| Boiling Point No. 26 - December 1991 |
by Peter Young, Senior Technical Manager, Fuel for Food Programme, ITDG
More and more stove projects around the world are beginning to show significant success even if this is not in direct line with their initial objectives. Stove projects are now an accepted form of technology intervention, contributing to the solution of many wide-ranging development problems from energy use, health and income generation through to improving the status of women. Critics ask why it has taken 10-15 years to achieve dissemination levels of 11-50% for improved stoves in countries such as China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka and other countries have managed only a few thousand.
This edition of Boiling Point focuses on a key dissemination issue, "technology transfer". I believe that this term although widely used by development workers is just a jargon name for plain common sense. Is it not common sense to learn from others rather than re-invent the wheel, or simply to use ideas that are successful elsewhere? Unfortunately, using common sense is not always as easy as it sounds and some people see little status in using the ideas of others.
Learning from other experiences, successful or otherwise, should lead to greater effectiveness, lower project costs, short cuts to development and wider technology dissemination. However, there are barriers to be overcome and mistakes to be avoided in this process. One common fault is to misinterpret the development process of others and perhaps miss out a stage which is an essential part of a learning process so that some basic skills or understanding are not transferred.
There are of course more practical problems such as the availability of materials, and fuels and their costs. Cooking practices also differ widely. Improved stoves often require specific pot sizes unlike the open fire and many gas and electric stoves which provide greater versatility. This can be a key factor in restricting the transfer of new designs.
The Kenya Ceramic Jiko has not always been easy to transfer either. In Addis Abba the high altitude and high efficiency of the traditional charcoal stove made the project reassess and modify the KCJ before dissemination could be attempted. Overal the attempts to transfer stove design have not resulted in many successes and have mostly led to failure.
On the other hand successes have come in different ways, such as the evolution of the KCJ based upon the technique of placing a ceramic liner in a metal cladding an introduction from Thailand (the Thai bucket).
The KCJ has since gone on to be popular in other East African countries mainly because of their similar cooking practices, economic situations and availability of skills and materials. The successful dissemination of the Anagi stove in Sri Lanka has a more complicated history, starting from the Magan Chula design in India with a ceramic liner in a mud surround. The factory production techniques of Dian Desa in Indonesia have been incorporated into the Sri Lanka national programme which now commercially markets more than 50,000 Anagi stoves a year. The transfers were of general technological ideas rather than design details.
This implies a thorough understanding of stove and marketing technologies and the flexibility of mind to accept or reject features to suit different conditions is needed. Many other successful technological transfers have occurred in production methods and aids such as kiln designs, paddle moulds, plaster of parts moulds, the use of templates and other metal forming techniques. The successful dissemination of process techniques include 'commercialisation' of stove projects from Kenya to Sri Lanka.
In the past the transfer of ideas and technologies has occurred mainly through personal contact, typically when people have emigrated either through personal choice, colonization or shifting climatic or social conditions.Within stove projects today, as with other development programmes, personal contact is probably still the most important factor, often motivated by the entrepreneurial spirit.
However, to rely too much on individual entrepreneurs can lead to a dangerous dependency and even restrict the programmes opportunities to work with the poor and most disadvantaged. Therefore institutions, national or international, are particularly important and organisations such as FOOD, GTZ, KENGO, ITDG and UN agencies should help to ensure that the work continues to be directed towards the right ends. They play a leading role in the transfer of ideas, experience and technology through promoting training courses, seminars, meetings, personal networking, exchange of information and news. The circulation of technical journals such as Boiling Point and "Changing Villages", newsletters from FWD and KENGO, technical papers and books, can be of great help in bringing new ideas and possibilities to stove workers.
What does appear clear over the past 10-15 years is that the transfer of ideas and technologies between projects is still very slow and major impacts have yet to occur. Although there do appear to be the organisations and facilities and publications available in place they do not appear to be working sufficiently well.
This leads us to the question of whether meetings, seminars, training workshops, written material and publications are of sufficiently high quality and are written for the right type of people. Maybe there are just too few meetings, seminars and workshops that attract only the few elite within stove programmes. Shortly Boiling Point will be undertaking a review of you the readers, to determine how effective it is at reaching the right target group with the right type of material.
Within ITDG information and influence are now our main objectives. If you have experience of good or bad information through meetings, seminars or training workshops, we'd like to hear about them and what new ways should be pursued to achieve sharing of information and experiences.