Drylands / DRYLANDSCRP / East Africa / Event / ILRI / Pastoralism / Resilience / SLS

Are we making a difference with resilience? A quick tour of the obvious, the oblivious and the unconscious

Drylands and resilience side event

Resilience has been the talk of development and humanitarian communities for some time already – so much so that it runs the risk of creating as much noise and confusion as solutions to practical problems. This is why the 2020 resilience conference, organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) from 15 to 17 May 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is welcome. 16 side events kicked off the conference, giving a composite picture of resilience and progress so far in understanding and working with it. Here’s a short selection of initial pointers emerging from the Addis Ababa conference. Here Ewen Le Borgne from ILRI reflects on the first day’s conversations.

The obvious

The speakers and participants highlighted some open doors – but it’s never a bad idea to remind everyone about some important truths:

Resilience starts with extended social networks. Beyond humanitarian and development aid efforts, social networks are the best guarantee for people to become resilient

Pro-poor development resilience is the resilience of the development process itself over time – Lance Robinson, ILRI

Communities should be included in the decisions made about resilience initiatives. Context drives solutions, and communities themselves have the potential to contribute to solutions and take care of their own resilience capacity.

Working on resilience requires the cooperation of various actors. It goes beyond communities and requires initiatives to extend their focus to governance: the governance of natural resources and socio-economic governance.

The oblivious

Some open doors are also quickly forgotten. And some good ideas are simply not making it up to the top, forgotten in a sea of signals. And yet . . .

  • By focusing so much on resilience – and measuring it – we sometimes seem to forget that perhaps the real objective is to achieve transformation.
  • A lot of actors are working on resilience, though seemingly in total isolation. We have to start the transformation with ourselves, for instance by bringing humanitarian and development actors to work together on resilience. We can very often predict crises that will affect certain areas but the organisations paying attention to that are not the same as the ones who intervene once the shocks have taken their toll.

Resilience is not JUST coping with shocks; well-being is at the centre of most definitions of resilience – Lance Robinson, ILRI

The unconscious
And finally, new information, evidence and experience that was previously not available to us is slowly informing our understanding and needs to be factored in our decision-making:

  • Despite much banging about thinking about different livelihood options, it seems that livelihood diversity may not be as important for resilience as once thought. This was a finding introduced by Mark Costas, associate professor at Cornell University.
  • Amidst the vast crowd of resilience initiatives, what matters is the long-term planning and coordination among civil society, governmental agencies, research institutes, the private sector and donors. It is the embedded practice of assessing the situation collectively in the longer run that matters, not the multiplicity of single but disconnected initiatives that may not achieve much progress on their own.

It’s not about resilience programs, it’s about resilience programming – Ewen Le Borgne

Some interesting analytical approaches such as that of the World Bank are emerging, which offer some interesting new ways of understanding resilience. The World Bank approach consists in characterizing livelihoods strategies; identifying sources of vulnerability (both today and tomorrow); looking at human, social and political dimensions; and ultimately identifying pathways to resilience that either a) reduce exposure to shocks, b) reduce sensitivity to shocks and/or c) improve coping capacity.

How do these pointers shape up in the (semi)-pastoralist drylands?

A side session ‘Enhancing Resilience in African Drylands: Toward a Shared Development Agenda’ introduced the above-mentioned analytical approach of the World Bank, and offered a few interesting pointers to bear in mind for all livestock-oriented farmers and actors:

  • By 2030 up to 220 million more people will be likely living in the drylands in Africa. Climate change might shift the location of these drylands, and it seems that by the same time, sensitivity to shocks could increase by 70 million people in East and West Africa of which 10 million people will be living in pastoral areas. Looking at current conflicts affecting those areas, 10 million extra people is no good news.
  • One of the results of this population increase is that the pressure on feed resources is naturally also projected to increase. Livestock and mixed livestock systems will be affected. What is the livelihood of pastoralists’ animals who already have to move some distance to find feeds? If climate conditions are unfavourable, there is a severe risk (in the horn of Africa and elsewhere), that there will not be enough animals to support peoples’ livelihoods and those insufficient animals will have to move further and further to find feeds.
  • On the agenda of the (agro-)pastoral economy, much remains to be done: improving the governance of pastoral natural resources (mobility) to increase productivity and reduce conflict, defining suitable location-specific mixes of improved animal health, feed etc. and finding options to diversify income sources.

See presentations from this session:

Contributed by Ewen Le Borgne (ILRI)

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