R is for resilience

R is for resilience

Date: 6 October 2014

Resilience is the capacity for people, their communities and the environment to face sudden changes or disasters and to recover from these shocks. Although it is an important and useful concept, it has become a buzz word in international development. FAO talks of “Resilient Livelihoods” and has developed a ‘resilience strategy’ which includes: institutional strengthening, developing early warning systems, protecting and building livelihoods, and improving ‘preparedness for and response to crises’. This kind of resilience sounds quite top heavy. It can seem like organisations speak of creating resilience without the participation of the people that suffer the most from sudden changes and shocks. The resilience of farmers and farming communities is strengthened above all by supporting them to develop their own skills.

For example in Niger, farmer to farmer approaches in the 1980s led to increasing the resilience of a food system severely strained by desertification, erratic rainfall, high levels of pest and low soil fertility. By using Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration and a variety of agroecological techniques, farmers were able to re-green about 5 million hectares of degraded land in southern Niger. In the Maradi region of Niger, this re-greening of the desert meant that in 2008, 62,000 families were able to generate an additional income of between $17 and $23 million per year, with individual families increasing their income by around 20%. In Niger, farmers were able to increase their resilience through farmer-led agroecology without the use of expensive technologies. Building resilience is not about development experts dishing out technologies or concepts, but an approach that needs to be collaborative, inclusive, and empower farmers to take the lead. 

Photo: Conservation agriculture provides resilience by stopping soil errosion and maintain fertility. Credit: T. Samson/CIMMYT

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.