Nuru International Agriculture Program’s Approach to Bolstering Resilience of Rural Livelihoods

Nuru International’s work areas in Kenya and Ethiopia are rural agrarian communities in extreme poverty. These communities are vulnerable to risks and uncertainty in many facets of life. This blog recounts Nuru International’s strategy to bolster the resilience of farmers in these communities.

Where Nuru works, farmers’ income is largely derived from small-scale rain-fed agriculture and comes in at harvest time. Crop yields can be diminished or destroyed unexpectedly due to drought, hail or pests. When crops fail, farmers lack food and don’t have the income for essential non-food items. Resultantly, farmers may sell off productive assets, empty their savings, and find themselves buried in debt. It is all too common for an economic shock to wipe out the income that a farmer had planned to use to pay school fees. This further inhibits or eliminates opportunities for their children. In the worst of economic shocks, food stores may run thin or out completely, bringing hunger, malnutrition and disease.

Nuru International’s work in bolstering the resilience of rural livelihoods helps turn the situation around for farmers. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Livelihoods are people’s means of securing the necessities of life. To rephrase, Nuru is improving the capacity of rural people to recover quickly from difficulties. These difficulties threaten their means to secure the necessities of life.

Nuru International has program interventions in Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Healthcare and Education. I will focus primarily on the Agriculture Program and the areas of risk reduction, smart risk taking, risk reserves and risk transfer. This theoretical foundation for understanding risk is credited to the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and their partners. I thank them for inspiring me to write this blog.

Since farming is an inherently risky activity, Nuru adopts a proactive approach to helping farmers build resilience to potential shocks.

  • Risk Reduction: Nuru’s Agriculture Program offers training and extension services to farmers so they can manage their crops more effectively. This means that farmers’ crops grow better and are more resilient to pressures like unfavorable weather or pests. In some scenarios, Nuru adopts additional roles to reduce particular risks. For example, when a fast-spreading crop disease newly came to Kuria in 2013, Nuru Kenya field crews took on an active role in its containment.
  • Smart Risk Taking: Nuru’s Agriculture Programs facilitate farmers’ access to high quality seeds and inputs for the production of a range of crops. These crops are offered with a focus on farmer preference, return on investment (in terms of food security and income), environmental suitability, and drought and pest resistance.
  • Risk Reserves: Nuru’s Agriculture Program coordinates closely with Nuru’s Community Economic Development program, which enables farmers to build up reserves through savings. These reserves can be used to rebound from economic shocks.
  • Risk Transfer: Nuru is working with leading thought partners and innovators in the crop insurance sector. Nuru aspires to offer sustainable solutions for farmers to transfer an appropriate amount of risk in farming to a third-party. This particular area is under development, as is the case generally for the crop insurance sector in developing countries.


Through risk reduction, smart risk taking, risk reserves, and risk transfer, farmers acquire insulation from economic shocks. So when a drought hits and results in crop failure for a farmer, they can bounce back quickly through risk transfer and risk reserves. Nuru farmers are more resilient to economic shocks. They’re better equipped to make the investment of a modest loan and hard work to then reap huge increases in crop yields. Farmers who can confidently invest in their future are better able to prosper in all areas of their life, with improvements in food security, income generation, insulation from economic shocks, health, and educational opportunities.

About Matt Lineal

Chief Program Officer — Matt received his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and a MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University, and began his international service career in rural Honduras, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later with The Nature Conservancy. Over several years punctuated by severe challenges for Hondurans, his experiences were eye opening as to how people navigate the complexities of rural life. Matt was drawn to Nuru International in 2011 with the resolve to take on tough challenges and has been humbled and amazed to be part of the transformational impact of local leaders. As Nuru’s Chief Program Officer, Matt continues to promote the agency of rural communities as the foundation of meaningful positive change.

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