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 Villagers in northwest Bangladesh tending a floating farm. CreditAmy Yee

CHARBHANGURA, Bangladesh — Each year the brown waters of the Gumani river swell during the summer monsoon, creeping over the surrounding fields to flood Charbhangura, a village of 2,500 people in the Pabna district of northwest Bangladesh.

From July to October the waters can rise at least 10 feet. The trunks of trees more than 30 feet away from the dry season riverbed show watermarks waist high. When the fields flood, the village’s farmers have no work.

“There is water all around,” said Hafiza Khatun, 25, a mother of two whose family income used to vanish for six months of the year when her farm laborer husband had nothing to do. “There was no happiness.”

But three years ago, Ms. Khatun was trained by Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a Bangladeshi nonprofit organization, to tend an unusual source of food and income: a floating farm with a duck coop, fish enclosures and vegetable garden moored by rope to the riverbank.


Five to 10 women can share the structure, splitting about 130,000 taka, or about $1,700, a year. Shidhulai supplies seeds, fish and duck feed and other materials that cost about 10,000 taka.

This money goes a long way in rural Bangladesh, especially for villagers struggling to survive. Ms. Khatun, who has no education and bore the first of her two children when she was 15, previously earned nothing.

Climate change threatens to worsen the severity and duration of floods in low-lying Bangladesh.

Floating farms — and produce that can flourish in flood conditions — are a way to help Bangladeshis live with rising waters.

“There is big demand for solutions for climate change-affected areas,” said Mohammed Rezwan, the founder and executive director of Shidhulai.

With the extra income from selling eggs, fish and vegetables, Ms. Khatun started saving money in a bank for the first time, bought a bed to keep her and her family off wet ground in their dirt-floored home, and helps her husband support the family.

Ducks quacked loudly as Ms. Khatun gathered eggs in the coop, ushering some of them outside to the “duck run,” a stretch of water between fish enclosures. She had never raised ducks or fish before the training, Ms. Khatun said, but “nothing has been very difficult.”

In northern Bangladesh, agricultural land is regularly flooded as rivers are engorged by the annual Himalayan snow melt and monsoon rains. In one of the world’s most densely populated countries, where 156 million people live in an area the size of Iowa, thousands are left with no way to earn a living. Many migrate to already overcrowded cities, contributing to urban blight.


This duck coop can house 100 ducks and is equipped with a small solar panel to power lights inside. CreditAmy Yee

Mr. Rezwan founded Shidhulai as a 22-year-old architecture graduate in 1998. That year, disastrous flooding in Bangladesh killed 700 people and left 21 million homeless.

Initially, Mr. Rezwan focused on building schools on boats, and worked to ensure that thousands of children would not fall behind when roads were blocked by floodwaters.

To date, the nonprofit’s fleet, which now numbers 22 schools, five health clinics and 10 libraries, has provided continuity of education and other services for more than 70,000 children in villages isolated by seasonal floods.

Four years ago it started to also build floating farms for villagers, and particularly the landless poor, to help them eke out a living during the months of floods.

So far there are 40 floating farms that are worked by about 300 women: Mr. Rezwan has ambitious plans to create 400, to serve 3,000 women and their families in the next few years.

He also argues that the floating farm concept could help other riverine developing countries, as has been the case with floating schools. “They have the potential to be replicated around the world,” he said.

Shidhulai’s school boats have been copied in several other countries, including the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Zambia.

A floating farm measures about 56 feet long and 16 feet wide. The coop can house 100 ducks and is equipped with a small solar panel to power lights inside. It floats on empty oil drums, plastic containers and a bamboo platform.

The coop is attached to bamboo rods that make up two rows of fish enclosures where tilapia is farmed in blue plastic nets. The outer rails of bamboo support the garden. They hold old plastic jugs cut in half where villagers grow cucumbers, beans and gourds in soil and natural fertilizer.

Mr. Rezwan took his initial concept for the farms from floating gardens that had been used in southern Bangladesh for hundreds of years. Those gardens layered water hyacinths — a type of weed — over bamboo structures and topped the resulting artificial island with soil to grow vegetables.

The design had to be modified however, to suit local conditions. The southern model didn’t work in the north, where heavier rains waterlogged the vegetable beds and it was difficult to create drainage. Water hyacinth was also less plentiful in the north.

The duck coop, originally built on a bamboo platform, now rests atop more-buoyant plastic oil drums — recycled and found materials are enthusiastically used alongside locally grown bamboo.

Villagers can now build the entire structure for the equivalent of $260, which is covered by Shidhulai, Mr. Rezwan said.

This is a harth braking story from Ghana.
I makes me feel sad, last time I was in Ghana, the airport was full of rich foreigners coming into the country smelling the possibility to make lots of money in a short time. Ghana is changing, not to the better, but to the worst. For some people, the country is becoming more and more prosperous and westernized, but for others, it is getting harder and harder to make a living.
GHANA: The Abandoned Offspring of Oil – IPS

The Abandoned Offspring of Oil
By Paul Carlucci and Sam Mark Essien

TAKORADI-SEKONDI, Ghana, Sep 23, 2011 (IPS) – Kobina’s legs are dappled with scars. He gets them flitting across the beach in Sekondi, in southwest Ghana, slipping in the soot-black mud and clambering over pirogues slippery with fish guts, only to sell a sachet of water or a freshly peeled orange to fishermen working on the shore.

He is a child: just 10 years old. But he earns a living selling food to locals.

Comfort Essuman keeps him company, roaming the area selling porridge and deep-fried sugar bread. Two years older than Kobina, she is less shy and more confident. Whereas Kobina will not offer his last name, Comfort readily pronounces hers.

“My mum says I should keep selling and that I will go to school later,” she says, adding that she has not been to school since grade three. “I sell not less than two Ghanaian cedi (just over one dollar) a day and send the proceeds to my mother.” She lives with her aunt, while her mother is in Central Region, one of the West African country’s 10 regions.

Kids like Comfort and Kobina are all over this Western Region metropolis. They are the skinny and scuffed cherubs of Takoradi’s heralded oil era, a newborn epoch that residents say is bringing more trials than triumphs.

Takoradi and Sekondi are the twin capitals of Ghana’s Western Region with a population of about 335,000. Once just sleepy fishing hollows, they were galvanised late last year when the region started producing oil from the offshore Jubilee field. The Ministry of Energy predicts 250,000 barrels per day by the end of the year, with a quarter century total of one billion barrels. And other finds from nearby fields are expected to come online in 2014.

Local chiefs are demanding 10 percent of the expected one billion dollars in annual government revenue from the oil. To kick-start infrastructure, the normally sluggish federal government passed a three billion dollar loan approval through parliament, earmarking 1.8 billion dollars for infrastructure development in Western Region.

Lured by news of oil-driven prosperity, newcomers arrive in droves, each expecting an employment boom that is yet to come. In the meantime, rent goes up. The cost of food increases. Traffic builds. And social malaise multiplies. It is a hydra-headed problem and many of its victims are children, says Deborah Daisy Kwabia, metropolis director for the Regional Department of Social Welfare.

“A lot of people are streaming into Takoradi-Sekondi in pursuit of greener pastures, whereby it doesn’t exist,” she adds. “It’s voluminous. It’s even increasing.”

For children, marginalisation takes two forms. The first is child labour, which can impact girls and boys differently. Older men may train boys to run drugs or steal from shoppers in Takoradi’s crowded Market Circle. Girls, meanwhile, might cook or wash dishes in ramshackle eateries called chop bars. Or they might move into someone’s house and become a maidservant.

The second is prostitution.

“Because of oil, now they have turned to prostitution,” says Comfort Osei Gerning, a foster mother with Mercy Foundation, a local children’s group. “The girls have turned to prostitution, and we have some boys who have turned to (having sex with men).”

The Zenith Hotel is the seat of downtown Takoradi’s nightlife. It is a bright red building next to a taxi station, and food hawkers crowd its corners late into the evening. Inside, men sip alcohol in a gloomy courtyard while prostitutes cruise the tables.

“Those ones aged 12 to 15, they are a different group,” Gerning says. “They are called the Thousand Girls. They charge cheap because they are kids.”

The name is a reference to Ghana’s old devalued currency. Ten Ghanaian cedi (six dollars) used to be 1,000 Ghanaian cedi. And it is what the girls charge. Apart from the Zenith, child prostitutes are said to haunt the Harbour View bar and the beaches of both Takoradi and Sekondi.

“Before you get to them, you have to pass through some grown-ups,” Gerning says. “They will collect the money from you and show you the place. It is someone’s business.”

This happens despite the existence of Ghana’s 1998 Children’s Act. Its clauses rail against child exploitation.

The act mandates the metropolis’ Social Services Sub-Committee to enforce its labour provisions. No one under 18 is allowed to do hazardous work, like going out to sea. No one under 15 is permitted to do manual labour. And light work is not allowed for anyone under 13. The committee can conduct investigations and recommend police action.

John Davis, representative for the metropolitan electoral area of West Anajy, has been the head of the committee for three months. Though he is aware of both child prostitution and labour in the metropolis, he says there have been no investigations under his tenure, and he is not aware of any conducted by the previous committee.

Davis is not able to offer any statistics at all, though he says assembly members were asked a month ago to gather information in their constituencies.

“We have not given any resources to do it,” he admits. “No resources in terms of vehicles or whatever.”

Instead, the committee will focus on an “education campaign”, speaking about the issue on the radio and elsewhere in public.

A lack of resources characterises much of government’s efforts in upholding the Children’s Act.

Kwaku Agyemang Duah, head of Community Care programmes with the Regional Department of Social Welfare, says the department has about 30 officers at its disposal. It needs a minimum of 80.

They also need a shelter for kids with no homes. The nearest one is four hours away in Accra, the country’s capital. And even if there was a shelter, they would need funds for feeding children as well as general maintenance.

“We present a budget every year,” he says, “but what comes out of it is a different story.”

Duah points to his office as a microcosm of the department’s financial straits. The floor looks like a warehouse. He has a desk and a filing cabinet and some rickety chairs. He has no computer and no office phone. The regional director’s office next door is only marginally better.

“I see it as a problem in developing countries,” says Peter Twineboa-Kodua, the regional director at the department. “We have not gone so far to look at the development of the individual as a human resource. Other (government) agencies on the financial side, they get everything they want. You can see their target. But child health, you cannot see the target.”

Unencumbered by bureaucracy, the Mercy Foundation has been able to make strides in addressing the problem. In the days before oil, when child labour was more a result of parents migrating to Ivory Coast to work in those fishing communities, they ran a school that involved 400 at risk children. It was funded by a World Bank grant that ran dry in 2004.

Smaller donations make other projects possible, however. Children have been re-integrated into the government schooling system. Those who were too de-institutionalised were taught vocations.

One Sheet Solar Cooker – Appropedia: The sustainability wiki.

One Sheet Solar Cooker

Cocina_Solar_Simple in Spanish / en español.

Cocinasolarsimple.png 9 june 2008

This is the simplest solar cooker I’ve been able to design:

  1. Use a cardboard sheet 60 cm x 80 cm or larger.
  2. Draw lines to divide in 2×3 parts, and cut “A” lines only.
  3. The dotted lines are all for concave folding, so you can make a careful “half-cut” and then it will be easier to fold.
  4. Make two holes, so that the string will go through the holes once the red parts are below the yellow part. The string is knotted like your shoes’. Not a permanent knot because you want to be able to take the kitchen to other places.
  5. Glue foil paper to the part of the cardboard closer to you. Maybe the inner side of some fried chips bags. If there’s no glue you may staple it.
  6. The bottle with the bottom cut off (and discarded, unless you find a use for it) helps in getting more greenhouse effect. You can place it on a circle made of sand so that it’s more air-tight, so almost no heat should come out there.
  7. Inside the “greenhouse” you could place a glass jar, with its lid. Both the jar and the lid can be painted black with some kind of paint that doesn’t produce toxic vapour when heated. Coal with rice water or something.


Careful, it’s hot! I don’t think temperature goes above 100ºC. Use folded cloth or gloves to grab the hot jar.

Public domain, so copy, modify and use at will. Experiment and tell us.

Building a kitchen in Kenya: $0.00.

Got this from E4C FB page, it is an amazingly simple solution to a big problem in Africa. It makes the cooking much less dangerous for many people around the world. I will take notes of this for our next visit in Ghana to discuss this with my local contacts. It is a beautiful simple design.



The kitchen’s roof uses the prevailing wind flow to enhance ventilation, and new, hand-built stoves produce less smoke and consume less fuel to improve indoor air quality. Image credit: Charles Newman

By Charles Newman, LEED AP
Guest to E4C

USALAMA, KENYA – The kitchen was a big problem. My team from the Engineers Without Borders New York Professional chapter and I recognized its deficiencies while we were building four new classrooms for the primary school in Usalama, Kenya. Throughout the three months of classroom construction, we organized daily work schedules, hired subcontractors, and procured materials. Still though, the kitchen loomed as an issue that desperately needed a solution.

The conditions in the kitchen were deplorable and dangerous. Every day, when the cook, Matua Nzoka and three student volunteers made lunch for the school’s 350 students, the kitchen became a literal smoke box. The only ventilation was through a pulled-back roof panel, leaving the walls black with soot. This cave-like box contained several three-stone cooking fires, and nothing much else. There was no interior floor slab, so Matua and the students had to cut vegetables on the ground before putting them on the fire.


With open cooking fires in a poorly ventilated room, the original kitchen was a smoke box. Photo credit: Charles Newman

Matua told me how much he loved to cook for the kids, but “cooking in the kitchen is difficult,” he said. “It is hot, smoky, and it makes my eyes hurt.” The three school girls who tended the fires skipped class for two hours every day to work in the smoky kitchen. They were always happy and up beat – but their dry eyes and coughing told a different story.

I knew that we would be able to solve “the kitchen problem” with only a few adjustments. Previous volunteers estimated a new kitchen to cost around $4000 (USD). I was confident though that by using the entire deconstructed structure (rather than starting from scratch), all the leftover materials from the classroom construction, and a surplus of $1000 in the classroom construction budget, we would be able to complete the kitchen for “free”.

A single, pulled-back roof panel ventillated the original kitchen. Photo credit: Charles Newman

After talking to the school administrators and other members of the community, I got to work designing the new structure. The existing kitchen was a small 10ft. by 12ft. brick building. We accounted for the prevailing wind direction in the roof design, guiding wind both to the fresh-air intakes for the fires, as well as over the top of the structure to ventilate the space inside.

Then we built three stoves, two residential-sized and one industrial-sized, based on the basic clean-burning rocket stove design. The large stove can handle meals for up to 500 students. We handmade the bricks for the stoves from mixtures of mud, sawdust, grass, and ash. The design directs the flames straight to the pots.

In addition to the kitchen, we realized that we should also build a space for safe food storage. This new space would have to be about 300 square feet, with enough room to store a six-months supply of food. To cut costs, we opted to use leftover stone from the classrooms, and sections of old water pipe to create a cool, ventilated space.

The kitchen, one year later
Last month, I visited the community and checked in on my friends at the school. The new stove saves time and fuel, Matua told me. “We use less wood and the water boils faster,” he said. “It’s so much nicer to cook in here now!”

A welder in the nearby town of Kibwezi fabricates the pot stand for the stove to serve 500 students in Usalama.. Photo credit: Charles Newman

It was also clear that he no longer had need for volunteers because the stoves burned so efficiently without much maintenance. He and the girls used to start the cooking fires at 9:30am for lunch at 12:30pm, but now Matua starts the fires 11am on his own.

Most importantly, during the construction of the stoves, the masons and I had many discussions about different ways to build them, and I noticed some of them taking notes on the dimensions and materials used in their construction. I learned last month that the same workers built similar stoves for themselves. Two of them have also built five stoves for their neighbors and one for a hotel. And neighboring schools have visited Usalama to learn about the larger stove’s design.

The project caught the attention of Kenyan officials. A few months after the structure was completed, representatives of the Kenyan Education Ministry and Health Ministry stopped by the kitchen and storage area and gave their approval.

Mwikali’s Gift, a non-profit dedicated to development works in Usalama, generously funded the entire construction of the classrooms and the kitchen renovation.


Local masons helped build the clean-burning stoves from handmade bricks. The isolative bricks form a wall around the pot to trap heat from the fire below. Photo credit: Charles Newman

Lessons Learned
When working on the ground on such a large construction project, it is important to remain flexible and resourceful throughout the process. Nothing should go to waste.

It is also important to listen and to incorporate the knowledge and building practices of the community where you are working.I could not have completed this project without the hard work of the community, and their detailed knowledge of local materials. This created a reciprocal transfer of knowledge throughout the project that placed the ownership of the project in the hands of the Usalama community.

I learned more in working on this small kitchen project than on any other project before it, and look forward to bringing this knowledge to more communities throughout Africa and Haiti.

Building the Usalama Primary School’s kitchen, a photo essay

Matua Nzoka, the cook, talks about working in the Usalama Primary School’s smoky kitchen before the reconstruction. Photo credit: Charles Newman

Local laborers separate bricks from the kiln after teaching EWB-USA members the science of brick firing. Bricks contained varying mixtures of clay, saw dust, dried grass and volcanic pumas. Photo credit: Charles Newman

With help from volunteers in the Usalama community, the builders excavated the site for the storage area in one day. Photo credit: Charles Newman

To deconstruct the original kitchen, the workers removed the roof panels, trusses (including every nail) and brick gables. They set all of the materials aside for reuse in the new design. Photo credit: Charles Newman

Leftover wire mesh and purchased chicken wire reinforced the existing mud-brick walls. Photo credit: Charles Newman

In the place of windows, pieces of repurposed plastic pipe are lodged in the walls of the storage area for better air flow. Photo credit: Charles Newman

The main cooking stove is under construction here. It’s based on a rocket stove design. Photo credit: Charles Newman

These are the finished stoves. The community reports that the stoves use much less wood and produce less smoke than the open firest they used before. Photo credit: Charles Newman

The builders resuse roof panels from the old kitchen to make part of the new roof. Photo credit: Charles Newman

The redesigned roof, shown here, harnesses the wind for better ventilation. Photo credit: Charles Newman

School children line up for lunch at their new kitchen. Photo credit: Charles Newman