In an article for the Gandhi Foundation, Diana Schumacher has written about the work of her father-in-law, Ernst Friedrich (Fritz) Schumacher. This post looks at only one aspect – his foundation of the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), a London-based charity concerned with technology transfer.
The aim was to give practical ‘tool aid’, skills and education to poor rural communities in developing countries rather than expensive highly mechanised equipment which was not appropriate to the understanding and needs of the illiterate majority and which put them out of work. What was needed was ‘production by the masses and not mass production’ using ‘technologies with a human face’. In 2005 ITDG changed its name to Practical Action, in order to communicate its work to a wider audience.
Ancient routes reopened
For centuries nomadic herdsman drove cattle and camels through Darfur and lived peacefully alongside farmers who lived off the land. However, during the unrest long-standing bonds between farmers and the pastoralist tribes were undermined. Read more here.
Pastoralists stopped using the migratory routes due to conflict and farmers started planting crops on them. Then when the conflict eased and the pastoralists returned to the routes crops were ruined and fighting broke out between the two groups.
The work of Practical Action is simple and reflected self-governing systems of justice traditionally used in Darfur. Project officers set up peace and stability committees which bring leading members of opposed groups together and get them to agree on where animals should be allowed to walk and feed.
2011, the charity has installed nearly 200km of migratory routes and set up 20 shared water points. So far more than 20,000 people have benefitted from the project, with more set to do so after the UNDP committed further spending in the latest phase of the project.
Abandoned markets resurrected
As part of the newest phase of the project, which started five years ago, Practical Action have been reopening markets closed down during the conflict. The markets provide the region with an economic boost and encourage a return to traditional forms of trading, which have supported the economy of the region for generations.
Importantly, markets also bring community leaders from all sides of the conflict together in one place and offer a valuable opportunity to expand the peace and stability committees, discuss matters which are still causing inter-tribal conflict and, where possible, reach new agreements. Project leader Awadalla Hamid Mohammed said: “More productive farming and the return of traditional trading routes and markets signifies a return to normality and provides a huge opportunity to rebuild trust between communities”.
The project leader added: “Markets have always provided a place to trade, but they also enable people to build friendships and alliances, swap information and generally network. When they stopped, communities became more isolated, which led to less understanding and a break-down of relationships. Now we believe they can be vital agents of change.”