The Potential of Local Systems in Promoting Resilience and the Road to Self-Reliance
By Austen Moore
Senior Technical Advisor
Catholic Relief Services
As a Peace Corps volunteer, we were taught to “work ourselves out of a job” by the end of our service. In short, to develop programs, build capacities, and empower local people to take these initiatives and run with them. This approach makes sense from an educational, governance, and financial perspective, with the theoretical underpinning that local people are best positioned to enable their own sustainable development. USAID’s recent emphasis on the Road to Self-Reliance (link) borrows heavily from this thinking, in addition to positioning countries to do more with less external support.
Much of the work I’ve done in my career matches this methodology, focusing on the importance of capacity development and participatory approaches that create buy-in and empowerment. Emphasis tends to fall at the macro and micro levels: (1) the national level, where countries are guided towards enabling environments and participatory policy reform; and (2) the field level, where beneficiaries are reached with services and the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. Certainly these levels are worthy of focus and substantial impact is made here, which justifies the intense development attention and funding they receive.
But I’ve come to realize that local systems – i.e. the formal and informal structures that organize activity in countries and function beyond the timelines and budgets of development projects – may hold hidden potential to realize these goals in a way that we, as development actors, have yet to fully harness. These local systems – or the meso level, through which policy leads to field-level action and field-level issues matriculate up to influence policy – is equally crucial. Many a policy reform produces a well-designed, slickly printed document ready for distribution down to lower levels where it can be implemented, only to reside in boxes in Ministry offices. Likewise, reams of needs assessments, stakeholder-focused studies, and reporting highlight local needs and preferences, which struggle to substantially influence the national dialogue or research agenda.
As a member of the University of Illinois’ AgReach program, we directly targeted the meso level through the Strengthening Agricultural and Nutrition Extension (SANE) project in Malawi (link). SANE worked to strengthen the local structures that made up the District Agricultural Extension Services System, a series of stakeholder platforms that linked villages to higher administrative levels (where funding decisions were made) and ultimately the national level (where policy was decided). SANE quickly determined that these platforms lacked a basic understanding of their roles and responsibilities and needed strengthening in group formation and management practices, not exactly a novel approach but one that is often overlooked with local systems where a baseline of capacity is assumed even when no efforts are made to build it. Simply forming platforms, committees, or structures does not make them functional or capable, as the Malawi experience showed. As a result, local systems become a bottleneck rather than a conduit for development.
However, with the SANE example, when platforms were strengthened there was a decided uptick in the provision of agricultural services and better alignment between services and needs. Moreover, participants in the platforms – largely local farmers, field-level development actors, and small-scale private sector providers – were energized to continue advocating for appropriate services. Extension workers cited that it was “no longer business as usual” and that they now had to be responsive to farmers’ needs, as these needs were better prioritized and articulated, and that farmers had the advocacy power of the platforms to hold service providers accountable (link). Multiple cases thus arose where stakeholder platforms were able to mobilize resources locally – either from district development funds, NGO budgets, or community members themselves – to address local issues without external support. This shortened the feedback loop between needs identification and problem resolution, thereby strengthening local ownership and self-reliance. Where climate and pest-related issues arose – as in the case of Fall Armyworm in Malawi – it also enhanced resilience and lessened crop losses and food insecurity.
While not every country has a built-in local system for agricultural services like Malawi, more deliberate attention to the meso-level local systems that do exist in every context can produce similar results. A recognition of this exists in most organizations looking for sustainable change. For example, Catholic Relief Services includes building functional organizations/systems as one of our building blocks for agricultural livelihoods. The CRS SMART Skills package also focuses on group formation and strengthening as an essential component of the Pathway to Prosperity (link), yet recognizes that the potential of these groups will be best realized if they are tied into local systems, whether civil society organizations, local diocese advocating on their behalf, private sector buyers engaging them in market opportunities, or simply escalating levels of stakeholder platforms pushing their needs upwards as seen in Malawi.
Still, operationalizing this focus remains elusive. USAID’s Local Systems Framework (link) identifies potential strategies, but more direct programming targeting this meso level may be beneficial. One opportunity would be to closer link agricultural programming to democracy and governance efforts that focus on local systems and citizen advocacy. Sometimes – as in Malawi where the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Government often functioned in parallel – linkages can be made between existing systems that dramatically improve performance. Agricultural programming focusing on resilience and empowerment could also learn from governance literature and the experiences of decentralization and democratization, which could be components of farmer group capacity-building efforts.
Overall, local systems strengthening remains a key need but an area where successes are emerging that require closer investigation, especially when efforts to strengthen local systems are deliberate and central to programming. Through more focused efforts – either by incorporating local systems into project design or funding systems strengthening projects like SANE – I expect to see better impacts for farmers and countries overall. If self-reliance and local ownership towards poverty and hunger reduction are our goals, we would not go wrong making this a more deliberate priority.
The Role of Women and Youth in Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management
By Tatiana LeGrand,
Sustainable Development Specialist at Agribusiness Academy
AIARD Communications Committee Chair
On the 15th of July, nations around the world celebrated the World Youth Skills Day. In defining the importance of the skills of the youth, the United Nations states that, “the active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by the target date, and to averting the worst threats and challenges to sustainable development, including the impacts of climate change, unemployment, poverty, gender inequality, conflict, and migration.” Through my work on sustainable development projects in the agriculture and natural resource management sectors in several countries, I have witnessed how crucial the role of young people and women can be in transforming their livelihoods and contributing to economic growth.
Having just visited Kyrgyzstan to support the USAID’s AgroHorizon project, I have seen sustainable businesses thrive once given much-needed support, providing new opportunities for employment. It is not always easy to find jobs in the agriculture sector that provide a decent salary. People in rural areas in many regions of the world rely on producing crops and raising livestock for their own consumption. Without regulations for the use of land and in the absence of knowledge about best practices in crop and livestock management, deterioration of natural resources can occur. Some examples include soil fertility decline, overuse of pastures and clearcutting of trees. Magnified by the effects of climate change and large-scale production, agricultural and natural systems face unprecedented challenges. These impacts can often be felt more acutely by women.
This, however, can be prevented and even reversed. There are many inspiring examples of young people and women starting sustainable businesses in the agriculture sector and contributing to sustainable management of natural resources. These new ideas can contribute significantly not only to economic growth, but also to creating employment opportunities and making livelihoods more resilient to the challenges exacerbated by climate change.
In Kyrgyzstan, for example, with the help of the AgroHorizon project, women have started working in fruit and vegetable processing enterprises, and they are even starting their own greenhouse businesses. In Armenia, the ENPARD project has provided women with new income opportunities. These women are now transforming the lives of their families and communities by increasing the availability of more nutritious foods. In South Africa, young people and entrepreneurs even have their own digital platform for connecting and sharing ideas.
In many countries, women, also tend to be the primary animal caretakers. Having the right to own livestock and generate the income, together with the knowledge about animal care and management practices, they can transform not only rural livelihoods, but also ecosystems.
Forest management, traditionally a man's job, can also represent diverse opportunities for women and young people, besides being an important climate mitigation strategy. In Guatemala, for example, Maya people that are engaged in community-based forest management, have not only risen out of poverty, but have also provided themselves with a source of income and reduced illegal forest clearcutting. A recent report by Rainforest Alliance even showed net forest gains in the Maya biosphere reserve!
While in many situations women’s rights and opportunities for young people might be limited, these stories give hope. Provided with knowledge, tools, and rights to own land and access to inputs, these leaders can create change and contribute to increased resilience of many rural communities.
These are just some examples that I have witnessed in recent years. Here are some more resources with additional information about these topics:
Sustainable use of natural resources and agricultural development should not be separate from economic growth. To achieve that, we have to keep on creating employment opportunities for women and young people in the agriculture sector and beyond. We can also support businesses that use natural resources in a sustainable manner and contribute to creating more resilient livelihoods.
By Chuck Chopak,
DAI Global Practice Lead, Resilience
AIARD Director and Membership Committee Chair
I am, to put it diplomatically, a “seasoned” development professional. So seasoned that I did my Peace Corps service in the early 1980s. Ndjiarème, a tiny village in northern Senegal, was a dry, harsh environment. In the five years I lived there it seemingly rained only a handful of times. The farmers saw their staple millet crops fail in several of those years and eventually abandoned growing millet altogether. While these events seemed normal to me at the time, I realize now that I was living in a momentous multiyear drought that would change the lives of the village families irrevocably.
Understanding the ability of households and communities to absorb and adapt to shocks and stresses—whether a single dry season or a chronic drought as I witnessed in Ndjiarème — is at the core of an emerging discipline in development work: resilience.
When you’ve been working in international development as long as I have, it can be easy to assume you’ve seen it all before, that new trends in development thinking are fads, or “old wine in new bottles.” Resilience thinking is anything but. While resilience does, of course, contain elements of what we have learned from work in developing countries over the years (old wine can be pretty good, no?), the way resilience is currently envisioned marks a fresh departure from the past.
Three significant aspects of the new approach to building resilience merit the attention of all of us gathering for the AIARD’s 55th annual conference, where we will be focusing on resilience in global food systems.
What is Resilience?
There are several definitions of resilience, some of them sector- or donor-specific, but I find USAID’s a useful guide to thinking about how resilience can be operationalized for development programming. USAID defines resilience as “the ability of people, households, communities, countries and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth.”
Shocks and stresses are features, not bugs
Shocks and stresses are something that people, households, communities, countries, and systems anywhere must face, whether you live in the developed world or an emerging nation. While this statement seems obvious, we haven’t actually “mainstreamed” factoring shocks and stresses into our development planning and programming. Efforts to address the underlying causes of stresses—such as climate variability, population pressure, cultural practices (i.e., around water, sanitation, and hygiene), weak institutions, limited service provision, poor infrastructure, and degraded natural resources — have had some success. But on the whole, we haven’t done enough to build the capacity of vulnerable populations—those that hover around or below the poverty line — to withstand anticipated shocks and stresses.
In some countries and regions — such as the Sahel (drought and locusts), Nepal (earthquakes), South Sudan (civil insecurity), and Haiti (drought, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes) — recurring crises are readily apparent and often in the news. In other countries, shocks are less frequent. In both cases, the simple truth is that shocks are normal occurrences, they can be anticipated, and their impact can be mitigated through programs that focus on building resilience in people, communities, institutions, or systems.
Linking humanitarian and development assistance
Countries susceptible to recurring crises have received large volumes of humanitarian assistance. Indeed, USAID spent about three-quarters of its humanitarian assistance funding in just 10 countries. While these billions of dollars are crucial in saving lives, the overall impact hasn’t proved long-lasting, as evidenced by malnutrition indicators — such as stunting and wasting — that in countries such as Niger remain at or above the World Health Organization’s severe or emergency levels.
Linking humanitarian and development efforts in countries liable to recurring crises is an important step forward. The approach is to coordinate and optimize such efforts through joint analysis, planning, and implementation of activities. Several significant multidonor activities in the Sahel and East Africa illustrate the evolution of this new thinking, including the USAID Partnership for Resilience and Economic Growth in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya, and USAID Joint Planning Cells in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. In these contexts, USAID brings together relief and development teams to “layer, sequence and integrate” their efforts toward the shared goal of building resilience.
Efforts to support inclusive economic growth, environmentally responsible development, and strong government and civil society institutions can be undone if we fail to anticipate, plan for, mitigate, and respond to shocks and stresses. This backsliding is particularly pernicious for marginalized and disenfranchised people who can easily fall below — or further below — the poverty line.
The 2007–2008 world food price crisis is a good example. This systemic shock radically disrupted global food markets, resulting in huge price spikes, the brunt of which was borne by urban populations and poor rural households in developing countries. Some — such as Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Senegal, Indonesia, and Egypt — saw food riots; in Haiti, the violence contributed to the ouster of the Prime Minister. In the wake of the crisis, in 2008 and 2009, an additional 70 million and 80 million people, respectively, lapsed into malnourishment.
The events of a decade ago confirmed that the global food system is an interconnected web where significant shocks or longer-term stress can reverberate globally. As we gather for this year’s AIARD conference — under the theme of “Resilience in global food systems: what does this look like and what will it take?” — we find ourselves at an important moment, compelled to reflect on how we can build resilience in food and other systems. In part because of factors such as climate change, shocks and stresses are occurring more frequently and with more severity. While we will never eliminate shocks and stresses entirely, it is our task to ensure that by building the capacity of people, communities, and systems to absorb and adapt to disruptive forces, we can minimize the human impact in terms of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
celebrating world water day
By Bob Rabatsky,
AIARD President 2017-2018
Senior Vice President at Fintrac
Water availability is the most limiting factor to the production of food. The trends in safe water availability and use are improving, but still present a major challenge. According to the United Nations (UN), since 1990, the proportion of people using an improved water source increased from 76 to 90 percent. But nearly one half of the world’s population face water scarcity at least one month per year, and each year over 360 thousand children under the age of five die due to diarrhea, related to poor sanitation. It is estimated that 70% of all freshwater extracted from aquifers, rivers, and lakes is used in agriculture. This is concerning because by 2050 the UN estimates that two billion people, or 20% of the world’s population, will be living with the risk of reduced access to fresh water, and of course, this threat will be the most severe for the world’s poorest, many of them farmers.
Water and agriculture
Water availability and management are crucial to food production, which is increasingly at risk as more people, cities, and industries compete for fresh water. Not surprisingly, given their populations, India and China lead the world in, “water withdrawal,” or use for agriculture, using 688 and 388 billion cubic meters (BM3) respectively (FAO 2010). The U.S., in comparison, uses 175 BM3, but with a population approximately one third the size of China or India, uses an equivalent amount per capita as India and far more than China.
In the emerging economies, where many of us work, the vast majority of agriculture is conducted by 500 million smallholder farmers. They farm two hectares or less and provide all or part of the household income for 2.5 billion people, or one-third of the world’s population, as well as significant portions of food consumed in these countries. With the exception of India, which has made significant investments in irrigation infrastructure (35% of the land is irrigated), these farmers are dependent on rainfall for agriculture production. For example, only 4% of African land area is irrigated. As climate change impacts rainfall patterns, these farmers face uncertain food production on an annual basis. With little in the way of savings, credit access or insurance, a bad year means selling animals and other assets to pay for food and other necessities. The World Bank and others have documented that as a result of these uncertainties and the lack of an adequate safety net such as subsidies or crop insurance, these smallholder farmers are reluctant to invest in better seeds, fertilizers, pest management products, and other productivity-enhancing technologies, dooming them to food insecurity and poverty. Additionally, poor yields also contribute to local and regional food shortages and price hikes. Getting water availability and use rights is in everyone’s best interest.
Technologies and water use
Technologies that can address uncertain rainfall and other climate risks are increasingly becoming available and affordable in these markets. Through innovative donor-funded programs such as Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development, and Securing Water for Food, companies that have developed and are commercializing innovative technologies are provided incentives to focus their marketing and sales efforts to these challenging last mile markets. The technologies include low-cost mini drip irrigation kits, drought-tolerant seeds, biological products that improve soil organic content, treadle and solar pumps, weather tracking systems, and crop and animal insurance products. And of course, to ensure that a technology is properly deployed and will work as advertised, these programs can either work directly with their commercial partners or team with other development programs to provide adequate aftersales service and training support in both the technology use and in basic good agricultural practices (GAPs). Successful early deployment of technology is critical to scaling. Farmers who effectively use a technology and demonstrate increased productivity and earnings, as a result, are the best product marketing that a company can wish for.
Policies on water use
Government policies also have a significant influence on the availability and affordability of water for agriculture. Laws and traditions in many countries allow for unlimited access to surface and subsurface water which can result in soil and fertilizer/chemical runoff, declining aquifers, pollution, and soil damage from salt buildup. Interesting work is being done in assessing individual country performance on water use policies and practices. A “Water Use Scorecard,” similar to the ranking that the World Bank uses for doing business in ranking country-by-country policies, but instead looks at factors such as water use, potability, and climate risk, is being developed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Enabling Environment for Food Security project. Look for the scorecard to be available soon. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs just released a report titled “From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future” where it calls for policies and coordination between governments to address the growing need for fresh water, expected to increase 30-50% over current levels by 2050. And business and non-governmental organizations are ahead of governments in many cases in developing consortia of business and foundations to address water and climate. For example, the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium was recently formed by Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, General Mills, Indigo Agriculture, Mars, McDonalds USA, Noble Research Institute, the Soil Health Institute and The Nature Conservancy to advance the development of a market-based system to promote land stewardship and build healthy soils, sequester carbon, and conserve water on the earth’s productive agricultural lands. Good policy is good business!
The challenges are immense, but certainly, the technologies and the know-how exists to use water more efficiently to both produce food and supply clean water that the world will need to support 10 billion people. The approaches and technologies need to be more evenly distributed, and success requires the public and private sectors to have to continue to collaborate and coordinate in this effort.
Some of the many fantastic resources for exploring water include:
University of Oxford Our World in Data
United Nations Water
World Bank Water
Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation
Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development
Securing Water for Food
Enabling Environment for Food Security
Chicago Council report From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Future
Ecosystem Services Market Consortium
Looking to 2019: Resolute resilience and resilient resolutions for our global food system?
By Tom Gill, AIARD President-Elect
Smith Chair in International Sustainable Agriculture
Director of International Programs
University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture
As we close out another year, we often take time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past months. Looking back on 2018 around the world, it is far too easy to get caught up in the sheer scope of the challenges facing us: the hunger crises in conflict areas of the world; the hardship faced by migrants willing to give up their current circumstances for the chance of a better life elsewhere; the devastating effects of extreme weather events and further spread of pests, diseases and invasive species, to name but a few.
However, on travels in Ireland last week, I was reminded that these concerns are not new - the blight that led to the Great Potato Famine in the 1840s led to a million deaths and more than two million Irish to emigrate. Today, the Irish continue to be concerned about their place in the world – what does a post-Brexit Ireland look like and what does this mean for Ireland’s role in the European Union and the rest of the world?
Yet, we are not without hope. The Conference of the Parties (COP) 24 Katowice talks ended in progress on measures to address global climate change, and the U.S. Farm Bill being signed. Perhaps we can still reach outside of our comfort zones and map a better future for our world? Will we take up the mantle and bring about a progressive, fruitful 2019?
Now is the time to not just look back, but also press ahead. Can we set resolutions that we won’t break by January 2nd? The Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD) is already looking ahead to its 2019 conference, from June 2-4, in Washington, D.C., where we will address resilience in our global food system. What does this resilience look like? What will it take to obtain a resilient global food system? Can we achieve it? Are the advances in technologies and practices we are encountering in our global food system setting us on a resilient path to meet the demands of a rising global human population? Oh how those Irish potato farmers would have wished for a resilient food system almost 200 years ago!
As you take time this Christmas and holiday season, prepare yourself for a new year – can we develop resolute resilience in our global food system? And can we fulfill resilient resolutions for our planet?
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.