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Uncovering seasonality

Unpredictable rainfall makes it increasingly difficult for farmers to plan their cropping cycles (Annie Bungeroth /Oxfam)
Unpredictable rainfall makes it increasingly difficult for farmers to plan their cropping cycles
Annie Bungeroth /Oxfam

Seasonality is often overlooked. Every year about 600 million people suffer from seasonal hunger, when the previous year's harvest stocks have decreased, food prices are high and jobs are scarce. But in many cases these events are treated as one-off emergencies. In addition, issues have emerged in recent decades, such as HIV and AIDS and climate change, impacting seasonality quite profoundly. For example, HIV incident rates are fuelled by food insecurity, while AIDS-related sickness and death exacerbates food insecurity. Climate change is also having a dramatic effect, as farmers from across the world report that seasons are changing, becoming more extreme and unpredictable.

At the recent Seasonality Revisited conference at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK, a wide range of participants met to reflect, review and propose ideas to help in the fight against seasonal poverty and hunger. Participants offered New Agriculturist their Points of view.

Opportunity or constraint?

The seasons are changing; they are becoming more extreme. Wet seasons are becoming wetter, rainfall more intense, and dry seasons are becoming longer, so effectively the growing season for crops is becoming shorter. It's always been difficult, but there is even greater uncertainty now. Farmers can't fix on a certain date for planting and sowing or even for harvesting.
John Magrath, Programme Researcher for Oxfam GB

Storage enables farmers to hold on to their food and keep it safe from spoilage and pests (WRENmedia)
Storage enables farmers to hold on to their food and keep it safe from spoilage and pests

I look at seasonality as an opportunity. If farmers can really keep their produce and sell at the time when the demand is high and the supply is low, then they can really fetch a lot of money and improve their livelihoods.
Tennyson Magombo, Bunda College of Agriculture, University of Malawi

We need to first of all recognise the constraints or the limitations that it may impose and then seek to turn them into opportunities. I think we have done a lot on the former. I think we understand it, we describe it, we analyse it, but in terms of actually seizing opportunities to change what is done in practice by policymakers, I think there is still a big gap.
Stuart Gillespie, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

It's a constraint in the sense that seasonality can affect the way that people are able to respond to new variables like climate change, and can ratchet people down into further poverty. But it's also an opportunity as we see with pastoralists making use of variable rainfall and variable resources on a seasonal basis.
Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

In Peru, seasonality, especially the dry season, is a constraint for producers of Alpaca wool. Basically, the animals do not have anything to eat and that forces producers sometimes to migrate to other areas and leave women and children in charge of other animals.
Cecilia Turin, Doctoral student, University of Missouri, USA

Coping with seasonality

Families are often forced to sell their assets to smooth their consumption (WRENmedia)
Families are often forced to sell their assets to smooth their consumption

People often sell the few assets that they have to smooth their consumption. There are times when children also drop out of school. I would say it is really not coping but survival strategies.
Lydia Ndirangu, Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis

The coping strategies, usually for both the urban areas and the rural areas, would be reduction in the food items that they eat and also the quality of food.
Miniva Chibuye, Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, Zambia

I think there are various ways in which people cope, but in Zimbabwe their coping mechanism has been undermined by multiple shocks and stresses, particularly HIV/AIDS, droughts, and social and political crises.
Josphat Mushongah, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

Social justice or social protection?

Women are unable to migrate and their workload increases, the incidence of disease increases, their responsibility increases, their ill-being increases and their children suffer a lot. The women-headed households and the elderly women suffer a lot. So this is the time when they need safety nets and social protection.
Dr. Neela Mukherjee, Action researcher and practitioner, India

Seasonality is not just a technical problem that is amenable to technocratic solutions. It's become an issue of social justice and it requires not just safety nets and market interventions and fertiliser and irrigation. It requires mobilisation and advocacy and a rights agenda, because we shouldn't have hungry seasons, we shouldn't have seasonal malnutrition, it should be gone, but its not, it's still with us. And that is not a technical problem; it's a political problem of social justice.
Stephen Devereux, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

Social protection programmes, such as school meals, can help to support families during the hunger season (WFP/Rein Skullerud)
Social protection programmes, such as school meals, can help to support families during the hunger season
WFP/Rein Skullerud

Seasonality is a major problem, but solutions are not essentially seasonal, because I think the problem is less seasonality per se but the socio-economic injustice structures that come up against seasonality. We've got to combine assistance to farmers at the right times, boost funding for agricultural research that really meets farmers' needs, but mix that with the social protection agenda. I think that farmers, in the light of greater uncertainty, need more certainty in their lives in the form of a predictable income that all people should get.
John Magrath, Oxfam

Public policies should provide adequate responses to seasonality. One response could be diversification of activities and means of income available to the poor. For example, engaging in industrial production in the seasons where agricultural activity is not possible due to weather conditions, and also diversification of staple foods such as introducing new cultures that are more robust to the extreme weather conditions.
Sergiy Radyakin, Consultant, DECRG, World Bank

Time to raise the profile

Issues such as climate change, HIV and AIDS and social protection have all emerged in recent decades, and this has changed seasonality quite profoundly. But policymakers haven't caught up with these changing agendas and seasonality is still neglected.
Stephen Devereux, IDS

You need good strong technical advisors that work with government. We've been working with very high level people and getting right through and influencing policies, providing indicators for policies, generally supporting and helping government to make the decisions that they need to make to look after their people.
Charles Rethman, Technical Advisor, SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Programme

Flooding puts lives and livelihoods at risk (Scott Wallace /World Bank)
Flooding puts lives and livelihoods at risk
Scott Wallace /World Bank

One thing which policymakers can do is to go to villages and see for themselves how poor people are coping with seasonality and to go in the hunger seasons, the wet seasons, and even the dry seasons, and see for themselves what they can do in terms of policymaking.
Dr. Neela Mukherjee, India

In policy terms, if we take seasonality seriously, we can link debates about climate change with basic concerns about poverty and livelihoods, and I think that's a real opportunity in the policy sense.
Ian Scoones, IDS

In Bangladesh, the contribution of the media is playing a very important role. By mobilising real stories, policymakers are attracted to the issues.
Ahmad Salahuddin, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Bangladesh

Next steps

First we have to somehow agree on an intervention framework, which technically shouldn't be a problem because we know the solutions. Secondly, we have to nominate some kind of apparatus, a leader for acute malnutrition and hunger. There needs to be more recognition that this all takes time, and while this takes time we have to address short term needs with emergency responses.
Samuel Hauenstein Swan, Action Against Hunger

We've got to understand how climate change will impact seasonality. Climate change is essentially unpredictability; it's the creation of more chaos within existing seasonal structures rather than the replacement of existing seasons with something different. Research in climate change has to go hand in hand with research on seasonality, and vice versa.
John Magrath, Oxfam

We need to implement social programmes that run throughout the year, not just targeting the particular season when the poor have difficulties, because once you provide predictable assistance to the poor they will make decisions that best suit their situation.
Ephraim Chirwa, Professor of Economics, Chancellor College, University of Malawi

Climate change is having a dramatic effect, as farmers report that seasons are becoming more extreme and unpredictable (Neil Palmer /CIAT)
Climate change is having a dramatic effect, as farmers report that seasons are becoming more extreme and unpredictable
Neil Palmer /CIAT

Proper accounting and measuring of seasonal effects and climate change is very important. If the policymakers and stakeholders can see the costs and benefits of accounting for seasonality then they can realise all of the value.
Sergiy Radyakin, World Bank

We need to research rural to urban migration, and understand what the patterns of this migration are and how seasonal migration impacts household livelihoods.
Ding Shijun, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, China

The real trick and the real challenge has been to make sure that seasonal understanding gets translated in such a way that decision makers can use it. Information is difficult for decision makers to digest and especially difficult for them to programme around. So we've been developing tools that make it possible to communicate this kind of information in sound-bite terms, in ways that have direct programming and policy relevance.
Tanya Boudreau, Consultant, Food Economy Group, USA

Date published: September 2009


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