Flaws of participatory appraisal and planning methods: an experience from Nepal.

The Soil Conservation and Watershed Management Component (SCWMC) of the Denmark/Nepal Natural Resource Management Sector Assistance Programme (NAMRSAP) was implemented from 1998 to 2004 with the aim of helping soil conservation offices to launch a participatory watershed management process in selected locations of Nepal’s Middle Hills. The programme covered 20 districts, 24 sub-watersheds and 700 communities, representing about 30 000 households.

SCWMC was based on building grassroots organizational and financial capacity in integrated watershed management. Groups of participants were established, initially at the ward and micro-catchment levels, but the programme soon realized that these groups were not socially homogeneous enough to function as appropriate local development units. SCWMC therefore shifted to hamlet-level groups, called community development groups (CDGs).

Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and vision planning methods were used to establish a participatory planning process at the CDG level. Each CDG was expected to set a development vision compatible with watershed management principles, such as “becoming a well-protected and healthy village”. This vision was then to be realized through planning for specific objectives, such as “reclaiming all local degraded lands and applying soil conservation treatments to local gullies and landslides”, or “obtaining access to safe drinking-water and a latrine”.

Alongside the vision-based planning component, SCWMC also introduced the service, economy, environment and democracy (SEED) concept, which was to prioritize the activities financed by the programme. Ideally, communities were to prioritize activities that could provide services, improve production, protect the environment and promote democratic norms.

Programme budgets were planned in line with communities’ planned activities, and CDGs were free to propose relatively large projects. CDGs’ skills to approach other donors for funding were also developed. Compulsory group saving schemes were established to strengthen the groups’ ownership of programmes.

Through this bottom-up planning process, CDGs drove the implementation of SCWMCs, but insufficient technical backstopping from field staff, and community members’ lack of expertise led many CDGs to stretch their budgets by compromising on quality. CDGs were also often more interested in fulfilling the service component of SEED than in the environment, economic and democracy aspects; they pressured field staff to allow them to redirect resources from soil conservation and watershed management to building schools, household water supply schemes, irrigation canals and other infrastructure, which was beyond the core natural resource management scope of the programme. In the long term this threatened the relevance and sustainability of SCWMC efforts to promote sound soil conservation and watershed management practices at the grassroots of rural society.

Adapted from K.M. Shapit. 2005. Decentralized watershed management: experiences from the Soil Conservation and Watershed Component, Nepal. In M. Achouri, L. Tennyson, K. Upadhyay and R. White, eds. Preparing for the next generation of watershed management programmes and projects. Proceedings of the Asian Workshop, Kathmandu, 11 to 13 September 2003. Watershed Management and Sustainable Mountain Development Working Paper No. 5. Rome, FAO, FORC Department.

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last updated:  Tuesday, March 27, 2007