Feed the Future
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A Resilience Sentinel Network for the Horn of Africa

A sustained focus on resilience in the past decade has led to broad acceptance of it as a major programmatic priority for programs designed to strengthen the ability of vulnerable households to withstand myriad shocks and stresses. Resilience measurement concepts and methods have improved dramatically together with resilience theory and practice, informed by rich knowledge networks (AgriLinks) and resource materials (USAID Resilience Resources). In the critically important Horn of Africa, dozens, perhaps now hundreds, of development programs have established resilience measurement frameworks, and established resilience baselines, to understand whether program interventions have resulted in strengthening resilience. Rich resilience datasets have been produced in association with Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) and with programs by CARE, FAO, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, the Food Economy Group, and numerous other Horn of Africa implementing partners.

But while each of these resilience baselines may measure resilience at a program-scale, they are generally not useful for understanding inter-scale resilience impacts across countries, or (except for the annual measures from 90 sentinel sites in the Kenya National Drought Management Authority’s Long Rains Assessments) between regions in a given country. While “sentinel surveillance systems” are used to track emergence of infectious diseases in the public health sector, including in the Horn of Africa (see WHO), there exists no such parallel in tracking emerging changes in household resilience to shocks.

Yet understanding such inter-scale impacts is critical for planning in the Horn, since unexpected shocks or stresses typically become evident through regional market system level shocks (whether from political whim or systemic regional policy shifts), ecological shocks (such as drought or other climate-related events), or political shocks (such as those resulting in sudden migration). We should be able to understand, for example, how a sudden border closing between two countries in the Horn, or the imposition of dramatically stricter maize export restrictions from a single country, will affect household resilience. We also need to better understand the differential capacities of populations across the Horn – and not just for localize project sites – to absorb, adapt to, and transform in response to those shocks.

This need for a system to understand inter-scalar impacts of resilience, and to systematically strengthen resilience in the Horn, has never been greater. A recent economic analysis by Courtenay Cabot Venton for the USAID Center for Resilience estimates the benefit of incorporating resilience strategies with early humanitarian and safety net interventions at $4.3 billion over 15 years compared to the more common late responses to humanitarian crises. In comments at a recent Chemonics'-organized Roundtable on Resilience and Market Systems, USAID’s Greg Collins made the urgency clear when discussing the need for improvements in resilience measurement and inter-scale resilience dynamics: “We need to make progress in the year ahead, not the years ahead!”

A coherent response to this urgent challenge in the Horn would include at least four central elements. First, it would include a common approach to, and framework for, measuring the income and expenditures of households across the region. Second, it would include a common framework for measuring the resilience capacities at individual, household, community, and regional level. Third, it would include sufficient coverage of populations, or population groups across the Horn that it could be used to generate results with relevance and implications across large populations. This requires special attention when measuring psycho-social factors, which can be distinct in different cultures or places. And, fourth, it should not be part of a single, one-time and time-limited project. As Bene et al (2017) have noted, “the mismatch between short-term project cycle […] and the slow process of building households and communities’ resilience makes the task or practitioners almost impossible.”

So, how might we establish a “resilience sentinel network” across the Horn of Africa that would meet these four criteria. We explore four possible options:

  1. IGAD -- Draw Upon IGAD’s Regional Resilience Data System

Under its Priority Intervention Area #5, IGAD, or the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa, aims to “support and enhance networks and institutions of excellence in research, knowledge” and other areas. With this broad objective as a focus, IGAD works to capture information from existing resilience-related projects across the region through its 3W Mapping Tool, while making spatial data about resilience more readily available through a spatial portal. In addition, IGAD works with partner country-level initiatives to establish improved resilience monitoring systems.  At present, while these are all important steps towards capturing resilience information, IGAD remains far from establishing a single, unified, and comparable system for monitoring.

  1. New Survey: Conduct An Entirely New Survey Covering the Full Horn-of-Africa

This is an ideal, if costly, means of meeting the four criteria noted above. Under the Resilience in the Sahel (RISE) program, USAID financed a comprehensive field survey and analysis baseline covering the program target regions within Burkina Faso and Niger, but not the full countries. Similarly, single-country surveys have been conducted with similar sample sizes under the USAID Resilience and Economic Growth in Arid Lands (REGAL) program in Kenya, the Pastoralist Areas Resilience Improvement through Market Expansion (PRIME) program in Ethiopia, and in Somalia.  Given the size and scale of the Horn of Africa, however, a new comprehensive survey covering the entire region would likely be prohibitively expensive.

  1. FEWS NET: Use the Same Food Security Datasets and Models Used Now by FEWS NET

The US Government’s FEWS NET program has worked for decades now to establish and manage monitoring systems of the status of food security and livelihoods across the Horn of Africa (and other parts of Africa and the world) in response to natural and man- made shocks.  FEWS NET bases its models of livelihood impact on a series of mapped food security classification data and livelihood zones covering each targeted country, complemented by information from Household Economy Analysis (HEA) baseline surveys and models within each of those zones, and further complemented by market price data, and remote sensing. Because FEWS NET’s objective is to model food security across the Horn, the HEA baselines and livelihood zones have been established with full coverage of the region.  Over the past quarter century, FEWS NET and partner organizations have established these HEA baseline surveys and databases in no less than 251 sites across the Horn of Africa region, with 173 in Ethiopia, 43 in Tanzania, and 18 in Kenya. In each of the HEA baselines, FEWS NET gathers information at household, community, and local government levels for different purposes (livelihood zoning, seasonal calendars and hazard time lines), with the focus of data collection instruments on household food, income and expenditure. While these HEA databases and models might allow modeling of resilience associated with food security and livelihoods (income, expenditures, savings, etc.), they do not measure – and were not designed to measure – a wide range of resilience capacities, including social capital, governance, and psycho-social capacities, each of which has been shown to be particularly important (Constas et al 2014). As a result, the FEWS NET household monitoring network does not, as now configured, have the potential to serve as region-wide resilience sentinel network. And that leads us to option #4.

  1. FEWS NET-plus:  Extend Existing FEWS NET HEA Baselines to Cover Resilience

The most cost-effective path to establishing a resilience sentinel network with full coverage across the Horn may be to invest in incremental additional surveys and data collection for the existing HEA baselines now in use in the region. Certainly, it would not be necessary to conduct additional surveying at all 251 HEA sites now established across the region, given that in select countries (e.g,. Ethiopia and Tanzania), the relatively larger number of HEA sites were created for more localized and sub-national monitoring. Based on the sought-after statistical quality of Horn-wide estimates, an analysis could be conducted to calculate the required subset of HEA sites that would need to be surveyed.  Building on the lessons of numerous USAID resilience evaluation studies and other resilience surveys, a common survey framework could be conducted at the subset of HEA sites.  Once in place, FEWS NET might take the lead, working with IGAD and other regional partners, to monitor resilience impacts of system wide shocks across the region. The proposed resilience sentinel network could be established rapidly (the sites and communities are well known, and prior survey data is carefully archived and managed), and at a cost lower than that of a new survey. 

The need remains pressing to understand resilience at multiple scales.  Progress is being made on many fronts, including – recently – at such levels as agricultural value chains, but this this sentinel network might move us quickly to a basis for better measuring resilience, before another shock occurs. An active sentinel network might be managed by IGAD, possibly with the support of FEWS NET during a period of establishment. Ideally, it would be made available online for access by governments, donors, firms, and private non-profits to provide points of comparison for values and methodology used in their own resilience measurements.


I’d like to acknowledge the very helpful feedback on drafts of this piece by Tiffany Griffin (USAID Center for Resilience), Lynn Michalopoulos (Consultant to the USAID Center for Resilience), and Tanya Boudreau (Food Economy Group).

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