The first years of PRODERITH I were, relatively speaking, years of the fat cows, but in the last years up to its formal close in 1984, the country was in the deep economic crisis that had begun in 1982. The 1985 earthquake aggravated the situation further.
In consequence, PRODERITH II, from its beginning in 1986, would have to operate in different circumstances. There was much pressure to decentralise and reduce government spending. At the same time, however, the success of PRODERITH I had been such that there was also pressure to continue the experience and expand it.
There was a funding hiatus before the second phase went into operation. When it did, it was expanded to cover 1.2 million hectares, in eight project areas. (This was later expanded again to 1.4 million hectares and nine project areas). Some of these were the expansion zones of PRODERITH I, but others were completely new. There were more than 650 000 people in the project areas, and the aim was to work directly with 250 000 of them. They lived in more than 500 ejidos and communities, most of them made up of less than a hundred families.
For the first time, PRODERITH also began to assist private smallholders, as opposed to ejido members only. Many of these holdings were in fact quite large in terms of the area they covered - up to several hundreds of hectares in some parts of the tropics. They were "small" only in the sense of their low levels of technology, production, and productivity.
The changes between the two phases of PRODERITH had a profound impact on the Rural Communication System.
The quantitative leap from Phase I to Phase II was large: in the first, some 5 000 families were directly involved, whereas in the second, there were to be 90 000. This increment alone would call for changes in approach between the two phases.
The idea of pilot projects that can be replicated on a larger scale is very attractive: this was the strategy of PRODERITH I with its intensive intervention areas. But replication is not easy to achieve in practice.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, pilot activities are always in the nature of a challenge, and those involved naturally want to prove the success of the experiment. For this reason, pilot areas always receive concentrated attention from the institutions. The best trained staff are assigned to them, and investment and inputs are punctually provided. During an expansion and replication, it is difficult to maintain that concentration, and there is generally a concomitant loss of quality in the intervention.
Another aspect is that small-scale and pilot interventions do not have a significant impact on the local economic, social and political scene. When they attempt to become large-scale, they need to interact with that scene and gain space within it. There may be resistance from entrenched interests, as well as practical difficulties with, for example, markets. It is one thing when fifty farmers in a pilot area are producing a new crop, say pineapples, but it is entirely different when the fifty farmers become several hundreds or thousands.
PRODERITH I provided direct services to its client families. In the expansion into PRODERITH II, practical considerations and the limits on government expenditure would mean working through various levels of service providers. This in effect would create a chain between the Programme and the farmers. It would also create a new management dimension that had not been present in the first phase.
Yet another factor was that in Phase I, the interventions had taken place in micro-watersheds, whereas the expansion would ideally take a whole watershed approach. However, Mexico has no administrative structure or development focus that takes the watershed as an entity. The town or city that usually lies on the river at the lower end of a watershed defacto determines most of what happens upstream, especially in economic terms.
All of these elements and the economic context for PRODERITH II forced some serious rethinking of the approach. In addition, the structural adjustment programmes under way in the country set an imperative: the control and management of infrastructures and services must be transferred to their users, particularly to farmers' associations.
In debating the future direction of their work, PRODERITH staff identified what they termed the "social base" as the springboard for development. During Phase I, the social base had been perceived as certain groups of rural people who were willing to enter into an institutional relationship with PRODERITH and obtain certain services and investment support through it. But PRODERITH II would need more than a "clientele". It would need a social base of groups of people with mechanisms and instruments for taking control of their own development affairs and managing them. They would also need to be capable of agreeing and articulating a common will for improving their living and working conditions. This common will could only emerge from an objective and shared vision of how their situation could be transformed through specific initiatives. The common will and shared vision would also need to include how the resulting benefits, whether economic or social, would be distributed.
For its part, PRODERITH II would need to make its proposals in response to the common will inside a community. Only in this way would PRODERITH's proposed inputs be seen by the community as relevant to its needs, as the instruments for achieving the changes it desired, and be ready to appropriate them accordingly.
The PRODERITH staff realized that it was easier to discuss these things than actually to achieve them in the communities. However, it was clear that the precept of Phase I, that the peasant should be the protagonist of his own development, needed to be taken much further under the second phase. This was especially true in the context of the new national policy of transferring hitherto centrally-held responsibilities and functions to the rural population.
Even if PRODERITH staff did have some ideas of the form and shape that the second phase should take, there were some crucial aspects that remained undefined. Before the second phase went into operation, there was a staff meeting at which top management, aware of the problems of replicating the first phase on a larger scale, asked the question, "What is a PRODERITH area under Phase II?" No one could offer a description, and neither did the discussion lead to one. This lack of a clear definition that was understood and accepted by all the staff certainly dispersed efforts under the second phase. While some elements of the first phase survived into the second, there were also many changes.
It was evident that in the above context, the Rural Communication System would also need to change fundamentally. It could not continue as under PRODERITH I, with its centralized nature, and meet the vastly expanded needs of the second phase.
There was a major shift in emphasis in the way PRODERITH funds were spent between the first and second phases. In the first, 25 percent was spent on technical assistance and other rural development inputs, while 75 percent went on infrastructure. In the second phase, only 5 percent was spent on technical assistance and related inputs, with 95 percent going to infrastructure. Credit had been a key input under PRODERITH I, but under the second phase, farmers were faced with the same problem as those elsewhere in the country: no credit was available.
This shift in emphasis critically affected the integrated rural development focus that had been the characteristic of the first phase. Furthermore, the decline in technical assistance was especially critical because it occurred just as the expansion into PRODERITH II was beginning.
There were many factors involved in the decline in technical assistance. Staff was one of them. It will be remembered that PRODERITH I had created its field units of well-trained multi-disciplinary teams of technicians. In the transition period between the two phases of PRODERITH - in the years 1984 to 1986 -some 60-70 percent of this staff was lost.
One of the reasons for this loss of staff was the hiatus in financing between the two phases, but there were some others that were mainly related to organizational considerations and bureaucratic rivalries. PRODERITH had been launched as a special programme, with considerable resources and independence of action, within SARH. Not surprisingly, it was seen by many other parts of the Secretariat as a centre of power. It was also paying its field staff somewhat better than the Government scales. PRODERITH therefore created envy. For this and other reasons, SARH decided to reduce its autonomy as a special programme and bring it into its normal operations. The main step in this process, taken towards the end of Phase 1, was to make the PRODERITH field staff responsible to the local state office of SARH. At the same time, their salaries were adjusted to the levels of the other SARH technicians.
The multi-disciplinary field units of PRODERITH disappeared under the new arrangements, and Centros de Apoyo al Desarrollo Rural Integrado - CADRIs -(Centres of Support for Rural Development) were created. The capacity of PRODERITH to deliver technical assistance suffered greatly. Firstly, there was the loss of so many of its trained staff; secondly there was a reduction of motivation and commitment to PRODERITH in the CADRIs; and thirdly, there was a dilution within SARH of the funds that previously had been used exclusively for technical assistance for PRODERITH.
Another important factor was a return, in many CADRIs, to old styles of extension work. Thus, much of the methodology of PRODERITH I was lost.
As explained earlier, from 1989 onwards the newly created and powerful ComisiGn Nacional del Agua - CNA - was the body in overall control of PRODERITH. Faced with this deterioration in technical assistance, the CNA stepped in and created another system to provide it. This was based on Unidades de Cooperacidn Tecnica - UCT - (Technical Cooperation Units), which were formed of private groups of technicians, mainly ex-SARH. They were contracted by PRODERITH at better levels of remuneration to provide technical assistance activities to farmers in its areas. The long-term aim was that the UCTs would be financed by farmers' associations or other institutions.
There was some improvement in the technical assistance services, but not as much as had been hoped. Finance continued to be a problem, and many operational plans for technical assistance could not be completed by the UCTs. In addition to the general economic situation, there were bureaucratic complications in actually delivering funds from PRODERITH to the UCTs.
PRODERITH I had achieved good coordination of the multi-disciplinary inputs required for rural development, and a concentration and sense of direction in its technical assistance work, but on a small-scale. The reorganisation of technical assistance services and the attempted expansion in difficult economic circumstances dissipated the technical assistance services to a point where they virtually disappeared in the last years of PRODERITH II. From 1993 onwards, the CNA was forced to reduce its budget for work by UCTs, and by 1995 the economic situation was so serious that the CNA did not even renew its contracts with UCTs.
Thus, there were many factors involved in the decline of technical assistance. Some measure of that decline is provided by the following figures: from 1978 to 1984, in the relatively small intervention areas of PRODERITH I, 30 Local Development Plans were drawn up, whereas only ten were drawn up in the much greater areas under PRODERITH II. Under PRODERITH I, 946 groups of producers were established, whereas PRODERITH II helped to create 16 civil associations and 173 organisations to take responsibility for the maintenance of infrastructure.
The new circumstances of PRODERITH II called for major changes in the Rural Communication System. The staff therefore began a long period of internal debate and discussion about their work. This culminated in a document produced in October 1987 entitled "Proposal for the PRODERITH II Rural Communication System - material for discussion".
A general consideration was that, although the system developed under PRODERITH I was democratic in nature, the way it was run was centralised. It was also centred on video as a medium. The new demands under PRODERITH II would call for a decentralised system, and the use of any media that might be appropriate in a given situation.
Another important aspect was that, in line with government policy, the Communication System would have to be planned so that it could be transferred to the farmers, in the same way as other services.
Many aspects of the Rural Communication System's work under Phase 1 would still be valid, even if they needed to be expanded or organized differently. For example, the role of communication in developing and stimulating a capacity for situation analysis at the community level, and the socialisation of the results through collective discussions to enhance participation, would continue to be important. So would communication for the dissemination and exchange of information required by the various social groups involved in PRODERITH in order to create consensus around its strategies and actions.
A particular area of work for the Communication System would be to support and strengthen organizations and associations of agricultural producers, whether in the ejido system or not. In the longer term, they would be expected to take over many of the services previously provided by the State. Only through a proper communication process leading to consensus would they be able to strengthen their capacity for action and management to the point where they could assume such a role.
The larger project area, and the greatly expanded number of people to be reached in PRODERITH II, would make it more difficult to achieve the level and intensity of technical assistance functions required. It was agreed that the ability of communication media and techniques to expand the reach of field technicians would play an important role, at the same time improving the quality of messages to farmers and rural communities.
During their discussions, the communication staff considered some of the social aspects of their work. Of particular interest was an FAO development communication case study about the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. This study emphasized that shared interests are the force that bring networks and formations into being, hold them together, and cause them to evolve.
The case study described how the Grameen Bank had set communication processes in train that helped the poorest-of-the-poor out of their state of social discontinuity and distrust into a new state of self-confidence and mutual trust. This was achieved through the Bank's staff networks and through group action in the communities. In effect, the people were helped to create a new social and economic environment for themselves. The communication processes were achieved though interpersonal channels and group dynamics, rather than through media.
The Grameen Bank experience led the PRODERITH communication staff to consider the information and communication relationships that build up between certain individuals or social groups, and through certain channels, when there are shared interests. PRODERITH could perhaps select and strengthen those communication relationships, thereby facilitating the transfer of appropriate knowledge, increasing the decision and management capacities of rural communities, and accelerating the process of adaptation and change.
Typically, there would be four levels in a communication network as it related to rural development - local, municipal, state, and federal. It would be necessary to identify the various channels in the network and the type of information that should and could be promoted along them, and by what types of media or communication process. The PRODERITH II communication strategy could be based on a network approach that would link small rural communities to each other through a communication process, and at the same time link them to producers' associations, research centres, CADRIs, the municipal and state governments, and to the central management of PRODERITH itself.
The communication staff also wanted to reduce the emphasis on the exclusive use of video and printed material, for they realized that other media might be more effective in certain aspects of strengthening and feeding networks. They therefore identified how interpersonal, group and mass media might fit into a typical network situation.
Decentralizing the Communication System would hinge on creating Regional Communication Units that would be in a position independently to carry out local communication planning and the production and dissemination of materials. The Central Unit would maintain a supporting role only, especially with regard to training of staff and advice on technology.
In order to transfer these Regional Communication Units to peasants, the plan was to work with the various levels of producer organisations, and in particular with Uniones de Ejidos. By involving them from the start, it should be possible to build their interest and capacity to the point where they could assume full and autonomous responsibility for managing the Regional Units, taking over the trained personnel and equipment from PRODERITH.
The proposed strategy also included creating or improving the communication capacity of various local and municipal organisations.
As we shall now see, there were differing levels of success in achieving the functions and objectives set for the Rural Communication System.