“The roundtables are examples of decentralization and participatory policies, in addition to being a non-explicit policy on public extension. They are a space for social control and for the construction of citizenship and political capital.”Clara Villalba, Rural and Territorial Development Technician, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Uruguay
Different forms of multi-stakeholder roundtables focusing on rural development are grouped under the broad term of mesas de desarrollo rural. These have been used as fora to promote the inclusive participation of IFAD target groups and other relevant stakeholders in development initiatives (including policies, programmes and projects). Supporting spaces for policy dialogue among national stakeholders is a common way for IFAD to engage in policy at the country level.
The roundtable members make decisions and define priorities to propose, guide, or approve rural development initiatives.
Contribution to policiesThe “mesas de desarrollo rural” have generally contributed to policy or project implementation, as opposed to designing new policies.
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The Rural Development Roundtables can:
- Facilitate the development and implementation of IFAD-supported projects
- Contribute to decentralising social development programmes
- Provide some form of social auditing, using local knowledge to ensure that those who applied to benefit from projects fit the criteria for beneficiaries
Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay
2017 - 2018
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Rural development roundtables are spaces that promote the inclusive participation of all actors within a region, including civil society, grassroots organizations, the private sector and local or national governments. The roundtables help communities participate in democratic decision-making about the management and planning of their territory. Roundtables can be found in several rural areas of Latin America and vary widely in design and operation.
Ensuring wide and effective participation in design and implementation of projects is a major challenge for rural development. Although there are many strategies for involving and consulting grassroots organizations, the ensuing relationships rarely last. They tend to be linked to the resources of specific programmes and depend on the leadership of people who do not participate in the day-to-day management of territories where the work is done.
A particular challenge in the Latin America and Caribbean region is ensuring that publicly funded development projects allocate their resources efficiently and effectively to where the need is greatest. An important means of achieving this is listening to the demands of grassroots organizations and communicating this to the appropriate institutions.
Key challenges in poor rural communities include: production, infrastructure, rural exodus, environmental disasters and services such as health and education. Roundtables are participatory, consultative, means of addressing these issues and finding solutions to problems as they change over time.
The rural development roundtables are an alternative to existing consultation processes. They are spaces that involve all relevant actors with an interest in the long-term development of their communities. By monitoring the implementation of public policies, and by using local knowledge to provide some form of social auditing, roundtables have the potential to become powerful tools for territorial development. Roundtables provide both rural populations and local authorities with the autonomy and leadership needed to coordinate their work and strengthen the impact of programmes and policies.
Despite their individual characteristics, the roundtables have four common elements that allow them to survive and grow over time. These are: (i) formal recognition by the government, which delegates to it a degree of decision-making power; (ii) the commitment of its participants; (iii) a well-defined methodological framework; and (iv) direct and continuous support from the state.
The roundtables typically meet once or twice a month, in locations that enable the majority of their members to participate. Participation is voluntary; grassroots organizations generally nominate one or two representatives to attend. Each table has its operating manual and takes minutes of its meetings to allow for follow-up discussions, decision-making, and agreements.
The roundtables make decisions in order to guide, validate or propose rural development policies in their areas of competence. They are spaces for dialogue, participatory planning and joint articulation, where territorial development actions are defined and prioritized and where the use of resources is jointly planned. The roundtables also monitor the implementation of public policies in their territories and communicate with the relevant organizations or institutions whenever problems arise. They play an important role in building communication and trust among various actors involved in the development of rural communities, including between local people and authorities representing their interests. Finally, the tables track the progress of development projects within the territory.
The rural development roundtables have become an important innovation for enabling rural populations to participate in managing and planning their territories. They have enhanced the participation of communities within democratic decision-making processes, allowing members of them to become valuable allies of public administration. The fundamental difference between the rural development roundtables and other participatory spaces is that the roundtables are created to be owned by their participants. However, like any other participatory process, they require follow-up and patience, as well appropriate institutional support from public administrators.
The most advanced and consolidated roundtables, which have operated uninterrupted for ten years, are a result of significant investment in training support teams and strengthening participating organizations. For instance, the rural development technical staff of Uruguay’s Ministry of Agriculture has been trained to facilitate roundtable meetings as a core part of approaches to implement public policies.
The roundtables’ impact goes far beyond problem resolution and improvements in project management. The roundtables are places to develop engaged citizens, who become aware of their role in creating the future of their communities. The commitment of all participants to this process is fundamental to ensuring that these spaces can grow and develop, contributing to the creation of more just and prosperous societies.
Lessons Learned/Potential for replication
A fundamental characteristic of the rural development roundtables is that they are not static entities, but processes. The tables are created and grow over time; they are activated and can be suspended. They are dynamic spaces that react to internal and external social and political processes. Despite the roundtables’ fluid and changing nature, there are observable phases in the life cycle of a roundtable. For example, in the case of Uruguay, to ensure the efficient use of resources, the more developed roundtables organize periodic follow-up visits to the beneficiaries of the investments. For this purpose, itinerant table meetings are held in the territory, allowing the beneficiaries to report on the use of resources directly during the table meeting. Each table is different, and the time needed to move from one phase to another depends on many factors.
Despite being spaces of dialogue and debate in the communities, the roundtables themselves do not communicate with each other. Therefore, a regional or national network of roundtables represents an opportunity to exchange good practices, develop joint strategies and create a support network. The tables can also prioritize financing proposals and assessing the progress of rural development projects in order to offer important support to the project-monitoring process. The experience of the rural development tables is innovative and can be shared with other countries not only as an example of local land management but also as a vehicle to improve farmer knowledge on issues such as production, product transformation, market access, youth exodus, etc.
Last update: 20/11/2020