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< prev - next > Social and economic development what is appropriate technology (Printable PDF)
What is appropriate technology?
Practical Action
viewed as far superior to production by the masses, and in this sense the North is regarded as
'developed' while the South is, at best, 'developing'.
Appropriate and inappropriate technology
The 'modernisation' theory of development, which still dominates much of the formal
development debate, argues that Northern technology is a prerequisite of economic development
in the South. The logical conclusion of this argument is that the simple introduction of such
technology will lead naturally to development.
However, the introduction of advanced technologies is no
guarantee of their success, nor of their suitability.
Technologies evolve in response to, and in accordance
with, prevailing social, cultural and economic
circumstances. Unless these circumstances are taken
into account, any attempt to transfer an advanced
technology from the setting where it has developed
naturally is almost certain to fail. Responding to the
modernisation theorists, Schumacher argued in Small is
Beautiful that:
“An appropriate
technology is one which
evolves or is developed
in response to a
particular set of needs
and in accordance with
'certain new economic activities... will be beneficial and viable only if they can be sustained by
the already existing educational level of fairly broad groups of people'.
In other words, if a society does not have the software - the skills, knowledge and modes of
organisation -to employ a particular type of hardware, then the technology must be viewed as
inappropriate. An appropriate technology is one, which evolves or is developed in response to
a particular set of needs and in accordance with prevailing circumstances.
Numerous governments and development agencies have learnt to their cost the fallacy of the
assumption that rural electrification is a precursor to economic development. Rural
industries and artisans do not convert to the use of advanced, highly productive appliances
simply because a supply of electricity becomes available. The use of electricity and its
associated hardware also demands the application of appropriate knowledge, skills and
patterns of labour, which may differ significantly from those applied to traditional
technologies, and do not come as part of a ready-made package. Need determines
technology; technology does not determine need.
Naturally, what is appropriate for one sector of society
may be inappropriate for another, and what is
appropriate for society as a whole may be inappropriate
for individuals. In Asia, the Green Revolution of the
1970s and 1980s was designed to maximise rice
production through the introduction of scientifically-
developed High-Yielding Varieties (HYVs) - an advanced
technology, which built on the existing skills, and
knowledge of traditional rice farmers. In a number of
countries the Green Revolution has had the desired
effect of preventing food shortages, even of providing
surpluses, and from the macro-economic point of view
the technology can be regarded as appropriate for meeting
a particular set of needs.
technology does
not determine
However, the introduction of HYVs imposed heavy demands on individual farmers, who were
obliged to adopt the different cultivation patterns demanded by the new varieties, including
the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. While this increased the farmers' returns to
labour, it also had the effect of increasing their vulnerability. Traditional varieties, which had
evolved over time in response to prevailing agricultural practices and climatic conditions,
were resistant to a range of diseases. By planting a number of varieties with different