A much over-looked reality of rural development initiatives anywhere is that when technical changes (such as attempts to improve crop yields) are introduced, to be successful and sustainable, they must be preceded by comprehensive community engagement intended to ensure those communities are prepared, enthusiastic and able to take up those technologies. How many apparently sound rural projects fail because they were implemented by a technical agency which may have excellent technical staff but with no or little clue how to sustainably engage with their target beneficiaries? And how can this apparently obvious failure continue?
In part, this may be due to a lack of extension skills among front line agriculture staff – a skill set which is very different to pure technical skills – but also because front line agriculture staff are either too remote from the communities in which they operate or simply don’t bother to make the effort to try and understand how best to engage with their community. Other reasons include: (i) failures by the leadership of agriculture agencies to measure the outputs and outcomes of their frontline staff; and (ii) significant absences of capable NGOs who can work with rural communities to assist them to plan and implement their own development growth, including adoption of improved agriculture technologies.
So, what to do? Firstly, technical agencies such as agriculture ministries should be better equipped to approach beneficiaries from a comprehensive community development perspective – either via their own staff or by actively engaging with NGOs who do have the relevant skills. Secondly, project designers should be encouraged to build community development into apparently technical projects. This will require funding agencies to recognize that a wider range of skills are needed on design teams and that more time may be needed on design missions. Finally, better rural development outcomes will be assured if governments and development agencies recognize that good quality rural development NGOs have an important role to play in pursuit of improved outcomes for rural communities.