For an efficient development strategy poor and "better-off" rural areas need to be demarcated in a country. An area is poor when it presents (part of) the following conditions: poor physical resources, lack of physical infrastructure, of trained manpower and of basic services and facilities, inequitable land tenure conditions, production levels below potentials, administrative backwardness, shortage of on- and especially off-farm opportunities, institutionalized forms of oppression and exploitation of the poor, and/or lack of people's participation in local decision-making.
For the identification of poor areas, data regarding some of the above key criteria may be obtained by means of rapid rural appraisal methods, while information on other ones is mostly hard to collect in a relatively short time span. Other reasonably precise criteria could be applied more quickly in most countries. For example: areas affected by floods, salinity, erosion, desertification, un- and under-employment, relative inaccessibility, areas with sizeable numbers of poor tribal people and/or refugees, zones with strong out-migration, etc.
Additional preferential criteria for starting participatory projects are e.g. areas: a) with above average concentration of one or more categories of poor rural people; b) with a sufficient number of actual and/or potential viable economic activities and also market outlets; c) areas in which the essential services and facilities are present and can be delivered to the low-income people; (This is to ensure that the beneficiary groups once formed, will have a fair chance to have their production and other requirements met in time.); d) areas where these groups can have an influence and multiplication effort on existing projects; and e) which are not too a-typical. i.e. have such specific hard geographic, economic, social and/or political (unrest) conditions that a participatory project is likely to become unsuccessful, at least for the time being.
For the identification of initial action areas consisting of one or more village clusters where project field actions for beneficiary participation are to be started, exploratory socio-economic surveys are needed (see Sections 10.3 and 12). Such surveys are to be carried out by well-selected action-research experts (ideally together with the participation agents: see Section 9) on participatory lines. It is very desirable to involve these agents as early as possible in this operation, in particular in the search for suitable village-clusters and within these core villages where the field actions will start.
The village-cluster approach to be adopted in most cases implies that the project's participation activities will start in one or two selected core villages and gradually be spread to the surrounding villages. The advantages of the village-cluster approach include:
1) Better handling of the guidance, coordination and supervision of the project activities;
2) Rapid spread effect of the project's impact from the pioneer villages to the adjacent ones;
3) When the rural poor production groups are located close to each other, they can form a suitable type of federation which will give them more bargaining power (see Section 7.3);
4) A cluster enhances economies of scale: it facilitates the provision of input supply, processing and marketing points and facilities, as well as other (health, education, etc.) services.
A final point: the misconception that in poor areas all people are poor is based on insufficient distinction between area and family level poverty. Area-wide or all farmers development approaches are to be applied for certain area-based project components like the provision of physical, economic and/or social infrastructures and water and soil conservation (see also Section 3.1). For other components specifically meant for benefiting the poor people, such as (special) delivery of inputs, credit, training, etc., the identification of the "target group" (the low-income people: see the next sub-section) and the application of a feasible participatory approach remains a must.
Definition of poor rural people: all people who a) live in a rural area at or below subsistence level; b) are dedicated full- or part-time to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, handicrafts and/or related occupations; and c) are over-dependent for work and livelihood on others with more power and means of production.
The main categories of rural poor people are: small and marginal owner-farmers, tenants, sharecroppers, landless labourers, small fishermen, forestry workers, and part of the rural artisans, of tribal people as well as of nomads and refugees. The poor women can belong to any of these categories. Various combinations of the above categories are frequently found.
Given the operational importance of the topic, two other, rather similar ways to classify the rural people are given below:
The rural population consists broadly of five categories: 1) the rich having an abundance of means of production; 2) the middle class having secure and sufficient access to income and assets; 3) subsistence producers having some access to income and assets; 4) the very poor having very little access (labourers, hawkers, etc.); and 5) the destitutes including the handicapped: those who are not able for whatever reason to help themselves (Uphoff: 1987).
The disadvantaged people are also classified as follows: 1) the marginally poor (small farmers), 2) the poor (small farmers-part-time labourers), 3) the very poor (labourers and part-time micro farmer-labourers) and 4) the destitutes (those without an economic base).
The first two categories can be more easily encouraged to self-organization as they have some assets, and can thus profit better from gainful group activities also by means of credit. Instead, the very poor being mainly labourers often migrate for work, have no economic activities of their own, are more indebted and more dependent on their better-off employers (Perera: 88. op. cit.).
Most participatory projects have a specific target group and attempt to benefit only or mainly the rural poor. However, given the various types of poor people and the gradations of their poverty, a project may benefit the subsistence poor and only part of the very poor and the destitutes. In fact. in some projects the subsistence poor form initially a reference group for the "lowest-level" ones who cannot take any risk and certainly not before they see concrete local examples. A project though meant for all categories of the poor, need thus not necessarily start with the most needy people (the very poor and destitutes) who may be attracted and stimulated to engage in development actions by the subsistence poor only in successive phases.
How to identify poor people
For the identification of the intended beneficiaries firstly available data on the rural population of the country and project area(s) are to be gathered. This could include data on population, land tenure, economic activities, income, (un- and under-) employment, housing, etc. Many of these data are required anyhow for a development project. With this information an overall direct assessment can be obtained of the numbers, proportions, etc., of the various categories of poor and non-poor farmers, fishermen, artisans et alias when taking into account the following:
1) all landless farmers belong to the poor; some exceptions are however, e.g. larger scale tenants or above poverty line regular wage earners;
2) the identification of landowning poor is more problematic. Statistical criteria, like area of land owned (all who own less than, say, two or three acres are poor) are notoriously relative and arbitrary as farm productivity on such plots varies greatly. Moreover, land tenure data are frequently lacking or deficient.
For the sorting out of the poor, specific criteria need to be developed as poverty is an area-specific variable and refers to specific economic and social realities. Possible criteria are:
1) availability or less of production assets of a family such as types and amounts of arable land, land tenure conditions, labour, animals, equipments, tools, etc.;
2) available skills in the family;
3) on- and off-farm family income (including of emigrants);
4) degree of indebtedness of a family;
5) housing conditions; building materials, available facilities, room occupation rates, etc.;
6) nutrition: calories intake, nutritional status of children below 5 years, consumption of certain types of food, etc.;
7) level of education for women and men: literacy, school enrolment rates, etc.;
8) health conditions in a family; presence of handicapped dependents, incidence of diseases, etc.;
9) economic dependency rates within the households;
10) lack of participation of the poor in formal and informal rural people's organizations and in local decision-making.
Most of the above data are usually available at national, and less at lower levels (no breakdowns).
Examples of identification criteria used in various participatory projects are:
1) (near) landless labourers;
2) small farmers, tenants and sharecroppers operating plots of land below the project area average, e.g. 3 or 5 acres;
3) small, traditional fishermen and artisans;
4) the people as under (2) and (3) who largely lack access to water, inputs, credit, markets, education, training, extension and other services (the "rural excluded");
5) the total annual family income is below the average in the area concerned;
6) the families' main source of income is agriculture, fishing and allied activities and the family members are the principal source of labour.
The above criteria need to be specified and operationalized for each project area. Local informants and particularly the poor can be involved in participatory identification when needed, that is they may assist in applying the selection criteria and reach agreement among themselves to solve doubtful cases as to who belongs to the poor. In many areas entire categories of people such as the landless, sharecroppers, small artisans, traditional fishermen, tribal and low class/caste families belong to the poor, whereas the non-poor like big and middle level farmers and fishermen, merchants, money lenders, etc. form a well-known minority that easily can be identified.
The participation of the non-poor in a project. When considering the basic question how the rural poor can be "sorted out" in "communal" or tribal societies, it should be reminded that the identification of low-income families in participatory projects concerns only their eligibility for rural poor group membership and for certain services and facilities provided by a project. Consequently the non-poor inhabitants of a project area are to be systematically informed on the objectives and actions of a project and are furthermore to be invited very much - also by the groups -to participate in a project for the provision of advice and moral and other support to the disadvantaged people. For example, in local implementation or coordination committees as well as in various activities such as crop and livestock production, training, extension, research and/or evaluation.
Furthermore, as various projects show, most better-off locals find it below their status to participate directly as members in rural poor groups.
However, in some projects exceptions concerning the participation of non-poor locals in groups have to be and are made (see Section 6.3, point c).
Finally, each project must focus specifically on the identification of the conditions, needs, resources and capabilities of the various categories of disadvantaged women (see Section 1.5).
Practice shows that in various projects the application of adequate selection criteria for project areas and in particular for specific target populations is neglected, deficient or watered down. This is mainly due to the following: 1) insufficient information on the basic concepts and methods of participatory rural development; 2) political pressures to include certain categories of better-off people; 3) failure to distinguish between zonal and individual/family poverty; 4) the desire of project and supporting/donor staff to see quick results; and 5) the influence of local leaders in the selection of project areas and target groups.
Area and Beneficiary Needs
On-going need-assessment is essential to obtain the active participation of the people in project preparation and implementation. For this purpose area and beneficiary needs are to be distinguished. Area needs are related to area poverty encompassing the needs of an entire territory and of all its inhabitants. For example: more and/or better physical resources, trained manpower, economic and social infrastructure, services and facilities. For meeting such needs an area-wide or "all rural people" development approach is required.
Beneficiary needs are directly related to group and family level poverty. They can be divided into physiological (food, clothing, housing, health), psychological (e.g. safety, self-realization), economic (employment, income), and socio-cultural needs (e.g. group belonging, education, recreation and social recognition). Needs have a certain hierarchy: some are for bare survival, some for sustained and other for dignified human survival. Beneficiary needs are interrelated with one another and also with certain area needs.
Apart from needs, people also have aspirations and expectations: their aspirations may, however, not coincide with their needs as perceived by outsiders. The rural poor are in general quite able to bring up the nature and priority order of their felt needs and desires.
How to Identify Beneficiary Needs
Organize project cycle surveys and missions in a participatory way, that is, consult on the needs and desires of as many future project participants as possible, in particular the intended beneficiaries and other village level informants.
The best way is to establish or send to the area prior to project identification missions, or reconnaissance work teams for say 2-3 months (see Section 16.2).
During their field surveys, the team members will cover key topics such as on-going development efforts, felt needs, aspirations and constraints (for further details see Section 16.3). Information is also to be gathered by means of structural observation and scrutiny of relevant, locally available documentation.
The need-assessment should focus on the identification of priority needs as perceived by the low-income people concerned. This is particularly necessary for the promotion of rural poor groups which are best formed around felt priority needs (see Section 6.3).
The information collected, though sufficient to plan a flexible project framework, will still be provisional and usually in part suspect: more reliable and in-depth data can only be gathered by field workers who work with the people for longer periods during project implementation and gain their confidence.
Needs identification, or the search for ways to satisfy intended beneficiary needs, form part of an on-going participatory process and can be done more systematically and effectively when groups and organizations involved in a project bring up their felt needs, among other to perform gainful activities, whereas the delivery staff hopefully endeavours to meet these necessities. Group Promoters are to be trained to help the disadvantaged people to understand their own situations, to win their confidence by closely working with them and getting the poor to articulate their needs. The Group Promoters will also learn to stimulate the delivery staff to help meet these necessities (see also Section 10.1).