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Magazine Editorial

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Title Better Wealth for the Commonwealth: A Netwrok Report from South Africa
Details India and Honey Bee were the keywords at the Mabalingwe resort in Northern Province of South Africa as the governmental heads of the Science and Technology (S&T) departments of 20 out of 54 Commonwealth countries gathered to mull over the working of the Commonwealth Science Council (CSC). Also present were India’s own HRD and S&T minister, Dr M M Joshi, and eminent science leader, Chairperson, NIF and DG, CSIR, Dr R A Mashelkar. They watched with quiet satisfaction the presentation of the work carried out in India for the last 14 years by the Honey Bee Network towards recognising the potential of grassroots innovations in combating poverty and drudgery. The Indian government had already recognised and lent support to the movement in 1999 by setting up a formal body to harness the potential of grassroots innovations, the National Innovation Foundation (NIF). Now it was the turn of other countries to resolve to do the same. How it Happened The Honey Bee Network, since its inception in 1989, has had repeated proofs that people don’t need a highly qualified scientist sitting at the other end of the world to provide solutions to local problems. Of course, linkages with excellence in formal science and technology and design would help these innovations become even more optimal. In 1998 the Commonwealth decided to review the working of the CSC and decided to transform CSC into a Commonwealth Knowledge Network (CKN). Dr Mashelkar was one of the architects of this vision as part of the steering committee. CSC engaged Prof Anil Gupta, coordinator of the HB Network, in November 2001 to review the CKN’s activities and determine whether its mission was being accomplished. The dissatisfaction with the previous mode of functioning led to the pursuit of an alternative model for CKN, one that would link informal and formal knowledge with the aim of minimising poverty. In February this year, Dr Ben Ngubane, Chairperson of the CSC and the S&T Minister of South Africa, circulated a letter among the S&T departments of all Commonwealth countries. This letter set the agenda for the 41st executive meeting of the CSC in June. In this letter Dr Ngubane said, …the potential of technology and science in solving “livelihood” problems has perhaps not been adequately explored. Technological innovation takes place not just in large formal laboratories and educational institutions. … As the Honey Bee Network has shown … “oddballs” can solve many problems entirely through their genius… This letter is therefore to invite you to join with me to mount a campaign for scouting these innovators and traditional knowledge experts... Farmers Lead the Way It took carefully coordinated work by SRISTI, GIAN, NIF and Honey Bee Collaborators, with CSC and other South African counter part to make the June summit a success. In March 2002, while Gujarat burned, a South African lady, Ms Joyce Mogale, quietly went around parts of Gujarat picking up innovations that would suit her region best. Ms Mogale is Director, Small Medium and Micro Enterprise (SMME), the Northern Province government. This was followed up by a visit by the GIAN team to South Africa to prepare the groundwork for the transfer of the chosen technologies to Northern Province, the second poorest province of South Africa. As this team discovered, it is a bizarre situation that exists in this area. On the one hand there are the rich white farmers with the most ‘advanced’ technologies. On the other exist poor black farmers who are completely dependent on centralised production systems elsewhere for even the most basic implements like the wheelbarrow! Somehow they seem to have been deprived of the idea that wheelbarrows could be locally manufactured. There are no intermediate technologies specifically aimed at the local conditions, and this lack of a technology ladder means that there is no skill ladder either. Instead of ameliorating their conditions themselves, most poor farmers only dream of becoming like rich farmers, to be able to ‘afford’ things they don’t really need. Three creative, innovative farmers from Gujarat in India went to the Northern Province to demonstrate that ‘small’ people can do ‘big’ work. Amrutbhai Agrawat, Mansukhbhai Jagani and Bhanjibhai Mathukia travelled all the way to South Africa with members from SRISTI, GIAN and NIF, with the specific goals of transferring technology, and more importantly, of building capacity. There are few aid programmes that focus on capacity building through people to people learning as opposed to a top-down structure of ‘providing help’. The farmers received no monetary compensation for this apart from the travel and the boarding, nor did the three organisations involved. Collaborating with the faculty and students of the Techniven Engineering College in Vehmbe district of Northern Province, the innovators developed intermediate and locally-required technologies like an improved donkey cart, a bicycle sprayer, an improved harrow, a groundnut digger and other small implements for cultivation. The story of the donkey cart goes thus. The GIAN team on its first reconnaissance visit found that there were no bullocks in the area and donkey carts were in use. Now these donkey carts were made using the differential and wheels of a car. And why? Because there are so many cars around that keep getting disposed off. But this made the cart so heavy that three donkeys were required to pull it. Amrutbhai, having already developed a tilting bullock cart, was commissioned the task of developing a cart suitable for local conditions. He developed one, minus the car differential, which almost reduced the cart’s weight substantially and required only one donkey to pull it. Mansukhbhai made a cycle based sprayer, which could generate a new job in just about Rs 2500. Bhanjibhai showed through a film how he had made a 12 hp tractor which could help small farms. A farm visit to the Capricon District of Limpopo Province facilitated a direct interaction between the innovators and local farmers. Some on-farm trials of the herbal pesticides and growth promoters prepared by the Sadbhav-SRISTI Laboratory are going to be conducted in Hazyview, Lisbon. The Agriculture Research Council (ARC-LNR) would provide feedback after the trials, based on which a separate technology transfer would be discussed. Towards a Global Network The Ministerial meeting duly took place on 10th and 11th June 2002. The keynote address was delivered by Dr M M Joshi in which he cited the work being done by NIF, India as a possible step forward. Prof Gupta made a presentation on the philosophy and activities of the HB Network and associated organisations. Dr Mashelkar chaired the CSC meeting to evolve the resolutions guiding the future direction of CSC. An exhibition, comprising panels, posters, herbal pesticides, veterinary medicines, and innovations, was put up. The multilingual multimedia Honey Bee database of innovations developed by SRISTI was also projected for the delegates. Impressed by what they saw, the Ministerial gathering reconfirmed the importance of concentrating on grassroots innovations and traditional knowledge as a focal point for CKN. Adopting the Honey Bee model, it further stressed that the CKN should in fact become a Commonwealth Innovation Network (CIN) by developing a culture of innovation. It was also resolved that every activity of CSC should be evaluated by its potential to make a definite and positive difference to the lives of the poor in the member countries. Dr Ken Lum, the Secretary of CSC, facilitated the entire exchange and led this transformation in CSC's vision. Several colleagues from South Africa, particularly Morore Benjamin Mphalele, Head of Department Finance, Northern Province, and Dr Nthoana M Tau-Mzamane, President ARC, also displayed keen interest in building on the relationship. Subsequent to the meeting the exhibition moved to Petersburg for the general public. The exhibition was inaugurated by the Premier of Limpopo Province. The Premier, students and the local people appreciated the kind of ideas on show and keenly interacted with the innovators through a translator. The Government of South Africa is likely to sign an MOU between CSIR, India, SRISTI and NIF and CSIR and ARC, South Africa to complete the technology transfer process to Limpopo region in Northern Province and to invite the CKN to set up similar organisations in the region. The process of poverty alleviation while rewarding creativity seems set to find a wider audience.
Volume No. Honey Bee, 13(2): 14-16, 2002