Critical Analysis Of Initiatives: Appropriate Technology

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Spider has been producing silk for several reasons since 140 million years now. In the Early Devonian period, spiders had moved from water to land and thus had started producing silk in order to protect their bodies and their eggs. Gradually, they started using webs for hunting purposes, first as guide lines and signal lines, then as ground or bush webs, and eventually as aerial webs which are so famous today. Insects get trapped in the webs and thus provide nutrition to the spider. Spiders have evolved the technology of building their webs in such a manner that it is most efficient to catch a prey. This has been achieved over thousands of years.

The example of a spider's web, quoted above, is a paradigm of an appropriate technology which clearly indicates the evolution of technology in form of a process, shown as adaptability, here. I mean, how can a technology be more appropriate than this one? It is a technology developed from within, for the survival of the spider. Most importantly, it is a sustainable form of technology with eternal benefits. Any technology developed by humans or involving human activity is associated to using external resources, renewable or non-renewable, barring the process of decomposition. Appropriateness of a technology does not only determine its suitability or applicability but also its adaptability within the existing complex environment.

“Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment, do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.”[1]

“Technology is a wonderful thing. It serves a lot many purposes including the human needs or requirements. But the fact that technology also suffices other than human requirements, it becomes difficult to control the outcome of the technology. Because of our crudely materialistic ideology, rampant in the western world, we have developed technology as if it was a thing by itself. Not from the point of view of what do people really require but from the point of view of what we can actually achieve. And so in many respects we have developed a ‘Stunt Technology'[2].” One of the greatest examples of the stunt was to develop nuclear weapons or more appropriately termed as weapons for mass destruction. It's not technology that concerns the development of humanity. In fact such a technology has raised threats for the very existence of humanity.

Technology varies from country to country and from person to person. A technology which is successful in one country may not be even a viable option in another. For example, the development of a technology to generate electricity from the tidal energy in France is of no good use to a country like Afghanistan which does not have any coastline. The only option available for a country like Afghanistan to use such electricity is to purchase it from the, nearest available, country producing it in excess. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a technology appropriate to a particular region/country and its population. As Schumacher had initiated that the technology movement should create new technologies or transfer existing technologies for small-scale, low capital intensive rural production[3].

Having looked into the example of spider's web as an appropriate technology, I would present here the development of three such, according to me, appropriate technologies.

Solar Cooker:

Solar energy is available in abundance to most part of the world. Use of solar energy has been a developed as an attractive alternative for cooking. The history of solar cooking goes back to the time of Roman civilization. However, the advent of solar cookers, early glass and black table models, where developed in the later half of the seventeenth century. Since then it has seen a lot of developments and modifications which makes this technology more appropriate. Solar cooking technology is most appropriate one for rural population of the developing countries and for the underdeveloped nations. It is most suitable for the rural equatorial regions[4].

Figure 1: Parabolic Solar Cooker

There are over 65 major designs and hundreds of variations in them. Any solar cooker works on a combination of, some or all, the following principles:

  • Concentrate the sunlight using either a mirror or some reflective material.
  • Conversion of light energy to heat energy by using a black pan or certain types of materials for the pot which absorbs almost all of the sun's light and converts it into heat.
  • A plastic bag or a glass cover is used allowing the light to enter the cooker and to trap the heat inside it.
  • Plastic sheets are also used in order to prevent any form of seepage when cooking liquid food.

Box cookers, panel cookers, solar kettles, parabolic cookers, hybrid cookers, etc. are some typical types of solar cooker. All these types of cookers are

The figure above shows one of the early forms of solar cooker developed by The Wisconsin University in early 1950s. The use of solar cooking has been prevalent since the early civilizations. It has developed over hundreds of years to suit the human needs and surrounding conditions. Today, more than two billion people rely on wood for cooking fuel. Such high dependency forces us to look into the advantages and disadvantages of solar cooking. The following merits and demerits can be summarized for the above:


  • Consumes no fuel and replaces wood. Therefore, environment friendly
  • Saving of wood results in saving of trees which have a variety of advantages ranging from preserving natural habitat, sequestering carbon to preventing soil erosion.
  • Saves time which otherwise is required to search for firewood. Hence, more time for other activities.
  • Safety of women as there have been many cases reported of women being beaten, raped or kidnapped when looking for firewood.
  • Cost efficient: No storage cost, no transportation cost associated with the fuel, etc.
  • There is no air pollution and no emission of green house gases.
  • Does not produce any smoke. Hence, safe and healthy option.
  • Much safer as there are no fire hazard/danger associated to it.
  • Can be used for sterilization purposes as well.


  • The biggest challenge of them all is to make the technology socially accepted by everyone.
  • It requires a clear sky. On a rainy day or in similar weather one is required to have an alternate arrangement for cooking.
  • This method of cooking takes a longer time when compared to the in vogue practices.
  • The food for dinner needs to be cooked hours before the actual time of eating. Hence, hot food is difficult to be served.
  • Also, change in lifestyle is required like early preparations for cooking, modifications in working hours, etc.

Johad (earthen check-dam):

Water is one of the most essential needs for the existence of the earth. However, only certain communities across the world are blessed with abundance of water, though finding it scarce because of lifestyle, while the rest are still finding it difficult to serve their basic needs of life. Conservation of water is an international issue in debate as many economists argue that people come across shortage of water only because of their habits and needless wastage of water. However, that is not the case with majority of the population, who face shortage, as they do not have access to water resources that could suffice their needs for the entire year.

Until the time of deforestation and high water table levels, people of Rajasthan, a state in India, did not find water shortage as a severe problem. However, during 1970s and 1980s, large-scale deforestation coupled with mining and related activities in Rajasthan, led to severe decline in the groundwater levels[8]. The government had declared certain portions of the districts as ‘dark zone': an area where the groundwater levels have receded below recoupable levels.

Figure 3: Johad constructed with earthen walls

The above technology is a typical example of development through initiatives and community participation. During late 1980s and early 1990s the villagers had restored ‘Johads', local tanks to store rainwater and to recharge the groundwater. Johads, also known as earthen check-dams, were a traditional practice in the arid regions of the state.

The technology involves identification of a suitable site with three sides of the Johad formed by using the natural slope of the hill and the fourth side formed by a short earthen wall built to hold the rain water. The depth of a typical Johad would be around 15m. However, these structures can vary in depth from 15m to up to 25m. The structure built allows the water to seep slowly into the ground, which results in recharge of groundwater and then supplies water to the plants that provide groundcover[9].

Figure 4: Johad built using hill slope[10]

The construction of such structures with Tarun Bharat Sangh, a non-government organisation, involved participation of the local community. With the construction of more than 7500 Johads in the past twenty years, the water table has risen to substantial levels. The forest cover in the Aravali hills has risen to 40%, an increase by 34% in 15 years. Minimal erosion and increase in the water table has made it possible for some seasonal rivers to flow round the year. The locals have been cultivating five times more land than in 1995. The increase in availability of water has allowed the villagers to breed more buffalo, increasing the regional milk supply by 10%. The excess milk can now be sold thus, creating opportunities for the villagers to earn money. Grain production has increased to higher levels allowing the villagers to sell excess grains and grain products.

Along with the guarantee of sufficient drinking water there are other social and economic benefits associated with the construction of Johads. Costs for irrigation water have decreased significantly as the there is a ready availability of local water. Nutrition has improved as the agricultural production and diversity has increased. There were distinct social improvements observed because of improved economic health of the region. The men of the village do not have to go to cities in search of work. Women have more time to invest in community life of the village rather than spending hours in search of water. This has also made the women to spend more time at their homes and hence children do not have to stay at home to perform the same which they did in absence of the females of the house. Now children have more time to spend on education and more numbers of children are attending schools. This is one of the most important benefits realised with the advent of Johads as Rajasthan is one of the poorest states in India and has an average literacy rate of 20%[11].

Under the Rajasthan Drainage Act of 1956, ‘Water resources standing collected either on private or public land (including groundwater); belong to the Government of Rajasthan'. Since the Johads were built mainly on village common land, the state government declared these structures as illegal. A notice was served in 1987 under the Drainage Act by the irrigation department that all these local structures must be removed as they block the natural drainage[12]. The government had also served notices to many villages for inappropriate structural stability of the structure posing a threat to the lives of many villagers and other livestock. Once the water in River Aravati, a local river, started flowing around the year, the government had given a licence to a contractor to start fishing in the river. There were many outrages against the government for issuing such notices. The NGO, Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), had helped the villages to pose a strong fight against the government. With the help of TBS, the villagers have set up a River parliament, locally known as Aravari Sansad - an association of all the villages built along the river.

Today, villagers do not wait for government approval; they take the initiative to build Johads as their personal standard of living has increased and they can take care of the maintenance of such structures. One of the villagers told to ‘Down to Earth' magazine: “Forests were cleared for urban people. I lost my agriculture and had to slave for the same people who destroyed it. The freedom of the country doesn't mean anything to us. I became free in 1995, when I cultivated my land again for the first time. For villagers, freedom means freedom from poverty. This comes from self-sufficiency”[13].

There has been a lot of support for the structure as it is considered to be a ‘community initiative'; the structure would benefit the poor who had been neglected by the state machinery[14]

Ceramic Water Purifier:

It is therefore important to critically analyse the strength of community institutions and to examine how the johad benefited various segments within the community. Of the hundreds of media and other reports, there are only a couple that dwell on this issue. Civil society could benefit from carrying out serious introspection on the equity aspects of this work.

  1. Schumacher E.F., Small is Beautiful, pp. 18
  2. Schumacher E.F., Lecture on Appropriate Technology at the Great Circle Centre, University of Illinois, Chicago.
  3. Susanto Basu and David N. Weil, Appropriate Technology and Growth: Quarterly journal of Economics, 1998, pp. 1026.
  4. S.R. Kalbande, Surendra Kothari, R.G. Nadre and A.N. Mathur, Design Theory and Performance Analysis of Paraboloidal Solar Cooker, Applied Solar Energy, 2008, pp. 103, Allerton Press.
  5. Ethan Barnaby Kapsein, Technology and Culture, 1981, pp. 118, The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  6. Paul Arverson, Appropriate Technology Now Presentation, American Sociological Association: Annual Meeting, 2005.
  7. Paul Arverson, Appropriate Technology Now Presentation, American Sociological Association: Annual Meeting, 2005.
  8. S.A. Prathapar, Mehmood ul Hassan, Zafar Idbal Mirza and Zubair Tahir, Constraints on Enforcement of Water Policies: Selected Cases from South Asia, Water Policy Reform: Lessons from Asia and Australia, Proceedings of an International Workshop held in Bangkok, Thailand, 2001, pp. 170.
  9. Jordan Phillips, Johad (Small Dam) Construction in India, People and Place: Curriculum Resources on Human-Environmental Interactions-'Hemisphere', University of Texas, Austin, 2007, pp. 146.
  10. Shree Padre, Harvesting the monsoon: livelihoods reborn, ILEIA Newsletter, March 2000, pp. 14.
  11. Soma Basu, Check-dams performs a miracle, Article: The Hindu, March 30, 2000.
  12. Sunita Narain, Community-led Alternatives to Water Management: India Case Study, Human Development Report, 2006, pp. 20.
  13. Mahapatra R, The Arvari, coming back to life, Down to Earth Magazine, March 15, 1999.
  14. Prakash Kashwan, Traditional Water Harvesting Structure, Economic and Political Weekly, February 18, 2006, pp. 596.