Beekeepers in Ithaca

Beekeepers in Tompkins County and farmers in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley are a world apart, but they share something fundamental. They are rural communities fighting to adapt to internal and external stresses.  

Rural Communities, Resilient Communities

July 14, 2014

Beekeepers in Ithaca

Beekeepers in Tompkins County and farmers in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley are a world apart, but they share something fundamental. They are rural communities fighting to adapt to internal and external stresses.

Beekeeper covered in beesBeekeeper Peter Loring Borst covered in bees (photo by Max Kraft)

According to a new assessment tool developed by Cornell, Clark University, and Oxfam America, several key factors promote community resilience, or adaptive capacity. Communities with vulnerable populations do best when they have ecological and livelihood diversity, a strong capacity to learn, effective governance and institutions, preparedness planning, equity, and shared social values and ethics. A collaboration between the Atkinson Center and Oxfam sent young investigators from Cornell into the field to find out how individual rural communities around the world are faring.

In 2013, ten junior scholars—graduate students, postdocs, and research associates—received funding to conduct participatory community and household assessments in rural communities around the globe. Sites they studied included San Juan de Rosario, Bolivia; Borana, Ethiopia; Yangshila, Nepal; and Putney, Vermont. Their fieldwork emphasized local voices and experiences of resilience to enrich our understanding of the challenges and opportunities rural communities face. Wendy Wolford, ACSF faculty director of economic development, is a principal investigator on the ACSF-Oxfam rural resilience project.

The ACSF-Oxfam Rural Resilience Fellows worked in field sites where they had existing connections, piggybacking the assessments onto other research projects. Eleanor Andrews, a development sociology PhD student, assessed the resilience of beekeeping in Tompkins County, New York. She interviewed and studied the practices of members of the Finger Lakes Beekeeping Club. The beekeepers ranged from beginning hobbyists to professionals. One longtime beekeeper shared his perspective on why beekeeping is growing in the Ithaca area:

One of the most important factor for bees in this area is that in spite of the harsh winters, honeybees are “extremely adaptable to every corner of the planet”—and this corner is particularly welcoming. According to Peter [Borst], Tompkins County residents understand that “bees are part of country living. . . . There’s a burgeoning farmers’ market. People understand that to have a healthy agricultural region, there’s got to be bees, whereas in other areas they think well, there’s no bees, so much the better.”

Kejima, EthiopiaLand quality in Kejima, Ethiopia continually declines due to overuse and erosion. Nearly all available land is in production each year.
(Full-size image)

Development sociology PhD student Brian Thiede assessed the resilience of a cluster of agricultural villages on the hillside of Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley, where dry years decimate livestock and crops. His respondents told him that resilience in Hawassa Zuria province, Ethiopia, means good land, savings, engagement with other community members, and financial autonomy. Due to the severe resource constraints in the region, however, research participants reported that “there are no resilient households in Hawassa Zuria.”

Read more about the ACSF-Oxfam rural resilience project.