Fellow Since 1994
This description of Prasad Rasal's work was prepared when Prasad Rasal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1994.
Starting with the area of watershed management, youthful engineer Prasad Rasal is pioneering the field of appropriate technical education on the Indian sub-continent.
The New Idea
Prasad Rasal diagnosed two principal constraints to effective watershed management in rural India. First, there was a high level of dependency on "technical experts", who were both generally unavailable and ineffective. Secondly, there was an absence of appropriate education and other support materials that would lead to an alternative approach managed by the villagers. This was particularly true with respect to technical subjects. Prasad's response was direct and effective. He established an action research and "appropriate technical manuals" publishing program that is fast becoming a benchmark for the developing world. In a short time, villagers relying on his education materials have demonstrated the ability to construct and maintain watershed management devices (from catchments to riparian plantings to small dams) on their own. Prasad is now moving forward on three fronts: (1) further action research and material publications in new areas; (2) testing and refining his own materials resource and service centers; and (3) building partnerships with nongovernmental, public and commercial organizations to distribute his materials (which include picture booklets, workshop material books, slides, posters, comprehensive "teacher training" books, and three-dimensional models). As the India coordinator of an international network concerned with appropriate technology transfer, he is poised to spread his materials and methods throughout the sub-continent and beyond.
There is a great need for technical manpower in the field of watershed development, especially to strengthen the technical skills of local people with regard to soil and water conservation work of the government. Maintenance of infrastructure is another major problem, since the public believes that, if the government performs the construction work, it also has responsibility for maintenance. Presently, there are only approximately 25 technical people working to provide support in watershed management in the entire state of Maharastra. All the other technicians are retired engineers or retired agricultural development personnel who have specialized in irrigation programs. Clearly, new ways that are not dependent on experts are needed to bring watershed management knowledge and technologies to the village level. In fact, while workers must have basic technical knowledge and skill, there is very limited need for the presence of an engineer in most development projects, and usually only at some crucial stages. However, people are usually not aware of this fact and do not have the tools and initial help in learning and doing things for themselves. There are very few media initiatives on technological matters that are focused on the village level. While there are numerous opportunities to gain information through research papers, documentation of experiences, proceedings of workshops or seminars, short films, video films, slides, posters, and lecture series, these are accessible only to urban professionals and scholars. Many methods of communication and education also require the presence of experts or key people to operate equipment such as a projector, television, or video, etc. The material provided consists mainly of data rather than in-depth information that will educate and inform the average person. Also, most often, the highly technical language that is used becomes a factor that limits easy access of the information.
Prasad uses three main techniques for presenting information to average people that enables them to accomplish fairly complex technical feats in watershed management with minimal technical expertise or outside input: picture booklets, slides and posters, and three- dimensional models that are also published in the form of a book. Each publication or learning tool is developed and tested through a participatory "action research" process in the villages. Prasad's first book on watershed management, printed in the local Marathi language and based primarily on simple pictures and illustrations, was a phenomenal success. In addition to going into a second edition, the book is also now being translated into other Indian languages.Prasad targets the village person who is judged most likely to study the booklet, hold discussions with various like-minded people, and then take action. There will be no need to contact a technical person, except urgent and problematic situation. Communication aids that have already been developed and tested in the field by Prasad have promoted the concept of watershed development and have moved people to act without external help. He estimates that over a ten-year period, the dependency on technical personnel support at the village level in watershed management can be reduced to one per ten villages.Prasad's plan is to eventually have a number of tested and marketable booklets available on the market, with others in production based on news needs recognized and ideas generated. He is also elaborating a distribution strategy. He plans to distribute his materials directly through model service centers that will provide comprehensive "development communications" tools for local people. He is piloting several centers now in his home area. He also distributes indirectly via government rural extension workers, community organizations, and schools. These intermediaries are provided training in using the materials correctly, some of which are used in their own and some such as the slides and workshop work booksare for presentation in workshop formats. Another promising distribution plan involves partnering with commercial producers and sellers of farm tools to package his materials with an agricultural tool, for instance a pump or plow. He is also considering selling the three-dimensional books on a group incentive basis in the same manner as the encyclopedia and other book series.Prasad believes that his strategy for presenting technical information to the average person can also be carried over other fields, such as health, sanitation, unconventional energy methods and education. The methods do not confine themselves to any language or region because they are based on using pictures and models that are widely adaptable. Once Prasad's strategy is fully demonstrated in his watershed management pilot project, other popular and technical educational pulbishers and industries will be solicited.
Prasad graduated in 1989 with a civil engineering degree from the prestigious Government College of Engineering in Pune. During his final year of college, he organized the science fiction writing competition in the regional language Marathi. He also organized a developmental watershed management project and met Mr. Vilasrao Salunke, a recipient of several public and international awards for his innovative works as a pioneer of the Village Pani Panchayat (Village Water Coucil). Salunke suggested that Prasad should use his civil engineering knowledge to benefit people in other rural areas. At that point, Prasad started Tech Aid as a consultancy service to nongovernmental organizations in India's Maharastra and Karnataka states. In addition to providing technical assistance, Prasad has organized many workshops for various groups on the topic of rural development, and trained professors of several colleges in Pune University. He has also helped train college students and tenth-grade dropouts to become teachers and extension workers in his project.