Journal Issue

Technical Cooperation within the Third World

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
December 1972
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Anand G. Chandavarkar

technical assistance is popularly conceived of as essentially a flow of technical knowledge and personnel from the technologically advanced industrialized countries to the less developed countries (LDCs). This impression fails to take account of the small but growing volume of technical cooperation among the less developed countries themselves. A glance at what is going on in this field will at least serve as a corrective to the notion that the developing countries can learn only from the developed countries and not from other developing countries. In fact the charge sometimes made about “the carefully cultivated ignorance of people in any country about the experience of people in other countries and the belief… that somehow One’s Own Country is a unique specimen”1 is perhaps even more applicable to the less developed nations who are often more conversant with ideas and techniques of the developed countries than of similarly placed countries whose experience in particular fields or even generally is likely to be of far greater economic relevance to them.2

The belief that technical assistance can only be a one-way street from the industrialized country to the developing country is a particular manifestation of not only ethnocentrism but also of what may be called the fallacy of excessive or misplaced aggregation—in this instance the envisaging of technical assistance as a vast undifferentiated mass. but in specific areas a less developed country may well have a stock of relevant exportable technical knowledge, depending upon its stage of development, even if the country as a whole is not regarded as technically advanced. One can readily think of several countries and their respective spheres of expertise, as for instance the Republic of China (rice farming, land reforms), India (statistics, irrigation, railway engineering, tropical medicine, small-scale industries), Israel (arid zone research, housing, water works, social services), and Singapore (low-cost public housing, family planning). The economic rationale of technical assistance by the less developed countries resembles that for the more familiar export of goods in the international trade. A country could be an exporter of certain types of goods in a commodity category and yet be a net importer of the category as a whole, as for instance India, which’ exports light engineering goods and is a net importer of engineering equipment. Similarly, the export of specific technical knowledge and skills from a less developed country may be related to areas in which it has the greatest comparative advantages of specialization and experience, even though the country is a net importer of technology. However, this is not to argue that the motivation and conditions for the transmission of technical skills between the less developed countries have always a purely economic rationale deriving from comparative advantage or else that they necessarily reflect an exportable surplus. The desire to subserve overall national policies and to project a given national image may be as influential as purely economic factors. In this respect, the technical programs of the less developed countries share some characteristics with those of the advanced countries.

Private Flows of Expertise

There is, of course, an unplanned flow of technical personnel from LDCs to other LDCs in response to normal economic incentives of higher emoluments and other net advantages. As examples one may point to the movement of Egyptian and Palestinian engineers, teachers, and doctors to Kuwait and other Arab countries, and of Indian and Pakistani technicians to Africa and the Persian Gulf states. This, incidentally, also goes to show that part of the so-called “brain drain” from the LDCs may really represent a circular flow among the LDCs themselves, rather than a once-for-all drain to the developed countries. Another channel of export of technical know-how from LDCs is the growing number of joint ventures involving technical collaboration arrangements and consultancy services in other LDCs. This is exemplified by the large number of Indian joint ventures in several African and Asian countries covering a wide variety of projects, particularly in light engineering, textiles, cement, and vegetable oil processing. This may also be taken as a manifestation of the advantages which some of the less developed countries enjoy as exporters of an “intermediate technology” i.e., neither too capital-intensive nor overly sophisticated, which is more relevant to the requirements of similarly situated developing countries. It should, however, be noted that intermediate technology does not necessarily connote light engineering.

But such private flows of technical expertise,3 whether they are from developed or developing countries, do not by their very nature meet the requirements of the developing countries in respect of infrastructure projects related to social overheads such as communications, preinvestment surveys, education, and public health. The bulk of such requirements are met either through multilateral programs such as those of the United Nations and its special agencies, or through bilateral programs of major donor countries such as those administered by the U. S. Agency for International Development or by the Ministry of Overseas Development in the United Kingdom. It should also be noted that many of these programs, especially those of the international agencies, do employ a considerable number of experts from the less developed countries. Therefore, the bilateral programs of aid from less developed to other less developed countries, are supplementary to the international programs. The most extensive and systematic, as well as the most longstanding technical assistance programs within the Third World, covering not only placement of experts, but also provision of training facilities in their respective areas of specialization, are those implemented by the Republic of China (Taiwan), India, and Israel.


China’s programs of technical assistance and cooperation with developing countries comprise training and research facilities offered in Taiwan as well as field missions under bilateral agreements (see Table 1). The training programs for foreign technicians, which were initiated in 1954 under U.S. aid finance and supplemented later by independent Chinese sponsored in-service schemes, have provided training for 7,389 technicians (up to March 31, 1971) from 23 developing countries in the areas of agricultural and industrial development, public health, education, family planning, and land reforms. The overseas technical missions, at the end of 1971, comprised over 1,000 specialists in nearly 40 countries mostly engaged in demonstration and extension work in rice and vegetable cultivation in the African countries, but also covering veterinary and medical services, agricultural processing, and handicrafts. The emphasis of these programs is in the spheres of rice cultivation, family planning, and land reforms which are precisely the areas in which China has achieved the most notable success in the past two decades and which therefore offer the most useful lessons to other developing countries.

Table 1:Technical Missions of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Government,* 1959–71
Agriculture and Veterinary
AfricaBotswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Dahomey, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Liberia, Malagasy Republic, Malawi, Mauritius, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Togo, Upper Volta, Zaïre
Southeast AsiaMalaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Viet-Nam
Middle EastIran, Saudi Arabia
Latin AmericaBrazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Panama, Peru
Industry, Engineering, etc.
AfricaChad—Edible Oil Plant, Central African Republic—Highway Engineering, Malagasy Republic—Bamboo Handicraft, Rwanda.—Sugar Mill, Libyan Arab Republic—Medical Service, Engineering, Meteorology
Southeast AsiaSingapore—Textiles, Silo Construction, Quality Control Viet-Nam—Power Engineering, Medical Service
EuropeCyprus—Geology Malta—Highway Engineering

Specialists and technicians sent abroad to render technical services in nonagricultural fields through private channels, numbering some 250, are not included here.

Source: Council for International Economic Cooperation and Development, Executive Yuan, Taipei, China.

Specialists and technicians sent abroad to render technical services in nonagricultural fields through private channels, numbering some 250, are not included here.

Source: Council for International Economic Cooperation and Development, Executive Yuan, Taipei, China.

The Chinese technical assistance missions include not only specialists but also groups of working farmers, making it easier to demonstrate through learning-by-doing processes the optimum combination of inputs given the local resource endowment. Thus the missions tend to favor utilization of existing natural water resources and do not encourage the use of heavy agricultural machinery. For instance, the demonstration farm in the Boulbi reservoir district of Upper Volta did not make use of the reservoir and the mission in Rwanda used only hoes and scythes in reclamation and cultivation. The agricultural missions, however, have been instrumental in introducing easy-to-learn and easy-to-handle agricultural tools and machines to African farmers such as improved plows, pumps, threshers, spacing-markers, toothrakes, etc., as well as high-yield varieties of rice. The missions have succeeded in growing two rice crops a year in several African countries where there is year-round irrigation, while in areas with inadequate irrigation facilities a system of rotation of rice in the rainy season followed by an upland crop in the dry season has been introduced. The efforts of the missions are reflected in the extension of multiple cropping and vastly increased yields. A typical example is Ivory Coast where the prevailing pattern of one crop of rice a year with a per hectare yield of about 900 kilograms, prior to the arrival of the Chinese technicians in 1963, was transformed by 1968 into double cropping (in some areas, three crops) with an average per hectare yield of about 4,000 kilograms.


Israel’s technical assistance program (Table 2), which has been in operation since 1958, is by far the most extensive of its kind scheduled by any developing country, both in terms of the number of experts involved and the scope of assistance, which extends over a highly diversified field covering not only the more conventional items such as agriculture, education, engineering, and public health, but also youth organization, cooperation and social welfare, including a cultural project to establish a national symphony orchestra in Singapore. To date over 3,000 Israeli experts have served in some 80 countries and nearly 15,000 trainees from developing countries have been trained in Israel.

Table 2:Israeli Technical Assistance, 1958-69
(a) Israeli Experts Abroad(b) Trainees in Israel
Latin America and the Caribbean4522,003
Mediterranean Area4402,104
Source: Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Programme of International Co-operation, Jerusalem, Israel, 1970.
(c) Countries with which Israel has signed Cooperation Agreements (as at end 1969):
AfricaMali, Upper Volta, Malagasy Republic, Dahomey, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Central African Republic, Liberia, Rwanda, Cameroon, The Gambia, Burundi, Niger, Tanzania, Uganda, Togo, Chad, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi.
AsiaPhilippines, Thailand
Latin AmericaBolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela. Mexico, Honduras, Uruguay
EuropeTurkey, Rumania
Source: Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Programme of International Co-operation, Jerusalem, Israel, 1970.
Source: Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Programme of International Co-operation, Jerusalem, Israel, 1970.

The distinguishing feature of the Israeli technical assistance program is its reliance on the team approach rather than on scattered individual experts; it concentrates on the integrated project, including concurrent training and demonstration programs either on the project site or in Israel, with due emphasis on early replacement by local counterparts. A typical example is the cooperative type training villages and settlements to teach agricultural and other skills developed by Israeli teams in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Dahomey, Ecuador, Nepal, Tanzania, etc. As with China, Israel’s technical assistance reflects the areas in which it has had the most experience and success at home, notably the absorption and integration of immigrants into compact agricultural communities, development of arid zone farming techniques, youth movements, combating tropical eye diseases, and citrus farming. The last mentioned item is particularly significant since, although citrus is Israel’s major export, this has not inhibited Israeli technical assistance in citriculture to potential competitors such as Ecuador, Greece, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Turkey, and Uganda.4 Equally significant is the belief of Israeli policymakers that, despite its expertise in the sphere of cooperative agricultural settlement, “the advanced form of collectivism represented by the kibbutz (communal settlement) is not exportable,” 5 a sentiment which also serves to underscore an important lesson of international technical assistance—it is easier to transplant technical skills than institutions and values.


The origins of India’s technical assistance (Table 3) to other developing countries date back to its accession to the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Development in South and Southeast Asia (1950), which is based on bilateral agreements between the member countries. Since the inception of the Colombo Plan, India has provided 4,411 training positions and 181 experts (other than those to Nepal) in different fields such as irrigation and power, small-scale industries, statistics, railway engineering, dairy development, public administration, and mining. A geographical extension of a similar type of technical assistance is the bilateral aid provided by India to Commonwealth countries in Africa (Table 3).

Table 3:Indian Technical Assistance
(a) Special Commonwealth African Assistance Plan, 1966-70
CountryExpertsNumber of Training Positions
The Gambia1
Sierra Leone314
(b) Colombo Plan, 1950-69
New Zealand2
Sri Lanka (Ceylon)77524

The total since inception is not available but the number of new experts provided to Nepal during 1967-69 was 60,234.

Source: Department of Economic Affairs, New Delhi.

The total since inception is not available but the number of new experts provided to Nepal during 1967-69 was 60,234.

Source: Department of Economic Affairs, New Delhi.

But by far the most extensive integrated technical assistance program operated by India is linked to its overall economic aid to Nepal (about Rs 600 million to March 1969) and Bhutan (Rs 200 million). Among the major projects in Nepal which have been recipients of Indian technical assistance are the Sonauli-Pokhara road; eastern sector of the East-West Highway; telecommunications; airports; hydroelectric stations at Trisuli and Pokhara; irrigation schemes; agricultural, veterinary, and geological services; Tribhuvan University, etc. India’s technical assistance to Bhutan, besides the financial assistance to the Bhutanese Second Five-Year Plan, has been mainly in construction of trunk roads, malaria eradication, geological surveys, telecommunications, and maintenance of hydrometeoro-logical stations.

Cooperation Between Other developing Countries

While the foregoing examples typify the more extensive programs, one can discern the same principle at work in other emergent areas. For instance, Mexico has technical assistance agreements with Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and its highly successful official development bank, the Nacional Financiera, has deputed experts to Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Nigeria has had modest programs since 1964–65 which have included secretarial courses for trainees from Bechuana-land, Liberia, Kenya, The Gambia, Malawi, etc., as well as the secondment of judicial officers to Tanzania and Malawi and medical officers to Sierra Leone. Egypt, besides offering training facilities in irrigation, land use, etc., has sent over 3,000 teachers to other Arab countries and a number of technical experts to African and Arab states. The Yugoslav program includes the provision of training to Africans and Asians and technical assistance through experts as well as joint commercial ventures in heavy industry, port facilities, etc.

An Evaluation

This brief review points to the small but highly promising interchange of expertise and training between developing countries, the economic rationale of which derives from the similarity of environment, problems, and possible solutions. But like any other technical assistance, whether from the developed countries or from international agencies, its efficacy cannot be evaluated in purely quantitative terms of cost-benefit ratios because of the large number of qualitative elements involved. Obviously, it would be misleading to judge the importance or efficacy of technical assistance merely in terms of its inputs, whether of expenditure incurred or number of experts involved. There have to be independent criteria such as (applying the analogy of import-substitution) how soon and efficaciously can the original need for technical assistance be satisfied from indigenous sources, as seems to have happened in a number of Chinese and Israeli projects. Then again both the Chinese and Israeli programs suggest that it is more fruitful to transfer technology in packages and integrated projects than in single isolated pieces. But whatever its achievements to date, and these are by no means inconsiderable, there is ample scope for extension of technical cooperation throughout the Third World. It is equally important to bear in mind that the diffusion of technology and skills is only one of the many elements in the complex strategy and tactics of economic development.

World Bank Staff Occasional Paper Number 15

Road User Charges in Central America

Anthony Churchill and Others

The interest shown in The Economics of Road User Charges by Alan Walters (Occasional Paper Number 5) led the bank to undertake the present study which utilizes these principles in “road pricing.” The authors apply road user charges to the Central American common market and estimate the potential gains and losses in transport efficiency and in government revenues. Of particular interest is the treatment of urban congestion. Directed by Dr. Churchill, the study represents the collaborative effort of many World Bank economists and engineers. Professor Walters served as a consultant.

Anthony Churchill is Chief of the Transportation and Public Utilities Division of the Economics Department of the World Bank.

Available in English only. 128pp., $5.00 (paperback).

Economic Analysis of Agricultural Projects

J. Price Gittinger

Perhaps the most difficult single problem faced by agricultural administrators in developing countries is implementing development programs. Much of this difficulty can be traced to poor project preparation.

The purpose of this book is to sharpen the pre-investment analysis tools of those people in developing countries who have responsibility for spending scarce money on agricultural development. The author discusses practical ways to help ensure that when investment decisions are made, capital will be used economically and efficiently.

The book does not deal with agriculture itself or with those aspects of project preparation and evaluation which rest on the skills of agronomists, livestock specialists, and the like. It is a straight-forward application of what are known as most probable outcome discounting techniques to compare alternative agricultural development projects. Such knowledge of economic analysis will prove invaluable to agriculturists and other professionals involved in project planning.

Mr. Gittinger is a Division Chief in the World Bank’s Economic Development Institute and responsible for its training programs in agriculture.

Available in English only. 221 pp., $10 (cloth), $3 (paper).

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Harry G. Johnson, “A Word to the Third World: A Western Economist’s Frank Advice,” Encounter (London, October 1971), p. 6.


This syndrome has been described by H. R. Mills in his Report on Training Facilities at the Technician Level in South and South East Asia (Colombo Plan bureau, Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), 1961. “There is not yet a habit of mind in the region which turns to neighboring countries for technical or other training…. One of the impediments is lack of knowledge…. Another is the fallacy that the value of training increases with the distance traveled to get it. A third is a natural unwillingness to admit that a neighbor has better facilities than one’s own.” p. 109.


The transmission of skills from developed countries through commercial channels is admittedly substantial. J. S. Fforde, reviewing British experience, says that “we must regard the skill-transmitting aspect of our ordinary commercial dealings with the underdeveloped countries as of quite unusual importance. by comparison, technical assistance, rendered under special non-commercial shemes, is probably of relatively minor if not marginal importance.” An International Trade in Managerial Skills, Basil Blackwell (Oxford, 1957), p. 149.


For a comprehensive evaluation of Israeli technical assistance see Leopold Laufer, Israel and the Developing Countries: New Approaches to Co-operation, The Twentieth Century Fund (New York, 1967).


Ibid, p. 162.

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