Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Toilets - What Are They Worth?

As they say........shit happens!   But where it happens is important to many.

In developed areas we take toilets for granted.  Many do not have them around the world and there is a society cost.  A toilet is a major development issue in many countries.

And it can be especially important for women and teenage girls even more so than men.

The infographic shows this clearly.  Combine this issue with lack of opportunities, or failure, to wash hands to prevent and improve disease management, even in western societies is also relevant.

Simple stuff really.  And it needs support to happen.  It shocked me to see people toileting in public areas because there were no toilets, while working in some developing countries - an issue that seems so simple to remedy.

The infographic may not be as clear as needed - try here if you need to see it better -

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In the Christmas Giving Spirit

This is in the spirit of Christmas giving.  While produced by a Spanish bank [ Banco Santander ] for a 130th Anniversary event, it is truly uplifting.  And it is popular - about 20 million hits on you tube!

Enjoy the break from dry agricultural issues.............

Friday, November 22, 2013

Compadre zoysia seed - AVAILABLE FOR SALE

Compadre zoysia seed available NOW.  We supply predominantly anywhere around Australia and also overseas in the Asian region.

Have a new lawn this summer..................

In Australia we prefer to use Australia Post Express satchels that provide prompt and trackable delivery.  Sizes up to 5kg available.

For large quantities, commercial road freight is used.

E-mail to  for more information.

Written advisory sheets for site preparation and sowing as well as ongoing maintenance available, and there is also additional information on this blog if you search under zoysia on the LHS.

Compadre zoysia lawns have been successfully established over the past few years, from seed, in the NT, NSW, Qld, WA and with new areas also recently sown in Victoria.  We provide free consulting advice to help with your questions.

A new Compadre zoysia lawn - approx. 20 weeks from sowing

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Does Biodiesel Deserve a Better Deal??

Biodiesel and ethanol both fall under the category of “biofuels,” which describes any fuel synthesized from plant or animal matter. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Biodiesel offers a significantly improved environmental impact compared to both ethanol and standard petroleum-derived diesel. It can be used in standard diesel engines with little or no negative impact on engine health. Just add it to the tank of your Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen or Mercedes diesel vehicle – or pretty well any other diesel including light trucks.  In tropical warm weather it even starts well in the morning.

Meanwhile, ethanol deserves scrutiny for its relatively high emissions, and the way it can damage engines that aren’t specifically designed to burn the fuel.

In recent years, ethanol has been the target of a backlash from environmentalists and critics of government waste, who argue that the limited benefits of the fuel don’t justify the federal support it received over the last few decades. In the USA, the Renewable Fuels Standard, which sets a production mandate for both ethanol and biodiesel, has recently been a target of reformers, who would like to see the standard cut to reflect the low demand and perceived declining promise of ethanol. If that happens, biodiesel production could get caught up in the reforms, with the EPA opting not to raise production targets for biodiesel in 2014.

Biodiesel can be produced from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled food by-products like restaurant grease, or from algae, which can be grown using waste materials like sewage. It can be sold in a variety of blends with petroleum diesel or as a pure 100-percent blend known in some areas as B100.

Locally in the NT there is one small scale production facility near Berrimah, using waste vegetable oils and greases………plus one large mothballed facility at East Arm where current production is zero, but capacity is 130 million litres per year.
The mothballed biodiesel facility near Darwin

The cost of the fuel to consumers varies depending upon blend and location, but may be more expensive than mineral based diesel.  That extra cost brings the benefit of about a 50-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2010 study by Argonne National Laboratory in the USA.

Should there now be more emphasis on biodiesel production, with this very high reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, especially as Australian mineral derived diesel seems to be remaining persistently high in price?  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Donating to the Haiyan Disaster in the Philippines - Is Your Preferred Aid Donor Operating with Best Practice?

Our region has seen some awful disasters in recent times.

Going back to the Aceh and Nias disasters of about 10 years ago, through to more recent events in the Philippines of both earthquakes and the very recent Haiyan typhoon [ cyclone], aid donors have been active in the region.

There are many agencies operational - local ones based in the recipient country, plus many international ones [ Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children, AUSAid, CARE, Caritas etc ] with many of the latter group also with Australian operations that seek donations from Australians, as well as from other countries.

Australians tend to be a generous lot, and do give quite a lot of money to the aid cause.

The big question is - are you getting value for your donation, and is the money being spent wisely?

A good starting point is whether your preferred agency operates according to a series of best practice guidelines for aid.

Best practices have all or many of these characteristics:
  • They are comprehensive, aiming at all aspects of an issue.
  • They are flexible and responsive, reacting to the needs of the population and changes in circumstances and conditions.
  • They persevere, keeping at it as long as is necessary – indefinitely, if that’s what it takes.
  • They look at issues and people in their context – family, history, community, etc.
  • They target the underlying causes in addition to the symptoms of an issue or problem.
  • They have – and stick to – a clear mission.
  • They evolve over time, as need dictates.
  • They are managed by competent people with appropriate skills.
  • Their staff members are trained and supported to provide high-quality, responsive service.
  • They foster strong staff/participant relationships based on mutual respect.
  • They collaborate, both internally and externally.
  • Both the organization and individual staff members have a set of core values that strengthen their dedication, morale, and resolve, and that give them a shared sense of purpose for the work.
Why promote the adoption and use of best practices?

One answer to this question is obvious: employing a method or program that’s been tested and found successful increases the chances that you’ll accomplish your goals, and that life will therefore be better for the folks who participate. There are, however, further reasons why the use of a best practice can be advantageous.
  • Using a recognized best practice makes it easier to justify the work. .
  • Using recognized best practices can bolster the credibility of an organization. It shows not only that the organization is using a tested process, but that it has been thinking ahead and conducting research to make sure it’s doing the best job possible.
  • Using best practices can make it easier to get funding.
There is a downside to this advantage as well, as it also minimizes the possibility of innovation and the development of new best practices. Moreover, it ignores the fact that best practices don’t always work in every situation, and that some organizations may get outstanding results using practices that don’t show up in the research.
  • Using a best practice removes a lot of the guesswork from planning. Employing a program or method whose structure and process are carefully documented makes it easier to set up and implement, and increases the chances that it will go smoothly.
  • The originators of the practice are known, and might be available to consult on how to best implement it. If the originators aren’t available, there may be others experienced with the practice who can help.
  • Most important – and most obvious – we know that best practices work. They’ve been shown to provide the changes in behaviour or conditions and the outcomes we’re interested in.

Promoting the adoption of best practices should probably be an ongoing activity, but some times are especially appropriate for it.
  • Before a new intervention or program begins.
  • When there’s a serious community problem that has to be tackled.
  • When what’s being done isn’t working well.
  • When the community requests it.
  • When funders or officials request or demand it.
As research results become more and more easily available through online sources, more large funders insist that proven practices be followed by those they fund. You as a donor should also be thinking of how your funds are used.

A word of caution here: as mentioned above, strict use of best practices can sometimes get in the way of flexibility and new ideas.

Some have tried to categorise aid agency performance based on a few criteria.

A 2011 research paper looks at “five dimensions of agency ‘best practices’:

aid transparency,
minimal overhead costs,
aid specialization,
delivery to more effective channels, and
selectivity of recipient countries based on poverty and good government / governance”
and calculates an overall agency score.

With the recent disasters, the last point is probably not directly relevant - aid needs to go to a specific country, so four issues are probably relevant.  However, the governance issue is especially critical in some areas [with Afghanistan seen as a bad example in recent times - too much corruption / poor governance], and in disaster areas can distort what is happening, as governance is often lacking at least initially, although improving once the major effort starts to build momentum.

Not all agencies do the right thing - there are a few shonky ones around. 

Major aid agencies tend to be effective and efficient, but all can do better.  A good point is always to see what their overheads are, and reject those where overheads are excessive.  There are some online comparisons around.