Case Study of Participatory Action Research and Development

In the early 1990s, a French non-governmental organization (Groupe de Recherches et d'Echanges Technologiques, GRET) initiated a PAR program for natural resource management in the Altamira region of Pará, in the eastern Amazon region of Brazil.

It was felt that the forest resources were not being used rationally and in many cases wasted. The objective was to provide a forum so that local communities could improve the management of their resources. The program initially was called Laboratorio Agro-Ecológico de Transamazónica (see Box 4.7, Chap. 4), but later changed to Programa Agro-ecológico da Transamazónica (PAET) to reflect the broader mission of research plus action. Employees of

GRET (the "researchers") were social scientists and agronomists. In contrast to programs where the evaluators are merely bystanders who chronicle the events as they unfold, PAET members considered themselves to be stakeholders in the conservation of the rain forest.

The first step was to establish a relationship with the farmers' organization in Altamira, the "Movimento Pela Sobrevivéncia da Transamazónica" (MPST). The farmers' organization was selected in part because it was believed that clearing and burning of forest by farmers was a principal component of deforestation and that farmers continued this practice because of lack of knowledge about alternatives when crop productivity in an area declined. The researchers assumed that farmers were interested in better resource management and therefore:

• They would facilitate the research.

• They would help the research team produce more client-oriented results.

• They would facilitate dissemination of results at the regional level.

• They would represent the farmers in negotiations with regional and national governments.

• They would actively promote activities at the farm and community level that would improve resource conservation and management.

A further assumption was that it was possible to define a common strategy between the farmers' organization and the research team through continuous negotiation and debate. If the MPST and the researchers had a common interest in improving management of natural resources, it should be possible to reach a common understanding or diagnosis of the problem to be treated. Based on this common objective, it would not be too difficult to devise a common strategy, and to negotiate the priorities within this strategy. Negotiating a strategy was seen as the result of a process of improving the communication between the various actors and their mutual understanding of each other's views and positions.

Planning of the action research was to be evolutionary and cyclical, based on regular evaluations and adjustments in the program (Rhoades and Booth 1982). This "Basic Action Research Cycle" was based on the following steps:

1. The researchers carry out a preliminary diagnosis of the condition of natural resources in the region.

2. They present their findings at an annual regional seminar.

3. The farmers respond with their views.

4. Priority problems are selected through negotiation.

5. Planning activities are carried out. Activities can be basic research, applied research, training, and technical assistance to the organizations.

6. Activities are carried out with specific target groups.

7. At the end of the year, technical and scientific results are presented to the target groups, and results evaluated from the farmers' point of view.

8. The initial diagnosis of the researchers is reviewed in light of the new evidence.

9. At the annual seminar, progress of the general program is evaluated by representatives from all organizations.

A crucial difference between this action research cycle and programs in which a grass roots movement is merely evaluated is the feedback loop. The yearly evaluation allows participants to see what is working and elaborate on those initiatives and to discard or revamp those initiatives that are not satisfactory.

Castellanet and Jordan (2002) published an account of the first 5 years of this program, and focused particularly on two communities in the Altamira region, one where the program was judged to be successful and another lacking positive results. In the following section, we present a synopsis of the program in each community and an analysis of the reasons for success or failure.

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