Background Reading

There is a constant, continuing need for such information. “Rural development projects are not like construction work, with engineering blueprints which precisely predetermine what will be done, but rather like voyages into uncharted areas where direction and steering will change with new soundings and sightings. Techniques of rapid rural appraisal (RRA) are hardly a new radar to prevent shipwreck, but they may at least reduce the dangers by showing more clearly and more quickly what is happening.”

“… (C)ost effectiveness has its own rigor and should generate its own values.

Two linked principles can be suggested: optimal ignorance and appropriate imprecision. “Optimal ignorance refers to the importance of knowing what facts are not worth knowing. It requires courage to implement. It is far, far easier to demand more and more information than it is to abstain from demanding it…. “Appropriate imprecision refers to the fact that especially in surveys, much of the data has a degree of accuracy which is unnecessary. Order of magnitude and direction of change are often all that will be used.”

The author goes on with some excellent advice on how to successfully conduct a quick survey.

The Barefoot Book: Economically Appropriate Services for the Rural PoorAvailable in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-29, book, 97 pages, edited by Marilyn Carr, 1989.

The concept of intermediate services is best known in rural health care, especially with the “barefoot doctors” of China. The basic idea is that people with basic training can, in most cases, provide sufficiently skilled assistance to solve the most common problems encountered in poor communities.

This book applies the “barefoot” concept to a whole range of other professionals with intermediate levels of training. Included are veterinarians in India and Nepal, lawyers and bankers in Bangladesh, mechanics in India, builders in Iran, Guinea and the Sudan, and management consultants in Kenya.

“Technology for the Masses“, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-10, January-February 1977 issue ofInvention Intelligence magazine, National Research Development Corporation of India, out of print in 1985.

This special issue of the magazine Invention Intelligence deals with the prospects for affordable technology for rural India. Strategies for rural industry and rural development are discussed. One proposal includes a national upper consumption limit for individuals. In evaluating the role of science and technology, one author states: “We have yet to make properly documented studies on our traditional skills and practices and systematically explore the possibilities of both learning from and contributing to them, in order to evolve appropriate technology for the masses”

Several articles on energy sources describe the progress of the Indian biogas programs, the scope for the use of wind power, possible direct solar devices, the substitution of organic fertilizers for energy-intensive chemical fertilizers, and the increased use of waterways for transport. Tree-and-pasture plantations are proposed to make maximum use of solar energy for fuel, food and fodder.

Commenting on the importance of the bullock cart, one author notes that the total investment in carts and animals exceeds the total investment in either the railroad system or the road network in India. He proposes a number of design improvements for the bullock cart.

Low-cost housing, dairy farming, aquaculture and increased water use efficiency in irrigation are among the other topics discussed. Relevant reading for much of the South.

Appropriate Technology for African Women, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-1, report, 101 pages, by Marilyn Carr, 1978, African Training and Research Centre for Women, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, P.O. Box 3001, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, out of print.

“An increased emphasis on ‘intermediate’ technologies promises to do much to lessen the inequalities between the urban and rural areas, and between rich and poor families. Its effect, however, will be limited unless increased emphasis is also given to the women who, especially in the rural areas, have the major responsibility for lifting their families out of poverty. Agricultural, rural and national development will be a slow and difficult process if the women, who form half the population and, in some countries, represent up to 80% of the agricultural labor force, continue to be denied access to knowledge, credit, agricultural extension services, consumer and producer cooperatives, labor-saving devices, and income generating activities.”

Extension programs that neglect the roles of women often have disappointing results. “Thus, in one West African country, although extension workers had shown the men the correct depth to dig the holes, coffee continued to die due to bent tap-roots because it was the women who were doing the digging.”

Many improved village technologies could distinctly help rural women, “who are the drawers of water, the hewers of wood, the food-producers and often the overall providers for the families of Africa.” In the main part of this report, the author identifies some of the activities for which intermediate technologies are needed to ease the burdens of rural women and some of the possible technologies to choose from. Also included are descriptions of a wide variety of village technology related programs in Africa and an annotated bibliography on women and technology in Africa.

Rural Women: Their Integration in Development Programs and How Simple Intermediate Technologies Can Help Them, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-15, booklet, 84 pages, by Elizabeth O’Kelly, 1978, out of print in 1985.

O’Kelly discusses the daily tasks of women in Asia and Africa, the concept of intermediate technology, and particular technologies that would tend to make life easier for rural women without reducing their role and status. She recommends hand-operated seeders, push carts and wheelbarrows, fencing, threshers, winnowers, improved hand-operated rice mills, corn mills, improved grain storage units, heavy gauge black polyethylene sheeting for sun-drying, fuelwood plantations, biogas plants, solar dryers for vegetables and fruits, improved stoves, hay box cookers, rooftop catchment water tanks, pumps, water filters and latrines.

She notes that “the part that women play in village life in general and in agriculture in particular, is consistently underestimated and many programs are drawn up on the assumption that it will be the men who will he carrying them out when, in fact, it will be the women.” And when technologies are directed towards women’s work, “care needs to be taken that these do not unintentionally reduce their standing.”

Organizations for rural women should be created “beginning in a small way in one or two neighboring villages and continuing by working outwards in ever-widening circles.” This is more likely to be successful than top-down initiatives which often lose their thrust before they have filtered down through the bureaucracy to the local level. She describes successful efforts of this kind in the creation of corn mill societies in the Cameroons and women’s groups in Sarawak.

Design for the Real World, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-04, book, 318 pages, by Victor Papanek, 1974.

School of Design at the California Institute of the Arts. His basic thesis is that designers should design for use and address real human needs. Instead, today most design is for style and planned obsolescence. Papanek attacks the wasteful, irresponsible use of design in the industrialized world and provides hundreds of examples of inexpensive, long-lasting, highly useful products that he and others have “designed for the real world.” He is opposed to patents because he feels ideas should be made freely available.

Although most of the book is directed towards proposed changes in the industrialized world, the author frequently discusses innovative designs that address the needs of the developing world’s villagers.

Papanek provides hundreds of ideas and a starting point for responsible, socially useful design. Many photos and illustrations.

Village Technology in Eastern Africa, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-25, book, 60 pages, UNICEF, June 1976 seminar report, free from UNICEF, Eastern Africa Regional Office, P.O. Box 44145, Nairobi, Kenya.

Here is an excellent introductory book, relevant to most Third World countries. It includes a review of the basic concepts of appropriate technology and an overview of potential A.T. tools and techniques for agriculture, food preservation, preparation of nutritious infant foods from local sources, and water supply. Criteria for evaluating rural energy needs and affordable alternatives are presented.

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