Re: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises: Resilience-building programming

Helga Vierich Canada
05.07.2013

This is an excellent topic for discussion. I would like to start with the first question posed: 

What are the strategies that have been successful in building resilience? Can we build resilience in general or does it always have to be in relation to a (known) type of shock?

When I was working for ICRISAT in West Africa, I learned a number of things about traditional systems of food security and long term resilience in small village communities of farmers.  

One of the most important was that there were traditional practices in place that helped to buffer the people from the effects of drought and other kinds of crop failure.  These were the following: 

a) Senior members of lineages (kinship groups based on common patrilineal or matrilineal descent) had the right to extract a certain amount of communal labour from the households in their grouping, in order to maintain communal fields to generate surplus food production of major cereal crops.  These surpluses from good years were stored in special granaries and were reserved for the relief of the people who were hit by misfortune in normal years (such as a man breaking a leg or falling ill at a critical time) as well as more generalized droughts leading to overall crop failure.  So, with the extra "power" of their position, these leaders also had greater responsibility to ensure that here was a store of food that would see their members through bad years.  Some lineage heads had as many as six years cereal (sorghum and millet) in store.

b) Kinship ties through marriages between different village communities permitted access to land outside of a village if it was hit by a localized drought or flood or other form of crop failure. Regular ceremonial feasting at post-harvest festivals served to iron out grievances both within and between lineages and whole villages at critical junctures in the year when the need for cooperation and generosity might become critical for survival. 

c) There were people within each village who were always experimenting with new varieties of various crops, looking for better yield, drought tolerance, and insect resistance. These people, usually one or two in each community, were constantly on the lookout for such plants, and saved their seed and experimented on their own in ways that foreshadowed the more concentrated efforts of international institutes like ICRISAT and the FAO.  One man, while I was in the village, actually returned from a long trip (on his bicycle) that had taken him all the way to a village in Mali (from his home in Burkina Faso) to find and bring back a variety of extremely drought tolerant millet. 

I hope this contributes something of value to this discussion. I published these findings in the ICRISAT annual reports in the mid-1980s. I will check back and try to add more of our research findings on this forum whenever I can.  

Respectfully, Helga Vierich