New technology challenging poverty
New technology challenging poverty
Practical Action’s founder Dr. E.F Schumacher, the radical economist, philosopher and author of ‘Small is Beautiful’, believed that new technologies are developed only when ‘people of power and wealth back the development.1’ Huge amounts of money are invested into the research and development of new technologies, but very little of that money finds its way into technologies that are appropriate to poor people in the developing world. New technologies such as information and communication technologies, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies have the potential to transform our lives; however, scientific and technological research is dominated by the demands of rich consumers rather than the needs of the poor. Practical Action believes that: • scientific and technical development should be focused on human need, rather than market demand; and • end users of the technology should be involved in the process of design and development, and in making choices about how it could be used in practice. Practical Action’s work on new technologies aims to work in the above manner to identify science-led technologies that have the potential to be used by the poor in the developing world. The vision of the new technologies programme is “a world where science-led new technologies deliver products, which fulfil human needs rather than consumer wants”. We currently focus our work on three key technology areas:
New Technology facts
• While 89.2% of people in Sweden have access to the Internet, only 1.7% of the population of Nepal have such access.3 • Over the past 25 years 3.9% of World Bank lending has gone towards science and technology projects.4 • The number of scientists in low income countries is less than 50 per 100,000 people, compared to over 3000 per 100,000 in high income countries.5 • Of the 1,233 drugs licensed in the world between 1975 and 1997, only 13 were for treating tropical diseases and only 4 were commercially developed.6
Nanotechnologies are being hailed as “the next big thing”,
promising improvements in agriculture, clean water and low carbon energy but the evidence of introducing previous new technologies into the developing world is not encouraging. If we are to harness the benefits (and be aware of the challenges) of this new technology, then we need to take a different approach to design and development.
Nanotechnology – an opportunity to do things differently?
Access to clean water is a basic human need, yet one fifth of the world’s population struggles to find a safe and sustainable supply. Water remains a scarce commodity and as the climate changes water will become even more precious to communities living in developing countries. Once communities find a water supply it is often contaminated, meaning people face a huge dilemma; whether to risk disease or continue in their search? However, what if there was a way to decontaminate water? A nano-particle is so small it cannot be seen with the naked eye; in fact one nanometre is the equivalent to one 80,000th of a human hair. Nano-particles, however, have a large surface area and material characteristics that differ from those at other scales. New technologies are not without their problems. Without proper consultation with communities who will benefit, technologies could fail due to lack of understanding, knowledge and ownership. Diseases related to poor water quality are amongst the biggest killers in the developing world and simple, cheap, locally manufactured and easily maintained filters, able to remove both bacteriological and inorganic pollutants from drinking water, could make a huge difference to people’s lives. Practical Action has held several workshops with local communities and scientists to look at the practical conditions of how nanotechnology could provide new solutions. In Zimbabwe we brought together a range of stakeholders to discuss the problems of finding clean water. Only after an understanding of these issues did we introduce the notion of nanotechnology. A similar meeting was held in Peru, which identified water-supply issues, where a form of filter with nano-sized holes may be able to help. As a direct result, Practical Action is working with a small rural community in the Cajamarca region in Peru on this issue. Working with stakeholders, including local scientists, we intend to develop sustainable
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can
revolutionize society by helping people access vital medical advice; determine the price their crops will fetch at market; and access information about new farming techniques. See the section in this leaflet on “Podcasting to Improve Livelihoods” for further details of projects in this area.
Biotechnologies have been promoted as offering hope to solve
the global food crisis, but are no panacea for ensuring global food security. Agricultural science and technology have an important role to play, but research is going to need to take into account a diverse range of crops, localities, cultures and other factors. Practical Action takes the needs of farmers into account and strives to make research relevant to them.
Participants in Arsenic Sensor workshop in Nepal.
applications of nanotechnology that are used ethically and have a local supply chain. In Nepal a multi-stakeholder group, including scientists from Kathmandu University, Cambridge University, UNICEF, Government of Nepal, and local community groups, discussed the design requirements for accurately measuring the amount of arsenic in water. If the nano-dialogues can be taken forward with more research and greater interaction with the communities who would benefit, it could be the first step on a very successful road. Nanotechnologies are at an early stage of development – one where the door is still open to do things differently.
Project in Action
Podcasting to Improve Livelihoods
As the developed world embraces rapidly changing technology, it threatens to widen the gap between rich and poor nations, and excluding developing countries from the benefits. Information is not aimed towards the needs of poor people, but generated by and aimed at Western economies. Materials in local languages are limited, while people with no formal education or internet access struggle to find and implement solutions. Targeted messages in simple and local languages can be produced and made available on the Internet through podcasting. Radio has also been used as a way of getting information about improved agricultural practices to farmers. Local FM radio stations are very popular among rural communities and there is a general recognition that people prefer to listen to important information, rather than read it in leaflets or other published material. Practical Action has learned that a mix of new and old technology can be the key to success. ‘Podcasting’ via radio and loudspeakers in Peru has revolutionised the way remote farmers work, by giving people access to information otherwise unavailable to them. Traditional crops of potatoes, beans and cereals are still extensively grown in the Cajamarca region of Peru. Cattle also graze the steep mountain slopes, supplying milk to make cheese and other dairy products for which Cajamarca is famous. The challenge has always been how to get up to date and useful content to local radio stations for broadcasting in a simple and low cost way. Through a two-year research project, conducted by Practical Action and Cranfield University in the UK, local knowledge sharing has been initiated in order to answer this challenge.7 Following on from the success with podcasting in Peru we took on a new challenge in Zimbabwe. Working to improve the livelihoods of people in a remote rural area in the northern region of Zimbabwe, where there is no electricity, no radio signal or mobile phone coverage, we have improved knowledge sharing in the local Shona
Challenges and opportunities
By 2050 there will be 9 billion people to feed and furthermore, climate change will make water and land more scarce. A report published by the Royal Society highlights these statistics and recommends an investment of £2 billion in publicly funded
Farmers sharing local knowledge in local voices, listening to a podcast.
research on global food security over the next 10 years. Should we rely on new technologies to tackle such global challenges? There have been concerns expressed about the provision of genetically modified food as aid. GM food is often offered as an immediate and simple solution, with little recognition of the risks, including cross contamination or the need for farmers to purchase seed each year rather than source seed from their own crops. Rather than science-led approaches to research, perhaps we should now encourage farmer-led research. In the field of nanotechnology there is also concern about the impact of nano-particles on health and the environment. The assessment of risk requires more research and Practical Action is actively involved in debates about nanotechnology risk and governance at an international level. If you wish to engage in these debates, one way to do so is to add comments to our new technologies blog at: practicalaction.org/blog/newtech
Project participant listening to a podcast in local voice and language
Future plans include:
• • Developing sustainable and innovative uses of combined ICT and solar power in Nepal. Working with a range of stakeholders to ensure the needs of poor people are included in policy and regulations about new science-led technologies. Developing a range of knowledge products about new scienceled technologies.
Practical Action will engage at a practical level, in countries where we work, to facilitate the evaluation and testing of new science-led technologies, which are both appropriate and beneficial to local communities, whilst protecting rather than harming the environment. We will also work internationally to bring together appropriate groups of stakeholders, to facilitate the design and development of technologies, to solve the very real needs of people living in poverty, in developing countries. At a policy level we will engage in research that can provide a useful base for future work, particularly focusing on two themes: • Nanotechnology and water • Local voices, local content (appropriate ICTs that are accessed via voice - MP3 - and can allow local content to be captured and shared).
Immunizing an ox following instructions on a podcast
language. Here you might come across farmers like Mrs Mashigaidze, immunizing her ox by following instructions on a podcast, or Sheba Majoka, who says: “Podcasting is very useful, it gives a set of instructions to people, the content doesn’t change so I can listen several times. I also get the lessons quickly unlike when I go to formal lessons which take longer. The content is consistent. The lessons I’ve learnt from the podcast are how to diagnose a sick animal and how to treat it”. She is one of 11,000 people who have benefited from a trial by Practical Action, in which technology such as MP3 players, are extending traditional methods of distributing information. A more traditional method of information dissemination is through agricultural extentionists; local people who visit communities offering advice and information, but this is becoming increasingly difficult given the political situation in Zimbabwe. Practical Action has captured the knowledge of veterinary and agricultural experts, and put such knowledge onto MP3 devices using local languages. The devices can record and replay any voice file. It could be a question and answer session or a five minute explanation on how to dehorn cattle or remove ticks. James, a livestock officer who has used the device says: “The lessons reflect the best advice available and are very practical. Many are ‘how to do’ step-by-step lessons farmers can follow”. Despite never having used computers or mobile phones, Zimbabweans have taken to the technology – so much so that they now want to record their own voices. There is much indigenous knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation and here is an opportunity to capture and disseminate it more widely. The MP3’s cost around £10, but the benefits of improved milk yields and reduced livestock deaths give a good potential return on investment. By working with communities, new techniques can be embraced and knowledge shared. We must look further into the future; through multimedia formats, multilingual website and decentralized knowledge centres, where people will be able to share knowledge with those who need it most, while having major impacts on people’s quality of life.
If you would like to know more about New Technologies, or Practical Action’s work in general, please contact: Supporter Services Unit, Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton-on-Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ, UK T +44 (0)1926 634400 F +44 (0)1926 634401 E firstname.lastname@example.org W www.practicalaction.co.uk
Practical Action is a registered company limited by guarantee Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB. Registered Charity No. 247257 l Company Registration No.871954 Printed on 100% recycled paper
Front cover: Participant listening to podcast. Photography by Lawrence Gudza
Whilst stories in this leaflet are true, names and photos have been changed to protect the identity of individuals.
1 Schumacher, E.F. (1979) Good Work, Jonathan Cape: London. 2 Royal Society (2009) Reaping the Benefits: Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture, Royal Society: London. 3 Internet World Statistics (2009) www.internetworldstats.com 4 UNCTAD (2007) 5 International Council for Science (2005) 6 Kofi Annan (2002) 7 Talyarkhan, S, Grimshaw, D.J. and Lowe, L. (2005) Connecting the First Mile, Practical Action Publishing: Rugby.
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