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close this bookGATE - 4/93 - Botswana: Rural Industrial Development (GTZ GATE, 1993, 48 p.)
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View the documentHow to initiate rural industrial development
View the documentRepublic of Botswana
View the documentPoverty and profits: The Work of RIPCO
View the documentSmall industry promotion in hard times: The Work of RIIC
View the documentMaximizing rural industrialization
View the documentAn innovation benefits women: The Sorghum Milling Project

Small industry promotion in hard times: The Work of RIIC

by Jackson Maleke

GATE's partner in cooperation, the Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC), is Botswana's national appropriate technology hardware centre. It is based in Kanye, in the country's Southern District. RIIC, a subsidiary of the Rural Industries Promotions Company (RIPCO), identifies, adapts or designs technologies geared to job creation and renewable energy, and provides training to increase rural productivity. It supports small-scale industry, whose products have to compete with cheap imports from South Africa on the domestic market.

The promotion of small industries is never easy at the best of time, but Botswana faces some additional difficulties. As part of the Customs Union with South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho, Botswana has to compete with mass produced low cost goods from South Africa. The Union is designed to protect South Africa's large capital-intensive industries, which are often also vertically integrated, e.g. from the tannery to the franchised shoe shop. Protection is only possible for very large industries, and in fact in Botswana it has only been granted twice, for a brewery and a soap factory. It is very difficult for small and medium scale industries to compete in this market, except where there may be a local competitive advantage.

Continuing with the example of shoes, the Rural Industries Innovation Centre offers tannery training. Artisans are trained to produce quality leather using only indigenous tanning agents, such as local roots and plants. In the leatherwork course they are also taught shoe making, but except for specialist footwear, it is impossible for them to compete with the South African shoes available through many local franchises. On the other hand, in the past we have also trained artisans from Mozambique, where there are no large-scale shoe outlets. Using the same tanning agents available also in Mozambique, they are now able to produce hides and to manufacture footwear for sale.

Another difficulty is that in Botswana costs of land, rent, water, and electricity are extremely high, although land costs are less of a constraint in the rural areas. All these problems have been exacerbated by several years of drought and an economic downturn in Botswana and the region.

Identifying economic advantages

In these circumstances, organizations have to be innovative in examining where they may still have an economic advantage. Generally speaking, we have identified four broad areas, although some of them are inter-related.

Firstly, if a uniquely innovative product can be developed with a ready market, then it will succeed. Such a product is the sorghum dehuller, which has resulted in the creation of a decentralized sorghum milling industry all over Botswana.

Secondly, although it may seem strange, food processing can flourish even during drought and economic hard times. Examples include milling inputs provided by Government under the drought relief programme. This led to the development of new products such as fortified sorghum meal and bakerles in the rural areas.

The third category is more intangible, but relates to innovative management. Small to medium industries can prosper if they are managed very efficiently and can keep down unit costs. Such industries in Botswana, producing every thing from pens and plastic bottles to school uniforms and furniture do exist, and manage to compete with South Africa. Many others however, with less competent management, have failed.

Finally, producers can be successful if they are near the end of the distribution chain. For example many of the small scale entrepreneurs trained through the Village Skills Training Programme are in remote locations, where there may be no trading outlets or perhaps just one or two small stores. In these circumstances, blacksmiths, carpenters, and others can flourish. With almost no overheads to cover, they can produce to meet the direct needs of the community, whether it be axes, buckets, chairs, or coffins.

Relating to the peoples' needs

Any initiative must relate to the market place, if not in price terms, at least in the sure knowledge that products and projects relate to the real needs of the people. The Rural Industries Innovation Centre relies on its Extension Department in identifying needs. Our company believes in the "problem solving" approach. Problems are identified and discussed with the community and appropriate solutions found. Of course after a period of time when particular technologies or services become clearly appropriate to the needs of many groups, then efforts are made to disseminate them further. Other techniques that are used include regular National Needs Assessment Surveys, and brainstorming sessions involving a majority of people from outside the organization involved in rural development.

Since its establishment, RIIC has developed and disseminated numerous technologies in the field to improve rural living standards. Such dissemination is carried out in close cooperation with the users. Some of the centres technologies such as the sorghum dehuller, mesh wire making machine, cinva ram block mould, to mention just a few, have been exported to other African countries. This initiative has enhanced the centres uniqueness and consolidated its credibility on the African continent. The centre has also attracted many foreign visitors, approximately 4.000 per annum.

Some achievements

- Appropriate areas in which RIIC has made tangible breakthrough include the development of rural water supply systems with emphasis on wind and hand pumping technologies, solar desalination, biogas programme and sand river abstraction project.

- In the sector of agricultural technologies, spectacular accomplishments include post harvest technologies such as a sorghum milling package, sorghum thresher, chaff cutters, and maize sheller. Moreover, the centre has produced a series of planters geared towards providing support to the arable agricultural subsector. Currently, a double row planter and a fodder bailer are at a development stage and it is hoped that by the end of 1993 tangible results may be achieved to warrant commercial production. Among these technologies, the sorghum dehuller has facilitated the development of a small scale milling industry in Botswana, with over 63 mills now operational in rural areas. The net result of which is rural development and employment creation.

- Progress has also been made in the development of bakery equipment such different types of ovens. These technologies are geared towards small and medium scale bakeries. Also a manual operated dough kneading machine has been developed and it is expected to accentuate production capacity in the baking industry.

- Other success are the development of diamond mesh wire making machines, lime oxide paints, a soil compactor, an adapted version of the cinva ram block press and micro concrete tile making machine.

- RIIC has since 1988 inaugurated a Technology Transfer Programme to take responsibility for the transfer of completed technologies to the private sector for commercial manufacture. This is a successful programme and its momentum continues to be maintained.

- Inaugurated in 1980, the Village Skills Training Programme is geared towards increasing productivity in the informal sector through the provision of replicable trades, with the result that jobs are created for the rural people and income earning opportunities improved.

- A small scale foundry project has been established to provide casted parts to line production sections such as the Research and Development Workshop. Emphasis is on aluminium and iron casting.

- The identification and dissemination of suitable technologies and services to the centre's clients' would have been impossible without the Extension and Outreach Programme.

RIIC's; Extension and Outreach Programme

Successful implementation of the programmes and industries in rural areas would have been impossible without the services of a dedicated extension and outreach initiative which emphasizes on the clients and their needs. Consequently, the centre's regional extension officers invariably undertake extended trips throughout the year to inform the general public about the outcome of the RIIC's initiatives directed towards fulfilling their needs. Moreover, the centre periodically conducts follow-up of its clients, and as circumstances dictate, provide technical and managerial support to enhance effective application of RIIC technologies for the benefit of the rural areas.

The extension services also include the responsibility for conducting needs assessment surveys to ensure the relevance and applicability of RIIC developments to the centre's clients. Moreover, the Department of Extension operates an Information Office which is responsible for promoting the centre's technological breakthroughs through a variety of media strategies such as radio programmes, newsletters, catalogues of goods and services, informational brochures, advertisements, press releases, as well as taking responsibility for several requests for information from a cross section of interests all over the world. The unit is also responsible for coordination of site tours and study missions. These strategies are geared towards effectively promoting the image of the organization within and without Botswana.

As part of its continuing effort to enhance the credibility of the centre's initiatives, the Department of Extension Services has opened up a new regional extension office at Palapye in the central district of Botswana. This office is required to represent the interests of all RIPCO (B)'s subsidiaries in the central and north east regions of Botswana, through the mobilization of the organization's productive potential.

Although the extension department was established sometimes in the 1970s, it was decided to inaugurate a regional extension wing in 1987 within the department to consolidate practicality as well as facilitate a more meaningful strategy for regional information dissemination and coverage. As a result of this policy decision, the programme has divided Botswana into five regions, each with its own designated extension officer.

These officers undertake quarterly trips to their regions to further the process of information of dissemination, marketing, promotion, identification of trainees for the village skills training programmes, including collection of pertinent data that can be utilized to provide a suitable direction for the centre's research and development initiatives.


Promoting small scale industry in Botswana is especially difficult because the domestic market is flooded with cheap imports from South Africa. In these circumstances, it is esential to be innovative and discover gaps in the market. The Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC) identified economic advantages for small-scale industry e.g. in the development of a uniquely innovative product with a ready market, or in the fact that small to medium industries can prosper if they are managed very efficiently and can keep unit costs down. RIIC has assisted inhabitants of rural areas in the development and marketing of new technologies and products. Some of the innovations, for instance the sorghum dehuller, have been so successful that they have even been exported.


La promotion de la petite industrie est particulierement difficile au Botswana, le marche interieur etant submerge de produits bon marche issus d'Afrique du Sud. Dans un tel contexte, il s'agit d'etre innovant et de savoir decouvrir les creneaux de vente. Les travaux du Centre d'lnnovation des Industries Rurales (Rural Industries Innovation Centre, RIIC) ont revere que les avantages economiques pour la petite industrie resident par exemple dans le developpement de produits particulierement innovants pour un marche pret a les recevoir et que les petites et moyennes industries (PMI) peuvent prosperer si elles vent gerees efficacement et si elles parviennent a minimiser les couts unitaires. Le RIIC a assiste les populations rurales dans leurs efforts de developpement de nouveaux produits et techniques ainsi que dans leur commercialisation. Certaines innovations, le decortiqueur de mil par exemple, ont en un tel succes qu'elles vent egalement exportees.


El fomento de la pequena industria es especialmente dificil en Botswana, puesto que el mercado nacional se ve inundado por mercancia barata procedente de Surafrica. En vista de esta situacion es necesario tener espiritu innovativo y descubrir huecos en el mercado. El Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC) identifico ventajas economical pare la pequena industria p.ej. mediante el desarrollo de un producto innovative con un mercado ya listo o en el hecho de que las empresas pequenas y medianas pueden prosperer si son administradas de forma muy eficiente y si pueden mantener bajos los costes por unidad. El RIIC apoyo a los habitantes de las zones rurales en el desarrollo de nuevas tecnicas y productos, as i como en la come comercializacion de los mismos. Algunas innovaciones, tales como la descascadora de sorgo, fueron tan exitosas que pudieron exportarse tambien a otros paises.