|GATE - 1991/04 - Environmental NGO's (GTZ GATE Magazine, 1991)|
by Siaka Kone
A workshop was held from 15 to 17 July 1991 in Bamako on appropriate technologies for preserving market garden products (fruits and vegetables). This meeting was initiated and organized by the Coordination Committee for NGO's Activities (CCA-ONG) in Mali, and was financed by GATE within the scope of the ISAT project (Information Service on Appropriate Technologies).
The thirty participants came from various socio-professional backgrounds: researchers, representatives of NGOs working in the field of grassroots development and representatives of producer groups. The main triumph of this workshop was to have brought together these various actors involved in the process of technical innovation in the field of fruit and vegetable preservation.
Primarily, contributions concentrated on drying as a method of
preserving fruit and vegetables. Apparently the researchers, who presented some
50% of the contributions, have not dealt with the problems of drying to date.
The producer groups presented both their experience with trials using "modern"
solar driers and using traditional, local methods in an attempt to find a
solution to the practical problems facing them as regards preservation and
The present situation is that none of the equipment developed in Mali's research centres has reached even a pre-dissemination stage. None of the innumerable models of driers developed have managed to get at least a dozen or so working simultaneously in the field - and that despite the pressing preservation problems confronting the producer.
This situation dramatically reflects the cruel reality which all too often exists between the various actors involved in the research and development and in practical production. In the case of drying as a preservation technique in particular researchers have not looked beyond the challenge of developing equipment with a "fantastic" technical performance, in their conception of improved technology.
The necessity of the equipment being appropriate for and accepted by the group of users, of it being culturally and financially accessible to this target group appears to have escaped them. The consequence of this situation is that in a given socioeconomic milieu we see a conflict between local, traditional technologies and new technologies.
The solution to the conflict presupposes a new approach on the part of those involved in research. This new approach, based on gearing research work to solving the actual problems of the target group, future users of the technology, must take as its starting point the current practices of the user group.
If this way were taken there would be implicit support of improved local technologies. This is all the more important since, as we have seen from discussions at the workshop, for a lot of people appropriate technology is synonymous with new technology. Local, traditional technology, its shortcomings remedied, is however by its very nature the most appropriate technology in a given domain.
We must however say here in the defence of the researchers that many of their activities take place within the scope of externally financed programmes, often linked to the adaptation or modification of a particular piece of equipment designed somewhere else, and having proved itself in a distant country under entirely different geographical, climatic and sociocultural conditions.
In conclusion, the author would like to call on all actors involved in technological innovation, and technology transfer to concentrate more on improving existing, local, traditional technologies in the relevant fields.
These technologies, which are no less than the most direct expression of the heritage and sociocultural identity of the target group, use local resources and local expertise. The technology will thus be perfectly adapted to the target group to benefit from technical innovation, and the target group will be in a position to understand it, design, maintain and repair it.
In the case of drying technology in the Sahel zone this means working on improving the hygienic conditions of simple air drying, for example. Rather than concentrating on dreaming up equipment which appears to the target group to be complicated to manage, use the sun as far as possible - the sun was there before you!