Appropriate technology

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Appropriate technology is an ideological movement (and its manifestations) originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist Dr. Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher in his influential work, Small is Beautiful. Though the nuances of appropriate technology vary between fields and applications, it is generally recognized as encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled.[1] Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasize the technology as people-centered.[2]

Appropriate technology is most commonly discussed in its relationship to economic development and as an alternative to transfers of capital-intensive technology from industrialized nations to developing countries.[2][3] However, appropriate technology movements can be found in both developing and developed countries. In developed countries, the appropriate technology movement grew out of the energy crisis of the 1970s and focuses mainly on environmental and sustainability issues.[4]

Appropriate technology has been used to address issues in a wide range of fields. Well-known examples of appropriate technology applications include: bike- and hand-powered water pumps (and other self-powered equipment), the universal nut sheller, self-contained solar-powered light bulbs and streetlights, and passive solar building designs. Today appropriate technology is often developed using open source principles, which have led to open-source appropriate technology (OSAT) and thus many of the plans of the technology can be freely found on the Internet.[5][6] OSAT has been proposed as a new model of enabling innovation for sustainable development.[7]




Indian ideological leader Mahatma Gandhi is often cited as the "father" of the appropriate technology movement. Though the concept had not been given a name, Gandhi advocated for small, local and predominantly village-based technology to help India's villages become self-reliant. He disagreed with the idea of technology that benefited a minority of people at the expense of the majority or that put people out of work to increase profit.[2] In 1925 Gandhi founded the All-India Spinners Association and in 1935 he retired from politics to form the All-India Village Industries Association. Both organizations focused on village-based technology similar to the future appropriate technology movement.[8]

China also implemented policies similar to appropriate technology during the reign of Mao Zedong and the following Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, development policies based on the idea of "walking on two legs" advocated the development of both large-scale factories and small-scale village industries.[2]

E. F. Schumacher[edit]

Despite these early examples, Dr. Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher is credited as the founder of the appropriate technology movement. A well-known economist, Schumacher worked for the British National Coal Board for more than 20 years, where he blamed the size of the industry's operations for its uncaring response to the harm black-lung disease inflicted on the miners.[2] However it was his work with developing countries, such as India and Burma, which helped Schumacher form the underlying principles of appropriate technology.

Schumacher first articulated the idea of "intermediate technology," now known as appropriate technology, in a 1962 report to the Indian Planning Commission in which he described India as long in labor and short in capital, calling for an "intermediate industrial technology"[9] that harnessed India's labor surplus. Schumacher had been developing the idea of intermediate technology for several years prior to the Planning Commission report. In 1955, following a stint as an economic advisor to the government of Burma, he published the short paper "Economics in a Buddhist Country," his first known critique of the effects of Western economics on developing countries.[9] In addition to Buddhism, Schumacher also credited his ideas to Gandhi.

Initially, Schumacher's ideas were rejected by both the Indian government and leading development economists. Spurred to action over concern the idea of intermediate technology would languish, Schumacher, George McRobie, Mansur Hoda[10] and Julia Porter brought together a group of approximately 20 people to form the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in May 1965. Later that year, a Schumacher article published in the Observer garnered significant attention and support for the group. In 1967, the group published the Tools for Progress: A Guide to Small-scale Equipment for Rural Development and sold 7,000 copies. ITDG also formed panels of experts and practitioners around specific technological needs (such as building construction, energy and water) to develop intermediate technologies to address those needs.[9] At a conference hosted by the ITDG in 1968 the term "intermediate technology" was discarded in favor of the term "appropriate technology" used today. Intermediate technology had been criticized as suggesting the technology was inferior to advanced (or high) technology and not including the social and political factors included in the concept put forth by the proponents.[2] In 1973, Schumacher described the concept of appropriate technology to a mass audience in his influential work, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.

Growing trend[edit]

The Universal Nut Sheller in use in Uganda, an example of appropriate technology

Between 1966 and 1975 the number of new appropriate technology organizations founded each year was three times greater than the previous nine years. There was also an increase in organizations focusing on applying appropriate technology to the problems of industrialized nations, particularly issues related to energy and the environment.[11] In 1977, the OECD identified in its Appropriate Technology Directory 680 organizations involved in the development and promotion of appropriate technology. By 1980, this number had grown to more than 1,000. International agencies and government departments were also emerging as major innovators in appropriate technology, indicating its progression from a small movement fighting against the established norms to a legitimate technological choice supported by the establishment. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank created a Committee for the Application of Intermediate Technology in 1976 and the World Health Organization established the Appropriate Technology for Health Program in 1977.[11]

Appropriate technology was also increasingly applied in developed countries. For example, the energy crisis of the mid-1970s led to the creation of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) in 1977 with an initial appropriation of 3 million dollars from the U.S. Congress. The Center sponsored appropriate technology demonstrations to "help low-income communities find better ways to do things that will improve the quality of life, and that will be doable with the skills and resources at hand." However, by 1981 the NCAT's funding agency, Community Services Administration, had been abolished. For several decades NCAT worked with the US departments of Energy and Agriculture on contract to develop appropriate technology programs. Since 2005, NCAT's informational web site is no longer funded by the US government.[12]


In more recent years, the appropriate technology movement has continued to decline in prominence. Germany's German Appropriate Technology Exchange (GATE) and Holland's Technology Transfer for Development (TOOL) are examples of organizations no longer in operation. Recently, a study looked at the continued barriers to AT deployment despite the relatively low cost of transferring information in the internet age. The barriers have been identified as: AT seen as inferior or “poor person's” technology, technical transferability and robustness of AT, insufficient funding, weak institutional support, and the challenges of distance and time in tackling rural poverty.[13]

A more free market-centric view has also begun to dominate the field. For example, Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (an organization that designs and manufactures products that follow the ideals of appropriate technology), declared appropriate technology dead in a 2010 blog post.[14]

Polak argues the "design for the other 90 percent" movement has replaced appropriate technology. Growing out of the appropriate technology movement, designing for the other 90 percent advocates the creation of low-cost solutions for the 5.8 billion of the world's 6.8 billion population "who have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted."[15]

Many of the ideas integral to appropriate technology can now be found in the increasingly popular "sustainable development" movement, which among many tenets advocates technological choice that meets human needs while preserving the environment for future generations.[16] In 1983, the OECD published the results of an extensive survey of appropriate technology organizations titled, The World of Appropriate Technology, in which it defined appropriate technology as characterized by "low investment cost per work-place, low capital investment per unit of output, organizational simplicity, high adaptability to a particular social or cultural environment, sparing use of natural resources, low cost of final product or high potential for employment."[11] Today, the OECD web site redirects from the "Glossary of Statistical Terms" entry on "appropriate technology" to "environmentally sound technologies."[17] The United Nations' "Index to Economic and Social Development" also redirects from the "appropriate technology" entry to "sustainable development."[18]

Potential resurgence[edit]

Despite the decline, several appropriate technology organizations are still in existence, including the ITDG which became Practical Action after a name change in 2005.[19] Skat (Schwierzerische Kontaktstelle für Angepasste Technology) adapted by becoming a private consultancy in 1998, though some Intermediate Technology activities are continued by Skat Foundation through the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN). Another actor still very active is the charity CEAS (Centre Ecologique Albert Schweitzer). Pioneer in food transformation and solar heaters, it offers vocational training in West Africa and Madagascar. There is also currently a notable resurgence as viewed by the number of groups adopting open source appropriate technology (OSAT) because of the enabling technology of the Internet. These OSAT groups include: AKVO, Appropedia, Appropriate Technology Collaborative, Catalytic Communities, Centre for Alternative Technology, Center For Development Alternatives, Engineers Without Borders, Open Source Ecology, Practical Action, and Village Earth.


Appropriate technology frequently serves as an umbrella term for a variety names for this type of technology. Frequently these terms are used interchangeably; however, the use of one term over another can indicate the specific focus, bias or agenda of the technological choice in question. Though the original name for the concept now known as appropriate technology, "intermediate technology" is now often considered a subset of appropriate technology that focuses on technology that is more productive than "inefficient" traditional technologies, but less costly than the technology of industrialized societies.[20] Other types of technology under the appropriate technology umbrella include:

  • Capital-saving technology
  • Labor-intensive technology
  • Alternate technology
  • Self-help technology
  • Village-level technology
  • Community technology
  • Progressive technology
  • Indigenous technology
  • People’s technology
  • Light-engineering technology
  • Adaptive technology
  • Light-capital technology
  • Soft technology

A variety of competing definitions exist in academic literature and organization and government policy papers for each of these terms.[11][20][21] However, the general consensus is appropriate technology encompasses the ideas represented by the above list. Furthermore, the use of one term over another in referring to an appropriate technology can indicate ideological bias or emphasis on particular economic or social variables. Some terms inherently emphasize the importance of increased employment and labor utilization (such as labor-intensive or capital-saving technology), while others may emphasize the importance of human development (such as self-help and people's technology).[20]

It is also possible to distinguish between hard and soft technologies. According to Dr. Maurice Albertson and Audrey Faulkner, appropriate hard technology is “engineering techniques, physical structures, and machinery that meet a need defined by a community, and utilize the material at hand or readily available. It can be built, operated and maintained by the local people with very limited outside assistance (e.g., technical, material, or financial). it is usually related to an economic goal.”[22]

Albertson and Faulkner consider appropriate soft technology as technology that deals with “the social structures, human interactive processes, and motivation techniques. It is the structure and process for social participation and action by individuals and groups in analyzing situations, making choices and engaging in choice-implementing behaviors that bring about change.”[23]

Appropriate technology practitioners[edit]

Some of the well known practitioners of the appropriate technology-sector include: B.V. Doshi,[24] Buckminster Fuller, William Moyer (1933–2002), Amory Lovins, Sanoussi Diakité, Albert Bates, Victor Papanek, Giorgio Ceragioli (1930–2008), Frithjof Bergmann, Arne Næss (1912–2009) and Mansur Hoda.[10]

Appropriate technology and development[edit]

Schumacher's initial concept of intermediate technology was created as a critique of the currently prevailing development strategies which focused on maximizing aggregate economic growth through increases to overall measurements of a country's economy, such as gross domestic product (GDP).[21] Developed countries became aware of the situation of developing countries during and in the years following World War II. Based on the continuing rise in income levels in Western countries since the Industrial Revolution, developed countries embarked on a campaign of massive transfers of capital and technology to developing countries in order to force a rapid industrialization intended to result in an economic "take-off" in the developing countries.[21][25]

However, by the late 1960s it was becoming clear this development method had not worked as expected and a growing number of development experts and national policy makers were recognizing it as a potential cause of increasing poverty and income inequality in developing countries.[26] In many countries, this influx of technology had increased the overall economic capacity of the country. However, it had created a dual or two-tiered economy with pronounced division between the classes. The foreign technology imports were only benefiting a small minority of urban elites. This was also increasing urbanization with the rural poor moving to urban cities in hope of more financial opportunities. The increased strain on urban infrastructures and public services led to "increasing squalor, severe impacts on public health and distortions in the social structure."[20]

Appropriate technology was meant to address four problems: extreme poverty, starvation, unemployment and urban migration. Schumacher saw the main purpose for economic development programs was the eradication of extreme poverty and he saw a clear connection between mass unemployment and extreme poverty. Schumacher sought to shift development efforts from a bias towards urban areas and on increasing the output per laborer to focusing on rural areas (where a majority of the population still lived) and on increasing employment.[27]

Appropriate technology in developed countries[edit]

The term appropriate technology is also used in developed nations to describe the use of technology and engineering that result in less negative impacts on the environment and society, i.e., technology should be both environmentally sustainable and socially appropriate.[28][29] E. F. Schumacher asserts that such technology, described in the book Small is Beautiful[30] tends to promote values such as health, beauty and permanence, in that order.

Often the type of appropriate technology that is used in developed countries is "appropriate and sustainable technology" (AST),[31] appropriate technology that, besides being functional and relatively cheap (though often more expensive than true AT), is durable and employs renewable resources. AT does not include this (see Sustainable design).


Building and construction[edit]

In order to increase the efficiency of a great number of city services (efficient water provisioning, efficient electricity provisioning, easy traffic flow, water drainage, decreased spread of disease with epidemics, ...), the city itself must first be built correctly. In the developing world, many cities are expanding rapidly and new ones are being built. Looking into the cities design in advance is a must for every developing nation.

The local context must be considered as, for example, mudbrick may not be durable in a high rainfall area (although a large roof overhang and cement stabilisation can be used to correct for this), and, if the materials are not readily available, the method may be inappropriate. Other forms of natural building may be considered appropriate technology, though in many cases the emphasis is on sustainability and self-sufficiency rather than affordability or suitability. As such, many buildings are also built to function as autonomous buildings (e.g. earthships, ...). One example of an organisation that applies appropriate earthbuilding techniques would be Builders Without Borders.

The building structure must also be considered. Cost-effectiveness is an important issue in projects based around appropriate technology, and one of the most efficient designs herein is the public housing approach. This approach lets everyone have their own sleeping/recreation space, yet incorporate communal spaces e.g. mess halls, latrines, public showers, ...

In addition, to decrease costs of operation (heating, cooling, ...) techniques as Earth sheltering, Trombe walls, ... are often incorporated.

Organizations as Architecture for Humanity also follows principles consistent with appropriate technology, aiming to serve the needs of poor and disaster-affected people.

Chunche, naturally ventilated sheds for drying raisins in Xinjiang


Appropriate technology has been applied extensively to improve agricultural production in developing countries.

Water and sanitation[edit]


Further information: drinking water
Hand-operated, reciprocating, positive displacement, water pump in Košice-Tahanovce, Slovakia (walking beam pump).

As of 2006, waterborne diseases are estimated to cause 1.8 million deaths each year while about 1.1 billion people lack proper drinking water.[32]

Water generally needs treatment before use, depending on the source and the intended use (with high standards required for drinking water). The quality of water from household connections and community water points in low-income countries is not reliably safe for direct human consumption. Water extracted directly from surface waters and open hand-dug shallow wells nearly always requires treatment.

Appropriate technology options in water treatment include both community-scale and household-scale point-of-use (POU) designs.

The most reliable way to kill microbial pathogenic agents is to heat water to a rolling boil.[33] Other techniques, such as varying forms of filtration, chemical disinfection, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation (including solar UV) have been demonstrated in an array of randomized control trials to significantly reduce levels of waterborne disease among users in low-income countries.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of field-based studies have been undertaken to determine the success of POU measures in reducing waterborne disease. The ability of POU options to reduce disease is a function of both their ability to remove microbial pathogens if properly applied and such social factors as ease of use and cultural appropriateness. Technologies may generate more (or less) health benefit than their lab-based microbial removal performance would suggest.

The current priority of the proponents of POU treatment is to reach large numbers of low-income households on a sustainable basis. Few POU measures have reached significant scale thus far, but efforts to promote and commercially distribute these products to the world's poor have only been under way for a few years.

On the other hand, small-scale water treatment is reaching increasing fractions of the population in low-income countries, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, in the form of water treatment kiosks (also known as water refill stations or packaged water producers). While quality control and quality assurance in such locations may be variable, sophisticated technology (such as multi-stage particle filtration, UV irradiation, ozonation, and membrane filtration) is applied with increasing frequency. Such microenterprises are able to vend water at extremely low prices, with increasing government regulation. Initial assessments of vended water quality are encouraging.

Whether applied at the household or community level, some examples of specific treatment processes include:

Some appropriate technology water supply measures include:


Further information: Greywater treatment
Further information: Water purification
A clivus Multrum composting toilet
A. Second floor, B. First floor, C. Ground floor, 1. Humus compartment, 2. Ventilation pipe, 3. Water closet.

As of 2006, waterborne diseases are estimated to cause 1.8 million deaths each year, marking the importance of proper sanitation systems. It is clear that the developing world is heavily lacking in proper public sanitation and that solutions as sewerages (or alternatively small-scale treatment systems) need to be provided.[35]

Ecological sanitation can be viewed as a three-step process dealing with human excreta: (1) Containment, (2) Sanitization, (3) Recycling. The objective is to protect human health and the environment while limiting the use of water in sanitation systems for hand (and anal) washing only and recycling nutrients to help reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers in agriculture.

Small scale systems include:

Energy generation and uses[edit]

Further information: Microgeneration and Remote-area power supply
Small-scale (DIY) generation system

The term soft energy technology was coined by Amory Lovins to describe "appropriate" renewable energy.[38] "Appropriate" energy technologies are especially suitable for isolated and/or small scale energy needs. Electricity can be provided from:

Some intermediate technologies include:

Finally, urine can also be used as a basis to generate hydrogen (which is an energy carrier). Using urine, hydrogen production is 332% more energy efficient than using water.[42][43]

Electricity distribution could be improved so to make use of a more structured electricity line arrangement and universal AC power plugs and sockets (e.g. the CEE 7/7 plug). In addition, a universal system of electricity provisioning (e.g. universal voltage, frequency, ampère; e.g. 230 V with 50 Hz), as well as perhaps a better mains power system (e.g. through the use of special systems as perfected single wire earth returns; e.g. Tunisia's MALT-system, which features low costs and easy placement)[44][45]

Electricity storage (which is required for autonomous energy systems) can be provided through appropriate technology solutions as deep-cycle and car-batteries (intermediate technology), long duration flywheels, electrochemical capacitors, compressed air energy storage (CAES), liquid nitrogen and pumped hydro.[46] Many solutions for the developing world are sold as a single package, containing a (micro) electricity generation power plant and energy storage. Such packages are called remote-area power supply

LED Lamp with GU10 twist lock fitting, intended to replace halogen reflector lamps.


A man uses a bicycle to cargo goods in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (2007)

Human powered-vehicles include the bicycle (and the future bamboo bicycle), which provides general-purpose transportation at lower costs compared to motorized vehicles, and many advantages over walking, and the whirlwind wheelchair, which provides mobility for disabled people who cannot afford the expensive wheelchairs used in developed countries. Animal powered vehicles/transport may also be another appropriate technology. Certain zero-emissions vehicles may be considered appropriate transportation technology, including compressed air cars, liquid nitrogen and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Also, vehicles with internal combustion engines may be converted to hydrogen or oxyhydrogen combustion.

Bicycles can also be applied to commercial transport of goods to and from remote areas. An example of this is Karaba, a free-trade coffee co-op in Rwanda, which uses 400 modified bicycles to carry hundreds of pounds of coffee beans for processing.[49] Other projects for developing countries include the redesign of cycle rickshaws to convert them to electric power.[50][51] However recent reports suggest that these rickshaws are not plying on the roads.[52]

Health care[edit]

According to the Global Health Council, rather than the use of professionally schooled doctors, the training of villagers to remedy most maladies in towns in the developing world is most appropriate.[53] Trained villagers are able to eliminate 80% of the health problems. Small (low-cost) hospitals – based on the model of the Jamkhed hospital – can remedy another 15%, while only 5% will need to go to a larger (more expensive) hospital.

Note that many Appropriate Technologies benefit public health, in particular by providing sanitation and safe drinking water. Refrigeration may also provide a health benefit. (These are discussed in the following paragraphs.) This was too found at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project[57] and the Women Health Volunteers projects in countries as Iran, Iraq and Nepal.[58]

Food preparation and storage[edit]

Further information: Grow house

Some proven intensive, low-effort food-production systems include urban gardening (indoors and outdoors).[citation needed] Indoor cultivation may be set up using hydroponics with Grow lights, while outdoor cultivation may be done using permaculture, forest gardening, no-till farming, Do Nothing Farming, etc. In order to better control the irrigation outdoors, special irrigation systems may be created as well (although this increases costs, and may again open the door to cultivating non-indigenous plants; something which is best avoided).[citation needed] One such system for the developing world is discussed here.[59]

Crop production tools are best kept simple (reduces operating difficulty, cost, replacement difficulties and pollution, when compared to motorized equipment). Tools can include scythes,[60] animal-pulled plows[61] (although no-till farming should be preferred),[62] dibbers, wheeled augers[63][64] (for planting large trees), kirpis, hoes, ...

Greenhouses are also sometimes included (see Earthship Biotincture).[citation needed] Sometimes they are also fitted with irrigation systems, and/or heat sink-systems which can respectively irrigate the plants or help to store energy from the sun and redistribute it at night (when the greenhouse starts to cool down).

According to proponents, Appropriate Technologies can greatly reduce the labor required to prepare food, compared to traditional methods, while being much simpler and cheaper than the processing used in Western countries. This reflects E.F. Schumacher's concept of "intermediate technology," i.e. technology which is significantly more effective and expensive than traditional methods, but still an order of magnitude (10 times) cheaper than developed world technology. Key examples are:

In Ghana, Zouzugu villagers use solar cookers for preparing their meals

Information and communication technologies[edit]

Netbooks such as the Asus Eee PC accommodate low-cost information sharing and communication


Through financial systems envisioned especially for the poor/developed world, many companies have been able to get started with only limited capital. Often banks lend the money to people wishing to start a business (such as with microfinance). In other systems, people for a Rotating Savings and Credit Association or ROSCA to purchase costly material together (such as Tontines and Susu accounts). Organisations, communities, cities or individuals can provide loans to other communities/cities (such as with the approach followed by Kiva, World Vision Microloans MicroPlace and LETS). Finally, in certain communities (usually isolated communities such as small islands or oases) everything of value is shared. This is called gift economy.

Determining a sustainable approach[edit]

Features such as low cost, low usage of fossil fuels and use of locally available resources can give some advantages in terms of sustainability.[72] For that reason, these technologies are sometimes used and promoted by advocates of sustainability and alternative technology.

Besides using natural, locally available resources[73] (e.g. wood or adobe), waste materials imported from cities using conventional (and inefficient) waste management may be gathered and re-used to build a sustainable living environment. Use of these cities' waste material allows the gathering of a huge amount of building material at a low cost. When obtained, the materials may be recycled over and over in the own city/community, using the cradle to cradle design method. Locations where waste can be found include landfills, junkyards, on water surfaces and anywhere around towns or near highways. Organic waste that can be reused to fertilise plants can be found in sewages. Also, town districts and other places (e.g. cemeteries) that are subject of undergoing renovation or removal can be used for gathering materials as stone, concrete, or potassium.

Related social movements[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]