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People-centered investment in agriculture and rural development

FAO social analysis publication aims to build capacity to reach poorest

Photo: ©FAO/Ado Youssouf
A woman in Niger carrying dried millet.

2 April 2012, Rome - Increasing agricultural production is one of the keys to fighting hunger and poverty. But investments in agriculture and rural development may fall short of their goals if they fail to take into account social circumstances that affect livelihoods and food security.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released a new publication  designed to boost the effectiveness of such investments, by emphasizing the importance of  project design that captures the full social picture when striving for social inclusiveness and gender equity.

The publication: Social analysis for agriculture and rural investment projects, includes three user guides aimed to support the design of pro-poor programmes and policies in effectively addressing  social diversity in their development objectives, such as gender, ethnicity, age and disability, and factors which may contribute to impoverishment, vulnerability, exclusion and powerlessness.

Although many manuals and user guides on social analysis already exist, most neglect its application to agriculture and rural investment. Some 75 percent of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas, and their incomes are directly or indirectly linked to agriculture

"Hunger, malnutrition and poverty are typically tied to the lack of access to productive resources, income opportunities, education and effective social safety nets. The social analysis guides are a toolkit for understanding the multiple factors that affect rural people's livelihoods and for identifying pathways out of poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity," said Ida Christensen, a rural sociologist with FAO's Investment Centre Division.

"In order to formulate effective policies and programmes, we need to ask questions like: How is poverty defined by people in a given community or household? How do poverty and vulnerability affect people differently in urban/rural areas, or in female-headed versus male-headed households? How does a person's gender or age affect his or her workload and ability to access and control livelihoods resources? How do these factors influence a person's exposure to information and authority to voice opinions? How do illness and disability impact a family's resilience to shocks?" Christensen explained.

The first guide, the Manager's guide, is targeted to project managers and team leaders, and aims to increase their awareness of social analysis and skills in applying them to agriculture and rural development.

Two other guides target those who are responsible for conducting social analysis: the Practitioner's guide provides the conceptual framework for carrying out social analysis and designing project activities based on the findings. It takes a closer look at how to use the sustainable livelihoods framework to understand the dynamics of rural poverty and livelihoods; what entry points to use for conducting social analysis; what types of inputs may be made to project design; and how to track social aspects during project implementation and assess social impact.

The Field guide provides checklists and practical information on how to conduct fieldwork. It includes guidance on how to integrate social analysis into missions; how to do data collection at the national, regional and district levels; how to collect information in community-based meetings, focus group discussions and individual household interviews; and what field tools are most suitable for social analysis for investment projects.