Reviews of Durable Rural Development

By Laurie Robertson. In Tropical Agriculture Assocation Newsletter, December 2007, Volume 27, Number 4, page 34.

This describes a working life of some 30 years spent mainly in Asia and in particular in Taiwan and Nepal. The work of some 250k words covers a very wide remit. It is principally directed to the field worker rather than to the development agency looking for potential investment. It covers, from very personal and practical field experience, conservation of rural habitat, migration, poverty, health, literacy, marketing, credit, water supplies, basic agriculture and soil improvement.

The author tackles in an unconventional style how ‘projects’ always promise much but rarely achieve. The presentation is written in hands-on and practical approach to rural development. In twenty-one chapters he discusses at great length subjects ranging from the present trend in funding rural development, ideas on a more durable approach, attitudes, personnel, training and achievable objectives. He also goes into considerable detail on approach, funding, role of NGOs and other agencies, strategy and, very importantly, networking among complementary projects.

There are also 15 appendices which cover such subjects as crop trialling practice, toilet facilities and education. Particular attention is paid to the need for soil conservation which includes discussion on the need to mimic the jungle to maintain fertility. In crop trialling there is an interesting discussion on field experimental layout. In similar terms the author does not fully agree with many of the ideas on generally accepted contour terracing/contour bunding, the reason being that they are not durable in typical Nepal hill conditions where topsoil averages six inches in depth. Other proposals put forward included the closing off of certain areas of hill land to grazing animals in order to bring back ground cover and fertility. If there is criticism it would be that there is too much repetition and secondly long inclusions where a reference would suffice.

The author is to be complimented on putting together a lifetime’s experience for the benefit of those who struggle with this most complex subject of Rural Development.

By David Sanders. Senior Soil Conservation Officer, FAO (retired) and Past President World Association of Soil and Water Conservation.

"There are many good books explaining the broad outlines of the problems of rural development, or advocating particular approaches; but, with few exceptions, these books are written from a theoretical rather than a practical level of what should be done." So starts the Preface to this book. Peter Storey is very much a practical man with many years of experience of rural development in developing countries and he freely admits that he does not enjoy writing. Nevertheless, he has produced what must be one of the most comprehensive and detailed books so far written on the subject.

Over the years rural development has been led by fashion and the author makes the point that many promising programmes have faded and come to nothing over time, leaving behind disillusioned development workers and disappointed rural populations – rural development must be lasting! This is a theme that the author returns to time and time again and hence the title "Durable Rural Development" as he outlines his views on how this can be achieved.

This is a lengthy publication: it is made up of 21 chapters supplemented by 16 appendices – some of which are quite lengthy, a glossary of terms, subject matter index and reference section. If this had been produced as a printed book rather than a CD, it would have been a weighty tome! But it is not designed to be read like a normal text but to be treated more as a manual so that the reader can turn to whatever subject he or she is interested in and find a self-contained section. Understandably then, it is lengthy and repetitive in many places.

The main chapters cover a wide range of pertinent – and sometimes basic – subjects, including why rural development is important and why outsiders should be involved, assessing the present situation, the attitudes required, the right understanding, the requirements for good rural development, approaches, gaols and objectives, methods of implementation, communication and participation, what is durable rural development, popular approaches to rural development, advice on financing, the role of NGOs, project assessment and monitoring and more. Likewise, the appendices cover a variety of subjects, including some clever inventions by the author such as the "Good News Level" (a simple device that can be made from three pieces of wood and a plumb bob and can be used to measure angles as well as contours) and the "Good News Bulldozer" (a simple to construct blade for walking tractors). These are simple and very effective ideas that can be easily and cheaply used in the field.

The publication is based on Peter Storey’s extensive experience of field projects in Taiwan and Nepal over a period of some 30 years. It is well illustrated with numerous examples, many of them his own, but he has obviously researched his subject well and he also quotes many relevant examples taken from other regions of the developing world. But be prepared, the author’s views are very much based on his own practical experiences and his recommendations are often unorthodox and contrary to prevailing fashions and established ideas. For example, he is very critical of the Vetiver grass erosion control system that has been widely advocated by the World Bank in recent years.

To quote again from the author, "This book is for people who really want to help the less advantaged rural people to help themselves to a better future." It will be a very valuable reference for anyone working in the field of rural development in developing countries.

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