UNESCO–NGO partnership champions technology for poverty eradication

13 April 2001 For non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries, marketing technologies which are financially sustainable represents as much of a challenge as marketing products which are environmentally sustainable.

Participants in a two-day workshop last week on Technology for Poverty Eradication and Development at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris (France) noted that, if there has been a gratifying renewal of interest in poverty reduction among governments and international funding institutions in recent years, donors have also begun asking local NGOs active in technology development to be self-sustaining.

‘This poses a problem’, explain Solomon Mwangi of Appropriate Technologies for Enterprise Creation (ApproTec, Kenya) and Peggy Oti-Boateng of the Technology Consultancy Centre in Ghana, ‘since the end-buyer of technology in our countries is too poor to pay the full price of production and marketing’.

ApproTec estimates that a foot pump it developed in the mid-1990s to improve micro-irrigation of fields has created 28,000 jobs by enabling farmers to cultivate a greater area. The ‘Super Money-maker’ pump has also generated income for some 10,000 small and medium-sized enterprises. But Mwangi regards as unrealistic the possibility of increasing the pump’s price-tag to cover the $13 provided by donors for each machine. ‘Even at the current price of $73,’ he says, ‘the pump remains beyond the reach of some needy poor.’

No-one can deny that technology is essential to address basic needs and reduce poverty. The Declaration adopted at Budapest recalls moreover that ‘scientific research and its applications may yield significant returns towards economic growth and sustainable human development, including poverty alleviation’.

But it may be premature to expect projects promoting technology in least developed countries to be self-sustaining, especially since this is often not the case in developed countries. And in developing countries, the private sector frequently requires support to finance research and product development, as in the case of the ApproTec foot pump manufacturer. The Science Agenda recognizes this problem and recommends that ‘financing of S&T projects be promoted as a means of advancing knowledge and strengthening science-based industry.’ An appropriate funding mechanism was even identified – and endorsed – in Budapest: the exchange of debt relief in return for investment in science and technology (see WCS Newsletter, 30 June 2000).

The Paris workshop launches a promising UNESCO–NGO partnership in technology for poverty reduction and sustainable development. It is expected that new information and communication technologies will facilitate the production of education and training materials, as well as the updating of knowledge and information shared by NGOs through leaflets, manuals, video, CD-ROM, newspapers, community newssheets, radio programmes and electronic media.

Besides ApproTec and the Technology Consultancy Centre, other non-governmental organizations attending the workshop on 5 and 6 April were Ecowoman (Fiji), Volunteers in Technical Assistance (USA), Women in Global Science and Technology (Canada), Once and Future Action Network (USA), South Asia Partnership Sri Lanka, Intermediate Technology Development Group (UK), Swiss Centre for Development Cooperation in Technology and Management, Groupe de recherche et d’échanges technologiques (France) and German Appropriate Technology Exchange.

For further information, contact Tony Marjoram: t.marjoram@unesco.org