A sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used for the benefit of all
We believe that technology justice is vital to developing a just and sustainable world.
There is no doubt that technological advances have increased productivity and income, quality of life and life expectancy… in the developed world, that is. The truth is that technological development is focused on meeting the wants of rich consumers. Scant attention is paid to the vital needs of people in the developing world.
The technologies needed to feed the world and ensure everyone has access to the basic services required for a reasonable quality of life largely already exist. It is how those technologies, or the rights to access them, are distributed that needs to change. The world currently exists in a state of technology injustice with innovation aimed at meeting consumer wants instead of humanity’s needs. As Bill Gates said in a 2009 debate, it’s wrong that more money is spent on finding a cure for male baldness than a vaccine for malaria.
We have to move from a state of technology injustice to a state of technology justice, to find a way to remove the barriers that now prevent poor people from using the technologies they need for the most basic of services.
Electricity is one such basic service. Taken for granted in the West, there are still 1.4 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity: almost half the world’s population still cook over open fires. Apart from the physical impact this imposes in terms of fuel collection, the wasted time, and the inefficient burning of wood as a fuel, there is a huge burden on health. A staggering 1.4 million people - mostly women and children - die each year from the effects of inhaling smoke from traditional cooking stoves in the home. That’s 50 per cent more than the number who die from malaria each year.
Electricity may not be the answer to open fires. It maybe that a clean, efficient wood burning stove or even one run on LPG, is the solution for a particular community. The important point is that there are many technological solutions to the world’s problems, but they are rarely accessible to the poor and marginalised people who need them the most.
We need to change the way we approach and govern technologies. As Practical Action we want to step up as leaders of the debate, to develop ‘technology justice’ as a unifying message and rallying cry, to challenge the world not to see technology as the bringer of consumer gain but to recognise its ability to change the world, to act as a lever out of poverty.
Efforts to innovate and to expand the use of technologies have to be focussed on needs more than wants; on providing wellbeing for everyone, not just the developed world, and not just those living today but also for future generations as well. But what does this mean in practice? The production of food in developing countries offers a clear distinction between technology justice and injustice. Historically, the approach of many big aid agencies, has been to focus on large, commercial farmers in the most productive areas of the developing world. They also advocated the use of large-scale industrial technologies such as chemical fertilisers, pesticides and mechanisation.
Yet focussing aid on commercial farms that have the most productive land, denies the majority of farmers the help they need to improve the efficiency of their farming methods. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 60% of the population rely on small-scale farming for a living. What’s more, concentrating on industrial farming technologies also damages soil fertility over time. This is technology injustice. This policy not only ignores the needs of small scale famers but also has a lasting effect on the environment and reduces the ability of future generations to feed themselves.
To achieve technological justice we need to take a different path. From working with small farmers, Practical Action recognises that quite simple improvements can often increase production many times over and even create surpluses. Examples of technology justice abound within our projects, whether it’s working with small farmers on rice in Sri Lanka, potatoes in Peru or maize in Zimbabwe. Technology justice is all about ensuring that we sustain our environment, for example, by building the fertility and moisture retention capabilities of soils. This not only ensures the livelihoods of farmers today but also those in the future.
More than one billion people worldwide still can’t get the safe, clean water they need for survival. Every year 1.5 million young children die from water and sanitation-related diseases. This is technology injustice hitting you in the face. We have both the knowledge and technology to prevent these deaths. Technology justice must be a rallying cry across the world.
Read more about technology justice and how it informs our work in Practical Action's "narrative" - what we do, why we do it and the values we believe in.
This is a story of two billion people living in poverty - and what we can do to help change their lives forever. This is the 20 page version of Practical Action's "narrative" - who we are and the values that inform our work.
This is a story of 2 billion people living in poverty - and what we can do to help change their lives forever. This is the two-page version of Practical Action's "narrative" - who we are and the values that inform our work. A longer 20-page version is also available.