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close this bookBlending of New and Traditional Technologies - Case Studies (ILO - WEP, 1984, 312 p.)
View the documentChapter 1. Blending of new technologies with traditional economic activity*
View the documentChapter 2. Experience of the Green Revolution*

Chapter 1. Blending of new technologies with traditional economic activity*

* Contributed by the ILO

APPLIED TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS which greatly influence the social and economic scene are, of course, not new. What is new is the accelerated rhythm of scientific breakthroughs and their commercialisation that have been occurring in specific fields of technology. These technologies, products of very recent research and development, are being introduced at an ever-increasing pace and have the potential for drastically altering prevailing social and economic conditions. While making no attempt to present a definitive catalogue of such newly emerging technologies, several of the more momentous examples, namely, microelectronics and information sciences, biotechnology, new materials, photovoltaics and remote sensing, are discussed below in section I. The objective is not to present a comprehensive exposition of these novel products of modern science but to provide an appreciation for what they entail, and to give an insight into the rapid tempo of scientific accomplishments and commercial utilisation of such technologies. Their remarkable potential for vastly more extensive applications, particularly in traditional activities, is also discussed. Sections II and III describe the main features of new and traditional technologies, respectively, while Section IV discusses the blending of newly emerging and traditional technologies. The final section briefly introduces case studies included in Part II of the volume.


Microelectronics and Information Sciences

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of applications involving information storage, transmission and manipulation owing primarily to dramatic advances in computer hardware such as a pronounced miniaturisation, improved reliability, enhanced capacity, increased speed of operation and cost reductions. A growing supply of specialised software and technicians has supported the thrust of microelectronics and information sciences which is well advanced into the application stage.

Table 1.1. Comparison of the characteristics of a 1955 computer and a 1978 calculator


A 1955 computer
(IBM 650)

A 1978 calculator


Vacuum tubes

Transistor equivalents

Power (KVA)



Volume (cu.ft.)



Weight (lbs)



Air conditioning (tons)

5 to 10


Memory capacity (bits)





100 000


Execution time (milliseconds)







Price (current dollars)

200 000


Source: Texas Instruments Inc. Shareholders’ meeting report, 1978, cited in J. Rada: The impact of micro-electronics: A tentative appraisal of information technology, ILO, Geneva, 1980, p.11.

The invention of the transistor in late 1947 was followed by the development of the integrated circuit. Technical improvement led to “large-scale integrated circuits” in the late 1950s and only recently to “very large-scale integrated circuits”. Another milestone was the first microprocessor developed by INTEL Corporation in 1971. An idea of the speed of technological progress can be obtained from Table 1.1 comparing a 1955 computer with a 1978 calculator.

The spreading range of uses and increasing penetration within individual applications are no less impressive than the technological aspect of the microelectronics revolution. Table 1.2 illustrates the versatility of the microprocessor.

By all indications the microelectronics revolution is far from losing its momentum. For example, programmable robots, for which the microprocessor is basic, numbered about 30,000 in 1981 but are expected to quadruple by 1985 and double every three years from 1986 to the early 1990s.1 As an outgrowth of computer-assisted manufacturing, systems have been developed that can produce a variety of components instead of specialising in only one. There are 100 to 150 such plants in operation today. These “flexible production systems” can enhance machine utilisation and cut labour requirements by 30 per cent, unit costs by 10 per cent and lead time by 40 per cent. It is predicted that these plants will be much more common before the end of the decade.2

Microchip prices are likely to continue their downward trend due to greater circuit integration, larger economies of scale in production and learning curve cost reductions.3 In the meantime, researchers are well on their way to developing an optical computer relying on light signals instead of electronic ones which, among other advantages, will increase computer speed dramatically.4 The world’s first commercially available artificial intelligence system is scheduled for marketing in early 1984.5

Table 1.2. Microprocessor applications by sector




Consumer goods

Household domestic appliances

Washing machines
Sewing machines
Safe electronic irons
Smoke detectors
Vacuum cleaners
Hair dryers
Telephone answering and call analysis systems
Door locks and bells

Entertainment products

Television sets
Video games
Video recorders
Hi-fi equipment
Micro composers
Responsive dolls
Hand-held arcade games
Programmed intellectual home computer games

Personal products

Electronic notebooks
Electronic speaking dictionary


Dashboard displays
Engine control:

- ignition
- exhaust

Collision avoidance
Braking systems
Home tuning systems
Out of phase silencers
Fuel metering
Voltage regulator

Computers and peripherals

Memory equipment

Magnetic disc/drum control
Semiconductor memories

Input/ Output equipment

Keypunch systems
“Intelligent” terminals
Point-of-sale terminals
Optical character readers
Electronic funds transfer

Data transmission equipment

“Front-end” processors


Exchange equipment

Public and private telephone exchanges

Transmission equipment

Multiplex transmission
Telex switching systems

Subscriber equipment

Viewdata terminals

Office equipment

Data processing

Accounting machines
Visible record computers

Word processing

Word processors
Audio typing units

Audio equipment

Telephone answering machines
Telephone switching systems
Dictation systems

Information transmission

Electronic mail transmission

Retail products


Cash registers
Point-of-sale terminals
Hand-held terminals
Stock control systems
Material handling systems
Weighing and measuring machines

Banking and insurance

Cash dispensers
Electronic tellers
Billing and accounting systems
Telephone voice-operated transacting equipment (see office and computer sectors)

Test, measuring and analytical instruments

Test/ analytycal instruments

Waveform representation machines
Fracture investigation

High and low frequency fatigue cycling equipment
Tensile and compression tests
Photo-electric measuring devices
Spectrum analyser

Test, measuring and analytical instruments

Medical equipment

X-ray scanners
Ultrasound scanners
Sample analysers
Electro-oculography tests
Cardiac Arrhythmias
Isotope emission
Tomographic scanner
Cardiac output monitor
Portable EKG computer
Vestibular function tester
Regional blood flow monitor
Pulmonary function tester
Microwave radiometer
Audio testing aids

Automatic test equipment

Microcircuit testers

Nuclear equipment

Supervision of nuclear reactors

Industrial control

Sequence control

Batch processing control

- petrochemicals
- bulk solids

Machine control

- machine tools
- welding machines
- electroplating
- textile machines
- materials handling
- high volume manufacturing systems

- mail handling equipment

Supervisory control systems and administration

Process Plant
Performance achievement monitor
Labour scheduling

Production planning
Stock control and recording
Quality control
Payroll information
Transport systems
Energy utility networks
Electronic thermostats
Voltage regulators
Heating and airconditioning control
Pump and compressor silencers

Industrial control

Monitoring and data recording systems

Plant monitoring
Civil engineering
Radiation monitoring


Computer-aided design
Computer graphics

Military, aerospace and marine

Data processing

Air traffic control systems
Radar systems
Navigation systems
Battlefield information computers
Digital cryptography codin devices
Submersible acoustic navigation

Bomb disposal

Electronic stethoscopes
Explosive detectors


Remote-control weapon systems
Precision guided weapons


Direct dial portable radios
Marine communications


Computer-aided design
Computer graphics

Transportation systems

Traffic control

Car park ticket machine
Traffic flow regulator


Petrol pump control

Diagnostic systems
Wheel balancing


Computerised reservations
Automobile registration
Fare collection equipment


Cultivation and harvesting

Potato planter
Operatorless tractors

Livestock monitoring

Feed regulators
Dairy recorders

Remote sensing

Weather forecasting
Pest control

Mining and extractive industries


Smoke detection
Environment control


Remote-control coal drilling equipment

Mineral detection

Satellite sensors undersea inspection vehicles

Source: Kurt Hoffman and Howard Rush: Microelectronics and clothing: the impact of technical change on a global industry. Study for the ILO, Geneva. 1983, (unpublished).

Output of opto-electronic devices used as telephone network switches is forecast to grow at the rate of 8 to 10 per cent during the 1980s. It is anticipated that opto-electronic advances will open the way for wide-band networks for rapid transmission of moving images and data. Some projections for other product developments include giant flat television screens and televised mail-order shopping (1984), video phones and individual electronic medical instruments (1985), generalisation of teaching via telecommunications devices (1986), digital televisions and speech recognition devices (1987) and automatic translation of conversations in foreign languages and electronic motorways (1990).6

Possibilities for blending microelectronics with traditional sectors in developing countries include food storage and moisture control, sprinkler control for irrigation, computer prediction of optimum planting dates, sorting and grading of agricultural produce, and quality control for small manufacturers. The field use of microcomputers in the poorest areas of developing countries - often called the “barefoot chip” approach - has been suggested for medical diagnosis and land use analysis for small farms. Two-person rural banks (manager and operator) tied in to central auditing and accounting facilities has also been suggested. Chapters 3 to 10 provide examples of operational blending of microelectronics.

These are merely a few selected items illustrating the ongoing research, product development and dissemination that characterise the microelectronics revolution. This impressive dynamism looks certain to be sustained until at least the end of this decade.


Unlike most of the other “high” technologies, biotechnology has a history stretching back thousands of years. Defined in the Spinks Report (1980) as “the application of biological organisms, systems or processes to manufacturing or service industries”, biotechnology’s pedigree is as old as the art of baking leavened bread or of brewing. But, while the Sumerians and the Babylonians made beer by fermenting barley as long ago as 6,000 BC, biotechnology has been given a massive boost by the development of new technologies such as genetic engineering, immobilised enzyme systems, cell fusion, monoclonal antibodies, plant cell culture, single cell protein fermentation, and sterile engineering.

As Chapter 11 makes clear, microbial technology is already useful for augmenting mineral recovery from mines, a use for which a larger scope remains. Biotechnology can also be used in petroleum extraction. Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union have had success in the release of highly viscous oil by means of bacterial injection, and field trials have also been conducted successfully in the United States.7 Bacterial fermentation of chemicals in the well, substituting for chemical injections, are already in use. The plugging of porous “thief zones” through bacterially produced slimes are being studied and are likely to be used successfully in the near future.8

In the field of health, collaboration of parasitologists, immunologists, chemists and molecular biologists has resulted in significant progress in the biotechnological production of malaria vaccines.9 Vaccines for hepatitis, trypanosomiasis and foot-and-mouth disease are, among others, being explored. Insulin from isolated genes cloned in the microorganism, Escherichia coli, is being made in quantity and is undergoing clinical trials.10 Other hormones, enzymes, non-enzyme proteins, antibiotics and vitamins are the subject of research to determine the potential for commercial production through biotechnological methods.

The agricultural sector stands to gain through improved strains for biological nitrogen fixation,11 production of fertiliser from improved biomass processes,12 improved plant breeding through cloning and tissue culture technology, (see Chapters 12 and 13) and novel biological pesticides using genetic engineering.13 Single cell protein as a high-grade supplement to animal feed is already a reality. Similar steps are being investigated for biotechnological improvement in the quantity and quality of livestock, especially in the area of reproductive biology. In food-processing, field work is underway for using genetic engineering to produce food from inedible waste and in the production of cheaper enzymes and glucoses used in food-processing.14

As to world energy needs, in addition to a higher rate of recovery from oil wells mentioned above, biotechnology can improve the biomass production of biogas and fuel-grade ethanol. Similarly biotechnology can contribute to a better environment through engineering of more efficient microbial decomposition of wastes, detoxifying industrial wastes15 and cleaning of drains and pipes.

Table 1.3. Value of applied genetics and new biotechnologies in various markets

Marker sector




Average annual increase

(In US$ million)






















Plant agriculture





Animal agriculture





Processing foods (incl. alcholic drinks, sweeteners. bread, dairy, etc)





Miscellaneous applications (mining, waste, treatment, etc.)










Source: John Elkington, Biotechnology and employment: The integration of an emerging technology with traditional economic activities, Report for the ILO. Geneva, 1983 (unpublished). This report cites information from Business Communications Company, Stamford, Connecticut. United States.

Many of these applications, it should be noted, are perfectly compatible with our concept of blending new and old technologies. Biotechnological upgrading of malaria and other vaccines, single cell protein for livestock feed, development of acid resistant crops, new fermentation processes for waste disposal, genetically engineered pest resistant plants, and cheaper and more nutritious food through tissue culture technology, are a few of the possibilities for upgrading economic activity in traditional sectors through application of frontier technologies. Chapters 11 to 14 further illustrate the scope for integration in the biotechnology field.

Biotechnology, already the basis for a large amount of production is scheduled for much bigger and more promising applications in the future. Calculating that the 1981 market value of all the products of applied genetics and of the new biotechnologies was of the order of US$60 million, in 1982, Business Communications Co. (BCC) of Stamford, Connecticut, estimated that their overall contribution to the drug, chemicals, agricultural, processed food and waste treatment markets will increase more than 200-fold by 1990. The “realistic and conservative” forecast of BCC suggests that the market will be worth about US$13,000 million by the end of the decade, representing an average annual growth rate of nearly 83 per cent. The market values predicted by BCC are shown in table 3.

Another projection by Genex Corporation looked at 500 products in 1980 and speculated that the application of recombinant DNA technology could result in sales of US$40,000 million by the year 2000.16 Other forecasts are presented in Tables 1.4 and 1.5.

Prognostications, of course, are not reality and viewed retrospectively often turn out to be excessively optimistic. Therefore, since the emerging technology components of biotechnology are only beginning to be commercially implemented, one cannot say with certainty whether a biotechnological revolution comparable to the microelectronics revolution is in the offing.

New Materials

Turning to yet another emerging technology, entire new families of material inputs are being created by engineering technologies, inorganic chemistry and other supporting disciplines.

Fibre reinforced composites are new fibres (e.g. carbon or boron) that are imbedded in a resin matrix resulting in extremely favourable strength and elasticity per unit of weight. Carbon fibres are used in aircraft, automobiles and sports equipment. Anticipated uses include offshore drill pipes, centrifuges for uranium enrichment, television antennas, X-ray tables and robotics. Basalt fibres are used for reinforcement of concrete and for insulation mats and sheets. Boron and aromatic polyamide reinforced composites have also found commercial uses. In addition short-metal fibres, a result of fibre reinforcing metals, have proven resistant to electromagnetic interference, and are currently undergoing developmental research.

Table 1.4 Biotechnology market forecasts

Commercial area

Estimated market

Time scale

1 Pharmaceuticals

(a) Diagnostics

US$2000 million including non-radioactive kits and monoclonal RIA kits

Already on the market. Could reach full potential by 1990. Best short-term return

(b) Drugs

US$8000 million by early 1990s, increasing thereafter according to new developments

Only one product (Humulin) on the market to date. Up-front costs and regulatory delays make this a vast but long-term field

(c) Veterinary

US$2000 million by 1990

Good short-term potential due to less stringent regulations. Market growth depends on farming economics

2 Agriculture

Impossible to quantify

Attractive medium-term area with worldwide potential once scientific problems overcome

3 Waste processing/ pollution control

Biotech applications could reach US$2,000 million by 1990. Increased environmental concern would help

Already in use in some areas. Medium/long-term view

4 Biotechnology Equipment and Supplies

Currently estimated at about US$200 million per year: growth very rapid

A good short-term “backdoor” method of gaining profits from biotechnology

5 Food and Drink

Impossible to quantify

Human food likely to encounter consumer resistance.
Fair medium-term potential for animal feedstuffs

6 Minerals/Oils

Has been estimated at US$4,500 million by end of century

Interesting but speculative area, dependent on economics of mineral and oil extraction

7 Industrial Chemicals

(a) Enzymes

Uncertain. Dependent on economics of alternative non-biotech methods of enzyme production

Long-term view necessary

(b) Amino acids

US$3,600 million by 1990

Most promising area for biotechnology in the chemical industry

(c) Plastics


Unlikely to become economically viable before end of the century

(d) Bulk chemicals


Outlook depends on long-term oil price prospects. Could become attractive by end of century

Source: John Elkington. Biotechnology and employment, op. cit. This report cited Sherif Hambdi, Biotechnology for investors (Laing and Cruickshank report. London. September, 1983, slightly modified).

Table 1.5. Market predictions engineering procedures for implementation in production of genetic

Product category

Number of compounds

Current market value in US$ million

Selected compound or use

Time needed to implement genetic production (years)

Amino acids










Vitamin C


Vitamin E







Steroid hormones





Peptide hormones



Human growth





Viral antigens



Foot-and-mouth disease virus


Influenza viruses


Short peptides





Miscellaneous proteins















Microbial aromatics







Aliphatics (other than methane)





Ethylene glycol




















Mineral leaching







Removal of organic phosphates

n.a. Not Available.

* Number indicates classes of compounds rather than number of compounds.

Source: United States Congress, Office of Technology Assessment and Genex Corporation in Industry Week, Cleveland, September 7,1981, as cited in Alan T. Bull, Geoffrey Holt and Malcolm D. Lilly: Biotechnology: International trends and perspectives, OECD, Paris, 1982.

Powder metallurgy is undergoing a revival partly due to new technological advances. Of particular note are the recently developed rapid solidification techniques. Improved mechanical properties of aluminium, nickel and steel alloys have resulted. Another development is “shape memory” alloys which recover their shape with a temperature change. Work is underway to improve these materials and reduce their costs. Although high-strength low-alloy steel is associated with conventional technology a new process has produced a dual phase steel which matches the strength of conventional high-strength low-alloy steel and is easier to shape and form.

In the area of ceramics a class of new materials known as “fine ceramics” has been developed as metal substitutes. The potential use of fine ceramics in ceramic turbines and ceramic components for engines has been well publicised. Less well explored are possible uses in electrical and optical applications.17

Fibre optical technology illustrates how fast new materials can be developed. The commercial use of fibre optical telecommunications is not a decade old, yet three generations of technology can be identified, the latest being the “single-mode” fibres.18 Another new material, in the research and experimental stages, is “macro-defect-free” cement which is characterised by decreased porosity and consequently, is far more resilient than ordinary cement. Westinghouse Research Laboratories and the Tokyo Institute of Technology are also conducting research on less porous glass which increases transparency.19

Table 1.6 summarises some recent advances in materials technology.

Although many of the advances in new materials occur in developed countries a ready market for their application can be found in developing countries. Their utilisation would result in changes in the pattern of trade in materials. In addition, as Chapter 17 demonstrates, developing countries can produce their own new materials. This could be, for instance, in the area of composites using materials easily available in these countries.

Since many developing countries have only recently embarked on major industrial programmes, the adoption of new materials does not appreciably affect their existing industrial structures. Many of these materials have technical and economic advantages. A selective approach should be adopted in the production and choice of new materials from the wide range available. Criteria could include possibilities of import substitution, export promotion, reduction in the cost of imported materials, energy requirements for local production, local conditions for material use and the skills required for manufacture, maintenance and repair.

Table 1.6. Some recent advances in materials technology


Technology of production



High-strength, low alloy steel

Improvements in the understanding of alloying elements, microstructures of steel, mechanical properties and production processes

High-strength ductility, formability and weldability

In car industry, ship building, bridges, prefabricated buildings and pipe lines

Powder metallurgy

Rapid solidification technique

Improved mechanical properties of alloys based on aluminium nickel and steel

In car industry, ship building, bridges, prefabricated buildings and pipe lines

Shape memory alloys

“Remember” or recover their shape with a change in temperature

Heat applications

Fine ceramics (from alumina)

Improved technology of production to eliminate cracks and air bubbles

Organic materials with properties of metals

Machine tools production, in motor vehicles engines, gas turbines, the aerospace industry and the electronics industry, electrical and optical appliances

Polyester or plastic materials

Improvements in process technology, mixing plastics with organic (agricultural waste, rubber, etc.) and inorganic (slag, perlite and quartz)

Polymers with organic fillers are lighter, do not give rise to a brittle product as polymers with inorganic fillers

Wide variety of use

Fibre reinforced composites

(a) Glass fibre reinforced plastic

Gas fibres used as reinforcement

Improved mechanical properties

Used in boat hulls, car body, appliances, storage tanks, and sports equipment

(b) Aramid fibre reinforcement composite

Aromatic polyamide used as reinforcement

Improved mechanical properties

Used in aircraft and marine applications

(c) Basalt fibres

Producted by drawing from a melt of rock raw material

Good insulator

Used for reinforcement of concrete, in manufacture of line pipes and insulation

(d) Carbon fibres

Produced by pyrolysis of an organic fibre

High strength and modulus of elasticity

In aircraft automobiles and sports equipment

(e) Short metal fibres

Produced from all machinable metals

Shielding to prevent electromagnetic interference, brake pads

(f) Natural fibres

From materials such as sisal, bamboo, elephant grass

Increased mechanical (flexural, impact and tensile strength of composites)

Reinforcement for structural materials

Macro-defect free cement (MDF)

Reduction of the size of pores by kneading and grading of cement grains by polymers

High mechanical (flexural and tensile) strength

Properties of ceramics, except heat resistance, is low

Source: Drawn from material in (a) E. Epremian: Some significant advances in materials technology, paper presented at UNIDO panel of experts meeting on Technical Advances and Development, Moscow, November-December. 1982; and (b) J. D. Burcell and A. Kelly: “New organic materials”, in Scientific American, New York. May 1983; and other sources.

Some developing countries are now setting up metal production industries. These countries should take into account the new product types which would have a ready market. Thus, in iron and steel production, high-strength low alloy steels - a new element in the world steel market - must be considered in the setting up of iron and steel industries in developing countries.

The development of inexpensive substitutes for metal means that equipment can be locally produced at lower costs thus making it affordable by the rural peasants. To date the high cost of imported materials (mainly metal) has been a major setback in the local equipment manufacturing industries in many developing countries.


Photovoltaic cells, resulting from research in the 1950s by Bell Laboratories, have an enormous potential scope for application, since a cell converts sunlight directly into electricity. As they have no moving parts, the cells require little maintenance and have a long productive life. Silicon, the most widely-used conversion material can be found in abundance and photovoltaic power production is pollution free. Furthermore, there is a rapid decline in the costs of photovoltaic power.

The market has responded to the declining costs and approximately 60 companies in 20 countries are producing photovoltaic cells.20 Thus far, applications centre on remote-site communication, remote military installations and, more recently, in remote-site locations and satellite communications. Chapters 18 and 19 demonstrate that photovoltaics are potentially useful for powering irrigation pumps and other rural production in developing countries. As costs fall, the market grows as shown in Table 1.7 below.

Table 1.7 Estimated world-wide sales of photovoltaic modules, 1970-1981

Generating capacity

(US$ pW)

Total value in current dollars


< 1,000



























Source: Calculated by Kurt Hoffman, Renewable energy technology: Issues in the transfer, application and development of technology in developing countries, UNCTAD, Geneva, 20 August, 1982.

The future of photovoltaic power rather obviously hinges on the future trends of continued reductions in kilowatt costs. The market potential does exist. One study calculates as much as 20,000 megawatt demand for unelectrified villages in the world, and this of course would be only one type of potential use.21 Thus far, the target set by the United States Department of Energy has not been met (see Figure 1.1); nonetheless a healthy downward trend has been maintained. European Economic Community targets of US$2.00 per watt by 1990 are considerably less ambitious than the US$0.40 target by the United States Department of Energy, yet an enormous jump in photovoltaic production and application will occur if the US$2.00 cost is achieved (see Chapters 18 and 19).

Cost trends will depend on the improvement of conversion efficiency of the cell itself as well as lowering costs of the equipment and supporting materials of the solar module, e.g. battery storage, materials in which the cell is set and supported, electrical wiring and control devices. Also installation costs figure in the overall efficiency. Cell conversion efficiency is largely dependent on basic and developmental science for enhanced cell conversion while engineering and production technology loom large for most other cost reductions.

Figure 1.1. Market prices and price goals for photovoltaic modules, 1978-1990

Source: Christopher Flavin: Electricity from sunlight: the future of photovoltaics, Watchworld Institute, Washington, DC, 1982.

Satellite remote sensing

Although earth observations from space started in 1965, when photographs taken during American and Soviet manned space missions were used for meteorological purposes, it was only in 1972 when the first earth resources observation satellite (ERTS-1 later renamed LANDSAT-1) was launched by the United States. Since then, the potential usefulness of satellite observation data for civilian investigations has been extensively tested.

Several characteristics of satellite data make them invaluable for resource inventory and analysis. First, their worldwide nature ensures that data are obtainable for essentially all habitable land surfaces. Second, since satellites orbit the earth continuously, repetitive images can provide information for analysis of various dynamic features. Third, the synoptic view that it provides (a single scene covers 34,000 km2) enables examination of wide features of regional patterns. Fourth, data are obtained in a number of spectral bands through the same optical system and features not identifiable in one band can appear in another band or in a combination of bands. Fifth, since data are available in digital form, computer processing and analysis can be performed. In addition, satellite data are readily available, inexpensive and easily usable.

Applications of remote-sensing techniques are summarised in Table 1.8.

The characteristics and potential of remote-sensing techniques have made them attractive to decision-makers. A number of countries now possess ground stations for receiving data from the remote-sensing satellites. There is no doubt that this technique can serve as a valuable development tool for resource assessment and development planning (see Chapter 15).


Several characteristic features of emerging technologies are now briefly discussed below.

First, by and large, these technologies are heavily dependent on scientific research and development.22 They involve capital-intensive production and growing market concentration. The enormous expenditures required by new technologies on research, development and product commercialisation are generally beyond the financial capabilities of Third World countries.

Second, apart from purely financial requisites, frontier technologies place greater demands on human capital. With the emergence of these technologies the absolute and relative demands for scientists and technicians - very scarce inputs in the developing countries - increase. Furthermore, the mere aggregation of scientific manpower involved masks the diversity of specialists required to interact among themselves. One can argue that the scientific and technological capacity to create and exploit new technologies necessitates the ability to accommodate complete systems for which the basic ingredients of financial, physical and human capital need to be supplemented by the more subtle and intricate ability of integrating them into a meaningful whole.23

Thus, the third characteristic of new technologies is that they are not compartmentalised: instead, they interact powerfully. The use of computerised calculations and information sciences is so crucial to biological research, for example, that Hedhas suggested that the term “bio-informatics” is appropriate for such activities.24 Microelectronics applications in the fields of communications are being influenced significantly by new materials for fibre optics, light-emitting diodes, liquid crystals and special garnets for computer memories.25 Work is also underway on a biotechnological computer in which signals will be relayed at very high speed via specially programmed microorganisms.

Table 1.8 Some applications of remote-sensing techniques




Crop identification
Crop acreage determination
Crop condition assessment
Yield forecast and estimation


Inventory of land under forest coverage
Monitoring forest changes
Determining location and extent of deforestation activities
Investigating forest destruction by natural phenomena or fires

Water resources

Identification, evaluation and monitoring of water resources
Mapping of floods and water course or body charges for updating maps
Investigation of water resources for irrigation and hydro-power supply


Geologic mapping
Geology resource exploration
Study of altered or transient geological features


Complementing data from demographic surveys
Determination of areas of urban and rural settlements

Fourth, newly emerging technologies tend to be concentrated in and controlled by big conglomerates and corporations. For example, oil companies control over 75 per cent of photovoltaic production in the United States.26 Semi-conductor firms have been the objects of acquisition by conglomerates and cannibalisation by other acquiring firms in the same industry.27 It is common for undercapitalised biotechnology firms to be absorbed by conglomerates. Even a traditional source of non-proprietary technology is being reduced as university research establishments either form joint ventures with private biotechnology firms or become increasingly prone to patent their discoveries in order to recover sunk research costs.28 There is another aspect of concentration that deserves mention. The enormous array of discoveries, refinements and applications resulting from the current technological revolution mean that the newly emerging technologies are information-intensive. Information is an important ingredient in the productive process: it is indeed an economic input of considerable value.

Fifth, the new technologies can be beneficial as well as harmful to mankind, depending on how they are utilised.29 They are contributing to the development of more deadly weapons, but the dangers go beyond that. The threats of microelectronics invasion of privacy and the unleashing of genetically-engineered plague, either accidentally or by terrorist design, serve as disturbing illustrations of the point.

Another harmful effect, on which there is considerable controversy, is the impact of new technologies on employment. Although it is too early to determine the precise effects of newly emerging technologies on employment, there is evidence to indicate that microelectronics applications have drastically reduced labour requirements in the printing industry, colour television production, telecommunications manufacturing and cash register manufacturing.30 A French investigation predicted that computerisation in France will create several tens of thousands of jobs in services but will eliminate 200,000 jobs by 1985.31A study by Barron and Curnow forecast a level of unemployment in the United Kingdom of 16 per cent of the labour force by 1990 partly due to labour displacement by microelectronics: an estimate more optimistic than that of Jenkins and Sherman who predict 25 per cent unemployment by that date.32 However, all forecasts are not pessimistic. In 1978, the German Institute for Systems Engineering and Innovation Research asserted that microelectronics had a negligible impact on employment and would continue to play a minor role in this regard.33

The net effect of new technologies on employment really depends on the assumptions one makes about growth of output and productivity in the coming years. Many pessimistic predictions have not been fulfilled partly due to economic recession and prolonged sluggishness in demand for goods and services. Furthermore, through the creation of new products and services the new technologies also generate additional demand for labour. For example, total employment in the United States computer-equipment industry itself more than doubled (representing an increase of about 200,000 jobs) from 1972 to 1980 despite increases in labour productivity.34 Most of the research studies on employment effects of new innovations do not consider their possible stimulating effects on investment and consequent improvement at the macroeconomic level. Finally, for emerging technologies like biotechnology, new materials and solar technology, there is no a priori reason to suspect a net deleterious effect on employment.

Sixth, frontier technologies will certainly change the composition of the workforce. The pattern of demand for occupational qualifications is being radically altered. The newly emerging technologies are increasing the demand for educated technicians, professionals and highly specialised skilled operators and lowering it for workers in the lower-skill ranges and blue-collar occupations. This poses a real danger for the disadvantaged individuals and groups in society.

Microelectronics is being introduced most rapidly into occupations in which women constitute a majority of the workers, e.g. electronic assembly, textile and clothing manufacturing, and office work. At least one authority on microelectronics believes that food and drink industries, both of which have a high proportion of women workers, are due to be revolutionised by the introduction of flexible manufacturing systems.35 There is thus a strong presumption that income distribution will become more skewed, disadvantaged groups will lose ground in terms of employment and relative earnings and a disproportionate amount of labour force adjustment will fall on female workers. These results need not be so acute if blending of new and traditional technologies is consciously pursued.

Seventh, although this volume is primarily concerned with socioeconomic effects of frontier technologies, it is worth mentioning that frontier technologies are significantly modifying social relationships, attitudes and cultural values. Microelectronics has already affected patterns of leisure, the visual arts and music, and the nature of grand larceny and law enforcement. Biotechnological advances will call for unprecedented moral judgments when, for example, parents can specify in advance the sex of their children. Also there is a financial corollary to all these technologies implying that different patterns of monetary gains, new vested interest groups and altered ideas about the “correct” way of life will have palpable spill-overs into the political arena.


Technologies associated with traditional economic sectors such as small farm agriculture, rural non-farm enterprises, small urban firms and urban informal economic activity, are usually relatively old technologies. In the case of these traditional technologies, improvements tend to occur at a slow evolutionary pace. Production techniques tend to be far removed from the contemporary scientific frontier, and are “based greatly on empirical knowledge, which has been gained through centuries of a struggle for survival and transmitted verbally”.36 Due to its standardisation, traditional technology is, for the most part, a known entity. Although risks and uncertainties may plague traditional production in the forms of unreliable sources of finance, unpredictable weather or unexpected shortages of material inputs, traditional production techniques per se hold few surprises.

Furthermore, compared to modern sectors, traditional economic activity will ordinarily involve less initial investment per enterprise, a lower capital-labour ratio and lower output per worker. Although exceptions should be made for large industrial firms, or sub-processes within large enterprises that employ relatively static technology involving routine functions, most traditional production is performed by small-scale units.

Finally, traditional sectors rely less heavily on external sources of financing, technologies, human skills and abilities, and material inputs than sectors utilising modern production methods. Traditional enterprises have been forced to learn to survive with fewer external resources due to high costs, and non-availability of imported financial and real resources. Also, the restrained pace of technological change within the traditional sector has permitted the development of more compatible training and learning, input markets and supporting infrastructure.

Establishing these norms for traditional technologies/activities, while helpful, does not of course preclude definitional and taxonomical difficulties. For example, technological change takes place at different rates in production processes and sub-processes. Or a particular type of production may be imbued with some, but not all of the characteristics of traditional technology/activity. Some arbitrariness could not be avoided.


The introduction of newly emerging technologies has different impacts. The impact is neutral if it leaves traditional sectors unaffected. On the other hand, disintegration can take place when traditional activity is completely replaced by frontier technologies. Finally, emerging and traditional technologies can coexist in a complementary fashion. It is this latter case that we refer to as “blending”. Of course, blending can encompass a complete spectrum of situations ranging from instances of traditional sectors being only marginally affected by infusions of modern technology to those that cause radical restructuring of traditional production. Regardless of the nature of the blend, as has been pointed out “the desired end result is not simply to affect an integration, but for this to lead to tangible benefits.”37

Our preoccupation with the blending of newly emerging technologies with traditional economic activity rests on several uncomplicated propositions. First, when traditional occupations are utterly swept away by new technology, referred to by Bhalla and James as “disintegration”,38 there is often a considerable social loss that does not enter into the cost calculations of the new enterprise. The value of local knowledge, insights, skills and managerial abilities, as well as physical facilities are rendered partially or wholly obsolete or redundant. If traditional production can be upgraded by a marriage with newly emerging technologies, while still maintaining much of the substance and form of the older methods, gains in efficiency and competitiveness can be achieved while preserving existing human and physical resources.

Furthermore, the introduction of new technologies that blend and interact fruitfully with traditional sectors has better prospects for local improvements, adaptations, experiments and innovation than do self-contained, turn-key technologies that allow narrow scope for local learning and for the development of indigenous capacity. And, although the introduction of new technologies inevitably involves readjustments in work habits and routines, life styles and other socio-economic institutions, technological progress is more likely to be tolerated and accepted through integration rather than disintegration. Finally, considering the severe resource constraints of Third World countries, blending offers an avenue for spreading the benefits of the newly emerging technologies in a more egalitarian and participatory fashion than does the introduction of a necessarily limited number of enclave-like, capital-intensive, large-scale facilities. The spread of frontier technologies to more users in the Third World is then a real and abiding component of the blending strategy.

Having established the rationale for the blending concept,39 the next step is to define the scope of the terms “newly emerging technologies” and “traditional economic activities”. No attempt has been made to agree on a narrow, confined specification for these concepts. Rather, the idea was to establish functional foci of characteristics that permit constructive discussion without becoming involved in “splitting hairs”. Three criteria have been applied to newly emerging technology: (i) these technologies are recent products of frontier or “cutting-edge” research and development; (ii) they appear to have been developed and applied very rapidly compared to recent historical experience; and (iii) they carry the potential of broad application that can bring about substantial alterations in prevailing socio-economic conditions.

Defining “traditional economic activities” has been a tougher proposition. Following the earlier path-breaking work of Bhalla and James,40 traditional economic activity in the Third World includes the agricultural and rural industry sector, the informal urban sector, and small and medium-sized urban enterprises. One can also make a case for including large enterprises in developing countries with past history of relatively slow technological change that characterise, for instance, textile manufacturing and mining. The definition could be arbitrarily extended to include specific tasks performed by standardised methods even though they may be embedded in otherwise modern industries, e.g. clerical work, materials handling, or routine maintenance. Reaching agreement over what distinguishes traditional economic activity in developed economies was by far the most difficult definitional task. As a general guideline small and medium-sized enterprises can be retained, but much more emphasis must be placed on the idea of standardised routine technology that has evolved at a relatively slow pace, since some small and medium-sized industries in advanced countries are quite innovative and some large-scale enterprises employ technology that can only be described as vestigial.41


How can blending be achieved and what forms can it assume? Little indication about this point has been given in the foregoing discussion. Indeed, aside from photovoltaic power, it is far from obvious how traditional economic activities can fit into the picture since most of the actual and potential applications of microelectronics, biotechnology and new materials technology seem to apply to modern sectors. The cases in Part II of this volume, of course, are intended to remedy this void.

In addition to this chapter, however, another introductory chapter has been included. We thought it would be useful to take a retrospective look at an example of blending. Through the experience of the Green Revolution an attempt is made in Chapter 2 to draw instructive lessons from the recent past that can be taken into account in future efforts to integrate emerging and traditional technologies.

Part 2 of the volume encompasses a rich range of blending results. Chapters 3 and 4 bring out the fact that, notwithstanding problems, microcomputers are already being applied successfully in diverse ways that impinge directly or indirectly on traditional sectors. The electronic load-controlled mini-hydroelectric projects described in Chapter 10 have significantly lowered the feasible scale for generating hydroelectric power, and operations in three developing countries are highly successful.

Despite our efforts, only one contribution could be included on the blending of new products from materials science with traditional economic activity. However, as Chapter 17 makes evident, opportunities for integrating new materials into traditional sectors should be seriously explored.

The reader will note that four chapters deal with blending in developed countries. Chapters 6 and 8 on textile production were thought to be useful since cases describe a failing firm in the United Kingdom which was revitalised by the use of microelectronic devices; the development of an efficient loom, one model of which uses a microcomputer, which encourages cottage production (both in Chapter 6) and the modernisation of the highly decentralised, but well integrated textile industry of the Prato (Italy) region (Chapter 8).

A word about the Annex is also in order. Occasionally we also came across short, incomplete “anecdotal” descriptions of blending. Rather than exclude them, they have been included in the Annex to give a better idea of the scope and frequency of blending experiments and projects. Furthermore, it is our hope that the inclusion of these examples will encourage a systematic study of some of these cases by those in a position to gather the needed information. While, by and large, we have retained our criterion of choosing operational situations, a few items, which were particularly interesting, appear in the Annex despite being in a laboratory, testing or feasibility stage.


1. ECE Secretariat: Determinants of the rate of technological innovation and prospective trends in selected areas of technology, Synthesis report, Part I, Seminar on the Assessment of the Impact of Science and Technology on Long-Term Economic Prospects, Rome, 1983.

2. ECE Secretariat, ibid., and ILO: General Report, Metal Trades Committee, Eleventh Session, Geneva, 1983.

3. ILO, General Report, Metal Trades Committee, Eleventh Session, Geneva, 1983.

4. The Economist, London, February 26, 1983.

5. Computer Weekly, New York, April 12, 1983.

6. ECE Secretariat, op.cit.

7. Ananda Chakrabarty: Hydrocarbon microbiology with special reference to tertiary oil recovery from petroleum wells, UNIDO, Vienna, 1982.

8. Vivian Moses: Using microbes to produce oil, British Association for the Advancement of Science, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom, August 22-26, 1983.

9. Signatories, Fifth meeting of the Scientific Working Group on the Immunology of Malaria: “Development of malaria vaccines: Memorandum from a USAID/WHO meeting”, in Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, Vol. 61, No. 1, World Health Organization, Geneva, 1983.

10. Sidney Peska: “The purification and manufacture of human interferons”, in Scientific American, Vol. 249, No. 2, New York, August, 1983, pp. 29-35.

11. John Postgate: Biological nitrogen fixation and the future of world agriculture, British Association for the Advancement of Science, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom, August 24-26, 1983.

12. Ray Wu: Application of genetic engineering for energy and fertiliser production from biomass, UNIDO, Vienna, September, 1982

13. David McConnel: Improved agricultural and food products through genetic engineering and biotechnology, UNIDO, Vienna, September 20, 1982.

14. ECE Secretariat, op.cit.

15. Two “engineered” strains of pseudonomonas have already been shown capable of degrading some classes of chemicals found in oil spills, ECE Secretariat, op.cit.

16. J. Leslie Glick: “The Industrial Impact of the Biological Revolution”, in Technology in Society, Vol. 4, No. 4, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1982.

17. Rustum Roy: “Materials technologies and their potential impact on Third World nations”, in Ernst U. von Weizser, et al, New frontiers in technology application: Integration of emerging and traditional technologies, Tycooly International Publishing Ltd, Dublin, 1983, pp. 111-113.

18. New Scientist, London, March 10, 1983.

19. J.D. Birchall and Anthony Kelly: “New inorganic materials”, in Scientific American, Vol. 2487, No. 5, New York, May, 1983.

20. Christopher Flavin, Electricity from sunlight: The future of photovoltaics, Watchworld Paper No. 52, Watchworld Institute, Washington, DC, 1982.

21. C. Ragsdale and P. Quashie: Market definition study of photovoltaic power for remote villages in developing countries, Research Paper DOE/NASA-0049-80/2, Motorola, Inc., Phoenix, Arizona, October, 1980.

22. Photovoltaics may be an exception. It is likely that further cost reductions in photovoltaic power will depend more on orthodox production technologies which in turn rest largely on the size of the market.

23. For a discussion of the importance of a systems approach see A. S. Bhalla and J. James: “An Approach towards Integration of Emerging and Traditional Technologies”, in Ernst von Weizser, et al., op.cit.

24. Carl-G Hed Bio-informatics, UNIDO, Vienna, September 20, 1982.

25. Edward Epremian: Some significant advances in materials technology, UNIDO, Vienna, 1983.

26. Ravi Chopra and Ward Morehouse: Frontier technologies, developing countries and the United Nations System after Vienna, UNITAR Science and Technology Working Paper Series, No. 12, New York, 1981.

27. See Rada: 1982, op.cit., p. 67; Chopra and Morehouse: op.cit.

28. Licensing of one patent in biotechnology raised a total of US$1.5 million in licensing fees during 1982 for the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University, in New Scientist London, December 16, 1982.

29. Anthony J. Dolman: Resources, regimes, world order, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1981.

30. Colin Norman: Microelectronics at work: Productivity and jobs in the world economy, Watchworld Paper No. 39, Watchworld Institute, Washington, DC, 1983.

31. Cited in Z.P. Zeman: The impacts of computer communications on employment in Canada: An overview of current OECD debates, Institute for Research on Public Policy, Montreal, November, 1979.

32. Iann Barron and Ray Curnow, et al., The future with microelectronics: Forecasting the effects of information technology, Frances Pinter, London, 1979; Clive Jenkins and Barrie Sherman: The collapse of work, Eyre Methven, London, 1979.

33. Cited in Herman Schmidt: “Technological change, employment and occupational qualifications”, Vocational Training Bulletin, European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, Berlin, June, 1983.

34. David Z. Beckler: “The electronic revolution in the workplace”, in OECD Observer, No. 115, Paris, March, 1982.

35. Personal communication with John Bessant.

36. Amilcar O. Herrera: The generation and dissemination of appropriate technologies in developing countries: A methodological approach, World Employment Programme Working Paper WEP 2-22/WP.51, ILO, Geneva, October, 1979.

37. Atul Wad, Michael Radnor and Barbara Collins: “Microelectronic applications for traditional technologies: Possibilities and requirements”, in von Weizser, et al., op.cit.

38. Bhalla and James, op.cit.

39. For some background on the institutional interest and involvement in the blending idea, see the Preface to this volume.

40. Bhalla and James, op.cit.

41. One could conceivably make the case that production in developed countries in the mature phase of the product cycle could be considered traditional in the sense that technology has become routinised or standardised. We opted for a narrower interpretation in the cases for the portfolio.

Chapter 2. Experience of the Green Revolution*

* Prepared by Bart Duff. International Rice Research Institute. Los Ba Philippines.

THE RAPID GROWTH in agricultural output, principally foodgrains, in developing countries of South and Southeast Asia during the past 15 years has been unprecedented. Popularly known as the Green Revolution, this achievement was founded on three factors: (i) the very heavy emphasis placed on foodgrain self-sufficiency by national governments; (ii) the large resource commitment of national governments and international donor agencies to construction of new and the improvement of existing irrigation facilities; and (iii) the development, diffusion and adoption of modern high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat coupled with increased use of inorganic fertilisers. Each factor was in itself not sufficient to foster the output changes which have occurred, but when bundled in a complementary fashion, it provided the conditions for the high growth rates of the recent past.

The agricultural performance for countries in the region is found in the data contained in Table 2.1. Food production weighed heavily in the gains, with the cereal grains fueling a significant portion of total growth. As a whole, average rice yields increased by about 40 per cent from 1960 to 1980 and total production increased by 60 per cent during the same period.1 Modern wheat varieties were estimated to cover 44 per cent of the total wheat area by 1977. and a much higher percentage in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Despite these impressive gains, food supplies just kept ahead of the 55 per cent growth in population during the same period.

Rapid growth in rice and wheat output also produced other desirable effects, which are summarised below:

(a) Net imports of all cereals for the ten developing countries of the Asian region declined from 4.6 million tonnes (1970-72) to 1.9 million tonnes (1979-80);

(b) Agricultural raw materials and export crops such as cotton, jute, sugarcane and coconut showed a boost in production;

(c) With the relatively easy supply of cereals and crops in general, other agricultural subsectors such as fishery, forestry and animal husbandry received greater attention than in the past; and

(d) Reduced agricultural imports, on the one hand, and increased agricultural exports, on the other, led to a much larger contribution to the balance of payments. The net annual balance of agricultural trade for the ten countries listed in Table 1 which stood at US$ 1,900 million in the early 1970s jumped to US$ 8,400 million by the end of the decade.2

Table 2.1 Annual growth rate of agricultural production, food production and cereal production and per capita availability of cereals from domestic sources

Average annual growth rate (percentage)

Agricultural production

Food production

Cereals production

Population growth rate (per cent per annum)

Average per capita availability of cereals from domestic sources tonnes/year































































Sri Lanka














Source: FAO Production Yearbook, Vol. 35, Rome, 1981.


In the ten-year period from 1966 to 1976, over 70 per cent of the wheat area in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, was planted to modern varieties (Figure 2.1). Growth rates have been somewhat less pronounced in other parts of the developing world (see Table 2.2). Diffusion of the improved rice varieties was somewhat slower but, during a comparable period, over 30 per cent of the rice area in selected countries of Asia were sown to these varieties (Figure 2.2). This figure would be higher if China were included. To add perspective to this achievement, one need only contrast it with the spread of hybrid corn varieties in the United States, a process which took nearly twice as long to reach a similar level of acceptance as the modern wheat varieties in India. On a global basis, the acceptance of the modern rice varieties has been less pronounced for rice than for wheat in terms of area, although, as will be shown, the impact in value terms has been equally significant (Table 2.3).

Adoption of the modern varieties has not been uniform across countries or among regions within countries. The contrast of North and South India with East India is very apparent (Figure 2.3). Poor water control in East India severely restricts the use of improved varieties which have diffused rapidly in the irrigated areas of North and South India.

A similar comparison can be made between irrigated and rainfed rice-producing areas in the Philippines (Figure 2.4). The yield potential of the improved rice plant exerts itself most strongly in irrigated areas and it is there that the adoption was most rapid. However, in both rainfed and irrigated areas, traditional varieties have largely been replaced by modern plant types. The area in upland rice has remained nearly constant, as have yields during the period 1967-68 to 1981-82. Traditional varieties remain dominant in this environment. This finding hints at the limitations of the current range of new technologies.

Table 2.2. Estimated area of high-yielding wheat varieties in developing countries (1976-77)



Wheat area
(per cent)




Near East






Latin America






Source: P. Pinstrup-Anderson. Agricultural research and technology in economic development, Longman, New York, 1982.

Table 2.3. Estimated area of high-yielding rice varieties in developing countries (1976-77)



Rice area
(per cent)




Near East






Latin America






Source: P. Pinstrup-Anderson. Agricultural research and technology in economic development, ibid.

Figure 2.1. Percentage of total wheat area planted with modern varieties in selected countries

Figure 2.2. Percentage of total rice area planted with modern varieties in selected countries (1966-82)

Herdt and Capule have calculated that total output in the major rice producing countries of Asia increased by 120 million tonnes between 1965 and 1980. By partitioning this growth, they indicate that approximately 23 percent or 27 million tonnes was accounted for by modern varieties alone and an equal amount from fertiliser. The remainder is attributed to irrigation and other complementary factors. It is apparent the Green Revolution in rice has had a major impact on food production in Asia.

Figure 2.3. Rice yield trends in three regions of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, (1960-61 to 1982-83)

Figure 2.4. Rice area and yield by irrigation and variety type Philippines (1967-68 to 1982-83)

a. This figure excludes the area planted to modern varieties in China for which data are not readily available although the area covered is large (Herdt and Capule, op. cit.).

b. It is likely the areas in modern varieties in the Near East, Africa and Latin America has expanded since 1976-77. but reliable data are not available upon which to base revised projections (Pinstrup-Anderson, op.cit.).


It is apparent that the Green Revolution in rice has had a major impact on food production in Asia. How does this relate to world rice production and what is the value of that incremental increase in production? Data developed by Pinstrup-Anderson4 indicate that, in 1976-77, the annual increase in production attributable to modern rice varieties was a little over 10 million tonnes or approximately 5.4 per cent of total world production. The value of the increase from the modern varieties for that year was estimated at US$ 2,700 million. While this is at best a very rough approximation, it does accentuate the very high returns to investments in rice research.


In the first half of the 20th century, agricultural growth in the countries of South and Southeast Asia was based on expansion in cultivated area. As land became less accessible, the sources of growth shifted to innovations to raise the productivity of land either through increased cropping intensity or higher yields. Increasing demand for food soon exhausted the stock of easily accessible and irrigable land focusing attention on yields as the chief source of future increases in production. These factors set the stage for the scientific breakthroughs of the 1960s and 70s.

Why were the modern rice varieties accepted so readily? Clearly the higher yields made them more productive. What makes them yield more? There are three dominant features which contribute to higher yields. First is the capacity of the plant to effectively utilise high rates of nitrogen fertiliser. When fertilised, traditional rice varieties tend to develop more vegetative growth and longer stems. As grain yields increase, the architecture of the plant is unable to support the added weight: the stems collapse, resulting in extensive lodging. The improved varieties have shorter and stiffer stems with upright leaves which can support the increased yields at relatively higher fertiliser rates.

A second feature was the ability of plant breeders to genetically alter the makeup of the plant to increase its resistance to many pests and diseases. This inherent resistance combined with the high yield potential of the improved plant type is found in all new releases. A third major factor conditioning adoption was the “non-photoperiod-sensitive” nature of the new varieties. They have a much shorter growing season compared with traditional varieties. This reduces the risk of prolonged exposure to pests and adverse environmental factors. It also increases the possibility of growing a second crop following earlier harvest of the first and economises in the use of inputs such as irrigation water.

In all cases of widespread acceptance of improved biological materials, major support from the national governments to extend and promote their use has also been important. Efforts to expand the availability and use of irrigation water were made wherever feasible. In addition, extension and institutional assistance was mobilised to teach the farmer about the improved varieties and ensure that he was provided with adequate amounts of the complementary inputs, such as fertiliser, necessary to realise their yield potential.

The Masagana 99 Programme in the Philippines contained provisions for training, credit and subsidised inputs such as fertiliser and pesticides. Rice prices were also supported to provide the farmer an assured return. Similar programmes were found in Burma, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea.

In the introductory stages of the Green Revolution, there was a conscious effort to integrate the complementary elements of the technology into a comprehensive package. In several important ways, this meant significant changes in the traditional manner in which farmers grew rice. Perhaps the most important modification was the greater use of inorganic fertilisers. Employment of herbicides and pesticides also increased. Each represented an off-farm resource which must be purchased with cash. Other adjustments were made in irrigation, planting and weeding practices. The new varieties also tended to increase the demand for labour with a concomitant demand for better management.


The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the oldest of the international agricultural research centres, and began operation in 1960. As of 1980, IRRI had spent a total of US$111 million - approximately US$33 million for capital development and US$78 million for operating expenditures. While its nominal budget has increased in the recent past, most of this growth is to offset the effects of inflation. The Institute’s budget has remained nearly constant in real terms.

The economic returns to investments in agricultural research are an important indicator of the benefits to be derived from expenditure of scarce public funds. In a review of 50 national research programmes, Pinstrup-Anderson found that annual returns averaged slightly less than 50 per cent.5 This can be contrasted with rates of return in other public investments, which typically yield 10 to 15 per cent. How does IRRI compare in its use of public resources? Estimates presented by Pinstrup-Anderson range from 46 to 71 per cent. A later attempt by Evenson and Flores6 raised this range to 82 to 100 per cent. Put differently “Investments in IRRI of about US$20 million per year generate an added value of about US$1,500 million per year of increased rice production”.7

A limitation with this type of analysis is its disregard for the contributions to output made by the national programmes in adapting and extending the technology and the importance of complementary inputs such as fertiliser and investments in irrigation. However, these limitations should not be overstressed as the returns to research are clearly high and favourable.


The first generation of improved varieties exemplified by IR8 were successful in establishing a yield benchmark. Inherent problems were: poor grain quality and, as time passed, a growing degree of susceptibility to insects and diseases. A second generation of varieties emerged in 1969 with the release of IR20, which had much higher resistance to diseases and insects and found wider consumer acceptance, although grain quality still remained poor compared with many native varieties. In 1976, a milestone was reached with the release of IR36, the most widely planted variety of any food crop covering almost 11 million hectares in 1982.8 These developments highlight one of the major limitations of the modern varieties - the difficulty of reaching an equilibrium with the insect/disease complex, which also responds dynamically to changes in growing conditions. New insect biotypes which are able to overcome the inherent resistance of the modern varieties and, over time, appear to develop immunity to chemical control measures, which leaves no room for complacency in producing a continuing stream of improved varieties to meet future needs.

A second major constraint in the use of modern varieties has been their lack of adaptability to diverse environmental conditions. The largest share of adopters are now found in irrigated areas, giving rise to the complaint that the new technology favours those who are already relatively better off. The observation is correct, but it fails to recognise that it was in areas with assured water control that the greatest potential for major increases in output was found. Output growth of a similar magnitude could not be achieved in the short run in rainfed environments. Increased attention is now being given to the development of improved technologies for adverse environments, of which water control is but one consideration.

The rice research community is often cited for its lack of sensitivity to the problems of the small farmer and the landless poor. The evidence available from IRRI and other sources does not support this conjecture. In a recent survey of conditions in India, Blyn found no distinction between small and large farmers in the sharing of prosperity from the new technology.9 Table 2.4 summarises data from 36 rice-growing villages in six countries. Adoption of labour-saving technology, such as tractors, threshers and mechanical weeders, showed a clear association with farm size whereas the modern rice varieties did not. Modern varieties tend to significantly increase the demand for labour compared with traditional systems10, particularly if multiple cropping is introduced. Even in those instances where mechanisation is used for land preparation and threshing, the machines have their greatest impact on the redeployment of family labour.

Increased demand for hired labour has provided more employment for the landless poor, although in some areas this advantage has been partially offset by a decline in rural real wages. There is no evidence, however, that lower real wages are associated with the use of the modern varieties. Increased output has helped to reduce price instability and to maintain rice prices at a level which benefits the consumer.10

Table 2.4. Use of specified practices and farm size: thirty-six villages in six Asian countries (1971-72)

Farms using (percentages)

< 1 hectare

1 - 3 hectares

> 3 hectares

Modern varieties


























Hand weeding




Rotary weeding








Mechanical thresher




Source: IRRI. Changes in rice farming in selected areas of Asia, Los Ba Philippines, 1975.

Lastly, there has been increasing concern with the need for high levels of purchased inputs to provide the benefits from the modern varieties. Fertiliser represents the major cash cost in the package of complementary inputs. It is also an input whose use is elastic with respect to both the price of paddy and the price of fertiliser. Increases in fertiliser price result in a decline in the use of the input, while a rise in the rice price has the opposite effect.

The close relationship between these prices and the fertiliser dependency of the modern varieties is of concern to rice scientists. Several avenues are being explored to reduce the need for fertiliser. The first is an effort to increase the efficiency with which the rice plant uses fertiliser. Through precision placement of fertiliser, it is possible to reduce application rates with no sacrifice in yields. An engineering breakthrough in placement equipment is needed to make this option attractive to farmers. A second promising area is the development of less expensive forms of fertiliser such as blue-green algae and Azolla as a source of nitrogen. A third source of decreased dependency is through improvements in grain varieties which increase the efficiency with which plants convert fertilisers to grain and dry matter. IR42, a recent release, exhibits relatively higher yields under zero fertiliser conditions than either traditional or early modern varieties. Similar work is under way to select insect and disease-resistant varieties which reduce the need and outlay for pesticides.


The following were the five key elements in the early success of the modern rice technology:

(i) scientists were able to quickly and correctly assess the constraints limiting yields and develop varieties to overcome them;

(ii) research was well supported and tightly focused to take advantage of IRRI’s strong comparative advantage;

(iii) developing the research capabilities of scientists working in national agricultural research programmes was recognised early as a key element for the long-term success of the modern rice technology;

(iv) administration of research was flexible and able to respond quickly with new initiatives as they were needed. A balanced research “portfolio” containing both applied and basic research objectives was developed to ensure long-term continuity and success;

(v) there was a strong commitment by national governments to agricultural development. This was a necessary condition for vigorous and productive rice research.

Accelerated agricultural growth has fostered rewards for the research community. Spending on agricultural research in the developing countries showed an average annual growth of 10.5 per cent during the 1970s: it now exceeds the target of 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product recommended by the 1974 World Food Conference.12 During the past decade, the number of agricultural scientists in the developing countries has almost doubled, from 18,500 to 34,000. This number is much higher than that in either Western Europe or the United States.

On November 28, 1966 the Green Revolution in rice began with the release of IR8. In the intervening years, there has been a remarkable increase in rice production which has benefited farmers and consumers alike and has contributed to the resource requirements and stability necessary for sustained economic growth in many countries. While 30 per cent of total world rice output is derived from modern varieties developed at IRRI and through national rice research programmes, it is estimated that over 70 per cent of the world’s rice farmers do not use or have access to the emerging technology.13 For reasons specified earlier, existing improved varieties are not adaptable to the conditions in which these farmers subsist. An overwhelming feature of these environments is lack of controlled water supplies. A majority of the world’s rice farmers depend exclusively on rainfall to meet crop moisture requirements. While the decision to focus scarce research resources heavily on the needs of irrigated agriculture during the past two decades was undoubtedly the right one, a reallocation of these resources to address the needs of farmers in harsher environments is under way. Conversely, there will be a continuing need for maintenance research to sustain and increase productivity gains already made in irrigated areas.

In planning for IRRI’s third decade, multidisciplinary and national collaborative dimensions of the research effort have been strengthened. Particular emphasis is being placed on overcoming the following constraints in rainfed and dryland areas:

(i) diseases and insects,
(ii) drought, flooding and deepwater submergence,
(iii) adverse soil conditions,
(iv) adverse temperatures,
(v) weeds,
(vi) grain quality and nutrition,
(vii) socio-economic constraints - credit, labour and power, risk and uncertainty and institutional impediments.

Since the mid-1970s, there has been a recognised need for these adjustments. With a “no growth” budget, this has primarily meant a reallocation of resources within IRRI itself, although, through the strengthened national programmes, it has beer possible to expand the coverage and depth of research at the individual country level Table 2.5 provides estimates of the current and future IRRI staff efforts and the projected benefits of this redeployment.

Table 2.5 Past and projected balance of IRRI senior scientific staff efforts aimed at major rice-growing environments, compared with anticipated economic returns from production increases in each area (percentages)


Average distribution

Projected* distribution

Projected benefits





Rainfed wetland




Rainfed dryland




Deepwater and floating







* The projections are based on the intention to shift some activities from irrigated to rainfed rice as the national programmes overcome their own limitations for research on irrigated rice. Provided that some expansion of total staff occurs, the research effort on dryland and deepwater and floating rice will increase, although the relative input remains constant.

Source: IRRI, A plan for IRRI’s third decade. Los Ba Philippines. 1982.

Work to overcome many of the above constraints is already under way. Examples include use of biotechnology in the development of hybrids and use of tissue and another culture to accelerate and broaden incorporation of desirable characteristics into future varieties.14 Application of the concepts of integrated pest management to control pests and diseases and the use of biological sources of nitrogen such as azolla, will help to reduce the cash input requirements of the farmer.

Through technical assistance, collaborative agreements and research networks linked with national programmes, IRRI will continue to address specific issues and complement the work of rice scientists working in individual country programmes.

The institute itself will continue to serve a number of unique roles, namely:

(i) basic research to increase knowledge about rice;
(ii) rice genetic resources, conservation and dissemination;
(iii) developing and verifying methodologies for rice research;
(iv) organising international cooperative rice research programmes;
(v) training researchers and educators concerned with rice and related crops;
(vi) documentation and dissemination of rice research findings;
(vii) research on technology adoption and transfer to farmers.

Clearly, the emerging technology of the rice revolution during its first two decades had a profound impact on traditional agriculture in most rice-producing countries. The future challenge is to further extend the benefits of science and improved technology to the disadvantaged sectors of rural society.


1. M. R. Vega,: The Green Revolution reconsidered, Seventh Course on Population and Development Reporting sponsored by Press Foundation of Asia, Los Ba Philippines, 1983.

2. V.S. Vyas,: Asian agriculture: The abiding issues, Asian Development Bank Distinguished Speakers Programme, Manila, 1983.

3. R.W. Herdt and C. Capule: Adoption, spread and production impact of modern rice varieties in Asia (Los Ba Philippines, IRRI, 1983).

4. P. Pinstrup-Anderson,: Agricultural research and technology in economic development, Los Ba Philippines, 1983.

5. ibid.

6. R.E. Evenson, and P.M. Flores,: “Social returns to rice research”, in Economic consequences of the new rice technology, IRRI, Los Ba Philippines, 1978.

7. International Rice Research Institute: A plan for IRRI’s third decade, Los Ba Philippines, 1982.

8. International Rice Research Institute: IR36 - the world’s most popular rice, Los Ba Philippines, 1983.

9. G. Blyn,: “The green revolution revisited”, in Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 31, No. 4, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1983.

10. International Rice Research Institute: Economic consequences of the new rice technology, op. cit.

11. ibid.

12. International Development Research Centre: The fragile web: the international agricultural research system, Ottawa, Canada, 1983.

13. International Rice Research Institute: Beyond IR8: IRRI’s second decade, Los Ba Philippines, 1980.

14. W. Rockwood,: New biotechnology in international agricultural development: Horizons, United States Agency for International Development, September 1983.