development technology

Appropriate technology of the week: gravity ropeways

Last weekend I was at the ‘Small Is…’ festival, and I thought I’d share some of the things I learned about. Among the delegates at the festival were a team from Practical Action in Nepal, who gave a presentation on gravity ropeways.

For communities in the mountains of Nepal, getting your goods to market can be quite a challenge, a two or three hour walk to the nearest road. With a gravity ropeway, the journey to the road takes just five minutes. That saves money hiring porters, and encourages more farmers to grow for the profit, bringing money into the community. School attendance rises, as often children were sent with the goods while parents worked in the fields.

The system is gravity powered. A full basket of goods coming down tows up the other basket, which may be loaded with a smaller amount of medicines, foods and supplies for sale in the villages. As long as the descending basket has three times the weight of the bottom one, gravity does all the work and an operator simply puts the brake on as the goods arrive. (Here’s the technical brief if you want more detail)

Built and owned by the local community, a ropeway can be built for seven to ten thousand pounds, a fraction of the money required to build a road to the village, even if it were possible. The ropeway will last for 15 to 20 years, and can be maintained by the local people. It’s a great example of simple and sustainable technology making a big difference.

Here’s a video explaning how it all works:


  1. This idea is beautiful in its simplicity. I can already picture the development of a more formalized network where vendors and buyers can communicate via cell phones, place specific orders and make payments through mobile money in order to complete sales. This idea can easily be implemented in northern areas of India and Pakistan, as well as some areas in China.

    1. Yes, they mentioned that they use mobile phones to communicate between the operators at the top and the bottom – or they tap on the wire if there’s no signal in the area. Cooperatives also spring up to help sell on the goods at the road. It’s only a small step to using mobile credit as payment too.

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