Marginal farmers tend to live in areas that are exposed to hazards such as flood, drought, earthquakes and frosts, see our work on disaster risk reduction here. These hazards mean that vulnerable families are prone to shocks and stresses and the poorest are often unable to cope and slip further into poverty due to the lack of resources at their disposal. For agricultural livelihoods the impacts of floods and droughts are worsened by unsustainable development such as deforestation, political tensions and land degradation from fertilizers or intensive cropping. Increasingly, conflict arises over the competition of scare resources and access to pasture and water. The livelihoods of marginal and small holder farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists are prone to these hazards and stresses and when hazards do occur they are forced to take desperate measures such as selling off their assets for example tool or animals which they need to survive and earn an income in the long run. This undermines their future recovery and each shock can drive them further into poverty. Climate change is also important to agricultural livelihoods as it further intensifies hazards such as floods, droughts and storms as well as adding more stresses on existing production systems due to gradual temperature and precipitation changes.
In order to overcome the above vulnerabilities, Practical Action works with communities to ensure they have access to information about changes in weather so that they can prepare for extreme weather conditions as well as adapt their livelihoods to longer term climate change. We also work with communities to raise awareness and capacities to deal with this change in an empowering way. In other words, Practical Action is working with rural people to build their resilience. Resilience refers to the ability of a system, community or society to resist, absorb, cope with and recover from the effects of hazards and adapt to longer term changes in a timely and efficient manner without undermining food security or wellbeing. We therefore work with agricultural producers to build their capacity to endure shocks and stresses in the agricultural cycle and bounce back. Building resilience means adopting a holistic approach, where production, income generation, infrastructure, awareness and skill development are practiced side by side and where experimentation and adaptive capacities are encouraged so that farmers can be empowered to deal with problems and injustices. Download our 'From Vulnerability to Resilience' handbook here.
Practical Action’s work is geared towards these problems that farmers face and in turn we have developed our vision for food and agriculture, which can be equated to ‘sustainable resource use through appropriate technologies from which smaller scale providers gain viable livelihoods providing adequate, healthy and sufficient food for the benefit of both producers and consumers’. This vision reflects widely shared values including those of the small-scale food providers themselves. It is also a vision that contrasts sharply with today’s world, in which a billion people go hungry and a similar number are otherwise malnourished. Practical Action’s values - justice, sustainability, diversity, democracy, empowerment - describe the fundamental components that need to be in place if the vision is to be achieved.