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Chapter 8: Rapid Rural Appraisal

Chapter Objectives
Structure Of The Chapter
RRA Definition
Differences between rapid rural appraisal and other approaches
Team composition
The principles of rapid rural appraisals
Agricultural issues worth investigation through appraisals
Field operation principles
Field techniques: Mapping agricultural data
Preparation of base maps
Continuous recording
Systematic step recording
Recording agricultural data by transects
The Rapid Rural Marketing Appraisal report
Chapter Summary
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter References

Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) methodology owes much of its early development to Farming Systems Research and Extension as promoted by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR). RRA was developed in response to the disadvantages of more traditional research methods, including: the time taken to produce results, the high cost of formal surveys and the low levels of data reliability due to non-sampling errors. RRA is a bridge between formal surveys and unstructured research methods such as depth interviews, focus groups and observation studies. In developing countries, it is sometimes difficult to apply the standard marketing research techniques employed elsewhere. There is often a paucity of baseline data, poor facilities for marketing research (e.g. no sampling frames, relatively low literacy among many populations of interest and few trained enumerators) as well as the lack of appreciation of the need for marketing research. The nature of RRA is such that it holds the promise of overcoming these and other limitations of marketing research.

Chapter Objectives

· To explain the concept of Rapid Rural Appraisal

· To describe the principal tools and techniques of Rapid Rural Appraisal

· To highlight the strengths and weaknesses of Rapid Rural Appraisal in the context of marketing research studies

· To identify the potential applications of Rapid Rural Appraisal in marketing research studies, and

· To outline the principles which should be applied in order to ensure the effective application of RRA.

Structure Of The Chapter

First, an attempt is made to define Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) and to define the tools upon which the approach depends. The origins of RRA, in Farm Systems Research, are explained and then the principal tools of this research methodology are listed. Definitions and descriptions of RRA are explained before typical applications and potential applications are described. The chapter goes on to discuss the relative advantages of RRA relative to other methods and techniques, and its distinctive characteristics are identified. This is followed by an overview of the principles of RRA as applied within marketing. The final section of the chapter outlines the important contents and preferred orientation of the report of a rapid rural marketing appraisal study.

RRA Definition

Unfortunately, there is no generally accepted definition of RRA. RRA is more commonly described as a systematic but semi-structured activity out in the field by a multidisciplinary team and is designed to obtain new information and to formulate new hypotheses about rural life. A central characteristic of RRA is that its research teams are multidisciplinary.

Beyond that, the distinction between RRA and other research methodologies dependents upon its multidisciplinary approach and the particular combination of tools that in employs. A core concept of RRA is that research should be carried out not by individuals, but by a team comprised of members drawn from a variety of appropriate disciplines. Such teams are intended to be comprised of some members with relevant technical backgrounds and others with social science skills, including marketing research skills. In this way, it is thought that the varying perspectives of RRA research team members will provide a more balanced picture. The techniques of RRA include:

· interview and question design techniques for individual, household and key informant interviews

· methods of cross-checking information from different sources

· sampling techniques that can be adapted to a particular objective

· methods of obtaining quantitative data in a short time frame

· group interview techniques, including focus-group interviewing

· methods of direct observation at site level, and

· use of secondary data sources.

McCracken et al1. describe, rather than define, RRA as an approach for conducting action-oriented research in developing countries.

Ellman2 offers a good example to compare the "traditional" rural development research to RRA. He was requested to analyse the achievements of four types of land settlement schemes in Sri Lanka and to recommend a policy for future settlement in one million acres of cultivable land. He was advised, by a statistician, to sample 20% of the settlements in operation. This meant 80 settlements and two and a half years of field survey were carried out by two experienced researchers. Finally, he and his colleague, helped by two assistants, conducted "full social, economic and attitudinal surveys" with a sample of 20 settlements. Nine months were needed to collect the data, and six months to write it up. The result: a two-volume report of 305 pages. By the time the message (Ellman says "quite a simple one") was absorbed by those who needed to know it, the government had changed and suddenly the study had lost much of its relevance. With the idea of RRA in mind, he is "convinced that the same message could have been put across more quickly, cheaply and effectively, with evidence drawn from a smaller, purposively selected and studied sample and with no significant reduction in reliability".

Ellman was later commissioned to carry out another study, and having learnt from that earlier experience, he identified the minimum amount of data that was required and was likely to be effectively used for planning purposes. A team of ten people collected data in six weeks, and produced a 25-page report with clear recommendations, which were broadly accepted by the government and the international agency. The project, concerning integrated rural development, was finally implemented.

The application of RRA has been quite wide as regards rural development, for example in health, nutrition, emergencies and disasters, non-formal education, agroforestry, natural resource assessment and sociology approaches. RRA has also been applied in agricultural marketing, although the marketing orientation of RRA studies has not been very well defined.

Thus the term rapid appraisal does not refer to a single technique but to a range of investigation procedures. Their chief characteristics are that they take only a short time to complete, tend to be relatively cheap to carry out and make use of more 'informal' data collection procedures. The techniques rely primarily on expert observation coupled with semi-structured interviewing of farmers, local leaders and officials. In substance the techniques of RRA have much in common with the social anthropologist's case study approach but are executed over a period of weeks, or at most months, rather than extending over several years. To date RRA has mainly been used in the field of rural development as a short cut method to be employed at the feasibility stage of project planning.

RRA is also useful for supporting decisions towards the improvement of agricultural marketing systems in developing countries. The role that Rapid Rural Marketing Appraisal (RRMA) can play in this broad sense of marketing research lies in the identification and prioritisation of marketing problems, and the evaluation of practical means of improving marketing functions, to meet the needs for expansion coupled with higher performance. The first step is to describe accurately and meaningfully the systems that exist. The next step is the evaluation of structures and performance, and the major forces responsible for changing their relationships. In a broader scope, research must analyse the changing strategic role of marketing in the development process.

A checklist of some general and more specific research activities and topics is suggested in the following, where RRMA seems to be a suitable approach:

· Description, problems of assessment and evaluation of marketing systems for design of improvement projects in production, storage, handling, processing, transportation and distribution, as well as wholesaling and retailing, analysing alternatives

· Analysis of marketing feasibility and social acceptability of performance improvements. Prediction of effects on conduct and structure, as well as social effects

· Monitoring and evaluation of marketing activities

· Design and selection of topics to conduct further or other types of research or trials

· Rural communications design for interventions in nutrition, technology adoption, health, housing, standard of living, education, etc.

· Extension techniques assessment for training and technical assistance

· Design of participatory schemes, like farmer-managed marketing enterprises supported by a development or governmental agency

· Rural organisations assessment

· Understanding of resources use and dependency patterns of local communities

· Design of strategies for reduction of losses and deterioration in quality, and quality improvement of agricultural products

· Design of strategies for reduction in production and marketing activities costs

· Understanding and improvement of price efficiencies

· Evaluation of proposed changes in agricultural marketing systems, in terms of objectives of an efficiency for producers, consumers and intermediaries

· Measurement of performance of the "macro" level in marketing systems, in terms of development goals, such as improvement in nutritional status, proportion of the income spent on food, or increased rural income and standard of living

· Managerial, technical and marketing expertise necessity assessment

· Identification and analysis of existing and potential markets for new food products and processes

· Understanding of the technical, social, and economic constraints of traditional farming systems to define research that will lead to changes of benefit to the farmer

· Development of projects, products and processes having an ex-ante market evaluation

· Facilitation of the commercialisation of socially desirable food products

· Development of pricing, promotion and distribution techniques, using profitability and economic criteria

· Analysis of farmers' perception of farm household risk and uncertainty over practices of production, storage, and distribution, perception of price incentives and other stimuli

· Evaluation of systems using a global perspective: economic requirements of the system, appropriate social values, the interacting institutions, and the flow of final results.

Rapid rural appraisal is a set of techniques that can be applied as a preliminary stage when embarking on surveys of farmers. The technique essentially involves an informal, rapid, exploratory study of a specified geographical area designed to establish an 'understanding' of local agricultural conditions, problems and characteristics. They can provide basic information on the feasibility of beginning a survey project in an area, particularly when one is intending to survey an area about which little is known.

RRMA is also a suitable approach in the commercial sense of marketing and not merely social, that is the research of consumer needs and wants from the viewpoint which looks at rural people as a target market. As in the case of social marketing, the application of RRMA will depend on particular circumstances and research objectives. Some research topics, both general and more particular, to carry out RRMA research having rural communities as target markets are suggested in the following:

· Identification of the needs of communities in rural areas, and of the future direction and strategy of food technology research to satisfy those needs

· Study of the market to discover a target market or a market segment for which producers might develop a product

· To test that a project is "on track", that is according to the wants and needs of the consumer or the end-user

· Appropriate technology design; suitability, acceptability, adoption patterns and impact evaluation of technology changes

Identification of intensity and variety of forms taken by consumers' demands

· Identification of demographic and psychographic characteristics and constraints on consumer behaviour that determine and affect the market performance, e.g. economic status, income, life style, consumption habits

· Knowledge of what consumers would like to do, and what they are able to do

· Identification of stratification criteria within rural communities for market segmentation strategies

· Study of rural people's attitudes and cultural characteristics towards nutritional improvements, selection of target groups and development of product to be supplemented, and selection or design of the delivery system

· Study of individual and organisational decision-making processes concerning purchasing and consumption patterns; leadership impact

· Study of consumer needs by analysing attitudes, motivation, and behaviour, e.g. risk perception, price perception, brand differentiation and consumer's knowledge of the quality and range of goods and services

· Development and selection of product concepts, products testing, experimentation on developing the prototype product, specification of production process and products

· Definition of research priorities, determination of variables to analyse, setting up experimentation criteria, definition of hypotheses

· Design, evaluation and monitoring of nutrition programmes

· Development of advertising strategies: definition, development and testing, and monitoring and evaluation; audience considerations, valuation of performance and effectiveness, support for response measurement

· Development of total propositions for rural requirements: product, packaging, positioning and advertising

· Design of packaging for rural conditions: functional considerations, appeal at the wholesaling and retailer level, packaging screening tests, effect evaluation

· Corporate image research for firms and institutions working in rural communities.

RRMA can be used to quickly obtain basic information specifically to aid the generation of hypotheses and the design of questions for a questionnaire. In particular information can be gathered relating to:

· farming system characteristics (e.g. farm sizes and types)

· farmers' decision-making processes (e.g. how decisions are made concerning the purchase of new equipment, and the criteria considered important)

· issues of concern to farmers (e.g. their major farming problems)

· farmers' equipment ownership (e.g. which type of farmers own which type of equipment, and where they are located).

With a rapid rural appraisal the researcher acts like an explorer, making a brief survey of the horizon before plunging into the depths of the research from which the wider view is no longer possible. If the researcher observes keenly at the start, the remainder of the survey process stands a better chance of success and time will not be wasted. Without a rapid rural appraisal a researcher may find himself surveying the wrong area, collecting the wrong type of information, asking the wrong people, and precious time and funds can be lost back-tracking.

The appraisal can produce, at a minimum cost, a rich description of life in the farming community and an understanding of local agricultural characteristics that will be invaluable in ensuring that the right areas and people are surveyed and that appropriate questions are asked.

Differences between rapid rural appraisal and other approaches

Chambers3 describes the orientation of RRA as a "fairly-quick and-fairly-clean" appraisal, and as opposed to the fast and careless studies (he calls them "quick-and-dirty" studies) and the slow and excessively accurate approaches ("long-and-dirty").

On the one hand, the most common form of fast, rough studies - the "quick-and-dirty" approach - is termed rural development tourism, that is the brief rural visit by the urban based "expert". Although Chambers says that it can be cost-effective for the outstanding individual, it is important to be clear that it can be actually low-cost research, but of course not cost-effective. This practitioner, as opposed to the formal academic, wants quick insights and quick results. "Brief rural visits, snatches of information here and there and a few observations, anecdotes and impressions are put together as the basis for time-bound judgements and decisions". Commonly rural development tourism means highly biased results, especially concerning anti-poverty biases. In other words, it has large misperceptions and misinterpretations of the rural reality, and not only due to lack of time to carry out a deeper research.

Chambers cites the main biases of rural development tourism as being: spatial (urban-tarmac-and-roadside biases, that is going only to easily accessible places), project (neglecting non-project areas), personal contact (meeting the less poor and more powerful rural people, men rather than women, users of services rather than non-users, and so on), dry season (travelling in the post-harvest or post-rainy season, when it is easier) and politeness-and-protocol bias (lack of courtesy and convention, lack of adaptation to local conditions, shortage of time, etc.).

On the other hand, formal and accurate studies - the "long-and-dirty" ones Chambers goes on to describe - are longer and more costly solutions preferred by "well-trained" professionals. They are preferred by the academic community, interested more in detail, precise observation and measurement and rigorous and respectable methodology and with a generally rather unhurried concern for knowledge for its own sake in the longer term. Formal studies do not generate information in the early stages, and some, though not all of them, are academically excellent but finally useless, very likely because of the lack of opportunity to induce the desired effects or results. Many are never used: never coded, punched, processed, printed out, examined, written up, read, understood or known to actually change action. Moreover, many studies rarely communicate the knowledge gained; researchers write in a way that makes it unavailable or unintelligible to bureaucrats in the formal planning system. Chambers3 says "... rural surveys must be one of the most inefficient industries in the world...; the longer the research takes, the longer and less usable the report tends to be and the greater the time available for sweeping the dirt under the carpet". The biggest single blockage is the failure to "treat statistics as servant rather than master". Cases to illustrate the fact can be seen all over the world: papers that, if finally written, are too late to induce the change desired (for instance, the case already described in Ellman's2 experience). McCracken et al.1 summarised the main arguments against inefficient formal (traditional) studies demonstrating that these conventional methods have a long duration, fixed and formal structure, limited scope, weak integration, exhaustive depth, "top-down" direction, low integration with local farmers, high cost and inefficient use of time and manpower.

As stated earlier, the point is to determine which information is really relevant, opportune, understandable and actually useful for the decision makers: the middle zone (between both extremes, the short-and-inaccurate and the long-and-excessively-accurate) of greater cost-effectiveness. The task is obviously not easy and requires experience, knowledge, and perhaps, as it has been even suggested to define RRA, a lot of "common sense". It is therefore important to realise that RRA procedures are more and not less demanding of expertise, when compared to the "dirty-short" and "dirty-long" approaches. Optimal ignorance can only be achieved if investigators are both well informed and sensitive to what they may not know.

Team composition

One of the main characteristics of RRA is to work with a multidisciplinary team. The advantages have been already discussed. Chambers3 is emphatic in pointing out that the argument that it is necessary to have an integrated and coordinated approach to research cannot be used as an argument for having only one well-informed and intelligent person to do it all. Moreover, Beebe4 proposes not using the term Rapid Appraisal to describe studies done by one person.

The question remaining is, "which disciplines have to participate?" The point does not seem to be very critical, since for example Shanner5 et al. think that the disciplinary speciality of team members is not critical as long as "several" disciplines are represented. For agricultural marketing purposes, and of course depending on the objectives of the research, the best solution seems to be to have at least a team of two researchers, one with natural-sciences background (agriculture and related disciplines), and another with social-sciences background (e.g. economist, sociologist), but both with marketing knowledge. This background of course is not definitive, yet the recommendation is still to have at least two researchers. The particular skills of researchers are discussed in the next chapter.

The recommendation is to recruit both men and women to be included on the research team, to overcome the difficulties and take advantage of the situations associated with researcher gender, as well as to provide possible different insights.

Another recommendation is for researchers to have "some" familiarity with aspects of the systems being investigated. Teams should be composed of a mix of insiders and outsiders. Insiders or people very familiar with the area will provide a high-knowledge perspective to the problem. The outsider's participation may be extremely valuable to the insiders in identifying possible options and in noting constraints that might otherwise be overlooked. Outsiders also can gain insights and knowledge that can guide their research activities away from the farm. These considerations are in addition to the points discussed above concerning participation of farmers themselves.

To carry out research with real interaction and participation of all members of the team it is recommended to work with smaller teams rather than larger teams; a ten-member team is probably too large. For example, large teams working in the same interview simultaneously can intimidate rural people.

Opinions differ on how to structure the time of RRMA, but there is almost universal agreement on the importance of dividing time between collecting data and team interactions to make sense out of the collected data4. Interactions between researchers at the end of each day and at the end of the field work seem to be essential in determining the success of the RRMA. Scheduling RRMA time can ensure that time for group interaction will be adequate and that a variety of different activities can be covered in a short period of time. As an initial phase, that is even before deciding on how to structure the plan, it is necessary to decide on whether to invest in a preliminary visit by one or two members of the team, expecting them to explain the forthcoming research, find a place to work (for the team sessions), arrange vehicles, identify local participants, request for information, and so on.

The rapid rural appraisal technique is straight - forward to administer but can be physically demanding. It cannot be accomplished simply by driving along a main road looking at fields (although such a method may be a way to begin). The successful appraisal may require tracking over fields in high temperatures and/or over difficult terrain. Researchers must be prepared to collect information in the fields, market places, or wherever farmers' daily routines take them.

The rapid rural appraisal requires mental and methodological flexibility. It does not proceed like the 'formal questionnaire survey' where predetermined hypotheses are tested. Instead, important questions, issues and the direction of the study emerge as information is collected. This is not to say that the informal survey lacks logic, but that one must be able to accommodate new information and adjust research plans accordingly.

The principles of rapid rural appraisals

The following are the principles of RRA agreed by its practitioners, in spite of the fact that there are different opinions and criteria concerning them. These are general principles of theory:

1. Optimising trade-offs: relating the costs of learning to the useful truth of information, having tradeoffs between quantity, relevance, accuracy and timeliness of the information acquired, as well as its actual use. Trade-offs in this sense are not merely mathematical ratios, but they also entail, in the context of cost-effectiveness, alertness, observation, imagination and the ability to pursue serendipity.

2. Offsetting biases: through introspection, it is necessary to identify cognitive biases and deliberately offset those biases. The recommendations are: to be relaxed and not rushed; listening not lecturing; probing instead of passing onto the next topic; being unimposing instead of imposing; and seeking out the poorer people and what concerns them.

3. Triangulating: using more than one technique/source of information to cross-check answers, that is comparing and complementing information from different sources or gathered in different ways. It also involves having team - multidisciplinary - members with the ability to approach the same piece of information or the same question from different perspectives.

4. Learning from and with the rural people: this means learning directly, on-site, and face-to-face, gaining from indigenous physical, technical, and social knowledge. Farmers' perceptions and understanding of resource situations and problems are important to learn and comprehend because solutions must be viable and acceptable in the local context, and because local inhabitants possess extensive knowledge about their resource setting.

5. Learning rapidly and progressively: this means the process of learning with conscious exploration, flexible use of methods, opportunism, improvisation, iteration, and cross-checking, not following a blueprint programme but adapting through the learning process. However, this could sound again as a non-systematic way of carrying out research.

A fundamental principle is the making of contact with the rural population in a learning process. This aspect must be one of the focal points.

Agricultural issues worth investigation through appraisals

Before embarking on any appraisal, the research team needs to decide what type of information is needed. The specific objectives of the appraisal should be very clear and a list of important topics for investigation should be drawn up.

In conducting surveys of farmers to establish either demand for, or the acceptability of, new equipment types, the researchers should be looking for information concerning agricultural, farm power and socio-economic issues. Information should be collected oh any related issues in these areas that might affect interest in the equipment being considered. Examples of the types of information that might be collected are outlined below:

Agricultural issues: for RRA

· Main crops grown (by season)

· Land use intensity

· Extent of inter-cropping

· Soil types and soil conditions (degree of salinity, water-logging)

· Farm sizes areas owned and areas cultivated

· Extent of farm fragmentation; size of individual plots, average number of plots owned, and distances from farmstead

· Ground topography: upland/lowland; land slope, field characteristics (average size, obstacles for efficient use of machinery)

· Irrigation supply canal, rainfed, tubewell, time, day and duration of water received

· Crop yields

· Agricultural practices: methods used and timing for:

· Land preparation
· Planting, sowing, transplantation
· Fertilizer application
· Weeding
· Irrigation, drainage
· Harvesting
· Crop processing
· Transportation

Farm power issues: for RRA

· Inventory/ownership of equipment (tractors, implements, tools)

· Use of different power sources for each operation (mechanised, animal or hand)

· Problems experienced in conducting different operations (e.g. labour supply, cost, crop quality, conditions)

· Use of hiring/contracting services for different operations (reasons)

· Labour utilisation type (family, hired), labour cost and availability

· Sources of funds used to purchase machines/equipment in past

· Machine requirement priorities

Socio-economic issues: for RRA

· Land tenure systems: tenants, owners, owners-cum-tenants

· Decision making units; extent and influence of social networks on machine/implement/tool purchasing

· Farm incomes: sources and amount

· Availability of resources: sources of funds if required (personal, friends, relatives, agricultural banks, money lenders)

· Age and level of education.

Field operation principles

Armed with tentative questions and information objectives, field research can begin. At first everything may seem confusing in the field. However, before long the region will become understandable if researchers follow three simple principles of fieldwork:


Researchers should keenly watch for patterns of crop production, land use, and farm/farmer behaviour.


Researchers should stop and talk to farmers and listen to their concerns and views.


Researchers should write everything down. Complete field-notes are crucial. This is especially essential in the early stages of the appraisal to help organise thinking.

If a large region is to be studied in the rural appraisal and a large research team is to be employed, it is advisable to carefully divide the region into smaller areas and appoint small teams (of 2 or 3 researchers) to cover each area. Specific delineation of the boundaries of each area must be made to ensure that no overlap occurs between teams.

A secondary data review should be conducted before conducting the research in the field. This would involve searching for and studying existing reports and records, and not only published data. Relevant information can be found in government agencies, universities, research centres, marketing bodies and other institutions. Relevant information can be project documents, research papers, annual reports, previous survey results, maps, as well as journals and books and even newspapers.

Field techniques: Mapping agricultural data

A convenient way to systematically and accurately record basic agricultural data is to develop agricultural maps of the area whilst in the field, a technique often referred to as 'field plotting'. Field characteristics such as crop types, field sizes, irrigation methods, soil conditions, and so on are identified and base maps are then annotated to illustrate the location and extent of each of the characteristics observed.

Preparation of base maps

The first step is to prepare an outline of the area to be studied. Any available maps of the district should be consulted in the preparations, and the final base map should feature:

· Major and minor communication routes

· Major and minor settlements (towns and villages)

· Major geographical/topographical features (e.g. irrigation canals) which may assist researchers in the field to identify their exact location in relation to the map

· Major roads

· Minor roads'

· Water ways

· Villages/minor settlements; land use

· Field mapping of land use.

Figure 8.1 A rapid rural appraisal base map

One systematic means of ensuring that mapping of land use is evenly spread throughout an area is to record/map the land use which is observed whilst driving along the roads identified on the map. This technique is called a 'windshield survey' and can be conducted in two forms.

Continuous recording

All land use within 100 metres of either side of the road (or one side if the road is on the area boundary) is recorded on the base map.

Figure 8.2 Continuous recording

Mapping in this way can give a very accurate reflection of land use types in a region, but it can be very time-consuming.

Systematic step recording

The alternative method is to record the land use at 'set intervals' along the routes, for example every 1 or 2 km.

Figure 8.3 Systematic step recording

The advantage here is that the mapping process can be completed in a relatively short time, and provided strictly systematic methods are employed a good representation of land use in the area can be obtained.

The ultimate objective here is to produce a map which shows the major land-use types in the area, and colours can be used to improve visual recognition. The map can be further developed by recording (with the use of symbols/colours/notes) other characteristics of farming in the area.

Figure 8.4 RRA base map using systematic step recording

If strict systematic procedures have been followed and the field research has recorded the proportion of different crop types within the 50m area either side of the roads, then it is possible to use this data to calculate approximately the total proportions of different land use in the area. This is achieved by summing the frequency and proportions of each land use type and calculating its percentage share of total land use area.

Recording agricultural data by transects

In certain areas of the region being studied it may be appropriate to record data along 'transects' rather than along communication routes. Roads tend to follow contours and thus land use in an area which includes wide variations in land height may be poorly represented if route-mapping is used. A route-mapping exercise in such an area as this would not record potentially marked differences in land use which may be present at different land heights within the area not traversed by roads.

In such situations 'transect' mapping can be employed where land-use is plotted at different land levels (on foot or by eye in rough terrain areas). A transect map might appear as follows:

Figure 8.5 Recording data by transect

It should be borne in mind that land use mapping and field observations are 'time-frozen' that is they show the agricultural situation at only one specific period in time. To gain a fuller understanding of local agriculture, particularly in respect of seasonal changes in land-use (rotations) and expected future crops, interviews with individuals from within the local community concerned are essential as part of the rapid rural appraisal.

Aerial photographs can be useful too. These are useful in the planning of field research, to identify settlements, for the evaluation of the availability of natural resources, crop-patterns, land-use and physical evidence of land-holding, and the assessment of the existence, distribution and conditions of roads within a defined area of interest.

Field techniques:

The key to a successful informal survey, especially in relation to understanding farmers' problems, is a few successful interviews.

Due to the nature of informal surveys it is not essential to select farmers at random using sophisticated random sampling techniques. It is certainly advisable to ensure that interviews are conducted with a variety of farmers who are likely to represent a wide cross-section of interests in the farming community (e.g. small and large farms), but farmers can be selected by either stopping en route at systematic intervals and interviewing farmers who can be obtained, or by selecting 1 or 2 'typical' villages and interviewing a number of farmers in each.

Key informants: One rapid way to learn a great deal about a local farming system is to identify 'key informants' in the villages, i.e. individuals who have great knowledge about the village, the farms, crops and local conditions and problems (for example village elders, heads, large farmers). One should not believe everything key informants say but likewise one should not disregard the old timer who enjoys talking. Usually one will only be able to obtain qualitative data in the sense that most comments made by key informants will be about farmers' problems and conditions. However, if the interviewer asks the right questions, some quantitative data can be collected. For example average farm sizes in the area, or the number of farmers in the village.

Techniques such as ranking exercises are used as a quick means of finding out an individual's or a group's lists of preferences and priorities, and identification of wealth distribution, as well as seasonal changes in the lives of rural people (for example distribution of productive activities, changes in prices, availability of inputs, rainfall periods, etc.).

Recording rapid rural appraisal data: Although data collected through a rapid appraisal is usually for the purposes of one planned survey, it is imperative that the information is recorded in a form which will be useful to subsequent surveys in the longer term. The data should be recorded in such a way that a data-base can be constructed for use as reference material for all future surveys.

1 The results of appraisal field research conducted by each team for each area should be fully written up in a common format. A useful format would be to construct 'data sheets' on which comments are recorded under the headings outlined earlier.

2 The results of each team's appraisal maps and data sheets should be combined into master sheets' to enable subsequent ease of reference and storage.

3 Successive appraisal maps should use common scales, keys, symbols, colours, etc. making comparison between two areas and two appraisals possible.

Figure 8.6 Rapid rural appraisal summary

The Rapid Rural Marketing Appraisal report

The entire RRMA research process and particularly the report should be made "transparent" to readers of the research, and that concerns reliability and replicability of findings. It is the responsibility of the researcher to demonstrate how his or her conclusions were derived from the data, and in such a way that someone else can follow and, if necessary, replicate the analysis and achieve the same result or dispute those conclusions. As a result, the researcher has to "defend" the validity of his/her research findings and of the whole process, including the general constraints of the context, and the particular constraints when collecting and analysing the data. All these considerations have to be reflected in the research report.

A framework for the definition of criteria for the characteristics for the validity of the RRMA report might be:

1. Natural History: report of which avenues were followed and which were rejected. Discussion of policy context in which the research was conceived, the original purpose of the study and the initial design; how these developed, and what factors or findings led to major shifts in direction, and how the report relates to the policy context

2. Data collected and techniques: discussion of whether the kind of data collected is that demanded by the research problem. Evaluation of the data quality. Evaluation of procedures followed for data collection.

3. Analysis: suitability of analysis (rigorous, systematic, comprehensive and sensitive) and illumination of policy problem by the data. Evaluation of data analysis procedures.

4. Validity of links between concepts and indicators: considerations of descriptive validity: events and indicators being really what they are though to be; and considerations of conceptual validity: extent to which the concepts and categories used fit the data.

5. Validity of hypotheses or theories: considerations of theoretical validity; way in which concepts are handled and the "coherence" of the resulting theory.

6. Theory kept to the limits imposed by sampling selection: considerations of external validity. Scope and generalisation of the theory dependent on the samples used. Replicability considerations.

7. External theoretical validity of the research: relationship of the study to the wider body of knowledge related. Value placed on the research by those who commissioned it, and value for all the people concerned and involved. Project's impact on the definition, development and understanding of policy. Contribution made to the general body of knowledge.

Chapter Summary

Rapid Rural Marketing Appraisal (RRMA) emphasises the essential role that marketing plays in the rural development process for Third World countries, and stresses that it is necessary to appreciate the role of "good" rural marketing research to reduce the risk in rural marketing decision making. RRMA (as an agricultural marketing research approach) represents the contextual understanding of agricultural marketing systems, and the application of ad hoc techniques - as well as correct adaptation of techniques by offsetting and to some extent overcoming the difficulties of carrying out research in the rural environment of developing countries. However, the utilisation of RRMA has to overcome a good number of misconceptions about how the ideal marketing research has to be, since decision makers feel themselves more confident when supporting the decisions in "cold" figures rather than in actual understanding. Moreover, they feel it is always required to have formal quantitative surveys, motivated more by avoiding the negative results than by the positive expectations.

First of all, RRMA represents a paradigm to understand rural development and its marketing implications: understanding development as the result of:

a) the complex interaction of variables and context, having multiple and changing relationships, and

b) the necessary involvement and participation of farmers (and rural people in general), since the very research process, perceives research as a mutual learning process, including also the research component in the formulation and monitoring of development projects.

The process implies not only the generation of projects for the improvement of "pure" marketing functions. RRMA is indeed a very powerful tool to understand the final marketing implications of every endeavour; after all, development necessarily depends upon the degree to which the prospective beneficiaries recognise it as useful to them.

RRMA understands marketing systems in all their complexity and final implications. The interaction and sharing of insights by multidisciplinary researchers avoids the biased partial views, by analysing the systems (agro-ecosystems) performance, and understanding that they are the result of the interaction of social and natural elements. RRMA analyses the structure of systems and provides a means of predicting the effects of changes and suggesting improvement actions.

RRMA also considers research as searching for and analysing data in a fast and cost-effective way. Moreover, RRMA does not only consider the requirement of the fair amount and the fair quality of the information to support marketing decisions, but also gives sufficient openness to accept and incorporate unexpected but relevant information in an ongoing process. RRMA links flexible techniques in a coherent form to collect on-site, cross-check, validate and analyse data according to those priorities. Equally important, RRMA considers simplicity, relevance and meaning as basic points in presenting findings and suggesting action.

RRMA takes into account the huge cultural diversity of groups of rural population in developing countries. Secondary data collection, direct observation and semi-structured interviewing are very useful techniques for the full on-site understanding and cultural adaptation required by research, if it is objective. Moreover, the participation of farmers in the research process, as well as the inclusion of local researchers and researchers with knowledge about the site and having multiple disciplines, all contribute towards overcoming the difficulties in adaptation of the research to the local conditions, i.e. the adaptation to cultural values and beliefs, language, perception patterns, productive activities, economies, traditions, religion, ethical features, politics, and so on.

RRMA offers a reasonable contribution towards overcoming the difficulties of sampling in a rural environment. It avoids the biases of "rural-tourism" research, and tries to study the events on-site, just where they occur or where the evidence is. As a result, RRMA information, limited obviously by the scope of the investigation, generates a purposive sampling frame of key and casual informants and geographical unbiased transects, without strict statistical representativeness, but with high natural-objective representativeness. This representativeness is enhanced by the triangulation procedures, resulting in increased validity.

RRMA proposes gaining accessibility to rural people by involving them in the research process, that is in learning, collecting, finding and analysing information in open discussions and total interaction. As a result, this participatory research also increases accessibility to sites. In addition, the use of key indicators and the information provided by key informants allows access to information otherwise hard to gather. Other techniques, and especially the case of aerial photography, provide a means of gathering information otherwise not accessible, or difficult to appreciate in all its magnitude.

RRMA is an emerging approach, evolving and improving, and therefore it is still limited. There are types of research than RRMA cannot do, for example that requiring statistical reliability, strict replicability and quantitatively precise conclusions. However, it seems to be always useful in exploring, complementing, supplementing and validating other types of marketing research - that is to say more formal types - in rural environments. Its usefulness will depend on the particular interests of each piece of research, but it is always a viable alternative.

Key Terms

Aerial photographs
Base maps
Continuous recording
Key informants
Multidiscipline teams
Quick-and-dirty methods
Rapid Rural Marketing Appraisal
Social marketing
Systematic recording

Review Questions

From your knowledge of the material in this chapter, give brief answers to the following questions:

1. Explain the meaning of the term 'systematic step recording'.

2. Explain what is meant by 'a transect'.

3. Who are 'key informants'?

4. What weaknesses did McCracken identify in conventional long-term studies?

5. How is triangulation applied within the context of rapid rural appraisals?

6. What are the 3 core field operating principles mentioned in the textbook?

7. What advice is given regarding the right size of a multidisciplinary team carrying out a rapid appraisal?

8. Up until now what has been the principal application of rapid rural appraisal?

Chapter References

1. McCracken,. A., Pretty,. W. and Conway, G. R. (1988), An Introduction to Rapid Rural Appraisal For Agricultural Development, International Institute For Environment And Development, London.

2. Ellman, A. (1981) "Rapid Appraisal for Rural Project Preparation", Agricultural Administration 8, 463-471.

3. Chambers, R, (1980), Rural Development: Putting the Last First, Harlow, England.

4. Beebe, (1985), Rapid Rural Appraisal: The Critical First Step In a Farming Systems Approach to Research, Networking Paper No. 5, Farming Systems Support Project, University of Florida, Gainsville, Florida 32601.

5. Shanner, W. W., Philip, P. F., and Schmehl, W. R. (1982), Farming Systems Research And Development: Guidelines For Developing Countries, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press.

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