Launched in 1999 towards the end of my two-year assignment in Mongolia, this book is a unique resource for a developing country: a one-stop compilation of journalism chronicling the ups and downs of life in a country where the political and economic system has been turned on its head. You can download an edited selection of the book from Google Books here: In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999.
Bonn, Germany: “The training allows us to learn about western theories of journalism,” says Mr. Nyamjav, editor of the Erkh Choloo (Freedom) newspaper. A UNDP project in Mongolia has brought journalists from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, to run an investigative journalist training programme for their colleagues in the rural community of Moron. The programme introducing investigative journalism to students consists of a workshop and various field assignments. Here, I report on day two of the training.
Eleven student journalists and the two trainers, Ms Oyunsetseg and Mr. Batbold from the Press Institute of Mongolia, quickly run through the day’s schedule. The journalists will spend the next two hours interviewing subjects for their stories. All the journalists say this is the first time they’ve explored in detail this sub-category of journalism. Not all the students are experienced journalists, but this is made up for by the quality of the two facilitators, both of whom keep the workshop lively.
The debate begins over the choice of stories. One team has chosen to look at poverty alleviation projects at the Bak (local government) level. They want to write a story looking at poor accountability for loans, the practice of nepotism and the ability of recipients to start small businesses. The team investigating power black-outs wants to conduct further interviews with the poorest people affected by such interruptions.
Back at the offices of the Erkh Choloo newspaper, editor Nyamjav discusses the week’s news with his graphic designer. The skills of the staff impress me. While they have only one computer and barren offices, the paper won an award from the Press Institute for being the best local paper in 1997. The newspaper will be cut off from local government subsidies for printing at the end of this year and is already making plans to find other sources of revenue. Nyamjav is pleased with the results of the UNDP project, saying: “It has noticeably changed our stories – I know how to criticise reporters and push them to be more investigative.”
Outside Ulaanbaatar a petrol shortage has hit hard. At a Moron filling station drivers patiently wait for new supplies to arrive or to receive their ration. Not only is there no fuel, there is also no electricity. On a field assignment the journalists investigating the power black-outs interview Mr. Sukhbaatar the power station director who says 3,500 households owe the utility Tug 27 million (US$27,411). It is the poorest households that are unable to pay in the Ger districts. A Ger is a Mongolian felt tent. Without payment, their power is cut off.
I am asked to conduct a one-hour discussion of my experiences as an investigative journalist in Canada and England. The debate afterwards is lively. A common question is how to deal with pressure from government and corporations to alter the content of stories. The difficulty the regional journalists have in distributing newspapers to remote communities is a common complaint. They ask how international donors could help in this matter, pointing out that in the past the government subsidised newspaper distribution to a greater extent. They would like to be linked with international journalists in some way, preferably through an association.
The global food crisis is forcing people around the world to think differently about how food is produced and what new products can boost the incomes of farmers. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people worldwide who are undernourished (FAO).
The world’s over 19.4 million camels (FAO, 2003) are now being tapped for their highly nutritious, healing and tasty milk. Camel milk is three times as rich in Vitamin C as cow’s milk. And it has several unique properties that differ from other milks, like cow and buffalo. It contains enzymes with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties to fight diseases. The milk also contains insulin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin), a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, something that is critical to the survival of diabetics.
With more and more areas of the world suffering from severe drought or desertification, camels’ renowned ability to go without a drink of water for up to three weeks makes them ideal animals. Camels continue to lactate milk even in a dehydrated state.
The current 5.4 million tonnes of camel milk produced every year isn’t enough to meet demand. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is confident, that with the right investment and innovation, camel milk has a potential market of a minimum 200 million people in the Arab world, and many millions more in Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Fresh camel milk fetches roughly US $1 dollar a litre on African markets. A world market worth US $10 billion is entirely within the realm of possibility, the FAO says.
“The potential is massive,” said FAO dairy and meat expert Anthony Bennett. “Milk is money.”
“No one is suggesting intensive camel dairy farming,” said Bennett. “But just with improved feed, husbandry and veterinary care, daily yields could rise to 20 litres (per camel).”
An Indian NGO – the Lokhit Pashu-Pala Sansthan (LPPS), which supports landless livestock owners and means “welfare organization for livestock keepers” in Hindi – is re-inventing the business model for camel herding in India (http://www.lpps.org/). The LPPS is a canny user of publicity and has created products that are eye-catching and instant conversation starters: camel ice cream and camel-dung paper.
The camel is integral to the traditional way of life in Rajasthan and is the state’s signature animal. India once boasted the third-largest population of camels in the world: over 1 million.
But that number has fallen to just 400,000. Grazing areas once just for camels are now being used by agriculture and wildlife sanctuaries. The camel breeders, the Raika people, have experienced a serious decline in income from camel herding, and many have sold their camels for slaughter.
If there was to be a future for camel herding in Rajasthan, new products had to be developed and the whole business of camel herding re-branded.
The ice cream is part of a two-year project to help camel breeders develop new products using camel milk. Camels are seen as ideal animals to raise in the drought-afflicted climate of Rajasthan, and can produce four to six litres of milk a day.
‘With groundwater levels dropping rapidly, it spells the end of water-intensive agriculture. In this scenario, camel husbandry represents a perfect solution to the chronic water woes of the state,’ said Bagdi Ram Raika, president of the Rajasthan Pastoralist Development Association.
‘We would like to see the camel breeders of Rajasthan make use of their traditional assets and avail themselves of the new marketing opportunities. Our role is to support them in this,’ said Hanwant Singh, director of LPPS.
The highly inventive people at LPPS have also come up with paper made from camel dung. Handmade, the notebooks, diaries and greeting cards are all made from the dung paper. The camel’s dung contains undigested fibre, which makes an excellent material for making paper.
The power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is increasingly being seen as a critical component of successful economic development.
The importance of trade – both South-South and South-North – as a reducer of poverty in developing countries is now widely acknowledged. Countries that have made the biggest gains in reducing poverty, like China, India and Brazil, have done it through trade.
The power of trade in high quality goods to raise incomes has been proven for more than a decade. South-South trade grew by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007. By 2007, South-South trade made up 20 percent of world trade. And over a third of South-South commerce is in high-skill manufacturing. Making finished goods, rather than just selling raw materials, improves workers’ skill levels and increases the return on trade.
But trying to get other people to desire and buy your products is very tricky. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.
A product that has both a successful design (people want to buy it) and is produced efficiently (a well-designed manufacturing process), will generate a good profit.
In India, the Craft Resource Centre or CRC Exports Limited of Kolkata (http://en..wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcutta)has been successfully selling leather travel bags to the Vodafone (>http://www.vodafone.com/hub_page.html) mobile phone company in The Netherlands. It did this by teaming up with Dutch Designers in Development (http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html), an NGO focused on matching European importers and retailers and professional designers with small and medium enterprises in the South.
Founded in 1989, CRC applies the concept of adding value to turn small-scale and poor artisans into successful and sustainable businesses. Many of these traditional handicraft artisans subsist on low incomes. CRC provides artisans across India with marketing, design, finance and exporting help. It also connects them with other artisans and helps to divide projects between them. This has the power of using networks to help in bad times while also sharing opportunities when they come up.
CRC’s director, Irani Sen, has divided the more than 15,000 artisans they work with into 15 different trading groups. CRC has also consulted to over 350 projects across Asia.
“The best thing fair trade gives (artisans) is the continuity of work … and with the continuity comes the basic security,” Sen said on the CRC website. “With that security they can develop, they can plan and then we try to motivate them for education, health (and) education for their children.”
It all began with a need: Dutch company Unseen Products (http://www.unseenproducts.com/home) needed somebody to make high-quality leather travel bags for their client, Vodafone, who in turn wanted the bags as an incentive for their employees. Unseen Products is a business connecting European retailers with small producers in the South to build long-term business relationships. They seek to make “unseen or hard to find products accessible at commercially interesting prices.”
They approached Dutch Designers in Development (DDiD), which in turn recommended CRC.
As a matchmaker, DDiD puts together European clients, Dutch designers and small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries. The designers share their knowledge of European consumer tastes, product development, design and quality standards.
DDiD receives orders from companies, NGOs and government agencies to stimulate the production and sale of sustainable products from developing countries in Europe.
The Dutch group works with producers to develop skills and adapt producers’ products to present and future demands in Europe. By following this approach, Southern producers can reduce the risk of making products nobody wants, or that lack originality in the marketplace and thus won’t sell.
DDiD explains to producers the importance of design and how it improves the product and the business. Good design, the group believes, should reduce production costs and the time taken to get to market, and boost the reputation of the product brand and maker.
Meewisse said he was uncertain at first whether the artisans would be able to make the highly complex bags. The solution was to break down the bag into smaller parts. And that is where the knowledge of design process comes into play.
“The button bag for example is a complex bag that has been taken apart: compartments, pockets, handles,” said Meewisse. “This provided us with elements that were each really simple to manufacture. After that the pieces would only have to be clicked together with the buttons. And there it was: a complete bag with all the elements you need in a good bag.”
Stella van Himbergen, a project manager at DDiD, said the concept is about introducing a new way of looking at things through the prism of design.
“Small producers in developing countries are not lacking craftsmanship,” said Himbergen. But, she added, “it is important for producers to receive support in production-led design, and not only in aesthetic design.”
Conceptually, this is the difference between designing and making something because it is aesthetically pleasing, and taking a market-driven design approach – letting market demands lead to the design solution. As a different way of looking at things, it takes in the company’s vision, brand values and positioning in the marketplace, production requirements (costs, sustainability), organization, and client’s needs.
DDiD helps producers learn how to quickly create new products based on market demands. They also raise the level of awareness of design to global standards, and show how to apply this across the production process, from graphic design, to packaging, retail and exhibition space, brand design and design management. Since 2005, the group has completed 46 international projects.
DDiD also stresses sustainability, encouraging the use of environmentally friendly materials such as biological cotton, bamboo and water hyacinth for paper and rope.
Apart from Vodafone, the CRC-made bags are sold in shops and on the web.
The extra attention to design seems to have paid off. CRC’s bags have been such a success that a second order has been placed. And CRC has picked up another project from Dutch importer Global Goodies (http://www.globalgoodies.nl/).
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.