The Sahel region is facing one of the worst food crises in years, leaving nearly six million people in urgent need of food assistance to survive. In addition to climatic factors such as irregular rainfall, low production within agriculture, and desertification, the Sahel region also faces protracted armed conflicts and terrorism, which compound the region’s vulnerability and further destabilization. Recently, international organizations have stated that they need approximately $676 million to be able to respond to the current food crisis, however, humanitarian assistance remains critically underfunded. In addition to urgently responding to the current situation, the international community must consider long-term sustainable solutions for the region. Given that the African continent has the largest percentage of women involved in the agriculture sector—particularly in the Sahel, where 90% of the economy relies on agriculture and pastoralism—the empowerment of small-scale women farmers can help the region build up its resilience against the continued reoccurrence of food crises. During a recent joint United Nations-African Union mission to the region, delegates reflected on the fact that women and girls in the Sahel are disproportionally affected by the region’s interrelated crises. Specifically, women suffer more than men from food insecurity due to their restricted access to resources as a result of patriarchal societal norms. For example, women are typically responsible for all household chores and being the primary caretakers of their family. In times of crises, women are pushed to make choices for the benefit of their family, which includes many women eating less themselves and/or walking longer, more dangerous distances to fetch water for their family. According to the International Labor Organization, Sahel countries have large percentages of women involved in agriculture; women make up 72% (Niger), 84% (Mauritania) and 57% (Mali) of the agricultural labor force. In Senegal, women farmers make up 70% of the workforce and produce 80% of the country’s agricultural yields, yet large disparities between male and female farmers still occur. This just shows that within the Sahel, there is a huge portion of society that could be empowered to advance the region’s resilience against food insecurity. There is clear evidence that gender equality and the empowerment of women can play a huge role in reducing hunger and mitigating food crises. Studies have shown that increasing gender parity to land rights and agricultural assistance, such as improved seeds and fertilizers, could reduce hunger by 12-17%. However, despite women carrying out 90% of processing food crops, many are not landowners themselves, nor do they reap the benefits of their work.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that if women farmers had equal access to the resources that male farmers do, the number of hungry people in the world would be reduced by 150 million and agricultural yields would increase by 20-30%. In order to build the region’s resilience against food insecurity, women in the Sahel must be empowered to mitigate the causes of future food crises and thus reduce hunger. The international community, inclusive of the UN and other international organizations, as well as partner nations to the Sahel must take the following multi-pronged approach to empower Sahelian women farmers: Empowerment through Education Firstly, international organizations and partners should empower women farmers through increased knowledge and learning. The FAO and respective partner government agencies should expand their reach in educating Sahelian women farmers on modernized techniques and sustainable agricultural methods in the wake of climate change effects. FAO has been aiming to address the underlying causes of food crises, such as utilizing seeds adapted to climate change and technical methods to rehabilitate the land. Organizations should also find ways to provide access to the latest research on agriculture for women farmers so that evolving methods can be implemented. By training women famers in resilience-building activities, they will be empowered to increase overall community resilience to food insecurity, which is more cost-effective than repeated humanitarian assistance. When women are empowered through a better understanding of the best practices and techniques of agricultural sustainability, they will become investments of resilience in their countries. Empowerment through Network-Building Secondly, women famers who are trained should be incentivized to share lessons learned with their counterparts in order to spread knowledge throughout their society. The international community could assist in doing this by developing networks of women farmers within each country of the Sahel, with the goal of sharing lessons and techniques in risk mitigation strategies. A great example of this is an initiative in Senegal known as Réseau des Femmes Agricultrices du Nord (REFAN), which is a network of women farmers involved in the production and trading of rice. The initiative aims to empower 30,000 women farmers in the country by 2021and is supported by the UN Women’s Agriculture, Women, and Sustainable Development project. This program is also active in the Segou region of Mali, where women famers are supported through cooperative training sessions on improved techniques of water usage, fertilizer use, and crop scheduling. Empowerment through Policy Thirdly, the international community must advocate for the removal of discriminatory policies towards women farmers in the Sahel so that they have access to appropriate resources and markets. In order to empower women farmers economically, the international community should incentivize Sahelian decision-makers to give women famers more access to ownership over land and farming resources in exchange for financial aid in the agricultural sector. International partners should also invest more financially in women farmers by directly funneling resources and then later publicizing evidence of their progress to Sahelian governments in order to gain regional buy-in for the empowerment of women. These efforts should be coupled with the overall political empowerment of Sahelian women through increased political participation and civil society in order to close the gender gap. Women’s empowerment goes hand in hand with the long-term sustainable development of the Sahel region and it is vital in solving the reoccurrence of food crises in the Sahel. About the author: Renee Coulouris is a Master's degree candidate at Johns Hopkins University, studying Global Security Studies. She has previously worked at Women in International Security and in the Africa II Division of the Department of Political Affairs at the United Nations. She has conducted research in Tunisia, Israel and the West Bank and Jordan on issues relating to international security, foreign policy, and women's roles in extremist organizations. Photo: Flickr - Oxfam

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.