alternative options are reviewed prior to the hardening of most aspects of project design; " • preclude apparently necessary investigations and analyses; " • make it difficult to carry government and, still more, the
beneficiaries along with a rapidly evolving project concept; and " • restrict the range of disciplines that can be represented in
the project preparation team to one which precludes specialized treatment of all major components." In this atmosphere of pressures for speed and volume, projects are pushed forward whether or not there is a real need for them. Often Third World governments know that the projects are inappropriate but accept them either because they bring certain prestige items — a Mercedes or equipment, for example — or because of the crying need for foreign exchange. In Nepal, for
The FAO Director-General is renowned for his squabbling with the heads of the other UN agencies in order to expand
the range of FAO's activities.
instance, a country where over 40 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, external assistance represents 70 per cent of the government budget. In many African countries the impact of "agricultural development projects" at village level is of marginal importance: their real role is to support the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture by providing salaries and equipment.
For UN agencies like FAO, there is the added attraction of gaining 13 per cent "support costs" on all projects they manage. This is a useful source of revenue. With the UN Development Programme spending some $750 million annually via the agencies, the stakes are high to get as large a share as possible of the cake (however, this source of funding may now dry up, see Box, p.49). Small wonder that the FAO Director-General is renowned for his squabbling with the heads of the other UN agencies in order to expand the range of FAO's activities — principally by taking over any activity that can remotely be classified as "agricultural" or "rural", including rural poverty and rural industry.
The Myth of "Participation" FAO's preoccupation with speeding up the project cycle, and thus expanding its power and budget, helps explain why despite its rhetoric, it has consistently failed to involve local people in the evolution and management of its development projects.
In July 1979, FAO organized the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), which culminated in a "Declaration of Principles" adopted (with certain reservations) by 146 governments. In his statement at the end of the conference, Director-General Edouard Saouma called the Declaration, "a conceptual and moral orientation for future action", and described it as the "Peasants' Charter".10
FAO apparently thought that through this declaration it had broken the barriers to effective participation and that, together with an increased use of terms like "participatory" and "actionoriented" in documents, it would dampen demands for local people to participate effectively in projects. Yet the wording used by
FAO in its "Peasants' Charter" reflects its true colours. The chapter on "Objectives and Strategies", as drafted by FAO staff, incorporates a typical top-down approach: "promote people's organizations..." By contrast, the reference to public participation in the section "National Programmes of Action", drafted and sponsored by NGOs, uses a quite different language: "Remove all barriers to the free association of rural people ... "
Perhaps predictably, the Charter has achieved little in the field of agrarian reform. On the contrary, the International Federation of Plantation, Agricultural and Allied Workers (IFPAAW) points to "an increasing landlessness, unequal distribution of wealth, violence against the rural poor and a general malaise in the informal rural sector".11 IFPAAW also notes that, being conceived, adopted and applied by governments alone, the WCARRD Programme of Action "has implied government control" — thus denying the very principles of "people's participation".
A senior officer of IFPAAW states that her organization has virtually given up trying to change FAO' s attitude towards participation, be it at a theoretical level in the annual meetings between FAO and the trade union organizations, or in the field. "We simply don't see eye-to-eye with them", she says, quoting an attempt at collaboration in the Honduras (a women's training activity) which was simply presented by FAO on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
FAO's excuse for its failure effectively to involve peasants in projects is that it is governments who call the shots. Anisur Rahman, who has been involved in development issues for many years, recognizes that the problem exists: "Governments are mainly motivated by projects which will bring in foreign exchange". However, he points out that FAO could, i f it wished, make use of international law to ensure participation, in particular the International Labour Organization Convention Clause 141, which addresses "Organizations of Rural Workers and their Role in Economic and Social Development". This view is supported by IFPAAW which, while agreeing that FAO must "recognize the national sovereignty of governments", states that, "it can nevertheless use its influence to promote the much wider participation of people in agriculture and rural development by firmly supporting the principles" of the ILO Convention.12
ILO was founded in 1919 with a tripartite structure in which
Were FAO to permit effective local participation in its development projects, it is unlikely that its projects
would ever get the go-ahead.
workers have an official place alongside employer and government representatives. Such a structure has been mooted on various occasions for the agencies such as FAO which were created in the mid-1940s, but this has always been vigorously opposed. FAO has systematically refused to provide any facilities for NGOs to develop their relations with it (an "NGO room" for instance). Clearly, it is determined to adhere strictly to its mandate as an intergovernmental organization. It certainly does not see itself as an organization at the service of the world's peasants. Indeed, were FAO to permit effective local participation in its development projects, it is unlikely that they would ever get the go-ahead. Why, after all, should peasants actively participate in projects which are specifically aimed at transforming their whole way of life? Projects which, from experience, they know can only serve
The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991