Introduction

Several of the books reviewed in this edition discuss and detail the necessary steps for small farmer involvement in R&D work. They provide mounting evidence that successful programs work with users beginning early in the process. Those institutions and programs that continue without user involvement are not succeeding in producing technologies that people want. In industry, the same pattern holds: those companies that work closely with users when developing new products are generally successful, while companies that do not have poor results.

With the cart still serving as the primary mode of transport of goods in many countries around the world, virtually no systematic design work to improve these had taken place until the last few years. Such neglect is not simply the result of oversight but part of a pattern in which the research content and application of science has been heavily biased toward the needs of industrialized countries. The everyday pressing problems in poor countries have rarely been sufficiently unique or “interesting” to attract the attention of the scientist eager to investigate some phenomenon never before researched. This complaint is a fundamental one, and a major reason for the existence of the appropriate technology movement.

How might research become more responsive and related to everyday problems? One way, mentioned above, is to involve people who will use the fruits of research in the research process itself, and in decisions about research content. An alternative approach to research, already evidenced by some committed scientists and technical people in the developing world, also offers promise. Whereas commercial research and development has responded to the promise of economic gain for the innovative firm (as in the case of the running shoe industry), the “social entrepreneur” identifies needs and organizes responses primarily in hopes of finding a better way to do things that will benefit many people. These investigators choose to study new roofing materials and productive, ecologically sound small farming systems, while their counterparts in the rich countries study such things as the mating behavior of exotic fish.

“The prime criterion for good research should be that it is likely to mitigate poverty and hardship among rural people, especially the poorer rural people, and to enhance the quality of their lives in ways which they will welcome; that in short, priorities should be arrived at less by an overview, grounded in the reality of the rural situation. Starting with rural people, their world view, their problems and their opportunities, will give a different perspective. To be able to capture that perspective requires a revolution in professional values and working styles; it requires humility and a readiness to innovate which may not come easily in many research establishments.”

—Robert Chambers, “Identifying Research Priorities in Water Development,” in The Social an Ecological Effects of Water Development in Developing Countries, 1978

There is a wide range of very low-cost village technologies that require little more than local materials and labor for adaptation work, which could be carried out by small organizations with few resources but close ties to users. Included here are such important technologies as improved cook stoves and grain storage bins. Moreover, many of the technological improvements involving the lowest cash investments hold the greatest potential for spreading quickly in poor communities.

Science Teaching

The experience and natural inventiveness of local people have been identified as key elements in relevant research and development efforts. Improving basic science education could also strengthen and broaden the local capability to do research and design work, harnessing the systematic methods of scientific inquiry to the creativity and experience which people already possess. Yet education in developing countries is rarely intended to promote a basic understanding of scientific approaches to problem-solving, nor does it offer students skills that are relevant to their daily lives. This is true in the secondary schools as well as the primary schools, which provide the only years of schooling for most rural people.

Major problems include the lack of affordable texts and lab equipment, the lack of written or printed materials in the local languages, the failure of curricula to show connections between science (with its odd lab apparatus) and the natural world, and the meager science background among teachers. Most importantly, the basic purpose and method of science is lost in the developing world’s educational systems. With little or no chance to participate in simple experiments, students do not learn to take systematic steps in testing hypotheses and prototypes. Science is presented to them as a set of abstract concepts to be memorized. Educational systems geared to the needs of the few students who pass to subsequent levels (instead of the larger numbers who leave school at the end of each level) make science courses primarily tools for screening students rather than for developing a basic scientific literacy throughout the population.

A way out of the dilemma may be found by relating science more directly to the natural processes going on around students in their daily lives, by making low-.cost lab equipment

(see the SCIENCE TEACHING chapter), and by using devices and materials that are normally found in the community (such as bicycle pumps and market scales). Students could then become directly involved in the systematic procedures of science, learning valuable problem-solving skills. They could begin to escape the deadening effect of rote schooling, where memorization rather than skill development and understanding is the goal. Courses on simple machines and agriculture, directly related to farm activities, could be included. This has been tried with success. Special curriculum development and teacher training are crucial for the success of such efforts.

This kind of shift in science education may be similar to what Albert Baez

(director of UNESCO’s division of science teaching from 1961 to 1967) had in mind when he observed: “The inquiry mode of science and the design of mode technology should both infuse the science education of the future.” (“Curiosity, Creativity, Competence and Compassion—Guidelines for Science Education in the year 2000,” by Albert V. Baez, June 1979.) In that 1979 paper he went on to note that both Einstein and Edison were stifled and powerfully alienated by their early contact with rote schooling. An essential part of a new approach to science education, he argued, is the fostering of creativity. He cited a study, which indicated that creative people “challenge assumptions, recognize patterns, see in new ways, make connections, take risks, take advantage of change, and construct networks.”

It may be possible to create a corps of people who can use both “the inquiry mode of science and the design mode of technology” to help solve the technological problems of their communities. These people would receive special practical training in addition to the new science courses. They would play a role similar to that of the “barefoot doctors” who have been successful in China and an increasing number of other developing countries. These “barefoot engineers” would not replace other engineers, but would greatly increase the availability of technical skills for problem-solving at the grass-roots level. In rural Colombia, the FUNDAEC program has been training such a corps of “barefoot engineers” (see review of The Rural University). These young people, coming from the rural communities with a sixth grade education, go through a three year training program. A university based group distills and combines concepts from a variety of technical fields, to arm students with a set of skills relevant to the problems of their communities.

Basic Steps for R&D

From this discussion, we can identify at least four basic steps that are likely to increase the relevance and productivity of appropriate technology R&D efforts:

1) Change the criteria for “good” research. Good research should be that which is likely to reduce poverty.

2) Seek to understand the viewpoint of the poor—their perceptions of problems and opportunities.

3) Actively include the poor, especially small farmers and crafts people, in both decisions about research content, and in the research itself.

4) Offer basic relevant science education geared to the challenges of local problems, with curricula adapted to employ available materials and common devices to illustrate principles, and to provide young people and farmer-inventors with a more scientifically sound basis for their innovation efforts. Offer related courses on simple machines, how they work and how to fix them.

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