Fragile states: Leveraging agriculture to build resilience

With the global number of undernourished on the rise since 2014, the international community has identified agricultural development as an effective tool to boost the resilience of vulnerable communities in fragile states.

The agricultural sector often provides up to two-thirds of employment in fragile states © Pablo Tosco/Oxfam International

What is fragility?

The term ‘fragile state’ is commonly used by the development community, yet there is no universally agreed definition of fragility when it is applied in this context. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) defines state fragility as, “The combination of exposure to risk and the insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks.” The two most common forms of risk described in this definition are climate shocks (severe drought, flooding etc.) and conflict.

Symptoms of fragility include high levels of poverty and displacement, the breakdown of institutions, corruption, poor infrastructure, low productivity, high indebtedness and violence. If unresolved, state fragility can lead to humanitarian emergencies and food crises. In 2017, nearly 124 million people across 51 countries and territories worldwide faced crisis levels of food insecurity and required urgent humanitarian action. In Africa, conflict and instability were responsible for the acute food insecurity of 37 million people in 11 countries last year.

While development organisations use fragility to label high-risk states in need of urgent assistance, James Putzel, professor of development studies at the London School of Economics, argues that categorising states as ‘fragile’ risks perpetuating the assumption that such countries are inherently poor and conflict prone. At the June 2018 Brussels Development Briefing on ‘Agriculture as an engine of economic reconstruction and development in fragile countries’, organised by CTA and partners, Putzel sought to remind participants that, “State fragility is a temporal condition not a static category.” The focus should therefore be on identifying the factors that cause states to become more fragile (that is, more vulnerable to violence) or, conversely, more resilient.

Agriculture’s potential for peacebuilding

In recent years, agriculture has become increasingly recognised as an entry point for building peace and resilience in fragile states. In 2017, the EU’s communication on A Strategic Approach to Resilience in the EU’s External Action outlined the need to move away from crisis containment to a more structural, long-term approach to vulnerabilities. As the international community has begun to broaden its response to crises and explore long-term solutions for economic growth and political stability, the potential of agriculture has been realised. “In doing humanitarian work we realised that food is not only saving lives, it is also a good tool for development, as well as for peacebuilding,” explains Bing Zhao, Purchase for Progress (P4P) director and global coordinator at WFP.

With up to two-thirds of employment and one-third of GDP in countries experiencing prolonged crises linked to agriculture, investment in the sector can be transformative for the resilience of vulnerable populations. According to Dr Alexandros Ragoussis of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector development arm of the World Bank Group, “Agriculture is two to four times more effective in lifting people out of extreme poverty than investment in any other sector of economic activity.”

In South Sudan’s Equitoria region, Cordaid has been working with two agro-pastoralist communities, who frequently fought over land for cattle grazing, to form a joint committee made up of youth, women and farmers from both communities. Together they have cultivated 12 ha of land and built a warehouse to store produce. As a result of these activities they are now producing surplus food, which they market to traders in Uganda. The successful collaboration between these two warring communities reveals the potential of agricultural development for peace building; as Cordaid programme manager, Harma Rademaker says, “Dialogue and working together can restore distorted relationships between conflicting communities.”

Increasing capacities for risk mitigation

To prevent fragile situations descending into crises and ensure the sustainable recovery of vulnerable populations, rural communities need the capacity to monitor and predict crisis and disaster risks, as well as to develop strategies to help minimise the impact of such risks on food production. “Building the capacities of people and communities who are vulnerable is the basis of our work. When people acquire more knowledge and learn how to deal with disaster risks, they are better able to cope and restore their livelihoods in the case of severe drought, for example,” explains Rademaker.

Cordaid’s Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) programme – which supports communities to design joint action plans for increased resilience – has helped 2,350 conflict-affected households in South Sudan to restore their agricultural production and establish over 100 water distribution points for drinking and domestic use. The Somalia Resilience Program (SomReP), similarly focuses on capacity building and community-led development planning to enhance the resilience of vulnerable households across Somalia. A study carried out by World Vision, one of seven NGOs involved in SomReP, found two defining characteristics of Somali households that qualified as having better food security and better capacity to cope in times of crisis. Firstly, resilient households tended to be members of a savings group scheme and, secondly, they usually had access to early warning information.

Large-scale displacement as a result of recurring drought and conflict have resulted in widespread food insecurity in Somalia, yet agriculture continues to make up 75% of the country’s GDP and provide employment for 46% of the population. In addition to SomReP, the Rome-based Agencies Resilience Initiative made up of WFP, FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, seeks to capitalise on the central role of agriculture to increase the country’s resilience and improve food security. Among other support, the initiative provides rural Somali communities with training and advice in sustainable crop and livestock production and post-harvest management, as well as vocational skills training to diversify their income. As a result of these activities, beneficiaries reported income increases of 118%, with 38% stating that their resilience had increased and they were better able to cope with the prolonged drought.

Connecting farmers to markets

With increased capacity to grow surplus produce, farmers need access to finance and markets to add value to their products and further increase their incomes. However, in fragile states, neither finance nor domestic trade is forthcoming. Through the World Bank, IFC takes a two-pronged approach to develop more resilient and investible agriculture sectors in fragile countries. Under the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, the World Bank, along with six development partners, have mobilised donor resources of €1.35 billion to address farmers’ credit constraints. “But money alone is not going to drive change,” acknowledges Ragoussis. In addition to financing, IFC therefore supports farmers and cooperatives with extensive advisory services, as well as access to international markets. The organisation guarantees a three times greater share of cross-border trade to fragile and conflict-affected states compared to any other low income context.

The provision of a ready market for smallholder farmers is also at the heart of WFP’s P4P programme, which – since its launch in 2008 – has bought €214 million worth of food from smallholders. “We are of the conviction that only by helping smallholders in the value chain and enabling them to participate in markets, can they be empowered and incentivised to help create a food system that is sustainable and inclusive,” explains Zhao.

Over the last 10 years, the P4P programme has supported more than 2 million smallholders in over 60 countries, including Zambian farmer Harriet Chabala, who received an equipment loan from her local cooperative in recognition of her entrepreneurial potential and consistently reliable supply of beans to WFP. Chabala used the loan to buy a tricycle, which can navigate the poor quality roads, enabling her to transport produce and people between towns and markets for a fee. With the increased income from the tricycle and support from WFP, Chabala expects to repay the loan within a year and has increased her bean production by 50% over 2 years.

Supporting farmer cooperatives

By targeting cooperatives, the Confederation of Agricultural Producer Associations for Development (CAPAD) seeks to empower farmers and improve their participation in the marketplace. The organisation grew out of the Burundi civil war in an attempt to help displaced farmers return to cultivating the land. Since CAPAD was launched in 2000, the situation in Burundi has not stabilised with 2.6 million people assessed as living a humanitarian crisis between October and December 2017. However, according to Wageningen University and Research the introduction of efficient and well-integrated farming methods has potential to triple crop production, particularly if farmers are encouraged to invest through mutual cooperation and knowledge sharing.

CAPAD brings together 117,000 agricultural households in Burundi to improve their access to seeds and credit so that they can invest in increasing their productivity and improving their ability to deal with shock situations. Between 2002 and 2014, CAPAD has helped to increase smallholders’ yields by 30-50% and contributed to the socio-economic development of more than 12,000 displaced women and young men through the provision of temporary and permanent jobs.

Dr Annick Sezibera, CAPAD executive secretary, attributes this success, in part, to the support that the organisation has received from its partners, including CTA. “CAPAD shows us how farmers’ organisations can contribute to peace restoration and economic development through aggregated production,” explains Isolina Boto, Manager of CTA’s Brussels office. Building on their partnership, a new collaboration between CTA and AgriCord will support CAPAD to register its members using ICT-enabled tools to enable them to digitally map cooperatives, as well as the crops they produce and sell. With better knowledge of their members’ activities CAPAD can improve the use of seeds and fertilisers and increase access to new markets and funding.

Engaging local governments

The political instability of many fragile states makes collaboration with local authorities and governments particularly challenging. Sezibera emphasises that, in addition to strong partnerships, CAPAD’s ability to remain politically neutral, whilst at the same time maintaining regular dialogue with the government, has been a determining factor to its success. This stance has enabled the organisation to advocate legislation and policies that support agriculture, but resist being manipulated by political parties and avoid expulsion from Burundi during the crisis in 2015, when most other civil society organisations were forced to leave.

Maintaining communication with local authorities in fragile states enables organisations to stay up-to-date with the political situation and anticipate any conflicts so that they can develop strategies to adapt to the changing environment. If possible, it is also beneficial to work with governments to develop contingency action plans for disaster management, as well as advocate and influence national policies, practices and investments. Advocacy is a key component of Cordaid’s CMDRR programme, as Rademaker explains, “We always work with local government because it is important to get their support.”

The way forward

Smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable to climate shocks and weather-related disasters, poor governance, conflicts and market fluctuations. As the primary producers of most of the world’s food it is essential that they are better supported to withstand such pressures to help mitigate the risk of food crises. “We need to understand better what is specific about fragility that agriculture can address in an inclusive way and support projects which promote internal integration. It is critical to promote long-term investment and markets, which benefit smallholders in fragile states,” emphasises Boto.

The Centre for EU Studies 2017 report on Improving European Coordination in Fragile States, concludes that development partners need to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development strategies to support national strategies for resilience based on coordinated needs assessments and planning. Agriculture should play a central role in such strategies to help boost economic growth and alleviate poverty in fragile countries, through the application of risk sensitive technologies and sustainable practices.

Potatoes provide promise in Dominica

In the aftermath of hurricane Maria, which devastated Dominica’s agriculture and fisheries sectors in September 2017, the government and international community have invested significant resources to restore crop cultivation. Shortly after the hurricane hit, the Dominican government, with support from the World University Service of Canada’s PROPEL initiative, distributed fertiliser and two containers of seeds to farmers for the production of short-term crops, such as white potatoes.

Despite the devastation left by hurricane Maria, the seeds and fertiliser have successfully boosted yields. “We are seeing a very, very big bumper crop of white potatoes this year,” explains Dominica’s minister for agriculture, Hon. Johnson Drigo. Octavia Hunter, president of the North Eastern Women Farmers Group, received eight 45 kg bags of potato seed and fertiliser from PROPEL in 2017. “All in all, it was a very good harvest… yesterday we harvested 18 trays at about 80 Ibs [36 kg] per tray and… I might get another 10 trays today,” she says.

The high resilience of white potatoes has been acknowledged by the government, and Reginald Thomas, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture states, “We will try to build it into our resilience strategy as we look to actually have food production in the event of a storm or some other event” (see Spore article Smart Strategies: Sowing the Seeds of Climate-resilient Agriculture in the Caribbean).

Supporting Somalia’s transition towards stability

The EU recently pledged to provide an additional €200 million to support Somalia’s stabilisation at the Somalia Partnership Forum, which brought over 60 delegates together in Brussels during July 2018. Drought and conflict have forced people to abandon their homes and created widespread food insecurity in the country. However, warnings of an impending famine in early 2017 prompted emergency food assistance, which has reached around 2.5 million people a month since April 2017 and helped to mitigate the crisis.

With the increased funding, the EU aims to step up development, as well as humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operations to help Somalia stabilise and achieve food security. During the forum, the president of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, stated the government’s plan to think more long-term about economic growth and development: “The federal government of Somalia is fully committed to implement the Political Roadmap 2020, a transition plan for security and economic reform, and reach out to the whole of Somalia for reconciliation and dialogue.”

Stephanie Lynch

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.