Non-Governmental Organizations and the State in Asia (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Oct, 1997
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.7, No.2, May-Aug. 1997, pp.7-9)

Non-Governmental Organisations and the State in Asia: 
Rethinking roles in sustainable agricultural development
Edited by John Farrington and David J. Lewis with S. Satish
and Aurea Miclat-Teves : a book review by Allie Irvine

Part of the Non-Governmental Organisations Series, Non-Governmental
Organisations and the State in Asia looks at the relationship between
NGOs and the state, and their role in democratisation and consolidation
of rural civil society.

The book focuses on participation of the rural poor in agricultural change. 
It examines how the technology and management practice needed for
sustainable improvement of productivity in small-scale, low-income
farming might be developed, and how to NGOs and government interact
at this level.

The book draws on case studies in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Indonesia,
Thailand and the Philippines to focus on the institutional arrangements
needed to promote agricultural technology development to enhance the
lives of the poor.

There is a modern, growing perception that NGOs are more successful
at rural sustainable development because, through them, the poor can
participate in designing solutions.  Community involvement in the
delivery of programs and services has become necessary as structural
adjustment policies force states to claw back funding. 

As the public sector failed to meet the needs of the rural poor, NGOs
moved in to fill the void.  NGOs - and indeed co-operatives - carry with
them three perceptions:

1.	NGOs are a force for democracy - the nature of grassroots
	organisations allows people to participate at all levels.

2.	NGOs are effective tools to sustainable development and alleviating
	poverty and operating on a small scale they are more flexible and
	respond rapidly to people's needs.

3.	NGOs enhance efficiency - their proximity to communities allows
	them to deliver more appropriate services more quickly.

The risk of this positive image is that, as NGOs gain strength,
governments may see fit to acquit themselves of responsibility for
the delivery of programmes, services and infrastructure. As their
numbers and funding increase, so too does the opportunity for

A study of interaction between NGOs and government in agriculture
showed that community organisations offer a participatory model
state-sponsored programs might use.  People in fledgling democracies
and the disenfranchised also benefit from the opportunity to be involved
in decision-making.

While NGOs can accurately pinpoint problems, they often lack the
technologies to solve them.  Here, the state and NGOs can work together.

Their awareness of local conditions and requirements give NGOs a strong
lobbying position;  this position makes NGOs valuable to governments
seeking to strengthen themselves politically.

In order for NGOs and government to work successfully together, the
state must take a tolerant or favourable view of them.  The relationship
will also be productive if the two share a common vision.  Differences in
development models of states and NGOs may make interaction difficult
(differences among NGOs may also pose a challenge to that sector).
NGOs must maintain their autonomy.  NGOs and government are not
compelled to work together.

NGOs and governments were visited in all countries surveyed.  The study
-	NGOs' role in agricultural change
-	NGOs' interaction with government
-	NGOs' interaction with each other
-	NGO and government learning processes

The diversity of the Asian region, varied economical and political contexts
and differences between individual NGOs make generalisations impossible. 
The study covered a wide range of agricultural issues in respective
countries, from raising livestock, to forestry, seed varieties, irrigation, land
ownership, pest management, waste disposal, agricultural training, soil
conservation, environmental planning, rural restructuring, indebtedness, to
rice and fish farming.

NGOs play several roles in their interaction with governments.

1.	Extending the benefits of research to communities - Governments
	often spend considerable resources on developing agricultural
	technologies that never reach the poor.  NGOs interactive relationship
	with rural communities create excellent opportunities for field-testing
	government research, adapting it to local circumstances, and offering
	feedback.  This potential is often not realised because NGOs must
	invest considerable effort in scaling down technologies developed by
	governments for use in communities.

	Governments and NGOs may also have different expectations of the
	relationship, or their respective clients may differ considerably. 
	Government staff may not be committed to such endeavours, placing
	heavier responsibility on the NGO.

2.	Facilitating organisation of community groups capable of using
	technology -  In this scenario, neither governments or NGOs deliver
	the technology.  Instead, governments use NGO access to hard-to
	reach sections of the population and NGOs gain through increased
	resources from government.  The project-specific nature of this
	relationship may detract from the NGO's wider agenda, and
	government may use this approach as part of a cost-cutting agenda.
	NGOs can combat this by including a training component that will
	ensure that another service provider can eventually take over.

3.	NGOs as innovators - NGOs offer innovative approaches to
	agriculture in its efforts to respond to the opportunities and
	constraints identified by the rural poor.  Government can take up
	these innovations in the delivery of its own programs.

4.	NGOs as networkers - NGOs establish a fora for exchanging ideas
	with government.  In some situations, NGOs might overlap and
	encroach on one another's mandate.  Governments and NGOs can
	work together to eliminate duplication of services.

5.	NGOs as advocates - Advocacy is central to the function of NGOs
	and they are often able to accomplish significant policy changes
	through lobbying government, though advocacy can sometimes
	overshadow necessary grassroots work.

Government-initiated relations are possible. Most  interaction between
NGOs and governments is initiated by the non-governmental sector. In
some cases, however, NGOs have been used as centres for demonstration
and training.  Governments may also appeal to NGOs to take over certain
functions in the economy.  They may also consult them on social and
economic policy.  A successful relationship relies on mutual trust. 
Governments must recognise that NGOs may compete with each other for
resources.  NGOs should also be encouraged to formulate policies that
address their concerns and not focus solely on advocacy.

Final conclusions:
-	NGOs' small size relative to government and their commitment to
	decentralised decision-making result in flexible, non-hierarchical

-	NGO approaches to agriculture technology development and
	dissemination tend to be more issue-oriented than government. They 
	are more concerned with action than research and they focus on
	application and are results-oriented.

-	NGOs know who their clients are and can cater to specialised groups.

-	NGOs take a more participatory approach which results in more
	innovative strategies and makes change sustainable.

-	NGOs are small and may not be able to see broader opportunities
	beyond a specific project.

-	Their size may also prevent them from addressing the wider structural
	and policy factors which influence the environment in which they
	operate;  they may also lack specific skills yet be unable to co-ordinate
	share arrangements for resources and facilities.

-	NGOs may lack accountability and may not permit the rural poor to
	influence the size, structure and objectives of their organisation.

The relationship between government and NGOs holds tremendous
opportunity for sustainable development in agricultural technologies in
Asia.  Benefits to the rural poor can be significant if these two entities
focus on service delivery, promoting institutional stability, providing
innovative solutions and improving communications. 

(Non-governmental Organisations and the State in Asia is published by
Routledge, 1993.)