DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGIES FOR RURAL AREAS –
NEED FOR NEW THINKING
(Published in MOVING TECHNOLOGY, Vol.
7, No.1, March 1992, pg. 2-5. Published by CAPART, New Delhi)
Agricultural Research Institute,
P.O. Box 44, Phaltan-415523, Maharashtra, INDIA
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 population of India. With such a high market potential, why
have the good efforts of organizations developing technologies, devices
and products for rural areas not borne any fruit? This article tries to
analyze the reasons and to give some possible solutions.
The following points will highlight the existing
- 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, who 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 India because
of the convenience of easy availability of spare parts and a large
number of repair facilities. This kind of example should be followed in
all rural technological development. Also no government subsidy is
given for bicycle purchase. It stands on its own.
- Another interesting example of demand creation is the setting up
of supermarkets in rural Maharashtra. These supermarkets in Taluka
areas are similar (though on a smaller scale) to those found in western
nations. These supermarkets are owned by local sugar cooperatives and
because of their size and economic clout, these markets stock goods at
cheaper prices than those available in the local bania shops.
Besides, the variety of goods available is very large. These
supermarkets in one shot have changed the perception of rural people
and have created demand for better quality goods. The local bania
shop could have been enough to take care of the needs but these
supermarkets have created demand. In doing so they have helped in
upgrading the life style of a certain section of rural population.
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, Ind-Suzuki etc.) have been designed to run at high speeds and on
good roads. Thus they are light and very unstable on muddy rural roads.
There is therefore a need to develop technologies specifically for
rural areas. Since the rural conditions are unique, they also require
unique solutions. Besides most of the western technologies are energy
intensive and will make the growth pattern of rural India similar to
that of the West. With perennial resource constraint, it is in the
interest of India to develop alternative routes. For example for Indian
rural roads should have internal combustion engine running on alcohol.
Besides, it should have the ability to carry high load at low speeds.
No such engine exists since almost all the engine development
technology has been based on the premise that these systems should run
at high speed. The challenge to develop such an engine is tremendous
and will tax the best brains, materials and technology.
- 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 Maharashtra all round
development takes place right from agriculture development to consumer
items growth to increased employment around them.
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