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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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Securing Land Rights for the Poor Now Reaping Rewards

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The hotly debated issue of land rights for the poor has never been more relevant. There is mounting evidence that access to land rights can catapult the poor out of poverty and spur growth for the economy. Experience in India and China is now showing the economic power unleashed when the poor gain full legal rights over their land. But it can be a thornier issue in Africa, where much land is still held under customary law, with people either holding it through their clan or tribe, or being considered as owners of where they live, without formal documents. Many countries are now adapting their laws to switch to a system of formal titles, but the process is very uneven and some question whether western-style property titles are appropriate in an African context.

While there are many schemes to alleviate or eliminate poverty through micro-credit, grants or aid, some believe the secret is in creating a sound framework of property rights, giving poor people important collateral to raise money against the value of the land on which they live. The Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, has calculated that the total value of informal urban dwellings and rural land owned under customary law is around three times greater than Africa’s entire gross domestic product and 100 times greater than its foreign direct investment.

But the urgency of this problem can be seen in the numbers of rural poor – many of whom will migrate to the world’s fast-growing cities. In China there are 800 million, in India the rural poor number 270 million and 70 percent of Africa’s 888 million (2005,UN) are rural poor.

The Rural Development Institute (www.rdiland.org), an NGO based in Seattle, Washington, USA – and with offices and projects in India, China, Indonesia, Russia, Africa – uses lawyers to advocate and fight for land rights for the rural poor. To date, RDI has helped provide land rights to more than 100 million poor families worldwide. Their approach is called micro-owning whereby the poor are helped to acquire land assets. These are often small plots of land – sometimes 1/10th acre – that can provide the nutritional needs for a family and help them on the road to the virtuous cycle of long-term, sustainable and generational poverty alleviation.

“Micro-ownership transforms the lives of the rural poor,” according to Radha Friedman, Associate Director, Development and Communication, just back from visiting RDI’s Indian projects. “Outside Bangalore in the state of Karnataka one woman who was landless worked two shifts a day in the hot sun. She was barely able to feed her children. She was making 8 to 10 rupees a day – when a bottle of water costs 10 rupees. We helped her secure a plot of land to grow jasmine flowers which she sells in the market. She now makes between 85 to 200 rupees a day. She can eat three times a day and her kids can afford to go to school. She said she had not thought about how far she had come, but it clearly showed she had such pride in what she had achieved. A number of Indian states have adopted this program, enabling people to purchase micro-gardens and micro-plots of land. It has been such a success that other Indian states are now showing interest.”

“All of this didn’t happen overnight,” said Lincoln Miller, Chief Operations Officer at RDI. “We conducted lots of research and surveyed the rural poor. We analyzed how the laws were affecting them. It took a long time to change government attitudes. We hopefully find a voice in the government who will listen to us. They need to recognize that land rights are one of the best routes out of poverty. In Africa we are primarily working in Burundi, Rwanda and Angola. In addition to working with government to change national policy and laws, we also conduct awareness-raising and education at the grassroots level, especially targeting women. Land rights are a political issue. The majority of the world’s poor is rural. By giving them land rights this process can help mitigate migration to the city.”

The benefits of owning land include improved family status, pride and hope, reduced hunger and improved family nutrition from crops produced on land , increased income from sale of excess production, improved rural health, including reduction in infant mortality and reduction in death from disease or infection due to malnutrition, labor-intensive and productivity-enhancing, investments in land motivated by secure land rights, increased family savings as a result of ability to invest in land improvements, ability of poor to benefit from any market increases in land values, enhanced capacity to conduct micro-enterprise activities, empowerment of women, and decreased pressure to migrate to already crowded urban areas.

However in South Africa, land rights have been further complicated by the legacy of apartheid. In 1994, 80 percent of farmland was in white hands. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) want to see 30 percent of that transferred to black ownership by 2015. Blacks are also able to claim ownership for land as long as they live on it.

The strong reaction against past experiments in collectivizing land can be understood in the experience of Zambia. Under President Kenneth Kaunda, everything was nationalized, from copper mines to corner shops. Average annual incomes almost halved in 40 years despite the country receiving more aid per head of population than virtually any other in the world.

Any organizations or individuals seeking land rights need only to contact the RDI by email to get the legal ball rolling.

Published: February 2007

Resources

  • The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions tracks forcible evictions from land. In its latest global survey of forced evictions from 2003-2006 reveals that nearly 2 million people in Africa and over 2.1 million people in Asia and the Pacific have been forcibly evicted from their homes since 2003. http://www.cohre.org/
  • Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the Shack/Slum Dwellers International targets the plight of people living in semi-urban and urban areas: http://www.sdinet.org/
  • The Cities Alliance: Cities without Slums links together a global coalition of cities and their development partners committed to scaling up successful approaches to poverty reduction: http://www.citiesalliance.org/index.html
  • Rural Development Institute: Email: info@rdiland.org Website: http://www.rdiland.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.

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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Preserving Beekeeping Livelihoods in Morocco

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The clever combining of tourism and long-standing beekeeping skills has revived a local craft and is also helping to preserve the ecology of Morocco.

Beekeeping, or apiculture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beekeeping), has two clear benefits. Bee products, including honey, beeswax, propolis, pollen and royal jelly can be a valuable source of income. The other benefit is the critical role bees play in the ecology by pollinating flowers and plants as they go about their daily business.

Bees are at risk around the world, as reports of the dying-off of bees from colony collapse disorder (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_collapse_disorder) raise concerns about the impact on the earth’s ecology and plant life should bees disappear.

North Africa and the Middle East are considered the cradle of beekeeping, with records showing beekeeping going back to 2400 BC in Egypt. According to “A review of beekeeping in Arab countries” by Moustafa H. Hussein, “The total number of honey bee colonies in Arab countries is approximately 42 million, the total number of beekeepers is 321,700”.

In the paper “The Future of Bees and Honey Production in Arab Countries” by Moustafa A. EL-Shehawy, Egypt has the largest number of bee colonies in Arab countries (48 per cent), with Algeria in second place and Morocco with 9 per cent of the bee colonies.

Support for beekeeping comes from the Arab Beekeepers Union (http://abu.saudibi.com/index.php?page_id=115), which was established in 1994 with the aim to improve “the beekeeping profession all over the Arab World”, according to its website, and the Arab Apicultural Congress, first launched in 1996.

Beekeeping has significant potential for further development, many argue, and can be a great source of income and sustainable livelihoods for communities with a long history of beekeeping.

In Morocco, one solution to preserve beekeeping as a skill and source of income is to turn beekeeping into a tourist destination and event, which has the dual aim of boosting a local food product and reviving a traditional craft and skill.

The Berber heartland of the Agadir region is an area with a reputation for beauty, filled with waterfalls and mountains – and plentiful flowers, which attract bees. As a result, the area is home to the proud local specialty of honey, as well as for its argan nuts and oil, almonds, palm, juniper and olive production.

Now a “Honey Road” route for tourists, combined with community honey festivals, is helping preserve local skills and give a boost to this long-standing economic activity.

Beekeeping is a centuries old skill for the Berber people of North Africa. Berbers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berber_people) are spread out across North Africa and were traditionally nomadic herders. Most now live in Morocco and Algeria, but Berbers can also be found in Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

Starting at the beginning of May, a honey festival takes place in the Moroccan village of Imouzzer des Ida Outanane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imouzzer_Ida_Ou_Tanane), 60 kilometres from Agadir.

The honey festival brings together the region’s beekeepers. Tourists can sample honey and prizes are offered based on the quality of the product. It is part of the “Honey Road” route that tourists are encouraged to journey along.
The villagers share responsibility for the care of the bees. Demonstrations take place showing the basics of honey production and the keeping of queen bees.

A few kilometres away on the Honey Road is the village of Izourki Oufella, which produces honey perfumed with thyme and lavender.

The Honey Road runs a triangular pattern south and west of Marrakech between Argana, Oued Tinkert, Asif Tamraght, Agadir and Imouzzer. Argana is reputed to have the “largest and oldest collective beehive in the world” (http://www.morocco.com/blog/tantalizing-tastes-of-the-honey-festival).

Abdelhakim Sabri, owner of Auberge Zolado (aubergezolado.com) – a hilltop hotel with a restaurant and spa – is located in Agadir on the Honey Road.

Sabri works to preserve local culture. “Rural beekeepers struggle, so we’re introducing visitors to apiculturists like Ahmed – and Morocco’s finest honey,” he told High Life magazine.

Ahmed is a Berber beekeeper. He builds cylindrical hives for the bees by rolling sheets of woven reed and then caking them in earth. When the earth has dried, the bees quickly make it their home.

The region’s honey is prized for its distinctive flavour, infused with the aroma of herbs such as thyme, or flowers such as lavender, orange blossom or cactus. A mixture is made of honey, argan oil and almonds and is usually given to couples on their honeymoon.

“Different flowers bloom during different periods, so honey changes through the year,” said Sabri.

It sounds like the Honey Road is worth regular visits to sample the honey as it changes with the seasons!

Published: April 2013

Resources

1) A documentary on the Honey Route from Morocco’s travel promotion agency. Website: http://www.visitmorocco.com/index.php/eng/content/view/full/3975

2) Apinews: Latest apiculture news. Website: http://www.apinews.com/en/

3) Saudi Beekeeping Industry: An association to coordinate efforts to promote and support apiculture. Website: http://www.saudibi.com/?page_id=115
4) Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI): The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex is the largest research group in the UK studying honey bees and other social insects. Website: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lasi/

5) Apimondia 2013: This year’s International Apicultural Congress will take place in Kiev, Ukraine from 29 September to 4 October 2013. Website: http://apimondia2013.org.ua/en/

6) International Bee Research Association: Founded in 1949, the International Bee Research Association (IBRA) is a not for profit organisation. It collects, collates and disseminates information on all species of bees.  It is a publishing house, producing a varied and extensive selection of bee publications. Website: http://www.ibra.org.uk/

Southern Innovator logo

London Edit

31 July 2013

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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Indian Solar Economy Brings New Vocation for Women

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

India has started to make significant advances in developing solar power technologies for the poor. There are now whole villages using solar energy and improving their standard of living. Various companies and projects are selling inexpensive solar appliances – from cooking stoves to lanterns and power generators – across the country. This new solar power ‘grid’ is also bringing further economic opportunities: jobs for people to repair and maintain the new equipment.

An interesting initiative is turning the need to repair and maintain solar-powered equipment into a job opportunity for poor women.

More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, and 400 million in India (World Bank). Some 600,000 Indian villages lack an electrical supply. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged “power for all” by 2012. An ambitious goal, and one that acknowledges that without electricity, many development goals remain dreams that will never be achieved.

Being able to see at night, for example, unleashes a vast range of possibilities – such as being able to work or study later – but for the very poor, lighting is often the most expensive household expense, soaking up 10 to 15 percent of income.

The power of the sun can help transform this situation. According to Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/international), India could generate 10 percent of its electricity from solar power by 2030.

In the Indian State of Rajasthan, more than 30,000 homes in 800 villages have turned to solar power for lighting and cooking needs. It is this increasing solar power grid that the Barefoot College (http://www.barefootcollege.org) based in Tilonia – where it was founded over 30 years ago – has turned to as a new economic opportunity. The College is training women to be solar engineers, developing both useful skills and a new income source. So far, Barefoot College itself has solar electrified some 350 villages across India and dozens more in sub-Saharan Africa and even war-torn Afghanistan.

The College prides itself on stripping out academic jargon while inspiring confidence in students’ innate talents and skills so they can take on new vocations.

The solar engineers – many of whom are illiterate – are taught by their peers. Given a box of tools and hardware, the students undertake practical projects to learn-by-doing how the solar devices work and can be repaired. They are introduced to technical terms and concepts and learn how to wire circuits and do daily repairs.

“It is only, we have found, an illiterate woman who is a teacher who can actually train an illiterate women who is a trainer,” the college’s founder, Bunker Roy, told the BBC. “They have the patience, tolerance and improvisation.”

Roy says the training teaches more knowledge of the technical aspects of solar power than a typical student would glean from an undergraduate university degree.

The Barefoot College takes its inspiration from former Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi), who felt the wisdom, knowledge and skills already existing in rural villages should be the basis for any development. He also believed deploying sophisticated technology in poor communities should be done on their terms to avoid exploitation.

The College is a passionate believer in the inherent skills and abilities of the poor to improve their conditions. It eschews formal qualifications, believing these can be as much a hindrance as a help, trapping people in rigid methodologies.

The Barefoot College has been working on solar electrification in poor and rural villages since 1989. It has used similar techniques to train teachers and teach medical skills.

The course has successfully attracted sponsored students from as far away as Africa. Sarka Mussara, a 56-year-old widowed grandmother from the West African nation of Mauritania, had never attended school or even left her village before coming to India on a UN sponsorship.

“We started little by little learning the solar energy system,” she told PBS. “Day by day and little by little we were able to put things together.”

The solar engineers become highly skilled and can even fabricate complex components like a charge controller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_controller) when they are back in the village.

One of the additional benefits of training skilled solar engineers is the more confident role these women play in their communities when they return. They often take the lead on other projects in the village.

The College also picks the tough cases: only villages that are inaccessible, remote or non-electrified get help.

Its approach is to have a meeting to introduce the benefits of solar lighting to the community. If the community wants it, then a village committee is formed. Any household that wants solar power has to pay a small fee, no matter how poor. This is to ensure they feel a sense of ownership of the new technology.

Some members of the community are then selected to be trained as “Barefoot Solar Engineers,” or BSEs. They will install, repair and maintain the solar lighting units for at least five years. A workshop is set up to carry out repairs fully equipped with tools and replacement parts. The solar engineers attend a six-month course at the College, leading to work for at least five years.

The Barefoot College encourages middle-aged women and widows and single mothers to become engineers. Experience has shown them to be the most reliable and less prone to moving to the city after training.

Published: May 2010

Resources

1) D.light Design is dedicated to bringing modern lighting and power to more than 1.6 billion people globally currently living without electricity. They aim to be the number one player in off-grid lighting and power solutions worldwide. Website: http://www.dlightdesign.com

2) Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment. Website: http://www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

3) Sun King solar lantern: The lantern provides 16 hours of light for a day’s charge. Website: http://www.greenlightplanet.com/ourusers.html

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