By the end of 1991, a full decade after the first PWB was launched, there were
about 2500 PWBs in operation. In the face of increased competition from the
private sector, the combined market share of the BBC Muttom and SIFFS yards
stood at 50 per cent. There was an exponential increase in the rate at which PWBs
were purchased and built during the decade. Of the PWBs in operation in 1991, it
took 4.5 years to supply the first 600 boats. The second 600 were built and sold in
another 2.2 years. The third and fourth lots of 600 entered the fishery even more
rapidly - in 1.5 and 1 years respectively.
‘In search of a drawing’ was the title Pierre Gillet originally gave to his personal reflections on
the effort he made between 1973 and 1987 to build an appropriate boat for the traditional
fishermen of the region2. With over 600 plywood boats crossing the surf today (May 1995)
there is no doubt this search has met with considerable success. Not one, but many drawings
have been made. The innovation process continues unabated, with the numerous models
designed over the years making it possible to talk about a genealogy of plyboats in a matter of
a little over a decade.
Many lessons about technology transfer and diffusion were learned from this experience. The
transfer of technologies from foreign lands, using non-local experts, is not necessarily
inappropriate in itself. What makes it so is often the manner in which technologies are
introduced - without reference to what already exists. To prevent a mismatch, close
interaction between users and technology generators is a prime requirement for introducing
productive technologies into traditional societies. Even such participatory methods, can still
lead to sterile R&D of little practical significance or socio-economic relevance however, if the
supply and demand for innovation is not understood. To make an innovation commercially
feasible a variety of issues need to be carefully addressed: proper infrastructure and
institutional support; finance; issues regarding patents; and the ability to respond quickly to
crises, to name a few. Being equipped for these challenges requires a degree of
organisational flexibility: the path to new technologies is not a smooth, even, line.
Improvements in the existing technologies, the slow development of complementary
innovations and temporary, unanticipated set-backs in the new technology cause 'friction'
which hampers the diffusion process,
So how will the diffusion of the motorised plywood boat affect the future of the fish economy
of the lower south-west region? The plywood boats have become an integral and indispensable
part of both the technical apparatus of the small-scale fishery and the local economy.
Whether this will spur fresh demands for new boat designs, boat-building materials, or any
other technological and institutional changes, only time will tell.
Kurien, J., 'New Craft Designs and Motorisation in Artisanal Fishing: An
Evaluation of the Kottarkat'.1984.
Gillet, P., Small is Difficult: The pangs and success of small boat technology
transfer in South India'. 1985.
John Kurien has been associated with the development of community-based institutions in
Kerala for over 15 years. He is an Associate Fellow of the Centre for Development Studies
Prasantnagar Road. Trivandrum. 695 039. Ullool; Kerala, India.
Country Boats of Bangladesh Jansen et al, Practical Action Publishing, 1989
Sailing Against the Wind Jansen et al, Practical Action Publishing, 1992