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Popular Characters Re-invent Traditional Carving

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The popular cartoon characters from the long-running series The Simpsons are breathing new life into traditional African stone carvings.

A traditional craft in many cultures, carving adds value to local resources and provides an excellent source of income for local artisans and entrepreneurs. While wood or stone carvings are a popular tourist souvenir throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, most carvers stick to traditional subjects.

However, a group of villagers in western Kenya have transformed their economy by swapping carvings of elephants and Cleopatra for Homer, Marge and Sideshow Bob.

According to the book Carving out a Future by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), carving exports from the island of Bali in Indonesia total US $100 million per year. India’s industry is worth US $65 million. In Oaxaca, Mexico, carvings earn US $2,500 per household, increasing access to education and health. In Kenya, carving involves more than 60,000 people and provides household income for more than 300,000. In some communities in South Africa, households can earn between US $500 and US $2,000 per year from carvings – 80 per cent of a household income.

Research into carving has identified several factors that are critical to maximising profits: quality is critical, and the best woods and stone must be used. Diversity is an important element: too much of the same thing being made available damages the market. And sustainability: the wood and stone resources must not be used up.

It is this novelty and diversity that The Simpsons carvings address. By tapping into the global market for official licensed merchandise, the Tabaka carvers of the Abagusi tribe – well-known carvers in western Kenya – have significantly increased their income. And they are cashing in on the global popularity of the first Simpsons movie released this year.

Tabaka is a village three hours by bus from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. In Nairobi, the carvers would sell their soap stone carvings to middlemen, often for a pittance compared to what they would in turn charge tourists. Negotiations with these vendors could take days and waste the precious income of the carvers as they waited around for the deal to come through.

Craft Village UK has organised the carvers to produce Simpsons statuettes for the worldwide market. The carvers were able to win the official merchandise license from The Simpsons’ owners, Twentieth Century Fox, after its vice-president saw a video of the carvers. They were initially awarded the license to craft 12 of the show’s characters for the US and UK markets, but last month they gained the worldwide license.

Craft Village’s founder, UK-based Paul Young, had the idea three years ago when his sister returned from living in Uganda with soap stone carvings. Impressed by the quality of the workmanship, he thought they would sell better in a western market if they reproduced popular images from films and TV. In 2005, he made contact with the carvers through a crafts company in Nairobi. He sent initial plastic figurine models and photos to help the carvers get the statues right. He flew to Kenya in 2005 to meet the carvers for the first time and video the carving process.

Initial prototypes were too heavy and some would break. And it took 12 months of trial and error to get the quality high enough to approach Twentieth Century Fox.

“Familiarizing the carvers with The Simpsons was difficult,” said Young. “Making the carvers understand the importance of quality control and the need for benchmark standards and uniform carvings was – and still is – a challenge.”

“I don’t know who they are,” said Pauline Kemunto, who helps her husband with the carvings. “But I like them because I earn from them.”

In a community known for growing bananas, David Atang’a, master carver and former soldier, supports five children. “If this Simpsons project succeeds, I hope to educate my children in university,” he said.

Two groups of 15 members each are divided between Tabaka Master Carvers and Tabaka Classic Carvers. Women take over and wash, polish and shine the pieces. Each piece is numbered and signed (Craft Village UK products).

The carvers now make 450 Kenyan shillings per statue (UK £3) – between four and six times what they would have got for a traditional carving. Where work before was sporadic, it is now regular and employs 80 people. The extra income means the carvers can now send their children to secondary school.

Enosh Onsombi grew up with no electricity and no television. But since the community started carving the Simpsons characters, “Life has changed so much,” he told The Independent newspaper. “The Simpsons has changed everything.”

Published: October 2007

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Bio-ethanol From Sturdy and Once-Unwanted Indian Plant

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

With awareness of global warming at an all-time high – and governments seeking real-world solutions to solve this enormous problem – bioethanol fuel has risen up the agenda as a replacement for conventional fuel sources. At present, most bioethanol fuel is produced from either corn or sugar but a less known plant jatropha could be the real solution. Brazil has been a pioneer in producing bioethanol fuel from sugar, while the United States has focused on its substantial corn crop as a source, and both contribute more than half the world’s supply. Brazil alone made US $5.4 billion from biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel combined) in 2005, while global production is estimated at 48 billion litres (Biofuel Market Worldwide (2007-2010) www.canbiotech.com).

Global prices for crude oil, under pressure from a number of sources, are volatile and far above 1990s levels. This hurts the poorest countries most (Human Development Report 2005). Expensive fuel means the world’s poor are denied affordable access to machinery and appliances that can make life more comfortable. Poorer nations are often more dependent on oil imports than richer countries. As well, most of their industries are energy intensive, and their cars and homes are less energy efficient. This means low-income countries spend twice as much of their national income on imported oil than do developed countries (World Bank). A US $10 per barrel increase in the cost of crude oil shaves half a percentage point from economic growth in the West; in the poorest countries, it is nearly three times higher.

The two common sources of bioethanol fuel – corn and cane sugar – have a major drawback: they are diverting food sources into fuel for vehicles. Already, the massive US diversion of corn into the bioethanol fuel market has sent the price of corn skyrocketing, making this hardy food staple in countries like Mexico more expensive for the poor. Some estimates claim ethanol plants will burn up to half of the United States’ domestic corn supplies within a few years (Foreign Affairs). To fill the fuel tank of a sports utility vehicle (SUV) with pure ethanol requires 450 pounds of corn – enough calories to feed one person for a year.

And this is why many are now advocating a non-edible Indian fruit bush called jatropha as a better solution. It is like a grapefruit, with each fruit containing three plum-sized seeds. Each seed contains 35 percent oil which can be converted into biodiesel. A shrub from the family euphorbiaceae, jatropha’s lifespan is 50 years. It bears fruit several times a year, and each bunch is five to eight fruits. Being unedible, the oil is mostly used for soap and varnishes.

Cultivation of the jatropha was prioritised a year ago by the Indian Railway Minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav. Disused railways lands were to be put aside for growing the crop. Brazil’s biodiesel company, Biomasa, plans to plant two million hectares with jatropha this year, and it is believed jatropha will surpass sugar cane as the principal source for bioethanol in Brazil.

The advantages of jatropha include its hardy nature: it does not require pesticide, manure, or irrigation to grow and it is drought resistant. A single jatropha plant will yield one litre of biodiesel per year for 40 years, and it yields 1,300 kg of seeds per hectare per year. Its advocates hope to see jatropha bushes planted alongside existing crops, with an acre producing 100 litres of fuel per year.

The downsides of cultivating jatropha as a fuel source would need to be overcome. At present, jatropha’s high acidity means its seeds degrade quickly in humid environments (much of the global South) when exposed to air. Steel tanks used for storage require a nitrogen blanket to prevent water absorption. During the processing stage (something called transesterification), the large quantities of glycerine are produced as a byproduct. Demand is low for this byproduct and disposal is a problem. A cake is also produced that has no real value or use. To make it economically worthwhile to grow in India for example, farmers would need to receive four rupees per kg of seed. This would produce a biofuel costing 50 rupees per litre – considered too expensive at present. Jatropha advocates are urging government subsidies to kick-start production and make the price competitive.

In Ghana, smallholder farmers have already rebelled against growing jatropha. They say that since the oil is inedible, and growing the crop leaves them at the mercy of price-setting by the refineries, they do not want to run the risk.

“What may encourage farmers to venture into jatropha,” said Wisdom Yao Adjah-Cudjoe, a cereal farmers’ representative, “would be a guaranteed price arrangement, as is the case with cocoa.”

In Africa, research by the South African Biodiversity Institute has estimated that 50 percent of the landmass of the continent is suitable for jatropha cultivation (a total of 1,080 million hectares). It could be a huge opportunity for African farmers and a big cost saving for poor countries, but if farmers are to be encouraged to grow jatropha, they will need the right price incentives and guarantees.

Published: June 2007

Resources

  • Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd: An Indian company specialising in helping farmers to begin growing jatropha plants.
  • Centre for Jatropha Promotion: Based in Charu, Rajasthan, India, it researches all aspects of jatropha cultivation and acts as a seed bank.
  • Kick Start Oil Press: Developed in 1993, the Kick Start Oil Press was designed for use in Africa by farmers. It is manufactured in Kenya and sold as a complete kit for entrepreneurs to get started pressing seed for oil. The Kick Start NGO designs technologies for private entrepreneurs of small-scale enterprises, and has offices in Kenya, Tanzania and Mali.
  • Haiti Innovation: Established by former Peace Corps volunteers, and links Haitian NGOs with aid donors. It encourages projects to post on the web and contributors to donate directly to them. It is currently promoting the growing of jatropha in Haiti.
  • Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa (ABNETA): This is an excellent source for real-time news and information sources on the biofuel market in Africa.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Mountain People: Innovative Ways to Help the World’s Most Vulnerable

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Physically isolated and socially and politically marginalized, mountain dwellers are among the most vulnerable in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. A disproportionate number of the world’s 840 million chronically undernourished people live in highland areas — about 270 million mountain people lack food security, with 135 million suffering chronic hunger. Large numbers of additional people in lowland areas also depend on mountains.

In October in Rome, more than 60 representatives from mountain countries around the world called for a coherent approach to sustainable agriculture and rural development in the world’s highland areas to address this crisis. First identified as a problem back at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the degradation of mountain eco-systems and the poverty of those living there, has only worsened with increasing conflict and war. Mountain forests are rapidly vanishing across the globe.

Mountains occupy 24 per cent of the earth’s landscape, and are home to 12 per cent of the world’s people; a further 14 per cent live beside mountains. Most are in the Andes, the Hengduan-Himalaya-Hindu Kush system, and a number of African mountains. Many mountain people are from ethnic minorities, and are often frozen out of political or commercial power. Poverty is common: more than 60 per cent of the rural Andean population lives in extreme poverty, and most of the 98 million Chinese considered to be among the world’s “absolute poor”, are ethnic minorities who live in mountains.

Mountains make up a quarter of the world’s landscapes, and mountain watersheds are critical to water supply – up to 80 per cent of the planet’s fresh surface water comes from mountains. Over half of the world’s population depend on mountains for water, food, hydro-electricity, timber and mineral resources (UN University Mountain Programme).

By their way of life, mountain peoples have expertise in small-hold farming, medicinal uses for native plants, and sustainable harvesting of food, fodder and fuel from forests.

In China, the MinYiYuan company has developed a model to help the millions of impoverished Chinese in the countryside who are being left out of the country’s current economic boom. While many are migrating to the cities to work as labourers, mostly women and children are left behind in villages, with few options to support themselves.

Cai Tingfen saw an opportunity to help the ethnic minority population of Liupanshui City in Guizhou Province. Founded in 2005, MinYiYuan bridges the handcraft culture of the region with the bigger national economy. Its model is unique: rather than buying ready-made handicrafts from craftspeople, MinYiYuan sets the design standards for the quality of the raw materials and sources them itself. This avoids problems with inconsistencies and guarantees customers get a reliably high-quality product. The craftspeople use these raw materials to make handcrafts in their homes, and the finished goods are bought back by the company.

The company buys cotton, hemp and Chinese herbs from local farmers, luring them away from livelihoods that cause deforestation. In 2006, the MinYiYuan Folk Art Centre sold 60,000 (batik) wax prints, 8,000 embroideries, and 20,000 ethnic handicrafts. It made 1.13 million yuan (US $149.319). The company is ambitious, and is already looking to building a research and development base to integrate design, manufacturing, packaging and sales.

Another model that is working is in the Philippines. After the Mount Pinatubo volcano eruptions in the early 1990s, the Aetas people of Luzon found their community was buried under ash and stone. Unable to work the land anymore and live off of the fish and wildlife, the Aetas were close to starvation. Many migrated to the cities to look for work: And without many relevant urban skills, most ended up living in squalor.

One by-product of the volcanic explosion was vast quantities of pumice stone, used in the garment industry to produce ‘stone-washed’ denim. Entrepreneurs were soon turning up to gather the stones.

The Asian Institute for Technology helped the Aeta people organize themselves in marketing social enterprises to gather, market and sell the stones to the many garment makers in the Philippines. By forming cooperatives, the Aeta are able to change the power dynamics with the garment companies: where they had to sell very cheaply to middlemen, the cooperatives enable them to charge more and make a liveable income, allowing them to stay in the community and avoid environmentally more harmful ways to make a living.

In Peru, coffee growers in the mountains have banded together as a social enterprise and use market solutions to increase living standards. The Cepicafe brand in the Piura Mountains, promotes its Fair Trade practices to secure higher prices for the growers. It does this by countering the increasing competition in the coffee market and lower world prices for the beans, with better quality coffee grains and bypassing middlemen to access markets directly.

Cepicafe raises the skills of the growers by providing education to increase productivity and quality, while reducing the farms ecological impact. The premium that fair trade is able to get is then used to improve the farmers’ lives with better housing, new clothes, shoes, better diets, and access to medicine.

They have 51 grassroots member organizations, totaling to 4,800 small-scale coffee producers. Over 18 per cent are women. By introducing a business culture and using radio programmes to further spread knowledge, productivity and quality have increased.

Cepicafe’s access to markets in the US and Europe means it can pay between 60 and 80 per cent more than local buyers.

Published: November 2007

Resources

  • Mountain Forum: created in 1995, it is a great resource for sustainable mountain development and conservation.
  • The Mountain Institute: A non-profit organization dedicated to conservation, community development and cultural preservation in the Andean, Appalachian and Himalayan mountain ranges.
  • Adelboden Group: Established in 2002, it exists as a forum to discuss mountain policies, exchange experience and coordinate planning.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Ecotourism to Heal the Scars of the Past

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The legacy of underdevelopment during the communist era in parts of Eastern Europe is now being seen as an advantage in the global tourism trade. Well off the beaten path for tourists, areas as diverse as Chechnya and Romania are working to turn their rustic rural hinterlands into a strategic advantage in grabbing the market for ecotourists. Ecotourism – tourism that takes people to fragile and beautiful areas – is one of the tourism industry’s fastest growing areas.At stake is the lucrative and ever-growing world tourism market. Global tourist arrivals passed 800 million in 2006, with tourism in the world up by 5.5 per cent (World Tourism Organization), earning US $680 billion globally. In 1993, just seven per cent of travel was nature tourism; that share has now passed 20 per cent.

Romania, now a member of the European Union, boasts rural countryside like Europe of old: all hillsides are common land and there are no walls or fences to impede the view. Life is heavily dominated by agriculture and the rhythms of farm life.

Southern Transylvania is a high plateau of wooded hills and valleys and shielded by the Carpathian Mountains.

“The Carpathians of central and eastern Europe,” said Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, “are among the world’s richest regions in terms of biodiversity and pristine landscapes. I have no doubt that the Carpathians, like the Alps, the Himalayas and the Rocky Mountains, will become world famous for walking, hiking, climbing, wildlife watching, photography and similar leisure pursuits.”

In order to preserve this way of life and generate income, various schemes are encouraging low-key tourism. This takes the form of renovating decaying farm buildings for guesthouses. The guesthouses are kept clean and simple and the focus is on typical local food like hearty stews and soups and pork sausages.

Much of this has been paid for by the Mihai Emenescu Trust, a charity seeking to preserve the traditions of the Saxon villages.

Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, a patron of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, thinks the organic agricultural methods of the local farmers could be a model for the rest of Europe.

Romania is also part of the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), which is taking the lead in promoting ecotourism as an economic development option.

Ex-communist nation Bulgaria has also turned to ecotourism, launching its “Ecotourism: Naturally Bulgaria” campaign in September.

Even the once-war-torn Russian republic of Chechnya is trying to radically re-shape people’s perceptions. It is hard to believe, but the former site of a bitter civil war that left the capital Grozny in ruins now wants to be Russia’s Switzerland.

Shatoy region in southern Chechnya, during Soviet times, saw 20,000 visitors every month to ski, ride horses, and hike in the Caucasus Mountains. The new government plans to spend UK £40 million on new hotels, reconstructing old holiday camps, building spas and health centres. The region’s head of government, Mr Khasukha Demilkhanov, is confident that natural beauty can compete with the West: in the Argun Gorge, he pointed out to the Guardian newspaper, the scene is reminiscent of a 19th century woodcutting. Stone towers litter the hills, alpine meadows are full of wild flowers, the mountains are snow-capped and new roads have been built.

The Chechens hope to start with Russian holidaymakers and extreme tourists from the West, before moving more into the mainstream market.

Published: October 2007

Resources

  • Ecotourism.org: The International Ecotourism Society.
  • Ecotourism Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan has put together a dedicated website on ecotourism.
  • Planeta: one of the first ecotourism resources to go online (since 1994) and still offers plenty of information for those wanting to start a business.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson.
Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson.
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022