Resilience for all, not just the market-ready

Photo credit: Jo Villanueva

Given the devastation that the combination of weather events, climate change impacts and man-made conditions leave behind -  markets-based livelihoods practitioners are increasingly striving to find the best ways to reduce the risks that communities face, and enable these communities to prosper through more sustainable ways despite these increasingly damaging impacts. This has come to be referred to by many as an effort to ‘build resilience.’ In these efforts, it is important for us to effectively prioritise options based on a holistic analysis of risks faced by different groups in a community in order to ensure inclusive development. Otherwise, there is a high likelihood that we may end up exacerbating existing inequalities within communities, helping those that are better off (and market ready) whilst having little positive impact on the most vulnerable.

 

What resilience means exactly may never be agreed upon; not even within a same field of work, or even within one organisation.  The concept of resilience has many aspects (such as building livelihoods viability, assets, safety nets or social networks). Organisations give these aspects and related entry points (e.g., political, social or economic) different levels of focus or weight depending on an organisation’s vision, mission, and areas of work. Nevertheless, I believe there is merit in buying into the concept and trying to figure out what ‘building resilience’ means because it helps to broaden the thinking around the set of problems that the aid sector has been pondering about for a long time.

 

Perhaps the most important feature of a resilience framework is that it reflects the needs of the different groups of people and 'how' they are affected differently by hazards, highlighting also how they may best use their existing capacities and develop new ones to adapt to and take advantage of the new set of conditions.  This can be achieved by conducting an inclusive vulnerability and risk assessment. Furthermore, it is equally important to ask the question: ‘why’ are they affected in these distinct ways and 'what' are the entry points to overcome these inequalities?

 

This type of holistic risk analysis helps us identify more inclusive development approaches that support wider communities build resilience and get out of poverty – rather than helping just those better-off farmers who are ‘market-ready’ by choosing a value chain approach as a default intervention. 

In November Ana CaspeJo Villanueva and I visited the village of Amontay in the Philippines to explore ways in which Oxfam could holistically help communities like Amontay build their resilience. 

Amontay sits in what used to be a mangrove in North Eastern Mindanao, an area that was fortunately not in the path of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).  Twenty or more years ago this community lived in the mountainous area, but the government relocated it due to the armed conflict. Today the community is in a terribly challenging landscape where growing crops is – at best – difficult, and where tides, weather impacts, fragile dwellings and the increasing impact of climate change pose huge threats to the population. 

 

This cleared mangrove now accommodates about 155 households. But vulnerabilities go beyond the already harsh realities that meet the eye. As we visited the community, we noticed that there were some families that  had access to land and grew rice. We briefly considered that a rice value chain intervention could be a possible entry point to build resilience. But a further look led us to realise that these families were only a handful in the village. Although there is some demand for labourers, which employs some of the landless population for a few weeks in the year, securing an income is demanding and growing food for subsistence is even more challenging considering the communities’ location. Most revert to growing vegetables in hanging pots tied to the house’s stilts.

 

As we walked around Amontay and talked to residents, it was easy to see that a rice value chain approach to development would be insufficient, and indeed even inappropriate, if implemented as a unique measure in this community. Inappropriate because a better suited intervention would need to focus on a combination of livelihoods and go beyond market-based livelihoods to ensure that all groups are benefiting and that, indeed, the intervention does not accentuate inequalities (e.g., by lifting out of poverty the groups that are market ready, while neglecting the poorest of the poor and automatically assuming trickle down effects).

 

This example shows that -- once the context is understood, as well as the different groups’ vulnerabilities to all possible relevant hazards, and their capacities - a good resilience building approach to development must ensure that the mix of actions aimed at improving the lives of people addresses all of those dimensions that matter for community development, and not just, for example, the five households in Amontay that are cultivating rice.

 

This doesn't mean that we should do everything everywhere. We don’t and we can’t and we shouldn't. But being able to see the whole picture allows for an effective prioritisation of options and of an inclusive development path. It also opens a way to engage other actors, once the needs or the underlying causes of vulnerability, have been unearthed.   

In this way a resilience approach, which can otherwise be easily plagued by vagueness, disagreement and disillusionment, can serve a constructive purpose of linking issues and themes to solutions.

 

Written by Daniel Morchain, Global Advisor – Resilience, Climate Change Adaptation, and Agriculture.

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