Archives for January 2011

Background Reading


 This web-version of the Appropriate Technology Sourcebook provides concise summaries of over 1,150 of the best do-it-yourself books. Use the Search or Table of Contents in the right-hand column to browse subjects and locate books. The complete text and graphics of these books can be obtained on USB or DVD in Village Earth’s AT Library. Click here for more information and to order.


Books Reviewed in This Section

Appropriate Technology for African Women
Appropriate Technology: Problems and Promises
The Barefoot Book
Coming Full Circle
Design for the Real World
Experiences in Appropriate Technology
High Impact Appropriate Technology Case Studies
Introduction to Appropriate Technology
Paper Heroes
Participatory Approaches to Agricultural Research and Development
Questioning Development
Radical Technology
Repairs Reuse Recycling
Rural Women
Sharing Smaller Pies
Small is Beautiful
Strategies for Small Farmer Development Projects
Technology and Employment in Industry
Technology for the Masses in Invention Intelligence
Towards Global Action for Appropriate Technology
Village Technology in Eastern Africa
When Aid is No Help
The World of Appropriate Technology

Every machine that helps every individual has a place, but there should be no place for machines that concentrate power in a few hands and turn the masses into machine-minders, if indeed they do not make them unemployed. —Gandhi

Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? … Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt another MAY also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.—Thoreau

The books reviewed in this chapter offer a variety of views on the cultural and economic aspects of technology choice, some of the political choices reflected in development strategies, and common technology needs in rural areas of the South.

E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful has played a crucial inspirational role for much of the “A. T. movement.” For readers interested in the hard economic basis for appropriate technology, there is no better reference thanTechnology and Underdevelopment. Appropriate Technology: Problems and Promises gives a historical perspective on factors that have influenced the development of practical technologies in the United States and China and explores a large number of policy issues that surround appropriate technology. This continues to rank as one of the most insightful books in the A.T. literature.

The A.T. Reader assembles in one place a set of the best articles and commentary on the subject from around the world. A thoughtful analysis of the problems and issues involved in transnational “technology transfer” is contained in The Uncertain Promise. This volume is particularly concerned with the impact of alien technology on cultural value systems.

Coming Full Circle explores the increasingly accepted view that farmers should be directly involved in technology development—that it is only through this involvement that acceptable innovations can be developed. If local participation in development projects is to be achieved, bureaucracies will have to change; this is the theme ofBureaucracy and the PoorThe Barefoot Book takes a look at a whole range of professionals with intermediate levels of training. Putting People First provides valuable practical advice on making the people side of development projects work.

Paper Heroes, while favorably reviewing several particular tools and techniques, is critical of the many basic assumptions and perceived benefits associated with appropriate technology. For the most part these are “the excessive claims and unsubstantiated promises of paper heroes,” argues the author.

The World of Appropriate Technology offers a picture of the institutions involved in this work. Repairs, Reuse, and Recycling discusses the technological alternatives in reducing the flow of valuable materials to dumps and landfills, an important step on the road to a more environmentally sound society.

The author of Questioning Development suggests that a critically important measuring stick for evaluating the worth of development projects should be their anticipated effects on the distribution of power in the community, nation, or the world.

Among the other books included in this chapter are sets of case studies of technologies and projects that offer insight into what has and has not succeeded in various circumstances. There are also publications that suggest what kinds of everyday activities in the South most urgently need improved technologies, and that give many examples of tools and techniques that may be appropriate.

Appropriate Technology for African Women and Rural Women are specifically concerned with the effects of technological change on Women’s lives, and discuss improved technologies that might particularly help women.

[Read more…]

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 This web-version of the Appropriate Technology Sourcebook provides concise summaries of over 1,150 of the best do-it-yourself books. Use the Search or Table of Contents in the right-hand column to browse subjects and locate books. The complete text and graphics of these books can be obtained on USB or DVD in Village Earth’s AT Library. Click here for more information and to order.


The Appropriate Technology Sourcebook represents an attempt to improve access to information on small-scale technologies. Our purpose is to present a selection of capital-saving, labor-using tools and techniques that already have proven to be valuable in different circumstances around the world. We do not suggest that any specific technology will always be appropriate. The appropriate technology worker needs options, not a prescribed package of technology.

Appropriate Technology

What is appropriate technology all about? It is a way of thinking about technological change; recognizing that tools and techniques can evolve along different paths toward different ends. It includes the belief that human communities can have a hand in deciding what their future will be like, and that the choice of tools and techniques is an important part of this. It also includes the recognition that technologies can embody cultural biases and sometimes have political and distributional effects that go far beyond a strictly economic evaluation. “A.T.” therefore involves a search for technologies that have, for example, beneficial effects on income distribution, human development, environmental quality, and the distribution of political power—as well as productivity—in the context of particular communities and nations.

The appropriate technology movement in the rich countries such as the United States got started due to the convergence of a variety of concerns. These included the need to find a more harmonious and sustainable relationship with the environment, identify a way out of the accelerating energy and resource crises, reduce alienating work disconnected from its products and goals, develop more democratic workplaces, bring local economies back to health with diverse locally owned and operated enterprises, and revitalize local communities and cultural traditions. Thoughtful, careful social choices are needed to correct the excesses and imbalances of an industrial culture driven by materialism. An essential quality of the appropriate technology movement in the United States can therefore be expressed by the word “restraint”.

The appropriate technology movement in poor countries has, on the other hand developed in a very different fashion. In rich countries, the investment required to create one new manufacturing job typically is in the range of $20,000-$150,000, and in heavy industry this figure is higher still. In the poor countries the small amounts of capital available have usually been concentrated in the small industrial sector, creating very few jobs due to the high investment required per workplace.

The appropriate technology movement in poor countries has come out of the recognition that industrialization strategies have not been successfully solving the problems of poverty and inequality. Indeed, in many cases “modernization” efforts have been massive assaults on local culture. The result for hundreds of millions of people has been the modernization of poverty—the neglect or construction of traditional craft occupations, the consolidation of farmlands into fewer and fewer hands, and the division of communities, leaving these people to eke out an existence on the fringe of economic activity. The appropriate technology movement in the developing world has developed as “the art of the possible” among the world’s poor, seeking ways to solve pressing basic problems and create jobs with resources consisting of local skills and materials but little surplus cash.

From these different origins, the appropriate technology movements in rich and poor countries have been moving towards each other. The development of renewable energy technologies has long been a chief area of activity among U.S. appropriate technology groups. It moved high on the list of priorities in oil-importing poor countries in the late 1970’s, as they faced high prices and scarcity of fuel for buses, tractors, and irrigation pumps. Similarly, environmental protection has gained increased attention in poor countries as pesticides have created major health risks for farmers and farm workers, and deforestation has reached a critical level.

Criteria for Appropriate Technology

This book, though primarily oriented towards appropriate technology activities in poor countries, contains relevant materials for North Americans as well. The books and documents reviewed here describe tools and techniques that, in general:

  1. require only small amounts of capital;
  2. emphasize the use of locally available materials, in order to lower costs and reduce supply problems;
  3. are relatively labor-intensive but more productive than many traditional technologies;
  4. are small enough in scale to be affordable to individual families or small groups of families;
  5. can be understood, controlled and maintained by villagers whenever possible, without a high level of specific training;
  6. can be produced in villages or small workshops;
  7. suppose that people can and will work together to bring improvements to communities;
  8. offer opportunities for local people to become involved in the modification and innovation process;
  9. are flexible, can be adapted to different places and changing circumstances;
  10. can be used in productive ways without doing harm to the environment.

Some of the reasoning that underlies the concept of appropriate technology may be summarized as follows:

  1. it permits local needs to be met more effectively because local people are involved in identifying and working to address these needs; for the same reasons, it is likely to be in harmony with local traditions and values;
  2. it means the development of tools that extend human labor and skills, rather than machines that replace human labor and eliminate human skills;
  3. it represents a comprehensible and controllable scale of activities, organization and mistakes, at which people without management training can work together and understand what they are doing;
  4. it allows more economical operation by minimizing the transport of goods in an era of expensive energy, allowing greater interaction of local industry and permitting greater use of local resources—both human and material;
  5. it makes unnecessary many expensive or unavailable finance, transportation, education, advertising, management, and energy services; avoids the loss of local control that use of such outside services implies;
  6. it helps to establish a self-sustaining and expanding reservoir of skills in the community which begins from already existing skills;
  7. it provides a region with a cushion against the effects of outside economic changes (e.g., the collapse of the world sugar market or the sudden unavailability of fertilizer);
  8. it helps to reduce economic, social, and political dependency between individuals, between regions, and between nations, by recognizing that people can and will do things for themselves if they can find a way. (See Tom Bender in Sharing Smaller Pies on many of the criteria listed here.)

Addressing Many Obstacles

Appropriate technology has special appeal probably in part because it addresses a number of problems at once. The emphasis on self-reliance and local production for local needs removes from the list of development obstacles many of the inequities of an international system that is dominated by the expensive technology and economic power of rich countries. At the same time, the lack of well-developed infrastructure and the shortage of highly trained human power to efficiently run large industrial organizations become much less important when production is decentralized. It is probably for these reasons that the concept of appropriate technology is so popular. Those who believe in small entrepreneurial capitalism, democratic institutions, decentralist Marxism, European socialism, African communalism, Buddhism, and numerous other systems can find much of value in the ideas underlying appropriate technology. Nicolas Jequier has described the popularity of the appropriate technology approach as evidence of a “cultural revolution” in development thinking.

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Information about Publishers

The following organizations and appropriate technology resources have provided many of the publications available in the Appropriate Technology Library:

AHRTAG—Appropriate Health Resources and Technologies Action Group. They publish books on health care and disability aids. AHRTAG, Three Castles House, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 95E, England.

BRACE— Brace Research Institute. Their particular focus is on water supply for arid regions. Publications Dept., Brace Research Institute, MacDonald College of McGill University, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec H0A lC0, Canada.

CWD—Consultancy Services Wind Energy Developing Countries. Research institutes in the Third World may ask for one copy of any of their publications free of charge. CWD has now merged with TOOL, but its publications (primarily related to helping Third World organizations with efforts to use wind energy) are still available from CWD, P.O. Box 85, 3800 AB Amersfoort, The Netherlands.

Dept. of Works (previously referred to as DWS)—Department of Works, Papua New Guinea. They have a limited number of the publications reviewed here, some of them priced and some of them available free to serious groups in developing countries. Expect a small fee to cover postage. Please do not send personal checks on private banks. Department of Works, Local Government Technical Services, P.O. Box 1108, Boroko, Papua New Guinea.

ERIC— Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse. If you are not a Peace Corps volunteer, this is the place to get Peace Corps publications. ERIC, Document Reproduction Service, 3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304-5110.

FAO— Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Many of their publications are available through FAO book distributors in developing countries. UNIPUB is their exclusive sales agent for the U.S. and Canada, and should be consulted for correct prices in these countries. To order outside North America, write to Distribution and Sales Section, FAO, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.

GATE— German Appropriate Technology Exchange. Has a variety of English language publications documenting technologies of interest in developing countries. Publications are free to institutions in developing countries, which should order from GATE/GTZ, Postfach 5180, D-6236 Eschborn, Germany. Industrialized countries should send orders to GATE, c/o Vieweg Verlag, Postfach 300944,D-5090 Leverkusen 3, Germany.

GRET— Groupe de Recherche et d’Echanges Technologiques. This organization has an extensive set of French language publications on appropriate technologies. GRET, 213 rue La Fayette, 75010 Paris, France.

Hesperian Foundation —  Publishing for Community Health and Empowerment
1919 Addison St – Suite 304 – Berkeley – CA 94704 – USA
1-888-729-1796 510-845-1447 510-845-9141(fax)

IDRC—International Development Research Center. This Canadian aid organization has consistently produced valuable books on subjects of interest to village technology workers. Unlike their counterparts to the south, IDRC has people from developing countries on their board. Their publications are free to local people in developing countries. All of these publications are available in microfiche form from the Communications Division. IDRC has sales agents and regional offices around the world. IDRC, Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario K1G 3H9, Canada.

ILO—Publications, International Labour Office, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland. The U.S. branch office also has most ILO books available for sale: ILO Publications Center, 49 Sheridan Avenue, Albany, New York 12210, USA.

IRC–International Reference Centre for Community Water Supply and Sanitation. This special unit of the World Health Organization has produced many valuable water supply books. IRC, P.O. Box 93190, 2509 AD The Hague, The Netherlands.

ITDG—Intermediate Technology Development Group. This organization, founded by the late F. F. Schumacher in the 1960s, has produced the largest selection of books on appropriate technology, while setting a standard of quality equaled by few. Many of ITDG’s books can be obtained in the U.S. from their distributor (ITDG of North America, P.O. Box 337, Croton-on-Hudson, New York 10520, USA). For a current publications list, write to I.T. Publications, 103-105 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4HH, United Kingdom.

NRI—National Resources Institute (formerly TDRI, Tropical Development and Research Institute). NRI produces a variety of publications on tropical agricultural products, and a series of booklets on simple processing tools (Rural TechnologyGuides). No charge is made for single copies of publications sent to governmental and educational establishments, research institutions and non-profit organizations working in countries eligible for British aid. Publications Section, Natural Resources Institute, Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TB, United Kingdom.

NTIS—National Technical Information Service. This U.S. government organization reprints many of the publications originally produced by other government agencies. For example, this is where things can be found when they have gone out of print at the National Academy of Sciences. Most of this material is available on microfiche, but unfortunately the original microfilming of most of these documents was not of high quality. Paper copies are usually reproduced from these microfiche originals, and are therefore both expensive and often not very clear. Some documents are now available free or at lower cost through U.S. Agency for International Development missions in Caribbean and Latin American nations, in a special arrangement. NTIS is represented by local sales agents in about 20 different countries. When ordering from NTIS, you must include the “accession number” listed with the review, or they may not be able to find the item you want from among the vast collection of documents they have in storage. Orders should be sent to NTIS, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Virginia 22161, USA.

Peace Corps—Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange, 1990 K Street N.W., Washington, DC 20526, USA.

Popular Mechanics—These are photocopies of articles on homebuilt workshop equipment that originally appeared in Popular Mechanics magazine. The photos do not reproduce very well, but the drawings are generally clear. The plans are at times rather brief; it is assumed that the reader has some familiarity with shop power tools. All of the designs include small electric motors, and use commonly available materials of standard sizes. Minimal skills are required for production. The durability of this equipment will vary. Include the item’s reference number when ordering. Popular Mechanics Plans, Dept. 77, Box 1014, Radio City, New York 10101, USA.

SATIS—Socially Appropriate Technology International Services, B.P. 2664, Dakar, Senegal.

SDC—Swiss Development Cooperation (formerly SATA, Swiss Association for Technical Assistance). This organization is now handled by SKAT, but publications are available from SDC, P.O. Box 113, Katmandu, Nepal.

SKAT—Swiss Center for Appropriate Technology. They publish books based on aid projects in various parts of the world. SKAT, Vadian Strasse, CH-9000 St. Gallen,Switzerland.

TALC—Teaching Aids at Low Cost. An excellent source of low-cost books in the health care field. TALC, P.O. Box 49, St. Albans, Herts. AL1 4AX, United Kingdom.

TOOL—The TOOL Foundation for Technical Development in Developing Countries has members on many university campuses in The Netherlands. They offer publications in English, Dutch and French, and publish a newsletter in Dutch for people working in developing countries. TOOL, Sarphatistraat 650, 1018 AVAmsterdam, The Netherlands.

UNIDO—United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Most of theUNIDO publications reviewed here are available free of charge to readers in developing countries. Quote the publication number with the title. DocumentsUnit, UNIDO F-355, P.O. Box 300, A1400 Vienna, Austria.

UNIPUB—This U.S. company handles a large number of United Nations publications, along with those of other international organizations such as FAO and IDRC. UNIPUB, 4611-F Assembly Drive, Lanham, Maryland 20706-4391, USA.

USGPO—United States government Printing Office. In contrast to the high prices of NTIS, USGPO has very low prices. Make checks payable to Superintendent to Documents. USGPO, Washington, DC 20402, USA.

VITA—Volunteers in Technical Assistance. This group does not send volunteers, but handles requests for technical information, which it forwards to a network of U.S.-based volunteers for response. They have a long publications list, and accept UNESCO coupons in payment. VITA Publications Services, P.O. Box 12028,Arlington, Virginia 22209, USA.

WEA—Whole Earth Access Company. These people stock books from many of the small U.S. publishers, allowing you to obtain them from a single source. Whole Earth Access, 2990 7th Street, Berkeley, California 94710, USA.

WHO—World Health Organization. They offer a discount on orders from developing countries. WHO Distribution and Sales, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland.

Expanding Our Support of Community-Based Conservation


In the protection and management of natural resources, it is widely agreed that human social, political, cultural and economic systems must be part of the equation. In recent years, community-based and collaborative conservation have been increasingly recognized as alternatives to the dominant paradigm of top-down, expert-driven management. However practitioners of collaborative and community-based conservation efforts must be cautious about moving forward too quickly, as community groups often have low levels of organizational capacity that may pose a challenge to rapidly managing complex natural systems. This is especially true in collaborative efforts that involve multiple stakeholders. In such efforts, taking into account relationships of power among stakeholders will help ensure greater equity as well as the promotion of local livelihoods and sustainability. The literature also suggest that special emphasis should be placed on empowerment at the community-level and especially with traditionally marginalized groups. According to Agrawal (1999) “local groups are usually the least powerful among the different parties interested in conservation. Community-based conservation requires, therefore, that its advocates make more strenuous efforts to channel greater authority and power toward local groups. Only then can such groups form effective checks against arbitrary actions by governments and other actors.”

If, as Agrawal suggest, empowerment at the local-level should be our priority, where do we start? Brown (2002) has identified a set of internal and external challenges that community-based organizations face. Externally, community-based organizations are challenged by a lack of legitimacy and accountability with the general public; relating with institutions of the state, such as government agencies; relating with institutions of the market, such as businesses; and relating with international actors, such as development agencies that provide funding support. However, efforts by governments and NGOs to build the capacity of community-based organizations without destroying what makes them so unique in the first place (e.g. local focus, their spirit of volunteerism and solidarity) is not easy (Powers, 2002; Brown, 1989). Powers et al offers the following advice: “We believe it may be most effective if INGOs go beyond decentralizing their operations and cease being operational in the field. This can be done by forging ties with autonomous local NGOs which have a proven commitment and track record in handing over controls in the development process to the communities where they are working. To the degree that terms for partnership can be negotiated equitably, the imperative for standardized and impersonal mass reproduction of one strategy, which ironically is often only magnified (rather than adapted) in the process of decentralization, can be significantly curtailed.”

Heeding to the advice of Powers and others, over the past 8 years, Village Earth has developed and refined, what we believe to be a viable approach to supporting local organizations. However, we face our own challenge in scaling-up. On Pine Ridge and in Peru we have had to develop numerous innovative strategies to catalyze the development of local voluntary organizations. In both cases, funding was not available from the outset.

Rather than seeking out large, all-encompassing grants which require specific predetermined outcomes and timelines, which oftentimes function to alienate local organizations from their founding mission,

we have sought to work together with community organizations to help them do their own fundraising for strategic sectors that they identify. Our “Adopt-A-Buffalo” program is a perfect example of this sort of grassroots fundraising where the idea and the model came from a local organization, and Village Earth simply helped them to implement it. In exchange for our help we are able to retain a percentage of the income raised. This not only created a sense of accomplishment amongst the local group, but also gave the them a sense of ownership and commitment to the success of the fundraising program.

We have found that one of the primary obstacles for community-based initiatives is the lack of organizational legitimacy and accountability needed by informal community groups to access resources. For example, in our projects on Pine Ridge and in Peru we have found that there exist many informal community groups who have great projects, but have not quite been able to access resources because they are not incorporated, they do not have a bank account, that they have not fully articulated a decision making process, etc. Village Earth has catalyzed the development of these groups by serving as a temporary fiscal sponsor, allowing them to “piggyback” on our organizational structure while we work together to build the capacity of theirs. As the flow of resources increase, we gradually help increase the organizational capacity of these groups to match the increased need for accountability, while avoiding structuring too fast. As a wise Lakota Elder said, “community groups are like pails of water, if you move too fast, the water sloshes out.”

Our vision, in the next few years, is to refine and expand our package of support services to dozens more local voluntary organizations around the world. Affiliated organizations would have access to a number of helpful services that would expand their capacity to reach their goals and receive funding.

We are currently starting discussions with potential partners in new regions and are working to develop a system for formalizing these relationships to expand our support of grassroots groups.

Village Earth Offers New Course in Community-Based Forest Management

In recent years, more prominence has been given to the potential of community-based use, management and conservation of natural resources as a way to sustainably use and conserve natural resources, while improving the livelihoods of rural people. Community-Based Forest Management has been hailed by advocates for its effectiveness in promoting conservation and maintaining traditional livelihoods, while simultaneously developing local economies. For these reasons, Village Earth has developed an online course on the topic, as we believe that it will help  development practitioners in applying this innovative and respectful approach to resource management.

In the past, forest policy was based on the notion that indigenous people using the forests were ignorant and destructive. However, many practitioners and experts are now realizing that these local communities are actually the most interested parties in the sustainable management of their forests, given that it is their source of life. Additionally, local communities are often top experts on the forest ecosystem. Using these concepts, community-based conservation (CBC) approaches aim to involve local people in the management of natural resources and to adjust management practices to their needs. This course will review the scope and significance of CBC, as well as the best practices in the support and establishment of such initiatives. If you are interested in joining GSLL 1520 Community-Based Forest Management (which will run for its first time starting June 24, 2011) please visit our website for more details. You can also review our other course offerings in our growing program.