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.
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.