The FAO Rural Institutions and Participation Service (1997)

  This document has been made available in electronic format by
Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives COPAC

                     PARTICIPATION SERVICE


Farmers and agricultural workers face an unprecedented challenge:
to satisfy the growing needs of a rapidly expanding population
without causing further harm to our increasingly fragile global
environment. Yet they will only meet that challenge if they are
provided the right price and policy incentives to do so. 
Regrettably the voices of farmers, particularly small farmers and
agricultural workers, are seldom heard in policy making arenas
nor are they consulted with or asked to participate in the
identification and development of new production technologies. 
This constitutes a major problem since these small farmers and
agricultural workers, both men and women, constitute the majority
of food producers in developing countries.

While rural people's organizations, like cooperatives, producer
associations, rural labour unions, rural women's groups and other
self-help organizations have played important roles in
articulating small farmer and rural worker concerns and
facilitating their participation in advanced countries, their
performance in developing countries has been weak. Long
accustomed to government sponsorship and control, organizations
of rural producers in many countries need to be strengthened
using participatory approaches. Mechanisms for facilitating
dialogue and technical collaboration among governments, NGOs and
farmers' organizations also need to be reinforced.


Approved by the FAO Conference in November 1991, the FAO Plan of
Action for People's Participation in Rural Development provides
a framework for FAO and government action to support farmer and
rural worker participation through rural people's organizations
in seven key areas:

*  promoting awareness of the development role of people's
   participation and people's organizations,
*  creating more favourable legal and policy conditions for
   people's participation.
*  decentralizing government decision-making 
*  strengthening the internal capacities of rural people's
*  promoting increased dialogue among governments, donors, NGOs
   and people's organizations,
*  introducing appropriate operational procedures and methods,
*  monitoring and evaluating people's participation.


The Rural Institutions and Participation Service forms part of
the Rural Development Division which is located within the
Department of Sustainable Development.  One of the Service's main
goals is to promote people's participation in rural development
with particular emphasis on the poorest and most marginalized
rural population groups by strengthening the self-help capacities
of people's organizations that serve the needs of farmers and
agricultural/rural workers.



With the trend toward government budget cuts, increasing
privatization and decentralization, local participation in rural
development now makes economic sense.  Yet many governments still
do not fully appreciate the benefits of broader farmer and rural
worker participation in development. 

The Service seeks to raise awareness of these benefits through:

      - Policy advice

It helps governments develop strategies and programmes to
strengthen farmer and rural worker participation through rural
people's organizations, often as part of structural adjustment

      - Networking

It helps forge partnerships and promote dialogue among
governments, development agencies, NGOs and rural people's
organizations.  Arrangements include specialized national units
concerned with participation and collaboration networks at
national, regional or international levels.

     -  Information

It prepares and disseminates a wide variety of printed and
audio-visual materials on participation aimed at raising public
awareness of the benefits of people's participation in rural
development through voluntary people's organizations.


Small-scale farmers represent a powerful force for development.
But in order to fully mobilize their energies and resources, they
need organizations that promote their interests.  The Rural
Institutions and Participation Service works closely with
governments, farmers and rural workers' organizations and other
rural groups to create and strengthen these structures "from the
bottom up".  It does this through:

     -  Project design

It designs pilot projets to test and demonstrate the
effectiveness of using participatory, small informal groups,
farmer cooperatives, rural workers organizations or NGO
approaches to improve productivity.

     -  Specialized technical assistance

It helps government formulate measures aimed at strengthening
farmer organizations, e.g. legislative reform, cooperative
finance and group enterprise management.

    -  Workshops, technical consultations and forums

It represents FAO in biennial consultations with international
trade unions, and helps organize national, regional and
international meetings on topics of critical concern, such as
capital formation in agricultural cooperatives.

    -  Research, technical guidelines and training materials

It conducts research and prepares materials and guidelines for
governments and farmers' and rural workers' organizations on
cooperative administration, accounting and finance, member
participation and education and group enterprise management.

    -  Inter-agency cooperation

It collaborates with agencies involved in farmers' and rural
workers' organization development - e.g. the Committee for the
Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC), which
represents the United Nations, the International Labour Office,
the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, the
International Co-operative Alliance, the World Council of Credit
Unions and the International Union of Food Workers.


          Rural Institutions and Participation Service (SDAR)
          Food and Agriculture Organization
          Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
          00100 Rome, Italy

          Telephone:  (39-6) 5225-6232; 5225-3918; 5225-4646
          Fax:        (39-6) 5225-3152

                                        Updated: 4 April 1997