Self-Reliance in Small Communities examines the choice of technologies with which to help villages achieve self-reliance. The author argues for a revival of indigenous technology through a community-nurtured approach. He conducted action research on the possibility of using “appropriate technology” for earth roofing in two small communities, spaced apart by geography and stages of economic development; Maryborough, Australia and Gorbung in Deurali Village Development Committee, Nepal. He concludes that appropriate technology per se will not work, and forwards what he calls the PARFITS model (Participatory Action Research in the Facilitation of an Indigenous Technological System) as a strategy for community development.
The book is divided into 13 chapters and comes with an extensive bibliography running into 27 pages and 26 appendixed units. The first chapter sets up the rationale for action research: the Nepali villagers’ traditional reliance on timber roofing juxtaposed with the dwindling timber resources. Manandhar therefore decides to borrow the indigenous technology of Egypt as appropriate technology for Nepal. The seed of failure for this experiment is sown early—by choosing indigenous mud-dome architecture of a dry and arid Egypt for possible appropriation in a wet and moisturous Nepal. By the author´s own definition of technology appropriation (page 8), the experiments at both Maryborough and Deurali are failures and he bravely comes around to the finding that the “appropriateness of an appropriate technology is place and culture specific” (p. 241).
In the second and third chapters, the inappropriateness of industrial technology and the economic growth model for development is argued with the help of a profuse literature survey. Pitfalls such as technological determinism, depiction of natural resources, unbalanced distribution of wealth, waste and pollution, are all tackled Whereas one would agree that one of the causes of hunger is “increasing inequality in the control over productive resources” and inequitable distribution, the author´s argument that overpopulation is not an important aspect of underdevelopment is unrealistic.
Local self-reliance movements, such as the Chinese communes, the Ujamaa of Tanzania, and the Kibbutz of Israel, among others, are discussed and variously termed “failures” or “perfect failures”. Eyen though the author is not explicit, Mahatma Gandhi´s path seems to be his preference, and the Gandian model reinforced with Freire´s approach finds place further down in the suggested PARFITS model (Chapter 12).
Chapter 4 picks up the debates on appropriate technology and raises questions about its efficacy. It proposes to investigate socio-economic and political dimension of AT through the experiment on earth roofing technology. The author presents adobe technology as a panacea for mass housing, but his arguments tend to be simplistic. To suggest that mud bricks are stronger and last longer than concrete by citing archaeological finds from the second millennium B.C is rather farfetched. These are available today mainly because of the protection offered by the desert sand deposited over the structures thousands of years ago.
Chapter 5 is a weak deliberation on the title, “Decision Making is ´Top-Town´ and Based on Caste”. Rana rule is blamed for introducing the top-down process of formal decision-making in Nepal. That the power continued to rest in the hands of a few, writes the author, was the major cause of the popular revolt of March 1990. Was it ail that simple?
The following three chapters offer a detailed account of the earth roofing experiment at Maryborough and Deurali. While at Maryborough, a sense of local participation is evident; at Deurali, it was not forthcoming. A fire incident at Salyangiri in Deurali comes as an eye-opener to the author, which is when he decides to move away from´ appropriate technology´ and starts the journey into ´indigenous technology´.
Chapter 9 takes up some of these indigenous technologies and finds them virtuous in many aspects. A revival of handloom for making cloth and mat weaving is tried and meets with remarkable success in generating income as well as self-reliance. The findings of these experiments show that facilitating peoples´ indigenous skills and technological systems can nurture self-reliance. This, then, is the PARFITS model for community self-reliance.
That the villagers of particular villages were not too keen on mud roofing does not however mean all ATs are inappropriate. Nor would it be wise to conclude that all indigenous technologies would lead to self-reliance. Indigenous technologies work in as much as they are results of local materials and socio-cultural practices. To expect them to be able to survive, compete and lead to a self-sufficient society without innovations, is farfetched. It will hardly do to replace ´industrial technology determinism´ with ´indigenous technology determinism´. Why are some indigenous technologies dying away? Are indigenous technologies not in crisis? How come the villager ignores this saviour indigenous technology even as he becomes impoverished day by day? The book does not answer these questions. But these must be answered, and answered in positive, before the PARFITS model may be a tool for self-reliance.
The book has a strong undercurrent, which is likely to find new takers. A fitting tribute to the late author would be further research in the area he has treaded on.
S.R. Tiwari is an architect. He is Reader at the Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University.