Appropriate Technology for the Third World

Albert Schweitzer Ecological Center
Rue du Rocher 13
2000 Neuchitel, Switzerland

Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

Christian commitment and gratitude to God is a primary motivation for extending technological aid to people in the Third World countries. Such a desire to help, however, must be informed by an understanding of the conditions in such countries and what it means to be genuinely helpful. In this paper we indicate the dimensions of "appropriate technology" that express a realistic assessment of human relationships as well as technological needs and solutions. It is essential that Christians recognize the importance of these considerations when contributing their prayers, money and time on behalf of men and women in the Third World and those ministering to them.

Many of us in the First World have a perception of world conditions in which the future of the Third World will be improved primarily by following the same paths that the First World has followed over the last century. Thus there is the common expectation that the exportation of First World technology to the Third World will be the cornerstone of a development that will inevitably result in better living conditions for human beings all over the world. It is important for us, especially as Christians dedicated by our calling to bring comfort and aid to the poor of the world, to realize the possible fallacies implicit in this perspective.

We probably need to start with the realization that in many ways the First World is the cause of the conditions in Third World countries. In his trenchant analy sis, Until justice and Peace Embrace, Nicholas Wolterstorff has written,

It is now clear that mass poverty is not the normal situation of mankind, nor is it the consequence of the actions of a few aberrant individuals. It is in good measure the effect of our world-wide economic system and of the political structures that support it-of the unregulated and unqualified pursuit of profit


by enterprises from the core, of systems of land ownership in the Third World that deprive workers of all incentive, of repressive governments in the Third World supported by those in the core, of aid programs designed not to help the poor but to win skirmishes in the contest of the superpowers.'

It is against this background that Christians seek today to be involved in genuine help to the people of Third World countries. This is the reason that commitment to an "appropriate technology" must carefully evaluate what "appropriate" means in this context.

We do not attempt here to enter into extensive economic and political analyses that are essential for an understanding of world conditions-many others have undertaken to set these forth. But instead we focus on the question of what principles and practices should govern our efforts to aid in Third World development.

Underlying all Christian approaches to responsible living is the biblical concept of the faithful steward.' As Christians we are not charged with the responsibility of

*Written while R.H. Bube was on sabbatical leave at the Institute Of Microtechnique, University of Neuchatel, 2000 Neuchatel, Switzerland.


resolving all of the injustices of this sin-torn world, but we are charged with the responsibility of being f aitbf ul disciples, of acting where we are "response-able." Thus, although the complexity of the world situation tends to paralyze us, we can still rest in the assurance that God is in control of His creation. For us it is sufficient (and essential!) that we try to do what we can do. It is in this spirit that we approach the question of appropriate technology for the Third World. We are able to share with Wolterstorff the more optimistic perspective that comes to us in Christ:

I have heard the news of bands of Christians around the world saying No to injustice while singing hymns to God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. I have found the inspiration for my words in these enfleshments of faith, of love, and of hope.'

The Albert Schweitzer Ecological Center

In order to give a specific focus to our discussion, we draw on experience obtained in connection with the Albert Schweitzer Ecological Center, which was formed to embody the basic ideas described here and expressed by Schweitzer himself,

In a thousand ways, my life comes into conflict with the lives of other human beings. Ethical considerations do not resolve this conflict, but put me under obligation to make a decision in each case.

We do this in no way to imply that this Center is absolutely unique or has all the answers, or to suggest that all of Schweitzer's theological thought is endorsed, but rather to be able to give a concrete example rather than simply abstract ideas.

The Albert Schweitzer Ecological Center was founded in 1977 by Maurice Lack, a Swiss architect and builder, upon his return from West Central Africa where he had spent two years in Gabon designing and constructing new buildings for the Albert Schweitzer hospital in Lambarene. Lack bad become interested in "bioclimatic constructions" (constructions adapted to the climate), having noticed that some of the hospital's wooden buildings remained in good condition after 35 years in a hot and humid tropical rain forest climate. He investigated the factors that enabled a building in a hot climate to remain relatively cool without the use of air conditioners, and those that enabled a building in a temperate climate to derive maximum beat from passive solar heating without inordinate cost or architectural inappropriateness.

From this the Center moved to research and implementation of biogas plants, the establishment of a small workshop in Burkina-Faso (formerly Upper Volta)' where a solar water-heater was made entirely with materials already available in the country, the construction of improved wood burning stoves to save


wood, the construction and testing of hand pumps for shallow and deep wells, the development of a prototype of a hand-operated machine to produce wire fencing for the protection of vegetable-growing projects against cattle, the design of a solar sterilizer for a bush hospital in Burkina-Faso, the development of a simple tool to produce handmade chains for a chain irrigation pump,

As Christians we are not charged with

the responsibility Of resolving all of

the injustices of this sin-torn world,

but we are charged with the

responsibility of being faithful


and the investigation of different possibilities to provide aeration for greenhouses and solar dryers.

All of these specific examples illustrate the general involvement of the Center in feasibility studies and designs for a variety of simple machines, tools, installations and buildings for the application of solar energy and the utilization of energy-saving techniques. They also illustrate in a concrete and practical way the concept of "appropriate technology" that has been developed after years of living in Africa and experience in development work.

Common Misconceptions

Frequently held misconceptions concerning giving technological aid to Third World people form a useful basis against which to view a more positive presentation of the meaning of "appropriate technology."

Giving is Enough

One misconception that is particularly common is that simply giving what is needed is sufficient. Of course, such giving is often essential just to allow life to continue in the midst of catastrophe, but to view giving alone as the end of responsible stewardship toward Third World peoples is to misunderstand their basic need: the ability to help themselves. If indeed first we must supply fish to prevent starvation, then next we must supply a fishing rod so that the people can fish for themselves. But more than that, we need to supply information and training on how to fish, and how to make their own fishing rods, so that the people have under their control as well as at their disposal the means for obtaining survival.


and costs. He may advocate the establishment of 11 model farms" complete with highly bred cattle from the West, which are unadapted to local conditions and simply cannot survive away from their carefully controlled western habitat. He may fall victim to the desire to make major cities in the Third World look architec-


One who works in a Third World

country works in an environment

with a history and a philosophy quite

different from that of the First


turally like cities in the First World (Abidjan in the Ivory Coast is an outstanding example among many): tall rectangular skyscraper structures that require an incredible amount of air conditioning and become totally uninhabitable when the strain on the limited electricity available makes itself known in frequent brownouts and blackouts.

Separation of Spiritual and Physical Needs

An Integrated Development

Any reference to "appropriate technology" must
take full cognizance of the necessity for integration
between such technology and the other characteristics
of the society involved. An integrated development
must be adapted to the needs and possibilities peculiar
to the local region of the specific country where the
development is to take place. Such decisions often have
little to do with engineering techniques. For the most
part, technical problems are easy to overcome.

There must be a careful analysis therefore of what is
necessary and what is possible, especially with regard
to the continuation of the project within the realities of
its local situation. In a little village in the Sahel, for
example, a solar pump and a grain mill with an electric
motor were installed by an international organization
that assured the initial support of an electronics engi
neer. But if a local association were to be formed to take
charge of this project, who would guarantee the con
tinuing salary of the engineer? And who would cover
the cost of the 80 batteries every 3 to 5 years, when they
had to be replaced and external support had been
withdrawn? In a society in which people are living on
the edge of survival, such a project cannot succeed. The
possibilities in the local village for technical expertise
and for long-range financing had not been adequately
researched. One could refer to the effort as a "research
project," but scarcely as an integrated development

If bodily needs are separated from spiritual needs, project.
under the influence of a Greek dichotomy between
body and spirit rather than a biblical emphasis on It is essential to an integrated development that all of
personal wholeness, the success of appropriate techno- the parties concerned agree on the concept of the
logical developments is often inhibited. When sharing project and on their responsibilities in carrying it out in
of physical benefits is made contingent upon accep- the future. In general, many meetings are necessary to
tance of evangelization activity, with the implied mes- achieve such an agreement. For example, the construc
sage, "We love you enough only to help the bodies of tion of a dam to catch and retain rainwater (so that it
those whose spirits we save," effective aid to whole could be used to irrigate the downstream plain in the
human beings is rendered very difficult. Sadly also, the dry season) required four years for its preparation.
biblical message is distorted and both physical aid and This much time was absolutely essential for the local
evangelization are hindered. people to realize and assume their responsibilities in

Richard H. Bube received the Ph.D. degree in Physics from Princeton University. From 1948-1962 he was on the Technical Staff of the RCA Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey, and since 1962 he has been on the faculty of Stanford University as Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering. From 1975 to 1985 he served as Chairman of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Dr. Bube is the author of books both on photoelectronic materials and devices, and on the interaction between science and Christian faith. From 1969 to 1983 he served as Editor of the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. During 1984 he was on sabbatical at the Institut de Microtechnique of the Universit~ de Neuchatel when this paper was written.




carrying out the work. During two dry seasons, 200 local volunteer workers helped to prepare the irrigation system. Each family who supplied a worker subsequently received a parcel of land to cultivate and irrigate. By this means the people were involved and became able to assimilate the project without a governmental structure; they felt responsible for the continuation since it had become their project.

This aspect of the importance of time cannot be overestimated. It is frequently far better to proceed progressively than all at once. The project must be allowed to develop step by step according to the possibilities that arise. Often it is necessary to repeat many times certain ideas or techniques before they are actually applied. Any development-no matter how beneficial ultimately-requires a change and a destabilization of a society that is often very stable and traditional. Consider the following example.' The first stage of development introduced by a rural expediter was the introduction of animal-drawn equipment for farming (previously everything had been done by hand). The second stage was a little project in vegetable growing during the dry season to provide work, income, and a better balanced diet. These two beginnings allowed the population much greater selfsufficiency both in their food supply and in their financial situation. After three years, the expediter began a literacy program for the adults and a primary school for children. It was not until two years later that he began to speak about a reforestation program, a difficult subject to introduce because it involved a project the beneficial results of which were not immediately apparent (and, in any case, "it was the women who had to go and gather firewood"!). But during the previous time, he had gained the confidence of the people by helping them with their immediate and more pressing problems, and with a number of people with a reasonable degree of literacy, they were better able to apprehend the problem.

Finally, an integrated development must avoid rules and programs that are too rigid. It is people with whom one is working, not with machines or numbers. Longterm plans frequently fail because in general there are too many unknowns and too many variables to allow for fixing plans over many years. It is good to have long-range goals, but it is equally necessary to have the freedom to change or to stop a previous direction of development if it is not moving in a successful direction. A project in raising pigs, for example, was changed during its progress when it was realized that the appropriate food for the pigs would be difficult to find in a little village (the result of a bad original analysis of local conditions, and a non-realistic enthusiasm from the local population).' Those cooperating in the project then began to raise sheep since they had plenty of


pasture land around the village. The income from this changed project was not as great as anticipated from the raising of pigs, but the raising of sheep was something that could be integrated with the possibilities available in that village.

No one who does not know the Third

World can truly help the Third



An Appropriate Technology

in the larger sense, appropriate technology is an important way of responding to the real needs of a people, because it uses insofar as possible the human and material resources to which the local community is adapted. Such technology must be appropriate in relation to:

(1) the artisans, their methods and their tools; (2) the users, their needs and habits; (3) the materials locally available; and (4) the local infrastructure.

It is evident that the appropriate technology is often an important factor in achieving an integrated development. It also means that every situation is different: sending a few drawings with a little technical information is generally insufficient and often inappropriate for a given situation.

A true technical, human cooperation and partnership is indispensable, and is possible, if one is willing to invest the required time and patience, and if one has the necessary development experience. The Albert Schweitzer Ecological Center has elaborated the concept of an Appropriate Technology Interaction and Concretization Partnership. This means a partnership that involves a true exchange of technical know-how and an honest follow-up of emerging technical questions or problems, while at the same time the local organization and population determine the form and direction that their small-scale enterprises should take according to their social, cultural and economic environment. Although it is possible only in rare exceptions, the established local organizations should be encouraged to be as responsible as they can for raising or finding the funds required for this exchange of technical information, since this indicates a genuine interest. Seeing the human factor as of primary interest, the Partnership stresses a human approach to the technical problems; it is insisted that all the parties involved engage in genuine dialogue. Such dialogue may well


take time, but it helps to avoid imposing our ideas, furthers our understanding of the local situation, and makes the local people aware of what is needed for a real development and stresses their own participation and responsibility.

This approach by no means implies that appropriate technology is a "shoe-string" technology. Products should be of good quality, even if in certain cases this might require the use of certain imported materials. Here great caution must be exercised, however, so that materials are imported only if (1) an adequate local infrastructure can assume responsibility for the importation formalities, (2) this alternative is economically viable, and (3) a greater independence from imported finished products can be foreseen as a result of this choice.

An approach deserving the title, "Appropriate Technology," should (1) encourage exchange and contact with the modern sector and with industrial nations only to the extent that such contacts favor the use and the development of local resources and talent; (2) free people from dependence on foreign resources; (3) be characterized by small units of decentralized production; (4) create jobs by adopting techniques that guarantee the extensive use of manual labor; (5) recognize that different countries and peoples have different cultures, priorities and values, and that all technological development in that country should be integrated with those cultures, priorities, and values; (6) be able to function within the capacities, materials and resources locally available; (7) usually be characterized by its simplicity and low cost; (8) have sufficiently flexible guidelines and regulations to allow for adaptation to new conditions or unforeseen difficulties; (9) be compatible with the local ecology; and (10) seek to assure that relevant research will lie in the direction of leading to new initiatives that are both constructive and independent.


Responsible Christian stewardship in the area of appropriate technology for Third World countries is not easy. It is essential to know as much as possible about the details of various projects to see how faithful they are to the principles of "appropriate technology."

The emphasis throughout this paper on the value of

small technology" should not be interpreted to imply that "big technology" is never desirable or necessary. There may indeed be special and exceptional cases where following the path of "big technology" is pragmatically necessary to bring real aid to the poor. It is our contention, however, that these cases must be recognized as exceptions rather than the rule. Similarly


our emphasis on the importance of the agreement and involvement of all concerned should not be interpreted to imply that emergencies, crises, or major calamities may not arise in which such agreement and involvement are not possible; again it is our contention that the pattern of agreement and involvement should be followed as the norm.

For the technically trained individual whom God may call to such service, many opportunities exist. It is essential, however, that such a call to service be seen as involving an extended period of learning and adaptation-not because of technical problems, but because of human problems. A willingness to invest at least three to four years and to undertake a number of simple tasks only peripherally related to one's technical training, and a willingness to listen rather than to impose preconceived ideas because of a realization that authentic help leads people to help themselves-these are the prerequisites for a successful experience in "appropriate technology." No one who does not know the Third World can truly help the Third World.

God's command to us to care for the poor, and our own gratitude to Him for the gift of His Son, provide ultimately the only lasting motivation to carry on 11 appropriate technology." Christians need to supplement their desire to help with the knowledge of the actual situation that will enable them to help in a lasting and beneficial way.


'Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until justice and Peace Embrace, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1983), p. 97.

'Richard H. Bube, "Science and the Whole Person. Part 19, Energy and the Environment. (A) Is Energy a Christian Issue?" journal ASA March (1983), p. 33.

3In loc cit, p. 177.

'The address of the workshop is: DESTA, c/o M. Schneider, BP 3306, Ouagadougou, Burkina-Faso.

5K. Marsden, "Appropriate and Inappropriate Technologies: Some Case Histories," Intermediate Technology Development Group Ltd., London. Marsden is Technical Consultant for Small Industries for the International Labor Organization. Another negative aspect is that it reinforced the idea that whatever is made by the machine or is imported is "better." People in the Third World have often lost their belief in their ability to improve their own skills and possibilities. They have too often become resigned to waiting on the white magician coming with money and technical skills to do it all for them instead of only getting some advice on how to improve and going ahead with what is already there. Certain people in the Third World believe that appropriate technology is a second rate technology that the West is imposing so that the Third World cannot "develop," even after all the recent disasters of inappropriate development of rural economies into industrial ones (e.g., Algeria, Venezuela, Brazil, Nigeria).

'This dam was built in Ouedbila, a little village 27 km south of Ouagadougou in Burkina-Faso. About eight other villages in the same area profit from the dam. Most of the vegetables are sold in the capital.

'This project is situated in and around Sassa, a small village about 100 km west of Ouagadougou on the main road to Yako.

gThis project was again in Burkina-Faso, in a small village named Gomboro in the extreme west of the country, close to the Mali border. The examples cited in this paper are all from Burkina-Faso, because Johan Ramon was working there at the time and was responsible for these projects. Similar examples could easily be found in other developing countries.