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Ghanaian Coffins Prove Design and Craftsmanship Boost Incomes

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In many parts of the world, indigenous ingenuity and craft skills are finally getting the recognition they deserve. The quirky but very inventive gadgets and solutions featured on the Afrigadget blog (http://www.afrigadget.com) never fail to inspire and amaze. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) fashionable gentlemen (http://www.henryherbert.com/gentlemen-of-bacongo/) grabbed the attention of – and inspired – European fashion designers with their creativity and flair. And then there are the Africa Maker Faires, gatherings of clever and innovative thinkers and inventors who get down to work generating solutions to today’s problems.

Beyond the grim stories of development failures and human tragedies, there is another Africa full of creativity and can-do attitude.

Amongst the Ga people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ga_people) of Teshi, Ghana there is a tradition with a twist: custom-designed coffins. A Ghanaian pioneer has been transforming the way people deal with that most sombre and respectful of rituals, the funeral. Coffin-artist Paa Joe is drawing on a modern-day tradition in Ghana dating back to the 1950s. Coffins – which are normally made from wood and follow the standard template of a narrow, body-length box – are transformed into grand and lively statements about the deceased person’s life.

Designs have included a giant pink fish, a Ghana Airways plane, a souped-up Mercedes Benz and an African eagle.

“The Ga people (http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/tribes/ga.php), from the south-east coast of Ghana, revere their ancestors and give great importance to funeral celebrations,” Jack Bell, a London gallery owner exhibiting the coffins, told The Observer newspaper. “Their tradition of creating beautifully carved figurative coffins originated in the 1950s.”

Paa Joe was born in the Akwapim hills north-east of Accra in 1945. He is considered the top sculpted coffin maker of his generation. He apprenticed with the pioneer of the craft, Kane Kwei (http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?153) – the man who began this unique vocation in the 1950s. The skill and artistry involved is now recognized in museums around the world, including London’s British Museum.

The community had a history of highly skilled woodwork and elaborate carvings were regularly created for village chiefs – giant eagles or even the surreal spectacle of a giant cocoa pod.

The bespoke coffins are an example of how long-standing skills were applied to a new product. The idea of making custom-sculpted coffins begun by Kane Kwei evolved from being a livelihood for Kwei to an apprenticed craft passed down to younger craftsmen. When Kane Kwei’s grandmother died in 1951, without fulfilling her lifelong wish to fly on a plane, Kane made a plane-shaped coffin for her. This coffin was admired by others and Kane got the idea of setting up a workshop and making custom-designed coffins symbolizing the
deceased’s status and achievements in life.

“Families commission the coffins – sometimes to a brief designed by the deceased – to represent the aspirations or achievements of a deceased relative, or to characterize their personality: a car for a businessman, a cocoa pod for a farmer, a bible, or even a camera,” Bell said.

For people with modest means, there are simpler designs of boats, canoes and books. Prices are negotiated with the coffin maker.

Where there were none, now there are multiple workshops providing custom coffins for funerals. Traditional Ghanaian funerals are lively, colourful events, but the coffin sculptures of Teshi are a modern phenomenon and proof that innovation and good design can transform the most sombre of items into something special.

Published: December 2010

Resources

  • Maker Faire Africa: Flickr photo gallery: A clickable archive of the Maker Faire inventors and their inventions. Website:http://www.flickr.com/groups/makerfaireafrica/pool/
  • Afrigadget: Afrigadget: ‘Solving everyday problems with African ingenuity’: This blog never ceases to amaze and fascinate. Website: http://www.afrigadget.com/
  • E-machine Shop: eMachineShop: This remarkable service allows budding inventors to download free design software, design their invention, and then have it made in any quantity they wish and shipped to them: Amazing! Website: http://www.emachineshop.com/ 4) Maker Faire Africa 2010: Catch up on the last Maker Faire Africa. Website: (http://makerfaireafrica.com)
  • Afrigadget: ‘Solving everyday problems with African ingenuity’: This blog never ceases to amaze and fascinate. Website: http://www.afrigadget.com/
  • International Development Design Summit: The Summit is an intense, hands-on design experience that brings together people from all over the world and all walks of life to create technologies and enterprises that improve the lives of people living in poverty. Website:http://iddsummit.org/

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. 

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Recycling Waste to Boost Incomes and Opportunities

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

We all know that green is good, but often the best way to encourage recycling and other environment-improving activities is to put in place economic incentives. It is one thing to admonish people and tell them something is the right thing to do; it is another to make keeping a clean environment pay.

Many initiatives across the global South have proven it is possible to develop an economy of recycling and garbage collection in poor neighbourhoods. These economies take many forms and models.

At the most basic end of the scale are the desperate, survival-driven examples of recycling. In countries likeIndia, recycling can be purely a question of survival – people are so poor they can’t allow anything that might have income potential go to waste. Other countries are very familiar with large numbers of desperately poor people picking through garbage dumps and waste to eke out a living. Or, for example in Brazil, as in many other countries, it’s common to see poor and homeless people picking through garbage on the streets.

These are examples of degrading ‘green’ economies. But there other ways to encourage waste recycling that offer real income benefits and life improvements.

Brazil, a world leader in waste recycling and green technologies, has pioneered the recycling of plastic bottles, aluminum, steel cans, solid plastic waste and glass. And now energy companies inBrazilhave created credit schemes that encourage waste recycling while giving people real economic benefits in return for doing the right thing for the environment. The first scheme went so well, it quickly inspired others to replicate its programme in other poor communities.

Coelce (http://www.coelce.com.br/default.aspx) is a power company in the Ceará State in northeastern Brazil. The company is primarily engaged in the distribution of electrical power for industrial, rural, commercial and residential consumption. In 2007 it set up Ecoelce (http://www.coelce.com.br/coelcesociedade/programas-e-projetos/ecoelce.aspx), a programme allowing people to recycle waste in return for credits towards their electricity bills. The success of the programme led to an award from the United Nations.

The programme works like this: people bring the waste to a central collection place, a blue and red building with clear and bright branding to make it easy to find. In turn they receive credits on a blue electronic card – looking like a credit card – carrying a picture of a child and arrows in the familiar international recycling circle.

These credits are then used to calculate the amount of discount they should receive on their energy bill. The scheme is flexible, and people can also use the credits for food or to pay rent. In 2008, after its first yearthe scheme had expanded to 59 communities collecting 4,522 tons of recyclable waste and earning 622,000 reais (US $349,438) in credits for 102,000 people. People were receiving an average of 5 to 6 reais (US $2.80 to US $3.37) every month towards their energy bills.  A clear success leading to an expansion of the scheme.

Now in Ceará’s state capital, Fortaleza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortaleza), – population 3.5 million – there are more than 300,000 people recycling a wide range of materials, from paper, glass, plastics, and metals to cooking oil to get electricity discounts, according to the Financial Times.

In Brazil’s second largest city, Rio de Janeiro, a favela clean-up programme is being run by electricity firm Light S.A. (http://www.light.com.br/web/tehome.asp), which took its inspiration from the success of the Ecoelce experience.

The number of favelas, or informal slum neighbourhoods (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela), in Rio is debated: according to the federal government, there are 1,020 favelas, while Rio’s housing department lists 582. The government has been trying to tackle the law and order problems in these neighbourhoods – many are plagued with violent drug gangs – and endemic poverty. It calls this programme “pacification” (http://brazilportal.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/rios-top-cop-talks-public-safety-policy-favela-pacification-program/) as it tries to bring law and order and boost economic development and social gains.

Recycling programmes are helping to bring improvements to life in the favelas by simultaneously cleaning up neighbourhoods and boosting household wealth.

Light S.A. is a Brazilian energy company working in the generation, transmission, distribution and marketing of electricity. It distributes to 31 municipalities inRio de Janeiroand has around 3.8 million customers.

According to the Financial Times, the Light project pays residents 0.10 reais per kilogram of paper and plastic (US .5 cents). It also pays 2.50 reais per kilogram of aluminum and lead (US $ 1.40).

Importantly for community relations, the scheme is open not just to favela residents but to nearby middle class neighbourhoods.

“The idea is to unite the community and the people living around it,” Fernanda Mayrink, Light’s community outreach officer, told the Financial Times.

The project has helped improve theSanta Martafavela ofRio, where police have been working since 2008 to take back the neighbourhood from the control of violent drug gangs. Community police officers can now do their job of taking care of safety for the 6,000 residents.

“You don’t see drugs and guns any more but you do see lots of rubbish,” Mayrink said.

“This project encourages recycling within the company’s concession area and at the same time contributes to sustainable development and the consumer’s pocket. Light wins, the customer wins (and) the environment wins.”

In Vietnam, the NGO Anh Duong (http://www.anhduonghg.org/en/) or “Sun Ray” shows schoolchildren how to collect plastic waste to sell for recycling. In return, their schools receive improvements and the students can win scholarships. It is estimated ruralVietnam is littered with 100 million tons of waste every year. Much of it is not picked up.

The project is operating in 17 communities in Long My and Phung Hiep districts in southernVietnam, mobilising children from primary and secondary schools. School children wearing their uniforms fan out in groups and collect the plastic waste. The money made from selling the plastic waste is being used to improve school facilities and fund scholarships for poor children.

In 2010, the project reported that 10,484 kilograms of plastic waste was collected by 26,015 pupils. This provided for 16 scholarships for school children.

The Anh Duong NGO was set up by a group of social workers with the goal of community development. They target the poorest, bringing together the entire community and seek out “low cost and sustainable actions”. The NGO has a mix of specialties, from agriculture to aquaculture, health, microfinance and social work.

“Close, but no cigar” some might say, but we were genuinely flattered to be shortlisted in 2014 for inclusion in the book Visual Storytelling: Infographic Design in News published by Images Publishing in Shanghai, China. It is a lovely book to look at and the quality of infographics chosen for the book is high so it must have been a tough call. It was further proof Southern Innovator was getting known around the world and gaining respect for its content and design. The excellent work done by our graphic designer and illustrator Solveig Rolfsdottir speaks for itself.
Graphic Designer and Illustrator: Sólveig Rolfsdóttir.

Resources

1) A travelling exhibit, In The Bag: The Art and Politics of the Reusable Bag Movement, showcases bags and art produced by communities throughout the world and by individual artists. Website:http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BE6B5/%28httpNews%29/D1AB353A91EC2466C125793600519C7B?OpenDocument

2) EPAP guide: Based on extensive research throughout Mongolia by UNDP, this guide includes the application of the Blue Bag project to Mongolia’s sprawling slum districts surrounding the capital Ulaanbaatar. Website:http://tinyurl.com/yfkn2dp

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.  

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Gobi Desert Wine to Tackle Poverty and Boost Incomes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In the arid Gobi Desert spanning the two Asian nations of China and Mongolia is a bold attempt to make wine and reduce poverty. The environment is harsh, with temperatures swinging from sub-zero winter cold to sweltering summer heat. The desert is also home to high winds and notorious dust storms that plague China’s capital Beijing every year.

China’s wine industry is booming as people have embraced the drink’s perceived health-giving qualities and are using it to celebrate new-found wealth as the economy has flourished. Current wine consumption in China is half a litre per person per year, low compared to the French average of 55 litres a year. But this is growing quickly.

Well-known brands include Great Wall, Dynasty and Changyu (http://www.changyu.com.cn/english/index.html), which is considered the world’s 10th largest wine producer.

One innovative winery is using this wine boom to tackle poverty and increase local wealth.

Chateau Hansen (hansenwine.com) in Inner Mongolia has been operating since the 1980s, but recent expansion and modernization have significantly increased its earning power and the number of people it employs. Located in an area with high levels of poverty, it has developed a successful wine business in the desert by tapping the plentiful water supplies from the Yellow River. The area is now considered one of the best for growing wine grapes in China.

Located near Wuhai city (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuhai), 670 kilometres west of Beijing, Chateau Hansen has 250 hectares of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Gernischt grapevines.

The vines are buried under the sand to protect them from the harsh weather in the winter.

“The lowest temperature gets down to is below -20 degrees C (Celsius), but in summer, it can reach 38 or 40 degrees C (102 or 104 F),” Li Aixin, Chateau Hansen’s head of viticulture, told MSNBC. “Here the four seasons are good for the growth of the grapes, but in the winter we need to bury them in the earth” to keep them from freezing. Hansen has been ambitious in its approach. It has a European-style chateau, hotel and even a French wine expert, Bruno Paumard, on site to help with the wine making. The chateau’s cellar now stores 1,000 barrels of wine.

Paumard arrived in China in 2005. He has thrown himself into Chinese culture and tasted and tested the country’s wines. Hansen has produced 400,000 bottles of wine, mostly sold in China, where red wine drinking has become a big part of the culture of celebration.

Hansen sells the majority of its wine to government organizations and regional enterprises. It has seen its profits double to 100 million yuan (US $18 million) in 2011 and hopes sales will double again in 2012.

“Eighty per cent of the market in China is really the local governments who encourage the enterprises in their cities to consume red wine, of a certain brand, at their banquets in the place of Chinese ‘baijiu’ for their incessant and never-ending toasts,” said Paumard, referring to China’s home-grown rice wine. “So it’s actually a market that’s totally unique.”

Hansen’s Cotes du Fleuve Jaune du Desert de Gobi has become one of the biggest award-winning wines in China. It received a bronze medal from the International Wine Challenge of Blaye, near Bordeaux, France.

China now stands as the world’s fifth-largest consumer of wine (International Wine and Spirit Research study) (http://www.iwsr.co.uk/). The market in China is forecast to grow by 54 per cent from 2011 to 2015, adding up to a billion bottles.

A map of China’s vineyards and their terroir or soil conditions shows a diverse wine-making sector (http://www.hansenwine.com/english/vineyardlink.html).

In this busy marketplace, Hansen prides itself on being organic. It also has the goal of turning the arid desert into green vineyards using irrigation from the Yellow River and groundwater. It wants to create employment and raise living standards in the region and is fitting into a national strategy to raise living standards for poor regions.

There is a training programme for the around 400 workers employed by the winery. No pesticides are used and only sheep dung is used as a fertilizer provided by 3,000 sheep on site. Trees also play a role in providing humus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humus) for the vines. There is also accommodation in a nearby village for the employees.

There are 250 hectares of vineyards and the grapes are harvested by hand. Expansion began in 2001 when the chateau and winery were built. It is strategically located just 500 metres from an airport and the chateau has a luxury hotel. Around 20,000 people visit a year, according to Hansen’s website, bringing in further income for the winery. The winery also uses Mongolian culture and cuisine as a selling point to attract tourists.

The chief executive of Hansen is Han Jianping, who made his first fortune in real estate development.

Han believes that “the momentum of growth in the wine industry is huge.”

“With a great foundation of more than 1 billion people as we have in China, and (the industry) growing at 20 or 30 per cent a year, there is a huge potential for more growth,” he said.

Resources

1) China Wine Online: An information service that also produces the China Wine Business magazine and runs the China Wine Study Tour. Website: http://www.winechina.com/en/index.asp

2) The 10th Shanghai International Wine and Spirits Expo 2013: Website: http://www.winefair.com.cn/sugar/en/index.asp

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More on the Gobi Desert here:

Development Profile: UNDP In The Southern Gobi Desert | May-June 1998

Kommunikation total: Der siebte Kontinent

Wild East 17 Years Later | 2000 – 2017

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© David South Consulting 2021