How and when to seek free, prior and informed consent from local communities in development projects?

What is it and how can it help? 

Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is an operational principle empowering local communities to give or withhold their consent to proposed investment and development programmes that may affect their rights, access to lands, territories and resources, and livelihoods. FPIC is solicited through consultations in good faith with the representative institutions endorsed by communities. It ensures that they participate in decision-making processes concerning a given development project.

This note offers practical guidance for soliciting FPIC in the design and implementation of investment projects, with specific reference to IFAD-funded projects.

When does it work best? 

Based on the scenarios, typology of projects and areas of intervention, FPIC needs to be solicited either before project approval (design phase) or during the implementation phase, depending on the nature of the project and at what stage of the project cycle benefiting communities are identified, together with specific investments and activities to be undertaken in each community. FPIC is not simply a safeguard principle, but it has to be embedded throughout design and implementation as an essential element of community mobilization and participation process, aimed at self-driven development. In working with indigenous peoples, FPIC is not merely the right to say ‘yes or no’ to externally initiated actions, but intimately linked to their right to determine their own priorities for development, to fully participate in and shape development initiatives, and to avoid adverse impacts.

How do I use it? 

The note provides a step-by-step approach to using FPIC in both the design and implementation phases. It is essential that the procedures and rules of the FPIC process be largely determined by the communities affected and those who have the right to give or withhold consent. The FPIC process must be in harmony with their own governance and internal collective processes for taking decisions.

FPIC is among the mandatory elements in IFAD Social, Environmental and Climate Assessment Procedures.

Where has it been used? 

IFAD uses FPIC in investment projects that may have an impact on the land access and use rights of rural communities and projects targeting indigenous peoples or rural areas that are home to indigenous and tribal peoples and ethnic minorities. The HTDN highlights cases of FPIC in Panama, India, Cambodia, Brazil, Philippines and Colombia but IFAD's application and experience is much broader.

What are its limitations? 

Many governments have only recently started to engage in consultations to obtain FPIC, and implementation mechanisms are often weak. The establishment of systematic mechanisms to ensure FPIC requires political will and investments in institutional capacity-building and staff training. It is advisable to include appropriate measures to strengthen the institutional capacity of the borrower to consult communities and obtain their FPIC in the project design process.