What do a pumpkin, a tree and a tap all have in common?

They all defy convention. Here’s the proof…

The pumpkin that proves you CAN farm on flood plains

Growing nutritious food on apparently barren land? Conventional farming manuals said it couldn’t be done. But we worked with smallholder farmers in Bangladesh to grow enough surplus food to earn a decent living.

Every year, monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh to swell, resulting in devastating floods. Homes and possessions are destroyed. Families face months of hunger when they are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living. Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede, but they were considered too infertile for even the most skilled farmer to tend.

We’ve introduced a technique called sandbar cropping that allows pumpkins to be grown on the sandy, barren soil left behind when flood waters recede. As well as giving a high yield and being packed full of health benefits, pumpkins can be stored for up to a year, meaning people have a crop both for their families and also to sell.

It’s the difference between living hand to mouth and being able to support your family with a reliable income.

The tree that proves forests WILL grow in the desert

Verdant forests bursting from a parched, drought-ravaged landscape? It sounds impossible. But amazing things have happened thanks to our combination of innovative irrigation techniques and specialist agroforestry training. Communities in North Darfur, Sudan have been able to regrow acres of lost forest and heal the area’s fragile ecosystem.

In recent times, climate change has worsened the destructive cycle of droughts and flash floods in North Darfur. An influx of people once displaced by conflict, now moving back to villages, has meant yet more precious trees cut down for firewood. It’s a perfect storm that’s leading to whole villages being lost to the desert.

Regreening land that was previously desert shows we can grow the impossible and rejuvenate barren soil. The tree roots hold the soil together, preventing it from collapse. Above ground, trees act as a windbreak, lessening the impact of destructive sandstorms. Meanwhile, farmers’ crops benefit from the extra nutrients release into the soil.

It’s the difference between being forced from your home and being able to live with your family in safety.

The tap that proves water and electricity DO mix

Electric lights and piped water in a school 20 miles from the nearest town? At first, even the Government of Peru were unsure. Now, the lights are on and water is running in remote schools. The natural power of the sun is helping thousands of children get a better start in life.

In remote areas of Peru, only around 20% of children finish school or leave with basic numeracy or literacy skills. That’s mostly because schools are far from inviting, healthy learning environments. Generally, there is no electricity, hot water or toilets. Children grow up isolated and unable to fulfil their potential.

We’ve pioneered a new model for schools, complete with solar power, toilets, clean water and internet connectivity to link students to online teaching materials – and the rest of the world. The Government of Peru are convinced – we’re working with them to roll out our approach so that it will benefit nearly one million children.

It’s the difference between a life trapped in poverty and the opportunity to get an education and realise your potential.

“Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. But each of us can put up the sail, so that when the wind comes we can catch it.”

Practical Action’s founder, radical economist Fritz Schumacher