Enhancing the resilience of most vulnerable groups in Ethiopia and Somaliland

Young men such as Tesfaye in Ethiopia, and Mahmoud in Somaliland, and their friends are amongst the most vulnerable groups in their countries and were hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Tesfaye comes from the highlands in Ethiopia, has no secure access to income and was sent by his family 500 kms away to the sesame growing areas in Humera to do manual labour on sesame farms. One mouth less to feed. Tesfaye was not lucky; as casual labourer he depends on farmers picking up cheap labour along the roadside. The COVID crisis affected sesame production, and there was civil war in Tigray. Tesfaye hardly earned his daily meal.

Mahmoud comes from a pastoral community. Regular droughts and overgrazing eroded subsistence in pastoralism and agriculture. Civil strife in Somaliland decreased education and alternative job opportunities. Mahmoud migrated to town - again, one mouth less to feed for the family – where he searches for “piecejobs”. COVID-19 made his search even more difficult.

Both young men migrated to greener pastures that turned out to be rather barren, eroded by crisis upon crisis. They are amongst the most vulnerable in Africa, and one wonders what can be done to enhance their resilience to face daily reality.

With that context in mind a research started at Wageningen University to assess impact of shocks such as COVID-19 on the most vulnerable groups of people, anticipated to suffer even more. The research assignment developed three methodologies that allows both academic as well as support organisations to better understand how vulnerable groups in society respond to crisis and what room there is to enhance their resilience. These methodologies were tested in two case studies: migrant labourers in the sesame sector in Ethiopia, jobless migrant youth from pastoral communities in Somaliland). Concepts and methodologies are described in six reports that to a large extent build on to each other (see figure 1).

  1. In their paper “Enhancing the resilience of those most vulnerable to (food) system shocks – Clarifying and unpacking key concepts”, Seerp Wigboldus and Judith Jacobs (Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation) make an inventory of how literature defines concepts such as vulnerability, resilience, shocks, risks and system functions.
  2. Having clarified the concepts, both authors developed a research framework and methodology to better understand the context in which Tesfaye and Mahmoud find themselves in: “Enhancing the resilience of those most vulnerable to (food) system shocks – Towards a sense-making framework and assessment methodology”.
  3. Nina de Roo (Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation) and Jan van der Lee (Wageningen Livestock research) consulted people such as Tesfaye and Mahmoud to test the research methodology: “Exploring vulnerability and resilience from a multifaceted and systemic perspective – Case studies in Ethiopia and Somaliland”
  4. Cor Wattel, Marcel van Asseldonk (Wageningen Economic Research) and Monika Sopov (Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation) explored how responsible finance options can support the most vulnerable in becoming more resilient to shocks; and developed a rapid assessment methodology to explore responsible finance options for a specific target group in a specific context: the “Finance for Resilience Tool – FORTE”
  5. The same authors tested the FORTE tool by speaking to organisations who know young men such as Tesfaye and Mahmoud, and reported in their paper “Responsible finance for vulnerable groups under COVID-19”.
  6. In the paper “Analysing the resilience of food systems with scenario analyses and reverse stress tests – concepts and an application on the Ethiopian sesame value chain”, Hubert Fonteijn (Wageningen Biometris) and Jim Groot & Xuezhen Guo (Wageningen Food and Biobased Research) describe how modelling-based stress-testing and reverse stress-testing methodologies might be relevant for high shock, and low predictability food systems, in this case specifically related to the labour price negotiations between Tesfaye and his temporary employers.

The above findings were synthesized in “Enhancing the resilience of those most vulnerable to (food) system shocks – Synthesis paper”.

The research that took place between October 2020 and March 2021 was funded by the Wageningen University & Research "Food Security and Valuing Water programme" that is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The authors truly hope that the research findings provide new insights for support organisations that in turn support young people such as Tesfaye and Mahmoud to enhance their resilience to the crises they face at a daily basis.