Municipal rural development plans in Brazil: working within the politics of participation
This article gives account for experiences from the Centre for Alternative Technologies (CTA), an NGO working on alternative futures for and with rural small-scale farmers in Zona da Mata of Minas Gerais, in Brazil. CTA staff work with a Local Development Plan (LDP) focussing on developing participatory Municipal Rural Development Plans (MRDP) in three municipalities: Araponga, Tombos, and Acaiaca. This article compares the three municipal planning processes, offering them as an exiting alternative methodology for local development in the Brazilian context. The article starts by describing the study area, CTA's evolution to municipal planning, and CTA's vision for pro-poor municipal planning. It goes on to explain the main building blocks of the CTA-supported MDRP, including participation as a learning process; planning process and methodology; working with new partners giving and giving farmer groups a more prominent role in the process; building accountability structures; non-neutral pro-poor facilitation; and finally learning from diversity, where the importance of differences between the participating communities are and how that forms the process are discussed. The key impacts and challenges are examined, with the problems of standardisation of methodologies in scaling-up of these types of processes. However despite many differences, several elements were found to be effective in all the three cases: the value of PRA (participatory visioning, problems appraisal and solution identification); the importance of some kind of supervision and decision making body; the needed for patience in conflict solving in the group (internally and in interaction with external parties); capacity-building of leadership, facilitation, and negotiation skills; and the need for clear facilitation at the onset of the process with a gradual transformation of the role of external bodies to advisory bodies.