Sustainable Development Banner

Posted November 1997

Participation in practice / 3
Project preparation

Introduction | People's Participation Programme (PPP)| Project preparation | Forming groups | Group activities | Implementing agencies | Financial component | Group promoters | Participatory training | Monitoring and evaluation | Project sustainability | Costs and benefits | Replicating the PPP approach | Complete Special as a single 121K file

PARTICIPATORY rural development projects seek to improve the economic, social and political conditions and capacities of the rural poor. Among the first tasks of the project planner, therefore, are:

Selecting project action areas and villages

Areas with a high concentration of poor people are characterized by very limited natural resources and physical infrastructure, a lack of basic development services, inequitable land tenure, subsistence or marginal agricultural production and a shortage of on- and off-farm employment opportunities.

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 chosen

Planners 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.
Once poor areas have been identified, planners need to select from among them areas suitable for participatory development projects. Here, somewhat different considerations apply. It would be counter-productive to select areas with development problems so serious that they limited the project's chances of success. Preference should go, therefore, to poor areas where there is relatively greater potential for development of viable economic activities, availability of at least some development services that could be channelled to the poor, and market outlets for goods and services.

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 level.

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 participants

Experience 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.
Levels of deprivation also exist among the poor. Small farmers are sometimes considered "marginally poor" because they have some access to income and assets. Usually worse off are sharecroppers, landless labourers and hawkers (the very poor), who are dependent on the better-off for their survival. The most deprived people in rural areas are destitutes, such as widows and the handicapped, who have no economic base whatsoever.

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.

Back to Top FAO Homepage