Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good news on the tsumani's third anniversary

Nicobar coconut
18 months before the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami struck the islands in the Andaman Sea, I was fortunate to be invited on an expedition to the Andaman & Nicobar islands.

In addition to making a rare ascent of Barren Island, the team was granted a permit to sail to the island of Car Nicobar, which until we arrived had only been visited by one non-Indian national since Independence in 1947.

We were only allowed to stay for one day, but during that time we were royally entertained by the Nicobarese. Warm memories of our experiences (which included traditional circular dancing, local cuisine, and pig wrestling) linger long in my memory.

When the Tsunami struck, I was left feeling upset and impotent. Desperate to do something – anything – for the survivors, I linked up with one of the expedition's photographers, Martin Hartley. We contacted Geographical magazine with a proposal for a story about the islands, and subsequently directed our fees for the article towards the Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning (FERAL). One of FERAL's trustees is Dr Rauf Ali, a scientist living in the Andamans who accompanied the 2003 expedition.

Unloading DeeganPress
Over the past two years, FERAL has been designing a low-cost coconut press to enable the Nicobarese to extract oil from their groves. The coconut oil can then sold directly to businesses, ensuring that all profits flow into the hands of the people who need it most. The money from our article was used to build a prototype. Earlier this year, using some funds from FERAL, Rauf took the unit (which the organisation named 'DeeganPress') to Car Nicobar. The large box required several people to help unload it.

Teddy Bear Nicobar
Since the start of 2005, the Nicobarese people have been subjected to a barrage of visits from high profile charities, which has resulted in very little aid: the few items sent to the island have been largely useless (boxes of teddy bears, anyone?). Understandably, the local population was initially sceptical of Rauf's proposal. However, once the unit was unwrapped and they saw it in action, Rauf told me that everyone's mood visibly changed.

Every village on Car Nicobar requested their own DeeganPress, and the long process of raising the necessary funds began. The latest news is that the Government of India's Ministry of Science and Technology has agreed to fund the new prototypes.

Testing DeeganPress
While there is now sufficient cash to build the next generation of prototypes, the marketing of the cold pressed coconut oil in India – perhaps as much as 6000 litres a month from the outset – is one of the big issues that remains to be tackled. Which is where you come in. If you have any suggestions or ideas about how to create this link in the marketing chain, please shoot Rauf a message. He'd love to hear from you.

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