Every day I revisit the question of technology dissemination in Africa. Every day I come to the same conclusion: if a technology is worth using, then it is worth purchasing.

This can work for a number of technologies, but what about those that are not simply a product? What about those that are about the method just as much as they are about the final product?

I know of a couple of these. One is how to make charcoal from agricultural waste such as maize cobs or coconut husks. Another is how to weave baskets from plastic waste. So far, the only way I’ve seen to disseminate these technologies is through demonstrations.

Demonstrations imply that you receive help. And more often than not, communities don’t feel invested in the method. So how do we sell these methods, to not only test if they are really worthwhile but also to ensure that people feel invested personally in continuing the method?

I’ve heard someone say that we shouldn’t conduct demonstrations; if a method is good and there is demand for the product, people will develop the method themselves and start using it. I’ve heard others argue for transferring knowledge, but there is no way to ensure that what is being transferred is actually being used.

Maybe we need to find a market for the products, which will create a demand for the methods. Yet the market for charcoal is currently massive, and still people throw away their agricultural waste instead of creating competition for wood charcoal. Maybe we need to charge people to learn the method, as if they were purchasing a technology.

I’m still in search of a satifying solution. Do you have any ideas?

(Photo: Nairobi, Kenya, 2009)

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