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Making Resilience More than a Buzzword

How do we build resilience?

Take Ethiopia. With its impressive development gains in areas like health and education and sustained, double-digit GDP growth, Ethiopia is a high-performing development partner in a host of sectors such as health, education, and food security. Average life expectancy has increased by 16 years since 2003. School enrollment has gone up by 157 percent since 2000. Such rapid gains certainly contribute to resilience and USAID programs, in alignment with Government of Ethiopia efforts, have played a significant role in supporting those gains.

Yet, there are currently more than 16.5 million Ethiopians in need of food assistance (8 million of which are chronically food insecure). Ethiopia’s lowland regions are suffering from a massive drought which has devastated livestock and livelihoods throughout the region. This drought hit just as other areas of the country are recovering from the 2015-2016 El Niño-caused drought — Ethiopia’s worst drought in 50 years. Worse than 1984, when famine killed more than a million Ethiopians.

Thanks to a massive humanitarian response, led by Ethiopia with the U.S. as the biggest contributor, the 2015-2016 drought did not lead to famine. This year, while livestock have died in the millions, it looks like famine will be averted. But it is not just generous U.S. humanitarian support that is saving lives — it is also the resilience built up through years of joint development work.

Through Feed the Future partnerships, including one with American company Dupont Pioneer, more than 430,000 maize farmers have seen massive increases in their yields and incomes by using improved seeds. Other partnerships are helping producers create fortified cereals which provide children with the nutrients they need, and have helped establish an export slaughterhouse in Ethiopia’s Somali region, providing a reliable market for the region’s pastoralists and directly creating more than 100 jobs. Yet another is teaching pastoralists smarter herd management, while also helping families gain the skills they need to pursue other livelihoods.

Over the last two decades, our work has supported health systems, an economy which has grown and created alternative livelihoods to farming, and schools which have given this generation the skillsets to work in that economy. All of these efforts contribute to resilience.

In fact, in 2016, we found that communities in Ethiopia’s lowlands that were reached by comprehensive USAID resilience programs were better able to maintain their food security status during the drought than other communities.

With such development gains, why are 8.5 million people still hungry? For one, there are more people living in Ethiopia today than there were in 1984, with nearly 70 percent under 30 years old. All fertile land is already being used, and with recurring droughts and this growth, there is neither enough farmland nor grazing land to carry on business as usual.

Building resilience requires change. Recognizing that a youth bulge can only become a youth dividend if jobs are available, the Government is pushing light manufacturing as the future for Ethiopia’s economy. The economy also needs to diversify. The private sector needs more space. Meanwhile, farming and livestock practices need to become more efficient, and water must be better utilized.

Feed the Future is working with Ethiopia’s main agricultural value chains to drive efficiency from field to fork and help people diversify how they make a living. Building resilience also requires the same holistic approach. We know households reached with comprehensive resilience programs do better than those reached by only one activity and the same holds true for countries. Through coordinated efforts, we can ensure resilience is not just a buzzword, but a guiding principle of Feed the Future.

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