Tuesday 6
Participation and scale: stories of resilience and development in rural systems
Laura Schmitt Olabisi
› 11:35 - 12:30 (55min)
Participatory frameworks for enhancing rural food security and community resilience
Robert Richardson  1@  
1 : Department of Community Sustainability, Michigan State University

Participatory action research can be instrumental for identifying resilience strategies that are adaptable to different ecological, economic, and social conditions. The systems-based approach allows for the consideration of multiple scales and feedbacks among household, community, and regional interactions. In rural villages in Lindi District, in southern Tanzania, most households grow maize for their own food consumption, and rice and sesame for sale to markets. Despite access to fertile land, agricultural production is low given lack of appropriate technology, unavailability of agricultural inputs, and challenges of market access. Increased climate variability is likely to escalate the vulnerability of smallholder farmers. Lindi District is located about 70 km from urbanized regions where natural gas deposits have been recently discovered, and the urban population is expected to grow with economic development. Urbanization is likely to create significant social and economic change throughout the region, including a transformation of food systems. In Lindi District, farmers may be able to take advantage of an expanding market by diversifying and intensifying cropping systems to meet the demands of a growing urban population. However, weak land tenure systems and poorly defined property rights leave rural smallholders vulnerable to loss of farmland access. Furthermore, young people may be attracted to cities for employment, leaving fewer people in rural areas to work in agriculture. The issue is complicated further by significant uncertainty with regard to the pace of economic development, changing patterns of consumer demand, the availability of inputs and other resources, and the implications of climate change. 

Rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa face numerous challenges and opportunities in an environment characterized by ongoing economic, ecological, and social change at multiple scales. This discussion aims to examine how a participatory research framework can be used to address a complex community-scale problem. An interdisciplinary group of researchers at Michigan State University is involved a long-term collaborative alliance of local and international organizations dedicated to improving local livelihoods and enhancing community resilience by engaging in new forms of social learning and problem solving with communities by promoting participation and civic engagement. The framework of the approach is participatory action research for food systems innovation, involving smallholder farmers, researchers, agricultural extension officers, and community members in an attempt to use social learning for adaptation to change. A key feature of effective participatory research is an iterative process with assessment and co-learning that involves all stakeholders. The objectives are to integrate scientific and local knowledge for improved decision-making about community resilience and to build capacity for rural communities to adapt and prosper in the face of economic change. These issues raise several questions about strategies to promote social-ecological resilience in rural communities. How can a participatory research framework be used to identify strategies for adaptation to exogenous change at the community scale? Under what conditions can community members collaborate effectively in decision-making, given high levels of uncertainty?

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