Including the poor through participatory action process

Chandrashekhar S. Hunshal and A. T. Patil

 Approaches that include the poor in the development process are required to bring about a meaningful change in the livelihoods of the poor. Participatory Action Process is one such approach.

The rural space around Hubli and Dharwad twin cities situated in Karnataka State in South India, is heavily influenced by rapidly changing land use patterns, growing population, new industries and employment opportunities. These changes are making the poor more vulnerable forcing them to either adapt or to take advantage of new opportunities, for survival.

To understand the situation of the communities, their problems, priorities and possible solutions, a participatory process was initiated. This process identified research design and developmental issues pertaining to natural resource management (NRM) and livelihoods. Participatory Action Plans (PAP) were developed for NRM and livelihoods for five peri-urban (PU) villages in Hubli-Dharwad, by a multi-institutional team. The team consisted academic from University of Wales Bangor, University College London, and University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad and three NGOs i.e. India Development Service, Dharwad (IDS), BAIF Dharwad and Best Practices Foundation, Bangalore (BPF), in India.  The process of preparation of action plan began in 2000-01 and their implementation continued till 2004-05.

The process adopted in selected villages of Gabur, Kelageri, Mugad, Kotur and Channapur  is presented here.

 The initial months were spent on rapport building with the community. The NGOs placed one staff member in each village. This helped NGOs to build a strong base and identify themselves much more with the villagers. Also, it gave first hand experience of the conditions and problems faced in the village and allowed poor and marginalized groups to interact with the organizers on their terms at times convenient to them. Approaches like street drama, exhibiting posters and conducting exposure visits were also used in building rapport.

Situation Analysis

Several PRA-type exercises were used to gather information on various aspects of NRM and livelihoods and also identifying the poor. PRA exercises were used as an entry point to the community where people together could visualise their village in terms of assets, produce, and natural resources.  Meetings continued through the PAP process where people were able to gradually identify, prioritize and articulate their issues at a pace they were comfortable with, and different groups were brought into the planning process through encouraging them to articulate their issues separately.

Pre Planning process

Action planning was done in a collaborative or participatory process bringing together various stakeholders. The process was done to analyse problems or key issues affecting their livelihoods and develop strategies to change their situation.

A series of preparatory meetings, PRA exercises, team meetings were organized by the project team to select workshop representatives to brainstorm and articulate with the community what issues they would like to present and prioritize. Each government institution (Department of Agriculture, Horticulture, Forestry, Livestock, Fisheries, Watershed Development), organized a separate meeting.  The team drew up a list of issues at the end of the meetings.

In the diagnostic workshop, community representatives presented the problems and situation in their villages. In-depth exercises with community, government and NGO representatives on the problems and solutions were conducted.

A participatory logical framework process was initiated in Gabbur and Channapur villages.  Preparatory team meetings first took place to train the team on log frames and then to decide which steps should be defined by the community. Here it was decided that the outcomes and activities to achieve those outcomes should be defined by the communities of Gabbur and Channapur. Meetings took place in Gabbur where the men and the women formed separate groups to discuss their issues, possible solutions and outcomes.

 Preparing action plans

 Three working groups developed action plans for Gabbur and Kelageri; Mugad and Kotur and Channapur villages. The groups depicted the problems and solutions in the form of problem-trees and solution-trees. Based on each issue, each action plan listed the interventions, persons responsible for implementing each intervention, along with the time frame. One of the action plans produced by the working groups in the workshop is presented in Table 1. Similarly, action plans were prepared for other villages.

Table 1: Channapur and Kotur Action Plan
What Duration Who
Watershed development 3-5 years Farmers, Watershed department,NGOs, Social Forestry
Repairing tanks-Desilting 1 year NGOsMinor Irrigation Department
Management of water storageScientific use of waterFodder development 1-2 years1-2 years1-2 years FarmersWatershed Development DepartmentAgriculture Department, NGOs and UAS, Veterinary Department, Social Forestry
Agroforestry (fruit and fodder trees) 3-5 years Farmers and Social Forestry

In response to lack of water availability, the group came up with short and long term plans. The long term intervention here is the watershed development and agro-forestry while the short term solutions include desilting and repairing tanks. Similarly, the group came up with short and long term plans to deal with the pollution of the Kelageri tank by sewage and other pollutants and health issues due to sewage irrigation in Gabbur. Gabbur and Kelageri were put together to plan because both came under HDMC and both had similar issues.

The Mugad action plan was formulated by sangha representatives, and representatives from the potters and fishermen’s associations. The sanghas here being ten years old were involved throughout in community issues and well versed in the problems related to forestry. They also had some experience in dealing with the government on this issue. Women were able to make a clear cut plan with a variety of solutions.  This was further aided by the presence of a forest department official who was willing to listen and be supportive of the women’s plan.  This official played a facilitative role and the sangha women were extremely articulate which allowed them to take the lead in this planning process.  This was just the reverse in the case of other working groups where none of the representatives were from sanghas at this stage and therefore not as articulate as Mugad group.


Various Income Generating Activities (IGA) based on Natural Resource (NR) and non NR were taken up.  Efforts were made to involve the poorest of the poor in the process of implementation. The Participatory Indicators on Natural Resource Management clearly brings out that the strategies promoted have benefited the poor. For instance, with use of vermicompost, there was a reduction in fertiliser use. The average reduction in fertilizer use was to the tune of 57% varying across villages from 25% (Mandihal) to 88% (Kotur). Similarly the reduction in pesticide use was about 71% where IPM practices were adopted.

Formation of SHG was the key activity for linking with banks for credit and strengthening the activities through the revolving fund. In the year 2002, the per cent of funds utilized for agriculture was slightly higher compared to IGAs and non-IGAs.  In the year 2003 and 2004, the funds utilized were slightly higher towards IGAs than agriculture and non-IGAs.


The villagers were exposed to new concept of developing projects on their own for solving their own problems. The government also saw what participatory planning would look like.

Mobilization of 45 women SHGs helped to increase their access to credit, to markets, their asset base, their incomes and finally their lives as they now have a support system in place.

The formation of the Village Development Sangha (VDS) and sanghas have helped women better represent their needs in the Grama Sabha and with officials resulting in better linkages to government programs.

Through extended interactions between stakeholders, there was an improved awareness and changes in attitudes by target institutions on NR Management issues.

Lessons Learnt

It is extremely important to formulate working groups with villages close to each other so that they can work with each other.  A cluster approach where geographically close villages allows the natural growth of people’s organizations into cluster level federations who can work together.

When a large number of institutions are involved, it is important that the roles of each institution have to be clearly defined. Institutions need to be involved based on their strengths and the partnership should be allowed to evolve organically.

At the village level grassroot government functionaries need to be involved. More serious capacity building initiatives are needed for the poor to participate fully.

Chandrashekhar S. Hunshal, Director of Instruction (Agri), College of Agriculture, Bijapur.

AT. Patil, Professor of Extension, Directorate of Extension, UAS, Dharwad

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