Posts Tagged ‘Livelihoods’

Facilitating two approaches to cattle feed in Nepal

May 22, 2011

Another Practical Action comms. blog from me available here. Please read critically 😛


Drama to make a difference

November 25, 2010

Check out my Practical Action blog post about community-based drama in Bangledesh to raise awareness about good agriculture practices.

To get out of poverty, get out of agriculture?

October 19, 2010

Out of all the World Food Day blogs I’ve read, Owen Barder‘s was the most refreshing, thought-provoking, and as always, entertaining. But I do question his argument on two pretty fundamental points.

Expanding on Owen’s stats-speak

…it is not as persuasive as the alternative interpretation of the high correlation between poverty and agriculture: the fact that most poor people work in agriculture suggests that the best way to escape poverty is to get out of agriculture…

I suggest it important to consider the possible omitted variables involved here. Sure, most people who are poor sustain their livelihood through some form of agriculture, but it does not follow that agriculture is the cause of poverty.

One big, fat omitted variable is the glaringly obvious rural context. The distinction between agriculture and rural living is important here because it forces us to think about what it means to live in a rural location other than working in agriculture: restricted mobility due to rougher roads hampering transportation of goods, access to services, opportunities to meet and collaborate, less competition in local markets, limited communication and information availability leading to slow learning of new skills, easy exploitation by the better informed…

These are some the biggest challenges that poor, rural people face, not that they work in agriculture per se. When some of these difficulties that act as bottlenecks to rural development are addressed, then agriculture remains an arduous life, but one that might be occasionally remitting and rewarding.

Of course that’s not to say that heading to the towns and cities isn’t perhaps a quicker way of escaping the isolation of rural life and drudgery of agriculture. Here’s my second point though, we must not forget the reality that many poor people face when they reach urban areas: a higher paying, more secure manufacturing job is the dream that most town-bound migrants fail to find. Many end up in slums, working even more informally for little more that buys a lot less, and certainly living even greater unremitting and unrewarding hardship.

Kathmandu’s Day Off

December 8, 2009

The 6th December will have been one of the clearest days in Kathmandu all year. The 6,500 metre Himalayan backdrop is usually almost never visible, hidden behind a smog layer trapped in the valley.


But today there are no cars, no trucks or buses, no bikes, mopeds or tempos emptying their kerosene-heavy exhausts into the winter sky. The towering white peaks loom over the city. And without the vehicles, the usual soundtrack of the city, an incessant cacophony of horns, is absent. The quiet is somehow at once soothing and unnerving. Sunday is a work day in Nepal but without public transport, no-one is able to go to work. No shop or cafe is open either.

Yet it feels like the whole of Kathmandu is out on the street. People are enjoying the novelty of hearing the crows in the trees above and walking in the middle of the main distribution roads. The kids are certainly making the most of it, zigzagging on their bikes across the whole of what are usually gridlocked streets, their only danger arising from the armed police’s turreted pickups that unnecessarily speed by.


On every street corner a couple dozen heavily armed police troopers lean against their shields, batons and rifles. But the mood here in Kathmandu is one of unexpected holiday. As New York sees its first snow of the winter, Kathmandu is having its version of a snow day.

Around a month ago the Maoists led a land grab in the buffer-zone between Bardiya National Park and Shuklaphant Wildlife Reserve in western Nepal, settling landless poor and setting up co-operative farms. Yesterday the armed police came in to remove the squatters. A fire fight ensued resulting in five deaths, including the brutal lynching of a police officer, and more than 50 injuries. Last night scenes of violent protest broke out across Nepal and a country-wide bandh – shutdown – was called by the Maoists for today.*

Nepal’s young democracy is going through crippling growing pains; the eight month long political deadlock periodically spills onto the streets, sometimes with inspiring scenes of mass protest, sometimes with ugly scenes of violence. Yesterday was a particularly grizzly example of the latter, but today was something still different: a day off.

But in a country where over 50% of the population live under the national poverty line one wonders for how many ‘a day off’ was really welcomed. For the struggling shop owner, tempo driver, store assistant, factory worker and rural farmer who really need that daily income and access to basic services to secure their fundamental needs, having to take part in the bandh out of solidarity or fear of reprisal is unlikely to feel like a holiday. The Maoists in their protests are likely hurting those they purport to speak and work for the most.

*Read more on Saturday 5th December’s events.

The Importance of Climate Change Considerations in Development Issues

May 23, 2009

I have been fairly surprised by the reaction of fellow development students when I mention my interest in climate change. The underlying feeling might be well characterised by something Anthony Costello, head of the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London, said recently (May 14, 2009): “[Climate change is] not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation”. But as his unit’s report on global health identifies climate change as the biggest threat to world health today, and other international commissions* similarly emphasise the centrality of the climate change issues in 21st century development, the view of climate change as a ‘green’ environmental cause separate and secondary to ‘red’ development is still prevalent, at least in my academic circles.

I like polar bears, and I love a nice walk in the woods, but my interest in climate change has little to do with ‘hippy’ environmentality. Rather, I realise that my, and thousands of others’, ‘red’ commitment to improving livelihoods and empowerment of the poor and marginalized around the world is at risk of being in vain if the changing environment is not taken into account.

There are three conceptually distinct climate change policy agendas. Mitigation policy concerns itself with reduction of the future extent of climate change, and in particular greenhouse gas reduction schemes. Closely related is the question of future energy sustainability. Thirdly, in view that the effect of past greenhouse gas emissions are already being felt today and effects of present emissions will be felt into the future, climate change adaptation is of fundamental importance. The interaction of all three of these arenas with development goals needs to be addressed by all in the development industry.

Of particular interest to me, and to the work of UYDO and micro-level projects in general, is the need to consider climate change coping and adaptive capacity within one’s conception of livelihoods. For example, the medium to long term criteria of success of microcredit for income generating purposes must consider to what extent fledgling businesses can cope and adapt to climate shocks. With this consideration in mind maybe hardy goats are a better farming investment than chickens (which are more weather affected), or buying salinity-resistant seeds is worth it despite extra costs (where sea level rises cause increasing salinity of nearby soils).

Furthermore where NGOs are already on the ground providing business and other technical advice, education on the local threats of climate change should be included in the ‘curriculum’. Where understanding about the potential effects of climate change is slight, simply explaining that a ‘bad year’ may not be an exception any longer can be the most powerful capacity enhancing mechanism. Information is key to good business decisions.

* Commission on Climate change and Development presents its final report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Statement to the 17th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development