Need to know


By R Srikrishna
Published: Saturday 30 September 1995

A SIMPLE distinction between developed and developing countries is that the former category has solutions for which there seem to be no problems while the latter is beset with problems for which there seem to be no solutions. The contributors to this book believe that this divide can be overcome if knowledge and information are transferred from the developed to the developing world. Capital flows and technical assistance are simply not enough.

Current social development in the Third World is contingent upon scientific knowledge, and therefore the need for organisations like the Swedish Agency for Research Cooperation with Developing Countries (SAREC) that focus on knowledge and knowledge build-up. Since the past 20 years, SAREC has been trying to build research capacity in the Third World by providing theoretical formulations for developmental interests, problems and projects through basic support to universities, research training and direct support for individual groups. The book is the culmination of this effort.

It is within this large theoretical schema that the book focuses on issues as diverse as transnational scientific interests, policy analysis, agricultural research, biodiversity and even vaccines for diarrheal diseases. Such an eclectic composition has been made possible because the focus is not so much on empirical data as on epistemology.

For example, the book recommends attention to primary health needs, alternative solutions to automation and capital intensity, development of indigenous competence to conserve environmental and national resources. The book goes no further than recommendations, because of its essential focus itself -- that of the critical bearing of knowledge on Third World development. The idea is to project a future that transcends individual and national interests. Such universal truths cannot and are not meant to be disputed.

A critical evaluation of such literature is a futile pursuit as the content of the chapters is not argumentative. The concerns that have been highlighted are immediate, the solutions offered are long-term initiatives centring around the strengthening of research capacities of the countries concerned.

"What is required is a paradigm shift in concepts, policies and practices. This shift should move the world away from operating for short-term gains to long-term planning; from destructive to environmentally sound technologies; from investing in luxury or white elephant projects to building basic facilities to satisfy the human needs of the majority, from competition for private profit to cooperation for public benefit, and from lifestyles to creative work and leisure. This shift should begin immediately, in order to safeguard the next fifty years." For a general overview of the topics such as biodiversity, agricultural research, capacity building and policy analysis, the book makes good reading. Since Sweden has been employed in several chapters either as a reference point or a "model" the book can be considered "different". But in terms of value-for-money, it is just not generous enough.

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