The challenge to donors: learning from past experience.
The need to completely rethink the practice of rural development strategy is clear, but the danger lies in restricting the reexamination to merely a fragment of the process--planning--when rural development should be considered in its entirety as a process in which rigid and conventional planning has serious limitations. The issue is not whether some "adaptation" of the classical approach will work, but whether the basic assumptions were meant for rural populations. Actually, practical experience shows that "success" has often been the result of respecting a more natural rural development process in which the following 6 principles have been interwoven: rural development cannot be based on classical planning methods that assume a planning implementation dichotomy; implementation must not be the application of a readymade plan, since planning, execution, and evaluation are a constantly ongoing interacting process; environmental complexity requires an analysis and a detailed dynamic comprehension of the ecological, human, political, economic, and institutional variables affected; the complexity and slow pace of the environment's evolution requires that, from the onset, the intervention occurs in a restricted geographical area over an extended time period of from 10-20 years; the participation of target groups in the implementation and evaluation of activities must depend on their increased participation in the ongoing design of the project; and the comprehensive mobilization of the population requires support from all the local structures (nongovernmental organizations, private sectors, peasant movements) in order to foster self development and a better balance of resources and power. These principles are not without important repercussions for both donor agencies and recipient countries. Recent experiences confirm the need to compromise and adapt the donor's organizational and political restrictions as well as the requirements of the recipient governments. If managing rural development is complex and difficult for a donor agency, it is often equally so for a local technical department. In sum, rural development is a social project involving the transformation of the human, economic, political, ecological, and institutional aspects of the rural society of a specific area. Rural development is an ambitious undertaking, and it has become increasingly evident that rural development is incompatible with classical planning approaches.