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4. Lessons from the Small Farmer Development Program

4.1 The Critical Role of the Group Organizer
4.2 Intensity of Training
4.3 Membership of SFDP groups
4.4 Targeting the Poorest of the Poor
4.5 Cultural and Political Factors
4.6 Duration of the Project
4.7 The Small Farmer Development Program as a Model
4.8 Cost Effectiveness
4.9 Administrative Oversight
4.10 Coordinator in FAO/RAPA office

4.1 The Critical Role of the Group Organizer

In Thailand the role of group organizer belongs to the Kaset Tambon, the lowest level government official in the Department of Agricultural Extension. The Kaset Tambons' opinions of the SFDP varied greatly. At one end of the spectrum, Kaset Tambons such as Mr. Choreon Sukjai said, “after the SFDP training I realized that all my previous efforts had been Kaset Tambon centered.” Similarly, Kaset Tambon Nikom Boonlab remarked, “when I saw the benefits of the group approach I began to organize both day and night for one year.” At the other end of the spectrum, Kaset Tambons like Kraiyoot Nantasomboon remarked, “organizing small farmers is just a dream of the technicians and can't work.” Another Kaset Tambon, Soontorn Khantaseema, argued that the SFDP is “okay in principle but impossible in practice.”

Talking to small farmers groups and local government officials makes it clear that the success or failure of a small farmer group depends upon the attitudes and enthusiasm of the group organizer. Thus, the success or failure of a small farmers group shows a high degree of correlation with the attitude of the Kaset Tambon. For example, in those villages where the Kaset Tambon expressed a great deal of enthusiasm with the participatory approach and worked extra hours, SFDP groups tended to survive and show a greater sense of community spirit. In those villages where the Kaset Tambon characterized the SFDP approach as useless, SFDP groups lacked community spirit and tended to fail.

4.2 Intensity of Training

Since the attitude and efforts of the Kaset Tambon great affect the outcome of small farmer groups, it is not surprising that the outcome of small farmer groups also depends on the training received by the Kaset Tambon. As noted above, Kaset Tambons reached various stages of understanding of the PPP approach. Understanding seems to depend on two factors: the Kaset Tambon's aptitude and the length and quality of training he or she receives. Thus, it is important that the Kaset Tambon receive intensive and on-going training. The experience of the SFDP sister project, the Small Farmer Participation Program (SFPP) demonstrates that more intensive training can lead to better results. Similarly, those involved in the PPP in Sri Lanka have noted that the training group organizers can be crucial to the success of group formation. Mr. Nilaweera writes, “... from our own experience in Sri Lanka the success of these projects will depend on the manner in which the training is imparted and how the group organizers are trained to establish the groups.”23 Thus, emphasis should continue to be placed on the training of group organizers and special efforts should be made to incorporate PPP training into agricultural extension work on an on-going basis. One method would be to incorporate PPP training in the normal Training and Visit system.

23 Dixon Nilaweera, Addl. Secretary (Dev.) Ministry of Agricultural Development and Research, Report on February 11, 1988.

4.3 Membership of SFDP groups

In most villages, the sub-district extension worker concentrated his or her efforts on small farmers. However, most SFDP groups did not attempt to be exclusive. This is consistent with Thai and Buddhist philosophy which stresses harmony. Since small farmers were not willing to exclude other members of their community, many SFDP groups contained members who had been classified as middle farmers by the baseline survey. However, in most villages both big farmers and wage laborers tended not to participate in SFDP groups. SFDP group activities did not interest big farmers because they considered the benefits too small. Thus, big farmers were not particularly interested in savings groups or group cultivation. The big farmer could save directly at the bank or hire wage laborers to work his/her field. Similarly, as mentioned above, wage laborers often cannot participate in SFDP groups because of lack of free time, lack of land, or a need to migrate in search of work.

The situation in the south of Thailand differs somewhat from the situation in the rest in Thailand. First, farming in southern Thailand relies much more heavily on rubber and fruit production. For example, southern Thailand has half the cultivation of rice and six times the cultivation of rubber and fruits as other parts of Thailand.24 Since farmers grow rubber and fruit trees on large plots of land, southern Thailand has an uneven distribution of income compared with other regions of Thailand. As a consequence, big and middle farmers became more involved in SFDP activities. As Dixon Nilaweera notes, it is more difficult to exclude middle and big farmers from SFDP groups:

The three group leaders whom I met were very rich by all standards. In one instance the farmer leader had a water pump, a tractor, a permanent house and 6 rye of land. In the other project the group leader had in his house a stack of rice from 5 rye of paddy which he is keeping to be sold when the market price of rice increases. In fact, I was doubtful about the appropriateness of selecting them as the group leaders because they certainly do not fall into the category of small farmers. Even members of the groups have ample resources particularly land. However, they have not been organized properly in agricultural pursuits. This should in fact be the responsibility of the Agricultural Extension Officers. It is my view that by and large, all small farmer projects with the agricultural base did not qualify to be considered for Small Farmer Development Projects as they are basically not small farmers.25
24 see Appendix I, Table 2 for further data.

25 Dixon Nilaweera, Addl. Secretary (Dev.), Ministry of Agricultural Development and Research, Report on February 11, 1988.

The results of this study differed somewhat from Nilaweera's survey. Most of the farmers participating in SFDP groups were in fact small farmers. However, many of the sub-district extension workers in Songkla Province believe that the group approach does not work well for small farmers. Thus, the sub-district extension workers often relied on middle farmers to mediate group formation.

Thus, in Songkla Province, most of the Kaset Tambons have given up trying to keep SFDP groups homogeneous and to exclude middle and big farmers. They argue that because settlements are disbursed and large numbers of wage laborers work on rubber farms, small farmers groups have trouble starting and surviving. In addition, for cultural reasons (emphasis on harmony and distrust of outsiders due to the historical independence of the region) small farmers groups find it difficult to exclude middle and big farmers. Instead, the Kaset Tambons are willing to have middle farmers, who have better management and numerical skills, take positions of leadership. Thus, the Kaset Tambons in southern Thailand attempt middle farmers and SFDP groups to reach the small farmer. As a result, small farmers participate less and hold fewer leadership positions in SFDP groups in southern Thailand.

There may be some merit to the argument that small farmers have difficulty participating in SFDP groups. Indeed, the economy of southern Thailand is based on rubber and fruit production which leads to greater economic stratification. In addition, the presence of Buddhists and Muslims also leads to religious divisions. Given these problems, Mr. Nilaweera concludes “that Southern Thailand... does not offer opportunities for organizing the poor on the lines of SFDP/PPP.” However, given the sub-district extension worker's negative attitudes toward group formation, it is not surprising that most SFDP groups in Songkla Province failed. The fact that one extension worker succeeded in organizing very successful SFDP groups in two separate villages suggests that small farmers groups can work despite economic stratification. Further work would be needed to clearly distinguish group failure due to economic stratification from group failure due to the group organizers' lack of understanding of PPP principles.

4.4 Targeting the Poorest of the Poor

One of the stated goals of the SFDP is: “To raise the family income and standard of living of the below average small farmers, small fishermen, tenants, land reform beneficiaries and rural laborers through self-identified group production activities.”26

26 FAO. FAO/Government Cooperative Program Plan of Operation. June 17, 1983. p. 7.
However, some DOAE officials question whether the SFDP group approach can really reach the poorest of the rural population. In particular, some question the effectiveness of the group approach in helping wage laborers and the poorest farmers. Reasons given for the difficulty in organizing wage laborers and poor farmers included:
1) wage laborers migrate in search of work,

2) wage laborers cannot engage in group production because they cannot afford to wait for the crop to be harvested, and

3) wage laborers lack management and numerical skills.

For example, in Wang Saithong Village, Nakhon Sawan Province only three men could be interviewed for this study as the rest had gone to Bangkok in search of work. These men had tried to organize a group to raise chickens together but found it was difficult to share responsibilities when individuals had to leave in search of employment.

Similarly, in Ja-nu, a hilltribe village in northern Thailand, many of the villagers lack reading and writing skills. As a result, members of the village savings group could not keep adequate track of their accounts. Eventually, the group treasurer absconded with Baht 4000 of the group's savings.

Wage laborers themselves recognize these problems. In Jote Village, Khon Kaen Province one SFDP group member commented, “We think working together is a good idea, but that wage laborers have to work all the time and do not have enough time to work together in groups.” While this group of wage laborers has been successful, the members of this group do not have plans to work together on any other projects in the future.

Because wage laborers lack important skills and must migrate in search of work, some sub-district extension workers have concluded that the poor farmers and wage laborers cannot be helped or can only be helped if middle farmers do the organizing. Given the difficulty of reaching the poorest of the rural population, a few agricultural extension workers even advocate semi-welfare as a more cost effective approach.

In conclusion:

· only one SFDP composed of wage laborers is operating three years after the SFDP has ended.

· given their economic hardships, time spent searching for work, and lack of numerical skills, some observers question the effectiveness of the participatory approach in reaching the poorest farmers.

4.5 Cultural and Political Factors

Cultural and political aspects of Thai society have greatly influenced the success of small farmer groups. First, Thai society is very homogeneous. Thais share a common language, history, religion, and ethnic background. The Thai language, love of king and country, and devotion to Buddhism all form an integrated part of the Thai identity. Similarly, Thai political institutions have shown a remarkable degree of continuity. Thailand has been ruled by Thais for many hundreds of years and is the only country in Southeast Asia never to experience colonial rule. In addition, the geography of Thailand, a large central plain surrounded by mountains and rivers that act as natural borders, has encouraged social and political centralization.

Cultural homogeneity has probably contributed to the success of small farmer groups in Thailand. With so much language, religion, and history in common, linguistic, religious, and national tensions are largely absent. Thus, farmers in Thailand share common values that allow them to work together towards common goals. In certain areas, the Muslim south for example, significant minority groups are present and social tensions are higher.

Aside from cultural homogeneity, a tradition of authoritarian government has also influenced the success of small farmer groups in Thailand. Andrew Turton argues that this tradition has impeded the development of democratic and participatory ideals:

Since 1932, when the absolute monarchy was abrogated and what is termed the 'democratic' or 'constitutional' period was instituted, the military has, except for two brief interludes in 1944-48 and in 1973-76, been the controlling factor in national politics. Political parties proliferate but they are weakly developed, personalistic and unstable. Long-term projects of constitutional and parliamentary democracy have been repeatedly initiated only to be undone, and then reinitiated after periods of starker authoritarian rule. These factors, combined with a relatively high degree of linguistic, religious, and territorial homogeneity, have contributed to a close identification of nation, state, (military) government, bureaucracy, monarchy, and religion. This gives the state and associated institutions a monopoly of power and legitimacy rarely found to such a degree. It also limits the development of institutions of what one might call 'civil society'.

Under such conditions, legitimate or claimable 'space' for alternative, more democratic or participatory ideas and organization has been severely restricted. This is even truer, as we have seen, in the countryside. Here state bureaucratic powers have increased. They are more pervasive than ever before, and are increasingly linked with newly differentiated, powerful strata at the village level.27

27 Andrew Turton. Production. Power, and Participation in Rural Thailand: Experiences of Poor Farmers' Groups. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), 1987. p. 113.
Thus, Thailand's tradition and practice of centralized government imposes some limits to participatory development at grassroots level. While many government officials express an interest and understanding of participatory approaches, their implementation of these approaches frequently continues to be done in a top-down paternalistic fashion. On the farmers' side also, the tradition of centralized government often raises barriers to participatory development. Those on the lower end of the social scale are taught to listen patiently and never to openly disagree with superiors. As a result, government leaders do not receive much feedback about the success or failure of their projects. Farmers who do not like a project simply drop out instead of attempting to change implementation by leaders.

On the other hand, centralized government does help in certain ways to promote participatory development. First, the authoritarian nature of the Thai government makes it quite strong. As long as development programs do not threaten the government itself, the government is quite willing to try new development schemes that promise success. In addition, the overall political trend in Thailand seems to be towards greater democracy. This will encourage more participatory development in the future.

Strong centralized government can also encourage local level participatory development if such programs are adopted as government policy. Presently, PPP type programs have been adopted by the leadership of the DOAE and sanctioned as government policy by the Thai cabinet. If the problems of overcoming bureaucratic inertia and extension workers' paternalistic tendencies, the PPP approach will rapidly spread across Thailand. Thus, while the attitudes of authoritarian government discourage participatory development, government centralization and willingness to try new approaches encourages the spread of participatory development nation-wide.

In conclusion:

· cultural homogeneity reduces social tensions and increases the success of SFDP groups in Thailand.

· government authoritarianism impedes the adoption of participatory methods of development. Thorough training of agricultural extension workers is the key to the spread of PPP methodologies to the rest of the country.

4.6 Duration of the Project

The individuals interviewed for this study (including independent consultants, group organizers, and SFDP staff) agree that a project of this nature should run for more than four years. One of the district officers in Chiang Mai Province remarked, “It's not good to start a program like the SFDP, work a few years, and then stop. This fosters an attitude that the program is just something to be gotten through and then move on to the next project.”28 Given that agricultural extension workers need to undergo a fundamental change in thinking and that group development takes years, four years is not long enough for a project of this nature. In this time, only some of the sub-district extension workers will truly grasp the participatory approach. Both group organizers and group members complained that they needed more support from the Department of Agricultural Extension after the termination of the Small Farmers Development Program. The sub-district extension workers wanted more training in the participatory approach once they had spent more time in the field talking to small farmers. Similarly, group members wanted more training and skills from the DOAE extension workers. Thus, future Peoples Participation Programs should run for at least six years. Even longer projects would probably result in better results and greater sustainability in the long term.

28 District Officer, Jamthong District, Chiang Mai Province. July 12, 1991.

4.7 The Small Farmer Development Program as a Model

While individuals might debate the effectiveness of the SFDP in creating self-sustaining participatory groups, it is clear that the SFDP served as an outstanding model for other programs. The SFDP created assets in the form of trained personnel who understand the importance of a PPP approach. A consultant for the Thai-Netherlands SFPP remarked that the sub-district extension workers who participated in the SFDP have clearer goals and a better understanding of the participatory approach. Similarly, the SFDP showed what changes needed to be made for a PPP program to work effectively. Thus, the SFDP provided useful practical experience that was incorporated into the design of the Thai-Netherlands SFPP. Similarly, the SFDP provided the model for the nation-wide replication of a participatory approach in the form of the PFPDP. Officials at the national level of the DOAE clearly understand the need to reform the department to make it more responsive to the needs of small farmers. Finally, the SFDP shows the importance of understanding group and community development as a dynamic process that takes time. As a model for future programs and as a method to change attitudes in the Department of Agricultural Extension, the Small Farmer Development Program was clearly a success.

4.8 Cost Effectiveness

Examining the SFDP from a cost-benefit point of view it is easy to determine the cost, the US$240,000 donated by the government of the Netherlands. Measuring the benefits is more difficult. As Gerrit Huizer points out:

“... an assessment of the effects of the SFDP project along cost-benefit lines could easily be disappointing, but also misleading. To what extent the poor peasants, PPP's target, have actually benefitted from the approximately US$ 200,000 which the donor (Netherland's Government) made available cannot be measured adequately in mere quantitative terms.”29
29 Gerrit Huizer. Report on Backstopping Mission. December 1987, p. 14.
The benefits of the SFDP come largely in the form of trained personnel who understand the importance of a PPP approach. An independent consultant noted that those sub-district extension worker who are taking part in the SFPP but who previously worked on the SFDP have a clearer sense of the participatory approach. Thus, extension workers who participated in the SFDP have skills that they can apply in any future work they do. The costs of the SFDP are largely up front. In other words, SFDP group organization requires a lot of time on the part of the DOAE to train extension workers and to gain the trust of small farmers. However, once the initial investment is made, relatively little further investment is required. Similarly, the impact of trained agricultural extension workers depends to a large extent on how the DOAE uses them in the future. At present, the implementation of the PFPDP bodes well for future perpetuation of SFDP training. Similarly, to the extent that the SFDP was catalytic in the formation of successor programs, the money spent on the SFDP had an impact beyond the program itself.

4.9 Administrative Oversight

The proposal entitled Thailand FAO Small Farmers Development/Peoples Participation Program, states: “Reports in English shall be submitted to FAO on the first series of provincial workshops and each annual evaluation exercise. A final project report shall be received within 3 months of the completion of the project.” In addition, the DOAE was required to file semi-annual statistical reports covering the period March 1985 to February 1989. Backstopping was carried out by Ms. Alexandra Stephens at RAPA in Bangkok and by the headquarters of the FAO in Rome. Consultants were sent to advise and evaluate DOAE training sessions but according to RAPA records few interviewed SFDP groups.

The FAO received most required information although there were some problems obtaining data from the field. Thus, the Thailand Project Report dated September 9, 1987 reports:

“The principal problem, as seen from FAO/headquarters point-of-view, has been the inadequate and erratic flow of information on implementation progress from the field. Progress reports have provided few details on actual progress achieved at the beneficiary level, thus, although considerable training and workshops have been conducted, it is difficult to determine if that training has been beneficial; two major project components have yet to be completed: the baseline survey, which was completed a year ago, but whose results have not yet been translated into English and the credit and savings component (we are still awaiting a formal reply from the bank); project reporting is made more difficult due to the language problem and the lack of presence of any permanent APO staff to assist; the project is due to terminate in December 1986 yet no satisfactory arrangements have been made for project continuation in the post project period.”
Research for this study also encountered difficulties obtaining complete SFDP project information. The FAO RAPA office files contain semi-annual statistical reports from March 1985 until February 1989. However, two reports (Sept. 1986 - Aug. 1987, and March 1988 - Aug. 1988) were missing. Efforts to obtain project documents from the Department of Agricultural Extension also failed. DOAE staff stated that careful records are no longer kept. DOAE staff also claimed that the project documents were lost when the DOAE staff moved from third to first floor offices of the DOAE building. Thus, it was difficult to determine whether SFDP staff maintained adequate records during implementation of the SFDP project. While national level DOAE did not maintain records, many provincial level DOAE staff retained all of their SFDP records. This was especially true of the baseline survey which many sub-district DOAE officers found very useful.

In conclusion, reports from the national level of the DOAE and RAPA contain some gaps. Reports from the local level that evaluate group formation tended to be sparse and lack detail. In addition, the semi-annual statistical reports relied heavily on quantitative data (number and activity of SFDP groups) to evaluate the progress of the SFDP. Since one of the main goals of the SFDP was not quantitative, i.e. the fostering of small farmer participation, more qualitative reports from the field could have improved monitoring and evaluation of the SFDP. This study recommends:

· that future projects have more trips to the field to evaluate the formation of small farmers groups and to make necessary adjustments.

· more timely and detailed reports from the DOAE would have improved accountability to the FAO.

4.10 Coordinator in FAO/RAPA office

The idea of implementing a PPP type program in Thailand took several years to develop. Unfortunately, the FAO officers who originally introduced the SFDP approach to interested officials in the early 1980s retired approximately six months after the program began in 1985. As a result, responsibility for the SFDP fell to Ms. Alexandra Stephens by default. Most backstopping was handled by the FAO head office in Rome. It appears the lack of continuity and formal responsibility for the SFDP was one of the reasons why the credit and participatory monitoring and on-going evaluation aspects of the SFDP never got off the ground. It also made general monitoring of the SFDP more difficult. Thus, the SFDP would have benefitted from having one individual in the regional headquarters responsible for coordinating the Small Farmer Development Program. Future Peoples Participation Programs should make certain that one person in the regional or country office has responsibility for ensuring implementation of all aspects of the project.

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