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Posted May 1997

Participatory action research and people's participation:
Introduction and case studies

by Gerrit Huizer

7. Zambia: People's participation and large-scale cooperatives

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NOT ONLY IN ASIA, but also in some African countries, PPP has had some success in the formation of many groups and some inter-group associations. Such associations or federations of groups can be considered a kind of pre-cooperative, achieving economies of scale in marketing, hiring of transport or purchase of inputs. It is therefore not accidental that in Zambia the Zambian Cooperative Federation, a large-scale nation-wide organization of agricultural cooperatives, has shown interest in applying the PPP approach in extending its membership and include the poor sectors. This proved to be a challenge.

It has been pointed out frequently that cooperatives which do not have a more or less homogeneous or egalitarian basis generally tend to benefit the stronger and better-off members, often a minority. This is shown by ample evidence given in an evaluation of 40 cooperatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia, carried out in the early seventies by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development [35]. Such non-homogeneous cooperatives fail to really benefit the poor majority: "A general conclusion of the study is that cooperatives introduced into rural communities characterized by significant inequalities of wealth, power and status are not likely to be very effective in bringing about fundamental social change in favour of the more disadvantaged groups" [36].

In the official discussion of the UNRISD reports additional evidence was brought in:

"An expert from the United States Agency for International Development said that the largely negative findings in the UNRISD studies regarding the role of rural cooperatives in development were not unique. An assessment of cooperatives in Latin America made under aid auspices had reached quite similar conclusions. It too found that most cooperatives were not viable and largely reproduced the pre-existing social stratification. Leaders who emerged from the peasant ranks were rare and soon became identified with urban interests. The memberships of many of the cooperatives were apathetic" [37].
To understand this problem it is important to take the specific conditions of Third World countries and the growing contradiction in the rural areas, into account. For example the fact that many cooperatives in the Third World, though non-egalitarian, are in many cases a correction to much more extreme inequalities of wealth which existed before cooperatives were created, so that these latter meant a relative improvement for some people. New contradictions, however, too easily emerged not necessarily due to the cooperative principles as such, but rather to the dynamics of their implementation in an overall environment which is not favourable, or - in fact - often quite unfavourable to the cooperative principles and practice.

It remains an often observed reality that due to the dynamics of cooperative development in strongly competitive societies many leaders of popular organizations are coopted into the dominating elites and loose their original motivation gradually. As has been observed in the case studies by UNRISD:

"During the formative years of the cooperatives these men gave priority to community interests, sacrificing their time, energy and personal resources. They were honest and dedicated to the collective cause. As time passed, however, their original altruism diminished and they became more concerned with personal interests and private advancement under the influence of the socio-economic milieu" [38].
Another reason for the failure of many cooperatives to benefit the majority of their members was due to the fact - noted by protagonists of the cooperative movement - that most cooperatives in Third World countries are not really cooperatives but pseudo-cooperatives, as they are imposed from above by official development agencies or "charity institutions" [39]. Efforts to "de-officialize" cooperatives which have been formed with strong governmental backing and transform these into more authentic cooperatives have generally not been successful [40]. It has been suggested that the formation of special cooperatives for the poor in addition to those of the better-off, bringing both kinds together under a kind of "umbrella" cooperative, could be a solution to the dilemma of cooperative development benefiting the poor [41].

Particularly in some African countries where contradictions between rich and poor farmers are less extreme than in other continents, this approach may be viable. One example of an umbrella organization where such an effort to bridge the gap is presently being tried out, with help from SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency) as a donor, is the Zambian Cooperative Federation (ZCF). In addition to a great deal of support for its regular cooperative efforts, mainly benefiting the better-off farmers, ZCF is receiving a special Fund for the Disadvantaged from SIDA which has to be dedicated to the really poor, particularly women. ZCF claims a membership of 100.000 farming families (of the total of 600.000 rural families), of which only 30.000 are actually benefiting, mainly the commercial and emergent farmers. ZCF, strongly related to the United National Independence Party (UNIP) has however also a stake in mobilizing poor Zambians for development.

In order to initiate activities particularly among women, which are complementary to the regular cooperative programme, the "people's participation" approach as sponsored by FAO-PPP and other institutions, is considered useful. This approach implies the formation, with help of group promoters, of small homogeneous groups of poor who will jointly undertake modest income-raising activities and later federate into a larger interest group or inter-group associations.

Before giving some observations on the people's participation approach for a typical cooperative organization as ZCF some general characteristics of the majority of the poor Zambian peasants subsistence or below-subsistence farmers, should be highlighted.

Most of those who are poor and disadvantaged are the countless rural families which live relatively self-reliantly as subsistence farmers, or below that level. Goran Hyden qualifies their age-old way of life, the" peasant mode of production", as a main stumbling block for dynamic development, either capitalist or socialist [42]. In fact many aspects of this traditional way of life and its "economy of affection" are also present in modern type organizations, including ZCF, as observations during field trips clearly indicated. This makes planning from below as well as efficiency at the top not easily to achieve. My own observations as well as those of others [43] indicate that in both these levels women, basically responsible for household survival, are relatively better qualified. The men at the higher levels, however, appear not always prepared to appreciate this potential. Some of the farmers themselves, like those in Matambazi (see below), however, appeared less fearful to give the poor women a real chance, than some of the officials. This also became obvious during a workshop but particularly during field visits.

The problematic of the majority of subsistence farmers, men and particularly women, side by side with a minority of commercial and emergent farmers is complicated particularly if one tries "the view from below". In this respect Zambia seems to confirm the points made by Goran Hyden when he indicates that African technicians and bureaucrats, of capitalist as well as socialist orientation, generally are inclined to use strategies of development, which are not necessarily identical to the ways in which subsistence farmers view their own interests. This discrepancy was noted as a main reason why so many peasants, and particularly peasant women (although Hyden appears to ignore these) remain -and probably prefer to remain- outside strong involvement in the market economy and official projects. To the view of the disadvantaged the development agents do not always offer solutions but are often rather part of the problem they have to face [44].

Though it was feasible to discuss such issues frankly with some SIDA advisors to the ZCF, among the directors and managers of the Federation there appeared to be some hesitation to come to grips with them. This is understandable since these are closely related to high-level policy-making. At the local level, on the other hand, where cooperative officials are more directly confronted with discrepancies and potential problems, there was a clear awareness and willingness to come to grips with such items in a participatory manner.

The Matambazi Cooperative Society in Sinda, Eastern Province shows an interesting positive experience of women's participation in a large cooperative enterprise, and a willingness to arrange for a more systematic inclusion of poor members. This cooperative has over 800 members, 450 of which are receiving loans of which the back payment is about 80%. There are still many non-members however, in this relatively densely populated area. The Cooperative has a paid manager, a pick-up truck bought of its own funds and a 5-year plan for future activities. One gets the impression that in this area certain (class) contradictions between better-off and poor are prevailing and possibly growing, which enhances the need for the typical people's participation approach. As regards the position of women, the fact that the Cooperative Society's membership includes 218 female members (of whom 190 active) may indicate that the position of women in the local Nyanja culture is comparatively better than in other local cultures in Zambia. (There are e.g. areas where 1 man living off 5 women is not exceptional).

The board members, guided by the Ward Chairman, the local party (UNIP) leader, expressed the need to particularly work among the unmarried poor female household heads of which there were quite a few in the area and who are in a disadvantaged position. The need to recruit female group promoters for such a project appeared the best guarantee for reaching the female peasants. Experiences already obtained in PPP indicated that this is possible, if properly guided (by participatory MOE). Since women appear to be careful with resources they may prove to be as creditworthy, or more so, as their male colleagues, as was especially demonstrated in PPP projects in S.E. Asia, but now also in Zambia itself.

Since 1983 a PPP project had been developed in Western Province in Zambia, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development (MAWD), particularly its Agricultural Extension Staff. The provincial extension staff of the MAWD had determined the areas to be operated in on the base of availability of well qualified extension staff, considered fit to carry out the promotion of PPP. Such staff happened to be available in Kalabo and Kaoma districts. Kalabo is about 4 hours by boat, across the Zambesi and its floodplain from Mongu, the provincial capital. Kaoma is 2 hours drive from Mongu on the road to Lusaka. Both areas were considered in agreement with PPP criteria and sufficiently different from each other to guarantee a broad variety of projects.

With an overall coordinator in Mongu the PPP projects were locally initiated and coordinated from the Office of the MAWD in Kalabo and Kaoma, where two district home economics officers became the local coordinators. These four persons, in consultation with local level agricultural extension workers, selected the villages where projects were to be started, depending on the availability of suitable group promoters at that level. Other criteria for village selection were accessibility throughout all seasons and variety of agricultural activities. Local chiefs and representatives of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) were also consulted. In one of these areas an additional input came from a Dutch volunteer working at grassroots level, in coordination with the MAWD districts office.

Since the four MAWD village level home economics agents (commodity demonstrators) were already busy with a great variety of activities, they were considered not to be the most apt to become themselves group promoters of PPP. Such promoters were recruited from among experienced women living in specific villages where because of their availability activities were to be carried out. Because of the wide spread of primary and secondary schools in Zambia, it was possible to find almost everywhere some women who had at least a degree of secondary education (3-5 grade).

It was considered also essential that the group promoters in addition to their local language (70 different languages in Zambia) know sufficient English to be able to attend the workshops and communicate with personnel from other areas. These group promoters were not as qualified as those who work in the SFDP projects in S.E. Asia, but in Zambia those who have higher qualifications can get better government or similar posts and appear little inclined to live for a long time in villages.

During various field visits it became obvious that agricultural extension staff at all levels had at some stage been involved in the identification of group promoters, women with a certain educational level and human skills as noted above. The agricultural extension and home economics staff in the areas selected proved to be knowledgeable (as noted above, availability of such committed type of MAWD staff was a main area selection criterion). It was generally considered essential that to work in a village be started after consultation and with the agreement of the (traditional) village headman. In case women (group promoters as well as members) were married, the husbands also had to be consulted.

The group promoters I met generally proved to be able and enthusiastic women who, in spite of initially lacking any funds, credits or means (bicycles), had immediately started to form a few small groups of women. These women's groups in most places had initiated small income-raising activities on their own (generally basket-weaving) to earn some money as a beginning of group-saving for buying seeds for common or individual vegetable gardens.

It was interesting to see what names in their Lozi language the women gave to their groups once they were formed, e.g. Unity is Strength, Together we come forward, Still behind, etc. When asked about it women expressed the need for credit, small amounts, for fertilizers and seeds. Also simple processing equipment. The chances that groups would get some land from the traditional village head for income raising activities were considered reasonable. While some groups expressed a willingness to undertake collective projects, others - partly as a result of former bad experiences - preferred individual, or subgroup projects (2 or 3 members together) as part of a group plan, e.g. vegetables, groundnuts. Some groups agreed to levy a kind of entrance fee, others came together to raise money through basket-weaving or dress-making.

It was emphasized by all concerned that regular supervision particularly by the district coordinators (who received a motor bicycle to that effect) and other local agricultural extension personnel was helpful. There was also close coordination with the local home economics commodity demonstrators (who only stay for 1 year in a village, before being selected for further training). Regular in-service training has been given by the overall coordinator particularly through training workshops at the Farm Institute in Namushakende, near Mongu.

During the various brief training workshops of group promoters use was made of presenting and discussing concrete cases; role-playing, based on a play written by the coordinator about group dynamics and other problem areas of group formation (dividing group income, election of functionaries, role of village headman, decisionmaking, man-woman controversies, budgeting, cost/benefit analysis). Also how to introduce oneself as a group promoter and how to do an initial survey were taught through role-playing. All group promoters, the district coordinators and some of the local commodity demonstrators (grassroots home-economics staff) have followed such workshops which were regularly organized.

For MOE purposes record books had been supplied to all group promoters and coordinators and were being used. As regards use of baseline and household surveys in the selection of group members a problem encountered was the great lack of statistics available in the rural areas. Reason for this was the difficulty in assessing population in communities where so many (particularly men) are often on the move as migrant worker. Land tenure was almost impossible to assess since land is not owned privately but given out by traditional chiefs to those who need. There is a great deal of moving (partly because of shifting cultivation), settlement and resettlement. Marketable surpluses are non-existent or so small that hardly any quantifying of income is possible. In the course of the years, however, interesting data have been collected while the groups progressed. There was also the problem that people are known for answering questions according to what they think could be the purpose (good or bad in their eyes) of the enquiry.

Except for the group promoters who belong to the slightly better-off villagers, the women in the groups appeared to belong to the poorest. This was particularly so for the unmarried women (with children) who apparently often constituted half or more of the group members. Since many rural men between 16-40 years in practically all areas of Zambia have migrated to the cities to work in the mines or in similar activities, there is a relatively large number of female-headed households. In some cases efforts to organize women in clubs for home economics purposes had been taking place before, but these clubs were often inactive, due to failures of projects undertaken such as vegetable gardens.

Conditions for success and guidance by some kind of group promoter had not been optimal in such cases, from which the women had learnt. Some group promoters have formerly had bad experiences in such groups. It was envisaged that when the women in the groups have formed a small savings fund from the income of basket-weaving and similar activities, they would start modest agricultural, horticultural, processing or similar activities. Some minor credits could then be assigned to them based on their undoubtedly prudent initial individual proposals which could be brought together in a modest group plan with help from the group promoters and local coordinators.

The relative success of PPP in Western Province (97 groups involving over 1,000 members, mainly women) may be related to the prevailing Lozi (Barotse) culture in that area where traditions of organized action exist (the traditional structure of the Barotse Kingdom is still intact) which may be stronger than among other ethnic groups in Zambia. How the various traditional cultures in Zambia and possible rivalries between those, affects the potential for people's participation is difficult to assess. It becomes clear from this case study that in order to see to what extent cooperatives for the poor or similar people's participation projects can function more or less successfully, the local culture has to be taken into account, and this can mostly be done from existing and available sociological or anthropological literature [45].

The PPP effort clearly shows that not only can the poor and specially women become organized in small groups but that inter-group associations (3 in 1988) can be fruitfully started and lay a foundation for more large-scale cooperative interest articulation.


35. For a summary of this evaluation and a debate of its results see UNRISD, "Rural Cooperatives as Agents of Change: A Research Report and a Debate", Report No. 74.3, Geneva, 1975.

36. Id., p. 7.

37. Id., p. 34.

38. Id., p. 75-76.

39. Koenraad Verhagen, "Cooperatives and Rural Poverty - Eight Questions Answered", Plunkett Development Series, no. 1, Oxford, 1980, p. 1.

40. Id., p. 3.

41. Id., p. 18.

42. Goran Hyden, "Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: Underdevelopment and an Uncaptured Peasantry", London, Heinemann, 1980, 18 ff.

43. See e.g. Lionel Cliffe, "Labour migration and peasant differentiation: Zambia's experiences", in Ben Turok, ed., "Development in Zambia", London, Zed Press, 1977.

44. G. Hyden, op. cit., p. 6.

45. See e.g. W. van Binsbergen, "The Unit of Study and the Interpretation of Ethnicity", Journal of Southern African Studies, October 1981; there exists an extensive literature about the Lozi (Barotse land), particularly from the hand of Max Gluckman.

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