Project Topics


1.0              Background to the study
In an article on sustainability and technology transfer, Richard Wilk (1995), an American anthropologist, mentioned a file folder of materials that he had accumulated over several years. The file contained 25 separate project proposals, feasibility studies, implementation plans, and project assessments. Submitted over a period of a century, all these studies considered commercializing the production of edible palm oil from a tree native to the Belizean rainforest. In each of these initiatives, imported cracking and rendering technologies developed for use in other tropical palm-oil industries were tried. Despite easy access to dense, high-yield tree stands, all these projects failed, even those with direct government subsidies. Throughout this period, household production of edible oil by indigenous people, using a variety of simple, local technologies, never stopped.

According to Grenier (1998), this story prompts several important questions: Did anyone bother to ask the local people who, how, where, when, and why of their local palm-oil production system? By learning about the local production system, could the proponents have avoided any of these costly failures? If the researchers had established joint ventures with the communities, could development objectives and sustainable-development goals have been served? If participatory technology-development techniques had been tried, could hybrid technologies (a combination of indigenous and foreign inputs) have yielded successful ventures? What would have been the outcome had any of these proponents worked with the indigenous people.