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"A handbook for trainers on participatory local development: The Panchayati Raj model in India" supports the world's biggest endeavour in grassroots governance taking place in India. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment, adopted in 1992, established a solid legal base for participation of the rural poor in local (district, sub-district and village level) government institutions. Some 238 000 Panchayats (village councils) representing about 600 000 villages have been constituted and about three million rural people, a third of whom, by law have to be women, elected to Panchayat bodies. The handbook is focused on the training needs of these three million newly elected Panchayat members, the majority of them semi- or even non-literate and unprepared for the responsibility of local governance. The Government of India has recognized the need for training of these Panchayat members for capacity-building on participatory local development.

Preparing the Panchayat members, especially the women among them, for their new roles as local decision-makers, calls for education and training on a massive scale, for which adapted training methods and tools are needed. As a first step, there is a need to provide education and training to impart self-confidence to those who have been socially marginalized on caste, ethnic and gender considerations. At the same time, it is necessary to change the attitudes of the socially powerful towards full acceptance of grassroots participation in planning and management of local level development. A major area of training for village council members is awareness and capacity-building for mobilization and sustainable management of social, physical and financial resources in order to improve the livelihoods of the rural poor who, according to latest official government estimates, make up about 19 percent of the country's 1 billion people. Village council members must also be empowered to participate in the planning and implementation of poverty reduction policies/programmes and activities initiated by state and federal level governments.

As the United Nations specialized agency with the mandate to promote sustainable agriculture, rural development and food security, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has embarked on rural development activities to strengthen local institutional capacities for improving livelihoods of the rural poor in this region who form the majority of the world’s poorest people. Home to nearly two-thirds of the 800 million hungry people in the world, with more than one-fourth of these in India, the region is the focus of the November 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) goal to reduce global hunger by half by the year 2015.

A key FAO rural development priority in Asia and the Pacific is to improve grassroots participation in decision-making and delivery of support services through decentralization and good regional and local governance. This is in line with the FAO medium-term plan to ensure that decentralization processes contribute to overall development benefiting rural people, particularly the most disadvantaged. It also supports one of the FAO global priority areas for interdisciplinary action - local institution building to improve capacity for achieving sustainable rural livelihoods.

As part of its priorities in the region, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific promotes networking on strengthening institutional capacities for decentralized decision-making in agriculture and rural development, and small-scale enterprise development in member countries. These activities aim to:

The development of "A handbook for trainers on participatory local development" for elected village Panchayat officials and government staff is the outcome of a process that began with the International Conference on Decentralization jointly organized in 1996 by the FAO Rural Development Division, the World Bank and other UN agencies.

As a follow-up, the FAO Regional Office organized, in November 1998 in Thailand, a regional workshop on Decentralized Rural Development and the Role of Self-Help Organizations. The workshop brought together rural development experts from ten Asian countries which are members of the Regional Center for Integrated Rural Development for Asia and Pacific (CIRDAP). The participants discussed action plans for follow-up by governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector within their countries.

Among others, the meeting recommended that the FAO Regional Office and donor agencies continue to actively promote capacity-building programmes to strengthen awareness and skills of local government staff and elected officials and enhance their decision-making ability for participatory planning and implementation of poverty reduction programmes. It also recommended that FAO sponsor relevant skills-training, such as the preparation and use of training of trainers’ manuals by rural development training centres.

In collaboration with the Bangladesh-based CIRDAP and the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) - an organization of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India - FAO sponsored a series of workshops in India on developing a training of trainers’ handbook.

The handbook aims to improve training capacities of NIRD and non-governmental expert agencies for awareness-building and skills-training of the newly elected Panchayat members. It focuses on the training of elected local officials in two key institutions of Panchayati Raj - the Gram Sabha (body comprising all registered voters in a village) and the Sarpanch (head of the elected village council). The handbook modules were field-tested in India in collaboration with selected stakeholder groups - government and district level planners, trainers from rural development planning and training institutions as well as NGO/village leaders. Indeed, one of the training modules was prepared by an elected Gram Panchayat head.

Although designed for the training needs of all categories of local functionaries associated with the decentralization process in India, the handbook provides guidance on core issues in institutional capacity-building for local development planning, which are, to a large degree, similar in other developing countries within the region. Accordingly, the handbook could be a model for capacity-building training in other countries in the region which have initiated decentralization. Follow-up RAP initiatives are planned for the wide dissemination of the handbook among policy-makers, rural development experts and practitioners within the South and Southeast Asian region.

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
FAO Regional Representative
for Asia and the Pacific

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