Existing reports on general socio-economic conditions of the rural areas of the country should be collected and reviewed before beginning detailed studies in a specific watershed. The existing reports will give managers or planners much basic information which may be valuable to the preparation of survey proposals, related forms and questionnaires.
If there are specific socio-economic and infrastructure reports covering the selected watershed, these reports will be particularly useful. Farmers are usually tired of being asked similar questions over and over again and changes in rural areas are often slow. Therefore, planners should make good use of what information already exists and keep new surveys, especially those of a general nature, to a minimum.
Sampling techniques for socio-economic and infrastructure surveys are similar to those discussed in the previous section on biophysical surveys, i.e. random, stratified and cluster. Some socio-economic survey techniques can be seen from FAO Conservation Guide 8. Techniques for infrastructure surveys are illustrated in Section 7.4.
Questionnaires need careful design and clear thinking. They should be concise and constructed in a logical order. Ambiguous questions should be avoided. For example, asking farmers whether they need cash subsidies to accomplish tasks they never knew will not only raise false hopes but also get irrelevant answers. Questionnaires should include a double checking system so that if the enumerator detects an inconsistency in the responses, the uncertainty can be resolved immediately. It is often difficult to obtain economic figures, especially those regarding the income of the farmer. To win the trust of the farmer may overcome such difficulties.
The following are some important social data, among others, that the managers or planners may need to find out in order to draw up a useful plan:
- what will be the population trend in the watershed, its rate of growth, age structure, migration possibilities and other demographic factors that will affect the rate of resource use?
- what are the possible barriers toward innovative technology: poverty, lack of education, poor extension services, tradition, non-aggressiveness, lack of encouragement and incentives?
- what social factors constrain the development and management of the farms in the watershed - land tenure, government rules, traditional farming systems, fear of risk, or others?
- what do the existing social structures, systems or hierarchy influence the individual or community development in the watershed?
- what do the farmers see as their immediate needs - more roads, domestic/irrigation water, housing, marketing arrangements, recreation facilities? ,
- do farmers like to work together or tend to be individualists?
- what is the status of women in the society and their responsibilities? What are the conditions of youth including rates of unemployment, willingness to undertake field work and migration trends?
- to what extent are the farmers aware of the causes and problems facing the watershed?
- what are the farmers' views on the protection and development of the watershed as a whole?
Collection of baseline economic data can, in many cases, be combined with the sociological survey. In fact, many social and economic data are interlocked and difficult to separate. The main topics to be covered in a survey of the economic status of a watershed include but are not limited to the following:
- the present economic activities in the watershed, including farm production, farm income, farm models, farming systems, land use patterns, employment, labour demand and supply, rural enterprises, marketing, etc.;
- the potential for economic improvement or development, including farmers' capabilities (labour, resources and technology), non-farm employment opportunities, infrastructure needs, availability of credit or financial aid and agro-industrial development possibilities;
- the constraints or problems of development from an economic point of view, including land tenure, land rental, farm size and fragmentation, capital, knowledge, labour, prices, markets and transportation, etc.;
- farmers' reaction to proposed economic improvement measures including credit and/or subsidies, extension services, taxation and rental reductions, farming equipment and materials, better marketing arrangements, etc.;
- various costs of cropping and farming activities and their returns, the cost and benefit of watershed conservation work, and other related economic figures.
Chapter 7 includes a brief description of socio-economic baseline surveys, farming systems and community development survey, and some other surveys and examples.
The existing infrastructure in a watershed needs to be surveyed. For watershed projects involving rural development, detailed investigations of roads, housing and water and energy supplies are often needed. Some examples are given in Section 7.4.
Survey data should be used to analyse major problems and their possible solutions. Merely presenting data may attract academic interest but it is not good enough for practical watershed management.
Special attention should be given to those socio-economic problems which need long-term solutions, including:
- land tenure. Usually, farmers who do not own the land are reluctant to adopt any soil conservation or protection practices. However, in case of squatting public land, permission should be granted for leasing cultivable lands after classification, provided the farmer agrees to apply and maintain prescribed conservation measures on a continuing basis. This has been done in many countries to end the deadlock of squatting. On the other hand, farmers who presently farm public land not suitable for permanent cultivation should receive first priority for resettlement. In the case of privately rented land, the land owners and the tenants should both be involved in the planning process;
- farming systems of the watershed should be studied and analysed to see whether they are compatible with the principles of sound watershed management. New systems may be developed to benefit both farmers and the watershed. This may require on-farm trials and demonstrations and will take several years to implement;
- farmers' attitudes toward new techniques, extension personnel and government schemes are important subjects for consideration. Many farmers are skeptical about government schemes based on negative experiences in the past. Without the full and willing participation of the farmers, any project will eventually fail. To change farmers' attitudes or to win their trust is a long and gradual process. Possible strategies such as farmer education programmes, better and more active extension services, incentives, and removal of social obstacles should be considered;
- in heavily populated hilly watersheds, a great portion of the land area may already be misused. To correct this requires a long-term approach. Usually, it is beyond the ability of the government to move large numbers of farmers out of the watershed without creating social disorder. Many countries may simply not have suitable land to resettle them. The solution is gradual land use adjustment starting with some simple, scientific and down-to-earth criteria. Technical assistance and incentives should also be planned for such task;
Depending on the actual situation, the planners will need to address many such problems clearly and seek possible solutions. In a heavily populated watershed, population education or family planning will also be a part of a long-term solution.
There are many problems which can be solved in a relatively short time period, including:
- problems of infrastructures including roads, water supplies, market facilities, etc., can be alleviated or improved by public investment;
- problems of availability of farming tools and materials - seedlings, fertilizer, pesticide, improved ploughs - can be pre-arranged or secured before a project becomes fully operational;
- capital problems of the farmers. The types of loans or credit, mortgage needs, interest rates, sources and period of loans and repayment schedules, etc., need to be studied fully before making plans and recommendations;
- in addition to credit, other incentive requirements such as subsidies for adopting new practices, tax exemption for farms applying conservation measures, etc., should be considered in order to encourage farmers' participation;
- in many developing countries, unemployment and labour shortages are a major problem in upland watershed areas. A careful analysis should be made to see what can be done to alleviate the problem. Possibilities may include adopting a group approach, public employment to do conservation work on both private and government land, organizing cooperatives, employing small farm machinery, etc.
After a close and joint examination of the above mentioned problems, the managers and planners should make some realistic estimates as to what can be accomplished during the life of the proposed project. This is one of the most difficult tasks the planners must face. Predictions which are either too optimistic or too pessimistic can only hurt the proposed project.
If farmers' acceptance is a major issue, for instance, the planner should not only emphasize education and extension at the beginning of the project, but also keep the goals of the initial period reasonably low. Another strategy is to set a basic annual goal for the first few years and review it every year for modification according to the progress and output of the previous year.
The results of surveys, analyses and findings should be periodically reported to the steering committee for discussion and study. This kind of information is often very useful for other teams in drawing up their respective plans. Any serious socio-economic and infrastructure problems should be brought up early in the planning stage. In many cases, they are much more complicated than technical problems and need policy support from the government. Socio-economic and infrastructure information will constitute an important part of the interim report as well as of the final plan.
The report on socio-economic findings should include management recommendations. Infrastructure needs should also be addressed clearly.
Periodic socio-economic surveys will be required for monitoring purpose and for detecting changes over time and the impact of the project. Therefore, recommendations on time of future surveys, methodology and criteria based on the first survey should also be spelled out in the team report.