Cover Image
close this bookGATE - 2/84 - Cookstoves (GTZ GATE, 1984, 56 p.)
close this folderWorkshop
View the documentPaper technology and the third world

Paper technology and the third world

by Jorg Becker

In his contribution "Teaching on the Third World and the problems of its development", Joseph Ki-Zerbo, the most prominent social scientist in Upper Volta, said, in 1978: "What can the masses be interested in? Only in satisfying their basic needs. This is a basic insight of all development plans. One should, however be wary of reducing these basic needs to the absolute subsistence minimum necessary to mere survival. The basic human freedoms such as the freedom of thought are among these basics, which does not however, mean that these basic freedoms must necessarily be defined in accordance with what the Western world understands by "right" and "morality" (...). This brings me to another main characteristic of development; cultural identity.

If one accepts such conclusions it becomes plain that a successful search for identity and the satisfaction of communication must be seen as a basic component of a strategy aimed at fulfilling basic needs. In order to avoid misunderstandings, it should be emphasized that there is no such thing as an abstract "basic need" for paper books, TV sets or microchips. The need is to adequately satisfy the need for communication that forms part of historical development. In this historically relativized sense there is a basic need for cultural paper in a larger number of Third World countries and in a large number of regions within these countries. The present shortage of paper in the Third World favors the penetration of books from abroad, encourages conflicts of identity, weakens the educational system, undermines the plurality of press opinion, paves the way for political censorship and puts a strain on the balance of trade.
There are many reasons for the shortage of paper in the Third World. Seen as a whole, they are a function of the worldwide state of the paper market The state of the market can be summarized as follows:
1. Only paper-making plants requiring a minimum of imported technology, energy and raw materials can provide a genuine measure of aid for the Third World, as further strains on these countries balances of payments cannot be permitted.
2. Of he three cost factors technology, energy and raw materials, the fewest savings are possible in the sector of the prime energy required for paper-making.
3. For many Third World countries, the Terms of Trade for the importation of paper have grown rapidly harsher over the past few years. This is particularly true in the case of countries exporting tea, raw rubber and iron ore (see graph). Even if the Terms of Trade developed in a favourable direction, however it should not be assumed that the broad consumer groups within a Third World cuntry will be able to purchase imported paper cheaper than at present.
4. The worldwide tendency, still continuing, to concentrate and ologopolize the cellulose and papermaking industry in North America, Scandinavia and the Common Market hardly promises positive "seepage" effects that would promote an uprising in the independent national paper industries in Third World countries.
5. The economic consequences of dying forests in countries of the Northern Hemisphere, the increasing environment production costs in such countries and the growing requirements of industrial countries for refined paper (for photocopying and computers) although the increase rate is slow - will continue to allow world market pieces for paper to rise, to the detriment of the Third World.
Two different conclusions can be drawn from this situation.
The paper situation in the Third World can only be improved if changes in the structure of international raw-materials and technology policies are brought about.
Although there are many theoretical and political grounds for the plausibility of the above conclusion, only very limited activities would result. It is thus necessary to draw a different conclusion from this analysis of global structures: as the basics of international technology and raw-materials policies cannot be altered, not in the short term at least, the Third World would be well advised to consider its own potential and its own raw materials for cellulose and paper manufacturing much more closely than it has done in the past.

Paper from non-wood fibres

It is already evident that Third World countries cannot depend on wood as a basic fibre to anything approaching the extent that the developed world has done and still does. It simply will not be available for most of the countries involved economically, in sufficient quantity or quality or in terms of financial capability. They must use indigenous materials, substantially bamboo, or agricultural residues such as straw and bagasse. Already 80 percent of all the paper made from non-wood fibres is produced in the developing countries but it is only just about half their very low consumption in cultural grades. Much more could be produced because availability of straw or bagasse is not the limiting factor, although it is for bamboo. The most urgent need for real progress is a suitable and adequate source of long fibre because agricultural fibres are short and must be reinforced by 20 percent to 30 percent of long fibre to give sufficient strength to the paper. Kenaf, in quality and potential quantity, is the most promising material and successful exploitation would accelerate progress in the utilisation of agricultural fibres. It is ironic that large sums of money have been spent in U.S.A. to promote the cultivation and utilisation of kenaf for newsprint production, as an alternative to wood while there is a more fundamental need for it in the developing world.
Technical development has also been a restriction on fuller use of non-wood fibres. Machine design could be improved to minimise the need for long fibre but it is in the pulping process that the most serious restrictions on utilisation have been experienced. Chemical recovery is essential for economy and to meet ever-increasing ecological demands. Removal of silica from waste pulping liquors is very important to bring chemical recovery up to the economic standards achieved by the wood-based mils. An efficient continuous pulping process is needed for agricultural fibres in the interests of fuel economy and product quality. All of these needs should be capable of realisation at small scale, from 15 t.p.d. upwards. Only five years ago these needs were emphasised as serious limitations to progress; today each has been commercially attempted with success but further installations are necessary to consolidate the position.
Plant and equipment can, and should, be designed to suit the developing world. It can be less sophisticated, more economical in power, more simple in operation and less demanding in maintenance or the need for training without loss of effectiveness. This approach, however, is contrary to the industrialised world's philosophy that scale in terms of size and speed, is essential for viability.

Reasons which justify small-scale mills

The benefits of scale are questionable even for the industrialised world. For Third World countries the scale should be appropriate to the conditions pertaining. In respect of such factors as the market, the economic availability of fibre, water supply, manpower resources and finance limitations all the logic indicates small-scale for most installations but because this contradicts the opinions and practice in the industrialised world development has been retarded.
Small mills can be cheaper in capital costs per unit of production and less demanding in capital volume; private enterprise, the quickest route to production, is not excluded. They can be more efficient taking into account available manpower resources. Quality can be as good as that from the large mill, power requirements are less per unit of production and operating costs overall can be competitive if chemical recovery is effective. They can compete with the large mill in developing countries for these reasons and they have in addition the advantage of supplying a local market, minimising delivery costs.
Socio-economically small mills for equivalent production contribute more to the needs of developing countries; they employ more people in total, they provide the employment in rural areas, train more people for industry at an acceptable rate and encourage local industry to a greater extent.
The greatest resource need is finance and poverty is without doubt the fundamental reason for low consumption and correspondingly small production. Aid is needed but it should be applied in the most beneficial manner. Western philosophy for the pulp and paper industry confers no benefits on developing countries. A change to what is more suitable and can be achieved most independently is a surer and more permanent way to the desired target.
To summarize, it can be said that independent paper production in the Third World only makes sense if two conditions are fulfilled: it must be done on a small scale and non-wood fibres should be used to provide the cellulose needs.
The above article is a summary of an extensive research project report entitled "Paper technology and the Third World. Economic prerequisites and technical alternatives for refined production" produced for GTZ by Dr. Jorg Becker, Dr. Lutz Meyer, Frankfurt, and Arthur W. Western, London.
The next stage in the project will be concerned with the study of non-wood fibres as a raw material and will also include a critical appraisal of existing paper mills at the small scale level employing non-wood fibres. Reports on the experience gathered in the Third World countries will be gratefully forwarded to the author. You will find our address on page 2 of this issue.