The landless laborer is even less likely to be able to directly increase her or his income through field crop technologies, unless production increases create more work (e.g., at the processing stage). More to the advantage of tenants and laborers would appear to be technologies for small-scale crop processing, drying, and storage; home gardening; and household needs.

Of course, in many communities, most of the people own or have guaranteed access to some land as individuals, through extended family ties, through legislated communal family ownership, or through secure tenant-landlord relationships. In these places there may be great scope for the application of small-scale agricultural technologies which would increase the viability of small farms and result in broadly distributed benefits. In many other communities, however, vigorous land reform efforts may be necessary before much can be accomplished through agricultural technology change.

Systems for renting machinery can be an important means of distributing costs and benefits of new equipment among a large group of farmers. Such systems work best when competition keeps the charges reasonable. Otherwise, rental systems can be a means for owners to make monopoly profits; this is unfortunately quite common. Cooperative ownership, by contrast, usually involves more management problems but ensures a broader distribution of benefits. Cooperatives too, however are frequently taken over by elites.

We cannot automatically assume that new or adapted low-cost technology will be “accessible” to the masses or equitable in its distributional effects. Many small-scale machines imported into poor rural areas (such as Japanese engine-driven rice mills to Java) are affordable only to the wealthiest of rural people. Such machines may be accessible and small, but they are not accessible or small enough. Use of such machines can destroy jobs while providing benefits primarily to the owners. On the other hand, such machines may provide a valuable service at a reasonable price, in which case most of the community will benefit.

The foregoing discussion suggests that there can be fundamental political qualities associated with scale and cost of technology. Large-scale expensive technologies and centralized production systems tend to concentrate wealth, and can be vehicles that destroy the livelihoods of the poor majority in developing countries. Conversely, while village elites are quite capable of consolidating their positions with “intermediate” technologies, small-scale tools and techniques are less likely to contribute to the destruction of village economies. This is why technology policy— the set of codes, incentives, and restrictions affecting the direction of technological change—is such an important political matter. In almost all poor countries, government policies are determined by a narrow group of urban-based elites; thus the resolution of this important matter will not necessarily be in the interests of rural people, much less the poor majority of rural people. Those who govern, it seems, may perceive little benefit for themselves in wholeheartedly instituting policy measures needed to support a small-scale technology strategy.

An equally important related political question is whether—with or without substantial policy support—community organizations can exist or be created to serve as mechanisms for technological improvements that benefit everyone. The answer here seems to be a qualified “yes.” Community organizers are becoming interested in A.T. because some technologies offer the opportunity for substantial benefits through community action, and thus encourage organization building. Technologists, on the other hand, have become increasingly aware of community organizing as a crucial activity (and even a requirement) for success of their technology programs; a climate of community awakening, self respect, and cooperation, and a chance to participate in a two-way dialogue, can have a major effect on whether improved tools and techniques are applied successfully. Thus appropriate technology and community organizing work are seen by many as mutually supportive, each contributing to the progress and growth of the other.

Community organizers, while not seeking conflict for their own sake, recognize that the small communities of the developing world are often riddled with inequalities of wealth and power. An important step in community organizing is to awaken a community to its own political, economic, and technical problems and opportunities. Then the challenge is to find mechanisms which allow progress for all, and prevent elites from taking over new community institutions. The promotion of small-scale technologies faces the same hurdle—either strong community organization or a very careful technology group (or both) may be needed to ensure that a new technology will not become controlled by elites. (Elite control is most likely with crop processing equipment, pumps and tillers, vehicles, and equipment for small industry; it is least likely with household technologies— improved stoves, home crop storage units, sanitation systems, and new construction materials.) An important strategy for both appropriate technologists and community organizers may be to concentrate initially on technologies which will benefit all, regardless of differences in wealth and power. On this point, a training team in rural India observes:

“Today there is much talk about ‘total revolution’ and radical transformation of society. But what really matters are the changes taking place in the socioeconomic reality of the villages where poverty crushes the poor. In this stark reality of life the rural pool can hardly envisage more than creating for themselves some free space in society where they can breathe more freely and begin to stretch themselves. What is crucial at the moment is to create a base for joint action which is relatively free from control of the locally powerful. Wherever this has been achieved, people begin to move.”

—Moving Closer to the Rural Poor, MOTT, 1979

Crucial “breathing space” for the poor may be created, without local political opposition, through the use of improved stoves which save one third of the fuel normally used in cooking, low-cost grain storage units that can significantly reduce losses of grain stored in the home, or by water supply and sanitation systems that can markedly improve human health. Properly chosen and developed, such very low-cost technologies can provide a crucial entry point for community organizing efforts. At a later stage, great inequalities may have to be confronted directly or neither community organizing nor technological advance can proceed.

Those who have overlooked the importance of community organizing should bear in mind that in addition to helping spread benefits of new technologies, community organizations open up other possibilities. Community technologies, such as water supply and sanitation systems, commonly fail when there is not a high degree of participation (i.e., a local committee for maintenance and repair). Technology adaptation and skills acquisition can also often be effectively pursued by community groups. In addition, cooperative community organizations offer members the chance to share resources and consolidate buying power. These intertwining functions can be seen at times in the more successful farm cooperatives:

“It was the farm co-op that got America’s farmer out from under the oppressive crop-lien system, which kept nineteenth century farmers in hock [debt] to local merchants and distant brokers. Co-ops gave farmers an equal measure of bargaining power in the marketplace. With co-ops, farmers could market their crops directly, and could also do away with the hated middleman to purchase their supplies.”

—Jerry Hagstrom, “Whose Co-op Bank?”, Working Papers, July/August 1980

The links beginning to form between appropriate technology and community organizing should lead to ideas for organized cooperation on higher levels.

Community organizing, appropriate technology, and other allied groups from different nations, for example, would find much in common and benefit greatly by learning about each other’s experiences. How might this come about?


The concept that improved village technologies should be based upon local human and material resources, and be in harmony with local culture, has gained great acceptance within the appropriate technology movement. As a result, prevailing models of the role of communications in development have become increasingly inadequate for A.T. advocates. The “diffusion of innovations” theories, on which so many extension programs have been based, have assumed that centralized agencies would determine which technologies to promote. For the most part the task of communications has been defined, therefore, as the persuasion of the poor “target” population to accept these solutions. This process has not left room for input from the poor as to what solutions might interest them, nor has it allowed for the fact that some needs are more pressing in one community, while entirely different needs have priority in nearby communities. The extension agent has typically been assigned to a vast area due to funding shortages, and has found his or her impact seriously diluted. In addition, errors and misunderstandings have been compounded as information passes from trainer to extension agent to “opinion leader” to the rest of the farmers.

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