Changing business as usual: assessing development policy and practice in the Sahel from a resilience lens

Changing business as usual: assessing development policy and practice in the Sahel from a resilience lens

Care policy brief on the need to focus on resilience to tackle the hunger and poverty crisis affecting the Sahel region of Africa

Every year, over 20 million people suffer from chronic hunger, and are trapped in a debt and hunger cycle from which they cannot escape. Substantial humanitarian and development action is required in 2016 and beyond, yet this crisis is still ongoing despite increases in humanitarian aid from under $200 million dollars in the years prior to 2008, up to almost $1 billion dollars in 2013. This Care policy brief takes the current development paradigm to task, in particular the notion that economic growth will lead to poverty and hunger reduction, highlighting that current efforts are both unsustainable and ineffective, and arguing that the root causes of the crisis are not being sufficiently targeted. Instead, the authors argue that what is needed is a primary focus on resilience, and food and nutrition security to shift us away from a business-as-usual approach that has been shown to be inefficient.

The key messages of the brief include that substantial humanitarian and development action is urgently required for the international community’s three year Sahel Regional response plan to 2016 and beyond. However, with humanitarian relief estimated to require $1.9 billion in 2016, it is clearly unsustainable, meaning that the structural root causes of vulnerability have to be addressed to avoid ever more numbers of people fall into chronic and perpetuating crisis. A recurrent lesson advocated by the authors is that the development paradigm in the Sahel is deeply flawed; economic growth is too often assumed a priority from which poverty reduction and development will emerge as by-products, yet a decade of substantial growth has failed to deliver these assumptions. Without major changes in how development is practised, the Sahel food and nutrition crisis will only worsen.

On the positive side, the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative (AGIR) is a sign of real progress with its central focus on resilience. It does however face many obstacles in integrating resilience into existing policies and programmes. The priority challenges facing the effective promotion of resilience are overcoming gender barriers preventing women farmer equitable access to resources and land, and shifting agricultural practices and investment toward sustainable and climate resilient farming systems, disaster risk reduction, and social protection. To help overcome these barriers, eight recommendations are drawn from analysis of the record of development policies and programmes in the Sahel, including:

  • Governments must remove structural barriers to women farmers by investing in gender-sensitive policies that allow women equal access to land, water, credit, and tailored extension services. Meanwhile, the AU and ECOWAS should revise the AGIR criteria toward greater emphasis on pro-equity and gender perspectives, encourage specific gender-budgeting for women farmers, and support women in their efforts to secure ownership of their land.
  • Harness the potential of agriculture through, for example, greater support for rigorous research on nutrition-sensitive approaches to agriculture, encourage diversification of crops to reduce seasonal food insecurity, and training more agricultural extension agents to communicate nutrition messages.
  • To improve the quality of agricultural spending, policies should be revised and reformed to focus on strengthening the resilience of vulnerable farmers, foster sustainability of farming systems, and enable social equity by targeting poorer farm households.
  • Increased, transparent, and accountable public spending on agro-ecological farming is required, and should focus on low-cost, productive techniques such as agroforestry that are accessible to the majority of poorer rural households in ecologically fragile or risk prone areas. Meanwhile the AU and ECOWAS should adopt a target-based timeline to monitor progress toward reaching 10% budget commitments to agriculture.
  • To improve the transparency of agriculture spending in public budgets, government ministries must be accountable for results of resilience, poverty reduction, improved nutrition, etc, rather than simply production, while adequate resources must be dedicated to staff training and internal monitoring of public expenditure information.
  • All stakeholders need to increase development assistance to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
  • Strengthen the institutional capacity of decentralized local governments to undertake multi-sectoral and multi-actor processes for integrating resilience into development initiatives.
  • Invest in productive social protection measures that are focused on the poorest and most vulnerable people.
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