Activities at the local level should be directed towards generating improved and more sustainable livelihoods, as may be tracked through the evolution of the five kinds of assets: natural, physical, financial, human and social assets.
Of particular interest are those elements of the five categories of assets that are directly affected by the outputs of an SLM intervention:
• modified agricultural and pastoral practices (e.g. natural capital in the form of soil fertility and biodiversity, financial capital in the form of increased income, human capital in the form of skills and knowledge).
• investments in SLM (e.g. natural capital in the form of trees, physical capital in the form of anti-erosion or water harvesting structures, financial capital in the form of property values).
• investments for local enablement (e.g. physical capital in the form of enabling infrastructure such as roads and markets, financial capital in the form of property values and increased income, social and human capital in the form of more effective local institutions and community planning processes)
Implementation of an SLM project at field and community levels will generally involve a combination of the following actions to support on-the-ground SLM activities:
• Technical support and action-research: farmer-field schools, farmer-to-farmer exchanges and field visits to farmer-innovators
• Facilitation of local-level assessment and planning (at community or micro-catchment levels)
• Provision of inputs for works generating public benefits: food-for-work or cash payments, provision of tools and implements, contractual arrangements with community groups or individual farmers
• Advocacy and lobbying for community interests: support to the establishment of constructive linkages between community, sub-national and national authorities. Much work has been performed to identify best approaches to rural development and extension.
Some basic lessons learned:
• Significant time and attention has to be devoted to a process of participatory diagnostic and community - or micro-catchment - planning. Participation of all groups within the community (e.g. women, pastoralists, landless peasants) is needed to ensure that the specific activities proposed respond to locally-acknowledged needs (Oygard et al, 1999).
• Multiple and interrelated development objectives within rural communities must be explicitly recognized (e.g. food security, health, education, economic development). SLM, in and of itself, is not attractive to farmers.
• Participatory monitoring and evaluation contributes to local ownership, enhanced learning and further provides a “reality-check” against ambitious initiatives that are not cost-effective.
• Existing institutions representing to community (e.g. village institutions, farmer’s groups, elders’ councils, NGOs) should be involved in - and empowered through - the design and implementation of project activities.
• Field activities should start small and expand through careful phasing of inputs and support for capacity building, including civic education and information, advocacy, and skills for non-land-based or urban employment. Move on to broader aspects of natural resources management with time (Oygard et al, 1999).
• Top-down approaches to rural extension have been generally found to fail at generating sustainable changes in farming practices. This is essentially because: o pre-packaged extension messages are not necessarily relevant to local conditions; o farmers learn best in the field, where they constantly experiment; o farmers tend to distrust extension agents, who are not farmers themselves and are often perceived as disrespectful.