So many metrics, so few options for resilience

By Stephanie Brittain, Agriculture for Impact

“Poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. We are therefore committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency”.

This introductory quote from the draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) highlights that tackling poverty and hunger are still key targets for the SDG’s, the evolution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). Aims to ‘End Extreme Poverty including Hunger’ and ‘Improve Agriculture Systems and Raise Rural Prosperity’ show that poverty and hunger are intrinsically linked. Indeed, most of the world’s poorest and hungriest are the smallholder farmers that ironically produce 80% of the world’s food. It’s important that the SDG’s meet the needs of these farmers if they are to meet their targets.

So what are the SDG’s going to offer the world that the MDG’s didn’t? Well this time we have metrics, and potentially lots of them. So with an emphasis on developing indicators to measure change, how then are we actually going to make these changes and meet these indicators of poverty reduction and food security? Meeting these development goals isn’t purely about economics as previous development indicators would have you think. Furthermore, since no country has yet achieved all three economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development, we need to approach and achieve progress in a holistic way.

What is resilience? 

Working under a resilience framework may be the answer. Resilience can be thought of as a ‘buffer zone’, providing people with the ability to ‘bounce back’ from socio-economic and environmental stressors. In the latest report the Sustainable Development Solutions Network on the proposed indicators for the SDG’s, resilience is often referred to in the context of building resilience against natural disasters. But there is so much more that could, and should be done to encourage resilience thinking in the new SDG’s with regards to social cohesion and food security, for example.  

Recently, the Agriculture for Impact (A4I) team saw an example of building resilience in practice when we went to the Meki Batu Vegetable Cooperative, a project supported by Self Help Africa in Ethiopia. As the video below highlights, they are building resilience by creating cooperatives, giving access to credit and markets for farmers that helps them to become food secure and generate an income where they previously struggled.

emilyStronger Together: How Co-operatives Help Smallholder Farmers Thrive” 

Entrepreneurship for resilience

Part of building resilience is also creating the enabling socio-economic and political environment for people to develop. The need for entrepreneurship in Africa is highlighted in the June 2014 Montpellier Panel Report, where the Montpellier Panel believe that rural and food sector entrepreneurship can achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for the continent and significantly contribute to Africa’s rural and urban economic growth.

Agroways (U)For example, AgroWays (U), a grain warehousing system in Jinja, Uganda was first set up in 1995 by Managing Director Herbert Kyeyamwa with the intention of buying grain at the peak of harvest, storing it, and then selling it in the off-season when prices are higher.

Now in 2014, the business has grown to service 134 farmer groups with a total membership of 8,560 smallholder farmers. Herbert employs nearly 150 full and part time staff to assist with a variety of tasks from harvest, the collection and transport of grain to village aggregation centres and central warehouse staff. 

Herbert is a shining example of an entrepreneur that has responded to market demand to create a company that generates employment and wealth within the agribusiness value-chain. This, however, did not happen without external technical assistance, training, and finance—key components for any business to thrive.

Resilience for development: The SDG’s

By approaching the new SDG’s with resilience in mind, it helps us to acknowledge that development, including poverty reduction and food security is multi-disciplinary. It allows us to plan with a longer term vision and encourages a more holistic way of measuring success and failure that moves away from the traditional ‘deaths’ and ‘income’ indicators. Building resilience also means to build strong and healthy communities, as the video and our experiences in Ethiopia highlight. 

It isn’t just natural disasters that we need to build resilience against – the impacts of seasonal stressors such as poor harvests, pests, volatile food and input prices all negatively impact vulnerable communities and smallholder farmers. A poor harvest will leave vulnerable families in worse shape to recover from a major natural or economic disaster.  Because these stresses continue to drive food insecurity and poverty and increase the gap between the worlds’s richest and poorest, they also risk  endangering our ability to meet the SDG of no extreme poverty or hunger before even starting. Conversely, by building resilience across all sectors, farmers are better equipped to recover or ‘bounce back’, creating a necessary safety net for the worlds more vulnerable communities. In the face of an increasingly volatile environmental and economic climate, resilience should be actively built in to the SDG’s aims and metrics. 

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