When decentralising, put the fisherfolk and farmers first
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Laly, Marcellin. 2002. When decentralising, put the fisherfolk and farmers first. Spore 99. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to cite or share this item: https://hdl.handle.net/10568/47599
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Throughout Africa, the dual influences of globalisation and decentralisation are increasingly gaining a foothold. As a result, agricultural production has become a high-risk activity, a situation made worse by two key handicaps: natural disasters...
Throughout Africa, the dual influences of globalisation and decentralisation are increasingly gaining a foothold. As a result, agricultural production has become a high-risk activity, a situation made worse by two key handicaps: natural disasters and the disorganised state of producers. Against that, there is a strong demand for quality products and we should find ways to meet it. Where can we find the tools to do so? Farmers need to have access to knowledge and know-how if they are to succeed in improving their production, both in terms of quality and quantity. They have long been hindered by traditional methods of agricultural extension work characterised by being either contractual , such as the trial-and-demonstration model, or consultative , making much of trying to take endogenous knowledge into account. These models were managed in the hands of the trainers and did not properly involve farmers. It is little wonder that they either failed, or had rather mediocre results. Today, another model is emerging, which is collegial in nature, characterised by a sharing approach. In this, farmers have become partners and they are involved in all steps of decision-making. In our work in Benin, the national research services have followed this line and have come out with a new methodological tool: the village-level participatory approach (VPA). It brings together the stakeholder partners: farmers, growers, fisherfolk, fish-farmers, herdsmen, foresters, rural women, NGOs and development associations at all levels of the process. They are involved in analysing constraints on the land, improving agricultural production systems and in natural resource management. This has, in turn, helped to strengthen the extension system, and to arrive at a participatory method of planning development activities. The village-level participatory approach has four basic components: a general diagnosis of the situation; an analysis of the problems at hand and identification of solutions; planning; and setting up a consultative committee. This consultative committee is open to all levels of occupation, and it has captured the interest of farmers in no uncertain way. They know exactly what they want, and they have caught on that their future was in their hands. The programme started in Benin in 1998 . Today it covers more than 1,000 villages across the country and in 77 sub-prefectures. It works through multi-disciplinary teams and has a rigorous system of monitoring and evaluation. After three years of experience, it can be safely said the level of awareness on the part of the farmers has evolved. They are now fully devoted to their work, well-accustomed to their tasks and receptive to new ideas. Now it is a question of helping them to be better protected against pre- and post-harvest diseases and attacks, including in the area of storage. They are prepared to take risks, to work hard and to throw themselves at their work with great determination. No programme, no study, no development plan can even contemplate being objective from now on without following this project, that much is clear. The idea behind decentralisation is that it is local communities which manage their own affairs, under the supervision of the State. If this process is to succeed, we need to make sure that the bodies of governance are closer to the governed, and that decision-making bodies are transferred to the levels of government and administration which are closest to the field. As a phenomenon, decentralisation is well established in Europe, and it has also made great progress in Africa. Here, in countries such as Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia it has given an important impetus to rural development, which has moved forward as a result. In other countries, those with a centralised form of government such as Benin, the day of decentralisation has also arrived. The government has taken all the necessary steps, legal, social and institutional, to move into decentralisation mode. The government is playing its role as guide, monitor and regulator, and large-scale information campaigns are underway. At the forefront of all this, the VPA has taken the lead in already encouraging producers to manage their own affairs. Despite these moves, it has to be admitted that rural development is a fragile and vulnerable practice, and it needs locally elected representatives and their advisers to meet certain conditions. They have to play the game fair and square with their constituents and be accountable for their activities and decisions. It should be possible to achieve local sustainable development through the strategy of decentralisation, if it makes use of the VPA. Then we can confront the problems of poverty and open a new path towards rural development at the grassroots. This is an opportunity which we must not miss. [caption to illustration] Marcellin Laly is a trained agricultural technician, specialising in fisheries and fish-farming. He is the organiser of the Committee for Village-level Participatory Approach (VPA) in Grand-Popo in Benin. The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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