What is appropriate technology?
In the process of development, choices are often made on behalf of, and ostensibly in the
interests of, the intended beneficiaries of a technology, but without the beneficiaries'
participation and without taking into account the prevailing circumstances or the real needs
and wants of those who will be affected. To impose a technology because it appears rational
from the donor's point of view is not offering choice. While this may arise as a result of
misplaced good intentions, the donor is nevertheless guilty of a lack of understanding of the
beneficiaries' needs, and failure to give them the opportunity to participate in choice.
In other cases, decisions are taken by governments, companies, individuals or development
agencies for commercial, political or personal reasons. Numerous countries are home to
projects which bear no relation to the needs of local people, and serve as little more than
monuments to the personal and political agendas of their rulers. Many development projects
arise as the result of commercial imperatives.
In the 1920s the British colonial government in the Sudan embarked on a massive irrigation
project in the area between the White Nile and the Blue Nile, south of Khartoum, in order to
provide Britain with a cheap and reliable supply of cotton. Since independence in 1954,
successive governments have extended the scheme in an attempt to maximise foreign-
exchange earnings. The Gezira Scheme is now known as
'the world's largest farm’. However, reliance on a single
“To impose a
commodity has led to huge losses as the price of cotton has technology because
plummeted in the face of competition from synthetics, and
to environmental degradation through mono-cropping and
it appears rational
the liberal use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
from the donors
Farmers have been forced to grow cotton at the expense of
food crops, and food security has suffered at both local and
national level. The decision to introduce a seemingly
point of view is not
valuable cash crop may have seemed rational to the
politicians who devised the scheme, but had the farmers themselves been consulted it would
rapidly have become clear that the choice was neither logical nor appropriate. Many farmers
have now turned, illegally, to growing sorghum, which provides both food security and
A great deal of bilateral development assistance actually takes the form of 'tied aid', under
which the recipient government is obliged to buy equipment and technical expertise from the
'donor' country. Of every £1 donated by the British government to developing countries in
1990, over 62 pence was spent on goods and services from Britain. By failing to transfer the
skills required to operate, maintain and reproduce the technology, the 'donor' maintains the
unequal relationship, and the recipient government continues to rely upon the 'donor' in order
to operate the technology effectively.
Thirdly, poor people may be actively denied the possibility of technology choice. A large
proportion of the population of the South has no access to information about alternative
technologies, or opportunities for the further development of indigenous technologies, and in
this way is excluded -often consciously -from the development process. This applies
particularly to resource-poor, traditional, rural populations, who have little economic, and
consequently little political, power. Development efforts are most often directed towards the
modern, urban, industrial sector, where economic and political powers are grounded.
Proponents of the 'dependency' theory of development argue that denial of choice is
deliberate. In the dual economy it is in the interests of the centre to maintain the
subordinate position of the periphery. In other words, the North is concerned that the South
should remain in a dependent position, and the rich South is anxious to maintain its control
over the poor South, Development efforts are directed at the centre, and the periphery is not
offered the possibility of technology choice.
Participation choice and development
A society's level of economic development is generally measured by its level of technological
development. Developing societies are characterised by the widespread application of traditional
(Iow-cost, labour-intensive, 'inefficient') technologies. These technologies have developed