Design human security into your agroecological transformation

In fragile settings, ecological restoration and transitions to nature-positive resource management require organisation to program holistically.

All around the world, people talk about agroecology these days. Agroecology refers to the application of ecological principles to agriculture and rangeland management. It is often considered a science, a social movement and a practice. While practices informed by agroecology are becoming the new normal, particularly for NGOs and some farmer movements, it only gradually moves into fragile and risk-prone areas. Climate change takes a harsh toll on these areas, with rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall patterns. Time for organisations working with agroecology in risk-prone settings to build a human security dimension into their strategy. Because the two are tightly linked.

Agroecology has the potential to enhance human security in several ways. By promoting sustainable and resilient farming practices, agroecology can help ensure a more sustainable food supply and thus encase food security. It reduces farmers’ dependence on external inputs such as mineral fertilisers and synthetic pesticides. In times of increasing energy costs, that’s quite critical. And agroecology contributes to preserving biodiversity and natural resource health. Both are critical to the long-term sustainability of agricultural systems. Finally, agroecology pursues a rights-based approach, including support for food rights. All these impact areas have human security implications.

What now is human security that agroecology supports? In 1996, UNDP spearheaded the institutionalisation of ‘human security’ as a concept within the United Nations (UN). But only in 2012, the General Assembly resolution 66/290 agreed on a standard definition — and defined human security as a multidimensional concept that seeks to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment. The concept goes beyond traditional notions of national security, which focus on protecting states from external military threats. Human security is based on the recognition that there are interconnected threats to individuals and communities, including but not limited to violent conflict, poverty, disease, environmental degradation, and food insecurity.

Human security is closely linked to other aspects such as food security, environmental security, and climate security (although the latter is frequently defined negatively). These aspects of security are interconnected. One security aspect (such as environmental security) can positively or negatively impact other aspects of security (such as food security).

In fragile settings, human security is particularly relevant to people. People in these environments across the Horn of Africa work under stress. There is financial stress as well as food-related stress. People in fragile settings rely on rainfall for their crops, and the more frequent and severe droughts and floods are, the higher the likelihood of crop failure. This, in turn, makes it challenging to maintain livelihoods and meet the basic needs of their families. Not knowing where to get food for the household is a psychological burden for people. Stress changes decision-making patterns dramatically.

When stress becomes chronic, decisions skew to address immediate needs. At the same time, ensuring human security is a precondition for communities to fully engage with agroecology principles and thus benefit from improved resilience. This means addressing underlying issues such as poverty, inequality, and conflict, which can hinder people’s ability to adopt sustainable farming practices and benefit from them. It also means recognising the cultural and social contexts in which farming takes place and respecting the rights of local communities to make decisions about their agricultural practices.

And there is one more thing: While the agroecology principles can potentially improve human security, they can also pose challenges and risks that can negatively impact human security. For example, adopting new agroecology practices may require significant investments, such as labour and finance and cause trade-offs when resources are limited. This can pose challenges for households, who typically lack the necessary resources or technical expertise, leading to marginalisation and exclusion.

Design for human security

Agriculture and pastoralism are not only sources of food and income for millions of people but also a means of building resilience, promoting peace, and addressing the root causes of conflict and insecurity. Organisations promoting agroecology and practitioners can take several steps to build a human security perspective into their programs supporting agroecology.

Being human security aware: Organisations involved in agricultural development must effectively promote the well-being and dignity of individuals and communities. This implies recognising that individuals can be vulnerable to a range of threats that can undermine their well-being and security and taking steps to address these threats in a holistic and integrated manner.

Conduct a human security analysis: Before embarking on an agroecology project, conduct a comprehensive analysis of the challenges facing the communities they work with. This analysis should consider factors such as economic conditions, social structures, environmental risks, and public health concerns.

Collaborate with social protection programs: Work with social protection programs to identify and support vulnerable farmers at risk of food insecurity or other forms of economic instability. This can involve linking farmers to safety nets, such as cash transfers, food aid, or health insurance, to help mitigate risks and provide a safety net during times of crisis.

Link to early warning/early action systems: Link with early warning systems to monitor and respond to emerging human security threats. This can involve working with government agencies or local organisations to establish early warning systems that track weather patterns, crop yields, and other critical food security indicators. In addition, develop early action plans that outline how they will respond to emerging threats, such as drought or crop failures, in a timely and effective manner.

Prototype risk mitigation strategies such as climate services can be essential to building human security and resilience among communities practising agroecology.

Towards a human security mindset

Instilling a human security mindset into your organisation involves a shift in the organisation’s approach, culture, and values to prioritise human security concerns and embed them in the organisation’s mission and practices. Here are some steps that can help develop a human security mindset in an organisation:

To develop a human security mindset, your teams need to have a clear understanding of what human security is and why it matters. This can involve learning about the different dimensions of human security, such as economic, environmental, political, and social, and how they relate to the organisation’s mission and work.

Assess your organisation’s current practices to identify areas where human security considerations are already being incorporated and areas where they are not. This helps identify gaps and opportunities for improvement.

Develop policies and procedures incorporating human security considerations into the organisation’s practices. This can involve developing guidelines and standards for conducting assessments, implementing interventions, and monitoring and evaluating impacts on human security.