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Posted June 1997

Participation and grass-roots organizations in integrated range and livestock development, Pakistan: Part 1

by Angelo Bonfiglioli
FAO/UNDP Integrated Range and Livestock Development Project (IRLDP)
Balochistan, Pakistan



1. Participation

2. Organization of participation 3. Participative organizations in action

Essential bibliographic references


As part of the overall attempt to draw lessons from a pilot project, an earlier working paper had clarified socio-economic concepts, presented methodologies and tools, and identified relevant fields of research in the FAO/UNDP Integrated Range and Livestock Development Project (IRLDP) in Balochistan, Pakistan.

The present paper discusses the principal aspects of participation and organization of participation, attempting to show how the findings of the research component have been translated into action through adoption of a development approach based on the participation of local communities. The first Part analyses some of the main issues arising from the focus on participation, pointing to constraints and potentials in the social, political and cultural context of Highland Balochistan. The second Part outlines steps taken to foster participation through the establishment of appropriate institutional framework at grass-roots level. The third and final Part presents the major socio-economic initiatives in the areas covered by the IRLDP, outlining the main features (principles, methodologies, etc.) of these initiatives and focussing on the role of the Socio-economic unit (SEU). This paper is not intended as an evaluation of the activities of the IRLDP as a whole, nor as a manual on 'participation and organization'. It simply aims to share some results of a two-year experience in community development in Highland Balochistan, in the belief that these may be useful for other field workers operating under similar conditions. It should be stressed that this paper reflects only the ideas and opinion of its author and not necessarily those of other staff of the project nor of the FAO/UNDP program in Balochistan.



Discussions about participation are never easy, mainly because there are so many, contradictory and ambivalent notions of the concept and the practices involved. In a very general way, participation may be defined here as a complex social, technical and institutional process through which communities may become more fully involved in their own development, more particularly taking an active part in the design, implementation and evaluation of specific development initiatives.

This Part analyses and discusses the major features of the 'participative development approach' adopted by the IRLDP and the general context in which it has been applied. Rather than evaluating the approach per se, this Part seeks to outline the main lessons which can be drawn from the IRLDP experience and, more particularly, from the work of the Socioeconomic unit (SEU).

Constraints to participation

Although the initial IRLDP project document did not mention people's participation, the project adopted soon after the start what is usually called a 'participatory approach' to its program activities. In its attempt to achieve such an approach, project personnel realized the far-reaching consequences of this choice and the necessary adjustments needed to fit it into the existing social, cultural and institutional conditions of Balochistan.

Several constraints had to be overcome: on the one hand, those arising from the mentality prevailing among planners and development agents, and, on the other hand, those stemming from the cultural values and social patterns of the populations of the pilot areas.

The 'technocratic mentality'
Some of the problems encountered by the IRLDP arose from what could be called the 'technocratic mentality' of planners, decision-makers and development agents who, while advocating some forms of people's involvement in the development process, continue to think and act according to a perspective that posits people as 'passive targets' and not as 'active participants'. This technocratic mentality is firmly based on a number of attitudes and certainties. The following beliefs were encountered as the project unfolded in Balochistan:

In short: according to the technocratic mentality, participation seems simply to designate the process through which project officials have to convince people to adopt what, from a technical point of view, has been identified as good for them, as well as implement what is considered to correspond to the political and economic objectives of the country or province as a whole. As Hall (1988:39) points out, technical advisers remain largely insensitive to the wider social repercussions of their work, and tend 'to place technical achievements expressed in quantifiable terms well above the less easily manipulated and statistically definable social parameters of development'.

Local socio-cultural values and economic patterns
Other problems encountered by the IRLDP stemmed from specific social and cultural values of the populations in the pilot areas. These stress egalitarianism and the political autonomy of individual households, male honour, and women's seclusion, all of which have consequences for a participatory approach:

The experience of the IRLDP is that while these attitudes and behaviour patterns should not be considered as obstacles to a participative form of development, they may significantly slow down the process of involving all community members and categories of people in the development effort, especially at the initial stages.

Ambiguities in action

As a combined result of conditions described above, therefore, when the IRLDP started its activities in Balochistan, mentalities did not seem ready to accept the dimensions and the outcome of a fully participatory approach. This was realized quite soon by project staff, particularly by the SEU which was in charge of implementing the approach and coordinating activities in the field. Several examples may illustrate the kind of ambiguities and tensions encountered by the project:

Was there an alternative to participation?

Given such conditions, a crucial question is: was there an alternative to participatory development? if so, should the IRLDP have chosen one of these alternatives? Theoretically, four possibilities may have been considered by the project (Following, for instance, Midgley quoted in Hall, 1988:93.): Considering that the other options were not conducive to a sustainable form of development, the project chose to adopted step-by-step participatory approach. Such approach was based on the pragmatic acceptance of participation as a process, not as an ideal.

Towards step-by-step participation

It was clear that, in the conditions prevailing in Balochistan, participation could not be considered as a starting point, but only as a medium- or long-term objective. As Uphoff (1985:378) points out, 'participating capacity cannot be built like a road or a dam; it must be developed'. This is true not only for local communities, but for project staff as well.

In this pragmatic approach, the main elements upon which participation is based were still to be considered valid. The experience of other institutions operating in Balochistan (especially the Balochistan Rural Support Programme, BRSP) also proved that, in spite of failures and limitations, some forms of popular participation were possible. The failure of numerous top-down development initiatives in the past, especially those focussing on service delivery and on the management of local resources, had contributed to the widespread interest in the participatory approach as an alternative.

The political context also seemed favourable, at least on paper. Official documents (such as the 7th Five Year Plan, 1988-1993, and the plan of the 'National Commission on Agriculture, 1988) reinforced this option, stressing the necessity of directly involving local populations in the development process, explicitly recommending the establishment of 'Community-based Management Systems'. Another recent document (the 'Concept Eighth Five Year Plan 1993-1998', of the Planning and Development Department, 1995) also emphasises the importance of involving 'owners of private lands in planning and decision making through a chain of forestry committees', stressing the necessity of adopting 'a participatory approach' and securing 'participation and cooperation of landowners, livestock owners, graziers and villagers in conservation and management of watersheds'.

Elements of the participatory approach
In its pragmatic, step-by-step approach the SEU has attempted to:

It was believed that the process was worth starting and that it could, in a medium- or long-term perspective, make a substantial contribution to an authentic participatory development in the upland Balochistan.

Realistic expectations
As Uphoff points out (1985:376), overly enthusiastic and uncritical advocates of participation have impeded its extension as much as have its adversaries. The pragmatic approach adopted by the SEU was based on a realistic assessment of the constraints imposed both by the prevailing technocratic mentality and by characteristic social values and patterns of behaviours.

In this way, it also steered clear of an alternative approach which sees participation only in the limits of the achievement of material objectives, and not as a comprehensive process of social change.

A 'learning' process
If local participation were to be considered as an essential element of development, the project had to adopt a 'learning process' in which changes may be incorporated into the initial plan and put into practice. It was clear, for instance, that:

Beyond simplistic oppositions
The project also tried to avoid any simplistic opposition between 'bottom-up' and 'top-down' approaches, and to see these pseudo-options from a wider perspective. Development 'from below' is not necessarily a panacea and may easily be the object of internal manipulation by local leaders and influential people. Worldwide experiences clearly reveal that the exclusive use of 'participatory rural appraisal' methods often reaches an 'impasse', with the risk of raising too many expectations (and frustrations) at the local level and embarrassment at the level of project staff enable to fulfil these expectations.

In the light of its pragmatic approach, the critical issue for the project appeared to be not 'from where' the initiative comes, but 'whether' it actually promotes locally felt needs, uses available technology, fosters collective entrepreneurship and enhances sustainable solutions.

In participation, project staff and members of the community are equal and both have to be active. As we will see in the following Part of this report, some initiatives came 'from the community', others 'from the project staff'. What matters is that they have taken place in the context of a new partnership between development agents and local populations.


In the IRLDP, the organization of people has been chosen as the main strategy to achieve the general objective of increasing the participation of the community in the process of social and economic change.

The project was thus supposed to provide a participatory organizational structure at the local level capable of managing interventions designed to raise the productivity of agriculture and livestock and to achieve increased welfare. The next Part will discuss the main issues related to this organization.

  • To Part 2: Organization of participation

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