Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Potato roots

Given it is the year of the spud and it's significant economic history here, the following posting over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog regarding the origin of the vast majority of today's potato germplasm might be of interest, especially how the research team tackled the problem of finding out. More here.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Wanted! Your views on biodiversity?

A public consultation process to inform the development of Ireland's second National Biodiversity Plan is underway. The production of a national biodiversity plan is an obligation for all parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which Ireland ratified in 1996. This Convention has the widest scope of the international environmental agreements concerning nature and biodiversity, with 189 countries and the European Union, having ratified the agreement. All parties to the Convention have committed to working towards the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and achieving a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. Ireland produced its first plan in 2002, and the new plan will set out a programme of work for the five-year period 2008-2012.

Any organisation or member of the public wishing to make a submission can contact or visit the website of the National Parks and Wildlife Service for more details.

To view the current National Biodiversity Plan 2002-2006 click here.

To view an interim review of the implementation of the National Biodiversity Plan 2002-2006 click here.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Are You Tubing Yet?

I suppose it was only a matter of time before political parties and candidates started using free video sharing tools like You Tube to get their message across in search of votes. However, a growing number of organisations and groups are also increasingly using You Tube as a potentially more useful way of communicating their message and information. One such example is the Davos Question. Here is an example of how the UK-based think tank, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), used You Tube and the Davos Question to get messages across to coincide with the recent Davos Economic Forum. Definitely a 'cheap' communication tool to consider for campaigning and awareness.

All five ODI messages can be found here.

Partnership! - huh - what is it good for?

Anyone who has been involved in planning for effective partnership will know what a difficult job it is. While there are many benefits, there are an equal number of challenges and pitfalls. And it is managing these challenges and pitfalls that ultimately contribute to a successful partnership, one that is built on trust, honesty and openness. Further, anyone who has tried to assess and evaluate the impact or success of a partnership will equally know what a difficult task this is too. And all too often, those involved in partnership brokering don't even bother to find out. So while the language and rhetoric of partnership abounds and several such partnerships have been set up in Ireland to address issues of inequality, the effort put into assessing and evaluating the impact and success of such partnerships does not match this.

What is the evidence that such collaborations and partnerships contribute to improved implementation of programmes, to fairer and more equitable outcomes? There is not much I am afraid but that is hardly surprising. Measuring and assessing the impact and success of partnership working is difficult to evaluate. The outcomes are not necessarily tangible or easily measured in terms of number of outputs of physical entities. More often than not, the success or impact of a partnership can be gauged in terms of social capital that is built. And such intangibles may only have physical impact much further down the track.

Recently, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland has come up with a series of useful publications in relation to partnerships. Anyone involved in brokering a partnership or assessing a partnership will surely find the contents of these publications useful. How often have I heard local umbrella community organisations highlight the need for more skills and capacity in these areas of partnership working. Well, there are some useful tools and guidance here.

There are 3 publications:

I want to focus particularly on assessment of partnerships because the publication Partnerships: The Benefits describes an elegant and useful evaluation tool. This is called the Partnership Evaluation Tool (PET). Although developed in a health context it is practical in any partnership setting. PET involves participatory working with partnership members to identify particular benefits important in the partnership such as connections, learning, actions and impacts. Partnership members then identify a range of indicators that might contribute to realising these particular benefits. Indicators are scored on a scale of 0-5, the data can then be analysed and presented on a typical spidergram (as shown top right) or polygon.

If you are serious about your partnership and wish to avoid perpetuating arm's length partnerships or unequal power relations you might want to consider what is said in these publications and avail yourself of the useful PET tool.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Ireland's first all island ecotourism conference

The Greenbox, Ireland's first integrated ecotourism destination is delighted to announce that it is holding its second conference in Fermanagh from the 30-31 January. It will cover ecotourism product development, marketing, eco label certification and training on the island of Ireland. The conference content will consist of key themes, issues and recommendations for product development and marketing of ecotourism.This conference will give private businesses, public sector policymakers and communities an opportunity to develop a new future for tourism on the island of Ireland that will be sustainable and will attract a new type of tourist.

Irish links, an online directory

Irish Links is the first and only online directory exclusively listing Irish non-profit organisations that use the Internet and which share the common goal of bringing about positive change in society. There are many categories including Community Development/Renewal and Rural Development. Very useful.

Want to upgrade your skills?

The Ulster People’s College (UPC) is offering you the chance improve your knowledge and develop new skills. UPC run a variety of Free courses which are accredited by the Open College Network. They have a range of courses beginning in the next few weeks including, Developing Facilitation Skills, Getting to Grips with the Media, Fundraising and Living with Diversity.

Conference on rural isolated men

'A conference looking at the poverty and social exclusion issues affecting rural men in the Border Region will be held in the Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan on Thursday 14th February 2008. A new policy position paper that identifies the services needed to respond to the social exclusion of isolated men in the central border region will be presented by the Social Inclusion Working Group of the Irish Central Border Area Network [ICBAN].'

Monday, 21 January 2008

An t-Ionad Glas, the Organic College

An t-Ionad Glas, the Organic College, was founded in 1991 and runs the only nationally certified, full-time and part-time courses in Organic production in Ireland. The College is located in the small country town of Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick, home of the Rural Co-operative movement in Ireland and Britain. Students learn in the classroom and outdoors at the Community Gardens and the Enterprise Acre. The gardens are fully Certified Organic, and are maintained by the students of the Organic Horticulture and Farming Courses on a co-operative basis. The College also runs courses through distance and flexible learning as well as a range of short courses, including weekend seminars, tours, workshops and night classes. For more information about the College and it's courses click here.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

What a good year for the potatoes

Given the cultural, economic and historical importance of the spud to Ireland, I can't let the year pass by without mentioning that 2008 has been declared the International Year of the Potato by the UN. This year has also been nominated as the Year of Food and Farming in the UK. The British Potato Council is celebrating the year with linking potatoes into the school curriculum to encourage awareness of the importance of potatoes. Wonder what events are planned for here, anyone know?

The tyranny of biofuels

Further to the growing debate 'debunking' biofuels, the Royal Society has just published its report saying 'they do more harm than good'.

Some other prominent scientists have weighed into the debate.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Young scientists innovate for Africa

The winner of the Irish Aid/Self-Help ‘Science for Development’ Award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2008 was Tara McGrath, Presentation Secondary School, Kilkenny for her development of a hybrid pressure stove. Chinedu Onyejelem, Editor of Metro √Čireann presented the award on behalf of Irish Aid at the award ceremony on Friday evening in the RDS. The Award, sponsored by Irish Aid and Self Help Development, is designed to encourage Young Scientists to consider the benefits that scientific innovation can bring to developing countries.

Congratulating the winner, the Minister of State for Irish Aid, Michael Kitt TD, said:
“I am delighted that this excellent project which highlights the link between environment issues, in particular energy efficiency, and development was successful in the Irish Aid Science for Development’ award”.

Minister Kitt also added that by:

“By sponsoring this award, Irish Aid hopes to encourage Young Scientists to examine the issues and challenges facing communities in the developing world. All branches of the sciences can play a vital role in creating innovative science and technology that can be used to improve the lives of people in the poorest countries in the world. We need to harness this innovation and combine it with a growing interest among young Irish people in development issues to deliver real change in our partner countries”.

Farming in a changing climate

A conference, hosted by the HGCA in late January, will explore the potential impacts climate change will have on UK agriculture, how farmers can adapt and the potential opportunities that may be presented. Read more here.

To learn more about how climate change is threatening food crops across the world and how scientists are re-focusing their efforts on crop resilience, rather than yields read this concise article from SciDevNet.

Facilitating learning for social change

The 'Facilitatiing learning for social change (FLASC)' initiative was established with the aim of facilitating more effective learning for social change through a better understanding and integration of theory, experience and practice of reflection and learning. Activitites included a dialogue which took place through e-fora and an international workshop in the Spring of 2006. The workshop report aims to show how we need to share learning and build knowledge collectively, in order to enrich society everywhere, for the benefit of all. It covers the workshop background and process and goes on to look at key outcomes of the event as well as how to move forward from such an initiative.

You can download a copy of the workshop report here.

Monday, 14 January 2008

INFASA seeks dialogue on sustainable agriculture

INFASA, a collaboration between the IISD and Swiss College of Agriculture (SHL), seeks to improve our understanding of sustainability and what sustainability means in agriculture, how it is measured, and how the knowledge generated can promote sustainable agriculture.

Everybodyonline for equality

'A Northern Ireland community initiative has been praised for highlighting what the UK is doing to create a fairer and more equal society in the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All (EYEOA). The EverybodyOnline project is designed to close the digital divide - helping excluded communities engage with digital technology and the internet. Launched earlier this year by the then Northern Ireland Finance Minister David Hanson MP, the project is a joint initiative from BT and the Delivery and Innovation Division within the Department of Finance & Personnel and is delivered by the charity Citizens Online. It aims to help excluded groups including those with a physical disability, a learning disability and older people, both in their own and residential homes, to overcome any barriers they may have to technology so that everyone can take advantage of the wealth of opportunities digital technology and the internet has to offer.'

EU rethinks policy on biofuels

From the BBC today,
'Europe's environment chief has admitted that the EU did not foresee the
problems raised by its policy to get 10% of Europe's road fuels from plants.
Recent reports have warned of rising food prices and rainforest destruction
from increased biofuel production.'

Read more here and here.

Why this might be good news for countries in the global south.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

What is a Community of Practice?

'Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.'

Communities of Practice: The Organisational Frontier by Etienne Wenger is a good introduction

This blog posting also highlights some important aspects of communities of practice.

For other interesting views about communities of practice, click here.

The importance of the Third Place

Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place demonstrates why informal public gathering places are essential to community and public life. He argues that bars, coffee shops, general stores, and other "third places" (in contrast to the first and second places of home and work), are central to local democracy and community vitality. By exploring how these places work and what roles they serve, Oldenburg offers placemaking tools and insight for individuals and communities everywhere.

According to the Carnegie Trust Oldenburg identifies eight characteristics of ‘third’ spaces that are particularly relevant to the needs of activists from dispersed rural communities:

1. Neutral Ground: In conurbations, there is a critical mass of humanity who share interests and therefore who can choose to meet up. If rural areas are to benefit from the rich and varied association of inventive and entrepreneurial people, there needs to be neutral ground where they can meet up: somewhere where individuals can come and meet up with like minded participants.
2. Leveller: Acceptance and participation is not dependant on an individual’s status at work (such as professional community development worker) or in society (parish or community council chair or landowner). There are no formal criteria for membership.
3. Conversation is the Main Activity: and humour is valued. Where the past experience of many participants will be of lectures or seminars where they are talked at, in third spaces conversation is spirited, engrossing and there is a sense of genuine inquiry.
4. Accessibility & Accommodation: Third places are easy to access and are accommodating to those who come along. They keep long hours and conversation may continue into the early hours. Activity is not rigidly structured.
5. The Regulars: A cadre of regulars who attract newcomers and who give the space ‘mood’ and set the tone of conviviality. Eden Foundation is particularly good at this – mixing and matching individuals who they imagine will get on and have interests in common.
6. A Low Profile: Third places are without pretence and are comfortable and homely. Much conversation happens around a large table, accompanied by good food.
7. The Mood is Playful: Word-play, wit, frivolity are normally present. Food and music seem to be an important ingredient as is a sense of place.
8. A Home Away from Home: Home like, easy, warm, a feeling of ‘rootedness’

The cutting Edge

The Eden Project in Cornwall, a Rural Action Research Partner of the Carnegie Trust, is in the process of creating a new informal learning space, the Edge, for some of the great voices of the age – artists, writers, scientists and musicians - to work with communities and families and share the best ideas they have for improving their lives and environments, now and in the future.
The Edge woud seem to meet the criteria that Oldenburg highlights for informal 'third place' learning spaces

Rural Community Carbon Network

The Rural Community Carbon Network is organised by RuralnetUK and raises the awareness of the actions that rural communities can take in response to the climate change challenge. It builds on existing, isolated community action and supports other rural groups who wish to take collective action by providing access to an online panel of community experts, good practice toolkits and a mentoring service linked to a small grants programme. The Rural Community Carbon Network will link up existing groups with nascent ones for peer-to-peer support and knowledge transfer.

Want to know more? Download this pdf.

The Rural Media Company

The Rural Media Company is an innovative media education and production organisation with a national reputation for its socially aware media and communications work. It aims to enable rural communities to learn about and use media by participating in practical media activities and the creation and dissemination of high quality media communications and educational resources.

Travellers Remembered is is a collection of 25 beautiful digital stories which record the personal memories of Traveller families in the West Midlands. Media workers helped children and young people to record their parents and grandparents, adding family photographs to bring the memories to life.

A similar project entitled Fieldwork - the Bygone Days of Farming is underway.

Certainly an interesting and useful approach for community involvement in documenting social history. Check out the other projects and activities on the site.

Debunking biofuels

Interesting commentary in a letter from Tim Joslin in the most recent edition of the New Scientist (12 Jan).
'You go some way towards debunking the fallacious reasoning used to justify
biofuels as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (15 December 2007, p 6 and p 3) - but there is more. The net greenhouse gas saving for current biofuel
crops in temperate regions is not more than a tonne of carbon per hectare per
year - and is sometimes negative. But we need to take account of the opportunity
cost of the land on which biofuel crops are grown. Reforestation, for example,
could remove at least tens of tonnes of carbon per hectare from the atmosphere:
so the payback period is decades at best. Even in the tropics, annual greenhouse
gas savings are a few tonnes per hectare, at most. Growing biofuels may
require land to be cleared, perhaps indirectly: for example, because food
production has been displaced by the biofuel crop. Land clearance results in
immediate greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the biofuel savings occur over
time. Then there are the issues of displacement pointed out in the letter
from Elliott Spiker (15 December 2007, p 18). Using biofuels may merely free up fossil fuels for someone else to use, perhaps in another country. National governments and the European Union should abandon all subsidies and quotas for biofuels forthwith.'

8th CIVICUS World Assembly in Glasgow

The 8th World Assembly in 2008 will be the last of the Glasgow series, which has seen a growth each year in the number of delegates and the number of countries represented. The overall theme will be ‘Acting Together for a Just World’, with a focus theme of ‘People, Participation and Power’. Deadline for early bird registration is 1 February 2008. For more information

International Women's Health Conference in Derry

This conference aims open up debate on the need to improve health status and reduce health inequalities by focusing on the themes of Women and exclusion, maintaining women's roles in determining health and well-being when societies move from conflict to post conflict, and Meeting health needs on a cross border basis. The conference takes place on the 29-30 May 2008 and is hosted by Derry Well Woman.

Our commitment to international development, where is it?

While the Northern Ireland Executive has taken the important step of setting up an All Party Working Group on International Development we would appear to be miles behind our neighbours in Scotland in this regard. NIDOS which is the main Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland has just been set up. Recently the Scottish Government announced its international development budget. I look forward to similar commitments here.

People's Learning and Action

The Institute for People's Education and Action seeks to identify, support, and facilitate community-based, learner-led education as a strategic tool for community organizing and democratic social change. It has some useful links to Grundtvig Folk Schools, Latin American Popular Education, Study Circle learning and much more. They also have a useful set of resources including links to other People's and Communal based learning networks, an extensive bibliography and educational resources and toolkits. Very useful indeed.

Training for transformation

The Partners Training for Transformation, who have been hiding out in Ireland, are an independent agency dedicated to personal, group, organisational and societal transformation through community development work. Partners have been largely involved in cross-border and cross-cultural contexts and have developed considerable international networks. They have recently brought out the publication Partners Intercultural Companion to Training for Transformation: Exercises, Processes, Resources, and Reflections for Intercultural Work. This new resource written by Maureen Sheehy, Frank Naughton, and Collette O'Reagan is a compilation of exercises, processes, resources and reflections used by facilitators over several years. It draws mainly from the experience of PARTNERS’ work in Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and in a European Grundtvig Learning experience.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Eight hot topics for international development in 2008

From Laurence Haddad, Director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Read more here.

DARD announce publication of Farm Planning Handbook

'The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) have announced the publication of the ‘Farm Business Data 2008’ farm planning handbook. "Farm Business Data 2008" will be a valuable source of information for farmers, their professional advisors, those undertaking formal training in agriculture or anyone who requires planning and budgetary data relating to farming in Northern Ireland. The role of ‘Farm Business Data’ is to provide a comprehensive and authoritative source of physical and financial information that is tailored to farm planning needs in Northern Ireland.'

Download handbook here.