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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 23rd, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

GATES FOUNDATION AND UN JOIN FORCES TO MECHANIZE WOMEN’S WORK IN French Speaking WEST AFRICA (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) – says a UN Press Release.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said today it had joined forces with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in an effort to empower rural West African women with diesel engines, and, in doing so, boost their incomes.

The centrepiece of the project is a diesel-run engine mounted on a chassis, called a multifunctional platform, or MFP, to which a variety of processing equipment can be attached, including a cereal mill, husker, battery charger, and joinery and carpentry equipment, according to a UNDP press release.

The MFP takes domestic tasks such as milling and husking sorghum, millet, maize and other grains, normally done with a mortar and pestle or a grinding stone, and mechanises them, making them profitable economic activities.

The machine, which the project will distribute in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal, can also generate electricity for lighting, refrigeration and water pumps.

“By investing in this simple power source for rural communities, women no longer need to spend all their time grinding grains or pumping water,” UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis said as he announced the initiative in Dakar, Senegal. “They have more hours in the day to develop profitable activities that could boost their productivity, enabling them to sell better quality products and increase their income using low-cost, effective technology,” he added.

A $19 million, four-year grant from the Gates Foundation will help establish 600 new sustainable, rural agro-enterprises based on the machine in West Africa, with at least 24 of the MFPs to be biofuel-based, according to UNDP.

As part of the enterprise projects, UNDP and its extensive network of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will back the women’s groups with literacy and management training and support.

The benefits of the MFP have already been proven in parts of West Africa, the agency said. In Senegal, S. Sakho of Batantinty explained that before the platform was introduced in her village she rarely earned more than 25,000 CFA ($55) from processing and selling shea butter from nuts.

“With the platform I easily earn 100,000 CFA ($220) at the end of the harvest,” Mrs Sakho said. The yield is high because the time is there. The platform has improved my life. I spend the earnings for the children’s education and clothing; I no longer look like a peasant,” she said.

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We have seen models of the MFPs at UN Commission for Sustainable Development events in the UN basement. Those days the accent was on improving conditions in rural areas of poor countries, and pushed by the Tata Affiliated Institute from India, this was to be done by supplying oil products – diesel, kerosene and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to those on these programs. We thought then that this was nothing less then an attempt to increase the market for oil by making the rural poor, who were not yet buyers of petroleum products, get also into the addiction to an oil economy. We, obviously were skeptical at that time. Now it seems UNDP is ready to move on with the times and think of biofuels. This is progress indeed. We hope that the Tata folks can drop their – “we are different – we have have other priorities for development for the poor” – rhetoric.  www.SustainabiliTank.info comment)

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