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These guidelines have been prepared by the Nutrition Programmes Service of the Food Policy and Nutrition Division of FAO. FAO has a long history and experience of participatory development projects. The People's Participation Programme, initiated in 1980 by the Rural Development Analysis and Organization Service, promotes this approach. Several other units in FAO have also been designing development projects that take into account the perceived needs and capacities of the people which the project intends to help. These different experiences have demonstrated the effectiveness of participatory rural development and led to the approval of the Plan of Action for People's Participation in Rural Development by member countries at the FAO conference of 1991.

These guidelines are partly based on practical field experience of the National Institute of Nutrition in Mexico and two non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Partnership for Productivity Foundation in Kenya and the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction in the Philippines, which have implemented participatory nutrition projects in a number of communities with the support of FAO.

These guidelines have also profited from the experience of other FAO-supported projects, such as the People's Participation Project in Sri Lanka which emphasized the nutritional implications of its income-generating activities for small-scale farmers and the Freedom From Hunger Campaign (FFHC) project supporting small-scale food producers and processors in Ghana, to which the

Fisheries Department provided technical assistance. In addition, several FAO professionals provided input to these guidelines from their experience.

We would like to acknowledge the important contribution provided by all those mentioned above.

The development of these guidelines is an ongoing process and comments and suggestions from people working in the field all over the world would be welcome.

Participatory nutrition projects

Malnutrition remains a serious problem in most developing countries today. It is a problem that affects specific groups rather than the population as a whole. Efforts to improve nutrition, therefore, need to focus on these groups and address people on the level of the community.

Experience has shown that when a community is fully involved in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of nutrition and other development projects, these are likely to be more effective and sustainable. Such participatory efforts more often meet the real needs of the people in the community and achieve results that can be continued with minimal external inputs.

In light of this, these guidelines have been prepared to help development staff working at community level to promote the design and implementation of participatory nutrition projects.

Underweight children: An indicator of malnutrition

Food and nutrition are complex issues that involve constantly changing environmental, cultural and economic factors. This is especially true for poor families.

Even households which formerly obtained their food through a combination of subsistence production and barter are today facing the need to adapt to a changing environment: economies increasingly based on money, declining availability of resources, increasing population, new expectation, new technology.

Participatory nutrition projects aim to improve the nutritional situation of vulnerable households through concrete activities which are designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated by the people of the community and which address the causes of malnutrition as the people themselves perceive them.

Many efforts have already been made to incorporate nutrition in agriculture projects. Most of these concentrate on improving the nutritional status of the target population through complementing agricultural activities with more specific nutrition interventions, such as nutrition education. Participatory projects render these efforts even more effective by addressing the causes of malnutrition from the perspective of the people themselves.

In order to alleviate malnutrition effectively, it is important for the community and the development worker to:

The causes of malnutrition can be traced to a variety of factors including inadequate food production, inequitable distribution, and lack of income, health and education. These causes can be arranged in three major clusters: food insecurity, inadequate caring capacity, and impaired health. Nutrition or, rather, keeping the household well-fed is thus a major concern of many social groups and is often a basic element in the organization of societies. This concern increases with poverty.

Nutrition, therefore, can provide a good entry point to generate people's participation and to reach and involve people who are often left out of development activities, particularly women. All over the world, women play a major role at different stages of the food chain: production, processing, purchasing, preparation and distribution. Participatory nutrition projects highlight women's role and strengthen their involvement in nutrition-related activities, including income-generating activities, thus contributing to women's empowerment.

Nutrition also provides a good entry point to discuss the development problems facing the community in an integrated way and can thus help development workers target their community activities more effectively.

The response to people's food and nutrition problems will differ according to the specific situation of the people, for instance, whether they live in urban slums or isolated rural areas. Participatory nutrition projects promote the collaboration of institutions, such as governmental and non-governmental organizations, that are capable of supporting the specific needs of the community, Successful participatory nutrition projects can, at the same time, help governments develop and/or strengthen effective mechanisms for coordination of development efforts at local level.

In many countries, governments have committed themselves to increase people's participation, achieve effective decentralization and alleviate poverty. This commitment creates a positive environment for participatory nutrition projects, which can in turn contribute to establishing mechanisms to implement these policies.

Participatory nutrition projects will have a greater impact, however, if macro-economic and political decisions to enhance agricultural production, guarantee stable food prices and ensure the free movement of goods and services are taken and implemented at the highest political level. A commitment to poverty alleviation is also important.

The guidelines

The guidelines are designed for use by professional staff from different technical and institutional backgrounds, who have had formal technical training or education, and who either work at the community level or are responsible for community development activities. These development workers may be government employees such as agricultural extensionists, primary school teachers or health staff or they may be part of a non-governmental organization. They may be working with one or several communities on a specific technical task or have many varied responsibilities. Whatever their professional situation, it is hoped that these guidelines will help development workers to integrate nutrition concerns in their routine activities effectively.

The guidelines describe the following aspects of participatory nutrition projects:

These guidelines include short checklists to help summarize issues or outline steps to tee taken. Simple diagrams and charts, developed or adapted from actual field experiences, illustrate the specific tasks to be performed in each stage. The constraints most commonly encountered are also listed.

These guidelines are designed to be used with flexibility: participatory processes involve continual revision of assessment and decision-making as the project develops.

Some of the steps presented in a sequence may have to be carried out simultaneously. Others may not be relevant in a specific local situation or may have already been taken.

Participatory projects take time. These guidelines are designed, therefore, for use by development workers who will be working with a community for at least two years.

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