Reducing the vulnerability of marginalized systems and peoples

Enormous sums of money are spent on relief for people facing natural and human-made disasters. Relief work is more efficient, and has more lasting impacts, when it is done in conjunction with scientific research

The increasing frequency and severity of climate shocks across Africa, compounded with disease outbreaks and price volatility of key commodities, threaten the livelihoods of millions of households. When such shocks occur, many find their coping capacity over-tasked and, without comprehensive risk-management options, are driven into chronic poverty.

Donors and policymakers acknowledge the inadequate and unsustainable nature of conventional responses to emergencies caused by droughts, floods and other natural and human-made disasters. Emergency responses have largely focused on short-term interventions, particularly food aid. While food aid often saves lives and reduces suffering, it has failed to provide long-term development solutions that support poor people’s livelihoods. What’s needed are social protection measures, including ‘safety nets’, which can protect people from falling into chronic poverty, and ‘cargo nets’, which can provide people with ways to climb out of poverty.

Growing evidence indicates social protection programs to protect livelihoods are more cost-effective over the long run than short-term emergency responses, which save lives but leave households vulnerable to future shocks and with little chance of escaping poverty. Recent empirical findings show that shocks that cause households to lose their productive assets can have irreversible impacts, trapping households in long-lasting poverty. This is particularly true for households largely dependent on livestock for their livelihoods.

Farm animals are key productive assets, a store of wealth and a source of nourishment for the poor worldwide. Losing livestock can spell disaster for household livelihoods, nutrition and resilience (those who lose their livestock not only lose their key assets, but also their prime, and often only, source of income). Little systematic research, however, has focused on developing interventions for livestock-dependent people within the context of broader social protection measures. Such interventions would work to protect households from livestock losses by, for example, providing emergency fortified feeds for starving animals during famines, implementing livestock insurance schemes to mitigate the consequences of livestock losses, and stimulating early destocking through markets. Such interventions would also work to raise livestock productivity and reduce livestock vulnerability by, for example, improving production standards, enabling small-scale farmers and pastoralists to tap into export markets, and identifying the conditions that give rise to successful livestock marketing cooperatives.

We work to identify livestock interventions that reduce the vulnerability of livestock dependent households. We also aim to better understand relations between livestock systems and other ecosystem services.


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