Posted November 1997
Participation in practice
Lessons from the FAO People's Participation Programme
The limits of "conventional" projectsHow do some conventional projects discriminate against the poor? A classic example comes from Nigeria, where a large scale agricultural development project channeled assistance to "progressive" farmers and chose to work through the existing socio-economic structure, assuming that this would win local cooperation. Result: subsidized credit to buy tractors and pay for labour and fertilizer helped to create a small class of "overnight farmers", mainly wealthy city dwellers. Most inputs went to richer landowners, while subsidized fertilizer encouraged farmers to abandon traditional manuring practices. And none of this led to production increases: per hectare yields of staple crops was the same for project participants and non-participants.
The basic fault in the conventional approach is that the rural poor are
rarely consulted in development planning and usually have no active role
in development activities. This is because the vast majority of the poor
have no organizational structure to represent their interests. Isolated,
undereducated and often dependent on rural elites, they lack the means to
win greater access to resources and markets, and to prevent the imposition
of unworkable programmes or technologies. The lesson is clear: unless the
rural poor are given the means to participate fully in development, they
will continue to be excluded from its benefits. This realization is provoking
new interest in an alternative rural development strategy, that of people's
participation through organizations controlled and financed by the poor.
The WCARRD concept of rural development
People's participation in rural development is by no means a new concept.
It was formulated in the mid-1970s, amid growing awareness that development
efforts were having little impact on poverty. At the World Conference on
Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), held in Rome in 1979, the
international community identified the reason for this failure - the lack
of active participation of the poor in programmes designed, supposedly,
to assist them.
WCARRD declared that participation by rural people in the institutions that
govern their lives is a basic human right. If rural development was to realize
its potential, the Conference said, disadvantaged rural people had to be
organized and actively involved in designing policies and programmes and
in controlling social and economic institutions. WCARRD saw a close link
between participation and voluntary, autonomous and democratic organizations
representing the poor. It called on development agencies to work in close
cooperation with organizations of intended beneficiaries, and proposed that
assistance be channeled through small farmer and peasant groups.
Participation in practice
Since WCARRD, developing countries have suffered economic set-backs unforeseen
in 1979. With their economic survival at stake, many countries have been
forced to cut back on rural development, giving priority to growth ahead
of WCARRD's concern for participation and equity. During this same period,
however, great progress has been made in the elaboration of participatory
principles and methodologies. Spurred by WCARRD, the Food and Agricultural
Organization launched the People's Participation Programme, or PPP, in 1980.
Since then, PPP has implemented pilot projects throughout the developing
world in an attempt to test and develop an operational method of people's
participation for incorporation in larger rural development schemes.
The experience of PPP has demonstrated that true participation is possible only when the rural poor are able to pool their efforts and resources in pursuit of objectives they set for themselves. The most efficient means for achieving this objective, FAO has found, are small, democratic and informal groups composed of eight to 15 like-minded farmers. For governments and development agencies, people's participation through small groups offers distinct advantages:
The pivotal role of people's participation in development is now re-emerging in economic and social development thinking. One striking example of this trend comes from the World Bank. In its proposed strategy for sustainable development in Africa, the Bank calls for a "people-centred" approach that will improve the poor's access to productive assets, allow them to participate in designing and implementing development programmes, and foster their involvement in institutions from village to national level. UNICEF has proposed similar measures in its strategy for structural adjustment "with a human face", stressing people's participation in the formulation of development policy, and efforts to make full use of local potential. FAO believes that the participatory approach described in the following pages will be an essential part of any strategy to meet the challenges ahead.
Experience in AsiaFAO involvement with small farmer organizations in Asia provided much of the conceptual framework and field experience for the development of PPP. In the 1970s, FAO studies found that informal groups, consisting of 8-15 members from similar socio-economic backgrounds, were better vehicles for participation in decision-making and collective learning than heterogeneous, large scale and more formal organizations. This served as a stimulus for the FAO Small Farmers Development Programme (SFDP), which organized thousands of participatory groups in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Nepal, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The first PPP project was launched in Sierra Leone in 1982. Later,
other projects were implemented in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Nicaragua,
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Thailand, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In all, more than 13,000 people have actively participated in PPP; including
their household dependents, beneficiaries totaled more than 80,000 people.
A review of PPP revealed many similarities, but also marked differences,
in implementation of the principal elements of the participatory approach.
These elements are:
Planners can make a fairly accurate delineation of impoverished areas through discussions with rural administrators and a rapid analysis of existing data sources, including population censuses, household surveys and production statistics for different geographic areas.
How PPP areas were chosenPlanners used a range of criteria in selecting PPP project areas and villages. In Thailand, project areas were identified after a review of statistical data on relative poverty. Once the project began, group promoters collected detailed information through a community level survey, followed by a household survey to identify poor families and their needs.In Zambia, a PPP project was sited in one of the country's poorest regions. Provincial authorities chose two districts as project areas mainly because well-qualified staff were available locally. Project villages were selected in consultation with local leaders and agricultural extensionists. In Kenya, the implementing agency selected villages where farmers' groups were already operating.
The next step is to select village clusters - i.e. a group of adjacent villages
with cultural, economic or physical links - where project activities will
begin. To identify these clusters, project planners should conduct exploratory
socio-economic surveys, preferably in cooperation with group promoters.
Villages selected should have potential for development and a low degree
of social stratification.
Selecting project participants
In most developing countries, the rural population can be divided into three
broad socio-economic categories: the rich, who usually control most of the
means of production (chiefly land) and have greatest access to development
services; the middle class, with secure and sufficient access to income
and assets; and the disadvantaged or poor, who live at or below subsistence
The rural poor depend for their livelihoods on full- or part-time employment in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, handicrafts and related occupations. They include small and marginal landowner-farmers, tenants, sharecroppers, landless labourers and small fishermen, as well as forestry workers, rural artisans, nomadic pastoralists and refugees.
Problems in selecting participantsExperience with PPP highlights constraints and shortcomings in the application of criteria for the selection of project participants. In Kenya, the lack of sufficient and well-defined guidelines led to the formation of groups that included well-off farmers as well as poor subsistence farmers for whom the project was intended. Other problems stem from difficulties in defining adequate criteria for identifying the poor. In Sierra Leone, for instance, many "households" were multi-family units of more than than 25 people. Assessing the division of income from land worked by one member of these extended families proved almost impossible. In Zambia, land tenure was nearly impossible to assess: land is not owned privately but allocated temporarily by traditional chiefs to those in need.
To identify potential participants, project staff should gather existing information on the rural population in the selected project action area, including data on population, land tenure, economic activities and income distribution. From this information, the staff can assess directly the numbers, proportion and main characteristics of the poor and non-poor.
For a more accurate assessment, it may be necessary to develop poverty criteria specific to the area. Possible criteria include level of access to productive resources, ethnic and caste characteristics, level of skills available in the family, on- and off-farm family income, the extent of family indebtedness, housing conditions, nutrition status, level of education and family health, and extent of participation in rural people's organizations and in local decision-making.
Typically, project participants will be people whose main source of income is agriculture, fishing or related activities, whose principal source of labour is their family, and whose income is below the average in the area concerned. They will have little or no access to inputs, credit, markets, training, extension and other services.
While a participatory project seeks to benefit all categories of the rural
poor, it need not necessarily start with the poorest. In fact, some projects
deliberately seek to involve first the marginally poor small farmers rather
than the very poor or destitutes. Experience has shown that small farmers
are often keener to create organizations because they can afford to risk
some of their assets in group activities. The very poor have fewer assets
and more debts, and are more dependent on their employers. For this group,
risk-taking can pose a threat to their very survival. Involvement of poorer
people may be achieved only in later phases.
Identifying participants' needs
As the participatory project will form groups of the poor to help them satisfy
their priority needs, these needs must be clearly identified. The poor's
needs, which are directly related to group and family-level poverty, may
have physiological, psychological, economic or socio-cultural dimensions.
Moreover, among the poor, these needs have rankings of importance that may
not be perceived by untrained observors.
To make a preliminary assessment of the rural poor's needs and aspirations, staff should consult with the intended participants. For this reason, an applied sociologist or anthropologist, and one or more experts in agronomy or other fields depending upon the type of project and its action areas, should be included in either the project identification mission or a reconnaissance mission undertaken beforehand.
Reconnaissance teams should carry out relatively rapid but practical social and economic studies, consulting a representative cross-section of local people - in particular the poor - as well as key members of local people's organizations and traditional leaders. The team's inquiries should cover such topics as existing development efforts, felt needs, aspirations and constraints. The information collected - although sufficient to devise a flexible project framework - should be regarded as preliminary and, in part, suspect. More reliable in-depth data will be gathered by field staff as they gradually gain the people's confidence while working with them during project implementation.
Needs identification - and the search for ways to satisfy needs - should be regarded, therefore, as a continuous process, as groups and organizations involved in the project assert their felt needs and delivery staff endeavour to meet them.
Receiving systemsGovernment and NGO delivery systems often have no matching receiving system through which development assistance can be channelled to the poor. As a result, development agencies find it easier to serve a minority of better-off farmers than large numbers of small scale producers. The group approach helps the poor to create their own receiving mechanisms. To undertake economic activities, groups seek support - in the form of training, credit, inputs and social services - from local delivery agencies. For the delivery system, groups offer significant economies of scale: tools and inputs can be delivered in bulk, training conducted in groups and credit dispersed as group loans. Thus, the poor win greater access to technical advice and production inputs, while the delivery agencies broaden the impact of their assistance.
The question is whether or not these organizations genuinely represent the interests of the rural poor. Cooperatives are often too large and their structures too hierarchical to be effective vehicles for participatory development. Similarly, traditional tribal or community groupings are often managed in a top-down fashion and may provide limited opportunities for participatory learning and decision making.
If the inventory indicates that participatory groups are lacking, the project should promote their formation among project participants. In PPP's experience four essential guidelines should be followed:
The project should then organize informal meetings with prospective group members to discuss the purpose, methods of operation and benefits of groups, as well as possible enterprises and means of production. Group promoters should make a list of potential group members and leaders, possible group activities and required inputs.
Once the participants have identified viable income-raising activities, those interested in a particular activity should decide on criteria for group membership: for example, whether members should belong to a specific category (such as small-holders, tenants or landless) or whether the group should be male-only, female-only or mixed. They should also assess their productive resources, including capital, skills and experience.
By consensus or formal voting, the group members should then elect a chairperson, secretary and treasurer. Project staff should encourage rotation of leadership positions among group members in order to give all members leadership experience, thus minimizing the risk of domination by a few. Finally, the group should formulate its own constitution and procedures, setting out rules on such matters as the frequency of group meetings and the use of savings and loans.
Formation of viable and stable groups requires patience and, in most cases,
a period of from two to six months. Both overly rapid formation and overly
long delays, which may dampen the interest of potential group members, should
Obstacles to group formation
"A natural division of interests"Conflicts are more likely to arise in heterogeneous groups, when better-off members attempt to influence decisions or expropriate benefits. Problems of this kind arose in Sri Lanka, where small scale business people managed to join some PPP groups. "Over two or three seasons they undermined their groups with offers of credit and inputs at high interest rates," the project coordinator said. "The groups gradually broke up because of this natural division of interests." Confidence in the project was restored only after the non-poor were excluded. In some cases, however, group homogeneity may conflict with local social structures and traditions. In Thailand, the formation of groups of the poor was seen in some areas as a threat to social harmony. The project decided not to exclude better-off farmers, although group promoters did manage to form more or less homogeneous groups.
Other constraints are posed by local power-holders - and even slightly better-off farmers - who may see the groups as a threat to age-old, and often highly profitable, patron-client relationships.
At local level, project staff can help overcome this antagonism by winning
the support of traditional, administrative and other leaders. They may need
to call meetings to sensitize leaders to the objectives of the participatory
project and, above all, to illustrate the benefits of its activities to
the area as a whole. These benefits include improvements in community living
standards, an increased flow of government services to the village and,
consequently, greater prestige for the village and its leaders.
Once groups have established a sound economic base, PPP promotes their consolidation
into local-level inter-group federations. It does this because small groups
usually become stronger and more efficient when horizontally and vertically
linked. Inter-group federations promote solidarity and economies of scale
both in group activities and delivery of development services, and enable
members to develop a broad base for action. In addition, development of
local - and, eventually, regional and national - structures can stimulate
the formation of more groups.
Forms of federationThere is no universal model for inter-group federations. In Ghana, for example, participants in one village cluster all belonged to an inter-group federation, while in another the federation was made up only of group representatives. In a neighbouring area, a federation consisted of two groups involved in cassava processing. In Sri Lanka, federations are made up of two delegates from groups in each cluster, while in Lesotho, they consist of elected group delegates plus a representative of the traditional local leader.
In most cases, federations should, initially, represent groups with a variety of economic activities, rather than a single activity. Multi-activity federations are usually better able to meet common needs of the groups, such as training and information exchange, and to exert pressure on the delivery system. Single-activity federations may emerge at a later stage.
Inter-group federations may be legalized as pre-cooperatives or federations in order to obtain more recognition, legal status, services and facilities. They may also link themselves to participatory, rural poor-oriented cooperatives or other people's organizations. It should be stressed, however, that the groups do not replace cooperatives and other village institutions. They remain autonomous interest groups that may operate within, and help to strengthen, existing traditional or informal organizations, thus broadening the network of institutions serving the rural poor.
Linking federations to existing organizations not only facilitates delivery of development services and facilities, but also the consolidation of group plans into multi-group or federation plans that can be matched with area and regional development plans through local coordination committees. Thus, a two-way planning process can be developed.
Through inter-group activities and federations of groups, the poor become increasingly self-confident and recognized by their wider community. They obtain organizational power and may eventually be represented in local government bodies.
The nature of group activities will depend on the needs, desires and capabilities of each group, local economic, social and institutional potentials, and the project's design, objectives, staff and resources.
Raising incomePPP groups developed a wide variety of income-generating activities. In Ghana, groups engaged in maize farming, cassava processing, brickmaking and production of baskets and beads. In Thailand, they raise pigs, poultry and freshwater fish. Zambian groups have set up rural nurseries to propagate cashew seedlings for sale. Other groups earn income from production and marketing of vegetables. In Lesotho, activities ranged from sewing and knitting to crop, poultry and animal production (one piggery group recently won first prize for its piglets at a national agricultural show). Groups in Sri Lanka earn extra income through intensive production of cash crops, sesame oil extraction, rearing chickens, goats and milking cows, and labour contracts.
Building a rural enterpriseTwo PPP groups in Ghana, established a highly profitable cassava processing enterprise. The groups began producing gari (dehydrated cassava meal) in 1983 to raise extra income. They soon realized they could make better profits by increasing the volume - and improving the quality - of output. Members made an inventory of available raw materials, labour and processing technology, and assessed their needs for transport, marketing, technical skills and capital. After attending an FAO workshop on cassava processing methods and small scale enterprise management, they built a processing plant on land obtained from the relative of one member. The enterprise has expanded rapidly. The members process more than 50 tonnes of cassava a year and have won orders from government institutions and food exporters.
Since the main objective of any enterprise is to produce something that people will buy, the group should be taught how to conduct simple market surveys in their community to identify a product or service needed and how much customers are prepared to pay for it. The group should then decide whether members have the resources and skills to supply it. The group should choose a product or service it can produce economically and well, avoiding complex production processes. Next, the group should calculate what is required to establish the enterprise, i.e. what skills and other resources each member can contribute. The final, and most important step, is to calculate expected profits.
Each group should prepare a simple group business plan dealing with the socio-economic conditions, resources and problems of the participating households. They should also prepare a schedule of operations and plans for future subsidiary on- or off-farm income-raising activities of individual members that may strengthen their economic base.
Small-scale feasibility studies may be needed in order to produce workable
proposals for group activities. These studies should consider existing income-generating
and other activities promoted by government or NGO agencies in the area.
The identification of viable group activities also forms part of on-going
action research - for example, a number of proposals may emerge from household
Problems in developing group activities
Development of group activities faces a number of obstacles. Among them
are insufficient, inadequate or late delivery of inputs, lack of training
of local field staff and group members in group dynamics and group enterprise
management, and insufficient consideration of the feasibility, cost/benefit
and creditworthiness of the group enterprise
The importance of group planningExamples from Zambia and Swaziland highlight the importance of planning in group activities. A Swazi group decided to raise broilers for sale. Members obtained credit to build a chicken shed, then discovered some of the problems of running a rural enterprise: wild fluctuations in the availability of chickens, high transport costs and unreliable markets. After three years, the activity had barely made a profit and members had to repay the loan from their own savings. In Zambia, meanwhile, two groups decided to establish orange groves only after a detailed feasibility study which showed that they could expect profits of $7,500 a year within 10 years. The study estimated total costs of $3,800 in the five years before the trees became productive. Thereafter, the groves would yield 1.5 tonnes of oranges, rising to nine tonnes by the fifth season. In this period, total profit was expected to be $21,000.
As a group develops its activities and sees the rewards they bring, it usually begins to undertake additional, more complex enterprises. The risk here is that groups may "bite off more than they can chew". Group promoters should help their groups examine objectively the feasibility of proposed new activities by assessing the availability of group resources, funding and local markets.
It is no easy task to teach groups with limited literacy, numeracy and organizational skills how to manage an enterprise. The project may need to develop training materials and methods tailored to the learning capacities of group members. These should focus on developing skills in two critical areas: operational and strategic management. Operational management deals with issues arising from groups' day-to-day activities. For effective operational management there is a great need for instructional manuals on group dynamics, group business management, monitoring and evaluation, and savings/credit.
Strategic management focuses on solving problems related to the long-term development of certain group activities, allowing members to anticipate the impact of external factors (for example, new price policies or environmental damage caused by over-cropping or over-fishing).
Finally, the groups need to examine very carefully the feasibility of undertaking collective production activities. Experience with PPP has shown that while group members obtain better returns by sharing production inputs and experience, many have learnt - the hard way - that actual production is often best conducted on an individual basis. Many attempts to farm communal plots have failed owing to disputes over the allocation of labour and the division of income.
Project staff generally advise those groups wishing to use communal plots to plan the activity together, but divide the land into individual plots for production. Collective efforts are better suited to the sharing of newly acquired technical skills, or expensive or laborious tasks such as transporting inputs and produce.
The selection of an implementing agency will also depend on the type of project concerned and the capabilities and willingness of agencies to provide the participatory groups with the services and facilities they need.
Project planners should also consider whether prospective implementing agencies
are prepared to second field workers, such as extensionists and social workers,
to serve as project group promoters. In the case of training or socio-economic
research centres, the project should ascertain whether these institutions
have genuine concern for the rural poor and whether they can provide the
expertise needed for participatory training, action research and evaluation.
Regardless of which agency is eventually chosen to implement the project,
overall government support should be guaranteed from the outset.
The project coordinator
The project coordinator is employed by the implementing agency and is specifically
charged with supporting, coordinating and supervising all operations concerned
with the rural poor's participation.
"On the side of the poor"Sudath de Abrew was an extension agent before becoming coordinator of the Sri Lanka PPP project. "In a line agency, you are expected to produce results," he said. "The shortest cut is to work with the middle-level and rich farmers who have the means of implementing your advice. I was not reaching the small farmers and was not aware of their problems." His attitude has changed with PPP: "When you work with the poor, you are reoriented so much that within 18 months you are on their side. I am happy that I found the right place for me." The Zambia project coordinator, Lydia Ndulu, agreed. "A coordinator must be committed to the people and to the cause of the people because she will always be in contact with them," Ms. Ndulu said. "I know now that when a group is formed, it should be up to them to do everything and perceive everything in their own way. I am there to help them or find someone who can help them better than I can."
The essential qualifications of a project coordinator include close acquaintance
with the problems of the rural poor and the motivation to assist them, experience
in working with field agents such as extensionists and social workers, familiarity
with government and international development bodies at various levels,
and experience in organizing training activities. The coordinator should
also have an academic degree or equivalent in economics, social or agricultural
science, and a good knowledge of the local language in the project area.
Coordination of project support
The success of a participatory project depends on firm political backing
and the allocation of sufficient development resources to meet participants'
needs. The project should, therefore, establish coordination mechanisms
that guide agencies involved in project implementation and support, monitor
progress, avoid duplication of efforts and disseminate information about
project activities. These coordination mechanisms are of two types:
Local coordination committee in the project area. This committee should be composed of group delegates, project staff, representatives of local delivery agencies and, where opportune, local leaders. The committee's task is to provide local-level support for the project by promoting people's participation and solving implementation problems, especially in the delivery of services and facilities to the groups.
It does this by helping to recruit and train project staff, especially group promoters, providing project staff with guidelines for the planning, implementation and evaluation of the rural poor's participation, and promoting effective two-way communication between low-income groups in the project areas and government and NGO officials at various levels.
Reducing frictions, and speeding up bank loansIn Ghana, where many PPP participants were landless, the project coordination committee proved useful in reducing frictions with local landowners. The committee consisted of elected cluster leaders, the local bank manager, and representatives of the implementing NGO and the landowning traditional council. One issue addressed by the committee was the rent levied on tenant farmers. Through the committee, PPP groups negotiated a new three-year contract with the traditional council.
National coordinating committees are in a position to solve bottlenecks affecting the delivery of project inputs. In Sri Lanka, the Central Coordinating Committee was made up of high-ranking officials from several Government ministries and FAO. At one of its monthly meetings, the project coordinator reported that groups had not received their seasonal loans on time. The committee decided that before the next season the lending bank should scrutinize and approve loan applications in one day. The committee's instruction was transmitted through the bank's head office to its branch managers.
In areas where a task force for a larger project already exists, the coordinating committee could be constituted as a participation sub-committee of the task force. Within this body, small technical committees could also be created for training, approval of group loans and monitoring and evaluation.
National coordinating committee. While coordination of project support services should be undertaken mainly at local level, encouragement and support from national level is essential. In the case of large projects, support might be organized through a special national coordinating committee or task force, or an existing national committee established for similar development programmes. National committees might also appoint a sub-committee or special task force to deal with general policies, personnel, finance and other matters affecting participatory development.
Although the coordination mechanisms described above are desirable, flexibility is also needed. Arrangements will vary according to local conditions and the type of coordination bodies already existing in a country or project area. In addition, a project involving mainly government agencies may require a coordination mechanism different to that needed for a project implemented by an NGO.
For the latter type of project, it may be appropriate to set up one or more small task forces at national and at lower levels that include representatives of the NGOs concerned and possibly of the supporting government agencies.
In most developing countries, however, the rural poor have little, if any,
access to institutional finance. This is partly because the rural poor lack
the physical collateral normally required to qualify for bank loans. Another
disincentive for banks is the high per unit cost of delivering financial
services to the poor. Reaching and servicing large numbers of scattered
and unorganized rural people is time-consuming, and the volume of their
individual savings and loan operations is low. Dealing with the poor as
individuals is simply not cost-effective for banks, nor is it profitable,
given the interest rate ceilings under which most banks operate.
Facilitating savings and access to credit
Savings firstPPP experience highlights the importance of "savings before credit" in group financial development. In Sri Lanka members of newly formed groups are asked to determine how much they will save each week, based on the capability of the poorest member. Savings come from weekly membership fees, profits on activities, and interest earned on emergency loans to members. Sums of $40 or less are usually kept by the treasurer; larger amounts are banked. The "savings first" philosophy has paid off: so far, the Sri Lanka groups have accumulated savings of $9,000, an average of $5 per member in areas where the poor earn less than $1 a day. Loans to individual members are channeled into a group account before being distributed. In this way, the group is made responsible for the entire loan. "We tell the groups that unless they are extremely sure of the creditworthiness of a member, they should not forward an application for that member," the project coordinator said.
Although PPP financial approaches vary according to local conditions, all of them share five basic elements:
Adapting to local conditionsThe design and operation of the PPP financial component is tailored to conditions in individual countries. When the PPP project began in Ghana, for example, the country suffered from high inflation and a shortage of foreign exchange. To facilitate project operations, the guarantee fund was transferred into an Input-Import Fund held in convertible currency outside the country, while the Ghanaian Government allocated funds sufficient to cover most local currency costs. The collaborating bank received the inputs, which were then distributed to the participants on credit. The price of inputs in local currency was determined jointly by the government, the project and the bank. In Sierra Leone, where the PPP project provided credit directly, a detailed system was developed to provide and recover loans in kind. In Zambia, credit is administered by a national cooperative organization. Other project-specific arrangements include group marketing of surplus in Ghana and the formation of local credit unions in Lesotho.
To ensure that the bank provides proper supervision and technical support to its new clients, CGF agreements usually call for the setting up of a small farmer finance management committee within the bank to monitor the implementation of the project's financial component. Representatives of the cooperating bank may also be asked to serve on local or national project coordinating committees.
Finally, group promoters play a critical role in building up financial-self reliance among PPP groups. The GP must not only train members in basic financial skills, but assist the bank in recovering loans and building stronger links with the groups. As the groups reach maturity, however, this responsibility should be assumed gradually by inter-group federations. The federations thus complement - and help reduce the costs of - the bank's own supervisory and monitoring support.
Unlike many extensionists, GPs do not see their "clients" as passive recipients of new technical knowledge: their aim is to work side by side with the poor, building up their confidence in their own abilities and promoting their self-reliance. Since this must be done without creating patron-client dependencies, the GP's task is essentially that of an intermediary, with three basic roles:
Profile of a GPPPP group promoters come from a variety of backgrounds. In Zambia, where there is a lack of well-qualified personnel willing to work in isolated villages, GPs were recruited from among local women with a secondary education. The were trained in group formation, the role of village headmen, decision making and cost/benefit analysis. In Sri Lanka, group promoters were university graduates (with a BSc or BA in social sciences) employed for three year periods. They receive six months training, most of it on-the-job in the project area. In Zimbabwe and Thailand, GPs were drawn mainly from extension services or similar government agencies, while in Kenya they were recruited from the NGO implementing agency's field staff.
They should be familiar with the language and culture of the project area and willing to leave decision making to the group members, promoting among them attitudes of self-help and self-reliance. Desirable GP qualifications are a rural background, secondary level education, and experience in community or rural development or in such fields as social work, elementary economics or sociology, agriculture and extension.
While GPs may be part of the same ethnic or linguistic group as the project participants, they should not be from the project area: the effectiveness of locally recruited GPs may be limited by kinship obligations and fear of alienating local leaders. In some cases, however, GPs can be recruited from and posted to their own village or zone of origin, the advantage being that their experience and know-how can continue to be utilized after withdrawal of the project.
Government extension agents performed wellThe PPP project in Thailand seconded 26 GPs from the government agricultural extension service. The extension agents, who normally used the "Training-and-Visit" method based on individual contacts with farmers, had expressed willingness to try a bottom-up approach. Their enthusiasm and extension experience proved a distinct advantage: they had a sound knowledge of agriculture, had built up good relations with their target rural communities, and needed training only in participatory methods to prepare them for their new role. The GPs performed well and helped promote a participatory approach among their colleagues in the extension service.
If the project lacks the funding needed to recruit full-time GPs, their
task can be performed in part by trained project staff who have other technical
duties. However, such staff should preferably be locally recruited, with
tasks that bring them into direct contact with the intended project participants.
GPs are expected to live in, or very close to, the village cluster in which
they work. Once clusters have been identified, at least two group promoters
should be assigned to each cluster and begin work in a core village (in
most cases, male-female teams may be more effective). The GPs should make
themselves constantly available to the project participants.
The image of group promoters among the population in their action area is
important. They should gradually build up confidential relationships with
the local community, being careful to begin with the project participants
and only thereafter dealing with better-off social strata. Through daily
interaction with the poor, the GPs will gradually come to be regarded as
animators and guides, and not as "top-down" government officials
or outsiders interfering with the local culture and habits.
Promoting group self-reliance
While group promoters are promoting the self-reliance of their groups, they
are also working towards their own redundancy in the action area. GPs promote
self-reliance by involving the group members in activities that allow them
to develop leadership and recordkeeping skills. He or she should encourage
group-to-group exchanges, and ensure the presence of one or more group members
whenever he or she deals with supporting institutions such as banks and
When and how should GPs gradually withdraw from their groups? Experience in the implementation of PPP projects indicates that it takes from three to five years for groups to achieve complete self-reliance. Clearly, the disengagement process is a delicate one and depends on the rate at which each group develops. Once a group is capable of gaining access to government and NGO services and taking other initiatives without GP assistance, the GP can gradually withdraw to concentrate on serving other more needy groups, making only occasional return visits to ensure that progress continues.
Setting up inter-group federations in the third or fourth years of project
implementation is important, as these bodies can gradually assume many of
the GPs' support responsibilities. Self-reliance may not always mean total
disengagement of group promoters: in some cases, GPs could be maintained
by federations to perform certain specific functions.
Internal group promoters
Internal group promoters are group members who possess the skills needed
to undertake GP tasks within their own communities. Suitable candidates
may emerge during the process of identifying project participants or, more
commonly, during group development, as organizational and management skills
are diffused among members.
A group member becomes an internal GP when others begin to recognize his or her capacity to promote and facilitate group action. Given the dynamic nature of the participatory process, the training of internal GPs cannot be a static once-only activity. It should cover both group dynamics and practical skills needed to improve the rural poor's capacity to implement and manage their own activities.
In participatory projects, the main objectives of training are:
Trainers must have practical experience. They should include group promoters
and other project staff, technical officers of delivery agencies, experienced
small scale producers as well as successful groups that train and motivate
Training of participants
Training benefitsPPP groups in Zambia have a busy training schedule. Each project district organizes one residential course a year for group leaders and as many mobile workshops as the extension system can provide. Training has had a positive impact on farming practices. "The most important thing we have learned is about agriculture," reported one group secretary, recalling the days when farmers waited until maize plants had grown before adding fertilizer to the soil. The secretary took a course at the district farmer training centre on crop production, savings and group management. On her return she shared what she had learnt with other members. Now the group has requested training in the extraction of groundnut oil, which they plan to sell.
The implementing agency should train the project coordinator in these topics as early as possible. GPs need, in particular, management training in production planning and implementation, transfer of appropriate technology, marketing, communication techniques, leadership, team-building, recordkeeping and writing of reports.
An inception training workshop of at least three weeks should be given in or near the project area for GPs, other project staff and key officials of the delivery system. It is advisable to invite twice as many candidate GPs as needed initially in the project in order to secure a reserve pool of these field workers. The curriculum should be pragmatic and include work experience presentations by participants.
After this inception training, GPs need initial field training of 2-3 months, a period that coincides with the start of their field activities in the project area. They should learn as a team to prepare and carry out village and household surveys, to solve problems met in the field and to cooperate with delivery agencies.
Follow-up training of GPs should be carried out through monthly meetings
to evaluate team performance, to identify and solve work problems and to
prepare field workshops and refresher courses in such subjects as innovative
income-raising activities and credit schemes. The GPs might also collaborate
in issuing a project newsletter and take part in exchange visits to other
Training of government and NGO staff
Government and NGO support staff also need training to familiarize themselves
with participatory approaches and procedures, the difficulties encountered
by the rural poor in gaining access to delivery agencies, and the role these
agencies should play in helping solve the problems of the poor. In many
instances, these officials may need to be "de-trained" and then
re-trained through an on-going exchange of experiences and views.
Training opportunities for government and NGO staff consist mainly of participation in GP training courses, field workshops, briefing sessions, project coordination committees, beneficiary training, inter-country seminars, and inter-group or inter-project exchange visits.
In PPP, research, monitoring and evaluation are intended primarily to meet
the information needs of the participants and solve concrete problems they
confront. The approach is viewed as a participatory learning tool that helps
groups to strengthen their problem-solving capacity and achieve self-reliance.
Participatory action research
A basic tenet of the PPP approach is that, in planning and implementing
participatory projects, field investigators should involve the rural poor
in collecting and analysing information on social and economic conditions,
on constraints affecting the poor and their organizations, and on the community
as a whole. Only through participatory action research of this kind can
the project learn about the problems of the poor and help them to find solutions.
Initially, the main research objectives are to select the project area and - within these, village-clusters - to identify the rural poor and to determine whether they are involved in development efforts, especially through existing local organizations. Research is then conducted to assess potentials for group formation, to plan and implement group activities and to develop appropriate training programmes.
During project implementation, ongoing participatory research aims at solving concrete problems and providing data for field workshops, developing and sustaining a workable participatory monitoring and evaluation system, carrying out case studies of rural poor groups and developing appropriate technologies for project participants.
Tools for participatory action research are simple household and village surveys conducted periodically, mainly by GPs in collaboration with participants. These surveys will help to establish economic and social benchmarks, which highlight the status of the beneficiaries in the initial phase of the project and allow progress to be evaluated.
Group discussions with villagers are useful in familiarizing project staff
with the local people and their situation, and in enhancing awareness of
the villagers' problems. Part of this action research is a careful and systematic
recording of GPs' findings, particularly of steps taken by participants
to form their groups.
Participatory monitoring is a process of collecting, processing and sharing
data to assist project participants in decision making and learning. The
purpose is to provide all concerned with information as to whether group
objectives are being achieved. Implementing agencies and donors also require
data on progress toward overall project objectives.
A workable participatory monitoring system should, therefore, be based on a multi-level approach that harmonizes the different - and often competing - information needs of those involved in the project and provides for regular meetings at each level to make use of the data generated.
The main tools for participatory monitoring are:
Participatory monitoring should be conceived from the beginning as part of the group learning and action process. This means that baseline and benchmark data, as well as data on inputs, outputs, work plans and progress made in group development, should be recorded, discussed and kept for later use.
Groups should keep records of their meetings and of major problems discussed,
decisions made and actions undertaken, using elementary standardized forms
contained in simple log-books. Each group should also learn a minimum of
bookkeeping in order to record their loans and savings. The systematic collection
of data on loans and repayment, in conjunction with simple cost-benefit
analyses, gives essential insights into the capacity of groups to manage
their affairs and improve their conditions.
On-going evaluation is the systematic analysis by beneficiaries and project
staff of monitored information, with a view to enabling them to adjust or
redefine project objectives, policies, institutional arrangements, resources
and activities, where necessary.
The main evaluation tools are:
The groups should also be encouraged to evaluate the performance of the delivery system. This helps groups to "talk back" to the delivery system by, for example, focusing on shortcomings and identifying bottlenecks. The results may then be brought up in field workshops.
Evaluation done in this way stimulates critical awareness and motivation for better group self-management. Self-evaluation results need to be presented systematically to other project participants at local and higher levels.
Evaluation should include not only tangible and measurable results of group activities but, as much as possible, spill-over benefits that facilitate the group members' economic, social and human development. It should consider, for example, progress in acquiring verbal and writing skills, in presenting ideas logically and clearly, in overcoming timidity when dealing with officials and in overcoming anti-social habits, such as excessive drinking and gambling.
The GP obviously plays a pivotal role in initiating and empowering this
learning process in its initial phases. Yet it is equally critical to recognize
when groups have reached a point of self-sustainability and no longer require
special assistance from the project.
Indicators of group self-reliance
Sierra Leone success storyThree years after the Sierra Leone PPP project terminated, small farmers groups it helped to form were actively involved in rural development. "Participation in group activities has actually grown as non-PPP members see the benefits of group work", an FAO consultant reported after a visit to the project action area. "The PPP villages have undertaken a number of community development projects, raising money to build schools, bridges and grain stores. Some groups have branched out into palm oil, groundnut and vegetable production." The visitor found that while the groups no longer had regular access to credit, they continued to save, investing their capital in construction projects and in small businesses. The groups still kept record books and had adopted a participatory monitoring and evaluation system. Two former GPs had formed rural workers' associations that met regularly with government extensionists and local leaders to discuss project ideas and to coordinate the delivery of farm inputs.
"Graduation day"The Small Farmers Development Programme in Nepal developed guidelines for judging whether participatory groups have progressed to the point where they no longer require special assistance. The programme identified as possible candidates for "graduation" small farmer groups that had been established for more than 10 years and were located near development agencies. Within these groups, "graduate" members were those who had accumulated produtive assets, had stable off-farm employment, were meeting the basic needs of their family through their own net income and had a good "credit rating".
GPs may also adopt a group self-reliance monitoring system, perhaps based on a review of group record books. At the project level, monitoring may be carried out through frequent GP meetings in which group-by-group progress is reviewed, and through periodic sample surveys conducted with randomly selected groups.
In reviewing costs and benefits, it should be remembered that the very essence
of the participatory approach is promoting the self-reliance of the rural
poor. This implies low and decreasing recurrent costs, and increasing cost-recovery
by the project participants. Although a participatory process needs some
"start-up" external aid, the basic objective is that the process
becomes self-propelling as soon as possible.
Costs of participatory projects
A typical PPP project lasts three years, with a donor contribution averaging
$210,000. This contribution covers most of the total project cost. Since
PPP began in 1982, each participatory project has formed, on average, 90
groups with total membership of 1,098 people. Including group members' families,
total beneficiaries per project were at least 6,588 people.
Total external aid costs averaged, therefore, $63 per year per group member and less than $11 per beneficiary (i.e. the group member's dependants). While average cost per participant and beneficiary is high in the initial phase of the project, it declines rapidly as project staff are trained and as groups become more self-reliant. Average beneficiary costs in larger participatory projects would be lower due to economies of scale.
The incremental costs of including participatory elements in a larger project are low in relation to those of other technical components. Thanks to economies in administration and coordination, the incremental cost per beneficiary of including a participatory component would be lower than in smaller scale PPP projects. Incorporating participatory elements would involve the following extra costs:
A letter from the rural poorMore than 1,200 PPP group members in Sri Lanka and Zambia wrote to FAO in appreciation of the assistance they had received through the People's Participation Programme. "It is impossible to quantify all the benefits we have derived from PPP", said the letter from Sri Lanka, signed by 1,100 small farmers. "Now there is unity among the members of our groups. We work together in land preparation, cultivation of crops, weed control and repairing houses and wells. Thanks to our training programmes, joint purchase and use of inputs and access to credit, our income has increased. There is a marked decrease in alcoholism, gambling and other wasteful habits. We execute health programmes, are tackling our marketing problems and are trying to solve our land ownership problems as well. "We strongly believe that through organized action based on PPP principles, poverty and social injustice can be overcome." The Zambian groups listed similar benefits: access to fertilizer, seed, ploughs and oxen, improvements in farming methods, higher savings and better family nutrition.
While data are still fragmentary, there is sufficient evidence to show that PPP's benefits are significant. These benefits can be measured from two perspectives, that of individual participants and that of society in general. Benefits to participants include:
Replication can be pursued in one of three ways:
Recognizing the right to organizeA primary condition for the promotion of rural people's participation is the removal of barriers to their association in organizations of their choice. This calls for the ratification and enforcement by governments of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and recommendations on the role of rural workers organizations in social and economic development. ILO Convention No. 141 calls on governments to give rural workers "every encouragement" to develop, on a voluntary basis, "free and viable organizations". ILO Recommendation No. 127 defines a cooperative as a voluntary, democratically controlled and independent organization that is expected to become an instrument through which members are able to participate in decisions at higher levels. ILO Recommendation No. 149 calls for "active encouragement" of rural workers organizations and recommends that they "be independent and voluntary in character" and "free from all interference, coercion or repression".
New areas to be covered by the project during its expansion or multiplication phase should be adjacent to the original project area. This facilitates project management and supervision, as well as cooperation among existing and potential project participants and service agencies. Expansion and multiplication also implies a need for more field staff, particularly group promoters. GPs should be carefully selected and trained, preferably by senior group promoters who performed well during the project's first phase. Inter-group associations can play an important role in project expansion by assisting in recruitment of internal cadres, training new groups and federations, and disseminating improved technology.
To establish fruitful linkages in the expansion phase, it is indispensable to obtain information on existing groups, people's organizations and public and NGO development agencies in the new project areas, and ongoing projects and programmes with which the expanded project could cooperate.
Finally, in planning expansion and multiplication, various operations involved in the identification and preparation of the original project can be streamlined, thanks to the experience accumulated. For example, data collection can be more selective as considerable information will already be available. Incorporating participatory elements in large scale rural development programmes PPP projects are not pursued as ends in themselves, but rather to demonstrate to donor, government and NGO decision makers the benefits and cost-effectiveness of using group-based participatory approaches. These decision makers are best convinced by concrete results achieved in the field. Therefore, results must be communicated to them effectively.
The local and national level coordinating committees described in Chapter 6 play a key role as forums for discussion and exchange of views. However, other strategies may also be needed. They include: