Rural access to appropriate technologies vitalBy Sifelani Tsiko
EXPANDING access to appropriate technologies in rural communities in Zimbabwe and Africa is vital to ensure equitable socio-economic development and as a strategy of putting Africa on a more equal footing with the rest of the world in terms of scientific advancement.
In Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent, it is still worrying that rural areas continue to be marginalised in terms of access to simple appropriate technologies, information and communication technologies and modern technologies.
My visit to Nyamapanda Border Post to a Canadian International Development Agency funded Jatropha income generating project provided me with an eye opener into some of the challenges facing rural Africa today when it comes to accessing appropriate technologies.
At Nyamapanda Business Centre, a group of 15 women run a soap making and oil-pressing project.
A donation of an oil-pressing machine and training from Edit Trust, a Zimbabwean NGO based in Nyanga North District has helped the women come up with practical solutions to some of the challenges they face. With a simple oil-pressing machine, the women are now able to earn a living from selling soap, cooking oil and paraffin. At rural level, this project can help improve livelihoods through increased food production, diversifying income sources, employment creation and the development of entrepreneurs. With additional training in commercial production, marketing, distribution and packaging, the women can produce more natural soaps for both local and export markets.
But this is just one of a few income generating projects in the vast Mashonaland East Province.
Much needs to be done to expand access to appropriate technologies in rural areas where the majority of the people live.
Looking at rural Africa’s lack of robust economic growth and absence of appropriate technologies, it appears technology diffusion into rural communities has failed or is taking place at a very slow pace.
Development experts attribute this failure partly to institutional barriers to technology diffusion and technical change among other factors related to lack of funding, poor networking between rural community technology development agencies and scientific research institutions.
They also suggest that slow technological change in parts of rural Africa is also due to the absence of or poor rural science and technology policy that aims to promote access to appropriate technologies in rural communities.
Added to this, is the lack of well-equipped rural school laboratories, lack of trained science teachers and other learning materials necessary for rural children and parents to appreciate science and technology.
Vocational training centres for agriculture are also poorly funded.
This has made it difficult for simple appropriate technologies to be developed to help rural communities when it comes to oil processing, collecting water from wells and improving farm mechanisation.
Improving access to appropriate technologies in rural Africa will help stimulate development and prevent further marginalisation of the African continent in terms of global scientific and technological development.
It can also help bring rural communities closer to their mainly urban elites who have access to ICTs, water, electricity and other technologies.
Rural areas are endowed with natural resources that can be tapped using appropriate technology to improve the livelihoods of the people.
In Zimbabwe, some people are now successful entrepreneurs through working on projects that include soap-making, oil processing, peanut butter making, shoe and leather products, cloth and craft making, construction, carpentry, welding and other projects.
Appropriate technology for such kinds of work is now expensive and very few people in rural areas can access it.
This calls for rural development agencies to strive to seek funding to buy the technology which should be channelled to committed rural communities willing to work hard to transform their livelihood.
Rural communities need technology centres, to develop their own business plans and to be trained to manage their business based on appropriate technologies.
When rural communities start their businesses using simple technology, this has positive ripple effects on the economy.
Most rural communities in Zimbabwe grow tomatoes and fruits, but they do not have technologies to cane or dry these products.
As a result, valuable fruit and tomato output is lost as rural communities throw away agricultural produce that would have gotten bad.
"The key question is what contribution science and technology can make to improve the level of quality of life in such communities," wrote Dr Hendrik Marais, a science and technology adviser to the South African government.
"The dual nature of the country’s economy poses complex challenges to its national system of innovation (including Science and Technology policy)," he said in a paper titled: Social Factors in the Transfer of Technology in Rural Areas of South Africa.
A University of Zimbabwe engineer said rural communities continue to be marginalised when it comes to accessing appropriate technologies because of prevailing economic hardships.
"Economic hardships are real and rural communities are now concerned about survival than probably looking for technologies that will answer some of their problems," he said.
"They have to grapple with fundamentals of accessing food and health before clamouring for appropriate technologies.
"But this doesn’t mean that our science and technology policy should neglect them.
"We should have policies in place to prepare for the time when the economy will stabilise," the UZ engineer said.
Rural development experts say African governments and international aid agencies and other stakeholders must contribute to the development of rural areas through research, technology development and transfer.
"Bridging that chasm (gap between developed and disadvantaged) is as much the challenge of optimising the transfer of available technology, as it is of developing new technology," said Dr Marais.
Rural development suggests two approaches to help bridge this gap.
These include raising the knowledge and skills levels (e.g. Small to Medium entrepreneurship) in deep-rural communities and addressing social factors and dynamics in development to enhance the transfer of innovation and technology in rural areas.
Measures to ensure project sustainability, partnerships with the private sector to help impart technical and business skills and support from donors and academics can help transfer technology to rural areas.
There is no doubt that appropriate technologies can offer practical solutions to a myriad of problems facing people in rural Africa.
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