Learning from the people - participatory rural appraisal, geography and rural development in the ‘new’ South Africa Tony Binns, Trevor Hill and Etienne Nel
School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer; Brighton BNI 9QN, UK Department of Geography, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 6140 South Africa
Top-down rural development strategies in Africa have generally not succeeded in raising living standards among the rural poor. It is argued that inappropriate development strategies have stemmed from methodologies that fail to appreciate the whole picture in rural communities, and in particular ignore local people's perceptions, needs and understanding. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) represents a significant step forward in the design of methodologies and a selection of these techniques is evaluated. Many PRA methods have much in common with the field research methods that have been used by geographers over many years to interpret people-environment relationships. A research investigation in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, suggests that geographers could have an important role to play in this area of applied research and, in particular, in the context of post-apartheid South Africa there is an urgent challenge to be met in promoting rural development in poor, former black Homeland areas. Introduction
It is widely acknowledged that past rural development strategies have failed to raise living standards significantly in African rural communities (Binns, 1995). They have typically adopted centrally driven, top-down approaches, often failing to appreciate the skills, perceptions, knowledge and aspirations of those whom the programmes are designed to assist. All too frequently in the past, it has been assumed that development programmes implicitly embodied objectives of poverty reduction and that positive progress would be achieved through the process of ‘trickle down’ from richer to poorer regions and communities. However, to date there have been many instances of such programmes failing to reach the poor, particularly those living in remoter rural areas (Easter, 1995). It is suggested here that one of the key reasons for the failure of many rural development schemes stems from the fact that they are derived from inappropriate methodologies which have failed to fully comprehend the dynamics of rural life. More specifically, these methodologies have failed to understand the complexities of the socioeconomic and cultural contexts in which indigenous livelihood and production systems function. Such limitations have sometimes arisen through the utilization of methodologies with a strongly econometric bias (Hill, 1986) and an obsession with the search for universal solutions, rather than trying to identify appropriate strategies for the particular local context. In addition, a lack of empathy and developers’ inability to communicate with the supposed beneficiaries of development have sometimes led to antagonism. A positive trend in recent years has been a notable shift in the focus of rural development strategies, from the rather dictatorial ‘top-down’ approaches of the past to locally based and more democratic ‘bottom-up’ strategies. One of the key reasons for this paradigmatic swing is undoubtedly due to the development of new, more enlightened and sensitive rural research methodologies, particularly an array of methods known collectively as ‘Participatory Rural Appraisal’ (PRA) (Chambers, 1994). At one level PRA can be seen as a reaction to previous econometric and quantitative approaches, which frequently ignored people, preferring instead to concentrate on issues of ‘production’ rather than on ‘producers’, and failing to appreciate the critical role played by indigenous knowledge systems and coping mechanisms. The emergence of PRA has led to a significant reappraisal of methods, which has slowly but steadily been followed through into a reformulation of rural development strategies. As...
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