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Technology For Environmental Conservation

Aired April 18, 2004 - 16:00:00   ET


Zain Verjee gets a workout that's supercharging the lives of farmers in Kenya.

Children in rural Cambodia put a new spin on information technology and bikers get in on the act too.

And I visit a place where alternative is mainstream, tucked away in the rolling hills and valleys of Wales.

Hello and welcome to GLOBAL CHALLENGES, a program that takes a look at unlimited solutions to some of the planet's most pressing issues.

So it's only fitting that we are here at the Center for Alternative Technology in Wales.

This place is full of all kinds of displays and demonstrations, showing how to harness nature's offerings, like the lands that nurtures our food and the water that gives it life. And who knows more about that than farmer's.

CNN'S Zain Verjee has visited some in Kenya and as she now reports, this simple invention has given them a new lease on life.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gahushi Muluki (ph) sings in step with his story.

His name means "the one who goes slowly," but with each motion this Kenyan entrepreneur is steadily on the fast track to a better life.

For him, a water pump called the Super Money Maker is what it promised to be. So he sings a sublime expression of gratitude.

"It changed my life," says his wife, Agnes (ph). She toiled in the field for hours each day with buckets and ropes, too exhausted to look after her children by nightfall.

Gahushi (ph) shows me their old back-breaking method.

(on camera): The old way for getting water and the new way of getting water.

(voice-over): Agnes (ph) heard about the pump on the radio and went to a demonstration. She eventually convinced her husband to leave his low- paying job and invest in the pump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has helped me in growing passion fruits.

VERJEE: Agnes (ph) waters their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) while her husband pumps out water from the well.

"I don't get tired holding this. It's easy to hold. You just do this," she says.

(on camera): The nozzle is quite cheap. It costs about 12-cents, and the water can be thrown as far from here as 20 feet over there.

(voice-over): "I'm very happy," says Agnes (ph). "Using this is fast and easy."

Charity Warungu (ph) lives a few kilometers away. She bought a cheaper version of the pump 2-1/2 years ago after seeing the demonstration in nearby Karatina Town (ph). She and her husband eventually saved up the $38 needed to buy the portable pump.

Charity says her children used to work in the fields tending to the coffee, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), passion and maize. With the pump, less labor is needed, so now her children go to school, eat well, come home and rest. She has tripled her income and is even exporting some crops.

The pump, she says, changed her life and the faces of her children.

It's easy to use. The pump's valve is put into the well and then its cylinder primed with water to start the process.

(on camera): Once you've got your balance on this single-cylinder pump, it's relatively easy to use. One stroke sucks the water out of the hole and the other pumps the water through to the hose.

(voice-over): Holes are drilled into the nozzle on the end so that the spray effect replicates rainfall.

Nick Moon (ph) is a cofounder of Aprotech (ph), the company that created the pumps. Nick (ph) and his San Francisco-based cofounder Martin Fisher (ph), see Kenyan farmers as potential investors who have the skill, knowledge and energy to be successful businessmen.

They say farmers just need an affordable opportunity to succeed, so Aprotech (ph) bases its innovations on one key principle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time is in abundance, labor is cheap, but it's capital which is very, very expensive and sometimes impossible to obtain, so we need to develop technologies which are labor intensive, low capital. That way small-scale farmers, small-scale business people, entrepreneurs, can take advantage of what they have.

VERJEE: Martin Fisher (ph) says their technology has helped many Kenyan farmers generate more income.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On average, the net income of a farmer in Kenya is about $120 per year net income. Now once they get one of these irrigation pumps, on average their income goes up to $1,200 per year.

VERJEE: Aprotech (ph) also oversees the distribution and manufacturing of the pumps.

Basic welders in Nairobi use local materials to make them.

(on camera): It takes about 7 hours to make just one pump. Every single day, about 20 pumps are manufactured here. They're then inspected, tested and then finally pumps like these are taken into another area to get painted. They're delivered then to Aprotech (ph), who ultimately takes them to the dealerships around the country.

(voice-over): Dealerships like this one in the town of Karatina (ph). Amid the town's daily rhythm and activities, the pumps are displayed every day for all to see. And experiment with.

Many farmers who watch the demonstration either hear about the pumps on radio or saw flyers or stickers.

This dealership has stocked Aprotech (ph) pumps since August 2000. It sells about 10 pumps a month here. Most farmers ask how deep the pump can do.

Aprotech (ph) is designing pumps for deep water drilling. This is a drilling rig that's currently being tested.

Kenney Mienhoenjoi (ph) uses another of Aprotech's (ph) designs, an oil press. He used to work for the government but has since retired to his farm in Karatina (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is pretty, but also good exercise.

VERJEE: He presses sunflower oil seeds and filters the oil with a cloth gravity filter. He sells the sunflower oil locally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have bought myself some items.

VERJEE: Gahushi Muluki (ph) wants more wells, more pumps, more money. He's already bought a solar panel and a TV set with his extra income, and more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I bought this table for my children to work on and this radio to be listening to news. I also bought my wife a good pullover because I love her.

VERJEE: A love that extends to the field, where the Muluki's (ph) work step in step with each other.

VERJEE: Zain Verjee for GLOBAL CHALLENGES, Nairobi.


DHALIWAL: When we come back, we're going to take you to Cambodia, where a little technology goes a long way.

Stay with us.



Now there's no better way to improve our world than to inspire, but in some rural communities new opportunities are hard to come by, yet we keep hearing that in this digital age, the world is getting smaller and therefore more accessible. So we decided to test that theory in Cambodia.


RAM RAMGOPAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the air, it's easy to see why Ratanakiri has a reputation for being one of the world's last remote frontiers.

This distant province in northeastern Cambodia is two-day's drive from the capital Phnom Penh on dumpy dirt tracks.

This day we're taking a commercial flight with Bernie Krisher, an American who knows this region well, having covered the Vietnam War for "Newsweek" magazine in the 1960's. That conflict spilled over into this very part of Cambodia.

Krisher now runs a number of charities to assist the country he has come to love and he used technology to help bring Cambodia into the 21st century.

On the ground in Ratanakiri, life proceeds at a gentle pace. First the cows are chased off the landing strip, then the plane comes in to land.

It's a region filled with natural beauty, waterfalls and lakes. Destinations that have not been discovered by many tourists. And even the name of the province is wrapped in romance. Ratanakiri means mountain of jewels in many Asian languages, a reference to the area's gem mining industry.

But for all the beauty, the comfort's of modern life are hard to find. There are no paved roads in this province. Electricity isn't available outside the main town, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and running water is a luxury.

Like the rest of Cambodia, Ratanakiri faces a variety of other problems. There are few schools or hospitals and its people are still desperately poor. But change is coming, slowly, thanks in no small part to Bernie Krisher.

Krisher is a popular figure here. Among other things, he's helped set up hundreds of schools, giving Cambodian kids basic education, even access to computers.

Krisher has found a number of sponsors around the world to help support the schools and he's also looking toward technology. In the absence of electricity, human muscle helps generate power for the computers, as do solar panels. What they don't have is a direct link to the Internet. No phone lines. No satellite dishes.

Enter the Motomen. These men and their metallic machines are the modern day equivalent of the postmen in Ratanakiri. On roads that can test even the toughest four-wheel drive vehicles, the Motoman has to weave a careful path. On his bike, precious cargo of stored e-mail that has been downloaded wirelessly to a chip inside a box on the bike.

The wireless system was developed by a Boston-based company, First Mile Solutions, building on the Wi-Fi technology that's become commonplace in offices and homes in the developed world.

As the bike rides up to the door of a remote school, in a matter of seconds the e-mail is uploaded to the school's computer and any of the school's outgoing messages get transferred to this box. Once the Motoman returns to the hub, the e-mail is sent by satellite to the Internet.

BERNIE KRISHER, PHILANTHROPIST: The Internet and e-mail opened up many opportunities. It's like building a highway. The highway permits transportation, transportation produces commerce, and so on.

RAMGOPAL (on camera): Your ideas are (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Some people could say, for instance, that the money you are spending could be better used for basic necessities, food, drinking water. What is your reaction to that?

KRISHER: Well, it can be and it should be, but I always say why not do both. I don't like to give people fish, I want to teach them how to fish. So my project is teaching people, not giving them things.

RAMGOPAL (voice-over): At Ratanakiri's only hospital, the patient's line up for urgent attention. They've heard there are visiting doctors this day from the capital Phnom Penh.

(on camera): For many of these people, this is the only access they will have to healthcare. While there many be smaller clinics for minimal first aid, for anything serious the people of Ratanakiri have to come to this hospital.

(voice-over): One of the most serious cases, 64-year-old Tengdo (ph). Doctors examine Tengdo (ph) and come to the conclusion that he's got a testicular tumor. They believe he needs prompt attention, but they'd like to get a second opinion.

In that, they're luckier than many similar hospitals in developing countries.

Doctors at the Ratanakiri Rural Hospital take photographs of their patient, gather their vital signs and then send them via the Internet to the best medical minds on the other side of the world in Boston. There doctors with the Massachusetts General Hospital and a volunteer practice called TelePartners look at the data and e-mail back their own diagnoses.

Hours later, the conclusion in Tengdo's (ph) case, he needs to be checked out at a larger hospital. He will take a flight out to Phnom Penh as soon as possible.

Like his other projects, Krisher is proud of the partnerships he's been able to forge across the oceans. But he acknowledges it's been a difficult fight in a difficult land still recovering from decades of war and totalitarian rule.

(on camera): What do you do when you run into problems?

KRISHER: Well, I succeed. I cajole, I persuade, I charm people, I yell and shout.

RAMGOPAL: Some people might say your style is dictatorial.

KRISHER: We don't have committees. I pretty much decide everything. But I've been successful in accomplishing things very quickly and I haven't hurt anybody in the process. So why not continue this way.

RAMGOPAL (voice-over): They've continued this way for generations in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Village. The only real livelihood here has been farming, until now.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) sew the traditional shirts made here and decided they could find an outlet on the World Wide Web. Products made here are featured on a site,, and orders have come in from every corner of the globe. Once dirt poor (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is reaping the benefits of e-commerce.

KRISHER: It's a remarkably talented and wonderful society. This new generation is wonderful. And if you give them this opportunity to learn, especially computer skills, access to the world, the Internet, they're going to pick up a lot.

RAMGOPAL: One day, what the rest of the world calls development will come to Ratanakiri. But Bernie Krisher is just happy knowing these people have already leap-frogged to the information age with the help of some big thinking and some high-tech tools.

Ram Ramgopal for GLOBAL CHALLENGES, Ratanakiri, Cambodia.



DHALIWAL: From a little information technology in Cambodia to a wealth of alternative technology right here in Wales, we're going to have that story for you in just a moment.

Stay with us.


DHALIWAL: Welcome back.

Now if you don't like the way that things are, there are always alternatives, right?

Here, alternative is the name of the game, or alternative technology, energy, housing, you name it, they have it, right here in Wales.


DHALIWAL (voice-over): For years, people have been theorizing about how to get energy without destroying the environment.

In a small corner of mid-Wales, it's no longer a pipe dream.

The Center for Alternative Technology is both using and showing people how renewable technologies can help them and the environment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Perhaps think about not using sprinklers in the garden, you're washing (UNINTELLIGIBLE). If you haven't got a dishwasher (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to water your plants.

DHALIWAL: These British high school students are seeing how the sun's energy makes power, that is until dark clouds gather.

30 years ago, Girard Morgan-Grenville had an idea. He didn't like how the planet's resources were being gobbled up, but he liked what green activists were doing, so he setout to put the ideas to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I recall clearly the autumn day in 1973 when I threaded my way up through thick rhododendrons. In those seemingly far-off days, the place was something of a jungle. Golden leaves were falling slowly in the still air. In such seclusion, I had the feeling that something new, some fresh and saner way of living might be demonstrated.

DHALIWAL: His laboratory was an old slate quarry near Machynlleth and the land that nobody else wanted is now a rich center where visitors can be blown away by all manner of technologies, wonder if compost toilets will ever catch on, and even do a little DIY.

There's seven acres to be explored and every year 65,000 people from all over the world do just that.

(on camera): So when visitors come here, what kinds of impressions do they take away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what we call ourselves is really solutions- driven environmentalism, because there's lots of groups out there that are highlighting the problems to government, but we work with that. We highlight the solutions. It's what you can do about it, because too much talking about the problems can put people off.

So what can we do? We concentrate on developing human skill solutions that people can take away.

DHALIWAL: But at the same time, you want to change minds as well, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, and nothing can change minds as well as practical, real-life working examples. They're much better than theories and paper discussion documents, because people can see that they work and they can try them themselves.

DHALIWAL (voice-over): But not all of the old technologies have been binned. Some have been recycled.

For instance, all of the food grown here is organic and done using traditional farming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most people love gardens. It's one of the biggest hobbies in the U.K. and around the world gardening is a big thing, so it's something for everyone here and a lot to learn. We get a lot of positive feedback. We get a lot of questions.

Sometimes people want to know why we don't cut down all our plants at the end of the season and why we let things go to seed, and of course that's to encourage wildlife and biodiversity in the garden.

DHALIWAL: Because they do what they preach, some of the staff live at the center. Amanda is the media officer and moved to Wales after working as an environmental activist. And John looks after the center's technical courses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We try and live a low-impact life that sustains (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a more sustainable life.

For instance, the buildings are all very well insulated. The electricity we do use is generated renewably. We don't have (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We don't have (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's definitely this stereotype out there that if you want to be a green person, go disconnect yourself from society and wear sandals and eat lentil casserole, and I think that this community and this center is an example of the fact it doesn't have to be like that. Some of these houses have satellite television. We might not have fridges and freezers, because they use a lot of electricity, but we eat really similar diets. We just have different ways of preparing the food.

DHALIWAL: Meanwhile, the tour is over. So have the students gone environmental?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I use a car, and I use it for the shorter journeys. But now learning all about how we should use less fossil fuels, I think it would be best just to use my car for more important journeys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great place. I never realized what energy resources are actually available and about using fossil fuels and how friendly they are to the environment. So it took me by quite surprise.

DHALIWAL: New technologies are more visible, but they are still a drop in the ocean until more people use less fossil fuel and more governments act to keep global climate change in check.


And that's all for this edition of GLOBAL CHALLENGES. Don't forget you can e-mail us at GLOBAL.CHALLENGES@CNN.COM.

I'm Daljit Dhaliwal, in Wales. Thanks so much for your company. We'll see you next time.



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