Thursday, 28 May 2015


The North East Zonal Team of Caritas India has been meticulously working on promoting people’s development initiatives through a project titled “Facilitating Agriculture Regeneration Measures (FARM) in North East” since 2013 with the application of People Led Development (PLD) approach. The team is doing everything possible to ensure that PLD is given the priority in FARM NE. It is heartening to see that our efforts are now showing results and we have been to document quality information from our partners on PLD in the shape of case studies. These case studies are testimonials to assert to the fact that the target community in the project areas are being empowered & are also given the power to decide what is best for them. People may not know what PLD is but they are now realizing the fact that even they can think, they can decide and they can take action on their own. 

For us as a team it’s been a beautiful journey of 2 years with PLD taking the centre stage. Our job of capacitating the partners is still on and we are here to ensure that the project helps the poor in enhancing livelihood options without being dependent. Thankfully, the project (FARM North East) being armed with the PLD component as powerful approach, makes it count among one of its kind of projects that talks about people's empowerment. We believe in people’s development from within and not from external force.

Here are few views & experiences of Caritas India team members on PLD. These are a few reflections on what the team feels about PLD & how best the concept can be taken forward. 

Jonas Lakra
My memories go back to 40 years down the lane when I was small boy living with my parents in a remote village called Naharani in Golaghat district of Assam. There were no motorable roads, no electricity and no means of communication. Bicycles and bullock carts were the only means of transportation. No shops were there within the village. The nearest market was 5 km away at Sarupathar. The agricultural fields were in and around the forests. My house was surrounded by trees and bushes. Many animals like monkeys, elephants, foxes, deer, rabbits, reptiles etc. often would be seen in the open and we coexisted with them in harmony. Village elders would always forbid us to kill any animal.

I am sharing this to give you a picture how people lived in peace with happiness and harmony during those days. Same kind of a situation used to prevail in most of the villages in Northeast during those days. People including my parents sustained only with crops cultivated of their own. There was no need of producing excess food because nobody would buy rather exchange goods as per requirement. Thus barter system was prevalent. Every one cultivated enough food. Land was so fertile that whatever was being sown would yield in plenty. We would even go to forests to collect forest products especially food and firewood. People went to the market once in a month only for salt, oil, soap and cloths.

During those days no government schemes reached to our village. But the village people were always united to help each other. The approach road which exists now was built by the community. Wells were dug in each house for drinking water and domestic use. The cost of digging well was only 3 to 5 kg of rice, one or two hen with a pot of rice beer. They would help each other in building houses and even for cultivation. Women would help each other during pregnancy and delivery of the baby. Thus from birth to death people would carry out all the traditional ceremonies without spending much cash or with no cash, because community feeling and culture of collective support was in existence. This is how community was always ready to help each other in every respect.
Now the scenario is very different. Now people have to spend money for everything.  No one has spare time to lend helping hands to the other. They need to spend for birth, for marriage and even for burial. They need to depend on market for food. Land is no longer fertile as before, hence people are discouraged to cultivate. No forest product. Govt. schemes are available only at the cost of spending money. Thus rights are denied.

Last two years of my personal involvement in the FARM (Facilitating Agricultural Regeneration Measures) Northeast project has given me opportunity to learn and unlearn through reflection process with people (small farmers).  Two years back when I heard about People Lead Development (PLD) approach for the first time, I was not very convinced as to how this approach would help the project (FARM Northeast) to benefit people, because I am a practitioner of Result Based Management (RBM) Approach. But as the time passed my perspective on PLD became clearer. In the beginning we approached people as social scientist telling people what they should do and should not do. We reflected ourselves as knowledgeable person and change maker of the society. Thanks to Mr. Saju for taking Northeast Caritas India team on board and making us understand the concept and core value of PLD.

Following are some of my reflections and learning as NGO worker so far:
  • We as NGO workers should critically reflect ourselves and redefine our role. The entire development approach should be collective reflection, planning and implementation. From doer to reflection and thought provoking action. NGO’s plan and action should be based on the people’s knowledge, skills and resources.
  • We should visit the village with learning mentality. Listen to the people, observe and extend need based facilitating support and understand what they can do on their own. 
  • We need to facilitate for joint reflection for building peoples perspective and vision. 
  • Promote interested farmers as model farmers and build them as future leaders. 
  • Our facilitation process should lead to people’s initiative in decision making, planning and implementation of development activities in the villages.  
I hope and wish all our project team and project partners (11 implementing organizations) feel more or less like me. So far I have observed that farmers with whom we are working are beginning to change their perspective on development process. Some of the behavioural changes are highlighted in this blog in the form of case stories. We have given different agricultural technologies to people as option and could see few have accepted and few have rejected because they know what works and what doesn’t. We have observed that few people started to do multiple cropping in all our 191 villages, women farmers are taking lead role in forming farmers club in the states like Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh and people are opting for traditional/local variety seeds and have their own indigenous system of preservation of seeds.

We as NGO workers should understand that development though peoples’ perspective change and collective initiative/action is a long term process and does not happen overnight like any other service delivery development project. We need to have patience and work towards peoples’ capacity building on people’s collective initiative and leadership from within the community. We need to value the rich knowledge and experiences of people and promote those for their own sustainable development. Building community to assert their constitutional and human rights is another aspect we need to work on so that they live in dignity. People have the best solution for every problem and are the agent of change for future development for themselves and for the community.
Jonas Lakra
Zonal Manager, North East
Caritas India
Guwahati, Assam

Prabal Sen
Being a man from Environmental Sciences, People Led Development (PLD) approach was a completely new subject to me. Initially I was not convinced with the concept as my question was that how would it benefit the farmers, something that the project is trying to do?

We were specifically then told that PLD being the integral component of Facilitating Agriculture Regeneration Measures (FARM) project has to be taken up on a priority basis. I obliged but still with a little confused state of mind as to how to give it a start?

I went through a few stories on PLD shared by West Zone. The first read, well I could not connect to the North Eastern context. I went through the stories a couple of times more & was trying to figure out how best these stories could help me in understanding PLD.

All that I could understand about PLD was that it’s about community and not individual. The second best thing that drew my interest is PLD talks about revival of traditional knowledge, a domain that I have been working in the past. I wondered that PLD is already omnipresent in my region yet could not be identified. I thought there could be innumerable examples of communities across rural North East (NE) India, where the spirit of oneness is still visible in so many aspects of life and society. Different tribes, different groups are the custodians of a rich culture & heritage that they have inherited from their ancestors. My simple understanding was that elements of PLD are just there & all that is required is identify them.  

I made up my mind to go the partners’ field and the see how PLD can be put into action. I did not make any plan or strategy to discuss PLD with different partners. May be I realised that it had to come of its own as per the situation on the ground.

Being in the field, the simplest of common examples (on PLD) I cited to the partners was that of the community coming together to help someone who lost his house in a fire incident. Prompt came the response from them, “Yes we know about this practice and it’s still in practice”! This reply was perhaps the starting point for understanding for them. I carried on from here and tried my best to explain to the project teams on how PLD works. However, I made it very clear to them that any farmer or community has got nothing to do with PLD and that its exclusively for us to understand & apply.

I put array of questions to them & tried to find out PLD cases with special reference to the project. They understood and responded with a number of such cases that had elements of PLD within the project as well as outside. All this came up on the first day of visit during meetings with the respective project team. Come second day and we were off to the field, in the specific areas where PLD cases were reported by the project teams. I took the initiative in interacting with the community & showed to the team in details on how to go about. I helped them to identify more of such cases throughout my visit. It was then for the team to take the lead in interacting with the community.

The project teams carried over from here & the ray of confidence was clearly visible on their faces. My hard work seemed to have paid back when I heard the project team saying that now they have a clear understanding on PLD & now they take it forward. Results are showing now as I have received quite a few PLD case studies from the different project teams & these stories have been published on the blog.

Being again from a different educational background, I do not have indepth knowledge of RBM but I respect the subject & try to learn as much I can. Likewise PLD, as already stated above, would not have drawn my attention had it not included components like what I was looking for.

PLD has changed in a way changed my thinking as a technical person, who was busy sharing technologies to the farmers & gave me an opportunity to think out of the box. I have learned that as per the concept of PLD prescription would not work but options do.

Finally, it’s been a great journey of two years with PLD and above all, learning has been my biggest of gains.

As they if you enjoy your work you love it and so am I.... 

Prabal Sen
State Officer, North East
Guwahati, Assam

Thangsha Sebastian Anchong
I have learnt that the age old traditional practices among the communities in North East help them to a great extent to find a solution to their issues. I also experienced that of late the same community are somehow losing their rich traditional practices. Therefore, I see a kind of disconnect that the community of present day is faced with. However, whatever little the community has been able to practice till date in different sectors, sets a great example to show that the community never acts individually but as a unit.

In this context I would say that People Led Development (PLD) approach is all about creating empowerment of the community by building their capacities and supporting their initiatives with the aim of giving them greater control over their own development initiatives.  It helps them to reflect and think to identify their needs, issues and concerns to generate community solution. PLD approach would also lead to strengthen the age old traditional practices that hold a high risk of getting extinct. PLD in FARM North East is perhaps a good step towards moving out from the traditional mode of project that we implement. 
Thangsha Sebastian Anchong 
State Officer, North East
Guwahati, Assam

Albinus Kujur
Peoples’ initiative is observed in day to day life in Adivasi community and also in most of the tribes of North East India.  But People Led Development (PLD) approach in FARM Northeast project talks about the developmental aspect of the community through their own initiatives; and which is looked to be more sustainable.  This developmental aspect is about peoples’ initiatives within the community and also relates to development through government through the peoples own initiatives by means of linkage building, enhancing capacities and explore their own potentials.

Having been exposed to the concept of PLD, I can’t wait to share a unique peoples’ initiative called Hawri, practiced by my community. Hawri is a traditional system prevalent among the Adivasis that promotes the spirit of working together to help each other. People get organized themselves to help their own people. The family that seeks the help from the members of the community would provide food and refreshment to all. This is one of the traditional practices that have been practiced from ancestors.  HAWRI can be seen in many aspects of the society like agricultural activities; construction of houses, collecting firewood, marriages & also during many other activities & rituals.  

PLD as such is visible in most of the ethnic communities across the NE region. I am happy to learn that through PLD a trial is being made to into picture the rich treasure of traditional knowledge & ethics of the ethnic communities of North East India. 

Albinus Kujur
Finance Officer, North East
Guwahati, Assam

Saju M.K.
My first meeting with the eleven organisations working on People Led Development (PLD) in North East India was the quarterly review in July 2014. One of the things that I did during the review meeting was sharing with participants my opinion on PLD. In spite of my best efforts to convey my convictions and the experiences on PLD, I knew the coordinators understood very little of what I spoke. Even more, they looked puzzled. I had expected it since it was natural. For a cadre of workers which was accustomed to Results Based Management (RBM) and the necessity to deliver results more as ‘drivers’ rather than ‘facilitators’, introduction of PLD halfway into the project had to be confusing.

While the review was still rolling on, I was searching for a PLD narrative that is simpler, clearer and more convincing. I must have missed a couple of presentations because I was lost in my world of PLD. Coordinators, without exception, followed the RBM format for presentation not just because they were asked to do that but it was easier as well. Finally when I started paying attention to the presentations, I discovered there is an intriguing pattern in the presentations. To my pleasant surprise, some of them also added a few slides in which they had presented the results which they could not fit into the RBM presentation format! None of these results were planned or written in the proposal and most of these results were achieved by communities on their own! Equally striking was the enthusiasm of coordinators to showcase those creditable achievements which were relevant to the real life contexts of communities.

The PLD discussion resumed from there and it was more contextual, meaningful and enjoyable.

I will leave RBM to its exponents to defend it. In a context where agencies seek to ‘work with’ communities in true sense, RBM helps neither the communities nor the agencies. Or at best, it helps only a little. There are several perspectives on the possible interactivity of RBM and PLD. However, I would pick up the practice of result presentation in the context of RBM and PLD, as expressed in the review experience referenced above.

In an RBM scenario, the mission of a field worker is rather simple because s/he normally does not think or act beyond what is written in the project document. S/he just does not need to. If we inquire anytime during the project period about what they do they will invariably give answers that are consistent with what is written in the proposal.  They will always prefer to do, or at least prioritise to do, the activities that are written in the proposal and not always the activities that the communities would expect them to do. This applies to the representation of results as well. We, more often than not, tend to report the results in a framework that is manufactured away from the community. And, in those very few occasions when coordinators deviate a little to include the vital and meaningful gains of communities, they are ‘disciplined’ to follow the format of presentation.

It was, hence, very satisfying for me to observe that some enterprising coordinators resisted the tendency to ‘conform’ and gathered enough courage and motivation to ‘improvise’ their formats for capturing the results that communities had achieved with a little assistance from the field workers. The happiness of coordinators when they said “we have some more results to present” was so pronounced.

As a person who has seen both RBM and PLD sides, I have become increasingly doubtful of the ability of RBM to satisfactorily capture the successes of communities in responding to their evolving and continuously changing needs. In a normal rural scenario, how many issues remain in constant degree of severity, in constant extent and in constant length of time? I wish RBM will suit those few. But there are far more pressing and urgent needs of the community which an organisation needs to respond to as a companion of people in need. The coordinators who had presented additional slides of successes in their presentation were trying to do just that!

PLD is all about responding to the everyday needs of the community without the precondition of having a proposal. It is all about responding in a more meaningful way – encouraging and enabling communities to lead themselves.
Saju M.K.
Zonal Manager, West Zone
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

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