Recent Posts from the Mumena Team

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Love Letters (Missions): Appropriate Technology – Wooden Wheelbarrow

Appropriate Technology means introducing innovative ideas that actually improve peoples lives. The technology must be appropriate to the needs, culture, knowledge, and abilities of the people. It should be something they can accept and “run with” by making additional products or spreading the use of the technology. This is positive development for the people.

American Tractor VS Manual Labor

Americans can’t ship a tractor to Africa and expect the people to benefit from it. Its not realistic to the actual needs and abilities of the people. Let’s consider just the economics of a tractor among the Kaonde and compare it to hiring piecework (piecework is the wage that the Kaonde pay each other for manual labor – about $2.50/day):

  Tractor Piecework (hiring neighbors)
Initial Cost $20,000 - 40,000 (donated) $0
Fuel per hectare (100m * 100m) about 5 gallons  
Cost per hectare $20 (just fuel) $14 (common wage)
Maintenance $5,000/year $0
Benefit Makes Americans feel good about donating. Providing piecework prevents your neighbor from starving.


The bottom line is that it is cheaper to hire piecework (and it helps the people you are hiring) than the fuel for a tractor.

So what can we do?

I believe the greatest changes are the little things that can help the people on a daily basis. It takes much time and understanding of the culture in order to see these possibilities. Since we live here and see the people’s struggles we have the time and insight. There are many ways the Kaonde could improve their lives, but we must be considerate of how they can accomplish those changes. For hundreds of years, western technology has been pushed onto the Africans. However, they have not benefited much from it because it is not appropriate African technology.

The Wooden Wheel Barrow – Appropriate African Technology

A wheel-barrow can save hours a day and relieves suffering because the women can push the wheel-barrow instead of carrying the weight on their heads and eventually injuring their necks. I asked the team about this idea and they all thought that this would indeed be a very useful tool for most people, but it is beyond their reach. A used wheel-barrow from town costs $20, equivalent to about two weeks piecework (minimum wage which is more than most people earn in the bush). Also, the transport to town to bring back a wheel-barrow would cost an additional $12.

So, I started asking my friend Nixon Mofya about this idea. (He is a young man who translates for Bible studies while he is not at school.) We looked at the idea of buying used wheel barrows from town and transporting them in bulk to the village area. However, the cost was still too high for most people.

So, we decided to design a cheap wooden wheel-barrow. It uses locally available wood (which is mostly used for firewood) and a few supplies from the market in town (nails, some short pipes, and a piece of rubber used by the shoe-repair men). The material for this wooden wheel-barrow is about $4 and is easily transported. (Compare this to a new metal wheel-barrow from town which is anywhere from $20-$70.) Best of all, anyone can fix it if it breaks. Even the wheel is made from wood with a rubber pad around the surface and a metal pipe around the axel to give it some durability.



A wooden wheelbarrow with 6 20 liter water containers (200 lbs)


Nixon and I spent about 2 mornings making the first one. This was a good way to spend some time with him and others and it showed that I as a missionary am interested in the people's lives in the community. After the first one was finished, others are building them now by copying it as a model. Every village can easily afford to make one or buy one from someone who is building them. So with a some serious thought, we can introduce simple ideas that can dramatically improve their lives. Eventually, the people will get the idea that they can improve their own lives by using the resources around them.

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