Director of Research and Impact, Richie Alford, highlights the result of what has been a very exciting week for Send a Cow. Having recently launched our first report onto how our work helps to build resilience, Richie explains what this really means for people on the ground.

Some years ago, Alemu Buka gave up on his tiny plot of land in the southern highlands of Ethiopia and moved away to seek work. It’s what millions of people do in Africa: challenges such as environmental degradation, natural disasters and conflict leave them believing they will find a better future elsewhere.

What’s unusual about Alemu’s story is that he came back – and now he’s thriving. Thanks to the skills he’s learnt from Send a Cow, plus his own innovation, he’s growing more than 70 crop varieties on his steeply sloping plot, making money, and educating his children.

   Alemu and his wife, Bekelech, photographed with four of their seven children

Alemu’s story features in our new report, Building Resilience, which we launched in London last week. The report is based on two independent studies that we commissioned: one explores how our work enables farmers to build their resilience to climate shocks and stresses; and the other examines the importance of Send a Cow’s practice of working with farmers in self-help groups.

The findings validate our work – and give us direction for development. They show that although Send a Cow has never explicitly set out to build farmers’ resilience, its holistic, knowledge-intensive programmes go a long way to doing so. The following aspects are key:

  • Smallholder farmers build their capacity across the board – learning skills that benefit them socially, financially and environmentally. 
  • Men and women work together, sharing burdens and benefits.
  • Through their membership of self-help groups, families gain support, encouragement, and collective clout. In fact, 55% say their group bounces back stronger from a shock, as members redouble their efforts and put into practice Send a Cow lessons they had hitherto ignored.
  • They could become further resilient by building links in their wider community – using their invaluable skills to become leaders.

Last week’s launch event in London featured presentations by one of the authors of the climate shock research, Richard Lamboll of the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich; and Send a Cow Ethiopia senior extension expert Mesfin Abebe. The event was rounded off with a lively Q&A session with the engaged audience.

   By diversifying his crops, Alemu has been able to protect his family from shocks

But perhaps the stars of the show were Alemu and a Ugandan farmer, Jane Apollot Emulai, who demonstrated in a video the innovative measures that have allowed their farms and families to flourish. For as our weather patterns become more extreme, and smallholder families become ever more vulnerable, it is crucial that we listen to and learn from the people who know best: the farmers themselves.