Promotion of Local Knowledge and Innovations in Asia and the Pacific Region

01 julio 2004

Regional context

Poverty is largely a rural problem in Asia and the Pacific. Areas of chronic poverty are remote, and suffer from social exclusion and a lack of access to adequate services. The rural poor in the region are often landless or have limited access to land. Poor rural households tend to have larger families, with higher dependency ratios, low education rates and higher underemployment. The poor also lack basic amenities such as safe water, sanitation and electricity. Their access to credit, inputs and technology is limited. Other constraints – including the lack of market information, business and negotiating experience and collective organisation – deprive them of the power to interact on equal terms with other, generally stronger, market forces. Low levels of social and physical infrastructure increase their vulnerability to famine and disease, especially in mountainous and remoter areas.

The region's less favoured areas are home to some 40% of the rural poor – often the landless, marginal farmers and tenants, indigenous peoples and scheduled castes, and internally displaced persons. Agricultural productivity is very low in upland areas, where ethnic minority groups are dominant. In China, for example, almost all the 65 million officially recognised income-poor live in remote, mountainous areas. Pastoralists and coastal fishermen are important components of the rural poor in certain countries. The marginalisation and poverty of many indigenous communities are closely linked to exploitation by outsiders and to encroachment by migrants. Female-headed households are particularly prone to poverty: women generally have fewer employment opportunities, less occupational mobility, weaker skills and less access to training. Boys typically are fed better and receive better medical care, resulting in poorer survival chances for girls.

Globalisation and economic liberalisation have fuelled the rapid economic growth of economies in Asia and the Pacific, but they have also increased vulnerability of these economies to external shocks. The poor, who are also very exposed to economic crises from other factors such as loss of a family income-earner, drought or disease, are particularly at risk. Globalisation – when accompanied by appropriate and pro-poor domestic policies – can promote economic growth and poverty reduction. But it can also increase vulnerability of the poor to market changes.

IFAD's strategy in the region

IFAD is the only (specialised agency) financial lending institution within the UN system. It focuses on rural poverty alleviation through agriculture and rural development programmes, mostly funded through loans, although a small grant component supports mainly research and project preparation activities. The design of IFAD-supported projects and programmes is done in close collaboration with consultants recruited specifically for the purpose. Supervision is primarily done through third parties (i.e. the appointment of co-operating institutions for each project financed by IFAD). Implementation is the responsibility of partners at the country level.

Since 1978, IFAD has funded 153 investment projects in the Asia and Pacific region for a total commitment of about USD 2.4 billion. In addition, many grant-funded projects have been implemented in agricultural research, training, policy analysis and implementation support. Many governments have adopted decentralised, pro-poor policies that provide a conducive environment for effective collaboration between IFAD and governments. There is a vibrant civil-society/non-governmental sector that is playing an increasingly crucial role both in advocacy and in service delivery to the rural poor, complementing the efforts of governments and donor agencies. Most countries of the region have adopted prudent macroeconomic policies and relatively open trade policies, and have invested seriously in education and infrastructure. For its part, the Fund has acquired considerable experience in the design and implementation of projects and programmes for diverse groups, including women and indigenous peoples. It has also pioneered innovative partnerships with national and local governments, civil society organisations and local communities in working with the rural poor.

The Asia and the Pacific region is highly populated, diverse, and exhibits a continuing serious and chronic poverty problem. IFAD's strategy is to concentrate on specific, catalytic interventions where it can play an important niche role. The emphasis is on less-favoured areas, with a focus towards women and marginalised minorities. Projects with significant potential ‘ripple effects' to carry benefits well beyond the immediate projects areas are a high priority.

Thematic evaluation process

Objectives of the evaluation

The overall objectives of the study were to:

  • analyse the current practices and experiences of the Asia and the Pacific Division with regard to scouting, utilising and promoting local knowledge and innovations. The study also documented selected good practices and assessed how the rural people have used local knowledge and innovations to improve their livelihoods and whether this has led to their empowerment; and
  • provide building blocks to ensure greater mainstreaming of local knowledge and innovations into the regional strategy so that all activities in the region will incorporate them. In particular, a series of insights and recommendations was developed that would contribute to improving the design and implementation of IFAD-supported projects and programmes through enhanced use of local innovations, knowledge systems and partnerships. Important attention was devoted to the empowerment of local communities to become more active partners in project design and implementation, and the blending of ‘modern' technology and local knowledge to capitalise on the best in local and external expertise.

Methodology, process and activities

The study explored IFAD's experience and that of other major agencies in the general area of utilising local innovations and knowledge systems as an integral component of project design and implementation. It offered options, insights and recommendations that would particularly serve the Asia and the Pacific Division to develop and enhance its expertise in this area. Overall, the output from the study is expected to improve the Fund's knowledge base and facilitate IFAD in undertaking advocacy, resource mobilisation and policy dialogue functions.

The study included the following distinct but related activities:

  1. Preparation of the Approach Paper – through consultation with selected IFAD staff (Country Portfolio Managers, Regional Economist, Lead Evaluation Officer, Directors of the Office of Evaluation & Studies and the Asia and Pacific Division, representatives from the Technical Advisory Division, Knowledge Management Facilitation Unit and others).
  2. Document (desk) review of selected IFAD-supported projects -- The objectives of this review were to make a synthesis of the Fund's approaches and experiences in promoting and using local knowledge and innovations in its rural poverty alleviation activities. The review will lead to the documentation of good practices of local innovation and traditional knowledge, and identification of the process-related and institutional dimensions (as well as incentives) that have contributed to the emergence and utilisation of good practices.
  3. Construction of a map of the work and experiences of other development institutions on the topic -- A comparative analysis, using information in the public domain, was undertaken of comparable projects by other institutions. This analysis indicates common issues and experiences and provides guidance for the better use of local knowledge in the design of future IFAD-assisted projects and activities. Emphasis was on indicating opportunities for partnerships with IFAD on different topics.
  4. Preparation of detailed case studies in eight IFAD-supported projects in seven different countries in the Asia and the Pacific region -- The overall objective of the case studies of eight IFAD-supported projects was to: (a) assess the opportunities and challenges offered by project design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation in internalising local knowledge and innovations, and (b) suggest adjustments (e.g., to key procedures, guidelines and policies within the Asia and the Pacific Division) that may contribute to better institutionalising the learning from people at the grassroots level, leading to a broader application of local-level knowledge and innovation in IFAD-supported activities.
  5. Competition to scout for knowledge and innovations of the rural poor in all ongoing projects in the Asia and the Pacific region -- The overall objective of this activity was to identify good practices and innovations of the rural people to showcase the potential of rural people's creativity. The contest was not confined to the rural poor involved in IFAD-assisted projects, but to the communities as a whole in areas where IFAD-supported projects operate. In terms of concrete output, the contest generated entries from the grassroots level on their innovations and knowledge, not only related to agricultural development, but also on social, economic and other developmental-related aspects. Almost 70 entries were submitted from 11 countries. Fifteen entrees were accepted, ranked according to six factors of good practice: uniqueness; novel use/process/effectiveness; use of local materials; safety perception; research and development prospects; and applicability/dissemination. The entries could be divided between those that were traditional and time-tested and those that were the result of innovation. Both types were given due attention as they demonstrate success, acceptance by the community and adaptability in a rapidly changing environment.

The first four activities provide the basis for the Thematic Evaluation itself, which follows this Executive Summary.

Regional workshop


A regional workshop was held in Bangkok to focus on the results and key issues emerging from the study, and to raise awareness in general. The workshop brought together project staff, concerned IFAD staff, representatives of IFAD co-operating institutions, NGOs, international organisations, governments, donor institutions, civil society organisations, advocacy groups, researchers, academics and others to jointly reflect on the thematic study and discuss key themes emerging from the study. The workshop also served to lay the basis for the formulation of the study's Agreement at Completion Point containing an action plan for the future. The regional workshop discussed three main issues arising from the thematic evaluation and made recommendations. They are briefly described below.

Enabling Environment for Local Knowledge and Innovations. The workshop highlighted the need to include a clear policy statement on local knowledge and innovations in IFAD's regional strategy paper and the various COSOPs. It was also agreed that IFAD and others need to allocate adequate resources to operationalise their strategic objectives related to local knowledge and innovations. There is also a need to undertake a review of IFAD's project design process to ensure the mainstreaming of local knowledge and innovations from the outset of a project. At the policy level, IFAD needs to systematically engage in policy dialogue to promote pro-poor policies and development approaches that pay due attention to local knowledge and innovations.

Pre-requisites for Promotion of Local Knowledge and Innovations through People's Participation. The workshop emphasised the importance of the full involvement of primary stakeholders in all key aspects of project formulation. Participation should be a continuous process, thereby enabling participants to take control of their own development and promote their local knowledge and innovations. Community-based organisations need to be given greater management responsibility and control over resources, thereby enabling them to make decisions and be responsible for their own development. The need to develop the approach to revolving funding and cost-sharing mechanisms for mainstreaming local knowledge and innovations was also considered important.

Operational Procedures for Promotion of Local Knowledge and Innovations. The workshop highlighted the possible conflict between local knowledge and official norms and the need for IFAD to insist on certain contractual conditions to ensure genuine community participation. Capturing local knowledge and innovations may best be achieved by enabling local people to come up with their own solution. This process of enablement will include decentralisation measures, timely capacity-building programmes and genuinely participatory monitoring and evaluation systems.

Recommendations under each of these themes were formulated and agreed upon in the Agreement at Completion Point, which provides the starting point for their implementation.

Analysis and findings

Analysis and findings are drawn together from the eight contributing case studies, which were prepared on the basis of project document reviews and field interviews.

The following projects were selected for review:

Country Project Name Effectiveness Closing
Cambodia Agriculture Dev. Support Project to Seila 29 Mar 01 30 Sept 08
China Yunnam-Simao Minorities Area Project 10 Dec 93 31 Dec 00
India Andhra Pradesh Participatory Tribal Dev. 18 Aug 94 31 Mar 04
India North/East Resources Upland Areas 23 Feb 99 31 Dec 04
Nepal Hills Leasehold Forestry & Forage Dev. 18 Feb 91 31 Dec 03
Philippines Cordillera Highland Agriculture/Resources Dev. 04 Dec 96 30 Sep 03
Sri Lanka 2nd Badulla Integrated Rural Dev. 12 Aug 92 31 Mar 03
Vietnam Ha Gian Project for Ethnic Minorities 27 Apr 98 30 Jun 04

Case study findings

The case studies come to interesting although rather disparate conclusions. For example:

Andhra Pradesh -- Had the project designers and reviewers focused on local knowledge systems in time and adequately, a great deal more could have been learned about the creative ways used by people for coping with local stresses and evolving some time-innovative solutions for the same. Local knowledge becomes a means of survival, and thus documentation of these solutions for their dissemination after validation among other communities might improve the livelihood options right away at very low cost. Further, when a local solution is taken note of and recognition ensues through public appreciation, visit of others to this innovator's place, or through other means, the self-esteem of such knowledge providers and generators also goes up. Much more could be done if local creativity, innovative potential and traditional knowledge were harnessed systematically'.

Cambodia – The study recognises the enormous advances made by the Kingdom in setting up decentralised State institutions which have achieved a significant, reconciliatory and collaborative rapport between Government and people and also recognises that the project was designed to promote and build upon these developments. At the same time it concludes that although in principle, these arrangements offered considerable opportunity for the elicitation and incorporation of local knowledge and innovations into project activities, this does not appear to have happened

India North-East Region -- The indigenous knowledge of local communities has not been specifically focussed or emphasised in project objectives, but during the implementation it has received some attention. Overall, however, local knowledge and traditional institutions have not received adequate attention. Moreover, initial focus in the grounding of the project has been on building capacity, introducing new technologies and improving productivity. The processes relating to local knowledge documentation and valorisation were still picking up. Project authorities spent far more time in delivering results through the use of so-called modern science and technology and other institutional support for initiative like micro-finance.

Nepal -- To suggest that an agent of social and economic change, such as an international funding agency or a poverty alleviation project, should be cognisant of, and respectful of, all the archives of knowledge pre-existing in a given location, is to ask the practically impossible. Not only would the work and expertise involved in collecting and collating these archives be tantamount to several projects in itself, but to respect them all in every detail would actually make change impossible. All poverty alleviation projects entail elements of social and political engineering.

The Philippines -- The use and promotion of local knowledge in the development and delivery of projects, such as CHARM, can be a critical factor in order to enhance ownership of project activities and their results by the communities involved. Humans tend to care more about what they own; as such, medium- and long-term success in catalysing sustainable community development can be guaranteed only if real ownership is ensured through the course of project design and implementation. The availability and application of local knowledge resources and appropriate provision for facilitating and sharing innovations at the grassroots level will contribute significantly towards attaining project goals and objectives.

Sri Lanka -- Indigenous knowledge and innovations are the result of a continuous process of experimentation, innovation, and adaptation. They can blend with knowledge based on science and technology, and thus could be considered complementary to scientific and technological efforts to solve problems in social and economic development. The disadvantage of indigenous knowledge, however, is that it could not be captured and stored in a systematic manner. It is primarily because it is handed down orally from generation to generation. Under the circumstance it is likely that indigenous knowledge systems and practices may become extinct. It is, however, encouraging that over the last one decade or so there has been increasing realisation that indigenous knowledge can play an important role in participatory approaches to sustainable development.'

Project document reviews

The purpose of the document reviews was to see whether or not, as a matter of record at each stage of the project cycle, there had been: a commitment to the use and promotion of local knowledge and innovations; actual use and promotion of local knowledge and innovation; and capture and dissemination of local knowledge and innovation. Subject to availability the reviewed documents have included: the Country Strategic Opportunities Papers (COSOPs) for the countries in which the case study projects are located; key project design documents, notably the Appraisal Reports; Loan Agreements; project Supervision Reports; project monitoring and evaluation reports, and any supplementary 'special' studies or reports related to the project and concerned with the theme of use and promotion of local knowledge and innovation.

Strategy documents. The case studies refer to only one Country Strategic Opportunities Paper (COSOP) -- for Cambodia – that explicitly mentions local knowledge and innovation. Other case study references to strategy considerations include India (Andhra Pradesh), the Philippines and Sri Lanka. However, the issue of incorporating people's knowledge and innovation in the design of various strategies does not appear.

Design documents. References to appraisal reports were made in the China, Nepal, India (North-East Region), Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam studies. Highlights include the following:

The China study notes that 'the highly detailed provisions of the project's appraisal documents became quite rapidly outdated and posed a threat as a source of inflexibility.'

The Nepal study states: 'The Appraisal Report, [similarly], declared: "Obtaining community consensus is considered essential since it is the only way of affording any protection to the poor families who take up the leasing of the blocks of degraded land from potential encroachment by other members of the community"… The Appraisal Report several times refers to the importance of consulting and respecting farmers' preferences regarding the choice of forage crops, fodder trees and fruit trees, and also the use of local materials and practices in terms of off-farm income generation.'

The NER comments that: 'the very design of the project did not stress learning from people explicitly'.

The Philippines study points out the impact upon design of the evolution of IFAD-supported initiatives and suggests a link with local knowledge and innovations. Even though the use and promotion of local knowledge is not directly mentioned in the design documents of CHARM, the process of participatory planning by the communities involved indicates that local knowledge was to be used to be able to pursue the strategy and objectives of CHARM.

In similar vein, the Sri Lanka case study emphasises the evolution of design and in particular the increase in attention to participation.

The Vietnam study gives explicit prominence to ‘local knowledge' and ethnic traditions in the choice of crops, cropping patterns, use of fertilisers and pesticides, livestock development, utilisation of natural resources, land tenure systems, conservation of biodiversity, management of natural resources and the nature of support services. It also encourages sensitivity to existing systems in the regulation of natural resources, in the shift from swidden to settled cultivation, and in defining ‘poverty', where indigenous minorities may not regard themselves as ‘poor'. The assessment advocates an interactive education system with sensitised teachers and flexible schedules designed to enhance local skill and knowledge of medicinal plants, basket making, and weaving, blacksmithing and musical instruments. While encouraging comprehensive marketing information system and focussing on collective bargaining power, the document emphasises the continued importance of the existing well-developed ‘tribal markets'. Encouraging community self-reliance, the document prescribes priority to traditional herbal healers and members of their families and drafting a manual on herbal plants in the minority language. Research activities to strengthen indigenous crop varieties and minimise the use of external inputs are stressed. In general, the assessment proposes ‘locally and culturally specific approaches appropriate to the diverse socio-economic and environmental settings'

Implementation documents. Supervision Reports are referred to or quoted in the Andhra Pradesh, China, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam studies. Mid-Term Reviews are mentioned in the studies for Andhra Pradesh, China, Nepal, the North-East Region (India) and Vietnam. Highlights include the following:

The Andhra Pradesh study states: 'The supervision report made many suggestions but none dealing with peoples' knowledge systems or their institutions.'

The Philippines study reports that 'CHARM's [Project Support Office] PSO has played a vital role together with the supervision of [the Asian Development Bank] ADB in identifying problematic issues and establishing corrective actions. As an example of that are the recommendations on documenting local practices at the field level and requesting a final detailed report on community activities, which will include local knowledge and innovations, by the NGO Consortia.' The study also states that 'There are some special studies that were produced reflecting the use and promotion of local knowledge and innovations. One of the most important is the Field Guide for Discovery-based Exercises for vegetable [Integrated Pest Management] IPM, which is a book that includes a series of agricultural field exercises documented in a form which would enable their replication in other countries of the region. This book includes experiences developed at the Farmers Field Schools and the field trails carried out with farmers in the CHARM area. The local University in Baguio produced a document requested by CHARM that documents local practices. This study compiled local technology on agro-forestry and major vegetable systems through workshops and reviews with local people. This study was used to produce a series of technological guides for technicians to carry out agricultural services. Since the basic study also reflects the use of local knowledge compiled through workshops, meetings and visits to farming systems, the techno-guides are believed to promote the use of local knowledge and to improve existing technologies.' Further, 'Local knowledge documentation in the forest management area is being carried out through the implementation of CHARM. [The Department of Environment and Natural Resources] DENR and CHARM personnel are involved in the documentation of the LAPAT system, which is a traditional system of permits and penalties for resource use at the watershed level.'

The NER study notes: 'A special effort has been made to document the traditional practices for using non-timber forest products. Other efforts to build upon peoples' knowledge and institutions noted in the mid-term review are: (a) the natural resource management group has decided in some village to regulate grazing by animals so that cultivation of off-season vegetables can be taken up, (b) medicinal plant gardens have been set up in many villages (c) the role of traditional village head is being recognised so that water sources, duration of jhum cycle, allocation of land for cultivation, etc. can take place through the sanction of village headmen. The plan at the moment is only for one year and thus long-term action has not been envisaged.'

The Vietnam study states: 'The Mid Term Review contains a separate section on The Utilisation of Indigenous Knowledge.'

Field interviews

The purposes of the field interviews were: to verify and supplement the information derived from the document review with respect to the project's use and promotion of local knowledge and innovation; to discover if in fact the project is using and promoting local knowledge and innovation, which is going unrecorded in project-related documentation; to develop recommendations with regard to capturing/recording and disseminating the project's experience with the use and promotion of local knowledge and innovation; and to assess the opportunities and constraints for project use of local knowledge and innovations with regard to the project's organisation and management culture; technical provision under the project; financial allocation under the project; and the project's policy and legal environment.

The field interviews revealed a number of instances in the case study project areas of the use of local knowledge and innovation, which had not been recorded in the reviewed project-related documents. For example, In Andhra Pradesh these included a rose thorn stripper and a cycle based water pump. In China, the mission came across three instances of the use of local knowledge and innovation, with respect to soil suitability for coffee, increased productivity through irrigation, and increased silkworm production through more frequent cleaning of silkworm trays. The Sri Lanka study reports that some farmers are practising organic farming, though 'the project does not support these activities'.

In Nepal, 'The Mission's interviews with foresters from all levels of the Department of Forests confirmed the view that there exists a considerable awareness of the importance of indigenous knowledge and longstanding systems of forest protection, in particular the methods of propagation, the timing and nature of pruning and the suitability of trees and grasses for particular soils and micro-climates. The cultivation of locally known and appropriate grass species was encouraged by the project, which also supported the propagation of the Badahar tree (artocarpus lackoocha) for fodder.

In Vietnam, the Project Director said that the Mission's visit had alerted the Project Management to the significance of local knowledge and had started them thinking about where it might be sought and how it might be utilised more effectively. He also suggested that someone at provincial level should be assigned the job of collating examples of indigenous Knowledge, which would be the most certain way of ensuring some continuity in this respect. The Project Co-ordinating Unit had prepared a list of thirteen cases where they felt such knowledge had been or might be utilised in the operation of the project.

Insights and recommendations

Perhaps the core insight of the case studies is its demonstration, throughout its various findings, of the relationship between knowledge and power. In short, it suggests that there is a political economy of knowledge and innovation. This Thematic Evaluation is perhaps more properly to be recognised as not so much about 'local' knowledge and innovation but rather about beneficiary knowledge and innovation and the factors that govern its exchange rate value with respect to other project stakeholders' knowledge and innovation in the marketplace of Official Development Assistance.

A second insight offered by the case studies is the need to differentiate between different types of knowledge and innovation. The studies do not make such a distinction explicitly but their findings and analyses move between at least three categories: technical, political and procedural. In the case studies, the relative incidence and importance of the three types of knowledge and the ratio of beneficiary/non-beneficiary contributions in each category to project knowledge systems, depends upon the timing of the project's design in the evolution of IFAD's thinking and practice, the project objectives and, of course, the context of the projects, whether it be social, political, institutional, economic, etc.

In the case studies, the relative incidence and importance of the three types of knowledge and the ratio of beneficiary/non-beneficiary contributions in each category to project knowledge systems, depends upon the timing of the project's design in the evolution of IFAD's thinking and practice, the project objectives and, of course, the context of the projects, whether it will be social, political, institutional and economic etc.

The studies make a number of recommendations. For example:

Andhra Pradesh

  • The data on the biodiversity and medicinal plants and their uses should be re-compiled giving the name and addresses of the key custodian of traditional knowledge. This will ensure that if any benefits accrued by value addition in this knowledge than these could be shared with the local communities and individual knowledge experts.
  • A survey of local best practices be taken up in different villages to find out the innovations and traditional technologies.
  • Research contracts should be developed with the formal institutes of research on behalf of the local communities to add value to local resources and knowledge.
  • Local language literature should be prepared so that this will inspire other people to innovate and develop even better innovations.
  • Observation trials should be taken up to find out which local variations in cropping patterns are more efficient than others in the given soil type and agro-climatic conditions. Technologies so produced by the people themselves can thus be replicated first on the trial basis and then on demonstration basis if found efficient and useful.
  • The project management system should involve monitoring innovations and traditional knowledge which can improve productivity and generate livelihood choices with or without value addition.

North-East Region

  • Wherever people have deviated from the recommended package and have tried to do something on their own, this should be given a special attention. Generally in the projects, the conformity and compliance with the project norms is considered an indicator of project success. Exceptions should be recorded, studied and used as basis for identifying the potential for change among the odd balls.
  • The local knowledge documentation should be followed up by on-farm research and experimentation. There weren't many examples available in which peoples' knowledge had become the basis for on-farm or on-station trials.
  • The role of traditional institutions is well appreciated in the project documents. However, analytical framework needs to be developed to facilitate further strengthening of these institutions and better analysis of their working.
  • The unique knowledge such as the extraction of black dye from black ginger and its use in currency industry shows how strategic the peoples' knowledge can be in certain cases… a cell needs to be created with the purpose of identifying peoples' knowledge and creativity efficiently and linking it up with formal science and technology, on-farm and on-station testing and building a whole value chain around global knowledge.'

The Philippines

  • The current monitoring and reporting practices of the project are essentially geared to assessing and recording physical achievements and financial delivery. These need to be complemented by observing and noting the immense value and role of traditional knowledge and the need for fostering its application and improvement in local communities. That shall contribute to the cost-effectiveness, efficiency and ownership of the project by its most crucial stakeholders and to the lasting success of the project.
  • Mission reports tend to be of wide use at higher levels. It would be advisable to have a specific section to evaluate the use and promotion of local knowledge by the projects reviewed.'
  • In addition, 'CHARM has identified some important cases of local knowledge that are being documented, but a more comprehensive study could be carried out in such an environment rich in the use and promotion of local knowledge.
  • In the future, projects specifically designed to use and promote local knowledge and innovations should avoid complex inter-institutional arrangements for their implementation, such as the implementation by many different governmental organisations. These arrangements can be interesting in the long term, but offer an operational and administrative challenge during the project's implementation phase, with the possibility of compromising the activities with the most important component of the project, local communities.'


  • The suggestion of the Project Director that future projects of this kind attempt to institutionalise the process of identifying and ‘capturing' examples of local knowledge by allocating specific responsibility at provincial level seems a sound proposal. Again, what is needed is not instruction in the significance of local initiatives but simply the formal establishing of appropriate fora and channels whereby such knowledge may be communicated and disseminated.'
  • Most examples of local knowledge are well-known either within the particular district or within the province and are treated as a matter of common knowledge. The point is to instil from the beginning of a project the idea that such things should be positively pursued, recorded and utilised where appropriate.

Not one of the reviewed projects is reported by the eight case studies to have an explicit, formal and comprehensive process of capturing and disseminating beneficiary (local) knowledge and innovation. It appears a harsh conclusion perhaps, but a core message that seems to come across prima facie is that the Official Development Assistance hierarchy does not recognise and care sufficiently about beneficiaries' knowledge and capacity for innovation to the extent that they are prepared to incorporate it systematically into their official technical, political and administrative structures. At the same time, the studies do report some instances of beneficiary knowledge and innovation. It is perhaps worthwhile to explore why there is formal systemic indifference and under what circumstances exceptions occur.

The preponderant evidence is that it is quite difficult for beneficiary knowledge and innovation to have a role in the design and implementation of IFAD-financed projects. This difficulty reflects a structure of accountability. In practice this means that the kinds of strategies, objectives, and activities which predominate at any stage of the project cycle tend to reflect the understanding and predilections of those with responsibility for clearing investment decisions. Quite simply, the arrangement of Governments taking loans from IFAD means that design documents primarily have to be couched in terms intelligible and acceptable to Government, IFAD senior management and the IFAD Executive Board. Any beneficiary perspective is necessarily secondary to this priority.

A familiar consequence of beneficiary perspectives taking second place in design documents is the tensions that can arise during implementation between the approved 'blueprint', e.g. the Implementation Version of Appraisal Reports, and the actual field conditions in which the provisions have to be realised in the context of beneficiary knowledge systems. In most projects both management and beneficiaries find themselves struggling to bridge the gap between a priori commitments to project activities and targets and local knowledge systems in situations where management can neither enforce its will nor beneficiaries just get on without management intervention.

Other instances, besides the design process, of marginalisation of beneficiary [local] knowledge can be found in the rest of the project cycle. The tendency, as reported in the case studies, for monitoring to focus on physical and financial progress is not simply a matter of methodological difficulty; it is rather that management recognises that the minimum requirement of satisfying the accountability structure and its associated financial regulation powers requires records in these two respects.

A striking feature of many of the case studies is that although most projects have made a nominal commitment to participation, its realisation has often been in a rather restricted manner. On the one hand there has been beneficiary consultation in the form, for example, of problem censuses. On the other, there appears to be a quite widespread problem with beneficiary representation in policy and management bodies associated with the projects, sometimes complemented by minimal expenditure on small-scale investments under beneficiary control.

Those instances in the studies where there has been use of beneficiaries' knowledge (forestry, medicinal plants) appear to have been motivated by as much by the need to solve development agents' rather than beneficiaries' problems instead of a recognition that the essence of development is the freedom of beneficiaries to build upon their knowledge in the technical, political and procedural domains in order to pursue their social and economic interests and a better livelihood.

The case studies started out with a focus on beneficiaries' knowledge in the technical domain. The overall finding is that such technical knowledge and innovation is not usually elicited and incorporated into project design and implementation. The reason seems not to be primarily a matter of the inferiority/superiority of their technical knowledge at all. Indeed the irony is that most development experts would probably starve quite quickly if they had to make their livelihoods in the circumstances with which beneficiaries have typically to cope. The problem would seem to lie with beneficiaries' continuing exclusion from the political and procedural knowledge domains associated with project design and implementation. Remedial action for the future should perhaps focus on this. Meanwhile, it is useful to remember that to assist is not necessarily to facilitate and to teach is not necessarily to educate.


No publications
Agricultural innovation: defining IFAD's role (Issue #20-2004)
Full document

Related Publications

Contenidos web relacionados

Related News

Contenidos web relacionados

Related Events

Contenidos web relacionados