OACK photos

OACK: Innovative agriculture – how grafting edible fruit onto poisonous weeds can increase production and feed communities

There are not many missions more worthwhile than ensuring a steady food supply for a poorly-nourished community. As a WAFA Award shortlisted project in 2016, The Organic Agriculture Centre of Kenya (OACK) has been pursuing this goal by helping locals to be innovative with their agriculture. This has allowed the community to produce enough food for all, while at the same time boosting their economy.

Stephen Ng’ang’a Wainaina, Executive Director at OACK, says: “After being shortlisted for WAFA, the project took off and the morale of the workers has increased”.

THE PROJECT IN ACTION

OACK has been working  on ensuring protection and use of the world’s biodiversity since 2013. The project is focused on the cultivation of tamarillo, an important source of food and financial income in Kenya.  Through their innovative methods, the community has increased production of tamarillo by grafting its fruits onto bugweed plants, vastly increasing its resistance to drought. Bugweed’s roots extend far into the soil, meaning they are anchored more strongly and can reach water sources unavailable to shallower plants. This results in a longer growing season for the plants meaning they can be more productive.  There is the added advantage that the tamarillo plants become more resistant to soil-borne diseases and pests.

This renewed strategy has  provided multiple advantages: it has improved biodiversity and preservation of the area, the population’s health has generally improved and  the community is better nourished both in term of quality and quantity. As an added benefit, thanks to the fruit sales the local economy has experienced a significant boost!

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The project is still running, reaching more and more people. Learn more about this organisation and its achievements at  http://oack.or.ke/achievements/  

 

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seanet-blog

SEANET: Invigorating Communities with E-Learning Gardens in Kenya

SEANET was a WAFA finalist in 2014. Their project has been operating in Kenya since 2001, with the aim of creating a better learning environment both practically and digitally.

Founder/Executive Director of SEANET International, Macheru Karuku, says: “thanks to WAFA, there has been more recognition. SEANET was appointed by Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture to the Board of Directors of Agricultural Information Resource Center to represent NGOs for the next 3 years (2017-2020).”

 

THE PROJECT IN ACTION

Food and water insecurity has often been an issue for sub-Saharan countries.  Among other issues, poorly nourished school children can have reduced learning capacity. In Kenya, the previous school curriculum was largely theoretical and did not prepare the students for their future livelihoods. This left many pupils uninterested in school, and in some cases hopeless, due to large-scale unemployment in the country.

SEANET’s strategy harnessed the power of the internet, with an E-learning approach for facilitating access to innovative techniques. This improved technology has paved the way for the cultivation of new school gardens, providing much-needed nutrition for the students. Moreover, the gardens are used as an instrument for teaching entrepreneurship, production and food processing skills.  From this small demonstration plot,  the revolution of the community has begun.

SEANET’s results have been concrete and widespread: 11 E-garden schools have been set-up in the counties of Laikipia and Nyeri, on the Western side of Mt. Kenya. Over four-thousand students have benefitted directly from them, by learning cultivation techniques and from the food and water they provide. There were further benefits too: several water tanks have been erected, holding of a total 168,500 liters; Over eleven thousand square feet of greenhouses have been built and an almost 26 thousand square foot drip system with 3 water pumps has been installed. The results are positive and predictable: community nutrition has improved, and pupils have acquired useful skills, fundamental for the future sustainable development of the country.

Apart from the direct impact the project has had on education, SEANET has improved the community lifestyle.  In fact, 190 workers, around 4000 parents and 5000 neighbors (who attend field days and PTA meetings) have been positively affected by this innovative system.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

SEANET is aiming for a long-term restoration of the community, and helping to extend social awareness: “We have established Camp Mahon Social Enterprise (www.campmahon.seanetkenya.org) where students come to camp and practice livelihood skills and get entrepreneurship training.

 

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tellspec

Handheld scanner shows what’s really in our food!

* This post is inspired from an original article in Danish by Liv Bjerg Lillevang, published on Ingeniøren.dk, 2 January 2017. The English adaptation has the author’s permission for posting *
Consumers are becoming choosier about what they put in their mouths. For some it is a lifestyle choice. For others it is a question of health. And for a few it’s a matter of life or death.

Now Canada’s Tellspec puts them in control. Tellspec’s handheld scanner analyzes food and in a few seconds downloads a detailed analysis directly to your smartphone. You can see right away if your bread contains gluten, or how much fat is really in that “healthy” salad.

Tellspec is one of the three 2016 winners of the Danish-based Water Air Food Awards (WAFA), based on an expert selection committee’s recommendations and  crowd voting on the WAFA website. The Expert Selection Committee emphasizes the technology’s potential: “With food shortages looming, the scanner’s ability to assess quality can reduce waste regardless of ‘best before’ dates. It can also put pressure on the food industry to guarantee their products.” WAFA President Tina Lindgreen comments: “Tellspec has great potential. The technology is scalable, so that ordinary people can afford to use it, and thereby have an impact on food safety.” And thousands of voters worldwide agree!

Food in the Cloud
On her visit to Aarhus, where Tellspec is opening its European office, CEO Isabell Hoffmann explains how the three-part technology works: “First is the scanner. It is a spectrometer that measures in the near infrared spectrum between 900 and 1,700 nanometers. Next is the cloud, where our servers run 242 parallel algorithms to compare the food content with known data. (The data is constantly upgraded.) Finally, a smartphone downloads the results within seconds.”

A Multipurpose Tool
While the technology benefits everyone, it can be vital to people suffering from food allergies and diabetes. It can uncover traces of nuts, eggs and milk in ready-made foods, as well as chemical residues in fruit and vegetables. It can even tell  how old meat is. “With the technology we have given consumers a chance to make the right choice when choosing foods,”

Hoffmann explains that Tellspec app serves everyone who has an interest in food quality, whether consumers, producers, retailers, or even researchers. “Our third app caters to researchers and universities. Scientists can use the scanner to collect spectra in a reliable format after the researchers’ own calibrations.”. Already universities are using the scanner for various purposes, like determining plants’ fluid balance to pick the right time for harvest.

Fighting Food Fraud
Tellspec data also enables scientists to study possible correlations between cancer and the food consumption patterns in specific areas. With the upcoming Danish launch, Denmark in particular stands to benefit!

“We are going to have much greater impact on food producers’ understanding of health, not only from governments but also from consumers. For despite the World Health Organization’s  recommendations for sugar and fat content in finished products, it is difficult to know if the manufacturers effectively comply with the recommendations, “says Hoffman. With Tellspec, for example, consumers can detect when corn syrup is substituted for sugar and put pressure on manufacturers to use healthy ingredients.

Learn more about Tellspec here!

tobacco

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.

Support WAFA 2016 winners

chiapas

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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TellSpec: Food Security in Consumer’s Hands

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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.

waterkiosk

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 https://youtu.be/dCr8eRjW_WI). 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.