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close this book GATE - 4/94 - West and Central Africa - will the crisis boost the AT approach?
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View the document Appropriate technology is vital to survival: the NGOs and the crisis in west and central Africa
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Appropriate technology is vital to survival: the NGOs and the crisis in west and central Africa

Every NGO operating in the West African and Central African finance zone (CFA) is presently affected by one major factor: the economic crisis sharpened through this year's devaluation of the Franc. Bärbel Röben spoke with on farm processing expert Rudolf Kiessling, on GATE/ISAT's commitment and its partners in this region. Rudolf Kiessling is responsible for francophone Africa within GATE/ISAT.

gate: GATE/ISAT is cooperating with numerous NGOs in West and Central Africa. Whereas in 1991 GATE was assisting only three organisations in francophone Africa with financial support, the number of contact partners rose to nineteen in 1993 with the establishment of the SIATA Information Service (Service Inter-Africain sur les Technologies Appropriées, see gate 1/94 pp 49-56). Could you please briefly describe the beginning of the cooperation between GATE/ISAT and NGOs in West and Central Africa?

Kiessling: As French is the official language in many West African countries, this region was somewhat neglected in our work for a long time because GATE/ISAT is more oriented to anglophone areas. In order to offset the bias to the English-language partner networks, cooperation commenced as far back as ten years ago with ENDA (Environnement et Développement du Tiers-Monde), an NGO in Senegal. ENDA soon widened its operations to cover a super-regional, global radius, which did not fully fit in with our concept of partnership with NGOs in West Africa. Consequently, the F. I.D. (Fondation International pour le Développement), took over ENDA's position. The F.I.D. is a small regional NGO centering its operations on key areas in which it has the capacity to deliver quality work. We also have partners in Mali, both an umbrella organisation, the CCA (Comité de Coordination des Actions des Organisations Non Gouvernementales au Mali), and a technology oriented NGO, the GRAT (Groupe de Recherche et d'Application Technique), belonging to the umbrella organisation CCA. In Cameroon we work with the APICA (Association pour la Promotion des Initiatives Communautaires Africaines), which takes on the double role of being both a quasi-umbrella organisation and an NGO implementing targeted technology measures.

gate: Why was bilateral cooperation replaced by the SIATA Information Network set up in 1993?

Kiessling: At that time, GATE/ISAT was cooperating with 22 partners world-wide. It became clear, however, that only a very generalised exchange of information ("working with AT") was feasible between such very different partners-no real hands on activities could be generated. The conditions in India are different to those encountered in South America or Subsaharan Africa and appropriate technologies cannot be just transferred per se to another country.

 

Different zones

We came to the conclusion, therefore, that it is better to have more partners within a specific region, who are not recipients of assistance funds but just contact partners, and who can exchange technologies on a problem and climatic-zone oriented basis.

gate: What food processing technologies are specific to the West and Central African region?

Kiessling: This depends greatly on the geographic location of the country in question, which in turn impacts on the type of agricultural production, the eating habits and the food processing technologies.

 

The clue lies in exchange

Against this background we can identify several zones in West Africa based on nutritional habits. Starting in the south we have fish processing and preserving technologies in the coastal region; we then progress northwards to the in land zones and the coconut palm belt where coconuts are processed, and coconut timber and palm leaves are used to build fences and for basketry work. Coconut oil is also obtained, as is oil from other plants which grow in the coconut palm belt, such as the castor-oil plant, although these require different processing technologies.

The coconut palm belt borders on the tropical forest where a wide variety of cultivated and wild-growing plants can be combined to make up a complete and balanced diet. However, the processing and preserving methods used in this zone have not been further developed and many products only have access to very limited local markets.

Further north we come to the cassava belt where cassava is preserved and processed. These first three zones in the region offer everything needed for a meal: fish, oil and cassava. Products from two other cropping zones complete the menu. North of the cassava belt is the yam belt and then the Sahel region producing quite different crops. It is easy to imagine how important it is to exchange know - how, ideas and products in this context. No one can live solely on fish, on cassava or on coconuts or yams. The clue lies in exchange.

gate: How does the exchange take place in the scope of the SIATA Information Network?

Kiessling: It is assumed that wherever appropriate technologies have been designed and used, there are also people on hand who possess both the traditional know-how on the technologies and also modern knowledge; let's not forget that the education and training sector is now putting out its third generation of graduates in these countries, which now have their own fully-qualified technicians. But on returning home it's not always possible to find a job which corresponds to the training received. As the official governmental sector does not offer adequate employment, many of these technicians have grouped together and are trying to get things moving at NGO level in areas not reached by government operations. This is where we come in. We can see knowledgeable and skilled people all over the place, but the handicap is that the neighbour - in the next village or the next country - does not know how to contact that man or woman who masters just the technology they need.

 

Without European advice

gate: Can you give us an example of how this know-how exchange functions in practice?

Kiessling: The neem tree has become widely disseminated in recent years. The neem crop has an age-old tradition, and its seeds provide oil. In Senegal, village smithies and the subsequent women users of oil press came together for a working meeting in order to design, build and test a simple but well-functioning small village-level oil press.

In a permanent dialogue between smithies who are to build the presses, the technicians working in a relatively well equipped workshop assisted by development aid, the users of the oil presses and extension agents, an oil press was developed in just over one week which is accepted by the women users and feasible for the smithies to make. Smiths from Gambia were invited to the meeting and drew the participants' attention to quite new aspects of neem processing. They asked why a country like Senegal, which is a forerunner in many technologies, still uses an open fireplace to heat the neem seeds before obtaining the oil. Didn't we all know that open fireplaces require high wood consumption, wasted energy and were dangerous to children? So many improved fireplace models are available nowadays. The Gambian blacksmiths then built models of these improved ground-level cookers as a leaving present for their hosts. The cooker had an incredible impact and Senegalese smithies have in the meantime produced hundreds of them, which the women use not only to process neem seeds but also for other cooking needs.

 

This is what I call AT exchange in practice, amongst the individuals affected by the technology. It is a prime example of how it can work with a low input, without any European advice, using very little money, just by users and interested parties getting together to exchange their knowledge.

gate: What role does SIATA play in this context?

Kiessling: SIATA's aim is to enable this type of exchange to take place. A minimum of structures is vital because we have to ensure that information on the work done by one group becomes known to the other group, or is at least collected somewhere so that offer and supply can get together. The SIATA office is a type of handling station; the action is taken by the member NGOs. The information network stands or falls with their commitment.

 

Each family feels the crisis

gate: What influence did the crisis triggered off by the devaluation of the franc in January 1994, have on SIATA and its member organisations?

Kiessling: In general, crises are nothing new to Africa. They are a permanent state of affairs. Hardly any other peoples in this world are better able to manage crises than Africans. In Africa AT has to be used on a permanent basis just in order to survive. For every country in this economic zone of Western and Central Africa the devaluation of the CFA meant that all imported goods and services at least doubled in price. A further factor, of course, is that traders also speculate with this crisis. They want to obtain higher profits, meaning that the price of some commodities rises by even 300%. Things get back to normal over the course of time, of course, but each family first feels the pinch.

 

Herbal tea instead of instant coffee

Many better-off Senegalese families, for example, drank Ricorée, a French instant coffee, at breakfast-time. This imported coffee costs about DM 1.50 per breakfast and suddenly they had to pay DM 3 or 4.1 personally know families who said we are not going to drink this anymore, we'll go back to drinking what our parents drank at breakfast. And suddenly products appear on the urban market which were previously only available in rural regions, for example a herbal tea made from the leaves of a savannah bush (quinqueliba) which has replaced the expensive instant coffee on many urban breakfast tables. This indigenous herbal tea is a stimulant, anti-perspirant and purifier and is very beneficial to health. And suddenly, the women who collect the leaves in the bush and sell them on the roadside also have an opportunity to earn a few extra pennies.

gate: Does this mean that the crisis brings more benefits than disadvantages to rural people?

Kiessling: Rural people also suffer under the crisis, when, for example, imported drugs suddenly cost 200300% more. Non-locally produced products also become unaffordable. Spare parts for an imported mill installed in a village by an aid organization also double in price, for instance.

 

A chance for local NGOs

gate: Has the crisis impacted differently in the countries of West and Central Africa, for example in Cameroon or Senegal?

Kiessling: The initial reactions were similar. Inflation came in to join an already existing economic crisis and also a political crisis, although the type of crisis differed in each country. Senegal had already begun to husband its economy more closely than Cameroon which had been profiting from an oil boom in recent years and was able to spend more. Although Cameroon's budget was more stable than Senegal's, its drop into the crisis was all the more steep. On the other hand, Cameroon was better able to exchange resources internally, thanks to its varied climate and cropping zones which reflect the entire variety found on the African continent. In its search for new sources of income Cameroon has reactivated old claims to a peninsula where oil has been located, but which in the meantime belongs to Nigeria. A military conflict may well be in the offing.

gate: What does the crisis means for NGOs' work in West and Central Africa?

Kiessling: We differentiate between village NGOs and the back-up consultant NGOs. The consultant NGOs are increasingly being asked to address technical problems (e.g. ways of working without imported machines, information on technologies feasible at village level). Up to now, simple, local technologies have always had to compete with imported technology, which is still considered more attractive but is no longer affordable. This is the opportunity for local NGOs who are committed to disseminating AT!

 

 

The CFA Franc Zone

Since 1948, long before French colonial countries attained independence, the currency of these future states was attached to the French Franc by a fixed rate of exchange. The then French colonial Franc - Franc des Colonies Françaises d'Afrique (FCFA) - became the Franc de la Communauté Financière d'Afrique (FCFA). This subtile change in the name for the currency of French-speaking African countries which took place when the countries gained sovereignty did not bring any great change. The CFA Franc has since remained the common currency of 14 countries of Western and Central Africa. The fixed rate of exchange of 50 Francs CFA for one French Franc which is accorded by France still gives it the status of a hard foreign currency authorising its convertibility practically everywhere. The devaluation in January 1994 brought the rate of exchange to 100 Francs CFA for 1 French Franc.

But the CFA Franc zone had what could be called two currencies in the same monetary union: the Franc CFA of Western African and that of Central African countries. Two central banks the Banque Centrale des Etats d'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO) and the Banque des Etats d'Afrique Centrale (BEAC) - have been set up and charged with providing the common currency to the whole zone.

The BCEAO issues the Franc CFA for the member countries of the West African Monetary Union - Union Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UMOA), which consists of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

Shortly after the recent devaluation of the CFA Franc, the UMOA was expanded to become the Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (West African Economic and Monetary Union - WEAMU), whose aim is to promote economic integration in the countries of West A*ica by harmonising customs regulations.

BEAC consists of Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Chad.

Pascal Sambou

 

Résumé

Dans le cadre du service d'information SIATA créé en 1993, le GATE/ISAT coopére avec 19 ONG en Afrique francophone en vue de promouvoir l'échange de technologies appropriées (TA) dans la pratique. Depuis le début de cette année, la demande de TA a augmenté dans les pays de la Communauté du Franc CFA, les produits importés étant devenus impayables depuis la dévaluation de ce dernier. Rudolf Kiessling, spécialiste des méthodes de transformation des produits agricoles et compétent pour les pays d'Afrique occidentale et centrale au sein du GATE parle dans cet interview des partenaires du GATE dans cette région, des effets de la crise sur la population locale et sur le travail des ONG.

Extracto

En el marco de la red de información SIATA, fundada en 1993, GATE/ ISAT coopera con 19 ONG en el Ãfrica francófona con el fin de promover el intercambio de tecnologías apropiadas a la práctica. Desde comienzos de este año ha crecido la demanda de este tipo de tecnologías en los paises con franco CFA, ya que la devaluación de esta moneda ha hecho que los productos importados se vuelvan inasequibles. Rudolf Kiessling, especialista en métodos de transformación de productos agrícolas y encargado de la región de Ãfrica occidental y central en GATE, informa en esta entrevista acerca de las entidades que cooperan con GATE en esta región, las repercusiones de la crisis sobre la población local y el trabajo con las ONG.