Introduction

The elements of self-reliance, local initiative, and local control that are essential parts of this approach present a challenge to conventional thinking in the development institutions. Up to 80% or more of the population in most developing countries lives in rural villages. Many of the people in urban areas fled the stifling lack of opportunities that tends to characterize rural areas. Thus successful rural appropriate technologies might concern some 90% of the population. An important voice in the dialogue about village technology can and should be provided by educated people working in rural areas in small projects. However, many of these people seem hesitant to get involved in experiments with technology, perhaps because this is seen as the work of engineers and scientists, and therefore as too difficult for others to undertake. Yet, the development of appropriate technology in not solely or even primarily a question of engineering design—it involves a wide range of considerations. Appropriate technology work cuts across traditional lines of expertise, and benefits from the insights of local farmers, technologists, educated generalists and business people.

The small-scale technologies and techniques covered in this book are not particularly difficult to understand. Village problems do not generally require the importation of licensed technology, the intervention of multinational corporations, or the use of computer printouts for their solutions. These problems are centered around basic needs such as water supply, adequate housing, increased food production and processing, crop storage, and fuel supplies. Many people with a generalist background who are now involved in running small village development projects are quite capable of studying, understanding and effectively using most of the books reviewed here on these subjects. There is a clear need for such people to think of themselves as “village technologists” who support small experiments and tests, and who try to make villagers aware of what has been done elsewhere. It is increasingly evident that appropriate technology workers should be forging relationships and making alliances with people active in complementary development activities, such as community organizers, planners, university students and faculty, staff of small business and cooperative promotion programs, members of unions and peasant organizations, teachers in technical high schools, and librarians. All have much to share with technologists. For this reason we have added new categories of readings to this book over the years. One section is concerned with strategies for appropriate technology and local self-reliance. Discussed here are the advantages of small scale in community-based efforts, and how government policies can support those efforts. Another section reviews the literature on the successful operation of small businesses and cooperatives—important vehicles for the application of appropriate technologies and the equitable distribution of the benefits.

Educational strategies that support local problem-solving are necessary if local knowledge of needs and the power of community action are to be tapped. We have therefore included chapters on science teaching to support local technical innovation, and non-formal education approaches and training techniques. The theme of people’s participation runs through much of what has been said about appropriate technology. This comes in part from a philosophy, which measures development in terms of the people’s skills and their ability to solve their own problems. In northern Bali there is a village in which the people have been very active in their own self-help projects for many years. They asked an engineer in a nearby town if it was true that electricity could be produced by harnessing a small stream. They ended up getting all the technical help they needed to design a small water turbine system, which they proceeded to build and pay for themselves using money from the sale of coffee. They had to buy the generator and they had the simple Banki turbine made in a large city, but the dam construction, the turbine installation, the wiring throughout the villages and all the rest were done by the villagers themselves. This is a dramatic example, which admittedly could not have been completed without the coffee revenues. Yet it demonstrates that remarkable things are possible when villagers are organized and begin to believe that they can work to develop their own village.

The decentralization that should be part of participation also makes a great deal of sense from a technical standpoint:” Detailed technological information in terms of local labor conditions, and the resource situation, transport facilities, etc., may well be more easily accessible to the man on the spot, but does he really know very much about the relevant technology used in other economics but not yet locally? Certainly, if he learns more about the experiences of other countries, he may well be in a better position than the man at the center to judge the local technical possibilities in the light of rural conditions.”—Amartya Sen, in

Technology and Employment in Industry

Natural Resource Conservation

While A.T. offers an approach to development that balances the various development needs of the local people, it has a similarly important role to play in minimizing ecological destruction. Forests are being destroyed around the world at a rapid and ever-increasing rate. In the last 20 years, hundreds of millions of hectares of forest have been cut or burned for timber harvesting, cattle ranching, and agriculture.

The consequences of this rampant destruction are felt around the world. People living in forest areas feel the impact most immediately. For them, deforestation has meant scarce firewood for cooking, as well as the loss of plants and animals used for food, medicine, housing and other daily needs. The impact on the global economy and environment, though less apparent, may ultimately be destructive. The loss of forest biomass is a major contributor to the process of global warming, an increase in air temperatures worldwide that could radically affect agriculture and cause flooding of coastal areas by melting polar icecaps. Forest destruction has led to the extinction of numerous plant and animal species. The loss of biodiversity undermines the resilience of the world’s interrelated biological systems, posing what many biologists believe is the greatest threat to life on the planet.

A tension exists between the ambition for rapid economic development and the ultimate need to conserve natural resources. Many governments and development projects have failed to recognize the environmental costs of timbering, cattle ranching, and large dam projects in ecologically sensitive areas. After the short-run benefits have been reaped, such mega-development approaches can seriously damage the natural resource base and therefore yield low or negative economic returns in the long run.

In one common pattern, roads pave the way for colonization of forest areas by people displaced by poverty from other areas. Lacking appropriate tools, these settlers clear the forest for slash-and-burn agriculture, only to find that within several years the soil has been depleted and more forest must be cleared. The tools and techniques described in this book offer at least partial solutions to these problems. A.T. can help make agriculture and agro forestry a sustainable undertaking, halting this cycle of forest destruction. Other A.T. approaches can foster more economically stable and environmentally benign development.

Short-term thinking about these issues is as common in the world’s rich countries as in poor countries. Yet the very nature of the problem, as well as relative disparity in resources available to help address it, suggest that the costs of a more environmentally sound development will be shared. Many governments and major development agencies now recognize the importance of this threat and are supporting increasingly ambitious and innovative conservation programs.

The Recent Track Record

We wish we could report that the purely technological reasons for poverty (inadequate tools and techniques and therefore inefficient use of labor and resources) are well on their way to being eliminated. Unfortunately, this is far from being true. The achievement of some respectability for appropriate technology within both the academic community and the development community over the past fifteen years does not mean that a major effort to apply A.T. concepts is underway. During the same period, the running shoe industry in the United States reached billions in annual sales. Shoe designs have improved dramatically, as large sums of money have been devoted to research and development in the race to make better shoes to protect runners from injury. In comparison, progress in appropriate technology efforts have certainly not been as well-funded. In 1985, $100 million in talking toy bears were sold to the U.S. public. This exceeded the value of all newly designed equipment promoted as appropriate technology sold in the developing world (though not the value of all the equipment that could be classified as A.T.).

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