The existing groups in a certain project area may be farmer associations, cooperatives, women's, youth and village groups, trade unions and other formal and informal groups. In many cases traditional tribal, nomadic, clan or community groupings can be effective vehicles for participatory development. In other cases, these may be so strongly dominated by land-owners, money lenders and other influential people and elites that new participatory groupings initiated and run by the under-privileged people themselves, are required for adequately involving one or more categories of the poor in self-development efforts.
The existing or newly formed groups involved in a project are to be firstly starting bases for economic and social self-help activities, secondly receiving mechanisms for services, facilities and inputs at the local level, and thirdly instruments for participation in local decision-making and for increasing the bargaining power of the under-previleged through their "pressure groups."
Through such a receiving system the rural population can mobilize their own resources and be "reached" effectively by any development agency for the delivery of services and facilities to support economic and socio-cultural activities. The economic activities which aim at income and employment generation, could include crops, livestock, fishery, public works, irrigation, agro-processing, transport, marketing, handicrafts, and so on. The socio-cultural activities may regard the fields of health, sanitation, nutrition, education, training, recreation, etc.
The term "Receiving System" is, however, not fully adequate. Firstly, it could give the wrong connotation that the groups and organizations are mainly conceived as passive recipients of services and facilities (likewise also the term beneficiary has a quite passive connotation). Instead, they are to be regarded in the first place as starting bases for self-development efforts to be rendered more fruitful by the effective utilization of the services received, and moreover as instruments for participation in local decision-making.
Secondly, the rural poor are, also through their groups, not only receivers but also deliverers among others, of new ideas, methods and practices for self-development based on their previous experience. They are also deliverers of labour and other means of production as well as of many types of agricultural and other products.
The delivery system consists of government agencies and other (NGO) organizations that provide services and facilities to the intended beneficiaries.
Most conventional projects give attention only to the building of a delivery system from the centre and down to the village and not or scarcely to the creation of an adequate receiving system. A delivery system may be transformed so that it becomes geared to the real needs and aspirations of the rural poor people. A participatory receiving system should become an effective instrument in this transformation of the delivery system. Through mutual adaptation both systems will form jointly an appropriate local receiving-cum-delivery system (see Figure 1 in Appendix 4).
For the planning of beneficiary participation, it is indispensable to identify existing forms of local people's organizations. As indicated earlier, some of the existing groups and organizations may be traditional and some others are "imported" and more modern such as farmer associations, cooperatives, rural workers' organizations or trade unions. The question is whether they do represent the target group. This is only the case when an organization supports in its mandate and activities specifically (part of) the rural poor. Larger farmers' associations and cooperatives have often elite-dominated structures and the involvement of such well established organizations in participatory projects must be considered with great caution.
For the inventory of existing groups and organizations a distinction has to be made between standard and participatory organizations. The former, usually formal organizations (among others, most cooperatives and farmer associations), are set up, managed or controlled by outside agencies, hierarchical leadership, employed managers and/or other elites. Participatory groups and organizations are started and run by low-income people themselves and have consequently a more active membership and better performance.
The inventory should be included in the project reconnaissance and identification stages (Sections 16.2 and 16.3) and cover all types of groups and organizations existing in a project area. For each organization information is to be collected on the variables mentioned in point (5), Section 16.3.4 on Social Feasibility Studies.
In project areas where the above stocktaking indicates that participatory groups are lacking, it will be indispensable to promote their formation. This can be done either from scratch or from or within existing groups or organizations. The latter may be either traditional or formal ones like cooperatives. Informal smaller action groups could be formed within or from the large organizations for certain enterprises. Traditional African situations with customary or communal land agriculture may require location-specific approaches for small group formation.
In any case the basic prerequisites for the creation of groups from or within existing groups or larger organizations are, however, that the latter have objectives compatible with those of the participatory groups to be formed, are furthermore not dominated by the better-off, can promote the interests of the poor and lastly give sufficient autonomy to the groups for self-management.
Small homogeneous groups are to be formed by poor people themselves around certain starter income-raising activities. Essential group formation guidelines are:
a) Viable income-raising group activities are to be identified before the formation of groups.
b) The beneficiaries must themselves select the members, leaders, activities and rules of their groups. In other words, the groups should be really participatory. Each group selects its own members as they like on one or more of the following bases: adjacent farm lots and/or home plots, family ties, common (community) interests, friendships, religious affiliation, etc.; furthermore, willingness to accept mutual responsibility for group activities. This willingness may regard joining a nucleus enterprise, sharing production aids, possession of special skills or a pool of implements (among labourers) and so on.
c) Composition: the groups should be homogeneous, that is, consist of members who 1) live under similar economic and social disadvantaged conditions and have close social affinity; 2) accept mutual responsibility and joint liability for self-help activities; and 3) trust each other to such an extent that none of them would dominate or exploit the group. The homogeneity of a group is to be based on these three factors and other ones like gender, age, neighbourhood, and occupational affinity may be helpful but are not essential.
In certain projects a relative flexibility regarding the participation in groups may be allowed. As an exception and for good reasons based on the local social structure and culture, a project may allow that a group of rural poor includes also a better-off member (as done e.g. in the PPP Thailand). The latter should, however, identify with the poor and share their interests, her/his presence should enhance the attainment of the group objectives and also be acceptable to all other members. The non-poor member should, however, not hold a leadership position in the group.
The promotion of homogeneous rural poor groups is an indispensable core feature of a participatory project. This is because: (a) homogeneous groups facilitate effective communication which develops mutual trust, interest and concern and thus group cohesion and the bond to meet common needs, and (b) experience shows that in heterogeneous groups conflicts of interests are more likely to arise and one or more better-off members may capture the benefits, resulting in group failure.
Members of a group should thus belong to one or more categories of the rural poor who are willing to cooperate with each other on equal terms. A preliminary household survey (see Section 11) should indicate customary patterns of cooperation, preferred co-operators and group activities. The homogeneity of groups does of course not refer to all economic and social issues that concern the potential group members. Moreover, it does certainly not mean strengthening existing class, caste or clan biases. For example, a group of landless labourers may agree on land reform but disagree on irrigation, land use or marketing and the members may belong to different (rival) classes, clans, or political parties. A group of water users may agree on the distribution of water from an irrigation channel in order to make more efficient use of it, but the members may have divergent views on land reform or housing (Huizer: 1982).
d) Size: the group should be compact, cohesive and flexible, and thus small. The size of the groups to be formed depends largely upon the numbers of farmers/fishermen who will engage in a joint activity and will accordingly benefit from a common source of production or from common facilities. For example, those who could be served by a common tubewell, or who could jointly bring milk to a common milk collection centre, or who could operate a joint processing unit or act as a joint labour team for rural works, etc. (Huizer: 1982). However, the groups should be compact and also flexible to allow free informal discussions and to perform economic activities on a shared basis. Experience shows that the optimal size is 8-15 members, otherwise sub-groups and/or tensions may arise more easily. Other reasons to start with small cohesive groups are that these facilitate communication and dialogue between the members, form optimal learning laboratories and are the necessary "bricks" to build later on well-functioning, larger groupings such as (pre-)cooperatives, associations or federations (see Section 7.3).
These are the following:
a) collection of relevant information on eligible households by means of household surveys (see Section 11);
b) organization of informal meetings with prospective group members to discuss, among others, the purpose, methods of operation and benefits of the groups as well as possible group enterprises, joint means of production, etc.;
c) the self-selection of possible group members: this includes decision-making on whether to form groups only with small-holders, tenants or landless, furthermore only with women or men, or to create mixed groups of women and men and/or small-holders and tenants, etc.;
d) listing by the group promoters of potential group members and leaders, of possible group activities and required inputs; furthermore, distribution of membership cards or other symbols to the members of each group formed;
e) group discussions regarding group liabilities, resources and needs as well as recording of the production activities and income of the group members;
f) group members assign among themselves responsibilities and duties by consensus or formal voting. This includes the election of a chairperson, secretary and treasurer. The rotation of leadership positions is very recommendable as this offers opportunities to members for leadership training and minimizes domination of a group by a few members holding office for too long periods. It promotes also shared leadership;
g) establishment of group rules including, among others, rules on compatibility of membership of other organizations, how to rotate group leadership functions, how to organize group credit and repayment, how to establish and use a group credit to ensure its repayment, how to establish and use a group savings fund and how to tackle possible land (tenancy) problems. Planning of the required meetings: where, when and with what agenda.
It is clear from the above steps that the formation of viable and stable groups requires patience and sufficient time: for this important process a period of two to six months is usually needed, depending upon the local circumstances. Both too quick formation (e.g. to obtain credit) as well as too much delay (which may kill the interest of the potential group members) should be avoided. When is a group really formed? When it is stable, that is, retains the majority of its members, holds regular meetings attended by most members, carries out beneficial activities and has accrued a reasonable amount of group savings.
Why should the rural poor form or join groups? For most outside development agencies the advantages of the group approach are by now evident (see Sections 2 and 6.1). The incentives for the poor themselves to plan and carry out group-wise development actions are of course situation and location-specific but derive in general from the following three main rural poor group functions.
a) Groups are attractive starting bases for undertaking gainful economic and social self-help development activities. The members can pool together to varying extents their capabilities, experience, information, assets, labour and other resources and perform successfully certain profitable self-planned actions which cannot be carried out on an individual basis or with much more effort and risk and/or less profit.
The low-income people may also be attracted to groups as these provide new training opportunities, where they can learn from the group promoters and one another to articulate, discuss and solve their problems, to plan, carry out and record joint enterprises, to keep accounts, etc. Furthermore, they may soon become aware of the advantages of economies of scale by sharing group-wise inputs and production aids. The rural people actually have long traditions of informal group actions and they need no special incentive once they see that they can cooperate in face-to-face groups which are more efficient, fruitful and conducive to their (self-)development. The basic stimulus for the poor to form or join groups is that these can (better) meet certain clearly identified priority needs and aspirations (see Section 4.3). Groups are best formed around priority needs as perceived by the intended beneficiaries, like better use of scarce land and water resources, and (thus) more and better crops and livestock, cheaper inputs, credit and saving, agro-processing, transport, marketing, etc., but also more training and know-how, better technology, education, sanitation, primary health care, housing and recreation.
b) As explained in Section 6.1, groups are useful, if not indispensable receiving mechanisms for inputs, services and facilities provided by the delivery system to meet the needs of the poor. This is increasingly realized not only by the deliverers in the development agencies who want to reach and serve the poor in an efficient and cost-saving way, but also by the intended receivers and utilizers themselves who feel that individually they will remain out of reach and marginalized.
c) For the rural poor groups are also attractive as instruments for participation in local decision-making, as indispensable means to gradually obtain bargaining power and to exert pressure to improve their lot. Through their self-run groups the poor become increasingly self-confident and recognized by their wider community and - as experience shows - may even be elected as representatives in local councils or other formal organizations.
The disincentives for group-action to be identified and tackled may be: (a) opposition of local power holders to rural poor organizations (see Section 3.3 and 6.6); (b) lack of support of village leaders and influentials who feel that age-old patron-client relationships may become endangered; and/or (c) obstruction even by slightly less poor farmers/fishermen who do not accept that their labourers or servants build up group power.
Other disincentives derive from certain obstacles of the rural poor to form groups indicated in Section 3.3.1, such as: their generally weak health conditions, their low level of education and lack of organizational know-how, the bad image they normally have of larger, elite-run organizations, their geographic isolation and scattered settlement patterns and (thus) their low level of exposure to non-local information resulting in lack of critical awareness of their conditions.
In various countries and/or project areas, local and national level elites or power holders (political and religious leaders/authorities, landlords, traders, moneylenders, etc.), as well as slightly better-off groups of farmers or fishermen with different vested interests, may overtly or latently oppose any more stable grouping or organization of low-income rural workers (see also Section 3.3). This opposition stems usually from the strong drive of local and other elites to maintain their position and/or to continue their domination and/or exploitation of the poor rural workers, who frequently live in a state of semi serfdom. Most peasants live and work in extreme economic dependence upon bigger landowners, traders and middlemen and may fear intimidation, manipulation, victimization, or expulsion from their land, etc., when involving in peasant organizations.
The widespread basic problems of antagonism between the better-off and underprivileged people can only be solved by well-dosed and steady strategies at national and lower levels as explained in Section 4.