The author writes about technology in relation to sanitation, but similar things can be said about 'food system innovation' where 'innovation' is a stand-in for 'technology.' I've written from a similar perspective in the past; here and here, for example.
The author gets to the crux of the issue:
Can we yet admit that no technology can solve inequality? That, in fact, our faith in it as savior distracts us from the real underlying problem? Until we do, we may be perpetuating history’s pattern and pulling modern development dangerously close to the imperialism from which we claim to be free.A developmentalist ideology, in general, locates poverty and impoverished conditions in relation to the absence of modernity, which is construed not only as a technological project, but as a western project. Most conversations and resources in the realm of food system innovation remain fixed around productivist technologies and the need to 'modernize' food systems (where modernization is just another word for westernization). Whether in matters of sanitation or food security, 'development' is always seen in relation to progress along a pre-defined and universal trajectory, with western countries out in front, leading the way. As a project that the 'experts' think they've already figured out, the creative space for technological innovation is quite constrained. Mulhern's allusion to 'imperialism' is right on.
Developmentalist ideology may animate slightly differently in the different sectors, but it never draws attention to or addresses the values that produce and perpetuate inequality unless they can be framed as the absence of western practices or institutions. Having such predefined conceptualizations of what development looks like and how it happens tends to cause people to think of development as a project where A follows B follows C, rather than as an unpredictable, locally-situated process of engagement that is primarily led by broad notions of well-being that includes justice, whether environmental or cognitive. As a project where all the pieces exist, technology just serves the role of enacting progress and the deeper questions about justice, and whom the technology serves, can be ignored.
I'm gratified to see that these concerns are being raised more and more by the students I work with and by organizations such as Engineers Without Borders.
Why technology alone will never provide sanitation for the poor, by Riley Mulhern