Background Reading

In India, the use of bamboo materials and a technique for well sinking using labor-intensive methods has dramatically lowered the cost of installing tube wells for irrigation pumping. Tens of thousands of bamboo tube wells have been installed throughout India. A major advantage is that they can be used with portable, rented pumps instead of stationary ones.

The rural access roads program in Kenya has demonstrated the cost advantages of both labor-intensive construction techniques and maintenance by local villagers under contract for short road sections. “By early 1984, over 7,000 km of roadway had been completed.”

A women’s cooperative food processing organization in India has become a very successful business with sales of more than $4 million annually. Members are partners rather than employees and produce hand-rolled pappad in their homes.

In Tanzania, the decentralized production of thousands of carts and toolbar plows by two private enterprises is being met with strong market demand from farmers. This equipment has a high financial rate of return for farmers, who use it to put more land into production.

Experiences in Appropriate Technology, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-6, book, 150 pages, edited by Robert Mitchell, 1980, in English, French, and Spanish, Canadian Hunger Foundation, out of print.

Nineteen case studies reveal problems and possibilities encountered in appropriate technology efforts in a variety of countries. Good background reading to stimulate thought and discussion on important issues.

Participatory Approaches to Agricultural Research and Development: A State of the Art Paper, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-22, book, 111 pages, by William F. Whyte, 1981.

The agriculture and rural technology research, development, and extension approaches of the 1960s and 1970s failed to reach the majority of rural poor farmers. This volume summarizes and explains what has been learned from these experiences and new models of agricultural research and development that are working. These new approaches involve substantial farmer participation and much greater involvement of scientists in on-farm testing of new crops and crop combinations. “This approach focuses on searching out what the small farmer needs and can use. In this process, scientists must and can learn much from the small farmer.”

This excellent explanation of the importance and benefits of farmer participation in research and development should be required reading for people doing rural technology development work of all kinds.

Coming Full Circle: Farmer’s Participation in the Development of Technology, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-21, publication IDRC-189e, book, 176 pages, edited by Peter Matlon et. al., 1984.

The need to include the farmer’s perspective in agricultural systems research and technology development is now widely recognized by serious researchers. This book is an excellent collection of insights and observations by a group of 50 scientists with experience in using this approach, which is relevant to all kinds of rural technology development efforts.

“Researchers … must learn as fast as possible what the conditions are in the areas where they are working and then get on with the task of doing something about the problems. The farmers have been in the area for years or for decades or for centuries…. They know what is going on…. In partnership with the farmers we have to set about to see what can be done to improve conditions, given all the factors that are there. If fertilizer is not available, then researchers should not worry about fertilizer, although they can advise policy makers and infrastructure managers that it should be available. People doing research have got to address the systems that exist and stop finding excuses. They must stop saying they have a perfectly valid technology if only the policymaker would provide a fertilizer market. That does not help farmers.”

For readers who are not yet convinced of the need to incorporate farmers’ thinking into their work, this volume will provide ample evidence to change that. And readers who are already persuaded will find this a rich source of ideas to make their work more successful.

Strategies for Small Farmer Development Projects, Executive Summary, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-26, revised paper, 34 pages, by E.R. Morss et. al., USAID, 1975.

This important summary of a USAID-funded study of strategies for small farmer development finds that overall project success is affected most heavily by local action. The most important components of local action were found to be 1) small farmer involvement in decision-making in the implementation phase of a development project, and 2) small farmer resource commitment (labor and cash) to a development project. Chalk one up for community participation! This is essential reading with implications for all areas of community development.

Bureaucracy and the Poor: Closing the Gap, book, 258 pages, edited by David Korten and Felipe Alfonso, 1983.

The management of development efforts to successfully incorporate local-level needs and priorities is the theme of this volume. Experience from around the world is presented to illuminate the common obstacles that tend to prevent development bureaucracies from achieving their stated goals. Development professionals will find much familiar here, and may also be able to use this material to anticipate likely future difficulties in their own programs.

“This review of obstacles to participation at the agency, community and societal levels shows the difficulties of the participatory approach. Often many of these obstacles are ignored in program design and management; hence it is not surprising that many efforts to evoke participation do not work. Success requires major transformations in the way an agency performs its task, in the way the community relates to the agency, and in the way the society views the poor and their rights. Such transformations are inevitably slow and filled with setbacks. But the reasons for seeking participation are compelling. There are clearly no pat answers to solving the problems, but the struggle to find them evidenced in numerous programs around the world adds a healthy dimension to the world development experience.”

An underlying theme is that most of the government agencies now in place were created during a period in which highly centralized decision-making was the expected pattern. Thus the structures of these bureaucracies do not easily lend themselves to greater participation at the local level. A variety of actions to make these organizations more responsive and thus more successful are suggested. The authors concede the uncomfortable truth that politics is an undeniable part of efforts to reach the poor. Some interesting parallels are drawn between the skills needed for entrepreneurial management and those needed in management of development efforts. More evidence is presented that suggests that outstanding managers can often find a way to overcome typical difficulties; yet the need is clearly for programs that will succeed with average managers.

Not surprisingly, the authors go farther in identifying the nature of these problems than in articulating convincing solutions. The stories of a few extraordinarily effective institutions are certainly hopeful. The lessons of this book may be best absorbed by members of nongovernmental organizations not immobilized by inertia, indifference, self-interest, and the sheer enormity of the problems that entangle government bureaucracies.

Readers able to plow through the difficult language and sentence structures, and the partially redundant contributions from different authors, will find valuable thought-provoking insights here, gleaned from many years of experience.


Putting People First, book, 430 pages, edited by Michael Cernea, 1985, World Bank.

This book is a collection of thirteen essays with practical advice on making the people side of development projects work successfully. Topics include irrigators’ organizations, new land settlements, and projects for livestock, fisheries, forestry, and rural roads.

Robert Chambers, one of the world’s most sensible observers of the rural development scene, makes some excellent recommendations on how to gather information quickly and cheaply for rural development projects. (See also The Art of the Informal Agricultural Survey, by Robert Rhoades, reviewed elsewhere in the A.T. Sourcebook).

“Decision makers need information that is relevant, timely, accurate, and usable. In rural development, a great deal of the information that is generated is, in various combinations, irrelevant, late, wrong, or unusable anyway. It is also often costly to obtain, process, analyze, and digest…. The challenge is to find more cost-effective ways for outsiders to learn about rural conditions—ways that lead closer to the optimal in tradeoffs between the cost of collection and learning, and the relevance timeliness, accuracy, and actual beneficial use of the information and understanding that is obtained.”

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