Introduction

These, then, are some of the reasons why it is difficult to incorporate A.T. principles into large agency programs of action. Concepts like “local self-reliance” and “people’s participation” are difficult to work with and therefore not popular with planners. Yet when the small farmer is integrated into the world economy, the roller-coaster price cycles of international commodity markets can undercut his or her chances for self-reliant advancement. Unless thoughtful attention is given to these difficult issues, projects and programs will have little about them that is really “appropriate.”

Policymakers responsible for the national decisions that influence technological change also need to carefully examine whether their policies are supportive of appropriate technologies. People who work with appropriate technologies at the grass-roots levels in many countries consider governmental measures out of touch and ineffectual, and have become thoroughly skeptical of government and international agency activities labeled “A.T.” In few countries have the policymakers provided evidence to change this view.

If the world were made up of autonomous communities, people could make their own choices about technological change. But the image of the completely isolated village is an illusion. In Indonesia, for example, where more than 70% of the population lives in rural areas, most have watched television and know of Honda motorcycles and Levi’s jeans. The materialism of the West has very nearly reached the farthest corners of the earth, and profoundly affected the aspirations and behavior of much of humanity. In villages in which the largest killer is infant diarrhea, people save from tiny disposable incomes to buy quartz-crystal watches, cameras, and motorcycles while the need for clean water goes unaddressed. Not only the landless but also the young, and the bright, and the enterprising people are lured to the city. They leave behind village economies drained of resources by international soft drinks, cigarettes, and consumer goods, and drained of talent by the pull of economic opportunity and “modernization.”

Local A.T. workers must consider these powerful forces influencing the communities in which they work. Community-based development strategies will be up against great odds where the vitality of the community has been sapped. It is just as clear that neglect at the national level will greatly increase the odds against A.T. development.

The challenge is to devise policy measures and government programs, which will support widespread local A.T. efforts—instead of replacing or attempting to direct them. Nicolas Jequier notes that the A.T. movement does

“… not really know how to handle A.T. on the scale that is required by the needs of hundreds of millions of poor people …. The problem in effect is not simply to develop more appropriate types of technology, important as this may be, but to start redesigning the existing system of planning, investment, and development ….”

—”Appropriate Technology: The Second Generation,” 1978

Who Are the Innovators?

There is a widespread misconception that new technologies are produced by large groups of people working in government research centers. In fact, this has rarely been true. The great majority of technological innovations have always been the products of individuals and small groups of people. Small businesses, not government R&D centers or large corporations, are the major sources of innovations even in high-technology products such as microcomputers. For example, in 1986 a new world record for the longest airplane flight without refueling was set by the Voyager aircraft. This plane was designed by one man and built and flown by his brother and a friend. What kinds of individuals originate successful technological innovations?The answer to this question is important in choosing a strategy for village technology research and development. It has been commonly recognized that engineers, scientists and foreigners have made significant innovations in a variety of settings. Each of these sometimes overlapping groups has its own strengths: engineers are versed in the fundamentals of design; scientists have powerful conceptual and methodological skills; foreigners bring ideas from the outside and insights from a different way of looking at problems. It is not commonly recognized that craftspeople, farmers, and other villagers have been contributing to the village technology innovation process for much longer than the professionals and outsiders. The idea that poor farmers and craftspeople are not inventive is an unfortunate misconception held (often unconsciously) by people who have had little direct contact with villagers in their own or other countries. In fact, the poor in both rural and urban areas around the world show considerable ingenuity in using the materials available to them to solve their problems. Recycling industrial materials into shoes and oil lamps, imitating natural ecological interactions in small farming systems, and keeping vehicles running for decades without proper spare parts are just three of thousands of possible examples. A person convinced of the existence of lively inventive activity among the people of rural areas and urban slums of the developing world may still be inclined to dismiss this as too small in magnitude to be relevant to appropriate technology efforts. But is it? Suppose we assume that roughly 2% of any human population acts in ways that deserve the label “inventor.” This is the figure used for the San Francisco Bay Area of California by a regional inventor’s council. If this is accurate, there would be 1.7 million “inventors” among the 85 million inhabitants of Java! Obviously, these population groups are quite different. The San Francisco Bay Area has a reported 100,000 inventors in a population of 5 million. The Bay Area contains a large number of highly educated people, and is the heart of the rapidly growing electronics industry. On the other hand, the mostly rural population of Java has a greater daily involvement with tools and materials, a great range of traditional technologies, and a larger immediate survival problem. Even if the figure of 2% is reduced by a factor of ten that would leave 170,000 people informally involved in day-to-day village technology adaptations in Java. This figure dwarfs the number of researchers involved in formal programs on the same tasks. Appropriate technology efforts should be designed to take advantage of this large and creative group of people and support them, with technical assistance when necessary and with formal and nonformal education programs, to put such inventive activity on a firmer technical footing and accelerate it. We must keep in mind that craftspeople and farmers commonly have a knack for devising tools. They also have a firm grasp of acceptability, affordability, and usefulness that is sorely needed in institutional research and development (R&D) programs. The magnitude of the potential contribution by craftspeople and farmers in an innovation process is at least as great as that of the professionals and outsiders. This suggests that programs for the indigenous development of appropriate technologies should draw on the different perspectives and innovative talents of each of these groups, by giving special attention to imaginative ways to directly include the beneficiaries.

The Structure of R&D Efforts

Most research and development institutions in the developing world today are structured in ways that work against the development of appropriate technologies. This continues to be true even when the content of R&D activities has been changed to “appropriate technology.” Most of these institutions have staff from urban elite, who look to their peers for recognition. Facilities are located far from villages and trials of new technologies are conducted in artificial environments. In this kind of institutional setting, there is generally little place for (or interest in) input from farmers and other villagers.

For years, observers from around the world have been pointing to the need for direct involvement of farmers and other villagers in any technological research intended to benefit them:

“The farmers in a land parcelization project complained of little or no corn response to fertilizer even though it was required in the complete credit package .…(Subsequent) results from Farm Trials indicated response in some cases, especially in some of the hybrids tested, but in none was it profitable; conventional wisdom, coupled with the natural tendency to consider fertilizer necessary in any complete recommendation, had created a situation in which the farmers were being forced into unprofitable investments ….”

—Peter Hildebrand, “Generating Small Farm Technology,” 1977

“The challenge before us is to establish a system which will produce machines that will make poor people more productive— machines that will work, will last, and are affordable. In developing the system, we must ensure that the villager becomes an active member of the research team. For it is the villager … who is the focal point of all this activity, and ultimately it is the villager who will judge if we are making a serious effort to solve his problems, or if we are merely continuing to tinker with his future.”

—David Henry, “Designing for Development: What is A.T. for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation?”, 1978

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