by Stephen Ranney
A growing number of development experts and national policymakers are beginning to question the wisdom of massive technology, transfers from the industrialized countries to the developing nations.
In the late 1960s, farmers in Pakistan received assistance from the World Bank in the form of a loan toward purchase of 18,000 heavy tractors. "Avid for Western technology, the farmers quickly snapped up the machines, but soon found that their economical use demanded larger plots. Smaller tenants were forced off the land, crop yields remained the same, but the number of workers required fell 40 percent."1
In the Llanos plains of Colombia, Los Gaviotas, an appropriate technology research and development center, is seeking ways to attract settlers to the area, away from the overpopulated cities and erosion-prone mountainsides. The local conditions-a lack of petroleum, a thin topsoil, and the threat of grass fires-has led to some sophisticated though simple developments: water-pumping windmills powered by only a 5 M.P.H. breeze; a four-foot dam on a small stream that produces enough power and water for a school and costs only $800 to build; the introduction of an African variety of sheep that does not crop the grass as closely as the native breeds.2
What is the difference between these two situations? It might be described as the appropriateness of the technology. In the first case, greater speed of plowing was not really a need of the farmers. In the second, the technology is scaled to meet the needs of the people of the area, at a reduced need for outside resources.
In much of the development aid that has gone to the poorer nations, the story has been more like the first one. Much of the aid has been concentrated in cities and heavy industry. But the result has often been mass migration to cities and a draining of vitality and talent from the countryside. Despite this trend, the bulk of third world population is still rural. Yet though the rural sector in most areas is in decay and poverty, development aid concentrates on the city – not surprisingly, since the donor nations are themselves industrial and urban. However, some leaders are changing their thinking.
A growing number of development experts and national policymakers are beginning to question the wisdom of massive technology, transfers from the industrialized countries to the developing nations. The large scale capital-intensive technologies developed in Europe, North America or Japan may well be efficient, but their introduction into poor, less-developed societies often raises more problems than it can solve.3
Industrial development in cities, while the rural sector is neglected, often tends to destroy traditional workplaces faster than new ones are created. The industrial city is limited in the employment it can produce because of its capital-intensive technology. This leads to a "dual economy" where the two sectors are so radically divergent in economic standing that social tensions are inevitable. Also, in such situations a "mutual poisoning" takes place-overquick urban development disrupts the life of the countryside, which in turns leads to choking urban migration. Anyone involved in missions is no doubt aware of problems such as these. Certainly the problems of development will affect the work of missionaries on the field-or their ability to stay there-but what should missionaries’ role in development be? Too often, such projects have only served to distract workers and organizations from important tasks and sap large amounts of money, with only mixed results.
What then? Should we simply abandon the accomplishments of science and the modern world, and give up on the less developed countries? A promising alternative is an intermediate technology, midway between the high technology of the industrial world and the primitive methods of many areas. In this approach, tools, resources, and products are produced locally to meet local needs. Workplaces are created in large numbers at limited cost.
Appropriate technology, or A.T., is an approach to Third World development aid which would be useful for mission boards and missionaries to be aware of as they plan and institute whatever level of material assistance to which they may be committed. It was first made widely known by E. F. Schumacher, a British economist who died in 1977. He stated:
The system of mass production, based on sophisticated, highly capital-intensive, high energy-input dependent, and human labour-saving technology, presupposes that you are already rich, for a great deal of capital investment is needed to establish one single workplace. The system of production by the masses mobilizes the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skillful hands, and supports them with first class tools.4
The appropriate or intermediate technology is employed to optimize not abstract factors such as GNP or balance of payments, but rather the basic needs of rural villagers. It is the application of modern science to a new set of problems: the need for simple building materials, clothing, household goods, agricultural tools, water supplies, sanitation, crop processing and storage facilitiesand fundamentally significant: meaningful work. "For a poor man," said Schumacher, "the chance to work is the greatest of all needs, and even poorly paid and relatively unproductive work is better than idleness."5
Such basic needs are often overlooked in imported heavy industrial or high-technology projects. The idea of "labor-saving" is not necessarily a good one when unemployment is at dangerously high levels. In the next twenty years the developing world must find jobs for over 500 million workers, though 800 million are already unemployed. High technology aid also has psychological disadvantages. An African writer states:
Often aid creates a psychological dependence on getting still more aid. It saps initiative and enterprise; again, it may foster-as it has in so many nonindustrialized countries-a type of development wholly inappropriate to circumstance. Industrial plants are created that can never be fulfilled.7
Since less developed countries are limited in capital and resources but have plenty of labor, it is hardly appropriate to import a technology which minimizes what they hues and demands what they lack. A labor-surplus society needs a laborintensive or intermediate technology, which does not demand large amounts of capital, energy, or highly sophisticated technical knowledge.
Another assumption implicit in high technology aid is the infrastructure which we take for granted-marketing, utilities, education, organization, discipline. Such elements take time to develop, and this can be fostered by giving individuals experience on small scale projects. Schumacher wrote in his book Small is Beautiful.
The intermediate technology would also fit much more smoothly into the relatively unsophisticated environment in which it is to be utilized. The equipment would be fairly simple and therefore understandable, suitable for maintenance and repair on the spot. Simple equipment is normally far less dependent on raw materials of great purity or exact specifications and much more adaptable to market fluctuations than highly sophisticated equipment. Men are more easily trained; supervision, control, and organization are simpler; and there is far less vulnerability to unforseen difficulties.8
Appropriate technology is not aimed at supplanting modern development of industrial sectors, but is intended to go along side this development as a necessary element. The following examples of A.T. in application show development of products for local use to improve local conditions, but also of small scale promotion of locally marketable goods. These will be followed by a discussion of the interest of missions in appropriate technology.
The building of 26,150 small village bio-gas generators rather than one coal-based fertilizer plant "would save $70 million in foreign exchange, save $15 million in capital expenditure, generate 130 times more employment, help arrest the disastrous flow of people to urban shanty towns, and increase local self-reliance in two waysthe ability to produce themselves the fertilizer needed to grow the food and the energy needed to cook it."9
"The Village Technology Unit in Indonesia has developed twine from coconut husks and water pipes from bamboo to help local villages improve their own standard of living with little reliance on government subsidy or imported products."10
In Nigeria, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture has experimented with a "no-till technique using a low-growing legume as a constant mulch and interplanting maize with a jab planter. By this method up to seven crops a year have been produced without subjecting the soil to the erosion that traditionally occurs following plowing."11
"Nigerian villagers use a $16 hand-operated metal-bending device to make agricultural tools; the cheapest machine available to do the same job costs $1,750 and requires electricity."12
"At the Zambian Government’s Mount Makulu Agricultural Research Station, rural engineers have developed a grain storage bin, called the Ferrumbu, that is structurally stable, waterproof, ratproof, insect-proof, fireproof and resistant to erratic temperature fluctuations. Rather than producing the bin themselves, the engineers have made step-by-step plans available to anyone who wants to build one himself. A Ferrumbu that holds one ton of grain costs just $20 to build."13
It will be obvious that the emphasis here is not upon large amounts of financial aid as much as upon the sharing of knowledge and inspiration. "The task of development is not simply one of making a technological jump, but of creating and nurturing an internal innovative capacity."14 This brings us to the question of the possibilities for mission in A.T.
First of all, as a person connected with the life of a particular region, a missionary will naturally want development to proceed in a way which is best by all accounts for that region. A missionary may be convinced that intermediate technology should supplement heavy industrial development, from a purely economic or sociological viewpoint. But beyond this, many of the arguments for indigenous church development can be urged in favor of small scale technological development. The stability of communities and families, the development of and opportunity for initiative and creativity, the increased opportunity for meaningful work, the meeting of basic human needs-all these things are good for the church and are consistent with mission goals.
Second, missionaries are often already involved in this kind of small scale development aid, and may not be aware of the numerous resources available to them. The emphasis of missions has quite properly been knowledge rather than material aid, a fact demonstrated in the many contributions to development in areas such as farming and medicine. In the case of A.T., the missionary can be either a channel of communication between the area of need and the existing sources of information, or he can become involved on various levels in solving problems, possibly through the utilization of short-or long-term technical workers.
Third, the A.T. approach seems particularly useful for mission agencies, since they are frequently limited financially, and A. T. is relatively inexpensive. Thus, rather than being a pale imitation of the foreign aid of governments, the aid of mission groups could spread in a quiet and yet substantial way, at minimal cost.
Fourth, though the entire concept as set forth in Schumacher’s work would require a fundamental reorientation of society, the actual activity, as described in the above examples, can go forward, and is going forward, to help individual villages and other units. Not only is the technology normally small scale, but it can be implemented on a small scale.
Whatever the level of material aid a particular mission group is committed to, it would be wise to at least be aware of the developments in this field. The technical information is available from many sources; scores of countries in the third world have their own A.T. organizations. Knowledge of this work and cooperation where advisable would demonstrate a willingness to help on levels other than the traditional, and might open opportunities for assistance to groups that previously have been unable to afford it.
This is not a suggestion that missionaries immediately drop everything and begin working on small scale technology. Rather, since development aid is a part of missions, it is a brief introduction to a new approach that seems most significant for mission workers and organizations, one that might make more effective their efforts to help the peoples with whom they work.
1. Richard D. Lyons, "Technology Separates the Rich from the Poor," New York Times, August 26, 1979, IV, 24:3.
2. Everett G. Martin, "Colombian Gadgetry Seeks to Entice Poor to Hot Grasslands," Wall Streetiournal, October 26, 1979, p. 1.
3. Nicholas Jequier, cited in Appropriate Technology: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Scientific Planning, Analysis and Cooperation of the Committee on Science and Technology (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978), p. 3.
4. E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 153, 154.
5. Ibid, p. 173.
6. Lyons, op. cit.
7. Jimoh Omo-Fakaka, cited in Wilson Clark, "Big and/or Little? Search is on for Right Technology," Smithsonian 7 (July 1976), p. 44.
8. Schumacher, p. 181.
9. William J. Ellis, "A.T.: The Quiet Revolution," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 33 (November 1977), pp. 26, 27.
10. Ibid., p. 27.
11. Ibid., p. 29.
12. Susan Fraker and Gerald C. Lubenow, "Mr. Small," Newsweek 89 (March 28, 1977), p. 18.
13. Boyce Rensberger, "Technology Spreading in Third World," New York Times, April 10,41979, 111, 2:3. Ibid.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION ON APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY
Intermediate Technology Development Group, Ltd., 9 King Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E, 8HN, U.K. Gives technical advice to developing countries and aid agencies, and undertakes the development and testing of intermediate technologies. It also works with AT groups in developing countries. Publications: an extensive list of general and technical publications is available. ITDG also publishes Appropriate Technology, a quarterly journal containing information on agriculture, food production, building materials, and so forth.
Volunteers in Technical Assistance, 3706 Rhode Island Avenue, Mt. Rainer, Maryland 20822, U.S.A. Performs technical assistance and consultation on site and by mail. Publications: publication list is available on various AT subjects. VITA publishes the Village Technology Handbook, also. The book is a compilation of many designs developed in the fields of water resources, health and sanitation, agriculture, food processing and preservation, construction, home improvement, crafts and village industry, and communication. Cost: $8.95 + 15% for surface mail, 40% airmail (Americas or Europe) or 80% (Asia and the Pacific).
Brace Research Institute, Faculty and Engineering, Macdonald College of McGill University, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, Canada H9X 1C0. Founded to "develop equipment and techniques for making dry lands available and economically useful for agricultural purposes." A publications list is available; the Institute also publishes A Handbook on Appropriate Technology, an excellent introduction to the field. It has sections on AT in general, and a series of case studies from various countries. An information exchange section contains a catalogue of tools, bibliography, and list of groups involved in AT.
Copyright © 1975 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.