Cover Image
close this bookTraditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development (WB)
close this folderSummary of the conference proceedings
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentTraditional knowledge and cultural survival
View the documentTraditional knowledge, land, and the environment
View the documentTraditional knowledge and agricultural sustainability
View the documentContributions of traditional medicine to health
View the documentTraditional institutions and participation
View the documentGovernment policies and traditional knowledge
View the documentBuilding a new partnership
View the documentConclusion

Traditional institutions and participation

Several speakers at the conference highlighted the need for more active participation on the part of indigenous peoples in development planning. At the same time they warned against imposing alien organizational forms on indigenous communities in the name of participation. It is often easier to promote successful development interventions by drawing on traditional social structures and using local decision-making institutions. The World Bank's recent policy directive on indigenous peoples highlights the need for their "informed participation" in Bank projects, as well as the design of indigenous peoples' development plans or strategies in collaboration with their leadership and organizations. (See Appendix 4.)

Burkina Faso and the Six-"S" Program

One of the best cases of this traditional approach was presented to the conference by Bernard La Ouedraogo, founder and head of the Burkina Fasobased Association Internationale Six-"S" (Se Servir de la Saison Se en Savanne et au Sahel).

Burkina Faso is a country of enormous linguistic, cultural, and ecological diversity. There are approximately sixty ethnic groups in the country, including descendants of the Kingdom of the Mossi, lineage- and village-based agricultural societies, and pastoral tribes. Large areas of the country are arid and pose special problems in terms of natural resource management and agricultural and livestock development.

Ouedraogo and his collaborators in Six-"S" have received worldwide acclaim for their capacity to motivate and organize rural people. He described the trials and tribulations of his early rural development experience and what he learned from working with the people:

I was a civil servant working in a regional government organization. My job was to train rural extension workers. My experience was crowned with some success, and I was told to go to the countryside and try to replicate that success. But I failed miserably.

I realized one of the problems was that I did not speak the same language as the peasants. I then set about studying the philosophical principles of the population. Those principles I found in their proverbs and fables.

I also studied the mentality of each region, the way the society is organized, how the various powers - legislative, political, press, and judicial - govern the environment. I studied the ways and means that are used to carry out economic tasks.

Based on this information, I began to create some trust and motivation. If the farmers do not trust you, they think you have come to cheat them. If the farmers are not motivated, they do nothing. In order to promote development and change, you have to talk their language and create mutual trust. This is what creates the spirit of confidence for the workers.

It was out of this intimate knowledge of local people, and familiarity with their outlooks and motivations, that Ouedraogo and his co-workers came upon the idea of using the traditional Mossi institution of Kombi-Naam for purposes of development. The objective of the traditional institution was the "social integration of youth" through the inculcation of the society's "fundamental values of equality, justice, equity and democracy." Ouedraogo used this traditional institution as the basis for a more widespread community organization, called the Groupement Naam. Its membership was broadened to include other categories of people, including women and the elderly. The elders, in fact, became the "counselors" of the organization providing it with a moral direction that did not exist in other organizations imposed by outsiders or the government.

Due to its acceptability and familiarity to the local people, Groupement Naam had great success and grew rapidly - the first group being formed in 1967; with 126 groups existing in 1977, and 4,500 groups active today. These groups also formed into larger networks at the village, district, and provincial levels, and even formed into national federations. Today, the concept of these decentralized local groups - based on what Ouedraogo calls "qualitative democracy" - has spread into neighboring countries, including Benin, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

According to Ouedraogo, the activities of the Groupement Naam respond to two priorities: training local people so they will be competent to address their own problems; and implementing activities that promote self-sufficiency and increase the revenues of their peasant members. The second category comprises numerous activities, but the major focus is local efforts to combat desertification and restore the ecological equilibrium. Almost all of these natural resource management activities have components whose purpose is to increase local food supplies and income. Some of the more successful activities have been the establishment of cereal banks, introduction of simple grinding mills, raising lambs, and numerous women's activities such as cloth dyeing, sewing, and solar drying of agricultural products. The organization has also established a network of rural credit institutions to serve these various community-based economic and natural resource management activities.

When we train the farmers, we don't train for the sake of training. We train in response to a need that they have identified. When a farmer applies for training, it is because he is confronted with a problem and he is prepared to act and implement new knowledge to solve that problem. If you want to do something successfully, you have to be involved. That is what we expect of our farmers. They must be involved totally. - Bernard Ouedraogo

Bedouin Tribes of Northwest Egypt

Another situation in which the role of traditional institutions in mobilizing people for rural development has been important is among Bedouin tribes-people in the Matruh region of Northwest Egypt. There are over forty tribal groups in this region, most of whom were nomadic sheep, goat, and camel herders until they were sedentarized by the Egyptian authorities in the late 1950s. The process of settlement led the Bedouin to be more dependent upon dryland agriculture, and growing fodder for their livestock. As a result, land has become increasingly overgrazed and soil has become seriously eroded.

The Bedouin of the Matruh region all trace their descent from a common ancestor and are organized into a segmentary lineage system comprising tribes, patrilineages or clans, and local extended-family household groups. While tribal sheikhs represent these people before the government, most aspects of social and economic life take place at the household level. These groups are called bayt (biyut, pl.), are usually three to four generations in depth, and contain an average of fourteen persons. Describing the significance of these groups among the Bedouin in neighboring Libya, British social anthropologist E. Evans Pritchard wrote:

The tribe may be the residual owner of land and water, but the biyut are the owners in use. Their members live in the same stretch of tribal territory, move during the rains to the same grazing grounds, use the same wells during the dry season, and cultivate adjacent strips of arable land. The members of a bait [that is, bays] have a lively sense of solidarity, and this is most evident in fighting and feuds.

For many years the Egyptian government and international donors supported rural development programs that showed little understanding of these highly complex aspects of Bedouin social structure. Many of these programs were based on notions of the private registry and ownership of land. They also assumed that government-organized cooperatives were the most equitable means of delivering technical assistance, agricultural inputs, and credit to the Bedouin.

Peter Klemann, team leader for the joint German (GTZ)-Egyptian Qasr Rural Development Project (QRDP), related the difficulties that have resulted from imposing these nontraditional concepts and institutions on Bedouin farmers and herders. The government-introduced cooperatives did not have the desired results of producing widespread participation and equality among members, because of the hierarchical organization of Bedouin society. In most cases these cooperatives reflected the interests of the sheikhs or their confidants, not local family, residency, and production groups. Klemann said:

As regards the ownership and use of lands, two systems of land tenure can be distinguished (among the Bedouin). First, there is tribal land, which can be used by all tribal members. This is mainly range land used for grazing. It is a public good, to which all members have access. So, everybody exploits it to the maximum. This results in the well-known effects of overgrazing, which lead to deterioration.

The second form of land tenure is individual land where a Bedouin is considered the owner even without legal registration. This falls under the concept of wad al yad, which means that the user has put his hand on it, and has made investments like trees and dams on it. [This land] would seem to be less problematic. This is not the case at all.

In general, this is the most valuable land, with deep soils and enough runoff water to ensure relatively high yields.

Rural development efforts such as construction of dams and dikes, levelling of fields, [and] excavation of cisterns change the size, shape and value of this land. Spaces between two neighbors that formerly had no practical value can be converted into fertile land. This makes clearly defined farm boundaries most important. We often have to adjust our engineering works according to farm boundaries even where another solution would be technically more sound and less costly.

The QRDP, which began as a pilot program in 1988, has encountered several other problems such as the absence of information and research on the Bedouin; difficulties in recruiting staff to live in the Matruh region; lack of trust by small farmers of government employees; and lack of respect for the Bedouin by outside technicians. On this last point Klemann said:

We observed that Egyptian technicians who lived a longer time in the area dealing with the Bedouin lost this attitude. But after we observed some of our younger Egyptian colleagues releasing their extension messages to elderly Bedouin farmers like a captain's orders to his soldiers, we quickly organized a course on didactics for our staff.

In coping with this broad variety of problems, QRDP found that two major principles were consistently the most effective in implementing its work. Again, to cite Klemann:

First, the Bedouin participate as far as possible in all project activities right from planning until implementation. For example, the definition of project aims and formulation of the correspondent strategy was done in planning-by-objective conferences where the sheikhs and other leaders of the Bedouin tribes actively participated....

Second, with some very specific exceptions, we always request a target group contribution, either in cash or in kind....

By observing these two principles, we try to ensure sustainability of the executed measures. People will care better for investments that have been made with their full consent and a significant material contribution of their own.

He further recommended the following as being critical to the success of projects among indigenous peoples:

1. Allow for more than the normal time for project appraisal. Such missions should include anthropologists, ethnologists, or sociologists.

2. Allow for flexibility to change the project strategy after a certain time when the team on the spot has gained enough experience. Somebody who has worked with indigenous groups for a couple of years knows more about the subject than the best short term expert in an appraisal mission.

3. Involve indigenous peoples to a maximum in all aspects of project planning and implementation.

4. Respect their organizational structures and try to make the best use of them.

5. Apply careful staff selection and assure special training concerning indigenous peoples.

6. Apply close monitoring at short intervals.

7. Allow for a long lifetime for indigenous development projects.

Bedouin Women and Development

Klemann was accompanied by Dr. Salima Abd El Rehim Mohamed, a Bedouin woman who has a university degree in veterinary medicine and works as the Executive Officer of the QRDP Women Affairs Program. Conference participants were extremely interested in her comments, because it is rare for Western development specialists to have access to the views of traditional Muslim women.

Dr. Salima described the goals of the QRDP Women Affairs Program as being to "improve the living conditions of the Bedouin women." This includes five main approaches to women's activities: reduction of women's exhausting and time consuming work loads; encouragement of women to increase their income-generating activities; organizing women's groups for access to credit; informing women about existing governmental services; and supporting direct access to these services. She noted that much of the work of Bedouin women - such as firewood and water collection - is very tedious and time consuming; hence, women readily accept changes that lower their work loads but do not conflict with their traditional roles within the Bedouin family structure.

To get across her point to the women she has been working with, she often uses herself as an example:

I tell [them] that I went out of my house for four or five years after the discussion and consent of my family. I joined schools until I reached university stage, yet my traditions are the same. I am still adhering to my traditions. I am not Americanized, and I am not Europeanized. The respect of traditions gives me an open door of communication to these indigenous peoples who are my people.

Dr. Salima stressed that there is no inherent conflict between tradition and development, including that of religion. In response to one question concerning whether culture or poverty was the cause of Bedouin women's difficulties, she replied:

What I think and believe is that religion helps development; it's not against it. Culture is something [necessary], but if it is a closed society that has not accepted any change or revolution, how can we arrive at the best possible way of development? The most important thing and the basic ingredient in the problem is poverty.

Bedouin women live in houses in the desert without any electric power .... Exhausting work for women is transport of water to the houses, which is a job that has to be done three times per day. A woman might walk up to 15 kilometers daily. The amount of water she has to lift from the cistern by using a bucket is more than 300 liters which she transports home on the back of a donkey....No wife would refuse a new method of bringing water into her home. But, they have their own priorities.

These are the aspirations for the future for Bedouin women: We are seeking an improvement and development of a certain layer of the society's culture. We are trying to help women to think of educating their children, opening new horizons for them, trying to engage in certain projects which are suitable to their circumstances. - Salima Abd El Rehim Mohamed

Matruh Resource Management Project

Based on the experience of the QRDP Project, the World Bank assisted in the preparation and financing of a follow-up project in the Matruh region that is intended to reach a much larger number of Bedouin farmers (nearly forty tribes) and promote more sustainable land use and resource management. The Matruh Resource Management Project, as it is called, originally began as a traditional range-management improvement program. However, using participatory rural appraisal techniques, it was decided to design a more comprehensive project which includes the active participation of Bedouin communities and incorporates some of their traditional land-use practices and knowledge.

Bachir Souhlal, the Task Manager for the Matruh project, described some of its critical design features. One of these is the empowerment of local Bedouin groups (the bayt described above) to serve as the project's major participants and beneficiaries. Each "community group" (CG) or bayt will be directly involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring of project activities. These groups, in turn, will select representatives to form part of a CG Council, which will be collectively responsible for all land and resource management decisions, including formulation of a Community Action Plan (CAP).

The project will also establish special Sub Regional Support Centers (SRSCs) to provide extension services to the CGs and assist them in the preparation of the CAPs. The SRSCs will comprise specialists in such areas as field crops, horticulture, range management, and rural women's extension. There will also be Community Liaison Coordinators and Community Extension Agents, who will be nominated by the participating tribes.

Finally, there is a research component under the project, which includes an assessment of indigenous technical knowledge on local resource use. This will include a description and elaboration of customary legal procedures for resource use, indigenous knowledge of seasonal environmental changes, local methods of livestock care, identification of local fodder sources, and local knowledge of soils and cultivation methods.

In reference to the role of traditional systems and values, Souhlal said:

An important principle underlying the design of the project has been to ensure that the approach to community planning, the selection of interventions and activities, and the delivery of services are all in harmony with the traditional systems and values of the Bedouin society. At the same time, it has been recognized that, as is the case for Egypt as a whole, the Bedouin society is changing and adapting to a variety of outside influences. The project will help the entire Bedouin community to preserve, to the extent possible, its cultural heritage and be more confident as it faces and participates in these changes. It will build on existing tribal mechanisms for community action and stimulate mobilization of households into user groups to work with the government authorities in sustainable management of natural resources.

The Matruh initiative represents a new generation of natural resource management and rural development projects in which local people actively participate in project preparation and implementation. These projects incorporate traditional knowledge and institutions in their activities and provide local people with opportunities to capture project benefits. Lessons learned from these projects are playing a fundamental role in shaping government and international donor thinking about how to promote local participation among indigenous populations living in fragile environments.