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Appropriate and inappropriate technologies

Do you know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate technologies in terms of sustainability? Read on to find out more.
© Mike Clifford

‘What is the use, for a country like ours, of an engineer who possesses the most up-to-date ideas about the making of houses, roads and about bridge building, but who is ignorant of the social purposes of his activities, who ignores the social purpose of his (her) society?’ (Mengistu Lemma, 1924-1988, Ethiopian playwright and poet)

Do you know the difference between inappropriate and appropriate technologies? Taking as our context a developing economy that is largely rural, the characteristics of an appropriate technology might include that it is:

  • Low in capital costs.
  • Uses local materials wherever possible.
  • Creates jobs, employing local skills and labour.
  • Small enough in scale to be affordable by a small group of farmers/workers.
  • Able to be understood, controlled and maintained by rural dwellers with agricultural skills and non scientific-technological education.
  • Based upon the use of equipment that can be produced out of a small metal working shop, if not in a village itself.

By contrast, an inappropriate technology would produce waste that cannot be recycled or repurposed, equipment that comes without instruction manuals and, once broken, cannot be easily fixed, requires specialist parts and knowledge and creates more problems than it solves.

The University Of Nottingham are currently running a three year project looking at the barriers to the introduction and uptake of improved cooking technology in East and Southern Africa. One of the most important aspects of this is to better understand how end-users (those who are supposed to go out and buy this technology) interact with the stoves and how that impacts on adoption and sustained use. To find out more, watch this short video of our ‘Great African Bake-Off’. Academics, policy makers and practitioners joined volunteers from the Women’s Cultural Exchange to discuss and taste foods from a range of Sub-Saharan African countries (including Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, and Malawi) on a variety of improved cook stoves.

Think about:Can you share examples of both appropriate and inappropriate technologies from around the world – do they meet the needs of their users or have they been a misguided waste of resource?

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