THE LATEST: Expert Analysis: From Buzzwords to Impact in the Field of Sustainability

Expert Analysis
by Mary Devlin & Chiara Shokite

The word “sustainable” is everywhere these days – on food, clothes, and ads on our social media; this term is used liberally by corporations, local businesses, and international development organizations alike. While its popularity is encouraging, having so many applications of one idea is overwhelming. Even within our own organization, sustainability looks different based on different cultures, contexts, and project objectives. Our projects are constantly adapted to incorporate economic, social, and environmental sustainability to ultimately benefit the communities we work in.

One application of sustainability is the market systems approach to development. We look at challenges within an economic, social, and political context, analyze situations with local partners, and test potential solutions. We identify the most effective economic levers to engage with to promote change both in the short- and long-terms.

Our SELEVER program exemplifies the market systems approach. The program aims to improve the nutritional status of women and children in Burkina Faso by strengthening women’s economic empowerment through increased poultry production. Here, the challenges are: 1) high malnutrition rates; 2) social and economic norms that limit women’s access to resources and income; and 3) smallholder poultry farmers are not equipped to respond to the huge market demand for local poultry.

To address these challenges, we work on pulling “levers” within the poultry value chain. We work at the community level to raise awareness and change social norms regarding entrepreneurial opportunities with poultry. We partner with actors across the value chain – including local organizations, microfinance institutions, and the government – to help female poultry producers access key services, including feed, vaccinations, and finance. This approach is sustainable because it triggers lasting changes in the system, so project participants can continue to benefit from local services after the end of the project.

Another application of sustainability is building women’s empowerment into the design of our projects. Research shows that when money flows into the hands of women, it is more likely to be invested back into their families. When women have increased incomes or decision-making power in their households, their families are healthier, and their children are more likely to go to school and have more opportunities. Women’s empowerment addresses social sustainability, while also opening other avenues for community development.

Our IGNITE program focuses on women’s empowerment.  The four-country program aims to leverage agriculture, gender, and nutrition in a way that recognizes women as key drivers of economic growth. The project is working to address the fact that nutrition and empowerment for all members of farming households have not improved despite significant investment in agricultural production.

To address this challenge, the IGNITE project: (1) develops agricultural interventions that improve nutritional outcomes and women’s empowerment, and (2) partners with African institutions to incorporate gender and nutrition into their way of doing business so that women are not left out of agricultural interventions. Bringing women to the table and working with local partners ensures a sustainable approach to improving nutrition in the region.

We also design and implement sustainable sourcing projects. We work with farmers to obtain the tools and knowledge they need to increase the quantity and quality of their produce. Tools can include quality inputs and access to technology, while knowledge can include proper use of inputs, good agricultural practices (GAP), and statistics on the farmers’ land such as soil makeup. By helping farmers maximize their productivity, our projects help to ensure a sustainable source for produce in the supply chain.

Tanager’s co-created Shubh Mint program prioritizes sustainable sourcing of mint oil from Uttar Pradesh, India. Here, the challenges for farmers are access to quality mint stolon and lack of knowledge on good agricultural practices for this crop. This led to decreased productivity for the farmers and the mint supply chain.

We improved and developed GAP for mint cultivation and distillation with local partners in previous studies and are training 22,000 smallholder mint farmers to maximize mint productivity. Initial project results indicate that farmers have nearly doubled their production of mint and are earning record profits from the crop. They’ve been trained on GAP and have a reliable source for income, so they can continue to reap program benefits for years to come. This ensures sustainable sourcing of mint oil for the supply chain.

Using the market systems approach, incorporating women’s empowerment, and designing for sustainable sourcing are some ways that Tanager incorporates economic, social, and environmental sustainability into our work. The activities we do with Burkinabe poultry farmers, African women farmers, and Indian mint farmers might look different on the ground, but they share an important goal: working together with communities toward sustainable and positive change. This is how ensure that the work we do today has lasting impacts.

Mary Devlin
Associate Director

Mary Devlin is an Associate Director with experience in project management, institutional learning, and finance. In her current role, she supports all aspects of project and corporate management. Since joining Tanager, she has worked to ensure successful delivery of project objectives on projects in West Africa, India, and South America. Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs and French from the George Washington University.