Simple technical solutions simply do not work!
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Wit, Piet. 1992. Simple technical solutions simply do not work!. Spore 39. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45749
Piet Wit graduated from Wageningen University in the Netherlands in 1971. Since then he has been active in natural resources management projects, mainly in the Netherlands and West Africa. At present he is Director of a Vocational Training Centre...
Piet Wit graduated from Wageningen University in the Netherlands in 1971. Since then he has been active in natural resources management projects, mainly in the Netherlands and West Africa. At present he is Director of a Vocational Training Centre for Natural Resources Management in Arnhem, The Netherlands. In projects to provide technical assistance to rural societies two approaches can be distinguished. The first and older one goes for simple, straightforward, technical solutions without too much attention to such issues as environment or socio-cultural aspects. It is a technocrat's solution. The other line of thinking follows the idea that problems, as they can be observed, are indicators that something is wrong with the system. Consequently the integral system needs to be tackled. This holistic approach forms the basic philosophy of many integrated rural development projects. Both approaches have their advantages and draw backs. A glance at successful development projects shows that the key to lasting results for project interventions combines elements of both approaches. report of a conference on the mechanization of African agriculture provides ample illustration of the firs/approach. Hardly any reference was made to such problems as soil degradation and social imbalances as are currently provoked by a simple introduction of mechanization into traditional farming systems. To illustrate this: - The initial higher crop yields mean that the soil is more efficiently being depleted, while restoration of soil fertility is hampered because of the larger area of land under cultivation which alters the land/ fallow ratio and through that the complete removal of trees from the fields. - Since soil structure is more intensively broken up, erosion risks are increased. Erosion control measures are not automatically associated with this, with the result that accelerated erosion is a common feature of too many mechanization projects. - Access to farm machinery is often limited to some members of the community only. In some societies women are confronted with more work (weeding) on larger fields prepared with new mechanical means, without having the possibility of using the labour-saving equipment themselves. The imbalances described affect both the physical and the social environment. They not only put the sustainability of the innovation at stake but also the survival of the farming systems as a whole, without presenting a recipe for the emergence of a new, healthy rural society. On the other hand, the holistic approach involves a large number of interventions in virtually all fields of human activity. In such cases the coherence of the total package tends to be lost in the day-to-day management of the project. The friction between the need to collect base-line data and to construct an institutional framework at a regional planning level on one side, and the necessity to accomplish concrete facts in the field amongst the population on the other, highly frustrates the process of integration. The result may be an important number of sometimes beautiful beads with no string to unite them into an ornament of integrated development. One way out of the dilemma between the two approaches is illustrated by a mechanization project in Burkina Faso. The technical aspects of mechanization were executed by the project itself and its counterpart organization. For essential accompanying activities it associated with logical partners in order to facilitate the project's success in the long run. A credit programme was set up with the local banks; literacy activities needed for the administration of the credits by farmer committees were undertaken with the assistance of the regional educational authorities; erosion control measures, recycling of wastes, animal fodder production and agroforestry activities were executed with government agencies of agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry; womens' groups were organized and special credit programmes started to make animal traction available to them. In all this mechanization remained nevertheless the pivot of the activities of the project. The project's success formula was to offer a complete package around a technical innovation executed in association with local institutions, including planning agencies. These elements apply in some form to any project in the field of agriculture or other uses of natural resources. Other examples concern the Green Revolution and borehole programmes in Sahelian regions. A project has to be aware of how its activities complete the puzzle of development, and of its relations with other parts of the puzzle. Success in innovation can only be expected if it remains within the socioecological realities of the community concerned, whether village or region. Nontechnical aspects are often decisive for the appropriateness of a project and hence for its sustainability. Simple technical solutions do not exist, because they do not work! The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.