Some Tentative Propositions Concerning Rural Development in the Less Industrialized Nations
Presented at the
Workshop for Extended Rural Development in Asia Cornell University
Lowell S. Hardin, Ford Foundation
These observations draw heavily on the Foundation's experience in agricultural development and on efforts to relate what we may have learned there to the larger, more complex problems of overall rural development. The context is Latin America, Africa, Middle East, as well as Asia; hence these comments are not focused on any one region.
A Bit of the Foundation's History with Aaicultural Programs
Experience with traditional community devel6pment and agricultural
extension projects in the 1950s and early 1960s to our view produced less than satisfactory results. Too often the required economic force, the profit potential of markedly improved technology, was lacking. Without such an engine to drive the system agricultural development did not move very fast or very far. Hence the shift to research; to emphasis on the development, adaptation, testing and use of improved production technology. We are encouraged that a global system for solving food production problems is evolving.
" Farmers I
National and State
Agricultural Research and Food Production Services in the LDCs
International Agricultural Resource Base InstituResearch Centers; Regional tions, Individuals in
Units, Networks Industrial Nations
Some Observations on Agricultural Development
Focusing on agricultural development as we have during the past ten years we came to believe that:
1. For agricultural development to take place, access to and use of outside
inputs are almost universally required. These are classically technological in character (genetic materials, tube wells, plant protection) but certainly
can be structural or institutional (markets, access to inputs, etc.).
Despite many Readers' Digest stories to the contrary, I see relatively
few illustrations of people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.
2. Well-trained agriculturalists (teams) can diagnose situations, do a
fairly good job of selling out the constraints impeding increased agricultural productivity and production. This function appears to be best ,.,done by a team of a least two people an agronomist/biological scientist and an agricultural economist/farm management type.
3. Having conducted the diagnosis, feasible courses of action can be specified through implementation is often a much more complicated and difficult matter.
4. If trained agriculturalists can do diagnoses, presumably they can help
teach others to perform this function. One wonders, however, whether
training efforts are being tilted as far in this direction as would be
5. Relatively few pilot projects achieve sought-for generalization and wide
a. They are built around a unique personality, institution or situation
speciall market outlet).
b. They often have a larger infusion from the outside (especially in
management talent and budgetary flexibility) than can be sustained
at any attainable budgetary level over a large area.
c. They are so location-specific that only the methodology (and perhaps
only part of that) is transferable.
6. Agricultural development projects tend, quite naturally, to face the
toughest.-going where resource endowments are most meager. Those who
seek' to achieve income redistribution among agricultural areas therefore are most frustrated when tackling regions of low agricultural potential (the Appalachia effect is indeed powerful and pervasive).
Looked at socially, I wonder if we aren't at times kidding ourselves
when we undertake agricultural development efforts in regions where
resource endowments are meager and are destined to remain so. In these
situations, while it is very difficult politically, perhaps we should
call a spade a spade: what is faced is a welfare operation or the
necessity to generate non-farm employment.
7. Rural public works can be made to contribute importantly to Egricultural
development where resource endowments permit economically feasible production responses. I refer to rural public works of the non-"leafraking"
types roads, water conservation and management, well drilling, etc.
Merging Agricultural Development and Rural Development
When we move to rural development projects with an agricultural component, I, at least, am much less sure of myself. The rhetoric here (as to a
degree with agricultural development) tends to move toward group activities, collective action. Often, it seems to me also, this tends to be more an
"ideology than a methodology." The movement toward group organization &s a type of solution may in turn be influenced by our fragmentary knowledge of what goes on inside the People's Republic of China.
With respect to rural development, we are concerned with an assessment of all the resources and services (not just the agricultural ones) in search of means whereby productivity can be increased. Generalizations are difficult, of course, but one has to start with a small enough universe (area or region) that it can be analyzed and that realistic alternatives can be conceptualized. Sometimes the unit of observation becomes a village. Some of this research takes on the attributes of a case study. While often anecdotal in nature, such studies maybe a necessary starting point. If so, care has to be exercised not to generalize too quickly.
There are some advantages to thinking in terms .of area development.
This helps assure exploration of rural-urban inter-relationships and differences. as well as rural-urban contrasts and opportunities. And again, one needs to make hard judgments with respect to welfare (redistributive) vs. productivity considerations.
Recently Foundation staff and some of their Latin American colleagues held a seminar on Rural Development in Colombia. Ideas that emerged from their discussions included the following:
1. The three case studies (Project Puebla, Garcia Rovira and Cajamarea) are
probably more nearly agricultural development than rural development projects. Taking the seminar's definition of rural development (any socioeconomic change in rural areas accompanied by greater participation in
benefits and decision-making) however, would, as I understand it, include
the three projects under study.
2. Rates of adoption of "improved technologies" were substantially lower than
project developers had predicted (i.e., 11% of the farmers had adopted improved technologies in Puebla after four years). A combination of reasons
is advanced as possible explanations for the relatively slow rates of
a. Agriculture and the commodities central to the technological push turn
out to contribute a relatively unimportant portion of the income of thesmallholders in the project areas. Often agriculture in total may contribute less than 20% of the incomes with off-farm work being the principal earning source.
b. Even "improved practices" are not very profitable or involve risks,
smallholders are unprepared to bear.
c. Externalities make adoption of "improved practices" difficult because
of the non-availability of essential inputs such as credit, etc.
3. The projects did have large indirect effects: many similar projects have
been initiated; research and training in rural development have been stimulated; and some modifications have been made in the programs of agricultural research stations better to get at the questions previously unaddressed.
4. The projects were formulated and carried out in relative intellectual
isolation. Design and execution appear not to take advantage of accumulated experience elsewhere; there is limited inter-project dialogue
among similar initiatives even within the same country.
5. The quantity and quality of resources applied to the design and execution
of the projects under study were unequal to the task. For this reason it is unfair to judge these as real "pilot" projects because of this limitation to the test.
6. Many of the problems with the projects trace back to inadequacies in
theory or analytical framework for rural development (which the seminar
treated as essentially synonymous with alleviation of poverty). This
suggests that descriptive studies presumably are necessary before hypotheses can be formulated and tested. It is argued that one must know
what is and how it got that way as a starting point. Even the ordering
of extant knowledge, however, requires a frame of reference. It is
argued that one could measure whether productivity increases commensurate
with costs are likely to be derived from:
a. Improved crop production technology, taking full account of
natural and human resource constraints.
b. Investment in irrigation or other private or public works.
c. Land and/or tenure reform to evolve change patterns of ownership
of means of production and of rights to the resulting output.
7. Even more fundamentally, strong disagreement exists concerning root causes
of rural poverty and stagnation. Two sets of answers emerge to the question, why are the "have nots" so poor relative to the "haves"?
a. Neoclassicists argue that underdevelopment of the "have notes" is due
to their being left behind by technological change. If so, this is
correctable by providing a strategic combination of conventional
tools in somewhat the way intended by the case projects.
b. The opposing view holds that underdevelopment of the "have notes" is
due to historical, lopsided progress of the "haves" who exploited, alienated and marginalized the "have nots". That is, the poorest
have not been left behind, they have been pushed behind.
Based upon the above, the seminar recommended that as an interim
measure at least the Foundation's rural development program continue its current agricultural and agricultural economics emphases, making special efforts to achieve broadened participation in decision making and benefits.
Quite a bit of the talk in rural development today, it seems to me, stresses institutional organization from the bottom for improved diffusion. While this smacks a good bit of the model of development, espoused by USAID in the 1950s, of transfer of technology and diffusion locally through improved extension, it may have a new component. This is the component of "power to-the people" means of more directly and effectively involving the poor in the process.
Recognition is given to the high payoff input model which closely parallels the neoclassical theme. It argues that poor farmers do not resist technical change. They simply do not have the appropriate kinds of technologies and associated inputs accessible to them. This, in turn, places emphasis on chemical-biological research sector, on industry to provide the inputs, and increasingly on analysis of the "externalities" which may still be limiting in the presence of improved production practices and availability of inputs and markets.
Personally I have the impression that the high payoff input model works reasonably well if the new technology which is vastly superior is in fact in the pipeline. It suffers from inadequate diagnostics for establishment of priorities on what technology to generate and where to do the work.
We seem to be searching for a theory of induced innovation for institutions somewhat comparable to the Hyami-Ruttan model for induced biological, chemical, and mechanical change. Vern argues that the induced innovation model permits a country or a region to find a development path consistent with its resource endowment. The system is driven by the operation of the price system responding to present and prospective price relationships. The model is based on the theory of the firm.
To a substantial degree, the Foundation's work in rural development has adopted a view espoused by many institutional theorists: technological change becomes a source of institutional changes. If we can put the right kinds of parameters on technological change scale neutral, proper kinds of income distribution effects, etc. -then this may be a-reasonable horse to ride.
But increasingly we are not content to leave the matter of institutional change at that point. Several seem to be calling for political action. Suggestions that "poor power" rural enterprises be strengthened make an appeal for charismatic leadership, group organization, and group action at the local level.
In assessing its situation the Foundation's India staff says that we must ask ourselves of each grant: What are the consequences for the less advantaged, for one region of the country vs. another? What are the production, income, employment and nutrition effects? What is the impact on the human and physical resources of a grantee, its locale, the state and the nation?
Having rambled much too widely, let me attempt some tentative propositions. As a trial effort, let me paraphrase them thus:
I.. Given the tight food situation globally, local adaptive research on biological, chemical and mechanical (as necessary) technological change, needs
continued strengthening. (Induced technological innovation, the neoclassical
approach guided by the theory of the firm.) Efforts here can be improved
by more rational setting of priorities, better linkage to resource bases
including the international centers as sources of essential outside inputs.
In our concern for farmer adoption of improved practices let us not rediscover the "diffusion" model without making reasonably certain that the
system has something worthwhile to diffuse.
2. More good farm and market micro studies and greater capacity to undertake
them are much needed. From such studies comes better understanding of
what farmers and farm families do, how they do it and why. Diagnostic
techniques which quantify and causally identify the constraints impeding
increased agricultural productivity and production are as yet not very well developed. In the absence of such micro studies, there is danger that production researchers seek answers to the wrong questions; that
public policies will continue to be made without realistic understanding
of their probable consequence at the farm and family levels.
3. We need to be brutally realistic about the limits (on any approach to
agricultural development as a driving force for rural development) imposed by resource constraints size of farm, irrigation water or rainfall, topography, climate, soils, etc. If the only solutions rest in
the non-agricultural sector we should not be a party to building false
expectations that agricultural productivity can be rapidly and economically
.. We should put our minds to understanding how and why institutions change,
how such innovations may be induced by non-violent means. This suggests
that our own research, the research of others that we help support and the training of those who can do such research in the future need to be tilted
a bit more in this direction. It may well be that accumulated experience has been inadequately mined for the insights contained therein. FAO proposes to form a rural development institute for this purpose. The O.D.I.
conference suggested a rural development network with some type of rural
development institute as a communications (possibly analytical) hub. Your
Cornell study proposes an international institutional network to promote:
(a) the transfer of ideas about rural development strategy, training efforts,
research approaches and findings; (b) the exchange of staff responsible for
training and/or research; and (c) the sharing of research results about
rural development itself and about the ancillary training and research required. Further, there is a Bellagio social science group which is now attempting to focus in on social science research for rural development.
From these and other intellectual inputs should emerge a more coherent analytical frame if not a full-blown theory.
We are entering what I judge to be a highly dynamic period in which
new stresses of two types may well appear. In the third world nations (the oilrich LDCs) capacities may be stressed by the infusion of large capital inputs. We may have some firsthand opportunity to observe and learn from this phenomenon in countries like Iran, Nigeria, Algeria, the states in the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Indonesia. A second set of stresses appears to be developing in fourth world nations (LDCs without major mineral resources) which are under increasing financial and balance-of-trade pressures with sources of needed outside capital outputs quite uncertain. The keen observer-analyst should be able to gain new insights from reactions to these two types of stresses. And if the People's Republic of China continues to open, we can hope for-better understanding of what is happening there.
In this environment we as a foundation will likely try to retain sufficient flexibility to enable us to experiment, to participate in and learn from the dynamics of current developments while continuing to push initiatives of the type outlined above.