Q&A about The Nexus between (Frugal) Technology and Institutions Project

Original post: Conference Blog 14th General Conference, 2014 
By Ellen van Andel

About the project and paper

Frugal Innovation for Inclusive Development: A Case Study on Power Tillers in Tanzania: 
This paper is focused on the technological design and institutional dynamics of power tillers in Tanzania. Research questions are, amongst others:
‘Are they innovative?’, and:
'Can they lead to economic transformation?’.

The outcomes of the investigation varied between districts. The variation is explained by the different background motives for adoption of the power tillers. In Tanzania, the government provided agricultural workers with supply-driven power tillers from China and Japan. The tillers were very cheap but had high maintenance costs. There was no embedding of local knowledge, linkages between manufacturers and suppliers and buyers were very weak. As a consequence, the effectiveness of the power tillers was limited.

Adaptation of the design to local circumstances would imply that the features of the soils (e.g. hardness) were taken into account and therewith the productivity of the power tillers could improve. Now there was no significant improvement found in terms of productivity, however, there were  (unintended) effects for instance on the reduction of transport costs.


Q: Did you investigate female farmers, how they cope with machines? And is the main problem not phosphors in soil instead of the hardness? What explains the (non-)success factors, have you looked beyond tilling? For instance, sustainable agriculture does not adopt tilling because it damages the soil.

Regarding females, there are no generalisations possible. When looking at the household statistics, the tasks are equally distributed between the genders. The farmers hired as machine operators are not only women. Indeed, there are other limiting factors possible beyond technology and institutions. One of them is that there is a shortage of soil fertilizers. Probably there was a hidden assumption: rice culture- = rice culture. An unintended effect is that the power tiller is used as a motor vehicle and not where it was designed for.

Q: Is technological change in developing countries different from that in developed countries? Is stripping of the product necessary?

Chinese and Indian technology is on average of poor quality. But they do provide an entry into the market. Consumers aspire northern technology but they cannot afford it. Therefore, stripping and lowering the price is necessary. Yet Indian technology requires much more skills, due to poor product quality they break down very quickly.

Q: Is this case an example of frugal innovation?

This is a very good example of non-frugal innovation because of several reasons. One of them is the design was not value-sensitive.

More information
Original Post GC Blog 2014
Website 14th General Conference, 2014