Appropriate Technology

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Appropriate Technology is a movement based on the idea that the most advanced technology is often inappropriate for undeveloped countries and that an intermediate level of technology based on locally available materials is often better. The movement is largely based in England, where its enthusiasts invent equipment and then go to undeveloped countries and try to organize its use.

The movement, to my knowledge, has had very little success even when the technology lives up to expectations.

A new kind of cooking stove for Kenya is an example. Some Englishmen invented a stove that could be made of local clay and which was much more economical of wood than what had been used. They went to Kenya and persuaded the natives to build 250 of them over several years. At the same time a kerosene stove made in Japan was introduced and 10,000 were sold through ordinary commercial channels. The kerosene stove was not made locally, and the fuel had to be imported.

Both the initial enthusiasm and the outcome were reported in New Scientist, an English weekly. [Precise reference to come].

Here are some possible reasons for the greater acceptance of the Japanese kerosene stove.

  1. The Japanese stove was somewhat cheaper.
  2. The Kenyans preferred buying something in a store to attending meetings.
  3. The Japanese stove was advertised.
  4. The appropriate technology publicity struck the Kenyans wrong.
  5. The weakness of undeveloped countries is mainly in the organization of production and distribution. The appropriate technology approach makes its demands precisely where the society is weakest.
A solar cooker some Americans attempted to introduce in South Africa was even more of a flop.

My own opinion is that undeveloped countries are almost always better off following models that have been successful elsewhere. The reason is that undeveloped countries are usually weak in people with entrepreneurial and organizing talent. That's why they are undeveloped. A new technology is always more difficult to introduce than a technology that has been successful elsewhere.

McDonalds now has stores in 119 countries. It represents an attempt to export their standards of efficiency, quality, economy, profitability, and provision of part time work, especially to teenagers. It would be interesting to know what variations in menu have turned out to be appropriate.

Of course, tourists who have spent several thousand dollars to transport themselves to exotic places are annoyed to see the golden arches. They probably hold out for several weeks before they let their children bully them into taking them to McDonalds.

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