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close this bookGATE - 4/96 - Information - the Key to Sustainable Development (GTZ GATE, 1996, 60 p.)
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More readiness to talk

The process of mutual dialogue is in progress

by Roland Seifert

Experience is gathered throughout the world every day. But often, additional know-how is required to actually change a given state of affairs. And individual insights might be of considerable use elsewhere. Clearly, dialogue is required between those with a problem and those with a solution to it.

In sugar cane processing in Columbia, bagasse is sent straight back into the ovens once it has been pressed. The pressed and still damp sugar canes are burnt and thus transformed into energy that is required for the process as a whole. This method has been steadily refined over the years in Columbia. But in Haiti, where sugar cane is also processed, it used to be unknown. The ovens used there were unsuitable for the method. Instead, valuable timber resources were used as fuel. It was only through mutual contact that an important technology transfer was facilitated.

The Brazilian agronomist R Trier discovers Moringa oleifera, an unusual plant, at a workshop in Burkina Faso. He finds the effects of the plant baffling. Its seeds clear cloudy, polluted water and show the same results as aluminium sulphate. But it is precisely this chemical substratum that is beyond people's means in the northeast of Brazil. The smallholders of the Caatinga scoop their drinking water out of pools they have dug themselves. It is brown and is organically polluted. Impressed with the effects of Moringa oleifera, R Trier starts initial cultivation trials with seed from Africa in co-operation with the NGO AS- PTA (Assessoria e servicos a projetos em agriculture alternative). Insights that have been gathered are imparted to the people of the Caatinga during a workshop, and they are also shown how to handle the seed.

One technology had a long way to travel in the eighties. It all started in China. In order to develop self-sufficient solutions to waste water problems, biogas technology was already promoted in China at a very early stage. This technology attracted attention in Tanzania. Small biogas plants were set up, modified and adapted to local conditions. However, improvements in the burner and construction technology then led to a breakthrough not only in Tanzania, but also in Thailand. It was above all in rural areas that biogas proved more and more useful in cooking and as a substitute for kerosene and expensive bottled gas. Communal waste water treatment was adopted in the programme of the regional authorities and integrated in national energy policy.

Insights don't just spread like that

Throughout the world, different and individual experience is gathered every day. Often enough, it can serve to solve a certain problem without any further input. But much more frequently, there is a lack of know-how to reach a different, and better, state of affairs. Insights that have been gained at local level do not simply jump over to another region. Rather, dialogue is required between those that have a problem and those that can offer a solution. But how does the right information get to those who need it at the right time?

With the onset of the information society, information management is maturing more and more as an industrial branch in its own right. Commercial firms can compile smaller or larger information packages tailored to customers' needs and offer them to their clients at a respective price. Neither are there any limits to individual research. For information of all kinds can be obtained via a multitude of channels and media at any time. Computeraided data networks such as Internet extend access facilities.

However, unlike in the North, access to information is often restricted, and in rural areas, it is even more of a problem. Libraries are only located in the big, far-off cities. Newspapers and magazines cost money, and getting linked up with international data networks is only in very slow progress.

Setting up regional networks is one way of countering this problem. Under the motto "From the region - For the Region", the regional information network SIATA (Service Inter-Africain sur les Technologies Appropri) was set up in December 1993. It is an amalgamation of almost 150 West and Central African NGOs that have their headquarters in Ouagadoudou in Burkina Faso. SIATA sees itself as a knowledge silo, a "Grenier». And "Le Grenier" is the name of the network's journal. SIATA aims at integrating traditional knowledge from the region in its information and consulting services range. Also, emphasis is to be put on employing local experts for local consulting tasks.

Information for local manufacturers

SIATA can already boast success. Owing to the economic crisis in the region and the resulting depreciation of the Franc-CFA, most people cannot afford imported goods. Therefore, SIATA is facing a particularly high demand for information on the local manufacture of soaps and basic cosmetics. This also holds for jam making and fruit drying.

Transferring and imparting technological knowledge is also the object of another network based in Thailand, the Regional Information Service Center for South East Asia on Appropriate Technology. It is dealt with in detail in the Focus section of this gate edition. Just like RISE-AT, SIATA is supported by the Information and Advisory Service on Appropriate Technology (ISAT). In their respective contexts, both networks aim at considering both technical aspects and the cultural, ethnic and linguistic heterogeneity of their regions. They have set themselves the task of providing information and consulting services in the field of technology. Of course there are many other organisations that pursue similar goals.

In Latin America, networks can boast a long-standing tradition. The region disposes of a large number of networks in areas such as medicinal plants, credit systems, adult education and agriculture. And there is the Experts Network for Locally Appropriate Agriculture (Movimiento Agroecologico de America Latina y el caribe). It is the purpose of this network to promote a new development network that is socially just, ecologically sustainable and economically viable, that respects cultural diversity and is based on the participation of the people.

A new process

The above examples do not demonstrate a status quo. Rather, they indicate a process that is in progress in the countries of the South. Without a transfer of know-how, the sugar cane farmers in Haiti could still be burning up important timber reserves, and the effects of the Moringa oleifera plant would still be just as little known in Brazil as biogas technology in Tanzania and Thailand. It is only the establishment of local technological competence that can support this process. It requires close technical and organisational collaboration at regional level as well as the readiness to engage in mutual dialogue.