Hunger eradication and poverty alleviation programmes cannot be effective unless the poor have a voice in the planning and implementation of schemes meant to help them, according to a report by FAO's Sustainable Development Department.
Participatory processes and approaches have become increasingly important in FAO programmes and projects. They help to motivate and mobilize people to participate in local development activities.
In India, for example, a successful participatory approach has transformed a poverty-stricken area into a fertile land.
Located in the rainfed Shivalik hill region in Haryana State, Sukhomajri village was once incapable of feeding its people, most of whom preferred to migrate to the cities in search of a livelihood.
Today, it is a model watershed development village and produces three crops every year.
Another example shows how poor Indian farmers succeeded to counter drought.
Under the leadership of a local NGO, 500 semi-arid villages situated in the Aravalli hills in Alwar district of Rajasthan State are reviving the local tradition of water harvesting and restoring depleted groundwater resources.
This has enabled local farmers to withstand consecutive years of drought. Studies show that the village domestic product has increased in proportion to the investments made in water conservation.
With dozens of villages undertaking water-harvesting activities in the same watershed, the five rivers in the area are no longer 'monsoonal drains' and flow round the year.
"A key FAO rural development priority is to improve participation of less influential stakeholders in decision-making and delivery of support services through decentralization and good regional and local governance," FAO expert Ana Lucia Guerrero said.
FAO actively promotes capacity-building programmes to strengthen awareness and skills of local government staff and representatives of local communities.
These programmes enhance their decision-making ability for participatory planning and implementation of rural development and poverty reduction projects.
"Long term sustainability in FAO projects can be ensured by strengthening local institutional capacities for improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, particularly women farmers and other vulnerable groups," Ms Guerrero added.
A CD-Rom containing 135 participatory approaches, methods and tools, relevant to a wide range of topics about the livelihoods of the rural poor, has recently been produced by FAO.
The CD-Rom, which targets extension and training providers, also contains a selection of 215 documents pertaining to participation in development.
Policy-makers, training providers and partner organizations can obtain a CD-Rom by e-mailing to IWG-PA-Webbox@fao.org