by Tomás Lindemann
Rural Institutions and Participation Service
FAO Rural Development Division
This paper draws on experiences from Latin America. Most findings, however, owe to visits of the author1 to the Lempira Department in Honduras during the 1990s and the first 3 years of this millennium. The author is thankful to the people of Lempira, as well as the Honduran colleagues of the FAO/Netherlands project. Special thanks go to the project’s Chief Technical Advisor, Ian Cherrett, who has been the master-mind behind the Lempira Sur Project strategy, for sharing his insights along the process as well as for a substantive technical /editorial revision of this paper. My appreciation also goes to the two National Project Coordinators, Luis Alvarez Welches and Elías Suazo, who was the master-mind behind the governance strategy, as well as to the FAO Deputy Representative Carlos Andrés Zelaya, who has been the driving force behind the project, for technical discussions on issues related to the preparation of this paper. My appreciation also goes to colleagues in the Ministries of Agricultura and Gobernación who were fully supportive at all stages of project implementation. Thanks also go to Olivier Dubois for his substantive contribution concerning the issue of power as well as for his careful editing of the paper, to Manuel Paveri for technical revision of the paper and to Ana Guerrero for her meticulous support in editing this document. Last but not least, my appreciation goes to my Service Chief, Jennie DeydePryck for allowing me devote substantive amounts of time to remain associated over the past 14 years with the conceptualization of the governance component of this project as well as for her careful technical and editorial revision of this paper.
A reinvigorated municipal structure is emerging in Latin America, setting the scene for an important transformation of the rules of the game towards greater control over local institutional structures by local constituencies, management of natural resources that is increasingly sustainable, and the reduction of poverty. The setting in motion of the local dynamics that may transform rural areas does, however, require external inputs to kick-start processes of appropriation of institutions by local people, around priorities that are jointly identified in decision-making and planning processes which are, at the same time, participatory and iterative, learning from field experience and documenting best practices. The role of external projects in these processes becomes one of partnership that facilitates access to knowledge and decision making structures as well as collaborator and facilitator in the building of the capacities of local actors, and ensuring the systematization of the process.
Brief description and acknowledgements
Summary of findings
State reform, decentralization and rural development
The municipal chain and its six loops
Key factors for project success, i.e. for change to occur
Table 1 - Municipal shortcomings
Table 2 - Strengths of municipalities
This paper draws on experiences from Latin America. Most lessons, however, owe to visits of the author to the Lempira Department in Honduras during the 1990s and the first 3 years of this millennium.
We will essentially refer to processes dealing with decentralization and local government development programs in Latin America. The introduction describes the main features of the Lempira Sur project. The first chapter of the paper briefly describes processes relating to state reform and decentralization. It does not go into any depth as more on this subject can be found in a paper written by the author in 2002, in cooperation with Prof. Luis Llambí, “State Reform and Decentralization”. This first chapter mainly describes the chances for success of decentralization and the limitations that farmers are facing when trying to kick-start development processes. The second part of this paper describes the challenges and opportunities faced by the Latin American municipal structure. Finally, the paper draws on the experience of the Lempira Sur project to analyze the extraordinary promise held by bottom-up consolidation of local level institutions, starting from the family as a first loop in the municipal chain for the management of natural resources and the reduction of risks related to natural disasters.
The Lempira Sur Programme was established at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, to prevent a drought from causing a severe famine. The programme was implemented by the Government of Honduras with technical support from FAO and financial resources from the Netherlands over a period of more than 10 years starting in 1990 and ending in 2004.
The first priority of the project was initially food security. The premise for achieving food security was that given the majority of the population were subsistence farmers it was necessary to ensure greater stability of local food production systems. Traditionally, local staple foods were produced on the hills of the Department, using slopes with degrees of inclination that averaged more than 30%. Food was produced through slash and burn agriculture. This system of migratory agriculture entered into crisis in the seventies and eighties and the responses at that time tended to make the situation worse.
Slash and burn agriculture is a legacy from pre-colonial times and has strong cultural value. In fact, slash and burn agriculture used to be a very sustainable agricultural practice as long as people could migrate freely after each crop. However some key factors have curtailed its sustainability, namely:
The first realization was that the crisis could only be solved with food which was produced locally. The second was that the impact of the drought could have been minimized had the farmers adopted more sustainable production practices. It was thus concluded that the project would promote the adoption, on the widest possible scale, of sustainable agriculture practices that would facilitate the retention of rainfall on the land.
The fact that the project was structured with the aim of responding to a crisis that had a disruptive impact on all social groups helped bridge the gap between the better-off and the marginalized, thus creating the conditions for alliances between both with the common objective of jointly addressing the crisis.
As the project entered the communities it discovered that the traditional community structure of the patronato was very weak or had collapsed totally. The initial step was the holding of participatory diagnosis workshops with the community and the subsequent promotion of interest groups, both economic and social, in response to the issues and priorities identified in the process. As these groups consolidated, the need for a mechanism to articulate their interests at a higher level arose as well as the idea of creating a “Community Development Committee” (CODECO in Spanish) arose. Patronatos, where they existed, were not seen to be a sufficient mechanism as they tended to focus on social issues (construction of a chapel or a school) while there were now a much wider variety of organizations in the community, including various economic ones. In other words, the patronato was not seen as representative of all the development interests of the community, and a more embracing structure was called for. This inclusive strategy opened participation to a population larger than just the selected few belonging to the local elite. Once these commissions had become operational and worked at full swing in addressing problems related to the communities needs, it became obvious (this process is also described in more detail in the next section)that this structure had the advantage of connecting the rural family upward with higher levels of decision-making. Such committees have the capacity to impose practices that improve the management of natural resources. In the case of Lempira Sur, Communal Development Committees were at the heart of the project’s success in eliminating the use of fire in agriculture. The CODECOs also played an essential role in negotiating better uses for upstream water sources by putting pressure to close off springs and water catchment areas from cattle, thus beginning a process of vegetation recovery and hence water supplies.
Farmer to farmer transfer of lessons on the management of natural resources in the framework of the CODECO also plays a crucial role in the improved management of fragile slopes. The Lempira Sur project chose a demand as opposed to a supply driven approach to technology transfer. That meant analysing in the field with the farmers their crop production problems and experimenting with them possible alternatives. The project professionals looked at the responses that local farmers had developed to their problems, and the project and the farmers together developed a systems response which is now known as the Quesungual Agro-forestry system, after the community where the components of the new system were first validated. This system incorporates various conservation agriculture techniques with the added component of dispersed bushes and trees. The results have been so positive that CIAT has raised US$800,000 from the CGIAR to validate and reproduce the system within the region.
Decentralization has been high on the policy agenda for many decades now. However, in the period before structural adjustment processes and globalization became fashionable, decentralization was viewed basically as a managerial tool to improve the effectiveness of sectoral public institutions (such as Ministries of Agriculture, Health and others) at the local level. Rather than a decentralization process, it was a process of institutional de-concentration.
Nonetheless, significant developments in Central America have opened new opportunities for a paradigmatic reform of the state which would enable decentralization processes cutting across all the sectors with which it had traditionally dealt as a result among others of the following:
However, more often than not, the reform of the state has been an argument to justify the removal of the state’s role as a provider of sectoral products and social services before considered strategic. The strategies that were invoked for reforming the state included, among others, privatization and decentralization and, although it now seems very obvious that these have not been consistently successful in bringing about the desired changes, it is also broadly admitted that a) the initiated transition is irreversible as it would be unthinkable to return to the previous situation; b) the new situation holds new promises for democratization as long as the necessary mechanisms for community control over municipal decision-making processes are in place. These mechanisms were quite successfully developed in the Lempira Sur project.
In fact one of the greatest challenges for rural development is transferring capacities to local-level institutions for the delivery of those services that were in the past provided by sectoral agencies of government. Such transfer has the advantage that local institutions are in daily contact with day-to-day life of the farming population. Furthermore, in a situation where communities take control over their own local institutions, are in the best position to determine the type and quality level of services required. There is scant evidence that privatization of services can really improve their delivery for small farmer populations. Instead, there is increasing recognition that representational institutions consolidated from the bottom-up are required to enable proper delivery of needed services, enhancing significantly the capacities of the State to satisfy requirements of their populations.
Rural dwellers have traditionally been viewed as suppliers of food for self and market consumption. However, some recent technological and economic developments (such as the GMO, liberalization and globalization) have put the role of small farmers as suppliers of food for the market into question, for instance, the removal of government subsidies, the prevailing prices, required quality standard conditions as well as the increasing presence of supermarket chains in even medium and small size towns are pushing rural dwellers off agricultural markets and into urban environments as labour force that seldom finds any utilization.
The importance of preserving the presence of rural dwellers in their places of origin is broadly recognized by governments in developing as well as in developed countries. The arguments for retaining populations in rural areas differ significantly from region to region and country to country but include, among others, the following:
Whatever the arguments are, rural dwellers are facing increasingly difficult conditions to compete in the market. In the past, most countries of Meso-America subsidized the production for such staple foods as maize and beans by guaranteeing threshold purchase practice. This practice has been abandoned by governments in the framework of regional and global free trade agreements.
This paper does not analyze the pros and cons of free trade agreements; it only states the fact that thousands if not millions of small farmers are being pushed off farming activities because of their inability to fit into the demand structures and norms that are being created by the supermarket chains.
An essential condition for the successful decentralization is the strengthening or even construction of local level institutions that are deeply rooted within civil society.
The primary institutional setting in rural areas is the household5. Most families, even those residing in the remotest rural areas, live in villages composed of more than one household. Thus, the first challenge is for these evolving families to be involved with the local community set-up. Once a village has an institution that represents it, the families (whatever their nature may be) begin their empowerment process through their integration into the municipal structure.
These institutions are representational. It is important to make this clarification in order not to confuse these institutions with producers’ organizations and financial organizations such as credit unions. Producer organizations are an essential tool for building governance. Such organizations enable small and medium size farmer households build the economies of scale required to compete in the market. They also played a key role in Lempira where a number of them were set-up. To mention but one example, we have referred before to the tinsmith associations. Several communal banks were also established. Some were more successful than others but they all helped build the economic capacities of farmers.
However, this paper refers more specifically to institutions that represent local citizens, not producers’ organizations. This is because farmer organisations had a limited role in the change process that has occurred in Lempira Sur. It should be noted also these may have conflicting interests with representational institutions. For instance, an interest group (e.g. a forestry cooperative) within a community may be very interested in cutting down trees for the production of fine wood, in contrast with the overall community needs of preserving the vegetable cover for the production of water. It is thus very important to clearly differentiate between representative or representational organizations (belonging to the municipal structure) and other forms of people’s organizations including NGOs, cooperatives, private firms, etc.
The next section of this paper will deal with representational institutions belonging to the municipal structure. The exclusion of other sorts of civil society organizations does not imply any underestimation of their importance but only indicates the need to differentiate between the two.
In order for these institutions to be effective in their representational role, they need to connect up-the-line with the municipal level and beyond through the municipal chain6.
The role of natural resources in developing countries is increasingly evolving from one of only supplying inputs for industrial transformation of agricultural and different nature towards one of providing environmental services for local communities and the global population. Environmental services may consist in the supply of public goods for: a) vital and indispensable sources of life for direct consumption such as water and oxygen, as well as, b) recreational purposes in the form of landscapes and cultural diversity. The latter role concerns rural tourism.
The realization that rural livelihoods are under threat as a result of trade liberalization and the penetration of super market chains into daily life in towns of large, medium and small scale is key to devising new livelihood strategies for rural families and, in the same way that it is key for these families, it is also key for the institutions that this paper discusses. Only a clear understanding of the challenges facing rural dwellers may improve the chances for success of decentralization processes in view that local level institutions should become increasingly funded by local level tax payer contributions. As will be discussed in the section dealing with financial capacities of municipalities, the quality of financial capital is a function of the proportion of capital proceeding from local tax payments vis-à-vis the proportion coming from central government contributions. In view of this equation, it is clear that only when economic activity is vital in rural areas, will institutions representing farmers be financially strong. It is therefore essential to identify alternative sources of livelihoods for the farming population that has traditionally relied on agricultural production for deriving their livelihoods.
Increasingly, policy makers in governments of developing and developed countries, as well as those belonging to multi-lateral organizations, are recognizing the importance of rural income diversification as critical to rural poverty alleviation as well as the sustainable management of natural resources.
New sources of alternative income for rural dwellers include: rural and ecological tourism, and payment for environmental services.
After the region’s religion and language, the more sustainable and vital institutional heritage the Spanish colonization process left behind is probably the municipal structure.
The structural adjustment processes (promoted by the World Bank/IMF) of the 1980s and 90s left behind voids that have dramatically changed the institutional landscape of the region. In this context, most sectoral government agencies have suffered drastic institutional and budgetary restrictions which have forced them to reduce their presence in rural areas. The only institutional structure that has survived in rural areas seems to be the municipalities.
The visibility gained by municipalities is partly the result of the void affecting sectoral (such as ministries of agriculture and their extension and other services) and other institutions previously present in rural areas.
In order to enable a participatory democratic process of budgetary and political planning to flourish, municipalities play a role in linking families with higher level decision-making bodies through the consolidation of a municipal chain. The municipal chain is composed of six loops: families, communities, municipalities, inter-municipal associations or mancomunidades, departmental/provincial associations of mancomunidades, and national associations of municipalities.
The first loop in the municipal chain is made up by the family. Rural families have evolved to survive in different environmental and social contexts and will continue to be in constant evolution. Whatever their shape, families remain the first socio-institutional reference of individuals. The terminology of some demographers of the 70s and 80s, defined families as the basic cell of society and this still holds true.
Socio-economic demographic trends (including the anti-agricultural bias of structural adjustment policies) are increasingly and steadily pushing millions of rural dwellers of working age to migrate into increasingly more congested urban environments. This migratory process is not only massive, it is also, and significantly selective in terms of age. It includes principally the working age population, meaning that populations left behind are dangerously becoming polarized in terms of age, including principally the children, women and the elderly.
An important challenge lying ahead for governments and other actors concerned with the development of rural areas is to restore the attraction of life in rural areas. Strategies could include:
Yet, the greatest challenge for the construction of the strong roots required for democracy and economic development to flourish lies in strengthening family ties. This loop, thus, needs to be linked into the communal level.
The linking-up of families into communal institutions has a double rationale:
For this purpose, where they already exist, the capacities of communal institutions need to be built and where not, new ones should be established.
The second institutional loop in the municipal chain consists of communal institutions at village level.
While they vary from one country to another (and even between regions within these countries), communal institutions in Latin America receive names such as patronato, parroquia and vereda.
Already the names of these institutions, a heritage of the Spanish colonization process, denote the paternalistic nature of their roots and they do have a number of shortcomings. These shortcomings include, among others, the following: communal institutions are frequently controlled by local elites, partisan politics; they also are strongly biased in favour of the male population. The risk of strengthening such institutions consists in the further capture of benefits by the more powerful to the detriment of the marginal. These shortcomings can be addressed principally by devising mechanisms for:
On the other hand, the vitality of CODECOs depends on their articulation into the municipal chain. To facilitate dialogue between communal organizations of traditionally marginalized remote rural villages, proper institutional mechanisms need to be set-up within the municipality. The CODECO is made up of representatives of community interest groups, thus their decisions and planning reflect a clear understanding of “what can be or not be done”, their plans are based on what is feasible not who has the best rhetoric or offers the most giveaways. It cuts to the quick of the patronage system. That is members are secretaries, presidents, treasurers of working groups, the do not represent numbers.
In most Latin American countries, the municipal set-up includes a Municipal Development Council (Consejo de Desarrollo Municipal or CODEM). However, positions within the CODEM are usually controlled by local elites and friends of the mayor who often has the power to designate them as he wishes.
As an innovation in the institutional structure, the Lempira Sur Programme in Honduras successfully resorted to promote the establishment of the widened Municipal Development Council (Consejo de Desarrollo Municipal Ampliado) which basically represents a broadening of the traditional CODEM meant to include people from remote communities in municipal planning and overall policy-decision making processes. This institutional structure enables the participation in municipal decisions by including one representative from each village (with one vote each) in CODEM planning and other exercises.
There is a tradition still whereby the village representative is appointed by the mayor. The PLS has been pushing for the formal recognition of the CODECO so that the village representative is chosen by the CODECO, as happens in Tomalá. If the representative nature of the CODECO is understood, that is made up of interest groups so not so vulnerable to party manipulation, then it can be understood that this is a strategy to weaken the party control of the Municipality. The current political system operates in the rural areas through the local caciques, once that is broken then there is space for constructing a new participatory democracy and the Municipality becomes the key structure in that process.
In some significant occasions, the importance of this structure has resulted in reshaping the use of scarce municipal funds from a traditional pro-urban bias8 towards an increasingly greater proportion being assigned to: a) solving urgent problems (such as access to drinking water) in distant communities, and/or b) addressing investment priorities for development of production.
Given its very nature, and its position in the centre of the chain, the Municipality plays a pivotal role in developing the municipal chain.
Indeed - although, as far as we know, not much has been done up-to now to evaluate how and whether the overall capacities of municipalities to promote rural development have increased over the past years – the extent of success of a decentralization programme could easily be measured by evaluating how and whether the 3 dimensions of decentralization (political, financial and administrative) have evolved within municipalities:
The financial capacities of a municipality consist of the budgetary and service allocations from which it can benefit. Municipal financial allocations may come, among others, from the following sources:
Most municipalities in rural areas are dependant to a high degree (usually up to 90%) on contributions from external sources. In the course of the last decade new important actors are beginning to fund municipalities. These include bi- and multilateral donors, social funds, etc.
The quality of the capital held by a municipality is a function of the proportion of its funds coming from internal sources. The higher this proportion is, the healthier the municipal finances will be. Thus, a key challenge lying ahead for the municipal chain is strengthening its capacities to raise income from local taxes.
Administrative capacities consist of the human and infrastructure capacities at the disposal of a given municipality, such as:
In addition to the above listed problems which are of internal nature, municipalities also face problems of an external nature: a) their lack of economies of scale; b) their lack of political clout to influence regional and higher levels of policy decision-making, c) the miss-match between geographical realities and institutional dynamics, d) the new development strategies emphasising a regional focus that tends to follow watershed criteria.. To address these problems, municipalities are increasingly resorting to different sorts of horizontal inter-municipal arrangements.
Such arrangements have the following advantages:
a) Economies of scale: Larger economies of scale enable more cost-effective delivery of services such as extension, training, credit, etc. as well as investments in rural infrastructure including the construction of roads, the setting up of electricity lines and telephone connections, medical facilities, etc.
b) Territorial / institutional dynamics: More often than not, the caprices of institutional development do not match the realities of geography. This is specially so for watersheds which seldom coincide with the territorial borders of municipalities. This is a true headache for appropriate planning and management of natural resources, because the latter requires a holistic approach to be effective. In the past this problem was addressed by putting watershed management in the hands of authorities belonging to sectoral departments such as agriculture or forestry. The limitation of such an approach is that these authorities only had power over water-related resources. The advantage of municipalities is that their mandate cuts across sectors including the vegetable cover, water resources (both underground and surface waters such as rivers, lakes and others); livestock and wildlife as well as human resources. As mentioned above, however, the limitation of municipalities consists in their limited geographical coverage, thus the advantage of them gathering into inter-municipal associations for the joint management of natural and human resources on a holistic scale. In Lempira, inter-municipal associations are jointly managing such resources as water, soil and vegetable cover. Their role includes:
c) Limited political influence: The political influence of municipalities in higher level policy decision-making bodies is very limited because of their small size, because of partisan bickering and other reasons. By gathering into inter-municipal associations, the limitation of their scale is automatically addressed. On the other hand, by gathering several municipalities into one inter-municipal association different partisan interests get into processes of conflict negotiation creating an enabling environment for democracy to flourish;
d) Bottom-up consolidation of civil society capacities: Probably the most important advantage of inter-municipal associations is that their construction requires an upward movement stemming from municipalities in a bottom-up institutional dynamic. The political capacities of a given municipality for negotiating its positions within the inter-municipal association are a function of bottom-up participation in policy decision-making within the municipality. The whole process thus mirrors participatory dynamics happening at the grass roots. Healthy bottom-up participation in community and municipal organizations will result in strong inter-municipal associations, wherein negotiation over scarce natural and financial resources will be peaceful and conducive to sustainable and productive rural development.
e) Dynamic and flexible institutional instruments for the provision of services: Inter-municipal associations are established by municipalities as and where required for specific purposes. When no longer useful, they can be dismantled or reorganized. In the Lempira Sur case an inter-municipal association called AMULESUR comprising the totality of the 11 municipalities belonging to the southern region of the Lempira Department was initially established for preparing projects for submission to Central Government authorities. Many of these projects came to fruition. However, with time it became obvious that AMULESUR was too big to be functional and therefore it split into 3 smaller associations.
A serious challenge jeopardizing the vitality of inter-municipal associations is the fact that – given their enormous potential as a channel for services provision – the Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Social (FHIS) is promoting the establishment of Unidades Técnicas Inter-municipales (UTIM) as a pre-condition for channelling massive financial resources to rural areas. The hurdle here is the fact that those financial resources are pre-determined from the top for the construction of infrastructure that does not mirror local priorities with disturbing consequences:
This is the first melting pot where the municipal chain meets the central government chain. To put it in other words, this is the instance where two conflicting dynamics (i.e. the bottom-up and the top-down) meet. It is thus probably the point where the strength of the municipal chain will find its judge. In Honduras, a new institutional structure was recently established, the Consejo de Desarrollo de Lempira (CODELEM) which has met resistance from mayors and other local actors who view the CODELEM as a top-down construction that does not reflect their internal processes.
However, it should be noted that the Department is an administrative and political unit headed by “governors” or representatives of the President but they have few tasks or responsibilities. The are political appointees and there is a struggle on in Honduras as to why they should exist and what should be the role of the Department. The bottom up logic suggests a Departmental structure that if not directly elected then determined by the elected (the mayors). On the other hand central government and particularly the Departmental deputies do not want change as that would weaken their powers of patronage. So we have a conflict of power between the mayors and the members of congress.
When municipal dynamics (electoral processes; budgetary planning; overall policy planning; programmes and projects design, implementation and execution) are all carried out with strong civil society participation, inter-municipal associations will be empowered to obtain the best results in negotiating with provincial or departmental level authorities, irrespective of partisan dynamics.
Where such inter-municipal associations are strong, they will dramatically curtail the costs of policy programme and project design and implementation as well as of accountability, and monitoring and evaluation, thus greatly benefiting the cost-effective management of scarce provincial budgetary resources.
The complexity of this challenge is self-evident. In many countries of Africa and of the Latin American region, provincial and departmental level Governors are designated by central governments. A large number of countries of the latter region, however, have mechanisms for popular election of governors. Whatever the case may be, provincial level governors tend to be more responsive to central government authorities up-the-line than to local constituencies down-the-line; this is only natural given their relative distance with respect to those populations. To increase accountability to the local people in such a situation is a great challenge.
In a number of countries, national associations of municipalities have emerged over the past years. These experiences are still very incipient and confront various limitations, including:
From the outset, the donor (the Government of the Netherlands), the recipient government (the Honduran Government) and the executing agency (FAO) recognised that the socio-economic-institutional and environmental transformation necessary to bring about food security and rural development requires long-term commitment and investment. Thus, the original project design was for five years with an option for extension if that phase proved satisfactory. It did so and a further five years of funding were provided after which the Netherlands withdrew from Honduras except for providing some support for governance related activities. Despite this, the project management was able to:
When project operations were launched, the presence of institutions in Lempira Sur was limited to two NGOs left over from the period of refugees during the 80s, CARE and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS had been supporting since the 80s a local community representative organization called COCEPRADIL (Central Committee for Water and the Integrated Development of Lempira), which is a very successful community driven initiative to foster water supply projects in remote communities. The other important institution was the Catholic Church with a well organised system of lay preachers (celebradores de la palabra) and there was also a network of evangelical sects. The Municipality was of marginal importance given the lack of decentralization , a total dependence on central government for funds and mayors who were part of the traditional party clientele chain. Central government had a very negative image in the region and the project had to deemphasised its relation to government presenting itself as FAO or United Nations. As part of its strategy of building legitimacy the project made an alliance with the Bishop of Copan so that the lay preacher structure could cooperate with the project. In practice this depended on the local priests and their positions varied very widely.
At first glance, external observers tend to get the impression that all households within communities are equally poor. However, a more careful analysis of social dynamics immediately indicates power imbalances that privilege a selected few. There is often a risk that local elites exclude the poorest from the benefits of development projects reaching the communities. For this reason, many development projects reaching small communities in rural areas, rather than resolving social differentiation, tend to perpetuate it by putting the resources in the hands of the better-off. The Lempira Sur project successfully addressed this issue by identifying, at entry the “milpa” crop system (maize and beans) and the homestead as its entry points, having been identified in the participatory diagnosis phase as constraints common to all10. One such example was that all social groups lived in homes that followed a common construction pattern: The kitchen was located within the house, with a grain store loft above. The stoves consumed much firewood and generated large amounts of smoke which rose into the loft preserving the stored grains and keeping out the insects. Not just the women but their children, especially the youngest ones, and babies spent a great part of the day inhaling this smoke. This was having a devastating effect on their health and local clinics were registering 70% female attendance for respiratory complaints related to smoke in the lungs. Since the very beginning, project staff addressed this issue by working with the rural families to undertake the following steps: a) replace the storage loft system for basic grains with silos b) replace existing stoves with improved enclosed varieties with flues in the verandas not the enclosed room so as to remove the smoke from inside the house; c) reorganise the inside of the house into separate sleeping quarters for the parents and children now that the stoves were outside and cement the walls and floors as well as paint them d) these steps in turn required changing the milpa system so that yields were increased and became more reliable thus making the purchase of silos worthwhile e) ensuring that the silos were readily available at affordable prices f) facilitating the organization of the farmers and tinsmiths so that they could negotiate prices and delivery at agreed rates, g) and creating locally managed financial systems so that the funds required to make the system work could be made available at the right time and at agreed rates of interest.
As the communities organised to address their priorities, whether economic (artisan groups, farmers, ranchers etc.) or social (school, water, roads, etc.) or mixed (women’s groups, community banks etc.) the need for a community development strategy became more apparent. As a result the project promoted the creation of Community Development Committees (CODECOs) made up of representatives of each active interest group. Given the diversity of organization the Community Development Committees also took on a diverse profile and new leadership emerged. It is important to note that, as a representative structure based on interest groups, the CODECO tended to escape politicisation and cooptation by external clientelistic interests, as the mayor’s delegate or the patronatos tended to be. There were no general elections, which limited possibilities for demagogy, politicisation and clientelism. At the same time sectoral organizations emerged and grew beyond the community to the Municipality and beyond (water committees joined COCEPRADIL for example), the ranchers and farmers joined Municipal wide organizations, the Savings Clubs became affiliated to regional cooperatives etc. Within this framework the patronato, where it survived became one amongst many local organizational structures.
Empowered through the bottom-up consolidation of their political capacities, the CODECOs soon became the platform for communal decision-making. However, given their limited economies of scale and in recognition of the growing importance of the Municipality as a result of government decentralization policies it soon became necessary to construct Municipal level linkages. Hence the need for Municipal Development Committees began to emerge, not as an externally implanted structure but as a natural, organic growth of maturing community processes.
From the outset, the project established a strategic alliance with the local bishop. This was not as easy at the local level. The “celebrador de la palabra” structure, or local lay leaders, responded strongly to the project’s offer. The economic complement offered by the project to their social struggles was just what they were missing. Unfortunately this created tensions with the local priests, who like other local power brokers found it difficult at times to adjust to a development strategy that implied a loss of patronage and the need to continually earn leadership by providing concrete answers to concrete problems. Again, like other local power brokers, those priests who understood the logic behind the project’s approach (the institutionalization of decision making processes) became its strongest allies. The bishop tended to apologise for the lack of development training of his rural priests and while he was active the problems were resolved. As he became increasingly ill during the time of the project, tensions with sections of the priests grew particularly as their lay leaders tended to prioritise those activities that lead to material improvements of their followers.
The project promoted the use of such constitutional tools as the plebiscito the referendum, etc. when communities needed to resolve confrontational issues. For instance, when the powerful and wealthy cattle producers of one Municipality opposed the idea of prohibiting the use of fire in agriculture and cattle ranching, the mayor, with support from the CODEM decided to hold a municipality-wide referendum, the result of which would become Municipal law. The major land owner and traditional cacique of the Municipality was convinced that he could manipulate the local population to vote in favour of allowing the use of fire in agriculture and cattle ranching so it was agreed to hold the referendum and all promised to respect its outcome. The mayor and the Municipal Environment Committee with the support of the local priest and the not so high profile of the son of the traditional cacique rallied the population in favour of the local ordinance banning the use of fire while the cacique rallied his supporters with financial incentives. The plebiscite was won by a majority of over 75%., and the power of the cacique was broken 11.
In rural Honduras, as common to many other countries, various famine relief initiatives have been co-opted by clientelistic power structures as part of the mechanisms for controlling the rural population during electoral processes. Aid was conditional on political and personal loyalty. The dependency and passivity this generates amongst the population has become one of the major obstacles to the rural poor taking charge of their own development. From the beginning the project aimed to change this culture in Lempira and introduce a concept of asset building under peoples own control. This implied the elimination of donations, even food assistance. This lead to conflicts with other projects and severe criticism from within the UN system. However, interestingly enough, the local population did not raise any objections. Part of this strategy was a refusal to provide material incentives for the adoption of new land use practices, something that was criticised even from within the FAO.
The major incentive on offer from the project was technical assistance and training. Based on a strategy of the householders trying out the new ideas on their own fields and back yards the project guaranteed technical assistance and inputs such as seeds, plants etc.. These inputs were not free, they were provided at cost, but the money did not return to the project is was used to create community savings groups so that the accumulated capital could begin to create a culture of savings and investment based on local control and decision making. This approach was criticised by those who had benefited from the traditional approach of hand outs but the project deliberately went to the communities that had never received assistance. There the response to the projects offer was generally very positive and as the impact began to take place in the home and the milpa the other communities and leaders that had initially rejected the projects offer soon came back requesting assistance. The communities that were the most resistant to the approach turned out to be the most successful adopters of change once they decided to be supportive. Even the cacique who had opposed the elimination of burning came to the project asking for technical assistance after he lost the plebiscite. This approach has since been recognised as a key element to the building of local ownership over project instruments.
The success of decentralization processes in rural areas depends on the simultaneous creation of viable sustainable production systems on and off the farm as well as bottom-up consolidation of institutional capacities, from the family to the communal and higher levels to avoid, among others, the risk of benefit capture by local elites and ensure the relevance of service provision by local government units and others in the municipal chain.
2.1 Since rural families are the primary users of natural resources, strategies for their sustainable management need to start at the level of the homestead and scale-up through the community to the watershed level.
2.2 Historical practices such as slash and burn agriculture are no longer sustainable because of a number of factors. Their replacement requires validation on the homestead by the homesteaders that mirror local social and environmental conditions; therefore, they cannot be designed in distant laboratories. Their replication can be promoted through producer organizations, community structures and the municipal chain.
3.1 The Lempira Sur project shows that bottom-up consolidation of institutional capacities can be a successful strategy for achieving food security, as long as it is accompanied by assistance to the the adoption of viable and sustainable land use strategies, and for the sustainable management of natural resources even in the context of incipient and fragile decentralization processes.
3.2 Bottom-up institutional consolidation refers to medium to long-term processes that need to address economically and socially-rooted patterns of inequality within the communities. This can only be done by working with self referenced interest groups within the communities around jointly-identified local priorities, and requires facilitation through technical assistance and coaching with emphasis on participatory processes, which need to be coordinated with external support from projects that accompany the processes and are directly present at local level.
3.3 The requirement for project staff to reside in Lempira Sur, a region that lacked even basic services and infrastructure, complicated the identification of staff (with appropriate professional qualifications and, above all, willing to adopt a learning approach and to view themselves as facilitators of processes rather than experts) and caused heavy turn-over rates among government supplied staff. However, over time a team spirit among a core team of some 20 elements was built through open and active interaction.
4.1 Participation of communities in municipal decision-making, including budgetary and planning processes, requires appropriate institutional mechanisms (the Lempira Sur Project relied on a municipal development council with expanded membership) that need to be devised in accordance with local conditions as existing ones are usually inefficient or inexistent.
4.2 For municipalities to exercise their key role in: a) the transformation of both the institutional and environmental landscapes of rural areas and b) the re-consolidation of nation states, they need to position themselves at the centre of a municipal chain that links the rural family through the communal organizations with the municipal and inter-municipal as well as with higher levels of national decision-making processes.
4.3 The municipal chain is best positioned to coordinate the provision of agricultural services such as extension, technical assistance through different mechanisms including direct provision, outsourcing, privatization, etc. Given their economies of scale, inter-municipal associations are proper locations for provision of services.
5.1 As a result, among others, of trade liberalization, competition from farming enterprises operating with large economies of scale, as well as the increasing market share serviced by supermarket chains; the profitability of small farms has steadily declined over the past decades forcing thousands of rural dwellers in the working age to derive income from off-farm activities. This trend has notably increased migration, creating a demographic effect that is leaving only the children and the elderly in rural areas.
5.2 The extent to which accountability is exercised by civil society (i.e. the political capacities of municipalities) is a function of the proportion of municipal funds (the financial capacities of municipalities) coming from local contributions.
5.3 Conversely, the transfer of funds earmarked for specific purposes at the central level (such as social funds) tend to perpetuate the capture of decentralization benefits by local elites.
Projects such as Lempira Sur require and entail significant changes to have lasting impacts. Howver, this also causes severe resistance from different quarters. The factors that bring about change are therefore a key ingredient for project success. In the Lempira Sur case, those change factors – discussed earlier in this paper – were:
It is broadly recognized that the closer the institutions are located with respect to their users, the more effective they will be. This common knowledge is known in technical jargon as the principle of subsidiarity Sup>12 . In the Latin American context, as well as in many others, the institutions that are closest to civil society are the municipalities. However, whereas on the one hand municipalities are too small to reach directly into policy decisions at central government level, on the other hand they are too big to reach all families, especially those residing in remote rural areas. For this reason, a chain needs to be built in order to connect the rural producers and their families with the communal (representational) institutions of their villages and through them into municipal decision-making processes and further up-the-line with regional inter-municipal associations, and subsequently with national associations of municipalities which will then be empowered to establish a dialogue among equals with central government decision-making bodies.
More often than not, natural resources are the main source of cash income for rural families (when not the main source of food in the same poor communities who live in or around forests, especially). Given the scarcity of financial resources that municipalities usually receive from central governments, municipalities are increasingly relying on locally-raised taxes. However, the capacity of local populations to financially contribute to the municipal tax base depends greatly on their use of natural resources as well as income obtained from alternative (off-farm) ¨economic¨ activities. These resources seldom suffice to fulfil their livelihoods requirements. This is probably the greatest hurdle to the development of rural municipal life.
Watersheds frequently cross administrative boundaries and even national frontiers. Historically Indigenous societies depended on these ecosystems for their economic and social organization. During the Colonial and post colonial periods settlers were generally ignorant of these systems and their relationships importing their land use models from their countries of origin and pushing the Indigenous population into the marginal areas. This has left an inheritance of a lack of vision of the integrality of watersheds amongst settlers as the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises carried out with facilitators from an FAO project, with rural producers settled along the Río Grande in Northern Argentina discovered. There was no understanding of the connection between the origin of the watershed in the Bolivian Plateau (Altiplano) and the way the river behaves down-stream. Due to this lack of awareness, rather than addressing the real issue, the settlers tend to get into quarrels with their immediate up-stream neighbours blaming them for scarce water supply rather than jointly addressing the real problem. In Indigenous communities there is in general a greater environmental awareness but a sense of hopelessness about people’s capacity to do anything about the situation as recent PRAs in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras have discovered.
When Hurricane Mitch hit Central America, The Lempira Sur Programme had just begun its second operating phase, sixth year of full implementation, it was the not just the limited impact of the hurricane on the project area that brought the region into national focus but also the fact that local communities, through the Municipal authorities, organised food aid for the victims of the hurricane. South Lempira had come through the el niño drought and hurricane MITCH floods with a grain surplus. The government and donor community sat up and took note and as a result a series of requests for assistance were made to the FAO, amongst which Norway, the Netherlands and the European Community, for assistance in extending the Lempira experience to other regions and projects in the country.
Towards the end of the Netherlands funded post MITCH emergency project, an evaluation mission reviewed the lessons learnt13. One key conclusion of the mission was that, where social capital was in place, communities were well positioned to respond to the crisis, both during the emergency post-disaster moments and in the rehabilitation phase. In Lempira, the construction of social capital had been part of the Lempira Sur project strategy. What would have happened in Lempira if 2,000mms of rain had fallen in two-three days instead of 800 is another guess but unlike other regions with a similar rainfall this extreme weather event had little impact; this can in part be attributed to:
a) the role of the community and Municipality in providing first level warning and assistance. This was possible because of the consolidation of such structures as the CODECO at sub-municipal level;
b) the success of hillside land use practices such as the Quesungual (emphasising maximum soil cover at all times via mulching crop stubble and agro-forestry based on dispersed trees and bushes) that had been developed by the communities with the assistance of the project and the role of the leaders of change in the community structures;
In the case of Lempira, the emphasis was on water management in the soil and that proved just as effective for drought as for flood. This is highly relevant in such ecosystems as drought tends to be broken by floods as occurred this time.
Transferring responsibilities down the line to local level authorities requires having previously built the political, the administrative and the financial capacities of the municipal structure.
FS Food Security
GMO Genetically Modified Organism
IMF International Monetary Fund
NGO Non-governmental Organization
NRM Natural Resource Management
PRA Participatory Rural Appraisal
RPO Rural Producer Organizations
cabildo abierto: open town council
consejos de desarrollo comunitario: community development councils
Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Social (FHIS): Honduran Social Investment Fund
juntas de agua: water board
mancomunidades de municipios: inter-municipal associations
ordenamiento territorial: territorial planning
parroquia: parish church
patronato: board of management
sistema quesungual: system of technologies for managing soil, water and vegetation, combined with dispersed trees in natural regeneration.14
Unidades Técnicas Inter-municipales (UTIM): Inter-municipal Technical Units
vereda: path, lane
1Author: Tomás Lindemann, Rural Institutions Officer, technically responsible for project implementation from FAO Headquarters
2Both these findings as well as the key lessons learnt are further elaborated at the end of the document
3 For more on this see Evaluation Mission Report 2002.
4 This is a favourite argument among European Union member governments
5It should be noted that households are in constant and dynamic evolution and that the families of the current decade do not necessarily respond to the classical nuclear family models we know. More often than not these are polarized in terms of age in view that migratory processes essentially include those population deciles that are in working age, meaning that the children and the old are left behind while those in producing ages migrate out of rural communities.
6Please see below what we understand here as municipal chain
7 This key aspect of democratization is explained in more detail in the section on factor for success
8In the increasingly blurred divide between urban and rural, the concept “rural” here describes tiny villages of less than 5000 people and sometimes even less than 1000. The pro-urban bias is reflected in the fact that the lion’s share of municipal budgets is used for the construction of urban facilities such as the village’s central park, the school, the main street, etc.
9An important limitation hindering the flourishing of municipal life in most countries is the requirement for candidates to belong to registered political parties.
10The project carried out during the diagnostic phase a rapid rural appraisal of the social structure of the communities and Municipalities. This resulted in the identification of three distinct social groups, the landless (25%) who depended on the larger landowners (over 20 hectares of land and 5% of the population) for survival (they provided them with work and land to plant) and the small farmers (4 to 24 hectares of land and 70% of the population). At the beginning the small farmer (4 to 8 hectares of land 35% of the population) was the most vulnerable not being able to rely on the larger farmers in case of trouble. The projects appeal was focused from the beginning on that group although it was understood that it had to respond to the needs of a wider sector and it was only in the second stage that it developed a special offer for the larger land owner and hence could impact the landless. It was never able to enter a third stage when a specific offer for the landless would have been necessary. An analysis of potential "enemies" was also made and four power groups stood out; i.e. priests, mayors, large land owners and teachers, and thus specific strategies for each sector were developed and applied. This was where the project began its work with local government and education.
11 The same cacique had driven out his rival at gun point five years before and had deliberately opposed the project to such an extent that it had had to set up its office in a village outside the Municipality At that time it was the most run down and deforested community in the region but after the plebiscite the change was physical (houses long abandoned were repaired and painted) as a new civic pride took hold.
12 The principle of subsidiarity basically consists in the idea that problems should be solved at the level where they arise and should only be elevated to subsequent levels as a function of the complexity they carry
13 Revisión ex-post de la articulación entre levantamiento de la demanda y formulación de programas en el proyecto GCP/HON/024/NET “Apoyo a iniciativas locales de reconstrucción y Transformación Rural” by Tomás Lindemann, Elías Suazo and Ian Cherrett; December 2002
14 Historia de un proceso de desarrollo: Metodología del Programa Lempira Sur. Proyecto: GCP/HON/028/NET, Documento de campo 01