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The concept of Integrated Rural Development had come into being by the mid1 970s. In accordance with this, the staff of SARH and their FAO advisers decided that the development programme should take into account all the factors that determine, or influence, the living and working conditions of rural families. However, the SARH planners also took into account that peasants do not usually see their problems in terms of separate components; rather, they see their reality as a single continuum in which the elements are all inter-related and integrated.

For this reason, a development programme should be perceived by the peasants as a complete and integral response to their situation, even if the development technicians see it as being made up of different components (e.g. infrastructure, technical assistance, credit, research, training and organisation of farmers), each calling for a high degree of specialisation. |

This concept could not be put into practice without the participation of the peasants in the whole process of local planning of development actions, in their implementation, and in the monitoring and evaluation of the results.


The insights into how a development programme should meet the real needs of the peasants were not plucked out of the air. Much research was done with peasants themselves, and many of these sessions were recorded in audio, with the prior consent of the participants.

Then, in 1977, when research and diagnosis with peasants were in progress in Zapotal, Tabasco State - an area that had been chosen for a possible first development initiative - one of the professionals involved had an important idea: why not try video recording and playback to promote discussion among the peasants and to help them analyse their situation? At the same time, the researchers might gain a clearer understanding of how the peasants saw things. There happened to be an FAO project to support farmer training in Mexico at that time. It had some old black-and-white, open-reel video equipment which it lent to the Zapotal researchers.

The results of the video recording and playback with peasants were even better than expected. The process seemed to open the way for what the staff of SARH and their FAO advisers wanted to achieve: that the people themselves should become the protagonists in their own development. This attitude among the staff was responded to positively from the peasant side. The video recordings proved to be a stimulus for them to articulate more clearly their opinions about the reality in which they lived. These same recordings were used by the SARH staff as audiovisual testimonials about the attitudes and ways of thinking of the peasants. They were taken into account in the planning for development in the tropical wetlands, and the video-recording in Zapotal set a trend for the future.


In 1978, the result of this research and planning culminated in a development project known as Programa de Desarrollo Rural Integrado del Tropico Humedo -PRODERITH (Programme of Integrated Rural Development in the Tropical Wetlands). This programme had two phases. The first was from 1978 to 1984, and the second from 1986 to 1995.

PRODERITH started out as a special programme within SARH. Its administrative location was in the Comision del Plan Nacional Hidraulico (Commission for the National Water Plan) which had been formed in 1976.

Over the years, a number of institutional changes have affected PRODERITH. In 1986, the Comision del Plan Nacional Hidraulico was transformed into the Instituto Mexicano de Tecnologia del Agua - IMTA (Mexican Institute for Water Technology). This coincided with the move of a number of government institutions to Cuernavaca, about 80 km from Mexico City, following the 1985 earthquake. IMTA is lodged in a large and fine complex surrounded by trees and gardens in the outskirts of Cuernavaca, and this also became the headquarters of PRODERITH.

Then in 1989, a Comision Nacional del Agua - CNA (National Water Commission) was created. This is the supreme body that looks after all aspects of water in Mexico, and so IMTA, and with it PRODERITH, were placed under the overall control of this new CNA.


Both phases of PRODERITH were supported by World Bank loans. There was a funding hiatus around 1985, between the two phases, which resulted in some loss of impetus, as we shall see later.

Given the importance that those responsible for PRODERITH gave to the participation of rural communities at all stages, the Government of Mexico requested FAO's help for the aspects concerning communication for development. As a result, both phases of PRODERITH were supported by FAO technical assistance projects in the area of communication.

The Government of Mexico made financing available for this technical assistance under what are known as "unilateral trust fund" arrangements with FAO 1. The project for establishing a Communication System for rural development under PRODERITH I was known as UTF/MEX/025/MEX. The FAO technical assistance project for communication under PRODERITH II was known as UTF/MEX/027/MEX. Originally planned for a three year duration, it was later extended to four years.



The first phase, PRODERITH I, was based on three overall strategies. Firstly, it was to be a learning process. Plan La Chontalpa was only one of many failures in attempts to bring development to tropical wetlands in Mexico and in other countries. Many of these attempts turned into ecological disasters because they tried to introduce production patterns and techniques commonly used in temperate zones. Instead, PRODERITH would try to generate field experiences that were small enough to be test benches but big enough to be replicated on a larger scale.

Secondly, it would aim to achieve participation of all involved, whether they were peasants, PRODERITH staff, or staff of cooperating institutions.

Thirdly, if it was to assume an integrated rural development nature, PRODERITH would need to foster first-rate coordination between the various institutions involved in order to generate synergy, as opposed to the institutional friction that is so common.

Its overall objectives were to increase the agricultural production and productivity in the tropics, improve the living and working conditions of peasants and their families, and conserve natural resources.

Its immediate objectives were to work intensely, as a pilot operation, with 3 500 peasant families on 54 000 hectares of land, in three separate project areas of the tropical wetlands. The aim was to quadruple the income of peasant families over the level obtained in 1977. At the same time, the Programme would provide technical assistance to farmers occupying 500 000 hectares in expansion zones around the Programme's intensive zones, increasing their incomes by 50 percent over the 1977 levels. The Programme would also formulate and test a rural development methodology, and train 500 development professionals in its application.

The components of PRODERITH that would lead to achieving the objectives were opening of access roads; building of infrastructure (especially for drainage and soil conservation); research into agricultural and livestock production in the tropics; technical assistance; credit; organisation and social participation of peasants (firstly for production and later to assume responsibility for the new infrastructure); and finally, a Rural Communication System as an integral part of the Programme. The latter would facilitate participatory diagnosis and planning, training, and institutional information and coordination. The second phase of PRODERITH set out to expand the experience of the first over a much larger area, as we shall see in detail later.


PRODERITH began its work in three areas of the tropical wetlands: Zapotal and Tacotalpa, both in the State of Tabasco, and Tesechoacan, in the State of Veracruz. The Programme took a novel approach from the start. Before beginning any intervention whatsoever, it sent promotores (this word cannot be satisfactorily translated. They are development workers with good inter-personal and group dynamic skills whose task is to promote discussion and analysis and generally prepare the ground for development actions) to live with the communities. They were specially trained and, if necessary, spoke the local language. Their role was to get to know the people, win their confidence, and start to discuss possible development actions that PRODERITH could support.

The next step was the creation of unidades de campo (field units) in the Programme areas. These were small, multi-disciplinary teams of development specialists who had been trained by the Programme in three-month courses which covered the technical, economic, and social aspects of rural development. Normally, a field unit would consist of an agronomist, a veterinarian or livestock specialist, a civil engineer, and a social worker. They lived in the countryside, close to the communities they were working with.

PRODERITH was to build much infrastructure, particularly drainage systems and roads, and a key task of the field units was to ensure that this infrastructure met the real needs. At the same time, the field units promoted human, social, and economic development among the peasants so that they could make optimum use of the infrastructure.

The multi-disciplinary field units were supported by "methodology groups"; there was one such group for each four field units. The methodology groups provided back-up to their field units, and they provided the communication inputs -primarily video recording and playback and simple printed materials - needed for them to work successfully at the community level.

The first task of the field units, helped by the communication staff from their methodology group with their video, was to present and explain PRODERITH in detail. Then their task was to work with the communities in a diagnosis of their situation, of their options for development, and to reach consensus about the specific actions that would be taken by the community. PRODERITH, from its side, committed itself to build infrastructure and supply inputs such as technical assistance, credit, and the like.

The field units, with support from the communication staff and the informational and educational videos they produced, were also responsible for orientation and training at the community level.

As proposed from the beginning, the participation of all concerned - peasants, technicians, and institutional staff- remained a basic tenet of the PRODERITH methodology, and it was fostered through communication. And another cornerstone for PRODERITH was the in-depth initial training, and subsequent refresher training, of its field staff. Especially important was to give technical people a social focus for their work. The first phase of PRODERITH trained more than 400 people as rural development agents.

1. Most technical assistance by FAO is financed by donor agencies or industrialized countries for activities in a developing country. Under "unilateral trust fund " arrangements, the developing country itself pays for the technical assistance, though it often uses funds from a source such as the World Bank to do so. This was the case for both phases of PRODERITH. The letters UTF at the beginning of a project number identify it as a unilateral trust fund project.

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