Technology can bring about development if it is used in a proper way. There are many instances of nongovernment organisations contributing to the country's development along with the government. Practical Action (PA), a development agency, has been able to bring smile on the faces of many poor people with the application of small technology.
The PA, a UK-based international development agency, is in operation in Bangladesh since 1990 to bring welfare to poor people through technology. The agency is working on climate change, agriculture, disaster risk reduction, safe water and sanitation in urban areas, enhancing poor people's access to market system, and energy and fuel. Besides, it has taken up special programme for ultra-poor in river-eroded greater Rangpur region. At present, it is working in 26 districts in Bangladesh.
Founded by an internationally renowned economist Dr EF Schumacher, the PA started its journey 50 year ago with a vision of technology justice to build a sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used for the benefit of all people. The PA is now in operation in Latin America, Africa and South Asia.
Dr Schumacher wrote an article titled 'How to help them help themselves' in the Observer in UK in 1965. The write-up is still considered as a milestone for poverty eradication in the world. The article was greatly acclaimed by economists and thinkers at that time. Following the publication of the article, Schumacher wrote a book titled 'Small is beautiful'. The book is still appreciated by people regarding poverty elimination using technology and establishing technology justice across the globe. The two writings of Schumacher had mainly played an important role in launching the PA. Under the leadership of Schumacher, the organisation began its journey using the name 'Intermediate Technology Development' in 1965. In 2005, it renamed to Practical Action.
In Bangladesh, the PA started working with poor communities to make a difference in their lives by transforming the technologies from idea to reality today and for generation to come. Country Director of the PA Bangladesh, Hasin Jahan, said "the term technology draws certain things in our mind like high-end cell phone, computer and so many posh/luxury gadgets. Like this pop-mindset, technology is hardly about sci-fi, but more about something that contributes to poor people's wellbeing. The PA uses technology as a means to come out of poverty. We work for technology justice with a vision to reducing the gap between technology want and technology need."
A number of initiatives, taken up by the PA for socio-economic development, proved its success at home and abroad. These are: vegetable cultivation in sandbar, disaster risk management and climate change tolerant technologies-artificial aquifer tube-well, flood-tolerant houses, salinity-tolerant agriculture and managed aquifer recharge, vegetable cultivation in floating garden in water body, waste management, power generation from biogas and running irrigation pump, ecological sanitation, participatory market system development, rural sales and service centre, knowledge management and knowledge material/object preparation and running krishi (agriculture) call centre and its management.
Under the extreme poverty programme, the agency addresses the river-eroded extreme poor living on the embankments. They are supported with livelihood by introducing technology of sandbar cropping. Pumpkin production transformed huge barren sandbars into productive land and uplifted more than one lakh people from their extreme poverty situation.
Food, Agriculture and Market Programme focuses on promotion of safe food, balanced fertilizers and link agriculture with access to market. The PA introduced Participatory Market Development Approach for enhancing access to market by the poor.
The PA offers countrywide knowledge services through Krishi Call Centre. It reaches to the community at large through its 'gyaner haat' resource centres placed at union digital centres.
Artificial aquifer tube-well treats contaminated surface water for domestic use in saline-affected areas of Satkhira district. The PA's piloted artificial aquifer tube-well is able to support about 200 households with 40 litre of water per day throughout the year. The PA received the best project implementation award at the event of 'Rain Day Celebration 2013' for this.
Water hyacinth has been transformed into floating garden bed. The simple technology has multiple benefits. People grow vegetables here and use it as seed beds during flood. This technology has been declared as world agricultural heritage.
Biogas plant has been installed in Gaibandha district where 35 households are served with cooking gas and 200 farmers with organic fertilizer. The PA collects kitchen waste from about 1200 households living nearby for this plant. This successful model has been replicated in other districts as well.
Low cost multi-storied livestock shed is a very practical innovation. It has been constructed in Sirajganj using locally available materials to protect livestock during disasters. This innovation has been replicated by many local NGOs.
Alternative Wetting and Drying (AWD) is a technology that reduces water misuse during irrigation. Locally known as 'jadur nol' (magic pump), AWD also helps farmers save up to 30% of irrigation cost. Apart from farmers of Rajbari and Sirajganj, this simple technology is being replicated in other regions.
The PA turned shallow engine into water pump machine. Use of biogas to run the machine made it low cost, fuel efficient, environment friendly and most importantly it can supply uninterrupted water to the field. Mainstreaming this technology can highly contribute to improve traditional irrigation system.
Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is a relatively new technology that enhances groundwater recharge. It can be a significant adoption opportunity for saline affected areas in Bangladesh to reduce vulnerability of climate change and hydrological variability.
Char-dwellers have fewer options to go from one place to another quickly and face difficulty reaching products from farms to markets. That is why the PA introduced 'Charer Gari' a small three-wheeler, which is able to run on the sandy and uneven land. Local engineering workshop was promoted to design and produce such vehicle.
PA introduced and promoted saline-tolerant grass cultivation technology in Aila-affected areas of Satkhira district. It was badly needed in that area to meet the cattle feed demand. At present, people are growing this grass at their homestead using PA's seeds and soil preparing technology.
Growing pumpkin in the barren char land is one of the landmark technologies. Hundreds of people living in the embankments of greater Rangpur are now engaged with this innovative farming system. It has changed lives of many extreme poor people along with food security.
In Satkhira, drinking water became a scarce due to rise of salinity level caused by Aila. The PA introduced pipe water supply system in the working area. Women from low income communities now have easier access to safe water for drinking and daily use.
The development agency is going to launch a website titled 'Practical Answers' soon in order to respond to queries on all kinds of development technologies.
The PA is celebrating its Golden Jubilee titled 'Golden Glory' throughout the year 2015-16 across the countries. In Bangladesh, the celebration began with a photography exhibition at DRIK Gallery in the capital on December 1-3. Government officials, representatives from international development agencies and others visited the exhibition, which highlighted the PA's achievements. After the exhibition, the PA plans to continue the celebration with several events from January 2016. On the occasion, Hasin Jahan thanked community at large, development partners, allies and donors for standing beside the PA. "Without their support, it would not have been possible for us alone to fight against poverty". She expressed gratitude to all being with the organization and vowed to work together towards ensuring technology justice.
Md Sazedul Islam is an author and journalist.
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