The "Absence of History" at the World Bank

by Geoffrey Clarfield (October 2010)


Across Sub Saharan Africa corruption discourages private investment and undermines national legal systems where contracts should be scrupulously upheld by courts and their representatives who, above all, should not be “on the take,” but often are.

There are two kinds of corruption, macro and micro. Macro corruption occurs in the capital cities of third world countries. It takes place quietly and secretively. It is here where companies and cabinet ministers have historically “made deals,” “eaten from the cake” or whatever euphemism is used to cover the fact that large percentages of the funds dedicated to public contracts and the general welfare have often disappeared offshore.

A close African colleague once said to me, “At the end of the day, development in Africa seems to have become a situation whereby poor people in the West give money to rich people in the South.” If donor institutions led by the World Bank, develop the necessary political will, this kind of high level corruption can be tackled head on and reduced through transparent and accountable bidding for development contracts of all kinds.

Conditional ties can also be imposed on democratizing regimes that can effectively and dramatically reduce the misuse of development dollars. It is hoped one day the World Bank will spare no efforts to redress this “hemorrhaging of western tax dollars” that has characterized development finance across Sub Saharan African. In addition to donor scrutiny, an increase in forensic auditors hired by the Bank (as its employees and everyone else in the development field call it) that will take on “macro corruption” is needed. Petty or “micro” corruption may need different methods applied to its eradication.

Anyone who has lived or worked in rural Africa will know that petty or “micro” corruption permeates local government. Local budgets are constantly mismanaged and unaccounted for. The poor do not get the services that have been promised to them by their national governments and local authorities (clean water, primary health care and universal primary education). For example in countries like Tanzania rural literacy has been declining, despite the fact that for two decades Tanzania has had a democratically elected government dedicated to massive reform.

Money from development programs and projects is often “diverted” at the local level. One has only to read the national papers of East Africa to find numerous examples reported in the daily press. It is not a secret.

In order to get the treatment that the law guarantees it is often necessary for poor peasants to pay off local administrators and service providers. In short “micro” corruption could be defined as “having to pay for those goods and services that should be received as rights guaranteed by the law and fair administrative procedure.” An informal survey of Westerners who have managed rural development projects across Africa would no doubt confirm this general observation.

Just before the death of the late President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, who although he was a doctrinaire socialist whose policies drastically impoverished the country, admitted to this same African colleague that rural government officers had been transformed from servants of the revolution (African Socialism) to what he called “predatory bureaucrats.” Although hopelessly misguided by Marxism and Fabian socialism, President Nyerere did not enrich himself at the expense of his countrymen and died with very modest assets.

Recognizing the continuous failure of its own and of other donors development interventions in sub Saharan Africa, the Bank has for some years now been pushing a rural development called Reaching the Rural Poor. You can get the 18 page Executive Summary of the strategy online, or, you can, instead of sending 25 US to the bank (a difficult task for most rural Africans who have a GDP of perhaps 400 US a year and postal systems that barely work).

The World Bank’s Rural Development Strategy and Its Ahistorical Weakness

Here is an official summary of the Bank’s rural development strategy:

“From Vision to Action”, the Bank’ s previous rural development strategy launched in 1997, had a decisive influence on global thinking – but disappointing results on the ground. In 2001, lending for agricultural projects was the lowest in the Bank’s history. The new strategy is results oriented: “Reaching the Rural Poor” stresses practice, implementation, monitoring, and empowerment of the people it is designed to help. This strategy responds to changes in: the global environment; in client countries; and, in the Bank, starting with the development of regional action plans, and extensive consultations at the regional level. It also reflects, and reinforces the Bank’s commitment to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to increase rural incomes, and broaden opportunities for rural people. The key features of this strategy are to: focus on the rural poor; foster broad-based economic growth; address rural areas comprehensively; forge alliances of all stakeholders; and, address the impact of global developments on client countries. In this capacity, support for better agricultural, and trade policies, should be achieved through increased advocacy for trade liberalization, by mainstreaming agricultural trade liberalization, and trade-capacity development in the Bank’s country assistance, and operations; and, by facilitating capacity building through technical assistance…

It sounds reasonable and, the 250 page book that accompanies the policy outlines cutting edge issues and objectives that are widespread among rural development strategists. Nevertheless, it is curiously silent on just what was the previous strategy, what was wrong with it with examples, evaluations, analyses and financial data, and those aspects of the old strategy which continue to be in force despite the massive and admittedly self diagnosed failure of the Bank’s previous rural development strategy for the Third World and especially that of Sub Saharan Africa. I assume that by now it has been rewritten. But you can be sure no outside evaluation of its use has been carried out.  

This is because there is an “absence of history” in these programmatic books which in the attempted application of such a bold policy may have serious and fundamental weaknesses. One of them is the use that the Bank has made and still advocates for that method for consulting the poor that goes by the name of “Participatory Rural Appraisal or PRA.” Curiously it is not mentioned once in the book which described the new strategy.

PRA at the Bank

Participatory Rural Appraisal is a term that should be familiar to almost every bona fide rural development field worker but one which generally elicits little interest from development theorists at the “higher level” of the development discourse.

That is because the Bank still believes that PRA, as it is now, and has been practiced is the fairest, most just and transparent method whereby poor and often illiterate peasants can be consulted with regards to the nature and extent of planned development interventions in their home areas.

Deepa Narayan has been one of the most visible Bank employee who advocates this method as the first and foremost way of eliciting the needs of the poor and planning projects and changing policy on that basis. Her study “Listening to the Poor” and the accompanying training film “The Poverty Experts” show how PRA can be used to properly assess poverty in one African country and to adjust national policies to adopt a pro poor approach. Any visit to the Bank web site will find other articles and books by her.

During the last two decades governments such as those in Tanzania have adopted PRA (largely at the Bank’s prodding) as a preliminary planning tool for practically all rural development initiatives, programs and projects. The manner and style of its application is fundamentally flawed and more importantly, prevents poor peasants from exercising their freedom of speech and to describe the real context of their life, a life surrounded and suffused by local and petty government corruption. Let us now take a look at what exactly is participatory rural appraisal and what are some of its major weaknesses.


What is PRA?

All bibliographies of PRA lead the reader back to the writings of Robert Chambers the inventor of Participatory Rural Appraisal. He has argued that PRA is an effective method that maximizes stakeholder participation in the design and execution of development interventions at the local level. Supporters of PRA argue that this is the case, especially in the development of programs and projects that directly engage the poorest of the poor, many millions who live in rural sub Saharan Africa and who are the target of the Bank’s policy. Yet it is clear from reading PRA materials that it is also a social movement with an ideology.
As a social movement it has its charismatic leader (Mr. Chambers), its methods and its disciples (among which we can reasonably include Ms. Narayan and her colleagues). PRA supporters argue that that it will help its practitioners raise the awareness of the poor and oppressed and by doing so, help bring about a degree of social justice. Part of this rhetoric includes an implicit critique of Western and multi lateral development organizations for first dealing with non-Western authorities rather than, the people that these authorities claim to represent. But in practice this is more apparent than real.
PRA is based on a number of assumptions. It began as a critique of conventional sociological and anthropological methods when used in development programs. PRA promoters have argued that sociologists and anthropologists took too long and that their data was out of date by the time that it could be ready for project and program planning. In addition, PRA advocates also criticized these social scientists for not actively engaging the subjects of their research, in their research and, for not quickly sharing their findings with them in public forums.
Instead, PRA practitioners (in those days it was called RRA-Rapid Rural Appraisal) help community members understand their local conditions by using a small number of methods that are supposed to feed back into the project cycle and its partners in the community.
By now, thousands of NGOs, most bilateral donors and parts of the World Bank have adopted PRA as its primary means of consulting the poor. It would seem that it is destined to reorient development thinking as it goes from success to success. So what could possibly be wrong with it?
After having read through the literature and carried out a few PRAs, this anthropologist and project manager with many years experience of rural Africa would like to share the following weaknesses of PRA with colleagues and any other interested stakeholders in the hope that the limitations of this method can be better understood. By doing so one of the things that we will see is how the basic rights to untrammeled and free expression by rural African peasants of their “zits und leben” has been elegantly bypassed.
One famous Indian development innovator, Pandit Bunker Roi once told me that he felt that the PRA movement in India had done a great disservice to the peasants. He felt that PRA did not assist them in coming to grips with the real governance issues that inhibit their ability to demand their rights and express the reality of their daily lives. So what I am describing for sub Saharan Africa may have a much wider application in parts of Asia and no doubt in Latin America.

PRA Methods

PRA methods began with a few basic participatory practices such as village mapping, annual resource mapping, time lines, trend lines and interviews of select focus groups and individuals. It was and remains a method that almost anyone could learn and apply in a foreign culture or society, in particular in rural Africa in the context of designing development interventions.
Within a short time the number of methods increased so quickly that one had to pick and choose according to the needs of the community and project. To have practical experience of all the kinds of PRA methods could take any novice up to one hundred days before he or she knew just which methods are applicable to the situation at hand. I have met an African expert in participatory methods who wrote her Phd on the topic.
PRA became so popular that its founder and chief theorist, Robert Chambers, has warned that to really use the technique successfully one needs a degree in social science. So the critique has come full circle. PRA is no longer a substitute for extended anthropological and sociological field work but a series of related methods that grow more numerous by the day.


To the objective reader, PRA articles and reports often seem clean and sanitized. They give the impression that life in the village is hard but, with a bit of external help and boot strapping, gender inequality, soil erosion and deforestation can be reversed.
In short PRA rarely confronts in a head on manner the structural inequalities among peasants and tribal peoples. There is rarely serious consideration of the ethnic or tribal animosities that still characterize rural life across Africa and the bald fact that some “tribes” have done better economically than others. This is the stuff of life as it is lived out in Africa and is constantly in the news as ethnic or tribal rebellions dominate the world headlines.
To put it bluntly some tribes, for whatever reason, were and continue to be better at adopting modern practices and improving their overall standard of living. This taboo topic is never addressed by the practitioners of PRA. Nor is the fact that in many African states one “tribe” has captured the state and dominates its institutions channeling wealth and development largesse to tribal confreres. (just look at the latest war in Darfur in the Western Sudan). This fact has been dramatically avoided by the PRA movement. One must conclude that they would think that this kind of loyalty to the truth might be thought of as a kind of “discrimination” and should therefore be avoided at all costs.
It is largely absent from their literature. Ms. Narayan’s book Listening to the Poor and the film the Poverty Experts studiously avoids mention of this key fact that is common knowledge amongst most Tanzanians with more than a primary education.
In PRAs there is little talk about religion and its affects on economic behaviour, landowners who kill peasants, radical peasant movements, intertribal raiding and vendettas, corruption (which is rampant in rural Africa) or the lawlessness and ethnic conflict that permeates rural life in so many developing countries. In Ms. Narayan’s work on Tanzania the prevalence of witchcraft and sorcery as in impediment to rural development is not central as it is not a daily topic of public discussion among peasants despite its actual centrality (although privately it dominates village discussion).
PRA practitioners never really highlight that it is the national and regional authorities that give them the permission to carry out their exercises. Yet this was one of their critiques that previous researchers always moved from the top down and with the blessing of the local authorities. PRA has not changed this practice and its users always “render unto Caesar.” They are no different than those they once criticized. We can be sure that the peasants are more aware of this than NGOs and foreign development workers. This is part and parcel of their “restricted code” to be discussed shortly.

Homework and Optimal Ignorance

PRA reports and practitioners do not do their homework and they are proud of it. Let me quote the World Bank web site dedicated to PRA:

Optimal ignorance. To be efficient in terms of both time and money, PRA work intends to gather just enough information to make the necessary recommendations and decisions.

That is to say, PRA practitioners make a virtue out of the fact that they do not read and make reference to the classic historical, sociological and anthropological literature for the area that they work in. In Africa this literature is dense and textured. It can be accessed through the bibliographies of institutes of human science, departments of anthropology, sociology, history, area studies and psychology. It is a rich literature.

As a result a host of known trends, generalities, historical conundrums and essential details are wiped off the slate when attempting to design projects to help African peasants. Africa is diverse. It is not just a bunch of poor people. Each tribe, ethnic group and area has its unique history which has created a host of development opportunities or blocks. As it was once said in the sixties, for the promoters of PRA these studies “are no longer relevant.” This can only be a form of presentism gone mad.
For example the fundamental differences between social types are not taken into account. The late great macro sociologist Gerhard Lenksi argued persuasively that there are fundamental historical and structural differences between the farming communities of Africa and Asia. These are never mentioned.
The main point here is that cultural and historical studies can tell you quite a lot about the main patterns of culture and behavior that one can expect to encounter in a specific village or region before the PRA even begins. Yet they are almost never referred to in the PRA literature. Certainly the Bank and its projects can afford to hire the necessary experts to reevaluate and contextualize PRAs!
It is not only the massive differences between rural farmers of African and Asian civilizations that are ignored by PRA. In addition, its practitioners fail to sufficiently take into account a number of key findings that permeate rural life and that are well known among sociologists and anthropologists. They include the concept of the “limited good” the concept of “amoral familism” and the more controversial findings of the British linguist Basel Bernstein with his “restricted and elaborated codes.” These concepts are absent from the PRA “discourse.”
Let us take a look at some of them recognizing that they are essential to any judicial understanding of peasant life in Africa, how it is actually lived and how it might be improved.

The Concept of the Limited Good

One of the key insights discovered by social scientists living among non-industrial peoples is called the concept of the “limited good.” It simply describes a world view that, because of demographic growth and fluctuating resources, causes most peasants and tribes people to adopt outlooks upon daily life that assume that resources are limited, but more importantly, that if you lose your resources (due to famine, drought or war) that is because I, that is, your neighbor who has not been so afflicted, has inexplicably gained because of your misfortune.
Suffice it to say that because of the assumed limitations of common resources peasants and tribes people do not believe in “win win” scenarios. This should be one of the basic messages of development, that is, that win win scenarios can be demonstrated in the field through projects and programs. If that has not been the case the prior history of projects must be included in any new PRA. This is not yet common practice. (I have had the privilege of developing one such method for tribal and local NGO initial evaluation of past projects in a semi nomadic area.)
The concept of the creation of wealth over long periods of time is almost non existent in large parts of the third world and especially in rural Africa. Add this to the fact that objectively, life has gotten worse for most of the pre industrial segment of human kind in Africa during the last thirty years, then this presents a formidable challenge to those who believe that local resources can be better utilized with a little help from sympathetic outsiders. (UNDP reports suggest that the quality of life is declining in sub Saharan Africa during the last twenty years despite the fact that sub Saharan Africa receives more development assistance than any other continent.)
Amoral Familism
Amoral familism describes families, extended families and lineages that form united fronts against all others. In common parlance these large groups have been called tribes. There are good technical reasons for retaining this term although it has now become politically incorrect to do so. Amoral familism whether of the familiar “Mafioso model” or the more traditional lineage and tribal model is a phenomenon that is common wherever the central state is not trusted by its citizens and does not produce minimal services and protection. It is as common in the Balkans as it is in Africa and is therefore not limited to it alone.
When one looks at the regimes in Asia and Africa one may conclude that it must be a growing trend there and therefore featured in the development literature. Alas, it is rarely specifically mentioned anywhere, and is not one of the assumptions of the PRA toolkit. Nevertheless it comprises the basic structure of rural social organization in most African countries. There are very few “detribalized peasantries” common in Asia and Latin America. Not only have practitioners of PRA missed this basic rural African fact but the PRA toolkit implies that local resources can, with minimal interventions be better managed, thus bringing about a better life for all.
The Idealization of Village Life
PRA practitioners have many of the prejudices of Marxists and followers of Rousseau. For them village life looks very attractive to people who are born and raised in cities. In a village there is little noise, there is no traffic, few distractions and the pace of life appears more in keeping with the natural rhythms of the body.
But the village does not have an advanced intellectual life, has little sense of the outside world, knows little about modern science, is often fearful and suspicious of strangers and frowns on innovation. Magic, witchcraft and sorcery is still a common and almost daily response to misfortune. Villagers often scapegoat non-conformists and one should bear in mind that economic innovators are by nature, non-conformists. In the village infant mortality is high and overpopulation the order of the day, causing massive migrations to cities.

The Elaborated and the Restricted Code

The controversial British linguist Basil Bernstein’s work suggests that different societies are permeated with different styles of sharing information. He calls the elaborated code that code used by well educated people (including development specialists!) who, through the wide application and general “translatability” of the information they hold and the manner in which they describe the world, allows them to use this information across a wide social arena.
One could extrapolate that the elaborated code is the linguistic basis of the English speaking democracies or for that matter, any country that successfully industrializes such as the Asian Tigers, all who have some common, modernized and highly differentiated national lingua franca or, an adopted one such as the English spoken by the Indian middle classes, those drivers of the Indian economic miracle.
In marked contrast, peasant and tribal societies are characterized by codes of communication which are highly contextual and based on prior knowledge that is widely held in that society but not outside of it and geographically specific to one community. This what Bernstein means by the restricted code.
What follows from this is that during the PRA there will be many things that “everyone knows” but few are willing to raise during the PRA process as they belong to the private, in group, community restricted code of the people that PRA practitioners want to help. It is imperative to understand that peasants are also wise enough to know that the exercise of their “freedom of speech” in public spectacles of PRA where local government employees are present is not necessarily in their interest. Therefore PRA should not yet take credit for facilitating the true voice of the poor.
Only long term familiarity with a community can bring these issues to light. And the temporary insider must have the clout to later bring his or her message from the field to the proper development authorities. This means, at best, long term research, project “social scientists” and, a continuous and independent feedback between project implementation and the unhindered professional research on project impact – not the traditional superficial project evaluations after years of “implementation.” Let us remember that criticism of this kind of long term and “traditional sociological and anthropological” research was the clarion call behind the PRA movement. It has now become a form of orthodoxy.
“City Air Makes Free”
Despite the horrors of the slums of Calcutta, Lagos, Cairo or New Delhi peasants and tribespeoples migrate to them in the hope that the chaos of the city will give them a better chance in life or, will at least give their children a better education and a chance to better their lives. Not so, imply the practitioners of PRA and so the many relatives of villagers who are based in the city and still have contacts with the village are rarely part of a PRA equation. If they were, development interventions would take on a more creative flavor and resources and expertise from the city could be channeled to the village. But no, PRA practitioners have made a clear distinction between city and town despite the fact that many villagers, if given the chance, would leave the village.

PRA Incentives

Villagers work hard and when they have leisure time they have many things that they like to do. PRA is not one of them. The reason that villagers participate in PRA is that there is usually a financial or even culinary incentive. It is a rare day that villagers come to a PRA meeting voluntarily.
Outsiders, NGOs and donors have money and resources. The conditionality of giving out this money and these resources is villager participation in the PRA. This does not mean that it is immoral as such, but since PRA practitioners present themselves as “learning” from and putting themselves at the feet of the peasants and arguably equalizing power relations, this is all a bit na?ve. PRA is almost always a form of muscle flexing by the donor under the guise of humility and “listening to the people.” It is not liberation.

Biblical Rhetoric and the Routinization of Charisma

Robert Chambers writes about “putting the last first.” This is the underlying moral of message of PRA. It is difficult to argue against it unless you have lived in villages for years or have been adopted by a lineage, clan or tribe somewhere in the developing world. This is not the usual route of development professionals these days and they are hard put to evaluate it. (I would argue that very few junior Bank employees have spent a year or more doing research or volunteering among a rural African, Asian or Latin American community, eating its food, learning its language and understanding community dynamics-Peace Corps may be the closest any get).
Biblical rhetoric capitalizes on guilt feelings and unconscious religious values. In sociological terms it is a classic example of what Max Weber calls the “routinization of charisma.” Bono is the best known example of this phenomena in the development world. He has used his charisma as rock star and self proclaimed “friend of the people” to argue that African governments need not be responsible for the actions of their former dictators, a reasonable request. Yet naively he also assumes that present governments will not see this as a sign that if they “sin also so will they be forgiven, ” a small detail that few seem willing to address.
Charisma is that sociological term that defines a movement’s leader, that special something that allows him or her to attract followers who will routinize, spread and make “normal” an inspired “vision,” usually some sort of social transformation through some sort of moral upliftment. Efforts are now underway to do just that by believers in the social movement that is PRA (not the method). The misuse of language is the first sign of the charismatic nature of this movement. That is to say, PRA has now become a verb and a community can be “PRAed” a much less elegant form of the word “saved.” The Bank is still a major advocate of this unexamined approach.
Development workers often assume that poverty is evil and they know that the meek will not inherit the earth without assistance. Therefore they eagerly buy in to PRA as a social movement rather than question the rhetorical power of Chambers’ biblically charged prose.    
Optimal Ignorance of the Private Sector?
The reports of PRA practitioners rarely give in depth exploration to the possibility that peasants may literally be dying to find a way to move from subsistence agriculture to the private sector, somehow. It would appear that their collectivist bias prevents them from doing so. Rarely is agribusiness and its opportunities brought to the attention of peasants. I would bet one hundred dollars that telling the peasants about “genetically modified food” and its potential advantages is still a major taboo among PRA practitioners. So much for freedom of information for the information and calorie starved.
In my experience among development colleagues, just the mention of the word “Monsanto” brings out howls of protest from rural development specialists who have not yet come to the conclusion that there is not enough land for traditional African agriculture to feed the growing multitudes and save the forests and wildlife. Something must change.
However, even more rarely is the private sector seen as a way to increase the wealth of villagers although the Swiss are pioneering ways of doing this, since they do not buy into the socialist assumptions of the European Union. Since most of the PRA practitioners are unconsciously socialist, the theorists and practitioners of PRA give markets and the private sector short shrift.
This is because as they are now drawn from a younger cohort of NGO and project staffers who have been indoctrinated with the anti corporatist orthodoxy that characterizes the growth of degrees and academic institutes of development. Conservative or even liberal think tanks have yet to take on their institutionalized dislike of capitalism and their still active Marxist assumptions. More and more it is their graduates who come to staff the lower tiers of the development bureaucracies around the world. If their ideas are not challenged we will see a growth in the “routinized failure” which seems to characterize each new wave of rural development thinking.
Sociological studies abound to show that many people have escaped grinding rural poverty through the private sector. Hernando de Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital shows this hidden economy of peasant migrants to the cities of the third world, how it works and how it has absorbed the peasant migrants to the cities of the third world. He argues that they create the lion’s share of most of a third world country’s actual as opposed to official GDP.
De Soto provides one dramatic and legal way or methodology whereby all this invisible capital can be harnessed by the state, a phenomena that has been underestimated by many development economists. That can help reduce the attractions that national elites have for “macro corruption.”
He also argues (rather persuasively) that it was the former Peruvian government’s adoption of his policy that finally deglamorized the claims of the Maoist Shining Path terrorists in Peru and broke the back of their popular support – food for thought for those who claim that there is no direct relation between rural development and “politics” with a big P.  In that sense the method may also be engaged in the battle against “micro corruption.”
The most promising new ways of increasing peasant livelihoods through the private sector have been developed by the Swiss and their multinational colleagues in Bangladesh. The approach is called Poverty Alleviation as a Business. It argues that market adjustments and appropriate technology, when effectively inserted into a market chain through rural development programs and projects, at the level of the poorest of the poor peasant, can radically reduce the rural poverty of peasant cultivators and pastoralists, increase food security and provide the peasants with disposable income all through market based interventions. It is worth a try and I hope the Bank starts listening to these rebellious Swiss experts.
Conclusions-Time to Strip PRA of its Optimal Ignorance
There are many things that are “right” about PRA and the PRA adherents have been very, very persuasive in their goal to redefine the nature of development work and peasant consultation around the world. But it has not been an exercise in freedom of expression, at least not yet from the peasant’s point of view. Only long term, old fashioned participant observation can bring the restricted code to the members of the elaborated code-development specialists being one large member of the elaborated community.
At the same time its practitioners are singularly uninterested in market approaches to the alleviation of poverty and which directly involve and benefit peasant farmers and pastoralists. Nor are they too concerned with issues of freedom of speech among rural farmers. It is not surprising that the Swiss, those paragons of enterprise and the private sector, one of the few European nations to fight off the European Union’s development bureaucracy, have come up with solutions that if widely adopted (“rolled out” in Bank jargon), could significantly reduce poverty across Sub Saharan Africa.
Objectively viewed the PRA movement has promised far more than it has been able to deliver and thus given many well intentioned people false hope for the betterment of the world’s poor, especially in Sub Saharan Africa. And, that may explain its enduring power over the minds of men and women. It may also explain its fundamental weaknesses.
PRA’s main failing is that it does not invite clear and fundamental criticism of its assumptions and the context in which it works. Instead it has successfully created a powerful niche for itself in the development world, one that I have yet to see fairly challenged. The fact that its present practice at the Bank is unquestioned and unevaluated supports that criticism.
There are few studies, which go back to villages that have participated in PRAs to see if planned changes “stuck” or, probably more important, if key information was missed that is to say, whether development interventions really “solved” the problems raised by peasants during their PRAs and whether they penetrated the “restricted code.”
Future PRA’s, or their modified descendants, should not shy away from providing peasants with all the positive options and innovations that are now emerging from agricultural globalization and the opening of markets; from tried and proven Dutch experiments in the equitable participation of African peasants in contract farming programs, to imagined scenarios where the Europeans (and British!) are forced to open their markets to the delicious and low fat meat cuts of the millions of free grazing cattle which are sub Saharan Africa’s blessing and which could provide the meat on the tables of future European consumers. Imagine a “ranch based development policy for sub Saharan Africa” It worked for Texas.
Donor money would be well spent on reevaluating and redesigning the direction and use of PRA. By doing so, interested parties would then be able to measure the “results” of this massive research and development movement. And in doing so millions of African peasants could perhaps for the first time, have the privilege of experiencing unhindered freedom of speech to describe the environment of micro corruption within which they live and which is part of the “restricted code” common to any village discussion, one that usually does not include development workers. This freedom may be the first step in exploring ways of making a better living. So far PRA has not helped peasants “find their voice” or enter the private sector in the rural world. It is high time to time to strip Bank Supported PRAs of their optimal ignorance.

Geoffrey Clarfield is an Anthropologist at large.

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