The World Bank/WBI’s CBNRM Initiative
Case Received: February 17, 1998
Author: Karla Priego Martínez
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Community Participation in Regional Sustainable Development Programs (PRODERS)
The case we propose for presentation is based on the institutionalization of a series of environmental policies implemented as part of the Regional Sustainable Development Programs (PRODERS) run by the Directorate General of Regional Programming at the Planning Subsecretariat of the Secretariat of Environment, Natural Resources, and Fish (SEMARNAP).
PRODERS was conceived as the immediate successor to the Regional Integrated Natural Resource Use Program (PAIR) based in the Science Faculty of Mexico’s Autonomous National University (UNAM). This consisted of four interdisciplinary working groups operating in four different regions: Chinantla (Oaxaca), the mountains of Guerrero, the Purhépecha meseta (Michoacán), and the semidesert of During. Its brief was to conduct research on the state and use of resources and to propose alternatives, bringing together traditional know-how and modern or Western technological expertise in ways favoring sustainable resource use. The research led to the design of resource management alternatives for a variety of productive systems (farming, fishing, forestry), and incorporated a number of profitable production projects. These alternatives were implemented by peasant families and communities whose particular hopes were that these would lead to improvements in their diet and the diversification of rural production. The program, meanwhile, was also involved in the training of researchers and other academic concerns such as publication, courses, and the preparation of technical handbooks.
PAIR brought together a variety of criteria in selecting the four regions listed. One criterion was natural diversity and the areas chosen were accordingly to be representative of the four most important types of ecology Mexico has to offer: wet tropical (Chinantla), dry and subhumid tropical (Guerrero mountains), temperate (the Purhépecha meseta in Michoacán), and arid and semiarid (San Juan de Guadalupe and Simón Bolívar, Durango). With the exception of this last, there was a significant indigenous element in the population in the areas chosen, and in the Guerrero mountains alone three ethnically different groups live alongside each other: Nahuas, Tlapanecos, and Mixtecs. A second criterion was that the areas chosen should have established peasant organizations with an interest in participating directly in the program and should also have bodies concerned with development itself. And, finally, the areas were chosen because they were all in extremely poor parts of the country. In this respect, PAIR was building, especially in the early stages of the program, on a theoretical view of community interaction, best expressed by Víctor M. Toledo: ‘The ethnoecological perspective defines rural communities as productive cells that are part of a social organism and whose function it is to adapt nature through farming, forestry, and fishing. It is a view which places these communities at the middle of the socioecological crossroads, seeing them as shaped and constrained by the conflicting demands of nature and society. The conflict, arising from material exchanges between community and nature (ecological exchanges) and between community and society (economic exchanges), ordains the metabolism of the organism that is the community.’
This is a view which sees these communities as having their own diversity —biological, genetic, ecological, scenic, productive, cultural, and so on— which serves to endorse inherent peasant modes of appropriating nature which are at odds with development theories that place the emphasis on globalization and specialization.
Given that in regions of extreme poverty any alternative program has to impinge upon the underlying structural causes of deteriorating living conditions, work was directed towards designing integrated strategies that took on board all the factors involved in production, the environment, and institutional reform.
What is quite certain is that for centuries these communities have had production and reproduction strategies —economic, social, biological, political, and cultural— at every level from the family unit right through to the community as a whole, and that these strategies find expression in production practices, the division of the countryside into certain units, and in the natural cycles and so on found in the peasant approach to ecology and in the peasant economy. In many cases, when such principles come into contact with development policy, they succumb to a specialization which in turn generates dependency on outside input.
The search was therefore for ways that would stimulate an increase in agricultural and forestry production that was sustainable in the longer term and at the same time help repair the damage done to ecosystems and suggest ways in which existing social policies and the approach to increased production might be reformed (and a distinction made between subsidies, assistance towards the establishment of infrastructures, and capital investment) in ways that would consolidate existing producer groups and organizations and strengthen communities and local authorities.
It was accordingly a matter of designing a community-based development program which would embrace the concept of sustainability: bringing together, that is, environmental factors alongside economic and social ones. It was agreed at the outset that to do this it was necessary to have a solid scientific appreciation of existing systems, both natural and social, and that this required research as well as the conduct of trials and the implementation of pilot projects designed to give some indication of which activities were likely to produce the best results. In this respect, the scheme amounted to a research and development (or research and intervention) project, using both scientific expertise and traditional know-how (in the form of the experience and knowledge accumulated by indigenous communities over the centuries) in the development of proposals to be implemented and developed jointly by public bodies and producer organizations. UNAM, government bodies, and peasant organizations accordingly participated in the program. The initial research phase, in 1989 and 1990, consisted of designing methods for regional surveys embracing the production side as well as considerations of an environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural nature. Surveys of this kind at regional level were crucial in order to establish the present state of resources, their use, and the economic, political, and cultural dimensions attaching to their use. For the bodies and organizations involved, this phase also amounted in itself to an important exercise in project planning and development and in resource management.
The surveys identified the main problems besetting each region. The next phase, in 1991, which was aimed at finding solutions, conducted research and trials in different areas: production systems (in agriculture, forestry, and fishing), ecology (ecology and ethnoecology), marine resources, and socioeconomic factors (economy and anthropology), and, in 1992, further specialized study was carried out and a number of integrated sustainable development policy proposals were drawn up for action at various levels and covering a variety of different aspects.
PAIR worked jointly with public bodies and with producer organizations. As indicated above, this was no simple academic research project but rather a matter of harnessing such research in a quest for integrated resource management and rural development policy recommendations that could be tested in the field by producers. That is why PAIR included not only teams from the university but also experts attached to public bodies and the producer organizations themselves. The private sector was also involved in financing a good deal of the program (especially Bacardí & Co.). Public money was also forthcoming from state authorities, the Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources Secretariat (SARH) and the National Solidarity Program (PRONASOL).
In 1992, the PAIR coordinators, Julia Carabias, Enrique Provencio, and Carlos Toledo were given posts as civil servants, firstly to run the National Ecology Institute (INE) and then, in 1994 when Dr Ernesto Zedillo became President, Julia Carabias was appointed to head up the new Secretariat of Environment, Natural Resources, and Fish (SEMARNAP) which merged the old Fisheries Authority together with INE, The National Water Board (CONAGUA), the National Fisheries Institute (INP), and the Federal Environment Office (PROFEPA). In the 1994–2000 Development Plan, sustainable development is recognized as an integral part of rural development.
The Directorate General of Regional Programming, under Maestro Carlos Toledo Manzur, is now involved in strengthening and carrying forward the work done by PAIR, covering a wider area consisting of 24 priority regions but following much the same line of approach, with Regional Sustainable Development Programs (PRODERS) consisting of the following:
By linking development and research in this way, not simply as a contractual arrangement but in terms of content and of a PRODERS approach, it becomes possible to begin a parallel process of participatory planning involving representatives of government-based bodies and of the people for whom the program is being devised (municipal authorities, social organizations, communities, and so on), and to see this whole process as one in which development proposals take on board and show respect for the development ideas and priorities of the inhabitants of a region or members of a given community, and involve them in the design, planning, and implementation of the Development Program.
The participation of local people in development projects implies the need for training initiatives designed to strengthen the process of environmental decision making, the organization of production, and the devolution of government and administrative powers. Community-based participation, with its goal of local appropriation of the means for sustainable development and the political, environmental, social —and above all local— approach that goes with it is the central pillar around which it becomes possible to build autonomy, through bodies involved in planning and management which consist, as do the Regional Sustainable Development Councils (CDRS), of local social organizations, the chairmen of local authorities, representatives of federal and state government, academics, and NGOs. Each Council will have an expert committee responsible for bringing together all those involved and ensuring they stimulate and feed off one other throughout the process of survey and response evaluation and follow-up. The central function of these Councils is to devise Federal Spending Programs with solid investment criteria covering all the moneys earmarked by the federal and state authorities, NGOs, and/or international foundations for proposed resource development, environmental conservation, and the eradication of poverty.
As we have suggested, the rural community represents the only definable unit in which the relationship between society and nature finds expression and it is also in good measure the sector best placed to manage its own development in a way that takes account of the conservation and sustainable management of its own natural resources. Support for peasant communities is based on recognizing the right (and the duty) of local inhabitants to discuss land use planning in their own neighborhood with a view to:
The shift towards sustainability has to acknowledge the advantages inherent in community life and culture. Among these are:
In these efforts, it is crucial to bear in mind the basic premise that it is vital to:
In order to achieve the structural change that will allow communities to thrive once again, it is fundamental to ensure that public investment —and in particular that ultimately paid for through the tax system— has a qualitative effect in the fight against poverty, boosting capital investment in production, self-sufficiency in food and the generation of surpluses, and promoting internal savings and balances in production units as well as:
The PMCRN must then be the means by which the technical studies (OETC, survey, and GIS) are linked to the development outlook, priorities, and problems raised by community members, and it must indicate the steps to be taken in planning design and implementation, always favoring development that is as socially participatory as possible and also environmentally sustainable, culturally congruent, and economically viable.
If there is one feature which marks out these communities it is that they have become effective entrepreneurs, putting their products on the market and strengthening their own organizational structures while at the same time achieving rational natural resource management by reactivating (and not dismantling) community structures (socio-productive organizational structures, forms of administration, and collective husbandry). In this way, the structure, outlook, and thinking of the community is preserved and buttressed by proposals designed to produce equitable, democratic, and sustainable community development and to meet the modern challenges of the market place and of globalization.
With a solid experience base in wet tropical climates and temperate regions and in specific products such as vanilla, maguey, torchwood, cochineal, and organically-grown coffee, this new storehouse of practical information offers a lesson which must be recognized as the expression at national level of a new social movement on an international scale driven by and centering round the modern paradigm of sustainable development:
"Sustainable community development can be defined as an endogenous mechanism by means of which a community assumes or retakes control of the processes which shape and affect it. This definition derives from a general principle of ecological policy which states that the fundamental reason why society and nature are both today subject to widespread pillage and deterioration is that human societies have lost control over nature and over themselves" (Toledo, V.M.: 1996.)