Social capital Institutions

Sustainable Rural Development in Western Africa: The Naam Movement and the Six 'S'

by Takehiko Uemura
Associate Professional Officer, People's Participation/Environment
Rural Institutions and Participation Service (SDAR)
FAO Rural Development Division

Part 1 - The Naam Movement in Burkina Faso


The Naam Movement was initiated in 1967 by Bernard Ledea Ouedraogo, a teacher and a trainer of rural extension workers at the time when he started. The reason why he founded the Movement derived from his bitter experience as a training officials of village groups and cooperatives. These organizations have never worked well and never been accepted by the people. He came to the conclusion that:
... the only concern of the officially organized farmers was to take advantage of the donkeys, bullocks, carts, hoes, and other materials we would make available to them. There was nothing else behind this demeaning form of assistance, no vision, no global conception of development or of the rural world, no doctrine or philosophy. There had been no prior efforts at consciousness raising. It was normal that in such a situation the farmers had but one concern: prime the State "pump" for all it was worth and cheat the extension workers. (Pradervand, 1989: 19)
He also noticed that the organization were created "from above" and manipulated with political aims in mind (e.g. for the purpose of local politicians' elections). Hence, Ouedraogo and his colleagues began considering a completely new approach. He started by looking back to the tradition of his village and tried to inquire into the old village social organizations. They found one excellent traditional village organization which consisted of young men and women undertaking various activities and having highly developed cooperative characteristics. This was called "Kombi-Naam", which aimed at "...both developing moral qualities such as solidarity, cooperation, friendship, and loyalty in the young, and at the same time accomplishing socially useful tasks for the village" (Pradervand, 1989: 20).

In the Kombi-Naam, all were equal, regardless of gender, class, caste, and wealth. This organization also used to provide moral, civic, and technical training to village youth. The members of the group worked together, and shared the fruits of the labour in the form of festivities once a year. Ouedraogo explains:

After a careful study, we realized that the cooperative structures of the Kombi-Naam were in no way inferior to the organizational framework of European cooperatives. A Kombi-Naam group practiced a qualitative democracy: people were chosen not for their position in the social hierarchy (Mossi society is extremely hierarchic) but for their moral qualities. For instance, the Kombi-Naaba, the supreme chief of the Naam group, was chosen for his leadership qualities and his ability to persuade. (Pradervand, 1989: 20)
Ouedraogo attempted to harness this story of the traditional cooperative to make peasants understand their admirable tradition and to transform it into a contemporary village development scheme. Nonetheless, he did not adapt all aspects of the organization. The modern Naam, is open not only to young people but to people of all ages, involving the whole village. It has also asked the village elders to be counsellors, which harnesses the African tradition of respect for the wisdom of the elders. Thus, a customary cooperative was gradually transformed into a dynamic institution for village development. Ouedraogo describes the process:
Little by little, the "adapted" Naams grew in number. I must mention here that in the work of awareness education that we undertook, we were very careful never to attack any traditional customs. Instead, we built on the positive aspects of these, on the values of solidarity, understanding, brotherliness and friendship, which were already at the heart of the traditional Naam groups. (Pradervand, 1989: 21)
It was not an easy path. There were many attempts to bring it down. According to Pradervand, for example, in addition to strong antagonism from government agronomists and economists, "a powerful leading national politician attempted to use the State rural extension services to destroy his work..." (Pradervand, 1989: 21). The founder of the Movement, however, refused to give in, and finally brought it to fruition after six years of unflagging efforts.

Ideals of the Naam Movement

What is the philosophy of the Naam Movement? As it implied, it is expressed concisely in the idea of "development without destroying". Ouedraogo, the founder of the Naam Movement argues: "To make the village responsible for its own development, developing without destroying, starting from the peasant: what he is, what he knows, what he knows how to do, how he lives, and what he wants" (in Harrison, 1987: 280). Pradervand continues to explain its ideal:
The Naam is a form of development adapted to local needs, created by the people themselves, which instead of destroying traditional structures from the outside, like leaven, transforms them from the inside. ...It starts with what people are (based on a true appreciation of their African identity), what they know (respect for traditional knowledge and values, which implies the considerable effort necessary to become acquainted with them), their know-how (rediscovery of traditional techniques, some of which, for example in the field of water and soil conservation, have proven invaluable), and what they wish to achieve (which implies meaningful grassroots participation in defining the very objectives of development processes). (Pradervand, 1989: 22)
Ouedraogo also emphasizes people's participation, as well as self-motivation and taking charge of problems, as essential elements of development:
It can be spontaneous, voluntary, created or incited. ... Only conscious participation by populations taking concrete actions makes them realize the gravity of their problems and their capacity to overcome the obstacles that these problems pose.(Ouedraogo, 1989: 17)
As we will see, this Movement attempts to harness low-cost technologies, using local material, that can be taught and spread quickly, such as water-conserving techniques of building stone lines along the contours, and a three-stone stove. Therefore, its ideals can be summarized as "development from within", starting with the people, incorporating indigenous values, tradition and technical knowledge, utilizing local resources and endowments with simple technologies, encouraging people's participation, and aiming at self-reliance.

Practice and impacts of the Naam Movement

How are these ideals implemented in practice? The heart of the Naam Movement lies in the villages. Naam groups have built wells and dams, set up vegetable gardens, planted a village woodlot, established village shops and mills. They also promote savings for village development, rearing chickens, simple water-filters from layers of charcoal, sand and gravel in a clay pot. They have a village health agent, pharmacopoeias, and a cereal bank. The cereal bank allows peasants to avoid purchasing grain from the market in the end of dry season when prices are at their highest. Harrison illustrates the function of the bank:
The cereal bank buys cereal in cheaply at harvest time, from inside and outside the village, stores it locally, and sells it at cost when it is needed. Cereal banks cut out the middle man's profit, provide more favourable prices for growers and consumers, even out the seasonal switchback in prices, and ensure that grain stores are available locally. (Harrison, 1989: 283)
There are three more conspicuous examples of the Movement's activities. The first example is traditional stone lines which are used to restore soil erosion. This is the product of cooperation between a western NGO and local peasants in the Naam group. Peter Wright, a project director of Oxfam discovered an excellent traditional water-conservation scheme when he was working with villagers, but he, at the same time, noticed that if these are aligned properly with the contour levels, they would work better (Wright and Bonkoungou, 1986: 79-86).

Wright invented a cheap method to measure the contour by using a hosepipe, maximizing this schemes' effectiveness. Lines of stones ranged along the contour amazingly "increase infiltration, boost crop yields, reduce erosion, and are even capable of rehabilitating totally degraded land. [Moreover,] [t]he technique of making them is so cheap and simple that the stone lines are spreading with astonishing speed" (Harrison, 1989: 165). The Naam Movement disseminated the techniques widely, from neighbour to neighbour, from village to village.

The second example is the improved three-stone stove which is created based on the traditional three-stone fire. This stove is simple to make with almost no cost, but saves 35-70 percent of wood use. It therefore helps reduce women's workload gathering firewood as well as preventing deforestation. The Naam Movement began introducing it around 1981. The Movement also trained women in the construction of the stove and the training of other women. As a result, 83,500 improved stoves were in use by April, 1986 (Harrison, 1989: 219).

Finally, the Naam Movement has altered gender and inter- and intra-generational relationships. Before this Movement started, village women were never allowed to express their ideas and opinions in public, to eat with men, or even to own their own livestock. But as the Movement has prevailed, women are allowed to express themselves freely in public, and own their own bullocks and sheep. In addition to this, the Movement has revolutionized the relationship between women themselves and connected women in other villages. Marcelline, a female villager in Burkina Faso explains:

With the Naam group, women have become like sisters, whereas before there was not a good understanding between them. Now there are no more racial, ethnic, or caste distinctions. Before, women didn't know each other well, but now they have acquaintances in other villages. There is real sisterhood between the women of the Naam groups. If one of them has a problem, immediately the other will come to her aid. (Pradervand, 1989: 115)
By the same token, the Movement has changed the relationship between generations. Before the Movement came, young villagers did not speak in front of the elders. There used to be a distrust and conflict between the two. However, now, thanks to the change that the Movement brought about, even elders ask young men their opinions and ideas, and vice versa.

Overall, the Naam Movement has been successful in developing people's minds, a spirit of self-reliance, village's well-being, and in transcending gender and generation. By 1985, there were no less than 1350 Naam groups, and "...there are over 4,000 Naam and affiliated groups in the Yatenga area of Burkina Faso, with well over 200,000 1989" (Pradervand, 1989: 22). Moreover, this Movement went beyond its territory and expanded further to form seven regional federations, called the Six "S", with like-minded self-help organizations.

Part 2 - From the Naam Movement to the Six "S" Association


The international Six "S" Association has been set up by Bernard Ledea Ouedraogo, the founder of the Naam Movement, and Bernard Lecomte, a French development specialist, in 1976. Ouedraogo felt the necessity to consolidate self-help movements by exchanging their experiences and ideas with each other, and to raise international funds to make their movements more dynamic. On the other hand, Lecomte disagreed with the orthodox path of aid and sought a new approach which induces the self-reliance of local people. They met at an ENDA (an African environmental NGO) meeting in 1975. There, Ouedraogo's experience and knowledge of rural development as the leader of the Naam Movement were combined with Lecomte's unique idea of aid, "flexible funding", or funding not tied to specific projects which was the product of his sharp critique to the conventional way of funding. Thus, they came to establish the Six "S" Association which is uniquely run by peasants themselves.

Ideals of the Six "S"

The Six "S" stands for Se Servir de la Saison Seche en Savane et au Sahel - Six times the letter 'S' - which in English translates as "Using the dry season in the Savannah and the Sahel". The concept of this Association is, as its name shows, to utilize the dry season, when peasants have no job, to promote village development. More concretely, it aims at connecting the scattered peasant self-help groups and supporting the self-reliance of villagers through providing funds and training groups in the Sahel region.

It is not surprising that its fundamental philosophy is the same as the Naam Movement, "developing without destroying". As mentioned, it strives to build on the best of each tradition in each region rather than to destroy it, as Western approaches generally did. It starts from the peasants rather than from the top that often distrusts or undervalues peasants' knowledge and ability.

What makes the Six "S" unique is, as we will see later, its system of "flexible funding", invented by Lecomte. It means making funds available to each Six "S" self-help group without advance knowledge of the projects for which the funds will be used. In other words, this Association entirely trusts the ability and the spirit of self-reliance of each member organization. This idea derives from the critique of conventional aid which distorts the link between local population and an aid agency, forcing people's initiatives into the framework of the agency's estimates of expenditure. Namely, aid agencies are apt to "impose a timetable and a fairly rigid budget, define the precise aim of the project, negotiate who will carry it through and who the recipients should be, and so on" (Pradervand, 1987: 39). This often results in suffocating local initiatives and self-reliance.

Practice and Impacts of the Six "S"

But how is it possible to put it into practice, even though we understand both negative effects of the orthodox method and positive aspects of "flexible funding"? The unorthodox idea came to be possible by the decision by Marcel Heimo, the director of the Swiss Development Cooperation (DDA). Since then, the DDA and the Six "S" established a durable relationship as a partner, and the DDA is still, thirteen years later, a major backer of the Six "S" (Pradervand, 1989: 99). The machinery of the Six "S" is quite distinct, as well. It is not only formed and run by the peasants themselves, but is also highly decentralized to keep the autonomy of each self-help group. The Six "S" is run by a thirteen-member board (eleven Africans and two expatriates, one of whom is co-founder Lecomte), and its General Assembly of approximately forty members. It has a headquarters and permanent secretariat in Burkina Faso, headed by co-founder Ouedraogo. In each region, from about ten to fifty village groups are organized into a Six-S "zone". "Each zone democratically elects a management committee to administer the fund allocated to the zone at the annual 6-S meeting" (Pradervand, 1987: 38) and it designates representatives to the General Assembly of the Federation. The Assembly represents not only regional grassroots groups but also the main donor organizations (Pradervand, 1989: 100). There, they discuss the shortcomings and failures of the past year as thoroughly and frankly as the success and achievements.

How does the Six "S" implement their ideas in practice? Their activity ranges from all sorts of village projects, motivating, communicating, supervising grassroots groups and their members, to a host of training programs and "flexible funding". Here, let us examine the implementation of "flexible funding"; its training programs; its cultural activities; and its role as grassroots communicator.

As an overview of the practice, it may be pertinent to begin by looking at "flexible funding", which is one of the core activities of the Six "S" (Lecomte, 1986). This funding works in three stages. The first stage is institution building, coming before the implementation of any project, determining peasants' ability to organize themselves. If it is negative, the Association "helps the groups summon up their own resources, starting with savings, which in turn leads to the trust in their own capacities that is the only sound basis for the future action" (Pradervand, 1989: 104). The Six "S" also "helps the groups create a network, find grass-roots communicators, master elementary concepts of management, and lay the groundwork for literacy training" (Pradervand, 1989: 104). In this way, the Association encourages local people to start a dialogue for development as well as giving on-site training to create a basis for self-reliance.

At the second stage, the Association starts to offer financial assistance to the zones which could demonstrate "their ability to save, to manage, and to carry on a dialogue in expressing and defending their viewpoints, needs, and priorities" (Pradervand, 1989: 104). Here, the assistance is "flexible", meaning peasants themselves can decide how it is to be used. It is also not in the form of gifts, but of loans, to prevent peasants from being passive. According to Pradervand, "[t]he first two stages in the development of a federation can easily take eight to ten years" (Pradervand, 1989: 104). Hence, the donors are especially requested to be patient and to nurture grassroots self-help groups. Pradervand argues:

...grass-roots development is a way of travelling more than a goal. If we may use a metaphor, it means being ready to travel in a mammie wagon with people--with all the delays, punctures, breakdowns, and discomfort that implies, but also an incredibly rewarding experience and human enrichment--rather than driving alone in an air-conditioned Range Rover with two spare wheels, a cool drink in the ice-box, and a fixed timetable. (Pradervand, 1987: 41)
In the third stage, Association groups have acquired enough experience and have demonstrated their ability to manage, to do almost everything, by themselves. In this stage, "[t]hey can now become autonomous: they are able to negotiate loans with local banks. The financial role of the partner is over" (Pradervand, 1989: 104). What is the result of "flexible funding"? Pradervand positively evaluates this funding system:
It is the 6-S system of flexible funding that has made it possible for unknown peasant groups to organize themselves regionally, to create an infrastructure, to set up their first training sessions, to purchase means of transportation such as bicycles or motorbikes, and to offer modest compensation to the farmer who undertakes the organization of an area's growing network. (Pradervand, 1989: 103)
The Six "S" also has heavily invested in training and, in addition to its own activities, has a variety of "training in action" programmes collaborating with Agriculture Ministries and foreign NGOs. According to Pradervand, they are:
vegetable gardening and marketing techniques; basic literacy training in the local language; general approaches to erosion prevention; a specific technique for building anti-erosion walls; training peasants with audio-visual aids (6-S has developed a series of slide shows in a variety of West African languages and has purchased the appropriate technology to show them in villages); building walls; livestock breeding; milling; maintenance of village pumps; primary health care and nutrition; ...vaccination and care of poultry... organization of village pharmacies; and construction of coal filters (to filter water). (Pradervand, 1987: 42)
He also illustrates how it works: "[f]or example, if the coordinator of a zone wishes to teach the farmers in the area how to build a small dam, he will invite 6-S members from all over the zone to join in building the dam" (Pradervand, 1989: 101). They emphasize training because of their belief that success depends on training. Training creates new ideas, and ideas are power.

The Six "S" emphasizes cultural activity. Restoring or raising indigenous culture and a sense of identity is essential for "developing without destroying". For instance, Bamba-Tialene, a member village of the Six "S" in Senegal, has an Art and Culture Committee. It undertakes historical and cultural research on the region and is the "think-tank" of the village in defining its development model. Habibou N'Diaya, the president of the Committee argues:

We researched our past to discover things that are vital for our future, for instance, the principle of solidarity and mutual assistance upon which our society was once based. [This principle was generally set aside during the prosperous 1960's, when rising incomes fostered greater individualism.] We have 'rediscovered' traditional herbal medicine and have summarized our findings in a study that is used for literacy training. We also wrote a book on the history of our region. Above all, we have to get back to our roots. We have to be ourselves. (in Pradervand, 1989: 129)
One of the main reasons why these projects have worked quite well is the existence of the grassroots communicators. The communicators, as their name shows, transmit information from the grassroots to the Six "S" leaders and vice versa. They also conduct the literacy courses in local languages, supervise ongoing projects, receive delegations from and visit other villages, and are responsible for basic health care in the village. The communicators even make contacts with local state administration to avoid a conflict with them. Samba, the grassroots communicator in Mali explains: "Initially, the local authorities did not understand what we are trying to do and were very suspicious. Lots of patience and clarification was needed to get the 6-S message across, but now the head of the local administration backs us in our work" (in Pradervand, 1989: 108).

The important point is that they develop these activities, ceaselessly stressing the significance of self-reliance and the Six "S" spirit. Samba, again, asserts what they are:

As I understand it, 6-S spirit means first and foremost relying on yourself, your activities. ...6-S was created to help farmers organize productive activities during the dry season. But it is up to them to find what they want to do. Suggestions that come from outside never work. (in Pradervand, 1989: 107)
As a result of his effort and the spirit, and of financial support from the Six "S", his village has completed many projects ranging from construction of numerous tracks between villages, improved stoves, and a training and meeting centre to reforestation, and creation of a young people's theatre group (Pradervand, 1989: 109).

Problems of the Six "S"

As we have seen, the Association has been quite successful in both mobilizing villagers to be self-reliant and raising their well-being. Nevertheless, the Six "S" is not perfect, and has some problems. The first problem is that delays of reimbursements of loans are increasing. The reason can be explained by the fact that the Association has accepted many groups without checking sufficiently their ability to save and to manage due to increasing demand for membership in the Association. This is also because of increased economic difficulties faced by the Sahelian countries. Secondly, its philosophy sometimes does not seem to be completely disseminated to every member of the Association. Some peasants would say, "Why should we make an effort to save if we can easily get money from 6-S?" This is mainly due to lack of training of the Six "S" communicators as well as its growing membership.

The third problem is that the Association still heavily relies on a few dynamic key persons such as Ouedraogo and Lecomte. Many grassroots movements like the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka hold the same problem. Only time will tell whether or not the movement itself is strong enough to succeed when the current dynamic leaders retire.

Finally, women are under-represented in governing roles in the Six "S". Nevertheless, it should be remembered that development is a long term process, and we need continuing efforts and patience to see positive results. Women in the Sahel, before the Association came, were not even allowed to express their opinions in public. Now, they can do it freely. This is significant progress. In this way, the situation is likely to, gradually but certainly, change. Moreover, these problems are not intrinsic to its philosophy or practice of the Six "S". Indeed, in spite of these problems, the Six "S" has steadily expanded.

In 1988, 6-S comprised approximately 3,560 village groups in 75 zones spread over four countries: Burkina Faso had the highest number of member groups, followed by Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania. Zones were being created in Niger and Northern Togo, and groups in Chad, the Cape Verde Islands, and Guinea Bissau had expressed an interest in joining. (Pradervand, 1989: 99)
The Six "S" has encouraged local initiatives and fostered self-help organizations. What it has done is a long-range attempt to empower local groups to become masters of their own destiny. It takes considerable time, but once established, it seems to be durable and sustainable. Bara Diombele, the village chief of Dogani-Beri in Mali said: "6-S is for us a symbol of hope. We have achieved with 6-S things we ourselves never even imagined we could achieve" (in Pradervand: 98).

Concluding remarks

The Naam Movement and the Six "S" suggest many essential elements for development. Their success clearly articulates the significance of "development from within" approaches --from people's desires to be self-reliant and from each local group itself -- not from the outside. Their success also lies in starting from "tradition", in people's participation with decentralized organization, and in fully utilizing local resources and endowments, which are also ingredients of "development from within". It also underscores the need to rethink the way in which aid is administered by the North, namely, that it should not force local people to develop into a straitjacket that is created by the donors. Rather they should maximize the inner dynamics of self-reliance of local people by trusting them as a partner. Harrison notes that "all the activities [that the Naam movement] has stimulated are managed and run by villagers. Professionals and experts take up their proper role of training, technical and financial bach-up" (Harrison, 1987: 280). The donor's role needs to be one of supporting the local struggles -- the local efforts to develop "from within". Africa is in crisis. But we should not ignore a robust tide which steadily flows at the grassroots of the continent. This tide is the hope for Africa's future and should be supported. In the Naam Movement, the Six "S" indigenous self-help movement in the South, and its collaboration with the supporters which have a proper philosophy from the North, we could see a brighter future for Africa.


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