Rethinking agricultural planning

Large agricultural development organizations, FAO included, have been placing increased priority on projects that encourage greater community participation and greater sensitivity to the different needs of men and women farmers. But they are sometimes hindered by the fact that the working procedures of large institutions "are usually neither participatory nor gender-responsive". This is one of the observations contained in 'The Responsive Planner', an essay included in a recent FAO publication, 'From Farmer to Planner & Back: Harvesting Best Practices'.

The new book encapsulates and comments on the results of a workshop, Harvesting Best Practices, organized by FAO's Women in Development Service in December 1997. The workshop, funded by the Government of Norway, brought together men and women from 12 FAO field projects to discuss best practices for incorporating gender issues into participatory development planning. The documentation produced for this workshop served as the basis for a special feature, Gender and Participation in Agricultural Development Planning, on FAO's Sustainable Development Department's website, SD Dimensions. This material has been reprinted in another chapter of the book, 'Key Issues from Ten Case Studies'.

'The Responsive Planner', subtitled 'a framework for gender-responsive agricultural development planning' builds on the lessons learned from the workshop and the case studies. Its author, Vicki Wilde, has been a FAO consultant and is currently Programme Leader of the Gender and Diversity Programme at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Her essay is intended primarily for agricultural development planners and managers, but it will be of interest to anyone working in rural development. From the point of view of workshop participants, a new framework for agricultural planning is clearly needed. They were explicit about where the weaknesses lie in raising gender sensitivity in agricultural development projects and programmes. "The workshop participants said the focus on the field-level and policy-level has left out the middle: those who plan agricultural development programmes and oversee their implementation," writes Ms Wilde.

The farmer as client / The planner as learner

Ms Wilde links the lessons learned during the workshop with management practices that have been adopted in the private sector. "More and more, farmers are being viewed as 'clients' for whom agricultural services must be tailored," she writes.

If agricultural development planners want their projects to have an impact, they must be sure that they meet the needs of the farmers, both men and women, who are the intended beneficiaries. This is what is meant by 'demand-driven' or 'client-responsive' agricultural services. Planners and their organizations must be willing to learn from farmers and must routinely adjust their recommendations to reflect what they have learned. "To meet our responsibilities as learner-planners, we must become obsessed with listening," writes Ms Wilde. And, she adds, planners need to make sure they are listening to everyone who has a stake in the development proposal - men and women, young and old, rich and poor. Rural communities are not homogenous; they are made up of diverse groups with diverse needs. Planners must be prepared to accept and embrace this complexity.

The structure of learning organizations

Planners do not work in a vacuum; they are part of larger institutions. In her review of the workshop proceedings, Ms Wilde found that " the greatest barrier to mainstreaming gender and participation in agricultural development stems not from the field, but from the very institutions we work with."

The lack of an effective internal policy of gender equity and equality in an agricultural development institution can undermine its efforts to carry out gender-sensitive projects. For example, an organization lacking female staff members may have a hard time advocating for the full participation of women farmers in development projects.

"The long-term success of a participatory process depends more on the skills and enthusiasm of the field staff than on any other single factor," writes Ms Wilde. "In learning organizations, the organizational chart looks like a reverse pyramid, with field-level people on top and supervisors and planners below them in a support and facilitation role." One of her conclusions is that for participatory, gender-sensitive programmes to be effective, planners at all levels of management will need to rethink their own role in the planning process.

24 May 2000


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