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Chapter 1: Tenure, natural resource management and rapid appraisal

Why study tenure?
What is rapid appraisal?

Why study tenure?

As projects or local communities work toward better management of natural resources, tenure becomes a critical issue. "Tenure" is "the set of rights which a person or some private entity holds in land or trees" (Bruce 1989). It includes questions of both ownership and access. Tenure relations in rural communities are often more complex than those to which westerners or urban, formally educated development workers are accustomed. Local tenure systems may incorporate aspects of official legislation. But they may also incorporate traditional or customary tenure systems.

These systems are often highly complex. Instead of one person having all the rights to a given plot of land and the resources on it, the 'bundle of rights" is divided up. It may be divided according to the resource: the land is owned by one person, the trees by another, the water by a third. It may he divided according to the way the resource is exploited: one person may be considered the owner of a tree and have exclusive rights to chop it clown or collect the firewood, but many other people may have rights to collect fruits or leaves. Or, the rights to the resource may change over time: one person may hold land for cultivation purposes during the rainy season while it becomes pasture with much less restrictive rules of access during the dry season. One characteristic of local tenure systems is that they are often adaptive, evolving over time in response to changing ecological and/or social economic conditions.

How Tenure Issues Affect Project Activities


• A project promoting women's gardens may find that women have difficulty obtaining good land.

• A project to improve land with local irrigation systems may find that only the noble classes have secure rights to land, while the former slaves have land rights only through their masters.


• Projects may find people reluctant to plant trees on their fields if all trees belong to the state and even the individual who plants a tree is not permitted to cut it.

• In many communities, especially where there is a strong inequality in land distribution, there is a great deal of land borrowing. Often there are rules against planting trees on borrowed fields.

• Projects to improve common areas may have difficulty attracting people to participate if it is not clear who will benefit from the improvements.


• In some communities, even if a woman plants and waters a fruit tree to maturity, the benefits of the fruit go to the male head of household.

• A herder who used a pasture area during the dry season may lose his rights if irrigated gardening or orchards are introduced and the land is farmed during both the wet and dry seasons.

• A project may add value to a resource by constructing a small dam or other infrastructures. When this happens, powerful people may come and lay claim to the improved lands and the people who had been using the area may be disenfranchised.

Projects working on natural resource issues that fail to understand how tenure rules work in a community are likely to encounter major problems. Tenure issues affect project activities at every stage. Early on, tenure determines who has access to the resources needed to participate in the project. Once the project has begun, peoples' willingness to participate fully in pro posed activities often depends on the kinds of rights they have to resources which determine, in turn, their incentives to invest in or protect them. Tenure rules often determine who benefits from the project as time goes on.

There is a danger of viewing tenure systems as static and failing to recognize and respect the adaptability of local systems. Outsiders have had a tendency to promote more rigid, legalistic tenure systems that, while they may appear appropriate at a given time, are unable to respond to changes in social and ecological conditions.

The earlier information is gathered in the project cycle, the better. Ideally, it should be collected while the project is still being planned in order to avoid making mistakes from the start. However, in many cases the need to gather information arises in ongoing projects. It is never too late to gather information that can help in understanding difficulties that are being encountered and to explore ways to solve these problems.

What is rapid appraisal?

The methodology discussed in this manual is called Rapid Appraisal (RA). RA is a family of methods designed to get practical information on development issues in local communities quickly. Certain characteristics are common to all the methods in the RA family. For example, triangulation (see textbox below) is used in all types of RA both to reduce bias that can distort the results of research and also to increase the richness of information obtained in the study. All RA methods also use a wide variety of tools and techniques to gather information, rather than relying exclusively on pre-established questionnaires. These techniques include, among others, mapping exercises, diagrams, ranking activities, and semi-structured interviews with both groups and individuals.

One of the key differences among the various methods in the RA family is the question of who does the research. In what is often called RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal), the research process is mostly managed by outsiders. Typically, a multidisciplinary research team determines the objectives for the study, conducts the research in the field, has the principal responsibility for analysing the results, and often decides what happens to the information in the end. This contrasts with PRA 3 (Participatory Rural Appraisal) in which the local community manages the research process. The outsiders' role is limited, initially, to providing training in the methods and, later, to facilitating (as needed) their use In this case, the villagers them selves work on the objection of the study, they arc the principal collectors and analysers of information and they decide how the information will be used in the end After an initial orientation to the techniques they may or may not. choose to include outsiders in this process.

3 For a more complete explanation of the differences between RRA and PRA and the historical evolution of the methods, see Chambers (1992). For a practical guide on carrying out PRA, see Odour-Noah et al. (1992).


When doing any study, the researcher must be aware of bias. If a study is biased, it means that the results do not reflect the reality because one situation, or perspective was favored. A study that fails to include the perspective of women may be gender biased. A study that only considers the problems of villages near a road may be spatially biased. A study that fails to probe issues deeply may be subject to a bias of "politeness" if people tell only what they think the interviewer wants to hear.

Triangulation is one of the principles of RA that tries to ensure that the results of a study are as accurate and unbiased as possible. Triangulation means looking at any problem from as many perspectives as possible, but at least three. When doing a study, triangulation works at three levels.

1 ) Triangulation of the perspectives on the team by having at least three people with different points of view (women/men, social scientists/technical specialists, insiders/ outsiders, youth/elders, etc.).

2) Triangulation of the perspectives of informants by ensuring that a wide range of people are interviewed and all information is verified by at least three different sources (women/men, old/young, diverse ethnic groups, etc.).

3) Triangulation of information gathering methods by addressing the same issue using several different tools (historical interviews, spatial maps, seasonal calendars, etc).

In simplistic terms, RRA can be seen .as being led by outsiders while PRA belongs to the local community In practice however these are not two distinct ways of proceeding Rather there is .a continuum between the two Effective RRA teams even when composed of outside researches put a lot of effort into building a rapport (see the following textbox) with local communities so that the study is in fact a collaborative process in which local participation is solicited at all stages of the research process. The tools of RA help to encourage this kind of local participation in both the collection and analysis of information

There is a wide middle ground between RRA and PRA in which outsiders may initiate the process but then ask the Iocal community to select several representatives to join their team as active members. Over time, a local community that becomes familiar with the techniques may take more control of the process. Many studies that call themselves PRA, in fact continue to have substantial participation of outsiders. Whether the local community succeeds in taking charge of the process when there is significant outsider participation depends a lot on the attitudes and behavior of the outsiders.

There are beginning to be examples of PRAs in which local communities take over the process completely. In one example in south India, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) worked with a community to introduce PRA techniques to study village problems and to devise plans to confront those problems. Some time later, the village sent a message to the NGO to tell them that they planned to do a PRA the following week. "But," they added, "there is no need for you to come, we were just letting you know...."

The Primacy of Rapport

Most experienced RA users would probably agree that the most important ingredient for getting good information using these techniques is the attitude of the researchers and the relationship they are able to develop with the local population. Robert Chambers, who is one of the "fathers" of RA has this to say about what he calls the "primacy of rapport" (Chambers 1991):

The key to facilitating ... participation is rapport. At first sight, it is a mystery why it has taken until 1990 to "discover" the richness of the knowledge, creativity, and analytic capacity in villagers. But when the widespread beliefs, attitudes and behavior of outsiders are considered, there is little mystery. Outsiders have been conditioned to believe that villagers are ignorant or have interviewed them asking rapid questions, interrupting, and not listening beyond immediate replies. "Our" lecturing and interviewing are much of the problem. The ignorance of rural people is then an artifact of our ignorance of how to enable them to express, share and extend their knowledge. The attitudes and behavior needed for rapport have been missing.

These include:

• participation by the outsider [in village activities]
• respect for the villager
• interest in what villagers have to say and show
• patience, wandering around, not rushing. and not interrupting
• humility
• materials and methods which empower villagers to express and analyse their knowledge

Where a study falls on the RRA-PRA continuum depends on a lot of factors. Most of the people who will read this manual are "outsiders" who do not fully belong to the local community. Hence, it is unlikely that the research process, at least at the beginning, will be wholly "owned" by the villagers themselves. "Outsiders" should stop to think about whether they foresee their team being the principal investigators (in which case they are working in more of the RRA mode) or whether they imagine their role to involve training the local community to be the principal investigators (in which case they are thinking more about PRA).

There are many different reasons for gathering information on resource management and tenure. Two common reasons are (1) so that villages can create plans to make better use of the resources at their disposal and (2) to inform and influence national policy/legislation concerning tenure and resource regulation. In the former case, the argument is particularly strong for PRA in which villagers are encouraged to take the lead - as much as possible and as early as possible - in managing the process of collecting and analysing information. This is much more likely to lead to sustainable solutions than a process that is dominated by outsiders. Gathering information for policy reform may lend itself more naturally to RRA, however, since information will be collected from numerous sites. Indeed, one reason for doing such studies may be to expose and educate outside decision makers to local realities.

An RA can be divided into three stages as shown in Figure 1. The first phase is a preparatory phase. Activities during this period include setting the objectives for the study, choosing the site and the team, collecting and reviewing background information, and making the necessary logistical arrangements for the field study. The second phase of the RA is the field study itself. During this time, the team lives in the village where the study is taking place and divides its time between information collection and interaction for preliminary analysis. For the third phase of the RA the team sits down to carefully analyse the information collected and figure out how it can be used. In the case of a PRA - and especially one that is intended to come up with a community action plan - the full analysis takes place in the village, with the active involvement of the local community. In the case of an RRA, some initial analysis will take place with the local community and the information gathered is verified and shared with that community. But typically, in an RRA at least some part of the final analysis takes place after the team leaves the village At this point for example information collected from several different sites might he compared and analysed.

Figure 1: Organization of a rapid appraisal

The next three chapters will address in turn these phases of doing an HA study: preparation, information collection and analysis.

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