in MOVING TECHNOLOGY, Vol. 7, No.1, March 1992, pg. 2-5. Published by CAPART,
A large number of voluntary organizations are involved in developing
technologies for rural areas. However,
these technologies have hardly touched the lives of rural population. Data on rural market potential shows that a
population of about 250 million in rural areas exhibits a high level of market
potential. This is almost 25% total
The following points will highlight the existing situation:
· Most of the technologies being propagated in rural areas are urban-based and biased. They trickle down to rural areas.
· Rural population is not composed of subhuman beings. Their needs and aspirations are similar to those living in urban areas. Technology development should take place keeping these aspirations in view.
· Most of the technology development that takes place for rural areas is carried out with an aim to keep it simple so that the devices can be made in rural areas itself. This is a peculiar mindset of technology developers. For poorer sections of rural population, it is asking too much to have them make their own chulhas, bullock carts etc. At least nobody in urban areas asks consumers to make their own scooters or cooking stoves!
· Again the emphasis of technology developers for rural areas has been on catering for needs (with small improvement) rather than creating a demand. History shows that technological development has been fueled by creation of demand. And the watchword is convenience. Thus convenience is the vehicle of development. For example, a large number of developmental groups are working on making better chulhas. Feedback from the ‘better chulha’ program has not been very encouraging. Developers do not realize that chulha is still a chulha, even if it is slightly better. Every housewife, irrespective of the economic strata, which she comes from, would like to have the convenience of blue flame of a gas stove. There is a demand for it. Negligible work has been done on developing technology for producing blue flame from fuelwood and biomass residues.
· There is also a peculiar mismatch of groups with perception of, and those with resource for, rural technology development. Thus labs, especially National labs, which have resources, do not have any perception of the needs and demands of rural population. On the other hand, the grass-root NGOs who have the perception of the problem do not have the technological resources to solve them.
Again there is a mindset for
simple technologies in rural technology developers. Why it is so, is difficult to comprehend when
right in front of them are examples contradicting it. For example, bicycle which is the mainstay of
rural transport is a complex piece of machinery and is manufactured in
sophisticated plants all over the country.
It has spread in every nook and corner of rural
Another interesting example of
demand creation is the setting up of supermarkets in rural
Below are possible solutions or the strategies for developing rural technologies and how best to propagate them:
· Rural technology development and propagation should be a consortium project. The members of such consortia will include industry, grassroot NGOs, researchers and workers. With industry in the picture right from the beginning, there is a scope for ensuring better sales efforts. An example will illustrate this point. Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) has developed an extremely efficient kerosene lantern capable of giving light output equivalent to a 100 W light bulb. Getting this technology marketed through various high volume consumer products groups is proving to be quite difficult. This was despite the fact that preliminary consumer survey data showed an overwhelmingly satisfactory response to the lantern. Generally the response of these consumer product companies was either NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome or there was no perception of the market potential of this lantern. This could be because of the urban bias of these companies. If one of these companies was involved with NARI right from the beginning in developing this lantern, then probably these lanterns would have come in the market. The companies need to have a stake in the technology development to be serious about it.
· This consortium approach can be facilitated by organizations like CAPART. Thus in giving funds for any technology development scheme to an NGO, CAPART should insist on industry linkage. The problems of patent rights, royalty etc. can be amicably solved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. A similar strategy needs to be adopted by other government organizations in their rural development programs.
· Once the industry linkage is established, then automatically the whole machinery of consumer demand creation comes into play. This includes high volume production, good quality products, media advertising, sales outlets and after sales service. No technology has successfully reached the masses without the above attributes and rural technology should follow the same evolutionary process.
· As discussed before, the vehicle of development is convenience. Rural technology development should take place with this as a major theme. There are a large number of cases where people are ready to pay a higher price for goods which give them convenience. Also associated with the theme of convenience is sophistication. Hallmark of evolution is size reduction and increased sophistication and complexity of systems. Technology developers should not shy away from complex and sophisticated technologies for rural areas. As long as these technologies are backed by good after-sales service, are convenient to use and are reasonably priced, they will spread rapidly.
Till now most of the technologies
have been borrowed from the west. They
have been taken up in urban areas and then filtered down to rural areas. Some examples will highlight this point. Bicycle was designed to run on good
roads. For rural roads there is a need
to have simple shock absorbers and better seats. Similarly two wheelers (like Honda,
The spread of rural technologies
will be facilitated if they also are employment generators. Thus high-tech agrobased industries can
provide a possible solution. These
industries will be in the areas of food processing, energy production
(electricity producing plants running on biomass and ethanol production) and
production of raw materials for chemical industries. Sugar cooperatives (which are chemical industries)
have shown that in rural
Finally, it should be pointed out that in any such discussion about rural technology development and propagation, the question boils down to whom this technology is for. Most of the funding agencies and the participatory groups like NGOs would like to see these technologies benefit the lowest strata of the rural population. However, the economic situation of these people precludes any or little participation in this process. It is however possible that if the technologies help 250 million people (high market potential group) in rural areas, the whole process can snowball to include the poorest sections into the economic revolution. This vast rural market can produce whole economic systems which will span from manufacturing to service industries.
A detailed article expanding on this theme and the work done at NARI is published recently.