| Appropriate Technology in Post - Modern Times |
|PART II Diversity is strength|
Tear down the walls around AT
A HISTORY OF SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
It is time to look back for a moment. The AT movement at the beginning of the Nineties is not the same as 20 years ago. The concepts and the philosophy of Appropriate Technology have changed, and so have the main activities of the AT movement. These changes resulted from changes in societies, in economies, and, not least, changes in policies in the North as well as in the South - but also from the lessons learned by those who see themselves as the avant-garde of technology transfer and development.
The concept of Appropriate Technology was always a practical approach - the shelves are full of artefacts and devices like solar cookers, wind-driven water pumps, oil presses, and oxcarts. Many of these devices were tested and introduced in developing countries, and many of them came back to their countries of origin to remain on the shelf.
We know now that the AT movement was too strongly oriented towards pure technology transfer. Many pilot projects have been buried in silence; a lot of energy saving cooking stoves were never purchased by the intended end-users. Many so-called appropriate devices got rusty - small white elephants of development assistance. However, the history of Appropriate Technology is by no means a history of failure. In many cases, the AT movement produced viable alternatives to classical technologies. The successes, as well as the lessons drawn from the failures, keep the movement alive.
In this chapter, examples will be given for both failures and successes, and the reasons for each will be analyzed.
Unless keys to widespread uptake or rejection of AT are found and understood, the potential of AT wilt never be realised. It is now a matter of common concern amongst development agencies that they find the means to scale up and multiply their impact. Single, isolated achievements are perhaps valuable but ultimately meaningless unless they repay their investment by providing as insights into how to multiply those successes a thousandfold or more.
The examples cited in this chapter are by no means blue-prints; success stories reflect the influence of the regional and situation-specific environment. Implements which have proven to be viable at location X, can be a total failure at place Y. Furthermore, the assessment of success and failure is subjective and depends entirely on the observer's or reporter's view.
The most comprehensive quantitative analysis of the activities of AT institutions was conducted at the beginning of the eighties. At that tune, ten years after Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, the number of AT organizations and associations worldwide had grown to over 1,000. The study, which surveyed hundreds of organizations by questionnaire, showed that solar energy was at that time the most important field of work for the AT movement, but that the subject was of far greater interest to organizations based in the industrialized countries than to those of developing countries. Solar energy at that time was something of a symbol of the AT movement.
Since then the emphasis has changed. Although no comparable figures are available for the beginning of the Nineties, it seems that additional fields have become important. Modern AT institutions are focusing on small business promotion, small credit schemes, integrated agriculture, sustainable cultivation techniques, agro-forestry, environmental management, sanitation, and domestic waste disposal.
Renewable energy technologies are becoming less fashionionable, mainly because their efficiency and competitiveness against fossil fuels is questioned. At the same time, major multilateral agencies are developing more interest in those technologies. In 1992, the World Bank created its first operative alternative unit for renewable energy and energy efficiency (ASTAE - Asia Alternative Energy Unit). The AT movement with its long-standing experience in alternative energy technology can provide advisory service to agencies interested in this field.
The idea of Appropriate Technology has recently been attracting new inputs which may change not only the concept of AT, but the entire technology discussion. There is talk about technology blending, a term which was coined in the think tanks of the ILO. The concept refers to the physical combination of new and traditional technologies. It is argued that new technologies, such as microelectronics, biotechnology, photovaltaics, and others may in some cases offer a feasible input for the improvement of traditional methods of production. Examples of technology blending drawn from pilot projects include the use of microcomputers to assist rubber smallholders in Malaysia, microelectronics in health and social services in several countries, photovoltaic lighting in Fiji, and the application of biotechnology to food production in Mexico and Cuba.
SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS OF THE AT CONCEPT
Success stories of Appropriate Technology had been recorded before the movement actually started, especially in India during and after the era of Gandhi. One of the most successful technologies in the rural areas of India was the hand-operated chaff-cutting machine for straw and other animal feeds. Compared to the previous technology, the hand chopper, it offered great improvement in quality, productivity and safety.
Another success story from India is that of transistor radios for communication and entertainment, a modern product which serves the rural population and connects them with the outside world. Of course this is not an example of a classical appropriate technology. But it seems to be appropriate, and it shows that viable technologies for the rural sector are not necessarily traditional in nature.
Several collections of case studies have been published showing how appropriate technical solutions to problems of developing countries were arrived at. What was perhaps most neglected in official development assistance (and is still neglected today) is the existing base of traditional - or indigenous - technology, and the capacity of local artisans and communities to innovate without outside help. In 17 case studies, the Intermediate Technology Development Group showed that skills and ideas are rarely the limiting factor in technology development. The Tinker, Tiller, Technical Change Project, together with another project demonstrating the technical and scientific role of women, Do-lt-Herself, showed that successful technology adaptation and development depends on people possessing the capacity to understand local situations: resources, skills, knowledge, and gaps. ITDG states that the North must be prepared to help fill the gaps for as long as needed, but the true Northern role lies in providing access to Northern policy makers, to donors, and to the media. Northern groups should act as brokers between the Southern NGOs and governmental development agencies. This is supported by recent developments in the agencies which try to improve NGO participation in the execution of their projects.
Maybe the most treasured artefact in the hearts of the movement's members as well as in the bureaus of the international development agencies is the fuel-efficient cooking stove. Unfortunately, it was not as successful in the field. The story started more than fifteen years ago, when development planners turned to the rescue of the last Sahelian shrubs. Stove programmes were copied and implemented in nearly every country of the Third World, from India to Burkina Faso, from Kenya to Peru. Their rate of success, measured in terms of numbers of disseminated stoves, varied considerably. In Sri Lanka, the fuel-efficient Anagi stove is being manufactured locally and sold without subsidy. 300,000 stoves are in use, benefiting 1.8 million people. The introduction of the improved Jiko in Kenya, which in the first two years after initial promotion has been sold more than 180,000 times, is another success story. Most analyses of successful improved stoves - and of the many failures - have demonstrated that positive achievements are not owed to the main project objective - the saving of firewood and charcoal. The primary reasons for large-scale adoption were the reduction of cooking time and the improvement of the children's health through reduced exposure to smoke.
During the workshop AT in Post-Modern Times further examples of successful dissemination of appropriate technologies were mentioned. The technology for producing cheap, durable roofing materials from fibre-reinforced concrete is in use in at least 30 countries. In Kenya alone there are between 20 and 30 businesses in operation. In Nepal, there is an entirely indigenous capacity for installing micro-hydro power systems, based on a number of small manufacturers. Some 700 installations bring benefits to around 200,000 people.
Another example for the successful implementation of appropriate technologies is the introduction of an improved Chinese brick kiln to Nepal. This is part of a GTZ ceramics promotion project, which is backstopped by GATE. The "new" brick kiln consumes only about half the energy required by traditional Nepalese kilos. In the Kathmandu region alone, some 250 brickworks switched to this new firing method in the first half of 1991. The success of the new kiln in Nepal gives an indication of the necessary preconditions for technology transfer. The demand for an improved technology paved the way for the innovation. The enormous firewood costs in the Kathmandu region created opportunities for high savings, which made investing in the new kiln feasible. In an environment that called for technological change, the project provided an appropriate solution at the right time and at the right price.
A good indicator of the general success of Appropriate Technology might be the fact that it is becoming institutionalized in many agencies of official development assistance. When GTZ was reorganized at the end of the Eighties, the Director General confirmed, that
GATE also did pioneering work in establishing another truth that will not only be fundamental for GTZ as a whole, but is gaining importance on an international scale, namely, when we concern ourselves intensively with technology and engineering, we encounter the human being. (...) After all, the reorganization is an attempt to achieve for the whole GTZ what GATE has achieved in practice: Priority to finding solutions which are related to target groups and executing agencies, resources for socio-cultural, socio-economic and socio-organizational know-how on the one hand, and more time for appropriate technical solutions on the other.
One of the most successful AT programmes is the water and sanitation programme of UNICEF in India. Its planning and implementation approach is similar in a wide range of further countries, its execution is appropriate to the basic needs of the population. At the beginning of every programme, the situation is analyzed and a strategy to improve the sanitary situation is planned. The decision on technology choice is based on the findings of the analysis, hence the solution to the problem may be a simple hand pump, a diesel-engine pump or it may be backyard latrines. UNICEF puts a lot of emphasis on the demonstration of the technology, especially to governmental officials, who have to be convinced of the project's feasibility. The projects are planned and implemented with the participation of the rural community. Within one year, in a sanitation project of the Department of Public Health Engineering of Bangladesh, with the assistance of UNICEF, some 310,000 sanitary latrines were built. In India, UNICEF is promoting the dissemination of the Mark-II-Handpump which was developed in the country. The Mark-II-Handpump is a perfect example for the regional influence on success: The same programme failed to be sustainable in Ethiopia, for the maintenance of the pumps was not organized.
The African Development Bank, which in the past mainly focused on the promotion of large-scale technology like power generation and export-oriented agriculture, is gradually changing its technology policy. A sector policy paper on science and technology calls for the application of certain basic technology criteria in projects. The applied technology should
- be technically and economically viable; this means that the lowest cost technology may not necessarily be the most efficient and economical;
- have proven its worth in field testing under similar conditions (for example, neighbouring countries);
- be backed up by adequate service mechanisms.
FAILURES ON THE WAY
If AT has its successes, it has its failures, too. The area of most general disappointment has been the lack of success in attaining wide and spontaneous uptake of many appropriate technologies designed to help the rural poor. One reason for the rejection of these technologies is their price. "The costs of pilot or demonstration projects are always high because of the level of external inputs." Another reason for the failure of promotion campaigns for appropriate devices is a lack of understanding of the real socio-economic conditions of the end-users.
During the workshop, the example was given of the housing sector in India. Inadequate shelter remains one of the country's major and basic problems. According to recent Government statistics, the housing shortage in India has been estimated at about 24 million units, of which over 18 million are in the rural areas. The success of governmental programmes for overcoming these problems depends largely on the availability of low-cost housing materials.
Considerable work in this area has been carried out by various research and development agencies with little impact on the dissemination of these technologies. The major reasons that these efforts have not been able to successfully penetrate the market are:
- their piecemeal nature, concentrating only on a single aspect of housing without encompassing a shelter package;
- their ad-hoc nature, not being accompanied by systematic attempts to produce and market on a large scale and organized basis;
- their institutional limitations; most of the government institutes only cover a small segment of the shelter problem, e.g. research without links to production and marketing.
Success and failure are by no means static characteristics of the technology evolution process. Appropriate technologies, which have been successfully introduced and disseminated, can loose their comparative advantages. Whether a technology is appropriate at any given time depends on the relative importance given to competing objectives (e.g. capital, employment, output).
The history of biogas technology in the People's Republic of China is an illustrative example. Introduced in the Thirties, and pushed by mass campaigns after the Chinese revolution, more than five million small biogas plants for use by small groups of farmers were constructed by the Seventies. The dissemination was fostered by a supportive administrative environment. The building materials were mostly provided free by the local people's committees, and the cooperative members contributed their work. The biogas plants enhanced the quality of life of the rural population by providing lighting and cooking energy, thus reducing the necessity for firewood. Additionally, the plants provided manure for the fields.
In recent years, very few biogas plants have been constructed, and broken plants have remained unrepaired. An "appropriate" technology was replaced by other "more appropriate" technologies due to changing overall conditions. The main reason was a loss of competitiveness, through increased access to rural electrification and commercial cooking gas, accompanied by a growing reluctance on the part of farmers to do labour-intensive maintenance of the biogas plants. At the same time, with the growing market opportunities for vegetables, people could invest their labour in their gardens and purchase commercial energy and fertilizers with their earnings.
In an analysis of unsuccessful FAO projects, some general observations on the problem of technology transfer to small-scale farmers were made. It is not uncommon that the objectives of development planners and their perception of farmer's technological needs do not correspond with those of the farmer's family. The social and economic criteria applied by the farmers are often different from those employed by the planners. Furthermore, it is sometimes misunderstood which member of the family is responsible for the area targeted for intervention. Disregarding women's roles has frequently been among the main failures of agricultural projects, as is demonstrated by an example from West Africa. The goal of an FAO project was to introduce simple and appropriate devices and techniques for reducing of post-harvest losses in rice. Although investigations about the nature and extent of the losses were carried out before designing technical solutions, the project failed. The planners did not realize that women bear the sole responsibility for post-harvest processing and storage of the grain. They consulted only men in their research. The new technology was not introduced directly to women, but to their husbands. When the project finally discovered that the technology was not adopted, it turned out that the women did not perceive post-harvest losses as a major problem. They were not ready to purchase a technology which was m their view an unnecessary expense.
Another example was provided by a workshop participant from Thailand. The traditional technique of sowing soybeans was once identified by the national extension service to be time-consuming and inefficient as the single beans were planted by hand. The extension officers proposed the introduction of simple sowing machines to be pulled by hand, which were welcomed and accepted by the fanners. At the end of the of the cropping season it turned out that the machines had not been used at all. The reason was that women traditionally do the sowing, but only men attended the training courses. The devices simply were too heavy to be pulled by the women.27
PRECONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS: THE ROLE OF THE MARKET
In its earlier phases, the AT movement often did not adequately consider the economic feasibility (marketability) of 'appropriate' technologies. "It is the users, the purchasers, who determine whether the technology is appropriate". Some preconditions for successful transfer of technology were mentioned curing the workshop AT in Post-Modern Times:
- People need to see an economic benefit of the technology through increased productivity or improved design of the product.
- People can gain prestige with the new technology.
- Quality of life is enhanced through the technology.
- The new technology is affordable.
- The design of the technology is assisted through active participation of the people who are to use it.
- Transfer of technology is built on local capabilities and local needs.
Although it is generally agreed that in the past the importance of the market for technology choice was not adequately considered, AT must not be seen from only a commercial perspective. One motive for the development of the AT concept was the desire to create alternative technologies which do not simply satisfy the demands of modern consumer society but support the growth of environmental and social consciousness. AT can never respond to market demands only. One justification for the AT movement is to develop new markets and new consumption patterns."Appropriate Technology is conditioned not only by economic imperatives but also by cultural and ideological values, and the innovative capabilities of the society generating the technology."
In a broader sense, the same applies to marketing. In industrialized countries, alternative trading organizations (ATO) try to promote trade with agricultural commodities and handicrafts from developing countries on an ethical basis (Fair Trade). The ATOs work mainly with small producer groups and self-help organizations. ATOs try to set certain production criteria, e.g. application of appropriate technology, humane working conditions, use of local material, and avoidance of negative impacts on the environment. The target of the trade is to leave as much as possible of the added value with the producer. Fair Trade can not be judged under economic criteria only. For marketing to be feasible, the buyers have to pay higher prices in the World Shops than in the supermarket. Therefore, Fair Trade requires an alternative economic and ethical attitude on the side of the consumers.