Giving Food Security Research a Second Life to Empower Rural Families with Resilience
Does research on food security have to end when a study is complete? Field trials and program evaluations generate a wealth of data and analyses that build the clearest picture of challenges rural families face every day. As those challenges continue to unfold, the end of a study could also be a new beginning.
Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience (MRR Innovation Lab) researchers are returning to the sites of their prior program evaluations where people who took part in the studies have since then been struck by disaster. These new projects are building the clearest picture yet of how shocks affect rural families’ food security and what types of programming can build resilience, while also advancing USAID research on measuring resilience.
“We all know that disasters are a constant threat to rural livelihoods,” said Michael Carter, director of the MRR Innovation Lab. “In the midst of these tragedies, we have opportunities to build evidence on the most effective ways to empower people to protect their well-being and secure resilience.”
Child Nutrition, Women’s Empowerment and Resilience in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, a research team led from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) evaluated the impacts of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Gender Linkages (ANGeL) project, which was piloted from 2015-2018 by the Bangladesh Ministry of Agriculture and funded in part by USAID. The evaluation showed that ANGeL generated improvements in agricultural production practices, children’s diets and relationships in the home.
In 2019, Cyclone Fani struck northeast India and Bangladesh with heavy rain and widespread flooding. An estimated 13,000 houses nationwide were damaged. Around 63,000 hectares of crops were affected in 35 districts. Four of the 16 districts included in the ANGeL project evaluation reported damage.
The IFPRI-led team is returning to Bangladesh to measure whether the program’s impacts sustained after the cyclone and to test whether programming focused on children’s nutrition and women’s empowerment through training can, in itself, generate resilience. The study is building evidence that will inform the design of policies that can address poverty by building resilience against climate-related shocks.
Children Orphaned or Made Vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in Mozambique
From 2016-2019 in Mozambique, a research team led from the University of Michigan and supported by USAID evaluated the impacts of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)-funded Força à Comunidade e Crianças (FCC) program. FCC provided support for orphans and vulnerable children and their caregivers.
In 2019, Cyclone Idai became the most destructive cyclone ever recorded in Africa when it made landfall in Mozambique. Idai affected a number of communities across three provinces included in the FCC evaluation. Surveys with households who participated in the FCC evaluation documented substantial losses in income, assets, health and other areas.
While the results of that evaluation are still in progress, the research team is returning to Mozambique to understand, in detail, how the disaster affected rural families and to learn whether FCC programming made them more resilient to the shock.
The team is also building on a USAID concept of resilience. Rather than estimate what households lost immediately because of the shock, the new estimate takes into account any potential longer-term growth in assets or income they would have had in the absence of a shock. This difference is important, because calculations that only measure resilience in terms of recovered losses don’t include the way a shock in itself can derail a family’s upward progress.
Resilience in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nepal
The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted daily life in every corner of the world. Rural families in developing countries have been especially vulnerable, whether through illness or the shuttering of the markets they rely on for their livelihoods.
From 2014-2017 in Nepal, a research team led from the University of Georgia evaluated the impacts of a livestock transfer and training program modeled after programs offered by Heifer International. The evaluation showed that the program increased participants’ revenue and income from goat production by 70-100% within a year after the program ended.
The detailed survey data collected and analyzed during that evaluation provides an opportunity to explore how rural families are coping with the pandemic and whether a livestock transfer and training program increases resilience. At the start of the pandemic, the team conducted a rapid assessment of how the pandemic has affected rural households so their research partner, Heifer International, could mount an immediate response.
Putting Resilience Measurement to the Test in Bangladesh
From 2012-2014, a research team led from Cornell University evaluated the Transfer Modality Research Initiative (TMRI), a pilot program implemented in Bangladesh by the World Food Programme, which provided women with monthly cash and food transfers and guidance on nutrition. The evaluation showed that TMRI led to significant improvements in the well-being of women and children, both during and after the program.
The team has returned to Bangladesh to advance USAID research investments in measuring resilience by testing and comparing several measures of resilience by how they predict resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team is also exploring the extent to which these measures capture differences between women and men, as well as the extent to which TMRI programming has generated resilience.
Building Evidence to Empower Rural Families
As climate change has increased the frequency and severity of these kinds of shocks, objective, high-quality research builds the evidence needed to mount an effective response. These four projects will uncover critical details on how disasters affect rural families and will show what types of support help them to withstand the shock and even recover faster.
“To test for resilience you need rich data from before and after a shock, and these new projects have that,” said Carter. “We are giving those earlier studies a second life that we hope will lead to the kinds of policies and programming that empower rural families everywhere to secure a more resilient future.”
Learn more at https://basis.ucdavis.edu.