What is “asset-based” development?

“Asset-based, community-driven development” (ABCD)  is an approach which focuses on existing strengths within the community , and drawing upon this foundation to encourage future community activities. Practically, we identify and assess various existing assets in the community through participatory exercises. Through so-called transect walks, or community spatial mapping, we jointly identify physical assets, including infrastructure, such as roads, dams and markets, as well as natural assets, which include lakes, forests, open and private land etc. We also assess human assets by identifying practical skills (hand), formal knowledge (head) as well as interests and passions (heart) that exist in the community. Interpersonal connections and networks, classified as social assets, are identified by listing existing informal organisations and formal institutions, and by mapping their relationships and community members’ access to these institutions. Lastly, we assess the financial assets by analysing the local economy. We believe that the participatory assessment and mapping of these various assets allows communities to understand their own strengths better, and helps them to identify their identities (or who they really are, as a community), their interests (in terms of rational approaches and opinions about opportunities for increased income generation and enhancement of the local economy), as well we their preferences (what they like doing and who they want to be). Based on this assessment, the project helps the communities to develop a context-specific, socially-appropriate and locally-relevant community action plan (CAP), which intends to foster further sustainable community development.


What do you mean by “Community-Driven”?

Communities are at the centre of the project. Rather than only ‘consulting’ with community members, all our modules are truly participatory and driven by community members themselves. While we have a training block that we call ‘basic capacity and agency development’, which is predominantly facilitated by project staff, the various modules of the training block support communities to take lead and responsibility for defining their own IIPs, formulating their CAPs and hence driving their own individual and collective development. In further training blocks, the project trains lead-farmers who were selected by project groups because of their outstanding technical skill, performance and interest - and because group members trust them to ‘give back’ to other group members and the wider communities by sharing additionally obtained knowledge and skills. These lead-farmers then act as community outreach workers. They, together with other farmer trainers whom project staff identified as outstanding in their practice and social responsibility, encourage and support community members to implement their CAPs and additional climate change adaptation, mitigation and wider community development activities.


How is ABCD different from any other approach? Aren’t other approaches sustainable and growth-centred?

Unlike many other community development approaches, ABCD starts with what communities have, and encourages communities to use what they have to drive their own development. Communities are not only encouraged to use their material assets, but their social connections and networks, their access to organisations and institutions, to implement their action plans. The approach fundamentally supports the assumption that sustainable development can only be achieved when empowered and self-confident community members take their lives into their own hands. This does not mean that the approach adopts a neo-liberal world view that places the sole responsibility for one’s ‘situation’ in the individual community members’ hands; it also does not neglect the structural and systemic causes and drivers for inequality, staggering “development” and “poverty”. However, the approach emphasises that better, more efficient and more conscious use of what one already has at one’s disposal can uplift individuals and communities considerably, especially when considering the wider systemic context. Empowered and emboldened communities are, in a second step, also better place to hold systemic forces accountable; and are potentially better placed to have an influence on these systems.


The project’s focus on ABCD does not mean that we believe ABCD is the only useful and/or suitable approach to community development. We however believe that it is fundamental to understand what one has to offer, as an external organisation, and how to align the organisation’s strengths with interests of communities in the targeted area in order to contribute meaningfully to community development.


Do you provide loans or do you give handouts to support community development?

No, we don’t provide loans, nor do we provide direct farming inputs. While in other contexts “asset-based” refers to the provision of assistance in the form of assets, we use “asset-based” in reference to pre-existing assets.

Though we don’t provide loans- in this ABCD project, community members have access to loans through self-managed Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). These small financial organizations permit members to save, and access loans without needing to travel to a bank, and in the process strengthen their financial literacy and build mutual trust within the group. Through the VSLA, groups are able to also invest in group projects or activities, which has in some cases included the purchase of “physical assets”. Training related to financial literacy and the set-up of VSLA groups was supported by ICRAF.

As an organization, considering temporal sustainability is as important aspect of project management. Project participants require access to saving and loaning possibilities to smoothen their engagement in income-generating activities. Rather than providing short term handouts that foster dependency in community members, we support increased and improved mobilisation and use of community resources.


Which kinds of technical trainings do you offer; given that you are an agroforestry organisation?

As an organization specializing in agroforestry, we are able to offer training and expertise in practices at the interface between farming and conservation by promoting the deliberate inclusion of multipurpose trees on farm. Specifically, we support agricultural techniques and practices that satisfy various interests, including food security, food safety, soil fertility management, climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as environmental conservation. In this project, we pair technical and business training modules to encourage socially, economically and environmentally sustainable and forward-thinking farming in the Nyando Valley in western Kenya. However, we are not prescriptive with how communities direct their entrepreneurial activities, and encourage community-driven projects in line with communities IIPs (identities, interests and preferences).


What is the eligibility of farmers?

In the current phase of the project, that runs from January 2015 to June 2019, we are directly working with 24 community groups, which include a total of 600 group members. The project groups were identified through structured stakeholder engagement. We involved the local authorities to mobilise all community groups in the targeted area. We then invited interested community groups to fill out a brief questionnaire through which we were able to identify community groups whom we expected to be suitable for the kind of project we implement. We developed a specific group selection tool through which we screen groups for evidence of capacity and agency, and have selected groups whose previous track-record rendered them likely to excel in the context of the relatively hands-off asset-based approach that the project proposes.


Can I still get training even if I am not part of a group?

The project works directly with 24 community groups, and typically trains six lead-farmers from each group in specific self-identified technical practices and skills, alongside business training. The lead-farmers were identified by their community groups because of being outstanding in their practice in in their sense of community. We furthermore sign agreements with the lead-farmers to encourage them to share their additional knowledge and skills with their community group members and other community members. While the project is not directly training community members that are not part of the project groups, lead-farmers do. Project staff are also available at the field office in case non-project community members would like targeted support in terms of knowledge and advice.


Why do you work in Western Kenya?

In the early 2000s, members of the Comart Foundation visited the Nyando valley, including the so-called ‘Valley of Death’ in the lower Nyando region, and became intrigued by the area’s beauty and the environmental and social situation of its inhabitants. Since then, the Foundation has seen the tremendous work communities have done to improve their lives and landscapes, partly stimulated and supported by the consecutive projects they have funded, and have continued to invest in the area. Western Kenya has furthermore been one of the World Agroforestry Centre’s main areas of operation in Kenya.


How does this project interact with government policies, land issues and ownership?

The World Agroforestry Centre as an organisation, the project in general, and project staff in particular maintain close links with the Government of Kenya. All our project are in line with government policies and support government priorities, particularly related to food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and environmental conservation. Through the promotion of sustainable land intensification, ICRAF supports sustainable and more efficient land use, without actively engaging in matters and/or conflicts related to land ownership. In the project area, the project actively collaborates with local authorities, involves extension officers from the Ministry of Agriculture in technical trainings, and requests for support and guidance in wider project implementation.


Who is supporting the project?

The Triple A project is implemented by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), an international institute headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. ICRAF if one of 15 research centres that form the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The current project, and previous ‘pilot’ projects, have been implemented in western Kenya with the support of the Comart Foundation and the Coady International Institute (Canada) for almost ten years.


Who supervises the project? Can I intern?

For more information and potential collaboration get in touch with the project manager Lisa Fuchs at L.Fuchs@cgiar.org.