From transfer to translation: Using systemic understandings of technology to understand drip irrigation uptake

Publication date: June 2014
Source:Agricultural Systems, Volume 128
Author(s): Yaakov Garb , Lonia Friedlander
Drip irrigation is a technology with great potential for improving the efficiency of water use, and for increasing crop production and food security by enabling agriculture on marginal land. Yet drip irrigation’s uptake is patchy, with conspicuous successes in some locations and failures in others. In this paper we compare the history and circumstances of the mostly failed uptake of drip technology in sub-Saharan Africa with those of its deep and robust uptake in the Israeli context in which many of the failed African systems originated. We do this not only to throw light on the contextual dependence of this particular technology, and highlight strategies that have been attempted to protect it from this dependence, but also, more broadly, to use the notion of “technology translation” to consolidate several streams of socio-analytic thinking that offer improved understandings of how technologies evolve and travel.Israel has long been a major player in the development and distribution of drip irrigation, with exceptionally extensive national level uptake. We suggest that this emerged from an integrated technology innovation system with a capacity for ongoing multi-leveled learning and dynamic evolution of the technology in light of context-specific potential and problems. Conversely, the failed uptake of drip irrigation in many sub-Saharan African countries can be viewed as a consequence of the transfer of static physical artifacts into new contexts lacking similar local systems into which these could be absorbed and evolve (re-innovated). We interpret two contrasting attempts to boost drip irrigation adoption as efforts to overcome this dependen simplifying the hardware to become system-free, or creating a kind of remotely operated autonomous small-scale innovation system in which self-contained installations are bundled with resources and linkages to a directing hub.Drawing on several vibrant streams of literature in the sociology of technology and technical innovation, we suggest that the emerging metaphor of “technology translation” provides a better way of thinking about and improving what happens when technologies such as drip irrigation travel to new settings. Technology translation, rather than transfer, suggests a more dialogical approach emphasizing learning and using the local “languages” of the contexts into which artifacts will be translated, making artifacts supple enough to be readily modifiable within these, and finding ways to bolster the local innovation systems that will re-invent and re-link them into new relationships.

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