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Process Notes

on participatory dialogues with local actors

The identification of local partners, study sites and priorities for collaborative research were based on extensive participatory dialogues facilitated by the IIED project coordinator in each country. Dialogues with local actors dependent on biodiversity for their livelihoods were by far the most important aspect of this participatory process. Village level meetings and interactions in rural areas ensured that:
  1. the IIED coordinator had the opportunity to present and discuss the aims and activities of the DGIS supported project with farmers, indigenous peoples and external support organisations.

  2. the farmers and indigenous peoples had an opportunity to assess, -on their own terms-, the desirability and relevance of engaging in collaborative activities with IIED. For example, after initial discussions with the IIED coordinator, farmers in Andhra Pradesh (India) asked for time to reflect, decide and give their informed consent for the project to go ahead (or not) in their area. Village level discussions were then held over a period of 2 to 3 months and the IIED coordinator was informed of the outcomes of villagers decisions. Similar dialogues and clarifications have taken place with Kechua indigenous communities in Peru and with small farmers in Indonesia to ensure that the principle of prior informed consent laid out in various international agreements and declarations is fully implemented.

This participatory process was also important in building trust and long term commitment to the project. Moreover, it allowed for a more open exploration of the underlying values and ethics that should ideally guide the collaborative activities. Village level complaints about how outside professionals normally behave and work were followed by lengthy discussions on how issues on biodiversity, livelihoods and farming should be approached. What should the respective roles, rights, responsibilities and rewards of the different actors involved in IIED’s collaborative research on Sustaining Local Food Systems, Agricultural Biodiversity and Livelihoods? A series of principles and norms were derived from the dialogues with local communities and previous work done by the IIED coordinator(1).

A radical shift is required from imposed conservation and development which aims to retain external control on the management and end uses of biological and other resources to an approach which devolves more responsibility and decision making power to local communities.

Community based conservation and development are likely to be sustainable ecologically, economically and socially only if the overall management scheme can be made sufficiently attractive to local people for them to adopt it as a long term livelihood strategy. In that context, dialogue, negotiation, bargaining and conflict resolution are all integral parts of a long term participatory process which continues well after the initial appraisal and planning phases.

Existing conservation and development organisations and professionals need to shift from being project implementors to new roles which facilitate local people's analysis, planning and action. The whole process should lead to local institution building or strengthening, so enhancing the capacity of people to take action on their own. This implies the adoption of a learning process approach (Table 1) and a new professionalism with new concepts, values, participatory methodologies and behaviour.

Table 1. Sustaining Food Systems, Agricultural Biodiversity and Livelihoods: the contrast between blueprint and learning-process approaches (2)

  Blueprint Process
point of departure nature's diversity and its potential commercial values the diversity of both people and nature's values
keywords strategic planning and trade liberalisation Participation and local definitions of well being
locus of decision making centralised, ideas originate in capital city decentralised, ideas originate in village
first Steps data collection and plan awareness and action
design static, by experts evolving, people involved
main resources central funds and technicians local people and their assets
methods, rules standardised, universal, fixed package diverse, local, varied basket of choices
analytical assumptions reductionist (natural and economic science bias) systems, holistic
management focus spending budgets, completing projects on time, market performance sustained improvement and performance
communication vertical: orders down, reports up lateral: mutual learning and sharing experience
evaluation external, intermittent internal, continuous
error Buried embraced
relationship with people controlling, policing, inducing, motivating, dependency creating. People seen as beneficiaries enabling, supporting, empowering. People seen as actors
associated with normal professionalism and corporate power new professionalism and democratic decision making

1. diversity in conservation, and uniformity in production (agriculture, forestry,...)

2. the empowerment of professionals and corporations

1. diversity as a principle of production and conservation

2. the empowerment of rural people and citizens



  1. Pimbert, M.P. and Pretty, J.N. 1995. Parks, People and Professionals. Putting "participation" into protected area management. Discussion Paper No. 57. UNRISD-IIED-WWF, Geneva, 60pp.
    (View pdf 222k)

  2. Korten,D. 1994. People centred development: Towards a framework. In: D.C. Korten and R. Klaus (eds) People centred development. Kumarian press.

    Pimbert, M.P. 1999. Sustaining the Multiple Functions of Agricultural Biodiversity. Paper for the FAO/Netherlands conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land, Maastricht.



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