How putting the vulnerable first ultimately benefits all

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

Almost one year after the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), delegates are coming together this week in New York for the first High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The theme of the forum is “ensuring no one is left behind” and provides an opportunity for UN States Members and agencies to reflect on progress thus far on the SDGs, to identify cross-cutting issues, and address new or emerging challenges to achieving the goals.

A previous A4I blog series (part 1/part 2) looked at how agriculture is related to every one of the 17 goals. In the spirit of “ensuring no one is left behind” we’re now looking at how engaging marginalised and vulnerable groups can both contribute to achieving the SDGs and benefit these groups, particularly in the context of the agricultural sector.


2015-03-02 14.39.18SDG 5 demands gender equality, calling for “equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources.” These rights are particularly important for women who live in rural, agricultural areas. It is well documented that rural women are amongst the most likely to face barriers in accessing resources, such as quality seeds, fertilisers and credit, or gaining land rights. As a result of gender-related barriers, female farmers in Africa produce up to 25% less than men do. Yet, if these women could gain the same access to productive resources as their male counterparts, their yields would increase by 20–30% and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4% annually. This alone would lift a total of 100 – 150 million people out of hunger. [Read more…]

Human Development Report 2014 – Resilience and Vulnerability

cq5dam.web.221.289At Agriculture for Impact we talk a lot about resilience and in particular how farms and rural economies can become more resilient to shocks and stresses like climate change, pests and diseases and food price fluctuations. In the new UNDP Human Development Report 2014 released recently, the concept of resilience in terms of individuals, communities and of global political systems is explored. As the report states, “resilience is about ensuring that state, community and global institutions work to empower and protect people”.

In particular the report highlights the precariousness with which we view advances in human development, improvements in peoples’ welfare and the state of the environment and global governance. Corruption, environmental and humanitarian crises, crime, changing leadership, negligence of key sectors such as health and civil unrest can all spell disaster for progress made in tackling poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity, environmental degradation and poor health. As the report states achievements in human development should not only be measured in terms of the gains made but in how secure these gains are or how likely they are to be lost when under pressure. Key then for this report is exploring the vulnerability of current progress and of future human development being sustained. The report also emphasises how human vulnerability, in this case taken as the erosion of people’s capabilities and choices, prevents human development.

Vulnerability appears to be on the increase due to continued environmental degradation, climate change and instability in financial systems. Perhaps this is contributing to the rate of progress in human development falling significantly since 2008. Globalisation increases connectivity around the world which can increase resilience but also introduce vulnerability across broader areas. If one system faces collapse its interconnectedness puts other systems at risk while national abilities to address shocks and stresses become more tied to global rules. A global system seeking to build resilience, however, can be supportive of actions at a local scale.

To understand the causes of vulnerability the report asks why certain people do better in the face of adversity than others and what enabling environment helps people become less vulnerable and thus more resilient. Typically we think of women, children and the elderly as being more vulnerable whether in terms of personal safety, health or economic freedom but what type of interventions can lessen this vulnerability? Responsive policy mechanisms, institutions and social norms that diminish vulnerability and structures that support human choice and empowerment could be included in these. For the most vulnerable groups in society, targeted and sustained interventions are needed as is addressing inequality. [Read more…]