Wonderbag: An Energy-Saving Cooking Method
The Wonderbag is an invention that reduces energy use and cooking time, and can thereby save money and free time for activities other than cooking for its users. It is designed primarily to benefit poor women who spend much of their time preparing food. The Wonderbag was developed by Sarah Collins, who has worked in Africa in environmental conservation and eco-tourism. She released the Wonderbag in South Africa in 2008 and plans to extend its availability to 15 other countries including Nigeria, Rwanda, and Kenya, by 2015.

The Wonderbag is very simple to use. You simply prepare a meal such as stew or curry, bring it to a boil on the stovetop, then seal the pot or pan in the Wonderbag for a few hours. The bag insulates the food, allowing it to continue cooking unattended. This not only saves carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, but also saves families money on fuel. In South Africa, where half the population lives in poverty, even a small reduction in fuel usage results in substantial monetary savings. The Wonderbag can reduce an average South African family’s fuel need by up to 30 percent.

The Wonderbag is not a charity. The business sells the bags for around $45 but some are subsidized for those unable to pay the full amount. Carbon credits earned from greenhouse gas reductions, as well as a deal with sustainability-focused global manufacturer Unilever, account for the subsidies.

While the Wonderbag certainly saves time, money, and fuel over the long run, it remains to be seen whether the invention will empower women to become active in other ways. If women are able to enjoy more freedom, leisure time, and pursue self-empowering activities outside of the home as a result of using the Wonderbag, then the bag will truly succeed at reducing poverty.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: The Guardian

United States Continues Aid to GhanaThe United States Ambassador to Ghana, Scott DeLisi, has stated that the United States will not be cutting the foreign aid given to Ghana. Some donor countries have backed out of Ghana after accusations of the misuse of aid money by the local government but DeLisi claims that U.S. aid dollars have not been misused and that the office will continue to stand against corruption in the local government’s use of aid money.

DeLisi said that since U.S. aid to Ghana is not part of a direct budget support system, the money does not go to the local government to spend on anything; the money is easy to track and has not been misused. DeLisi also spoke about raising wages for regional health workers in order to retain well-trained workers.

The United States gives an annual $430 million to Ghana, a country with great potential for growth, especially in the energy sector. Some of the main programs that receive U.S. funding in Ghana focus on treating TB, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. This is a great example of how the United States’ aid money is being carefully monitored as the country’s aid organizations continue to stand against corruption, assuring taxpayers that American aid goes to helping the poor and building national infrastructure. Learn more about our donor history with Ghana. 

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: allAfrica
Photo: Flickr

Great Green Wall in Africa

The Great Green Wall is a wall of vegetation that, in essence, holds back the Sahara Desert with vegetables and fruits. The Sahara Desert is notorious for being dry and arid, having very little ability to support, in terms of nutrition, those that live near it. In Senegal, however, the construction of the Green Green Wall has led to an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables from the arid desert, which has helped to combat high levels of malnutrition and deal with climate changes in the area.

The Great Green Wall project is an initiative to plant a wall of trees from Senegal to Djibouti, which is basically across the entirety of Africa. 11 countries are supporting members of this project, which aims to block desert winds and maintain the moisture in the soil and air by building a wall of trees.

Of course, the green in the Great Green Wall is the end result of the tireless work necessary in planting and nurturing tree saplings. In parts of Senegal, ripe tomatoes and purple aubergines show that the project works, yet, in many other parts, progress has been slow and is still incomplete. This does not mean that these parts have not already begun to benefit; it just means that political commitment and community support is very important to ensure that the trees have the potential to reach their full height.

A woman living in Widou Thiengoli, Khaira Haidara, says “When I was young, there was more water in the village and we produced our own crop of millet. This project has brought positive changes to our lives, giving us different things to eat, and now we worry less about food.”

These are the benefits of the Great Green Wall project and, because of the stage of the project, more benefits are sure to come. Other benefits that are the result of the Great Green Wall project are increased opportunities for occupation within the community as people who used to go into town to find work are now able to work with and cultivate their land. This results not only in work but more food, helping to combat malnutrition that is rampant in many parts of the area surrounding the Sahara Desert.

The Great Green Wall is a step in the right direction for sustainability. It, while still under construction, has already begun to benefit those that live around the Sahara Desert.

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: TreeHugger

UC Berkeley & Global Poverty
The Global Poverty Project was founded by Ananya Roy, a professor of city and regional planning at Berkeley, Tara Graham, an International and Area Studies lecturer and digital media expert and Abby VanMuijen, an artist with the goal of spreading the curriculum of Berkeley University’s most popular minor, Global Poverty and Practice. The three UCal alumni are utilizing digital media and twitter to create a multilayered broadly accessible curriculum that they call critical thinking + improv art + new media. This creative curriculum is being used to spread knowledge about global poverty beyond the classroom.

A project is a new approach to traditional online education that is sweeping the world. While the traditional method of online education tends to simply stick a video recorder in a classroom, the Global Poverty Project seeks to create numerous forms of media and material for students to utilize as a whole or in parts. Eventually, there will be a textbook that utilizes matrix barcode technology that will link to other related information. Each video that is posted also links to useful sites and information. By generating discussions on Twitter, Roy’s classroom, already full with 600 pupils, has expanded, potentially exponentially, and has become a place where students, people on campus and anyone in the world can exchange ideas.

More than creating a groundbreaking approach to online education, Roy, Graham, and VaMuijen are looking to create new and interesting internet videos that spark discussion and critical thinking.“Most of them, I think, are really patronizing and oversimplify the very complex aspects of poverty action. They’re a call to action, but they don’t necessarily explore all the political and ethical issues that smart young people know are at stake,” said Roy about most internet videos that attempt to address poverty.

Each video starts with a question and offers a scholarly argument for a way of thinking about it. VanMuijen then takes video to a whole other level with visual note-taking and creates the videos. Like the minor itself, the videos are framed to encourage thinking about solutions to poverty that steer clear of what Roy sees as two extremes: “The hubris of benevolence, young Americans thinking ‘I’m going to solve poverty during my alternative spring break,’ and the paralysis of cynicism, which we have a lot of at Berkeley, really smart kids who know how to critique everything in the world but they’re not really sure what to do after that critique.” Later, the project, new media, curriculum, and critical thinking about global poverty come together. While Roy lectures, the Twitter feed is projected behind her in the classroom and the videos are being played and igniting discussion all over the world.

– Kira Maixner

Source: UC Berkeley News Center

For many North African and Middle Eastern (MENA) countries, the goal of greater water acquisition had been the standard policy for developers and government officials aiming to combat the low annual rainfall and dry climate of the region. Huge projects involving the construction of desalinization plants, dams, and canals resulted in only marked successes in solving the region’s water scarcity problems. Enter the Canadian-led International Development Regional Centre (IRDC) in 2004 that – with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed focus on efficiency – set out to implement a new policy of development that focuses on water reduction as opposed to acquisition.

The water conservation project, known as WaDlmena and co-sponsored by the IRDC, introduced a “demand management” program that focused on decreasing the amount of water used through innovative water conservation methods and development that focuses on water reduction. Techniques such as greywater – which utilizes non-sewage wastewater for crops – along with drip irrigation and nightly crop watering were researched, implemented, and tested by local farmers, policymakers, and community members. Various concerns such as issues involving poor farmers and tariffs on water usage were also addressed, leading to creative new ideas such as allowing small amounts of free well water to local growers.

Since the WaDlmena program has been enacted, nations such as Jordan and Morocco have adopted water conservation techniques ranging from mandatory wastewater systems in new buildings and drip irrigation for the agricultural industry. Thanks to the IRDC’s efforts in funding development that focuses on water reduction instead of water acquisition, a realistic solution to the water scarcity problem in the Middle East may soon be reached.

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: National Geographic

Gerson Speaks Against Cutting Foreign Aid
The ONE organization, a group that fights global poverty, arranged for former Bush administration speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson, to speak in the Old Capital Museum. Gerson’s speech advocated for foreign aid programs and emphasized the dangers of decreased aid funding.

The world has come a long way in terms of reducing global poverty and diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, however, we may see these positive trends start to reverse if funding is lost. Gerson is concerned that all of the progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2030 could be compromised with cut funding. With the upcoming budget cuts, Gerson reminds us that not all cuts have the same impact. He explained, “Cuts that are evenly applied aren’t evenly felt. There’s a difference between cutting a highway program and cutting a malaria program.” The former Bush administration staffer has been acclaimed for forming the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a program that worked to provide HIV/AIDS treatment to impoverished people.

Given that foreign aid programs account for such a small percentage of the federal budget, Gerson reminds congress that foreign aid is not to blame for the current deficit. He specifically criticized Rand Paul for his outspokenness against aid. The ONE organization praises Gerson for his foreign aid and HIV/AIDS prevention advocacy and hopes that, with his leadership, Washington will continue to support USAID and other foreign assistance programs.

– Mary Penn

Source: Press-Citizen.com
Photo: ONE

Digital Green Strengthens Food Security

With children suffering from malnourishment all over the world, and people hungry for food, it would be amazing if simple tools could be implemented to create substantive change. The incredible reality is that so many researched techniques have now been established, with dramatic benefits. The problem is that most small, rural farmers in the developing world do not know about them.

For example, a fern called Azolla which can be easily cultivated, if added to animal feed can boost the production of cows milk by 15 to 20 percent.  Or a System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which involves transplanting rice saplings, and tending them in a certain way, can produce marked crop increases. SRI is called one of the most important agricultural innovations of the past 50 years, yet it is only known to a fraction of farmers.

For Rikin Gandhi, one of the great paradoxes of today’s world is that information is so easily transmitted, yet efforts share life-saving information to critical people is so ineffective. This was a problem he wanted to solve. An American-born software engineer working in India for Microsoft Research, Gandhi spent six months in villages experimenting with communication formats — posters, TV shows, locally-made videos, public screenings, home screenings. His impactful discovery was that short, 8 to 10 minute videos that featured local farmers (both men and women, as most agricultural work in India are done by women) talking about their experiences was the most effective method of information dissemination. Films were screened locally with a facilitator who engaged discussion, and farmers were finally highly engaged with the new information, and consequently utilized the practices. Gandhi found that when sessions were actively facilitated, people remained and participated, if not, farmers left quickly. Farmers were more likely to adopt new practices if they heard about them from someone of a similar socio-economic background, speaking the same dialect, and without too much formal expertise.

Kentaro Toyama, Gandhi’s boss at Microsoft, set up trials to test Gandhi’s approach. Among 1,470 households in 16 villages, they found that increased adoption of some agricultural practices increased by seven-times, and the cost to get one farmer to adopt one new practice dropped by ten-times (from $38 to $3.70, with this video-based model).

So Gandhi created Digital Green – a platform and process for extending knowledge and influencing behavior. Gandhi and his colleagues established the NGO and The Gates Foundation provided support. It produces locally made videos in India’s rural areas, using locals, requiring only a battery-powered “pico” projector and mini speakers, which can fit in a backpack, then projected onto a wall or sheet – a major logistical advantage. See some here.

Today, Digital Green works in 2,000 villages in India, 100 in Ethiopia, and 50 in Ghana. Working with a variety of partners, it has produced 2,600 videos that have been viewed by 157,000 farmers. It reports that 41 percent of viewers in the last two months have adopted at least one practice. Gandhi now has 60 colleagues working with him and plans to be reaching 10,000 villages by 2015.

– Mary Purcell

Source: NY Times

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s TED Talk on Doing Business in Africa
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a director of the World Bank, was Nigeria’s Finance Minister and then briefly Foreign Affairs Minister from 2003 to 2006, the first woman to hold either position. During her tenure as Finance Minister, she worked to combat corruption, make Nigeria’s finances more transparent, and institute reforms to make the nation’s economy more hospitable to foreign investment.

In her TED Talk, she told many stories about changing Africa and how African people say no to corruption and everyone outside Africa should give more credibility and invest more in Africa.She stressed that we should do more business in Africa instead of just aiding Africa. And also, Africa should pay more attention to expand privatization and the government should increase more financial management and democracy.

– Caiqing Jin

Source: TED Talk

Niger's 3N Initiative to Improve Food Security
The African country of Niger, a landlocked nation in the north-central part of the continent in the Sahel region, has struggled intermittently with food security for the last fifty years. Before the 1960s, Niger was a productive agricultural region that was not only self-sustaining but exported cereal grains. Now, due to a rapidly growing population, recurring droughts and poverty, Niger struggles to grow enough food to feed its people.

The Nigerien government is implementing an ambitious agricultural transformation plan called the 3N Initiative – Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens. It is estimated to cost $2 billion in the first three years and will address issues and reformations in the agricultural, environmental, industrial, and energy sectors. Initiatives range from providing farmers with technology and seeds to expanding market access and management.

Overcoming obstacles to food and nutrition security in Niger is no small task. Drought is the main impediment to productive agriculture: Niger experiences drought at least once every two years, although droughts have been increasing in the last decade. Only one percent of the country’s land receives more than 23 inches of rain each year, and just 12 percent of the land can sustain agriculture.

In a country where eighty percent of the population depends on agriculture for sustenance and livelihood, addressing agricultural issues is critical. Niger has one of the fastest-growing populations of any country, has doubled from 7 million in 1988 to 15 million in 2010. In addition to population growth and drought, unstable food prices have contributed to food insecurity throughout the Sahel region. The prices of staple cereal grains such as millet are well above the five-year average. For the world’s poor, food accessibility is just as important as agricultural productivity in improving health and quality of life.

Attempts by previous Niger administrations to achieve food security have clearly not been successful in the long run. Current national administrators say that political will, coordination, and centralized leadership set the 3N Initiative apart. The Nigerien government is working to draft legislation that will ensure the existence of the Initiative well into the future.

Both Niger and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) acknowledge the urgency of addressing food security throughout the Sahel region, which suffered a major drought and resulting famine in 2010. Niger’s FAO representative states that addressing food security is necessary for every country in the region. Niger’s 3N Initiative, if successful, can serve as an example for other African countries seeking to achieve food security through agricultural and political transformation.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: FAO
Photo: AusAID

Innovation Saves Lives of Underweight Babies

Approximately 20 million babies are born underweight each year with 96% of them being born in developing countries. Further, underweight babies have a higher risk of becoming one of approximately 4 million babies that die within 27 days of birth every year.

One of the difficulties associated with premature, underweight babies is a lack of the necessary fat to regulate body temperature. If a low body-weight baby is not placed into a warm environment as a way to regulate temperature early on, death is highly possible. For hospitals located in areas where electricity is spotty or where resources are low, creating the necessary warm environment may be very difficult, if not impossible. Incubators may not emit enough heat or may fail to work at all and hospital heating generators may not be present or go out occasionally.

This is why Embrace Global has created a simple, low-cost product that will help save the lives of many babies at the fraction of the price of current solutions, such as incubators. The product, notedly named Embrace BabyWrap, resembles a mini sleeping bag and helps to regulate a baby’s internal temperature effectively and for long periods of time. This is done with the use of a WarmPak. A WarmPak is placed into a AccuTemp heater for 25 minutes then transferred to the back of the BabyWrap where it slowly releases heat for up to 6 hours. Further, the BabyWrap traps heat inside, providing a warm and insulated place for the baby at the perfect temperature – 37 degrees Celsius.

The Embrace BabyWrap is a great innovation that is “embracing embrace” and saving the lives of underweight babies worldwide.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: AllAfrica, Embrace Global