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You are here: Home Magazines Global edition Coping with disaster

Coping with disaster

last modified Jan 16, 2015 10:12 AM

Besides more normal fluctuations in production conditions, many farmers have to cope with high impact hazards like droughts, floods, storms, earthquakes, epidemic diseases, war or economic crisis. There are also hazards such as HIV/AIDS, Global Warming, and globalization that build up more gradually leading, eventually, to disasters with no less serious impacts.

We consider the ability of farmers to deal with disturbances and hazards by preventing and minimising losses and mitigating disaster to ensure food availability and sustain the agricultural production system. As we shall show, farmers have developed many strategies to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the impact of minor disturbances and hazards.

Table of contents:

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    Besides more normal fluctuations in production conditions, many farmers have to cope with high impact hazards like droughts, floods, storms, earthquakes, epidemic diseases, war or economic crisis. These hazards make farming a risky activity and can become disasters resulting in loss of housing, stored food, crops, animals, or even personal injury or death. Throughout this issue, we use the word \"resilience\" in a broad sense, refering to the capacuty of farmers (and other members of a community or society) to deal with disturbances and hazards by preventing and minimising losses and mitigating disaster to ensure food availability and sustain the agricultural production system.
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    Nepalese farmers in risky conditions developed various strategies – technical, economical, social and spiritual – to secure food and health. This resilience capacity is being seriously threatened due to changing conditions, opportunities and needs, which is forcing farmers to develop new strategies. The authors discuss the old and new strategies and point at the responsibility of development professionals in enabling farmers to improve their resilience capacity through location specific participatory action research.
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    Drought is a common phenomenon in the Southern region of the African continent and Zimbabwe is no exception. Based there, the Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources, SAFIRE, is a collaborative initiative of several local and international NGOs, grassroots development agencies, government institutions and individual that assits rural communities in managing their natural resource base. SAFIRE plays a pivotal role inth eimplementation of drought mitigation and preparedness initiatives in Southern Africa.
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    The farmers of the savannahs in the Western Lowlands of Eritrea have survived the variation and stresses of their hostile environment through developing a flexible farming system involving a mix of crops and animals. They are traditionally viewed by the outside world as semi-nomadic herders and opportunistic farmers. This article shows that they are also dependent on a third strand of the farming system: the management, collection and processing of forest products. This is always important, but never more so than when disaster strikes.
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    In the crisis years of the 1980s, parts of Ethiopia survived famine due to the utilisation of enset in subsistence farming. Also known as "false banana", this tree helps to feed about ten million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Enset-based systems are among the most sustainable indigenous farming systems in Africa.
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    In Jebel Muoya, in the Blue Nile area of Sudan, a survey mande clear that the socio-economy of matmuras -undergraound storage pits for sorghum- should be understood as a banking alternative. Subsistence farmers have used matmuras as a safety device for food secutiry. Each can hold 2 to 10 tonnes of grain. Farmers depend on the grain stored to take care of the high cash needs at the beginning of the planting season.
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    Aid agencies can do a lot to help farmers become productive again after a major crisis, but it is the spirit, ingenuity and effort of the farmers themselves that should be celebrated more. Examples from East Africa demostrate how creative partnerships between humanitarian organisations and farming families can transform devastation into prosperity, and even \"drought-proof\" communities.
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    The Women's Empowerment Programme (WEP) started in December 1997 with the aim of empowering 120 000 women from 21 lowland districts in Nepal to increase their roles in household decision-making, increase income for family well-being, and engage in collective action for necessary changes in their communities. This article describes the work of the Kathmandu-based ECTA and its introduction of the Appreciative Planning and Action approach as part of the low cost empowerment package being developed and applied uinder the WEP.
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    Oil palm has been one of the most vigorous agricultural sub-sectors in Indonesia. In 2000, there were more than 3 million hectares growing oil palm in the different islands. The exception is the island of Flores, where the dominant palm is the verstile coconut palm, providing food, drink, oil, medicine, cash, fibre, etc.
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    The methodology and findings of an action research effort to measure and compare the impact of hurricane Mitch on conventionally and agroecologically farmed lands in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala are presented. The study clearly shows the advantages of sustainable agriculture and farmer-led approaches. It also uncovers a policy ceiling to development of sustainable agriculture. The author states that it is due time to translate farmer-to-farmer successes on the ground into broadbased public pressure to influence national policy-makers.
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    Vetiver Grass Technology, VGT, if used to stabilise agricultural land, peri-urban building areas, deforested hillsides, riverbanks, levees and highway embankments, can help to reduce the damage that might occur from high rainfall. Reference to
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    Information presented in the final report from the SAFE-World Research Project, February 2001, "Reducing food poverty with sustainable agriculture", by J. Pretty and R. Hine. University of Essex, U.K.
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    After a decade of civil war, access to a sufficient diversity of seed material is difficult for the small scale rice farmers of Sierra Leone. After many years of attempts to provide planting material through emergency large scale aid distributions, there is now a need for a more subtel approach to supoprt the recovery of local seed stocks and the social networks upon which they depend. This is the main objective of the \"Rescue from the Pot\" project, a joint initiative between local communities and the international NGO Action Against Hunger.
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    As people in civil war ravaged Southern Sudan have had to leave their homes in the face of fighting and famine, seeds have often become scarce and tools have been lost. In response, many mass produced East African hoes have been distributed by relief agencies. These ‘improved’ hoes, however, are not adapted to the specific conditions and needs of the local farmers who have a strong preference for their indigenous tools turned out by local blacksmiths. Roger Sharland discovered that a better way to help these farmers is to distribute quality steel plates, from which the blacksmiths can make the tools to the specifications of the local farmers.
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    The ongoing war in southern Sudan and the widesrpead relief effort has resulted in a growing dependency in many communities on relief food. Agencies are therefore seeking strategies to increase food security through agricultural production.
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    The Lower Guruve area of the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe has not escaped the ravages of HIV/AIDS. Already, more than one third of the families are headed by widows, many of them AIDS widows who, due to shortage of labour, cash and management skills, have great difficulty to continue with conventional agriculture. The experiences of the Zambezi Valley Organic Cotton project, supported by AfFOResT, show that the production of organic cotton, groundnuts and local food crops can contribute considerably to improve the situation of AIDS widows, with less input costs and labour needs, higher profits and more food on the table.
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    Once again, Europe is eengaged in mass killing and destruction of farm animals to keep the livestock industry \"healthy\".
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