South Pacific / Southern Africa, Washington 1978-79
After leaving Dominica I was recruited by a new Appropriate Technology organisation that had been started by Congress (not USAID). It was called ATI and I was one of the first employees. Its purpose was to develop partnerships with AT organisations around the world, and help them further develop their work.
It was based in Washington DC, and I moved there for one year. I was, however, mostly on the road.
ATI sent me to (a) Southern Africa – to scout possible AT organisations as partners in Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, and (b) to scout the same in PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji,T onga and Samoa.
AT organisations varied greatly from individual enthusiasts who had found an institutional home, through to well established organisations like the South Pacific Appropriate Technology Foundation based in PNG, and University of the South Pacific based in Fiji.
The AT movement encouraged eccentric individuals – who had strong and valuable ideas which occasionally became mainstream – like Ken Newcombe, a NZ minister in Tanna who eventually became Minister of Energy in Vanuatu, but few of the individuals were able to establish a commercial niche for a product that opened up a new niche of an appropriate technology, and set up the manufacturing, quality testing, distribution and after care service needed to sustain an AT idea from novelty to established product.
There were considerable opportunities for cross country cross fertilisation which an international organisation like ATI could underpin – one such was a copra drying oven made from a 44 gallon drum which produced good quality copra, good quality coconut shell charcoal, and pyrolitic oil as a by-product valuable in stopping termite infestation. The idea came from Malaysia, went to the South Pacific, and from there to the Caribbean. Another example was the Ram Pump whereby falling water from a river/waterfall could be used to lift a smaller amount of water high to centre of population or stock without any other power source. The idea came from UK (particularly Wales) to India, Indonesia, and Nepal. The idea of producing methanol from Sugar Cane in Brazil led to the possibility of producing fuel from maize (using prohibition era home brew technology) and then fuel from fermented root crops for PNG.
In many cases AT ideas fell by the wayside when commercial companies produced a new product that was good looking, energy efficient, and easily available. The original questions posed by Schumacher about the amount of capital required for each piece of technology became lost as capital became cheaper.
- Educating American AT organisations about the richness of indigenous technologies around the world.
- Educating AT enthusiasts about the skills required not just to prototype devices, but to deliver them to customers with the expectation of their developing customer loyalty.