Engineering for the Third World

“Engineering for the Third World” – Talk by R.W.V. Norton, Member.
At the Durrington Community Centre, 9th December, 1992.
In opening his talk, the Speaker referred to an earlier discussion meeting of the Association on the topic “Satisfying the Customer” and how he had been awakened to the differing philosophy in engineering as between the industrialised countries and the developing world. Although he had had extensive experience in leading edge developments both in railway and nuclear power engineering, he had seen a completely new scenario in his last job in engineering with a firm of international agricultural consultants working principally in the field of large scale tropical farming for developing countries, especially in cane sugar, but also other tropical crops and live stock.
He then went on to outline the development of the company from ship owners in Liverpool trading with the Carribean in the early 19th Century to being a major force in British Guiana, up to independence in 1966. From an amicable separation, they formed, from the relatively small London support operation, this agricultural consultancy, deriving from their very large interests in agriculture in British Guiana, especially cane sugar.
Mr. Norton proceeded to describe some of his experiences and observations when working in this field, starting with cultural differences in management style comparing attitudes of those who had only ever worked in a Third World environment and those who had only ever worked in the developed world, including an outline of attitudes towards tne Project management of a £50 million development of a sugar estate in Somalia in the late 1970’s.
From here he illustrated some of the pitfalls and problems of working for the Third World including the difficulties experienced by local management when, after extensive training and guidance, they take over from expatriate (usually European) management; of the aspirations of both local management and local people which often went unfulfilled, possibly due to lack of self-confidence; the impact of tribalism which has to be taken very seriously indeed; religion and what we call corruption.
Finally in this section of his talk he spoke of training of local staff for all parts of the operation. Typically a cane sugar estate producing 40,000t sugar per year from some 25 square miles of land employs 2,500.
A new estate of this size will be developed in abut 2 years and most, if not all, of the locally employed staff will have to be recruited and trained from scratch by a management team of 43 experienced managers. In his time, Mr. Norton had seen three examples of this process successfully completed in the developing world.
The next part of the talk dealt with the production of cane sugar and was illustrated by slides commencing with the process Flow Sheet and then views of cane in the field, harvesting and processing in the factory. The annual world production of sugar is about 100 million t of which about 66 million t is cane and about 33 million t beet with a small quantity from trees, fruit and honey. A substantial by-product of sugar production is molasses used mainly for the making of alcohol and cattle feed.
The final part, again illustrated by slides, dealt with the development of the infrastructure of sugar estates in the Third World in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, in particular the estate of Rmu Sugar Ltd. in Papua New Guinea. The speaker designed and specified all of the ancillary buildings such as offices, clinic, social clubs, workshops and stores; housing for a population of some 10,000 people; the roads, electricity and water distribution, sewage disposal and the overall estate layout on land which was open savanah about 150 miles from the nearest town with established services. The slides showed the estate, very mature, as it is to-day, ten years after