing country partners to develop appropriate systems that meet local needs. Technology transfer will also require financing, it’s not fair to only hand out technology, it is vital to support countries to develop and adapt systems which meet their particular needs.  In the spirit of technology justice, sharing knowledge and finance will empower developing countries to design systems that build on their existing skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions that reduce the fragility of the poorest and most vulnerable, those on the frontline when natural hazards strike.



    The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn this week.

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  • Simple technology – great results!

    December 16th, 2014

    Resident of Chitwan District of Nepal, 51 year old Ramlal Chaudary’s family has been dependent on agriculture for generations. But in the recent times, it was getting difficult to sustain his family of nine through agriculture alone. Recently, he had started driving tractor as a side business. But agriculture – is a part of his culture; paddy being the major harvest.

    Ramlal Chaudary at his paddy field. (Photo: Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

    Ramlal Chaudary at his paddy field. (Photo: Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

    This year too, Ramlal cultivated paddy like every other year. But this year, his field was greener and healthier than that of his neighbours. Even the other farmers observed his field curiously. Though most people assumed that he must have worked too hard to get this result, he actually had neither weeded nor used any pesticides or chemical fertilisers in his field.

    Ramlal shares happily, “The pests that were not controlled by strong pesticides are non-existent in my field now, even though I haven’t used any pesticide. Others weeded their fields numerous times and also used chemical fertilisers, but without doing any of that, the paddy in my field has flourished quite extraordinarily.”

    So what is the reason behind this drastic change in Ramlal’s paddy? What has he changed in his farming practice to get these great results?
    The answer actually is very simple.

    Ramlal has started raising ducks along with the rice in his field.
    He explains, “I decided to raise ducks in my rice field after attending an orientation programme about rice-duck farming organised by Practical Action. The organisation provided us with proper training to carry out this farming technique and also supported us with a day old ducklings. After the training, we formed a group and started rice-duck farming.”
    Rice-duck farming technology was found to be beneficial in terms of providing social, economic and environmental benefits in a pilot research carried out by Practical Action in 2013. Currently, Practical Action Consulting Pvt. Ltd. is implementing integrated rice-duck farming project in Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts with the financial support of Grand Challenges Canada. The project is working to build the capacity of 1000 small holder farmers to adopt the rice-duck farming technology – Ramlal is one among them.

    Ducks at the rice field.

    Ducks at the rice field.

    Ramlal says, “I didn’t have any idea about the practice of rice-duck farming. But now, I am experiencing many benefits. The droplets of the ducks acts as manure so there is no need to use chemical fertilisers. The ducks gets the nutrition by feeding upon the pests and weeds. I feel that the ducks are a boon for the rice field.”
    Ramlal is the treasurer of the ‘Quality rice-duck farming’ group. There are altogether 15 members in this group – all practice rice-duck farming. The members of the group made a collective decision to practice rice-duck farming in their individual fields. They conduct monthly meetings where they share their agricultural progress and problems, most of which they solve with combined effort. Each member contributes NPR 50 (£0.32) for saving on a monthly basis. The amount is used among the members for agricultural inputs whenever required.

    Ducks coming out of the paddy field.

    Ducks coming out of the paddy field.

    The rice-duck farming technology has made an impact in Ramlal’s life in the first year of the practice itself. The yield in his field has increased. Previously, 0.03 hectares of field yielded hardly two quintals; this year it yielded 2.66 quintals of rice.
    He further adds, “I made rupees 52,700 (£337.82) more from the rice alone in comparison to last year. And the best part is that, the ducks become ready to be sold at the same time as rice harvesting. Among the total of 18 ducks I raised, we have kept few to be used at home and sold others at the price of rupees 800 (£5.12) each. This has made a significant impact on my income. People from neighbouring localities and villages also take interest when they see the ducks in the rice field. I try my best to share the knowledge with the ones who are unaware about it.”

    (The information for this story was collected by Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

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  • A step too many?

    As someone who hasn’t been near lycra or a gym for many years the idea of paying good money to pound away on a cross trainer is totally alien. And yet for many thousands, their Saturday morning would not be complete without an hour in the gym treading sweatily away, shedding, hopefully, the pounds.

    woman on treadle pump For thousands of farmers across Asia and Africa, they have their own cross trainers – the treadle pump.   For them it’s not about losing the pounds but gaining the taka, the rupee or shilling. The treadle pump, developed in the 1980s, has been a life saver for many poor farmers, enabling them to pump water from underground, providing irrigation in areas far from a river, or in drought prone regions. The only power needed is a pair of strong legs.

    This is a fantastic invention which Practical Action has been including for many years in its work with poor farmers, helping them to improve their produce and increase their production and incomes. But it’s not for everyone (like me and the gym!). In some areas, the water has to be drawn up from significant depths – because the treadle pump provides vacuum suction to raise the water, the deeper the depth, the less the flow of water, the longer the time spent on the treadle pump, or it’s not possible to use the treadle pump at all. So what is normally a benefit, can become a burden, often to women and children who are the ones who generally operate the treadle pumps.

    solar powered pumpWith funding from the European Commission, our energy team in Zimbabwe is introducing solar powered irrigation to farming areas which are remote from the national electricity grid and unlikely to ever be connected. Even if they were, the cost of the electricity would be prohibitive and possibly unreliable. However, using the abundant, free resource of the sun for solar voltaic panels to power pumps, water can be drawn from significantly deeper depths than a treadle pump. Instead of spending up to 6-7 hours continuous pumping to irrigate 0.5 hectares of land per day, women can be using this valuable time to set up small enterprises, and children can attend school, and the farmers can be sure of a sustainable and reliable supply of water for their crops. A definite step in the right direction.

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  • Hens bring happiness

    July 15th, 2014

    My daughter has recently started keeping a few chickens in our garden.  I now have a daily supply of fresh eggs and ‘the girls’ (Audrey, Cherie and Margot) fortunately require very little input from me. Occasionally they escape their enclosure and excavate my vegetable plot but generally they have been a positive addition to our household.  Only the cat begs to differ.

    Audrey, Cherie & Margot nesting among the potatoes

    Audrey, Cherie & Margot nesting among the potatoes

    Keeping chickens has a far greater impact on the lives of women in the Kassala region of Sudan.  Eggs provide their families with an excellent source of protein in a normally less than adequate diet.  But the ability to sell their produce offers the prospect of some extra income in a society where this is hard to achieve for women.

    In an interesting collaboration with our energy work, some of the women in this project have been given solar lamps for their chicken houses.  Light is important for hens as they generally lay eggs when they have at least 16 hours of daylight – difficult to achieve in equatorial regions.

    Our hens supply us with endless amusement and the luxury of a really fresh breakfast.  For women in Sudan they are an opportunity for financial independence and a key ingredient for a more balanced diet.


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  • After the dust has settled – it’s time for hard work

    December 19th, 2013

    One month ago Warsaw was abuzz with thousands of people. Senior politicians, government representatives, development agencies, academics, civil society and the media were all engrossed in addressing what is one of the most pressing issues of our time – climate change.

    Now everyone is back home and most are probably thinking more about Christmas than how the world is going to cope with an inevitable increase in temperature that will permanently change the lives of us all.

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    Looking back, I went to COP 19  with an agriculture perspective, keen to identify hooks and partnerships that would strengthen the recent decision by our global group of agriculturalists to focus on adaptation by smallholder farmers. Practical Action’s specific aim is to improve agricultural policy and planning so that it builds the capacity of smallholder farmers to use their unique knowledge and resources to adapt to climate change through ‘Climate Resilient Agriculture’.

    It was disappointing that there was little discussion on agriculture during the days I was in Warsaw. A few things did become clear, however, from the people I met and the events I attended. Notably, that much still needs to be done on ‘adaptation’ in agriculture to understand what is really needed, and meant, by ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’. Practical Action can contribute to this issue and provide grounded examples relevant to policy makers based on lessons learnt by smallholder farmers and the rural poor in developing countries. In our Country and Regional offices this will mean engaging with Government and stakeholders in the National Adaptation Planning (NAPs). In the UK we should work with partner organisations to make sure our learning influences the global debates and donor policies.

    Regular drills enable communities to respond effectively when disaster strikes

    Regular drills enable communities to respond effectively when disaster strikes

    Unexpected by me, and probably many others, was that Warsaw would be able to achieve something good on ‘Loss and Damage’. This is an important issue for us because the people we are working with are being increasingly impacted by climate change. Impacts which are becoming irreversible – ‘beyond the reach of adaptation’ – and affecting people who are least to blame for the situation: e.g. extreme droughts, ever worsening floods, sea level rise and loss of fresh water. At the beginning of week 2, I signed an NGO Global Call for Action for the establishment of an ‘International Mechanism on Loss and Damage in Warsaw’.  To cut a long story short the agreement to have a mechanism for ‘Loss and Damage’ was probably the most significant achievement of COP19.

    Life may have returned to normal for those who were in Warsaw but, I for one, am committed to keeping the buzz going and starting the New Year with a renewed commitment to our work on Climate Resilient Agriculture.

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  • Influencing agencies to adopt best practices

    December 12th, 2013

    Practical Action is implementing a food security and livelihoods project in the Blue Nile area of Sudan,  funded by the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF).

    Last September the CHF team visted our programme in the Blue Nile state to monitor the performance of the partners and strengthen relationships among the Food Security & Livelihoods actors in the region.  The CHF team held meetings with partners, followed by a field visit to Amaragrash, one of our targeted villages. Discussions were held with communities on the interventions and the way they are managing it.

    PICT0071The CHF mission’s report identified Practical Action as the best organization at delivering sustainable interventions and highlighted goat restocking as best practice.  Some practitioners such as Mercy Corps-Scotland (MCS) and FPOD (a local NGO)  approached us to learn about Practical Action’s approach to restocking.

    The CHF team advised Mercy Corps to conduct a workshop to explore Practical Action’s experience and their sustainable approach to livelihoods.   This workshop was attended by representatives of Mercy Corps, FPOD, CHF, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),  Labena (our national partner) and Practical Action staff from Khartoum and Blue Nile. A good presentation about Practical Action’s work in Sudan focused on restocking activities under this food security CHF funded project.

    Discussions were held about goats restocking practice and the audience engaged with and understood the approach. Recommendations were made to adopt the approach in their work.  In addition FAO/FSL adopted the contract made by Practical Action with the  beneficiaries of the goat programme. This contract will become standard for all FAO partners working in food security.

    Practical Action Blue Nile communicated our best practice which will lead to changes in the practices of other development actors.  FAO’s adoption of our approach to restocking will be used by all partners and we expect to be nominated by FAO as a leading agency in Food Security and Livelihoods, demonstrating significant impact at scale.

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  • Can the World Bank help smallholder farmers in Africa with yet more data?

    October 7th, 2013

    I’ll be at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank in Washington this week to talk to the team who are developing a new initiative called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA).

    The World Bank is… well, a bank… and consequently it is ‘heavy’ on economists and statisticians who for the most part prefer to deal in quantifiable measurements. With this new initiative they are hoping to set up a process that gathers information and data that can leverage positive policy change in developing countries.

    The point of this is to better enable the emergence of a stronger commercial agricultural sector.  They want to encourage the emergence of a stronger family farming sector through improvements in key areas such as access to finance, markets, inputs (seeds and fertilisers) land, water, rural energy and infrastructure. So far so good but is this enough to enable smallholders to develop their farming ‘enterprises’ in a sustainable way? What is missing?

    Framework for an enabling environment

    Vegetables grown using improved cultivation and water harvesting techniques

    Vegetables grown using improved cultivation and water harvesting techniques

    Practical Action has been developing a framework with others* in the Africa Smallholder Farmers Group (ASFG). It is based on a thorough review of what experts and researchers are saying is critical to enable smallholders that want to  respond to the new opportunities in growing domestic markets. An important voice in the framework is our African partners’ perspectives, those who actually see and experience the effects of a ‘disabling environment’ for smallholders.

    We’re hoping that this week, as we go to meet the teams and donors (DFID, Gates, USAid and the Danish government), we can share some of these perspectives. In a panel discussion I’ll be raising our concerns that the initiative has some gaps that threaten its logic.

    The BBA hope that by fixing the regulatory and policy environment around smallholders it will create better conditions for smallholders to develop their farming enterprises. They will have better access to inputs, they will have stronger market links and they will enjoy better roads and bridges, which mean the costs of doing business will be lower. The growing urban populations get reliable supplies of food at reasonable prices and more money flows into the rural economy, to farmers and traders, rather than out of the country to foreign producers. Everyone wins.

    It sounds plausible, attractive even, but our concern is that the vast majority of small-scale farmers, who form the backbone of agricultural systems (they contribute over 90% of Africa’s agricultural production; More than ⅔ of Africans depend on small or micro-scale farming as their primary source of livelihood and in sub-Saharan Africa, women grow 80-90% of the food), will not be in a position to benefit from this new, improved enabling environment.

    We know that they need other critically important inputs which are currently not included. For example the BBA currently doesn’t include any indicators around the extension, knowledge and research that are so badly needed in farming systems. If policy makers in the agricultural ministries are getting data on almost everything but the actual position of smallholders the danger is that they will not focus their attention there. And if they leave that out then we believe it risks undermining the aims of the BBA to “improve food security, create livelihoods and raise incomes”.

    The next blog will report on the meetings we have this week and expand more on our second area of concern: that the BBA doesn’t do enough on sustainability.

    *Christian Aid, CAFOD, Self Help and Garden Africa

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  • Going to work on an egg

    January 11th, 2013

    To find out how a very small project can show so much meaning about the real values of rural poor people, which make them happy and give meaning to their lives, read about the day I made a visit which made that day exceptional.

    My visit to Silkyay village in the rural area of Kassala was a routine field visit like many others but my encounter with a woman called Nafisa changed that visit into an inspirational lesson.

    Nafisa is involved in Practical Action’s “chicken for eggs” project.  This aims to enhance nutrition and provide income for poor households.  She has 20 hens in her small, clean den, and managed and cleaned this den every day, until she began producing 20 eggs per day.  Some of these she consumes and the rest she sells. The day I met Nafisa happiness overwhelmed her and joyfully she told me that now she has work, and she owns something, she has control of her life.

    In the beginning she faced difficulties marketing her produce in her village, because people weren’t used to eating eggs.  The varieties of food they ate were very limited –  mainly porridge and milk and this culture led them to refuse anything unfamiliar and prevented them from having a healthy and diversified diet.

    Nafisa started introducing the egg as a main meal in her own house, as breakfast for her children before school.  Then she began an awareness campaign about the nutritional value of eggs.  Gradually the skeptical village changed to be less hesitant. In a short period the whole village began to depend on eggs for breakfast.  Nafisa proudly stated that now she alone cannot supply the increasing demand and has other five women working in this project.

    Nafisa said that now she feels appreciated by her family and community, and she is happy about the simple tangible change her project introduced to the life of the people in the village. The happiness of Nafisa and her pride at her achievement taught me that helping women to access and control  resources, is the right approach for justice and for improving the status of women and mothers in our communities. Productive work gives women a proud feeling of ownership and control of their resources as Nafisa reflected as she enthused about her hens.

    The change happened when people began buying eggs after being convinced of their nutritional value.  This taught me the meaning and practicality of such small activities when they relate to people’s real needs.

    Before concluding this story, I would like to tell you about my own experience when I bought some eggs from Nafisa and cooked them myself.  I learned something else important – that the home-produced egg from this village is a natural egg, free of chemicals and is tastier and more beneficial than the ones we purchase from markets which are produced by companies using chemicals and hormone injections.

    How inspiring are these small works when powered by a strong will and the strength of women like Nafisa!

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