Resilience in family farming

Nils Ferrand

How would you describe ‘resilience’ in the context of family farming?

Resilience in the context of family farming is the capacity of a farming household to maintain or ensure the recovery of  own self-specified vital and structural features while facing various external changes or hazards. These ‘features’  any common desire expressed by members of a family as to what they want to keep on being and doing.  resilience builds on basic human needs and rights, it emphasises three sensitive issues.

First, the criteria for resilience are normative, family specific and socially defined. Resilience is not a predefined feature or a universal capacity. When supported, each family can formulate a different set of expectations and boundaries.  families may prefer the risk of emigrating as a unit, and keep its group integrity, instead of sending someone abroad for remittances. Others may value family or faith more than increasing their income. So resilience can never be a generic  imposed from outside. It strongly reflects the autonomy of families.

Second, resilience is conservative and  potentially . Improving resilience at one level can decrease it at another. A family is a complex group of individuals whose life, internal power relations and history vary. Age, gender and ethnic affect people’s individual positions and  with regard to resilience. The definition of resilience according to the family patriarch typically diverges from that of  and youth. The effort and pain involved in coping with hard times is usually not equally distributed either. In some  ‘shocks’ affecting family resilience (in the usual sense) may actually transform the whole  system and improve  – and so ultimately generate a more systemic, fair and sustainable kind of resilience.

Third, resilience is an adaptive and a process about adaptation. Resilience builds on the procedural, cognitive, cultural, relational, socially normalised of  groups to reflect and transform themselves: they need to learn how to establish clear boundaries (equity and aims) and decide which options to pursue. This is true for individuals in families, for families in communities, and for villages in regions.

What role do ICTs play in enabling greater resilience in family farming?

The most important thing to note is that ICTs do not simply refer to computers and digital networks. The European HarmoniCOP project on tools for public participation, which took place from 2002 to 2005, strongly argued that technologies’ are not limited to digital technologies. Other technological artefacts (such as maps, 3D mock-ups, games,  sensors, paper boards and post-its, the abacus, to name a few) are commonly used or extended for the needs of and communication. Some of them have their own transformative capacity and features like computation, rendering and interactivity. This is of course especially relevant for contexts where computer-based ICTs are less common or available because of a lack of finance or access to power.

The potential role of ICTs is directly linked to what information means to people in terms of their social, natural and cultural environments. And the use of ICTs shapes individuals’ thinking, preferences and actions. ICTs are mainly a kind of ‘partner’ and not a ‘source’ of information.

So when thinking of resilience, you have to consider people and their families in their environment, what motivates their decision making and actions, and how the use of ICTs by other ‘information partners’ will affect them. It’s also an ethical question, because the people who design and distribute ICTs tend to simplify or minimise their impact and restrict them to providing information. ICTs can have an impact in so many ways. They can directly shape a biophysical environment. They bring information to places where it was not available before.

ICTs can be used for data collection and archiving. They can process information and create conditions for interaction and communication. Virtual tests can be conducted through ICTs to see what the impact of choices would be. ICTs are support tools for establishing agreements and conventions, as well as for monitoring and evaluation purposes. And they are important for successfully setting up and running small businesses, including family farms.

Of course, we mustn’t forget the fun and pleasure element of ICTs, either, which is one of their most common uses. Through ICTs, people frequently use digital social media to attract aid or attention, and to support the coordination of collective action.

In what areas could ICTs enable greater resilience in family farming?

I can think of at least five areas. First, there’s time economy. This impact is an obvious one. By transferring information, ICTs can replace the need to move and travel (and also change social ties). The time saved can be huge. I have experienced it in Africa when invitations were brought to their recipients by drivers.

A second one is access to resources, including material and immaterial resources (such as skills, power and systemic intelligence). ICTs can help people to cope with complexity and provide them with access to more decision options, though this also brings with it the risk of information overflow and loss of focus. ICTs can also play an important role in alerting families to potential hazards.

Third, ICTs can promote social interaction. Most social structures (social networks in the traditional pre-Facebook sense) are pre-existing ones that are mainly facilitated by electronic networks. But in the world of ICTs, there are alternative ways of exploring and coordinating social commitment. It opens minds and paves the way for new coalitions. It should be noted that the ICT model of socialisation will impose itself on the ‘normal’ social content and protocols.

A fourth area is the potential for ICTs to envision different scenarios (and boundaries) for the future and what their consequences would be, especially in terms of participation, which promotes acceptance and commitment. With a dynamic vision of resilience, ICTs should play a key role in the adaptive capacity of families, as well as their ability to enforce change and empower themselves in terms of evolution.

Fifth, ICTs can have an impact on social justice and the limiting conditions of resilience. ICTs are not always equally available. If ICTs are fairly designed, however, they can have much more local relevance and improve the ‘capabilities’ of family farms (in the sense of Amartya Sen’s capability approach). And since their cost is gradually decreasing, ICTs are opening up new areas of activity in an increasing number of countries. ICTs can reshape the way people think, allowing them to break out of the norm, whether political or religious. And they can shift the balance of power in family circles and communities regarding information.

It should be added that ICTs cannot directly change the physical and political conditions of families in the face of international market prices, wars or local oppression. They do generate social change, however, which in the long term certainly can impact on resilience. Knowing also that, following the discussion above, it can also reduce the resilience of some for the benefits of others.

How can ICTs help family farmers, especially resource-poor family farmers, to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change? 

First of all, I’ll leave aside the obvious statements about early alert systems and coordination.

Adapting to climate change involves the combined capacity of farmers and their environment, including the policy context. Since we don’t really know much about real future events, social restructuring is a key issue because it can potentially lead to an adaptive society. A real adaptive society is a radical transformative concept and often goes against the power establishment.

Farmers, their communities, their regional authorities, should assess and formulate conditions together for mutually beneficial actions, and they should especially address the most crucial uncertainty about climate change (not whether temperatures will rise by 2°c or 4°c), which is the global social response. And the response is in the response, so to speak. It is precisely the process of addressing adaptation and organising dialogues on strategies, conditions and policies that will generate a social response.

Climate change is not some pre-existing given somewhere. It’s a social construct. This observation is not relativist. Floods will kill, and dikes will be too low – by 10 cm, not 5cm. A combination of knowledge is required, and the arbitration of truth is an absolute requirement for potential ICT solutions, as long as institutions support them.

What constraints are there in using ICTs to promote resilience in family farming, and how can they be overcome?

There are several constraints, such as literacy, access to energy, the high cost of acquiring ICTs or ICT-related services and linguistic and cultural barriers. There is too much of a focus on non-crucial issues, such as ICT programs, though there are solutions to some of these problems. ICTs can be designed so they can be used by illiterate people. People with poor access to energy can be given autonomous devices for electricity. The costs of tools and services can certainly be brought down. People working in agriculture should be encouraged to design ICTs themselves so that they suit local needs.

How can ICTs bring more resilience to family farming in the future?

ICTs can pragmatically support all forms of participation related to resilience. There are several steps that could be taken to promote participation. Local ICT academies can be built to support the design of ICT tools that suit local needs. It’s also important to create a culture in which different sectors work together and develop a model that is compatible across these sectors. We also need to change our data-driven way of thinking about solutions. We need to work on processes, workflows and procedures. It’s also important that we take into account different perspectives and points of view so that we can integrate them technically. 

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.