4.2. A "County Training and Development Center" for the Regional Implemeutation of Rural Development

For its implementation, rural development requires a suitable institutional basis. The existing institutions, as described above, do not suffice for this purpose because they have been set up for other purposes than to facilitate rural development. Rural development, in this context, requires, basically, institutions to satisfy

  1. the political needs of the people = rural administration
  2. the economic needs of the people = organization of peasants' cooperatives
  3. the training needs of people = training center.

These three basic institutions for rural development have to operate in close collaboration as they affect each other and need each other's assistance to fulfill their purposes. They should, therefore, be located in a `Training and Development Center`.

The regional approach makes it necessary to define the region according to its size. It has to be large enough to provide sufficient economic potential and human resources, small enough to assure closeness to the grassroots and to the population. Taking into account the existing administrative setup, a county seems to be the proper unit on the understanding that the entire county area should not be included immediately in the activities, but rather the economically more active, more densely populated and easily accessible parts only.

Transport and communication difficulties might make it necessary to concentrate, in the first instance, on an area which resembles more a district. As there is no full fledged administration at district level, the county, in spite of its large area, seen, to be the more proper unit. The whole institutional setup as described definitely needs time to be fully implemented. The scheme should be understood as a long term plan, which might be realized in a county within 6-10 years. At the beginning, concentration on one county only seems to be advisable in order to gain experience, train people and make the necessary adjustment.

a. The Political Aspect: A New Type of Rural Administration

The existing rural administration has been designed to maintain law and order, to ensure tax collection and to preserve existing customs and habits. It has not been designed for development and is not suitable for developmental purposes The first requirement for the implementation of rural development is, therefore, to design a new type of local administration which is suitable for that purpose. The following changes in the present administration seem to be necessary:

  • The County Superintendent has to be upgraded from a personal representative of the President to the head of the local administration, with the duty to plan, coordinate and implement, in coordination with the appropriate bodies, all development activities in his county.
  • A County Development Council has to be created. It should consist of the representatives of the population (chiefs, elders, leaders of the secret societies, etc.) according to the local customs, and of the local officers of the technical departments of the government The council should be under the chairmanship of the Superintendent and, in principle, decide on all matters of development within the county. Naturally, the work of this council will improve in time as more experience is gained. Therefore its activities might start as a discussion forum, later on take the form of an advisory body and, finally, come to the stage of decision making. Care has to be taken to have not only aged persons among the representatives, but also active and young persons. This would be possible by reserving special seats for the younger generation, by appointments on merits etc.. Similar councils could be set up at the district level.Wherever District Development Committees exist, they could probably be used for that purpose.
  • A County Development Office should be created as a sort of secretariat for the Superintendent and the Council to execute the decisions of the Council and grant administrative support. The officers of the technical departments should be integrated to that office where they could, at the same time, exchange information on their special activities,coordinate these and assist each other in order to obtain the optimal result.

The purpose of this new type of administration would be to involve local authorities (and, through them, the local population) in the planning and execution of projects for the development of the county and its population. Projects of minor scope should be executed by this administration on its own competence especially projects of self help type and the county should have a budget to that effect as well as the right of imposing limited taxation for development purposes. Major projects should be submitted to the government for approval, but whenever possible, be returned to the county level for execution.

Thus, planning is done at the regional level where people know their own and their region's needs and possibilities. For instance, it is only at this level that it is known where feeder roads are needed. The planning process should start with an inventory of the local assets and needs. A county development plan should .be elaborated on that basis and take into account all aspects like agriculture, roads, health, education, marketing, at,. This plan, after extensive discussion with the local population at meetings of the different tribes and towns, in order to involve fully the people and mobilize local resources, should be sent to the government for approval. Thus, it is assumed that the plan will concur with the goals of the national development planning. The combination of local planning and government approval will assure a steady communication process between the central government and the local population. The government has to make the people aware of its intentions and is informed, in turn, about the felt needs and the plans of the people.

b. The Economic Aspect: Organization of Peasants' Cooperatives

The main needs of the rural population which economic institutions have to satisfy are the supply of requirements for rural life, the marketing of agricultural products, the supply of credit always including advice as to how to use these necessities properly. Today, these needs have either not been met or are handled in a way which is disadvantageous to the peasants.

These economic needs should be satisfied in a cooperative, i. e. a non- profit basis. In view of the fact that the majority of peasants are illiterate, that the personnel available has received no intensive training, and that the turnover is very limited because of the low production, village cooperatives along the Raiffeisen- Rochdale principles do not appear suitable.

Because of the existing conditions, a two-tier cooperative system is suggested: a cooperative should be formed at the county level and employ trained staff for the execution of the activities, while the representatives of the member associations engage only in planning, advice and control. Thus, supervision and execution are separate and each lies in the hands of persons who are capable of performing the job. This County Cooperative carries out all business activities of the cooperative structure: marketing, warehousing, supply of inputs, credits, etc. Needless to say that such a cooperative has to have an initial capital stock to be able to function. At a certain stage saving perhaps compulsory saving of small amounts, but on a regular basis could be introduced and could improve the financial situation of the cooperatives.

At the local (town, clan) level, the peasants who are members of the County Cooperative, should join in peasants' associatrorm. These local peasants' associations do not engage in business activities, but are outposts of the County Cooperative and serve as organization for local collection and distribution on behalf of the County Cooperative. Besides, they are of the utmost importance for credit, excension activities and soil conservation. To a certain extent, they constitute a gathering of the clan for development purposes.

Credit, in principle, is a dangerous tool for peasants whose integration in the market economy is limited. It easily leads to higher consumption and inability to repay. Most Liberian traditional farmers have not reached the stage of development at which credit can he used advantageously. A strict control of credit wherever it is used for productive purposes is of great importance. Here, local peasants' associations with their intimate knowledge of persons and conditions can be of great value. They are in a position to supervise whether credit is granted only in cases where it is justified and whether it is used for the proper purpose. If the local peasants' association is required to assume part of the financial responsibility for the credit, the risk involved for the cooperative is considerably reduced.

Extension service should be completely integrated into the cooperative system. Thus, the impact of the extension service could be increased, whereas its current organization is completely unsuitable for traditional farmers. Masses of small peasants cannot be offered individual extension service as is the case now for a few larger farmers unless they are organized and methods of mass extension work are used. The extension aids should be on the staff of the county cooperative. Thus, a close relation between extension work, supply of inputs, marketing and credit is possible. Normally, the extension aids of the cooperatives should not work with individual peasants, but with the peasants' association and organize demonstration, experiments, etc. for the members. This extension work is also closely related to the County Training Center.

Wherever shifting cultivation is phased out and arable crops are cultivated on a permanent basis, proper soil conservation becomes of the utmost importance. If peasants neglect this, they ruin their land and the basis of their tribes' livelihood. Control of proper soil conservation should, therefore, not be left to the individual but vested with the peasants' association. As many activities require joint effort, like terracing, etc., peasants' associations are the appropriate institutions to organize such activities and make proper use of traditional customs like work cooperatives.

c. The Training Aspect: A County Training Center

The main training needs for traditional farmers lie in agriculture:: they must learn how to improve cultivation. As in traditional societies, agricultural change must be thought of in terms of social change; the training should also be designed to help people in making this change. It has to incorporate aspects of adult education. There is also a need for training in such subjects as health, nutrition, rural crafts, ac.

In order to satisfy these needs, it seems necessary to establish a County Training Center. This should be done in connection with one of the new "Community Schools". (The whole scheme outlined here is an extensive broadening of the approach of the Community School). Transportation difficulties might make it advisable to undertake the activities at several of these schools. Thus, distances would be reduced and communication made easier.

Teachers at the County Training Center would be, besides the teachers of the Community School, the county level government officers, the extension workers and other cooperative personnel. Much of the training could be done in short courses covering specific subjects. The main activity, however, should be the continuous training of a cadre of local leaders The large number of people makes it impossible to engage everybody in a permanent training process at the center. Therefore, 2- 3 members should be selected, perhaps one of the traditional leaders, and in order to get younger persons as well a model farmer appointed on merits. The representatives of the peasants' association should assemble once a week at the County Training Center to receive instruction in agriculture and related fields. Training should be very practical, consist, as often as possible, of field work and concentrate on subjects which are related to the crops actually being grown during that season. In order to make participation attractive, a travelling allowance should, be paid. Persons who do not attend regularly should be replaced.

On the day following that assembly, the peasants' associations should organize their weekly meeting, at which the participants of the Training Center course should explain to the other members what they have learned
the day before. Thus, a certain snowball effect will be achieved. Once in a while, a member of the cooperative extension staff should be present to assist in the explanations and to check the degree of comprehension of the course participants in order to make early adjustments in the training course possible. This system has the advantage of multiplying the effectiveness of the limited extension staff.