Development process: Harnessing science and technology

The country requires a wide spectrum of development activities in the spheres of agriculture, health, industry, energy, education, transport and communication, etc. for many years to come. For this we need to acquire and utilise scientific knowledge and technologies. Technologies are either generated indigenously through innovation and research or imported from other countries. Either of them would require a sufficient national scientific and technological capacity — a prerequisite for making a proper choice of technology for an effective transfer of technology and for its utilisation in the production of various goods and facilities. This is possible only if the government has a political will and is committed to developing science and technology as an essential tool for national development.

A lot of civil research and development work is being carried out by private enterprises in Nepal. There is a growing recognition of the need for regulatory and directive role of the government in areas such as health, energy and environment which affect public welfare. In most of the developing countries, the government has the primary responsibility of developing the national scientific capacity and establishing institutional structures for choice, transfer and development of technologies. Nepal has not yet developed any mechanism for regulation linkage and co-ordination of these activities. Our scientific and technical manpower is least developed. The scientific community is least informed, dependent and little conscious. Appropriate choice of technology is essential for fulfilling the basic objectives of development. But because of the absence of any institutional unit for proper evaluation and selection of technology in Nepal, we find that services like screening of equipment and registration of contracts are shared by different agencies.

In Nepal, any attempt at the utilisation of scientific knowledge for socio-economic development faces many obstacles, both socio-political and economic. Both the politicians and the people are very little exposed to the ideas of possibility and potentiality of science and technology or have little experience of how technology affects and can improve their way of life. A large population in rural areas is illiterate and steeped in outmoded beliefs and prejudices. Tradition often impedes the process of social transformation, which is very essential for accelerating the process of economic development through proper utilisation of science and technology. Secondly, administrators take most of the technical decisions alone and planners in the process rarely consult scientists.

Nepal has tried to adopt western product patterns and systems of production, which are mostly unsuited to our socio-economic conditions and endowment factors. It results in large-scale imports of capital intensive, automated, energy and skill-intensive technologies and industrial products, which are mostly used by the rich minority. More attention should be paid to the basic needs of the poor living in the rural areas. This leads us to seek promotion and better utilisation of local technology and skills. This alone would help the country to promote traditional crafts and techniques and to assimilate them into the national scientific production systems.

Specific measures to create and promote national scientific capabilities are to be taken immediately. These include establishment of institutions for choice, transfer and development of technology, strengthening of information centres and extension services units and promotion of education and training facilities. Special attention should be given towards making a sound science and technology policy to guide its development and management. Also, in the absence of an effective linkage between the generators and users of scientific and technological knowledge, the process of economic growth is much slower. Hence, proper and adequate incentives should be given to scientists and technologists as well as facilities to investors who utilise the products of local researches.

In short, a more meaningful and effective integration of science and technology into the national development centre and their planning is essential in Nepal today.

For this, scientists and technologists should be given an opportunity to participate fully in the entire process of development planning and programming at all the sectoral levels. Our science and technology development programmes and policies should be made out of the national development plans and policy.

The major concern should be generation of an autonomous national scientific and technological capacity for self-reliance in economic policy decision-making; promotion of national efforts, regional and international cooperation in science and technology development; choice, transfer and development of appropriate technologies; and participation of scientists and technologists in the process of national economic planning.

Dhoubhadel is a professor at TU