Tobacco Crop Replacement: A Win-Win for China

The problem

In China, tobacco cultivation has posed a dilemma. On one hand, it has fueled a multi-billion dollar industry, employing over 20 million farmers and providing major revenue to the government.

On the other hand, one million people die in China annually from tobacco-related illnesses. The tobacco industry also harms the environment. Cultivation requires dangerous pesticides. Curing consumes huge quantities of coal and wood, aggravating air pollution and deforestation.

A labour-intensive crop, tobacco requires 3,000 hours work annually per hectare, twice as much as rice. It also takes more nutrients from the land. That said, it provides no food security, an increasingly urgent issue underpinning China’s continued social and economic development.

A Collaborative Solution

A sustainable solution had to address the needs of all stakeholders: farmers, government, and citizens. The Yuxi Municipality Bureau of Agriculture (YMBA) in Yunnan Province, China’s largest tobacco producer, proposed planting alternative crops that would yield returns equalling or surpassing tobacco. The state government threw its support behind the initiative.

In 2008, YMBA started a pilot tobacco substitution project in collaboration with researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Through announcements at village meetings and by word of mouth, YMBA worked with village heads to recruit 458 farm families at three sites, totalling over 480 hectares. Villagers at the sites wrote the charter and elected the management board for a farmers’ cooperative. Board members were selected for consensus-building and leadership skills. The cooperative’s responsibilities included supplying seeds, pesticides, and materials to the membership at the lowest possible cost through bulk purchasing.

Local agricultural specialists provided farmers with training and technical assistance. With this support, the farmers mastered key production and business skills to produce high yields, store crops efficiently, provide reliable accounting, conduct market research, and sell their produce.

Growing Success

By 2010, farmers’ annual incomes at the pilot sites were 21% to 110% higher per acre than those of tobacco farmers in the area.

Since 2011, therefore, YMBA has been scaling the project up to other counties. Farmers themselves are taking the initiative to reduce tobacco cultivation in favour of other crops; grapes have proven to be the most profitable. The entire community continues to benefit. From 2012 to 2015, the per capita net income of Yuxi Municipality grew by more than 3000 yuan (US$484).

A Win-Win

The Tobacco Substitution Project is clear proof that careful, collaborative planning and execution can provide practical benefits to all stakeholders even in the face of traditional practices. Its success should inspire similar initiatives throughout the world.

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The Chiapas Water Project – Building Community in the South of Mexico

The Problem

Water is a chronic issue in Chiapas State, particularly among the indigenous Maya communities. Periodic drought impedes agriculture, threatening the livelihood of millions. The consequent need to fetch water from long distances prevents women from attending to other priorities and children from attending school. Water-borne diseases also damage the health of communities, particularly those far from health centres.

Working with the Community

Founded in 1972, Concern America (CA) focusses on long-term community development in Mexico and other developing countries throughout the world. In the early 1990s, CA launched The Chiapas Water Project “to provide clean water to indigenous Mayan communities in Chiapas, Mexico.” The goals were to ensure access to food, generate income, promote hygiene, prevent disease, and distribute time fairly among household members.

CA’s action plan is based on “working with the most abundant resource in the communities: the people themselves.” Meetings are held with community members to explain the scope of the work and foster community involvement. A community water committee is established to receive technical assistance and commit to maintaining the system. The committee includes an active village leader with connections to governing structures, and younger members who are bilingual (Spanish and Maya) and able to travel. A few community members are trained carefully to assess the water system and maintain the water project without outside intervention.  

Training and technical assistance are critical to sustainability. They focus on connecting, repairing, replacing, and expanding capacity. All materials and tools are familiar, locally accessible, and readily available to the water committee.

Although Chiapas suffers from conflict, material poverty, and extreme weather, these obstacles have never prevented a water system project from moving forward once a community is committed and ready. Patience and good communication with the community have always overcome occasional delays within a month or two. To date, Concern America has built 40 water systems in the region, benefitting more than 12,000 people.

Visible Benefits

Time lost on fetching water is now devoted to other useful tasks. Water-borne illnesses are largely eliminated and skin-related illnesses greatly reduced.

Underlying all of this is community building resulting from a collective success. And communities demonstrate their pride! Religious and cultural celebrations always accompany inauguration of a village’s system. Many take great care to paint their water tanks, often involving the school children, who depict their village’s history.

Upcoming Ventures

Next steps of The Chiapas Water Project include installation of five additional water systems and construction of additional water filters in three communities. This is combined with additional training diffusion among community members, and improvement of monitoring and evaluation practices.

These will directly benefit 300 members in some 60 families of the Mayan coffee-growing community in Chiapas, Mexico.

A Replicable Solution

CA’s community-centered approach can be replicated in any number of situations, be they water systems or other community projects.  The organization’s work throughout Latin America and in Africa on health, education, and income generation (in addition to water and sanitation) follows the same model of building community empowerment and ownership.  CA is always open to sharing and collaborating with other groups.

Raised Hand Pumps Save Lives in India

The problem

Floods are a recurrent problem in Uttar Pradesh, India. The result of torrential rainfall, typhoons, and broken dams during each rainy season, they often cause humanitarian emergencies: destroying houses, washing away land, and interrupting regular medical services. Silt swept downstream impacts the ecosystem and damages crops. It also endangers people’s health as they are obliged to drink the same muddy water they use as an open air toilet. Whole communities have to flee flooded areas; after abandoning their belongings, tools, and livestock, they have no means to earn a living.

The solution

Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra (SSK) is a participatory learning organisation which empowers communities through building capacity for self-governance. Among other accomplishments, SSK has developed a simple, affordable, innovative solution to ensure access to potable water in flooded communities. Before this breakthrough initiative, Ghaghara River communities near the Nepal border, for example, would suffer devastating annual floods affecting 40-50,000 people in 209 villages.

Standard hand pumps get submerged under floodwaters, eliminating villages’ source of safe drinking water. After a massively destructive flood in 2007, SSK and other organizations set to think of ways to ensure local communities continued to have clean drinking water and flood-resistant toilets during emergencies.

Replicability around the globe

In 2008, SSK, with the support of Malteser International and the European Commission, installed 30 new hand pumps with raised platforms and proper drainage systems. Their platform level was based on the level of the last flood; the main structure was built of cement, providing structural stability and flood resistance. Later improvements have included stairs and railings to prevent falls. The space required has also been reduced. Their sturdy structures also allow locals to moor boats when they come to fetch water for their homes. And very importantly, their simple design now allows local communities to maintain and repair them independently.

The raised hand pumps have functioned effectively since 2008, providing a constant supply of clean water to flooded areas. They  have also helped to reduce waterborne diseases significantly during floods. As a result of their success, the UNDP and government agencies have introduced raised hand pumps into their programmes. Their use keeps on expanding.

The simple technology is easily replicable in other flood-prone areas around the globe.

Green Enterprise in India, Good for People, Good for Business


A Double Challenge

Mr. Ramesh Kumar Nibhoria is concerned with three major problems in rural India. First, fossil fuels in kitchens and small industries cause a number of environmental and health problems. Second, they emit high levels of CO2. Burning post-harvest field residues produces smoke, harming both the environment and people in the area. Cutting wood for fuel depletes the forests. Third, lack of employment opportunities pushes rural youth to the cities, depriving the countryside of future entrepreneurs and threatening it with economic stagnation.

Green entrepreneurship

Mr. Nibhoria has adopted an entrepreneurial approach to both problems. Since 1990, he has been working in the area of biomass to energy conversion, striving to find sustainable green energy alternatives to fossil fuels in kitchens and micro industries. In 1999 he founded Nishant Bioenergy P Ltd (NBPL) to produce biomass pellet manufacturing plants and commercial stoves.

The first stove model, the Biomass Briquette Stove (Sanjha Chulha) had emission and heat control issues. The NBPL team continued innovating. In 2010 the company started developing biomass fuel pellet technology; by 2014 they had mastered the technology.  NBPL’s workshop now manufactures small biomass pellet plants and pellet-fueled stoves. The smoke-free stoves, of industry standard design and performance, are suitable for commercial heating, cooking, and boiling. Operating costs benefit rural users, as biofuel costs less than fossil fuels.

NBPL has started franchising its products and services under the Green Enterprise (GE) name. It markets a key-in-hand operation with exclusive retail rights to a defined region. NBPL mentors the franchisee throughout the process of setting up the business: biomass pellet making; pellet stove installation, and troubleshooting. After that, the franchisee is fully equipped to operate the business independently.

Promising Results

Environmentally, GE is a winner, providing clean, environmentally-friendly service at competitive cost. Its benefits to users are clear.

Economically, the benefits are also clear. Within rural communities, local residents now find employment in each franchise’s pellet factory. The franchise has exclusive rights to supply fuel pellets for all pellet stoves in its franchise area. (The pellet stoves are provided to consumers free of cost, a powerful marketing tool.)

International Possibilities

So far, GE has self-financed, operating frugally and marketing online through social media. It is now ready for scale up, through investment and grants, to a bigger factory and training centre to service thousands of small enterprises.  
NBPL envisions huge possibilities to replicate the GE franchise throughout Asia and Africa.

TellSpec: Food Security in Consumer’s Hands


The problem

Global competition has driven some suppliers to replace advertised food ingredients with cheaper and sometimes dangerous substitutes. A well-known example of this occurred in 2008, where it was discovered that milk in China had been contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical and known carcinogen that causes kidney failure. The Melamine incident affected 300,000 infants and young children, with six reported deaths. A more recent example occurred in 2015, when the Canadian government issued a warning regarding the high levels of aflatoxin in corn. Despite recognizing aflatoxin as carcinogen and a serious health risk, most food safety regulators have set a tolerance for aflatoxin as opposed to an absolute ban.

Consumers in rich and poor countries alike lack a quick, cheap and reliable way to analyze the food offered to them. Food-testing labs typically serve for large food manufacturers, and their results are not publicly available. Information on food labels may not be accurate or complete.

Technology to the Rescue

TellSpec, a Canadian-based data company, has developed an affordable, handheld food scanner. This simple solution was designed to provide the most relevant, useful and accurate information about the food we eat. The technology is a three-part system:  a pocket-sized scanner, a cloud-based analysis engine, and a mobile application. At a molecular level, the system identifies ingredients, food quality, calories, macronutrients, and allergens. At a glance, the consumer can now determine the authenticity, safety and nutritional value of the products on sale. It also gives the user knowledge about their health in relation to the food they consume.

On a Mission

Everyone at Tellspec believes in the company’s mission for a world of clean food. Its overriding purpose is to put the scanners in consumers’ hands, not just grow a business. Most employees have given long hours without pay to the project. Some have even left other ventures to work for the firm, whose culture features strong respect among all team members. The company has currently 16 employees across North America, Europe and Asia, 6 volunteer advisors, and over 30 food testers across all continents.

Power to the People

TellSpec’s food scanning solution literally brings food testing in the hands of the consumer. Many food-testing labs exist, but they typically perform detection for large food manufacturing groups and their results are not publicly available. Food labels can give us some information, but they are not always accurate, and some ingredients may not be reported.

TellSpec’s dedicated team has made this initiative sustainable. The scanner technology will be integrated into appliances and phones within the next 5 years. Over time, more consumers, restaurants, and supermarkets will realize its benefits. The WAF Award can give TellSpec the visibility needed to kickstart a consumer food revolution.

School Water Kiosks – Empower the Community

WAFA finalist in 2016, “A Water Kiosk at School” project is a great example of the extraordinary results that can be obtained when two countries partner together. The International Transformation Foundation (ITF), a youth-led nonprofit organization based in Kenya, partnered with Netherlands-based Join the Pipe Foundation (JTP) to design and produce water kiosks for schools across rural Kenya.

Venuste Kubwimana, Secretary General of ITF, says: “With the WAFA finalist recognition, our outreach improved, with more young people reaching out to join or volunteer within our organization. It also played a big role in motivating our existing partners, staff and members. Their commitment to their work up to now is obvious. Our beneficiaries and their networks also grew as they put in the effort to vote for ITF.”

The problem

In Kenya over half the population lacks access to affordable, safe drinking water. School children in small villages often have to walk miles to nearby villages to get clean drinking water. As a result, they are often absent from school and tend drop out altogether.

An Entrepreneurial Approach

Venuste Kubwimana grew up in a large rural family of seven siblings in Rwanda. In Nairobi, Kenya, he established the International Transformation Foundation (ITF), a youth-led nonprofit organization to develop youth leadership and creative entrepreneurship in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. In 2009, ITF identified lack of affordable, clean water as a major issue impeding children’s development and family resilience.

In 2013, ITF partnered with Netherlands-based Join the Pipe Foundation (JTP) to design and produce water kiosks for schools across rural Kenya. The innovative design features: a water-saving tap station, drip taps for hand washing, recyclable water bottles, easy push transport carts.

Shared Responsibility

After discussion with ITF, a school administration commits formally to the project; it is understood that students will manage the business under teacher guidance. A complete installation costs approximately US$10,000. ITF, the school and community members work together to estimate the funds needed to liquidate the costs within 24 months; water sales to community members funds construction costs. JTP has funded tap stations, bottles, sanitation facilities, and carts through a Buy One Give One” campaign in the Netherlands.

School and ITF book keepers maintain detailed records, updated and cross-checked daily. With teacher support, students submit weekly and monthly reports to ITF.

Multiple Benefits

In 2016, nine kiosks have been installed in three areas of Kenya, benefitting some 4000 students and 70000 community members. These encouraging results have led ITF to expand operations into Rwanda and Tanzania.

“Thanks to the Pollination Project Funding, in November 2016 we launched a public drinking tap water station in Nairobi’s main recreational Park (Uhuru Park) in collaboration with Nairobi City County Government – Environment, energy & Water department (See this short video The station is now providing drinking tap water free of charge to 400 – 500 people on daily basis. We are in the process (final stages) of setting up a water kiosk at Patriana educational Centre, in makongeni estate (Nairobi). The Kiosk will be directly benefiting 216 students and about 31000 people living in Makongeni community, all of them have no access to tap water. Recently, i also signed  a grant agreement with The Slovak Republic  ambassador  for the  SlovakAid to finance setting up another water kiosk as school model at Agawo Primary school that will provide clean tap water  to 477 students and about  2500 people residing around the school in Oyugis, Kenya.”

This community-based business provides affordable potable water to the entire community independent of third parties. It also develops valuable business skills among the schoolchildren, the community’s future leaders.

Environmentally, the initiative reduces plastic waste and CO2 emissions caused by the production and transport of water bottles and containers.  

Looking Forward

ITF plans to hold an annual conference for all participating schools to share their experiences and expertise. The conference will lay the foundation of an international entrepreneurial network to meet community social challenges and fund sustainable education.

Restoring the Farmers’ Lifeline in India


The project “Reviving the farmers lifeline with the help of water resource development” won the WAF Award in 2016.

Mr. Mahendra Phate, director of the project together with Mr. Haribhai Mori, says: “Even though our area of work is confined within the Wardha district, India, through the WAF Award many people have come to know about our project. Thanks to WAFA we can reach people in many countries where there is a need for such a project


The Problem

In Warda district of Maharashtra State, India, silted seasonal rivers could no longer supply water for agriculture. Monsoon rains burst their banks, flooding fields, destroying crops, and eroding land. This desperate situation provoked increasing suicides. After mobilizing the community in 2009, Kamalnayan Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation (KJBF) initiated studies to restore the river system.

Community Commitment

Farmers were reluctant to donate land for stream revival. However, through respectful dialogue, they came to support the project. KJPF’s research, shared with all stakeholders, was key to this process. KJBF organized beneficiaries into user groups, which were active in all aspects of the project.

KJBF set  farmers’ contribution at 10 % of the cost and let user groups decide how to share the cost. Because farmers supported the project, they contributed quickly; some even contributed for less fortunate colleagues. During implementation, village volunteers marked the channel and supervised the work.


KJBF generally funds its projects; some are implemented in collaboration with government, NABARD and TATA Trusts.  Community contribution, in cash and labour, ensures ownership and maintenance. Community volunteers assist KJBF’s experts and social worker. KJBF’s machines excavate at less than half the market rate rentals.  A “no profit no loss” formula covers operations, maintenance, salaries, and depreciation.

Spreading the Word

As word has spread of the benefits, user groups now organize themselves to raise their share. The Water Resource Team does a feasibility check, prepares a design, and works out details with stakeholders. When all stakeholders are on board, KJBF starts work.

Ongoing Improvements

KJBF has made three major changes to optimize results. First is excavating ponds for storage, recharge, and silt capture. User groups distribute the silt to farmers. Second is improving embankments. Third is raising farmers’ contribution to 17%, with their agreement; the additional 7%, contributed in kind, purchases pipes to drain overflow back into the river.

Stakeholders are also working together to develop organic farming and learning water-saving techniques to mitigate climate change. KJBF collaborates with all stakeholders, levels, castes, and shades, including women.


Maintenance is the main obstacle; government funding is scarce. KJBF trains user groups; some village committees contribute. KJBF is working with stakeholders to improve management.  

Measurable Success 

On the supply side, 91 check dams conserve monsoon water, reviving 135 watercourses. Ample water from wells and conserved runoff has eliminated the need to bore into the aquifers. On the demand side, drip irrigation and sprinklers save water. Conservation measures and captured silt rejuvenate the soil. Consequently, agricultural production has increased substantially and the water table has remained stable. There have been no suicides among families in the programme.

This programme is replicable throughout India. The WAFA Award can also help to communicate this possibility globally.


Solar Power for Night Fishing in Sri Lanka

Finalist among more than 170 projects competing for the Award in 2016, the project developed by the Nagenahiru Foundation aims at replacing the use of harmful kerosene lamps with LED lanterns for night fishing in Sri Lanka. The project is still running and has improved the technology and increased its visibility through media.

“Following the recognition of our project by the WAFA Award Committee we increased visibility through media. The Nagenahiru Team and our beneficiaries were motivated to step forward our innovation. Furthermore, with the motivation we achieved, we were able to improve our technology using this Solar LED lamping system for night fishing”

The problem

Due to growing demand for their product, traditional fishing communities were fishing at night with kerosene lamps and other fossil-fuel lighting. These tools polluted the air and aquatic ecosystem. They also impacted community health and cost families up to a third of their income.

The Solution

The Sri Lankan Nagenahira Foundation focuses on  environmental conservation, climate change and capacity building among communities in sensitive environmental locations. Identifying kerosene lighting as an urgent environmental and community issue. the Foundation introduced an effective, reliable, and affordable replacement: solar­-based lighting.

The technology consists of an affordable LED lanterns powered by a rechargeable 12 volt 4­6 ampere lithium ­iron ­phosphate battery with a three-year lifespan. The low-energy system provides improved lighting for up to 16 hours. The lanterns are recharged cheaply with 30 watt photo-voltaic (PV) panels, minimising the environmental footprint. The lightweight lanterns are also easy to maintain.

Worldwide Benefits

This low-maintenance LED technology is affordable, effective, and environmentally friendly. It is immediately applicable to artisanal fishing communities worldwide.

Read more on their website

SPOUTS of Water

The Problem

The majority of Ugandans lack what so many of us take for granted – clean water. As a result, water-borne illnesses, like diarrhea, are the number one cause of death for children under five. To protect themselves, most people boil their water. Unfortunately, the wood consumed to boil water has led to massive deforestation.

In addition, fetching and boiling water are laborious tasks. The burden falls largely on women and children who are thereby hindered from going to school or attending to other important responsibilities.

Appropriate, Affordable Technology

In response to these problems, a group of Harvard University undergraduates founded Spouts of Water in 2011. Working to develop technology suitable for an emerging market, they created Purifaaya, an affordable ceramic filter made from local materials. The device is easy to use and maintain; unlike other devices, Purifaaya requires no replacement filters. The one-time $20 outlay can be financed through local microfinance institutions.

A Successful Startup

In 2011, the developers moved to Uganda to start up Spouts of Water (Spouts). After establishing a factory, they set up a distribution process through multiple channels: NGOs, government agencies, and supermarkets. In 2014, Spouts   established a second factory in Uganda; production tripled to 600 filters a month. By 2015, Spouts had installed 3,800 Purifaaya filters, including 2,000 filters in public institutions, like schools, hospitals, prisons, and refugees camps.

To date, over 44,000 persons are using this innovative, affordable technology, and Spouts staff are seeing users’ health improve. Spouts has also begun the process of quantified impact assessment with a local partner, Innovations for Poverty Action.

Growing Success

Demand continues to exceed capacity! Spouts is now working to build a larger factory that can produce 2000 filters a month. The next steps are to optimize the current operations and scale up to keep improving Ugandans’ lives.