Manna from the sky

You can now 'telecommute' for sustainable use of resources and take an 'edutainment' break! overseeing more than what an overseas aid by a developing country does, satellite info is the emerging poverty alleviation mantra for developing nations

By Vinay Dharmadhikari, Vinay Dharmadhikari
Published: Thursday 15 February 1996

-- IN THE backward regions of the world, there is as much a need for technology as there is for organisational know-how for improving productivity. Effective administration and demand-supply management can be established by cost-beneficial electronics communications and Computer technology advances which make possible a state of 'zero-tag-time' taken to reach information to the required places.

The world urgently needs to study if new 'products' and manufacturing principles' can be designed with nature as a model, and if new levels of productivity might be achieved by means of a synergistic clustering of manufacturing industries, where one firm's by-products and effluents can be fed as inputs into other firms to achieve net zero-emissions. Therefore, the developing and backward regions need to exploit the latest developments in modern agriculture and bio-industries, since this is an area that does not escape 'reengineering'.

Most well-informed scientists and policymakers will agree that humanity as a whole is already in possession of the technologies, resources and organisational abilities necessary to eradicate poverty from this earth. Economic liberalisation in India, for example, actually opens our doors to a learning process which can link small producers to private enterprises owning the technologies, the knowledge and necessary implements/devices.

A synergistic link between corporate managements, with their technology and marketing expertise, and the small producers, who are owner- cultivators of natural resources (land/labour/sunshine and rain), is much desired, For post-harvest handling of agro-products and for productivity enhancement, small producers need the services of well-organised corporate enterprises.

Sustainable development - the agreed goal of most countries today - requires a parallel and synchronised improvement in agro-industry, political systems and individual-family behaviour (which have a key role to play in changing our consumption patterns). For this, an electronically interconnected demand-supply system takes care of everyone's views and preferences in a zero-(information)-time-lag environment.

On the technical side, 'telecommuting' is becoming increasingly attractive as a consequence of databases available both on-line and distributed on optical discs. Optical fibres, small dish antennae, and pocket radio systems have opened the floodgates to information exchange, information-demand-registration, polling and voting and even to 1edutainment' born out of the wedlock between video and satellite support systems on the one hand, and advanced multi-media entertainment systems on the other.

Little wonder then that modern biotechnology and telematics can lead us confidently to intelligent 'rurbanisation', both by contributing to the development of agro-industrial enterprises in rural areas, and by upgrading city life with the help of urban agriculture.

For smooth technology transfer in developing countries, need definition' must be paid attention to. This is because the political say of the underprevileged often does not register with the government. Electronics-aided networking ought to improve this.Then there is 'problem solution', where a common practice of establishing geographically 'representative' committees often becomes counterproductive. Creative adaptation is another phase where the centre of gravity must necessarily lie in the socioeconomic and cultural environment of technology usage. Here, the greatest asset is indigenous creativity, a fragile resource which may succumb to 'technology push'. In all these cases, access to databases can help generate a stimulating 'technology pull'.

A special-purpose, satellite-based communication system called Healthsat is now in full operation. It actually opened a new chapter in development-oriented information transfer. Professionals in health and health-related fields can now use the facility to reduce inequities with respect to access to information, both from North to South and from South to South. The latter may be the satellite's most important contribution.

In poor countries, there is definitely the need for organisational know-how to help establish effective political and administrative systems. No one else but scientists and technologists can paint such motivating visions to help nations navigate between 'technocratic illusions' on the one hand, and 'theocratic hopes' on the other.

An electronic networking like a 'bio-focus Internet' would be a good starting point. The possibilities of establishing e-mail connections even in remote townships in developing countries would be more useful. Actually, the Financial costs involved in breaking such communication barriers are miniscule compared to the overseas development assistance, most of which does not alleviate poverty.

The type and the magnitude of the initiative which is now needed is comparable to Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India Movement, or Roosevelt's New Deal during the Great Depression in the cause of national reconstruction. This is technologically possible and financially feasible. But the question is, whether the political leadership and the cream of the concerned professions can or will rise to the occasion sincerely.

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