Conference Blog

This is the blog for Seasonality Revisited, an international conference on seasonal poverty taking place from 8-10 July at the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK.

You are invited to read these posts and comment generously to make the online discussions as thought-provoking as the conference sessions. Please contact me should you have any questions about this blog, the conference website, or conference communications in general. David Hughes


Welcome address by Lawrence Haddad

  1. Worth reflecting on why it has fallen off the map. Sports, clothes, holidays, H1N1 virus, Disconnects with policy makers
  2. For others it has not fallen off the map changes in prices, wages, infections, precipitation the rhythms of life matter greatly for those without the ability to positively adjust to them
  3. And the seasonality strain threatens to mutate more rapidly and to get more virulent a.The seasons themselves are becoming less predictable and the changes they bring, familiar, yet unpredictable b. Climate change and HIV/AIDS c. Urbanisation
  4. Raises Questions a. Can we (all actors) use some of the new data system and technology to track seasonality better and be ready for it? b. Can social protection schemes be designed to seasonally expand and contract? NREG in India? c. Why aren’t the agriculture project designs that we see coming across our desks focusing on it?

Perhaps the most important point is why did it drop off the radar screen in the first place?

  • Weak analysis from us.
  • Disconnects with policy-makers.
  • Anachronism in an urbanising world?

Ironic that just as we have begun to embed the importance of spatial diversity in everything from growth diagnostics to agricultural strategies to pandemic prevention, we have ignored the importance of temporal diversity. I am delighted that IDS, together with our partners, including DFID and the Gates Foundation, can begin to diminish the seasonality of attention I addressing seasonality issues.

July 8, 2009

Policy / information interface is weak: “You can’t do proper food security analysis and livelihoods analysis without taking seasonality into account” So seasonality IS taken into account but the interface between analysis/information and policy/decision-making is weak. This is what needs to be worked on – making policymakers seasonally aware. Seasonality is often marked by annualised projections (e.g. emergency appeals) Advocacy must be evidence-based.

Ecological illiteracy, Jane Clark: Agricultural / natural resources have fallen out of decision-makers awareness. We are totally disconnected from not only the impacts of seasonality, but also our food systems – our natural resource base. The urban elite who dominate have become ecologically illiterate. Stories – stories – stories: really help opening up peoples’ awareness. Especially stories that demonstrate the “ignorance” and stupidity of not being aware.

Seasonality and HIV/AIDS: There seems to be a missing link between seasonality and HIV/AIDS. Conceptually, empirically and especially in policy terms, the AIDS lobby must engage directly with seasonality. One example: If ARV compliance and effectiveness declines during hungry seasons, there is potentially a big compliance dividend from reducing seasonal food insecurity in terms of reducing AIDS mortality. More generally, the concept of a seasonality dividend quantifying the costs of seasonality to leverage resources for reducing its worst impacts is worth pursuing.

Urbanisation -> Forgetfulness: Has it ever been on the Policy Agenda? Maybe it’s an urban bias? We don’t experience seasonality so we forget it exists. The more we urbanise, the more we forget.

July 9, 2009

There has been much interesting discussion this week on the various aspects of seasonality. But we are also all too aware that many of these aspects remain a hidden issue to decision-makers.

What can each of us resolve to do as we return to our countries/organisation to make a commitment to communicating these issues to a wider audience and particularly decision-makers?

The way we collect and report data is critical to revealing seasonal processes. We need to move away from averages to seasonally disaggregated data and we need more longitudinal studies. (A survey at one point in time is biased by the time of year).

Whether poor people face predictable risk or unpredictable uncertainty this is bad for the poor. The job of social protection is to help poor people manage risk and uncertainty.

Richard Longhurst

  1. Governments and donors function quite conservatively along sectoral lines. There are few incentives to invest across sectors which is what is needed the most extreme poverty aspects. But increasingly, the poverty agenda has encouraged more work across sectors and these are opportunities here.
  2. Crises in other areas might drive a greater interest in seasonality can the attention paid to climate change be an opportunity to fix seasonality?
  3. I know researchers always say we need more research but I think we need a better analysis of seasonal labour markets and migratory flows, impact of infections. Some of this might be done by analysing existing data sets.

Coming from the climate change, vulnerability and adaptation community, I am struck by:

  1. Rachel and Stephen’s conclusions that seasonality exposes underlying structural processes that contribute to vulnerabilities is very similar to conclusions / arguments central to social vulnerability arguments in the climate change literature.
  2. Mike Mortimore’s observation that a useful way to frame the relationship between seasonality and poverty as thinking of the socio-economic system confronting seasonality was very helpful.

Ian Scoones, IDS

  1. Data collection and measurement systems need to be reformed to move beyond spatial and temporal averages and aggregation. This has implications for Central Statistics Offices (Mad E Systems) and research design and training.
  2. Seasonality can provide opportunities, for example through mobility and migration. Seasonality should not simply be framed in negative terms (e.g. ratchets, screws). However, opportunities are highly differentiated and inevitably need to be targeted, but can be focused on opening up opportunities for the poor and marginalised. Facilitating mobility and migration should be a focus.
  3. Given increased unpredictability/uncertainty in characterising seasonal dynamics (maybe even chaotic), should the responses be agile, adaptive, responsive systems that build resilience to uncertain shocks and stresses or interventions focussed on reducing uncertainty and providing predictability and stability? Answer is, of course context-specific and depends on costs, benefits, capacities, etc. but the criteria for choice and the design of responsive systems needs more work.
  4. How do we capture unusual factors, rare events and synergistic effects in increasingly sophisticated and standardised data collection and analysis systems, since these may have the major influence on seasonality in complex, non-linear systems.

Tennyson Magombo, Malawi: I personally think that seasonality did not drop off from the policy agenda, it has been there only that it may have been described in other words and may have lacked emphasis.

I think the elements of risk and uncertainty are also linked to seasonality and some policies have included consideration of risks but perhaps not in detail and not with much-needed emphasis.

I think now it’s time that policy makers put seasonality high on the policy agenda.

Projects or programmes need to include risks and uncertainties in order to come up with meaningful recommendations and policy interventions that are more sensible to seasonality.

Tim Waites: Seasonality has dropped off the agenda. But how much of the thinking and analysis of the 80s has been absorbed and mainstreamed?

I believe livelihoods and food security practitioners know that and factor in the fact that the hunger season is likely to occur during the rains and before the harvest. Is this enough? Probably not so I welcome the fact that FAC has revitalised the debate.
I believe seasonality is especially important now because of the climate effects on the seasons, brought out by the Oxfam research. It disrupts planting, weakening harvest cycles and puts extra strain on household labour. Climate change adaptation needs to factor in disruption to seasons and the stress this places on poor smallholder farms.

If seasonal health and nutrition issues had been more systematically address we might be clear to achieving the MDGs.

Most planning and budgeting is done on an annual basis, which hides seasonality within the total amounts. This doesn’t mean, however, that seasonality is not properly accounted for. In some cases, this approach is valid, but in others it is not. In particular, the extremes may be of primary concern, rather than the averages. For example, the intensity of the strongest rain or the duration of the longest dry spell might be of primary interest to the farmers.

Whenever such seasonality is vital to the success of the project, the difference between the two approaches should be clearly demonstrated to the decision makers and stakeholders.

A recognition that seasonality is only an amplifier of structural problems.
It is the structural problems that need to be resolved, not the issue of seasonality.

The reason that seasonality may be absent from the development assistance debate is that the approach has been to rule the environment, rather than to manage the environment.

Ruling entails trying to control the environment. It may work for a while, but in the end it will not. Managing mean acknowledging the variability of the environment, including its seasonality and learning to live with that.

A more ecological approach to development assistance is one way to ensure that seasonality will be more prominent in development assistance. Seasonality is part and parcel of ecology, which has as a fundamental principle that an organism’s needs vary during the year and that no two years are the same.

What people do depends on what they know, what they are able to do (economically) and what they want to do socially. If one of the three is no then no change will take place. Give people knowledge and the room and desire to change and they will make choices on their own.

Think of engaging local institutions. Policies formulated by the people, with the people and that are contextually formed will have higher chance in being adopted, implemented and working!

Tom Tanner:For tackling climate change, seasonality is often implicit, but climate change and development politicians aren’t aware of the considerable work that has gone into it.The result is that much of the season-proofed work on climate adaptation is serendipitous. The challenge is to make it deliberate.

John Thompson: It is most often poor people the poorest and most marginal who are affected by seasonal dynamics. These are also people with the least political influence and least voice in policy processes

In order to raise the matter of the seasonal dimensions of poverty up the policy agenda, efforts need to go into strengthening local organisations to articulate poor people’s concerns and establish poor people’s concerns and a stronger politics of demand. Only then will policy makers and others be called to account and be forced to take poor peoples realities seriously.

Suggested titles for Seasonality 2040

  • Seasonality: the dog that didn’t bark
  • Seasonality and has-beans
  • Wot: no Seasonality
  1. Seasonality fell of the agenda because its effects are felt differently according to wealth i.e. less by the wealthy and increasingly through time as weatherproofing technologies evolved and expanded.
  2. Look at the links between poverty determinants.