Necessity breeds opportunity: Why the longest lasting resilience solutions are grassroots led

In our experience, necessity breeds opportunity. The most vulnerable communities are often the ones who are at greatest risk of the effects of changing climates and economies. Local communities deal with these complex challenges every day, giving them unique knowledge of the nuances required to overcome them. We know that we need to harness these insights to be successful.

For 35 years, the U.S. African Development Foundation has been supporting and funding African-led grassroots enterprises that promote economic resilience. In a changing economic, social and environmental landscape, we focus on supporting local producers because we’ve seen that the longest-lasting solutions are those developed at the grassroots level.

As part of this, we’ve invested in community enterprises that empower local smallholders to develop their own methods for adapting to shocks and stressors and safeguarding their investments. This is something we’ve seen to be particularly effective in the agriculture sector.

Year after year, agriculturally-based enterprises show themselves to be a major growth opportunity for those in marginalized communities. In Zambia for example, USADF works with women’s groups who have come together to grow and market their groundnut production. Through USADF funding, groundnut processing equipment has enabled these women to turn their crops into cooking oil. By-products from the milling operations generates protein-rich food for local animal feed, while the oil is much prized by members to meet their own food security needs and satisfies local market demand.

We’ve also worked with farmers to introduce climate smart agricultural practices, such as focusing on drought resistant groundnut seed. These types of locally-led innovations have increased food security in communities while improving the income stability of households.

These examples show that when we listen to and work with local entrepreneurs and communities we can make vulnerable people resilient to the challenges ahead. Without improving communities’ ability to prepare, recover, and adapt to increasingly severe droughts, flooding and extreme weather events, much of the hard won entrepreneurial successes and economic growth we’ve seen on the continent could be lost. And while these are significant issues to overcome, some of the answers already exist – but we need to listen and support them.