Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Proposed strategy and framework for action


The fact that almost 80 percent of the population of the region lives in rural areas means that increasing agricultural productivity and production in various ways will be the principal approach to solving the problem of long-term food insecurity. This means securing production, improving distribution and ensuring access to food. The promotion of technologies to enhance both crop and livestock production will play a part, as will the need to remove constraints to agricultural services and marketing. In a broader context, diversifying incomes within rural areas, for example, through small stock-keeping, artisanal fisheries and domestic processing and crafts, contributes to increased incomes, which will ensure wider access to the available food. Improved health and knowledge strengthen the human resource base, and education in particular will be essential to increasing employment opportunities outside agriculture (which are accounting for an ever-growing share of rural incomes) and is vital for future generations.

To the extent that the people of the region are successful in improving their livelihoods, they will become more resilient to shocks, and the need for emergency interventions will diminish. However, the resource base on which to build better livelihoods is generally poor, and this limits the range of options that are open to the people whose very capacity to respond to opportunities is constrained by the deprivations that they suffer. Where there are opportunities for improving agricultural and pastoral systems in ways that can contribute to better living standards and food security, these must be seized. Throughout much of the area, however, improvements to agricultural and pastoral systems will not be sufficient, in themselves, to bring about significant or rapid improvements in living standards. Improved nutrition, health and education will play fundamental roles in the transformation of rural society, contributing to a greater capacity within communities to make better use of the resources available to them, to diversify the local economy and to increase the competitiveness of their members in the labour market. Improvements in health and access to knowledge will lead to a progressive reduction in reproduction rates which, together with migration from the most fragile areas, will contribute to a better equilibrium between population and natural resources.

The challenge will be to induce a process of rapid transformation without undermining the self-reliance of the people of the region and thereby creating dependencies on governments and external players. Instruments must be put in place that can respond flexibly and reliably to demands rather than seeking to impose externally devised solutions.

Maximizing sustainable agricultural production

There is immense variation in the agro-ecological conditions within the region and, hence, in the range of opportunities facing people for improving their livelihoods. No wholesale solutions can be prescribed because each community, and indeed each household, is faced with different options, depending on the resources at its disposal and its aspirations. There is a need to stimulate the capacity of rural communities and individual families to take stock of their resources and the particular opportunities open to them, to help them test alternative solutions and to improve their access to sources of relevant knowledge and expertise as well as capital and markets.

Better land, water and crop management

Improvements can be achieved through the positive synergies resulting from the combined adoption of improved crop/plant, soil and water management practices that offer both production and conservation benefits. This is the essence of what is referred to as the "better land husbandry" approach. Land husbandry addresses the totality of the farm household livelihood system with regard to the management of inputs, outputs and land resources and aims at improving the productivity and sustainability of production systems. The following are intrinsic components of better land husbandry:

  • promotion of an integrated resource management embracing locally appropriate combinations of the following technical options:

- buildup of soil organic matter to optimum sustainable levels (for improved moisture and nutrient supply and soil structure) through the use of compost, farmyard manure, green manures, surface mulch, enriched fallows, agroforestry, cover crops and/or better crop residue management;
- integrated plant nutrition management with locally appropriate and cost-effective combinations of organic/inorganic and on-/off-farm sources of plant nutrients (e.g. organic manures, crop residues, rhizobial N-fixation, transfer of nutrients released by weathering in the deeper soil layers to the surface via tree roots and leaf litter, rock phosphate, lime and chemical fertilizer);
- better crop management, improved seeds of appropriate varieties, improved crop establishment at the beginning of the rains (so as to increase protective ground cover thereby increasing water infiltration), weed management, integrated pest management;
- better water management to increase infiltration and reduce runoff so as to improve soil moisture conditions within the rooting zone, thereby lessening the risk of moisture stress during dry spells, while reducing soil erosion;
- improvement of soil rooting depth and permeability through the breaking up of cultivation- induced compacted soil layers (hoe/plough pan) with conservation tillage practices that use tractor-drawn subsoilers, ox-drawn chisel ploughs and hand hoe planting pits/double-dug beds and/or interplanting of deep-rooted perennial crops/trees and shrubs);
- reclamation, where appropriate (i.e. if technically feasible and cost-effective), of arable land that has been severely degraded by such processes as gullying, loss of topsoil through sheet erosion, soil compaction, acidification and/or salinization;

  • adoption of people-centred learning approaches through which farmers are able to learn about, and investigate for themselves, the costs and benefits of alternative land husbandry practices;
  • community-based participatory approaches to planning and technology development that build on rural people's inherent skills and capability to formulate and implement their own development plans and develop and disseminate their own improved land husbandry technologies;
  • better land husbandry for business through the promotion of field-level interventions that offer farmers tangible economic, social and environmental benefits through adjustments in the way in which land, water and human resources are used.

Crop and mixed farming systems. In areas where rainfall is reliable, population density tends to be very high and farms small and, often, fragmented. The technical opportunities for raising farm output are reasonably well understood and there are generally good yield responses to the use of seed of improved crop varieties and inorganic fertilizers, provided that these are part of good land and crop husbandry practices (see Box 3). Whether farmers can exploit these opportunities, however, depends particularly on the size of their holdings and on their capacity to generate production that is surplus to their families' consumption needs and, hence, can be sold to generate the cash needed to buy inputs. The opportunities for improving livelihoods in such areas will tend to come from shifting - where markets permit - from production of grains for subsistence purposes towards the labour-intensive cultivation of higher-value commercial crops, and increased diversification into livestock.

As rainfall diminishes and becomes less reliable, the options open to farmers tend to become fewer, although farm area may be less of a constraint. The priorities are likely to be to maximize the returns on available moisture, to reduce interannual variations in output and to improve labour productivity.

Irrigation is intuitively the most appealing solution to the problems of crop production in marginal areas, but the practical difficulties of irrigation development and operation are considerable. One of the unfortunate aspects of the region's geography is that there is, in general, a poor coincidence between available water resources and suitable land for large-scale irrigation. Where both land and water are available, constraints on irrigation development may be imposed by transboundary water-sharing agreements. There are, however, important opportunities in most of the concerned countries for improving the performance of existing major irrigation schemes by raising management standards and rehabilitating infrastructure. Such measures, however, while contributing importantly to national food supplies, will tend to benefit those rural populations that are least at risk.

For the more drought-prone populations, the main opportunities for improving water use include small-scale irrigation, water harvesting and, above all, better use of available moisture in the rainfed farming systems, on which the bulk of farmers will continue to depend. Conservation tillage and land husbandry measures that result in increasing the in situ infiltration and retention of rainfall and allow timely sowing have the potential advantages of raising the availability of water for crop growth, reducing runoff and soil erosion and raising labour productivity by enabling farmers to cultivate larger areas (see Box 4). Their application may be constrained, however, by extreme shortages of available organic matter, which can only be rectified by land use changes that, by increasing fuelwood and forage production (possibly using enriched fallows), allow more manure and crop residues to be applied to croplands. In order to reduce the demand for organic material for non-agricultural uses, such a strategy should be complemented by the development and promotion of alternative sources of fuel for domestic use, such as kerosene, solar energy and sustainable fuelwood production. Concerted action on a community-wide basis, supported by skilled facilitation, is required if such far-reaching but necessary changes are to be made.

Conservation Agriculture

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a farming approach aimed at making more efficient use of the soil, water and biological resources. It contributes to environmental conservation as well as to enhanced and sustained agricultural productivity. It can thus also be referred to as resource-efficient/ resource-effective agriculture. The better land husbandry approach is fully in line with and encompasses CA principles.

The key principles of CA are ensuring the recycling and restoration of soil nutrients and organic matter and the optimal use of rainfall. One important element is the retention, where possible, of a permanent soil cover, which implies "zero or minimum tillage". In extreme arid and semi-arid environments this may be reduced to maintaining underground root systems as the above-ground biomass may be totally desiccated and lost. As a result of permanent soil cover from vegetation and residues, soil erosion and water loss through runoff are drastically reduced, plant production is less vulnerable to the vagaries of climate and higher yields can be obtained.

CA also reduces farm labour and farm power requirements through reducing or eliminating tillage and, to a lesser extent, weeding requirements. CA is extensively practised in Brazil, where it has been spontaneously adopted and adapted to suit different farm contexts and farming systems. Problems of soil erosion (and, in drier areas, vulnerability to drought) have decreased significantly, and farm output has increased, leading to improved farmer welfare and security. CA is also being developed in Africa, for example in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Agropastoral and pastoral systems. The options for improving the livelihoods of agropastoralists and pastoralists are still more constrained. Conservation farming methods and the use of drought-tolerant varieties of crops may help agropastoralists to improve the reliability of cropping for subsistence purposes in the areas of erratic and low rainfall, short rainy season and poor soils in which they have settled. Although there are many resource use conflicts between crop production and livestock keeping, the complementarities that the extended households in these areas have exploited as a way of spreading their risks could be built on.

True pastoralists in the Horn of Africa are decreasing in number and occupy a peripheral social and political position, in spite of the importance of livestock production to the national economies of most of the countries. Pastoralists have been neglected in terms of public investment and, of all vulnerable populations, they have the poorest access to safe water, human and animal health services and education. However, it is indisputable that they make the most efficient and sustainable use of the low rainfall, high-risk marginal lands that they occupy. Many past attempts aimed at improving the livelihoods of pastoral people have had unintended negative consequences for pastoralists and the environment by disturbing the delicate equilibrium that has developed among people, livestock and range resources. Any interventions that tend to increase animal numbers, for instance through providing improved livestock health services, must go hand-in-hand with measures to raise offtake rates.

Distribution: markets, marketing and trade

Markets for inputs and outputs at the local, national, regional and international levels determine the capacity for growth and the efficiency of an economy. In many parts of the region, markets barely exist, or they operate inefficiently, and many farmers and pastoralists are only loosely connected with the marketing system. It is possible to address some of the marketing problems facing small farmers and pastoralists through improving physical infrastructure and market information systems.

Improving crop and livestock markets. The volatility of grain markets in areas that are chronically food-deficit, or where there are periodic and seasonal deficits, has a serious and adverse impact on the poorest people, who invariably have to sell grain soon after harvest, when prices are lowest, and must purchase later in the year, when prices are high. Various solutions to this chronic problem have been tried. Improved on-farm storage can greatly reduce physical post-harvest losses, but does not really solve the problem for those who are forced to sell grain out of necessity. Village-based cereal marketing and storage schemes (cereal banks), which enable producers to sell after harvest and store locally so that grain can be made available, quickly and cheaply, during the lean period or if drought or other disaster strikes, have had a chequered history. Similarly, inventory credit schemes, which allow farmers to borrow for consumption or other needs against a stored crop, have only been tried on a pilot basis.

Improved access to markets is an essential step in increasing the offtake from herds and redressing the balance between stock numbers and range resources. The lack of information on markets and trade, and problems with regional policy harmonization to facilitate cross-border trade are major constraints. Animal health measures, the collection and dissemination of market information and improved market infrastructure (such as the establishment and refurbishment of national and transboundary stock routes, associated water points and holding areas, and improved grazing) would greatly facilitate the domestic and export marketing of livestock in pastoral areas. The link between primary and terminal markets, and promotion of private investment in export and domestic slaughter facilities, meat, leather and wool processing and transportation are crucial.

Better market information. With scattered and poorly integrated markets for food and other agricultural products, provision of market information is a priority. Improved market information systems need to be directed to the needs of producers, but better livestock market information can also serve as an effective indicator of the condition of livestock and be part of an early warning system for pastoral areas.

Trade and trade policy. International trade is constrained by complex and high tariff structures, inefficient, bureaucratic and lengthy licensing procedures, problems of compliance with sanitary regulations and the lack of an effective customs union in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region. International disputes have undermined economic relations, and improved trade structures and agreements would be of great benefit to many consumers and surplus-producing households in the region.

Access to food: diversifying employment and income sources

The broadening or diversification of the household economic base is fundamental to reducing food insecurity and vulnerability. In some areas, this can be achieved by diversifying the farming system, particularly by expanding the use of short-cycle livestock such as poultry, sheep, goats, pigs and, where water resources allow, fish. In pastoral areas, the processing of milk and meat products, hides and skins may provide opportunities for supplementing incomes. Options for raising additional earnings from non-wood forest products have also been noted.

In the long term it is essential that conditions be created whereby people have increasing access to employment opportunities outside agriculture. The ingredients for this include a combination of improved education, better transport and communications, easier access to markets and financial services and, in some cases, a reduction in the legal and bureaucratic barriers to entry into business.

Safeguarding natural resources

For the longer term, a slowing down of population growth provides the best option for relieving pressure on the region's natural resources and must, therefore, be encouraged. Governments in the region, however, are starting to gather experience in shifting from a regulatory approach for natural resources management to one in which communities assume greater responsibility for safeguarding resources and are encouraged to share in the benefits. The legalized exploitation of forest products such as fuelwood, poles, gum arabic, olibanum, myrrh, bee products and medicinal plants, as well as the use of wildlife for ecotourism, can become significant sources of income, which lead those who benefit to develop a vested interest in the sustainable management of forest and wildlife resources.

Similarly, the more that farmers themselves see the benefits of soil and moisture conservation measures, rather than having what they may perceive as unsuitable methods imposed on them, the greater their interest in the sustainable use of agricultural land and related environmental management will be.


Highest priority must be given to preventing the recurrence of situations in which the people of the region suffer from extreme deprivation or famine. To the extent that the region remains highly vulnerable to natural and human-induced disasters, measures to improve the response capacity of national and international institutions are central to the strategy. Such measures will be derived from the lessons of previous crises in the Horn of Africa, as well as in other drought-prone areas that have had to address similar problems. For those in need of support during emergencies, or for chronically vulnerable groups (such as the handicapped and elderly), social safety nets that enable people to survive with dignity are required.

Improving emergency prediction and response capacities

Drought and extreme events prediction, early warning systems and response capacities. Early warning systems have an important role to play in disaster preparedness, during emergency relief and as part of long-term solutions. Meteorological information can be particularly useful for farmers and pastoralists. Computer-based predictions of droughts and floods can now give several months notice and enable farmers to take pre-emptive action to minimize the impact of such events. It is therefore essential that national and regional policies for the planning and management of disaster early warning and preparedness be put in place, through restructuring and refocusing existing early warning systems, improving the accuracy and policy relevance of early warning system outputs and making meteorological information available to farmers and pastoralists in a timely way.

Early warning systems also provide information that allows the planning of relief interventions. Over the last 15 to 20 years, a variety of different agencies have made large investments in early warning systems in the region. However, there is room for improvement through reducing duplication and filling gaps. For example, high priority should be given to providing coverage of pastoral and agropastoral populations and to strengthening and rehabilitating meteorological networks. The main immediate concern to be addressed is the weak link between the information generated by the early warning systems and the capacity to act on it. Paradoxically, part of the problem stems from the many different messages emerging from the early warning systems, but at both the national and the regional levels there are weaknesses in the institutional arrangements that bring together governments and donors for decision-making on required interventions with ample lead times. In the longer term, there will be a need to invest in systems that improve the accuracy of predictions by taking advantage of emergent information-sharing and communications technologies.

Emergency funds and reserves. Among the most controversial issues to be addressed within each country and at the regional level is the question of whether or not there should be strategic grain reserve stocks to ensure an adequate and timely response to disasters and, if so, the size and locations of those stocks. This is of particular concern to land-locked countries and ones in which the most vulnerable populations are distant from seaports. Two of the countries of the region maintain reserves and have gained valuable expertise in their management. The experience of these two countries suggests that autonomous management is essential and that reserves must be operated in close collaboration with the private sector, in order to avoid the potentially destabilizing effects of badly timed purchases or releases of grain. In some cases, the setting aside of budgetary reserves for the purchase of grain when needed may be a more satisfactory approach, provided that the funds can be protected from diversion to other uses.

At the international level, responses, particularly with regard to food aid deliveries, are often delayed because of a lack of ready funding and the customary but time-consuming approach of raising relief finance through appeals on a case-by-case basis as each emergency arises. Enough is known about the probability of disasters occurring to justify the buildup of financial reserves internationally and these can be quickly disbursed to ensure rapid response to the requirements of crises in specific locations.

Relief, recovery and rehabilitation. The experience of the 1999/2000 emergency suggests that national and international response mechanisms, although still flawed, have improved immeasurably since the 1984/85 tragedy. Humanitarian resources, however, often fail to reach the right people at the right time, and for the foreseeable future there will be a continued need for intermittent relief interventions. There remains scope for improving the effectiveness of food aid, through better design of interventions to ensure that they really benefit those most in need at the particular time. This, in turn, depends on accurate and up-to-date information on vulnerability. Standards of relief management are variable, and there is a need for stronger self-regulatory capacities among NGOs, with a view to ensuring common basic standards. Free food relief interventions can be down-sized if recovery programmes are launched swiftly in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. While the recovery elements of relief programmes, including the distribution of free or cheap farm inputs, are being assigned increasing attention, several constraints remain. These include the lack of local capacity and expertise to implement rapid recovery programmes, variable standards in the technical content of NGO-led initiatives (particularly in relation to seed standards) and, above all, a lack of sufficient funds. Only by substantially increasing the scale and fungibility of humanitarian assistance (from both government and donor contributions) can this last problem be resolved. After a relief intervention, it is often necessary to revitalize the disaster-affected area, if security conditions permit, through the rapid disbursement of funds for investment in the rehabilitation of infrastructure and services. Both local and international funding for rehabilitation in the Horn of Africa have consistently fallen well short of needs and have been sustained for far too short a period.

Creating dependable safety nets

Social safety nets, which ensure that those without access to food are adequately, fed are needed for entire communities in times of acute need and for the elderly, handicapped and incapacitated within a community on a more or less continuous basis. Moving away from free food aid distribution to alternative measures, especially for able-bodied adults and their families, helps to strengthen household livelihoods, improve overall nutrition and contribute to self-reliance. To the extent that safety nets reinforce traditional community-based systems for protecting vulnerable members, they are likely to prove more sustainable than ones driven from outside the community.

Labour-based interventions. Food- and cash-for-work programmes give labourers an income in times of hardship and also build up local physical and social assets. Although such programmes are now quite common, their coverage is too limited to form a comprehensive safety net, especially for those in marginal and pastoral areas. It is important to forge public-private-NGO partnerships for such activities, so as to broaden their coverage in ways that do not induce excessive dependence. In addition to the construction of local roads, schools or clinics, for example, this sort of programme could include interventions aimed at restoring the natural resource base. Activities such as tree planting, natural agroforestry parkland management and area closure could improve the environment and have both national and global benefits.

Credit- and insurance-based mechanisms. Local financial mechanisms such as rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs) can protect people from short-term consumption shocks and increase their productivity. There are substantial benefits to be reaped from supporting the establishment of viable, self-supporting credit and insurance institutions at the community level that use existing informal savings and loans groups, often through NGO partnerships, offering training and supervisory services.

Nutrition interventions. School and hospital feeding serve the short-term goal of preventing severe child malnutrition and also increase the school or clinic attendance of poor children, thereby increasing their chances of healthy mental and physical development. The high costs of such interventions can be reduced by directing them to schools and clinics in the poorest areas and devolving management, food preparation and feeding functions to the local community and parents' groups. For full effectiveness, feeding must be linked to nutrition education.

Support to vulnerable groups. The provision of social safety nets for those who are elderly, handicapped, orphaned or otherwise incapacitated has to be fiscally sustainable and based on local coping mechanisms, which exist in some form in all communities. When such mechanisms break down because of acute problems, including drought or incidence of such diseases as AIDS, external support that builds on local, community-based initiatives is needed.

Helping the urban food-insecure

The problem of poverty and food-insecurity in urban areas is growing as a result of rural-urban migration and the failure of urban economies to grow sufficiently quickly to absorb the expanding labour force. Access to essential services, health and education is obviously important to ensuring a healthy and skilled workforce in, and food should be directed to those who fall temporarily below the survival line by being unemployed. Street children, the elderly and handicapped should, of course, be eligible for safety net support. However, it is difficult to balance the need to deliver humanitarian support with the danger of attracting still more rural people into urban areas, where conditions, although wretched, may be better than in rural areas.


Most countries in the region are engaged in a process of institutional reform that is leading to a reduction in the role of government and a corresponding growth in the activities of civil society and the private sector. This process includes decentralized administration, greater responsiveness to local needs and a strong commitment to fighting corruption and improving public service efficiency. Such measures are generally positive for economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security. However, further steps are needed to identify and resolve so-called "second-generation" policy issues, in order to accelerate and consolidate the institutional adjustment process and to ensure a greater responsiveness to the needs of the poorest and remotest members of society. Mechanisms to resolve conflict at the international and local levels underpin all other aspects of the enabling environment. Support needs to build on the efforts of governments to control the flow of arms and to develop swift and effective forms of mediation. Throughout the region there is a need for improved infrastructure, including communications that use satellite technology, as well as investment in water supply, roads, power and directly productive infrastructure such as irrigation. Basic social services such as health and education need to be expanded, as do supporting institutions, including those for agricultural research.

Strengthening governance

Although institutional reform processes over the last decade or so may have created problems that have had a negative impact on more vulnerable members of society, current trends are generally positive for economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security. The process of continued reform warrants support, especially when it is aimed at accelerating and consolidating the institutional adjustment process and giving a greater role to the market.

Supporting policy and institutional reform. Governments are encouraged to develop and implement a comprehensive food security and poverty alleviation policy framework that distinguishes between the roles of the public sector, the private sector and civil society.4 The framework should embrace, not only agricultural production, but also education, health, population and nutrition, the development of infrastructure (including water resources), the diversification of employment, marketing and processing, women's participation in political and economic activities, the environment, and disaster preparedness. Where governments have successfully redefined their core functions to include only those activities that cannot be supplied more efficiently by the private sector or civil society and have formulated viable policies and strategies, support may usefully be provided to reinforce the performance of essential public services. The second-generation policy reforms that need to be pursued include further civil service reform, tax and legal reform, removal of remaining trade restrictions, liberalization and promotion of competition in banking and rural financial services, streamlining budget planning and implementation, and combating corruption.

Creating space for the private sector and CSOs. It cannot be assumed that a robust private sector and an active civil society will simply develop to fill the gaps left by the decreased role of government. Even where privatization is being actively pursued, governments may still have to improve the enabling environment for the private sector, through streamlining regulations and procedures, improving access to finance, simplifying trade regulations and upgrading infrastructure and communications systems. Getting the balance right in terms of regulating NGOs so as to encourage initiative but, at the same time, prevent abuse is a challenge facing most governments in the region. Emphasis must be given to building self-reliant CBOs that can assume welfare and management responsibilities, especially in remote areas, that were formally held by government agencies.

Decentralization and increasing capacity to respond to local demand. Effective decentralization of legislative and administrative functions means that local people have more say in the political process and strategy formulation and that services are better able to respond to local needs. The programme's institutional strategy should focus particularly on raising the fiscal and administrative capacities of decentralized public bodies and encouraging the emergence of strong community-based organizations that can contribute to improved livelihoods.

Legislation and the upholding of rights. Clearly defined and effectively protected legal rights provide a basis for a prosperous and harmonious society. Broadly, there is a need to strengthen legislation (aligning it with the new roles of the public and private sectors), support the judiciary and assign more autonomy to traditional institutions for determining communal and individual rights. It is particularly in the area of land and water rights that greater clarity is needed to encourage investment and to minimize the risk of conflict, especially in pastoral areas. Issues of international water rights have a major bearing on the opportunities for irrigation development in the region, and may have to become a subject for international arbitration.

Mitigating conflict

Local and cross-border conflicts have had devastating effects on the lives of large numbers of civilians in almost all the countries of the region. There is a clear need to find ways of ensuring swift and independent mediation aimed at reducing the incidence, scale and duration of conflict. This is an essential element of any strategy for reducing poverty and improving food security in the region. Equally important are measures to reduce domestic and cross-border flows of arms.

Enhancing access to basic services

Broadening primary health care services. Generally poor standards of health and nutrition reduce productivity and increase the susceptibility of people to serious diseases at times of crisis. It is important to strengthen primary health care services so as to address serious problems such as vector-borne diseases, mainly malaria and gastrointestinal disease (water-borne, bacterial and viral), and respiratory infections, including tuberculosis. HIV/AIDS deserves a special mention because it deprives the community of its most productive people and leaves large numbers of orphans. Governments, NGOs and other agencies need to work together to strengthen health care delivery systems, in order to provide preventive interventions such as vaccinations, treat common childhood illnesses and revitalize health information systems and infrastructure. It is important to work closely with local authorities in developing and maintaining public health facilities and to train staff in supplies management and field logistics. Attention should be given to maintaining or re-establishing cold chain operations, restocking medical stores and distribution systems and ensuring supplies of vaccines and essential drugs.

Ensuring adequate nutrition. Apart from being consistent with the concept of food as a human right, ensuring regular and adequate access to food is a fundamental element in any strategy for bringing about long-term improvements in food security and poverty reduction. Adequate food, especially for the young, is a prerequisite for people to attain their full physical and cognitive potential, and therefore quite as important as education in raising the productive and adaptive capacity of the region's population, thereby contributing to economic growth. To the greatest extent possible - and this is consistent with human rights concepts - it should be the responsibility of individuals, their families and the communities in which they live to ensure inclusive access to adequate food. The government and, by extension, the international community, however, have a responsibility to fulfil food rights when the task falls beyond the capacity of the community. Accurately directed feeding programmes, ideally linked to school and health service attendance or to the development of community assets through food-for-work, are likely to be an essential element of any long-term development programme.

Ensuring adequate access to food does not guarantee adequate nutrition, and hence has to be linked to improved health care, nutrition education and safe water supplies.

Expanding access to safe water supplies and sanitation. Increasing the proportion of the population with access to safe, reliable and conveniently located sources of drinking-water must be given the highest priority. Clean water is a vital ingredient of a healthy life, and any time saved collecting water lessens the burden on women and children. In the region, there is ample experience of the development of water supplies, and lessons can be drawn on the causes of success and failure. Community ownership, use of labour-based construction methods and simple but robust technologies, hygiene education, training in operation and maintenance and provisions for cost recovery to meet operating costs appear to be central to success.

Expanding access to formal and non-formal education systems. Providing access to formal and non-formal education is one of the investments that has been shown to have clear long-term returns to society and the economy. Educated people are likely to be more productive than uneducated people and will make better use of the information and knowledge that are available. They are also far more versatile, and hence more able to adapt to a changing environment, cope with emergencies such as drought and find employment opportunities outside their communities. Beyond the obvious need to provide more schools and teachers, especially at the primary level, it is important that schools be developed as channels for communicating with families and communities on practical issues, and that they are used to teach drought preparedness and resource conservation skills, as well as the essential elements of maintaining a healthy life. All this means integrating relevant topics into the curriculum, training primary and secondary school teachers in these subjects and investing in the transformation of local primary schools into social development centres. Post-emergency situations offer the opportunity to use education, not only to impart knowledge, but also as a way of helping communities to achieve a sense of "reattachment", especially for affected children. Particular problems are associated with providing schooling to nomadic communities, where there must be agreement on an appropriate curriculum that avoids the risk of becoming "non-formal" and being perceived as somehow inferior to mainstream education.

Strengthening information, communication and knowledge systems. Information and knowledge systems are poorly developed in the region. They constitute major constraints to progress, as reflected in the weak industrial and service sectors and continued reliance on traditional, low-productivity farming. There is an urgent need to strengthen information, communication and knowledge (ICK) systems, which should complement formal education systems, since it is known that those with even limited formal education benefit most from ICK. Such development must be directed to rural communities and remote and marginalized people, who are currently the most starved of information and are the most likely to benefit. The devolution of communication and information management systems is an important element of the decentralization process that is taking place throughout the region. As ICK systems are developed, it is important to ensure that women have at least equal access to them and that the systems be designed according to the demands of the client group, so that the sort of information they need is actually provided. In the interests of efficiency, every effort should be made to harmonize the ICK systems in the region, both across countries and across the different sectors, so that health, relief, education and agriculture use a common hardware platform and optimize the investment in telecommunications.

Implementing effective population policies

Effective national population policies and programmes need to be formulated and implemented in order to reduce population growth rates to more sustainable levels. Such policies should include the provision of enhanced health services delivery in rural areas and improved education, especially for girls and women.

Developing infrastructure and services

While community-level interventions must necessarily be determined on a demand-driven basis, important investments are required in the rehabilitation and construction of infrastructure on the national and, in some cases, the regional scale (see Strengthening regional cooperation).

Transport and communications. The region's involvement in international trade is severely hampered by the poor state of its ports and of the roads and railways that serve them. The present deteriorated condition of infrastructure, which is a result of inadequate maintenance, a lack of modernization and barriers to the use of ports during conflict, adversely affects farmers and makes it more difficult for them to survive in an increasingly competitive world market. The farmgate cost of imported inputs is inflated, and the farmgate value of outputs reduced, by the high costs of transport. In emergencies, the delivery of relief to those in need is unnecessarily delayed.

The development and rehabilitation of infrastructure is an urgent need. Large-scale infrastructure developments such as ports, railways and major roads are undertakings in which governments need massive external support. Small-scale infrastructure, especially feeder and farm-to-market roads, are needed to bring isolated communities into the market and to open up a wider range of activities to them. Such roads should use labour-based construction methods so as to minimize foreign exchange costs and create valuable employment in poor communities. Community-based maintenance has to be an integral part of such developments.

In the modern world, where growth and progress are a function of access to knowledge and information, the countries of the region find themselves increasingly excluded. In this respect, the development of satellite-based telecommunications is not a luxury for the elite but a necessity for the future of the economy. The first steps have been taken in making modern telecommunications and access to the Internet available in rural areas through creating multipurpose community telecentres. Such facilities can provide education, market price information and business advice, as well as acting as a mechanism for alerting the central authorities about emerging crises. They also empower small farmers by providing them with access to the seat of government. Of course, such developments are predicated on the availability of rural power supply, and this emphasizes the need for rural electrification by conventional means or by local power generation, such as solar or mini-hydro, for example.

Major development projects. In most of the countries of the region, a number of large-scale projects, especially in the fields of irrigation, drainage, river basin development and soil conservation, have the potential, when rehabilitated or constructed, to contribute significantly to improved livelihoods, food security and sustainable natural resource management. As well as fitting into an overall development strategy for the region, each such project would have to be prepared and appraised in its own right.

Services. The provision of improved services, whether in health, education, agriculture or other sectors, needs to be looked at from both the national and the local perspectives. From a national point of view, the particular requirements will be for building local delivery capacities and monitoring performance, but there may also be the need for strengthening national institutions (e.g. agricultural research institutes and training institutions, food standard laboratories, and mapping and survey institutions). Strengthened planning and coordination across national boundaries (e.g.for locust and rinderpest control) will also be an important element of the strategy.

Experience suggests that governments have particular difficulties in developing effective services - whether in education, health, safety net management or agricultural extension - in the poorest and most remote areas. The service delivery strategy must, therefore, emphasize support for alternative service providers, particularly community-based organizations and NGO's which may be well placed to perform an intermediary role between communities and higher-level public sector institutions. Within agricultural extension and livestock health services there are good opportunities for promoting farmers as service providers.

Involving civil society

CSOs are playing a crucial role in relief and rehabilitation operations, providing information for early warning systems and vulnerability targeting and ensuring basic social services in the less well-endowed regions. NGOs have developed particular expertise in a number of areas that help to strengthen rural livelihoods, including microfinance and rural credit, literacy, income-generating activities for women and young people, processing units, and cereal banks. Some work with local communities to develop farming systems that are adapted to dryland areas, others specialize in resource and conflict management, and still others have developed education and advocacy programmes to broaden public debate and defend human rights. Some NGOs have been pioneers in the development of participatory approaches aimed at increasing the organizational strength of local communities and their ownership of project activities. The experience accumulated through these activities, especially where active local NGOs are involved, constitutes a resource that is not being fully utilized.

Relations between government and civil society are often characterized by mutual distrust. Suitable legislative frameworks are needed to govern the operations of the various types of CSOs, balancing flexibility with the need for coordination, and to establish effective fora for debate at all levels. Relations between NGOs and rural producers' organizations also need to be strengthened, as do partnerships between national and international NGOs.

Strengthening regional cooperation

Some of the underlying causes of food insecurity, especially that related to conflict and trade, are of a distinctly regional nature and cannot be addressed by separate national or local institutions or investments. These are areas in which regional cooperation would contribute substantially to solving the problem of food insecurity through creating a more favourable environment for conflict resolution, trade and economic development and the sharing of knowledge and ideas. The recent example of the burgeoning success of Southern African Development Community should serve as an inspiration and model for what might be achieved.

Improving political cooperation. It is clear that in the Horn of Africa conflict has been one of the major underlying causes of food insecurity. The most effective way to alleviate this problem at the international level is through improved political cooperation among the governments of the region and a renewed commitment to negotiating over potential areas of conflict. Support for regional organizations including the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and IGAD in undertaking the difficult task of conflict prevention and mediation, should be a priority (see Box 5). This may often mean calling in external assistance to complement the efforts of peacemakers within the region, who are seriously underfunded to perform this role.

Political cooperation is also fundamental to the peaceful resolution of cross-border issues related to international water rights. The commitment of governments in the Horn of Africa to cooperation, under the Nile Basin Initiative, could serve as a model for similar cooperation on the utilization of other international rivers and water bodies.

Strengthening economic integration. Cross-border issues need to be dealt with systematically if they are to create opportunities for faster economic growth and exploitation of the comparative advantages that are available to the different countries within the region. For example, policies regarding external trade and financial market integration could provide scope for enhanced trade, which would benefit all parties.
The development of regional infrastructure, especially roads linking neighbouring countries and telecommunications, and the establishment of information and communications networks would all enhance trade and serve to generate potentially huge external benefits for the economies of the region. Increased economic and transport integration are particularly important with regard to mobilizing responses within the region to drought and famine before there is recourse to external sources.

Many of the most vulnerable people are to be found in border areas. This is especially true of pastoralists, for whom territorial borders often have little meaning.
The control of transboundary livestock and crop pests and diseases, as well as trade policy harmonization, would have an immediate positive impact on these people.

Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)

IGAD, which has its headquarters in Djibouti, was founded in 1996, superseding the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Desertification. It is governed by an Assembly of Heads of State and Government, with a Council of Ministers that meets biannually. The Secretariat is headed by an Executive Secretary and, at present, it has three directors and 21 professional staff. An IGAD Partners' Forum plays an important part in formalizing the authority's working relations with partner donors and multilateral agencies.

IGAD has the task of revitalizing and expanding cooperation among Member States.1 Its mandate is to coordinate the efforts of Member States to advance their development goals in economic cooperation, political and humanitarian affairs and food security and environmental protection. Economic integration and sustainable development as part of wider regional and continental integration are the ultimate goals of IGAD. The gradual harmonization of macroeconomic policies and of programmes in social, technological and scientific fields is being promoted, creating an enabling environment for foreign, cross-border and domestic trade and investment. Capacity building in conflict prevention and the alleviation and mitigation of humanitarian crises are important aspects of its programme. IGAD's policy on food security is being implemented through a Food Security and Environment rotection Programme. This embraces projects to establish a regional integrated information system, remote sensing, market information systems, drought-tolerant crops, livestock production, integrated water resources management and natural resources management.

1 Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Uganda.

Promoting technical cooperation. There are many areas in which technical cooperation among the countries of the region could be of benefit to all parties. In the area of agricultural research and information, for example, findings and programmes on cropping in arid and semi-arid zones would be relevant to certain areas in all countries. Similarly, approaches to the development of pastoral production systems could be profitably shared by all countries. Technical collaboration and information sharing in the field of meteorology and drought and famine early warning systems are already occurring but could usefully be strengthened as part of a programme to eliminate famine in the region.

Consensus building

As an initial step in building consensus on the Strategy and Framework for Action outlined above among the development partners in the Horn of Africa, teams representing the Inter-Agency Task Force on the UN Response to Long-Term Food Security, Agricultural Development and Related Aspects in the Horn of Africa visited the countries of the region between July and September 2000. The teams worked closely with representatives of government, Task Force member agencies, other UN agencies, and regional intergovernmental organizations and international research organizations in the region. In each country, the conclusions of the Task Force Interim Report were presented to senior government officials, who responded by highlighting the key elements of their strategies aimed at achieving food security. There was a broad consensus that, for different reasons, the Task Force initiative was timely (see Box 6).

The Task Force Interim Report was also discussed with UN Country Teams, meetings of the donor community and representatives of NGOs and civil society.
There was broad agreement with the Strategy and Framework for Action in each country; a conclusion that was endorsed at a workshop to discuss the results of the Country Consultations held at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 7 and 8 August (see Box 2).


Country commitment to food security Djibouti

The Government has prepared long-term plans related to food security and rural development. These include a National Master Plan for Water Management and a Special Programme for Food Security. Within the framework of the UN Convention on the Environment, Djibouti has an Environmental Strategy and Action Plan which includes programmes for desertification prevention, biodiversity and poverty reduction. As an integral part of the rural development process, the Government has also prepared national programmes for education and health. There are a number of initiatives being implemented for the rural sector under bilateral and multilateral donor agreements, the main ones being a fishery development project, a social fund (African Development Bank) and a public work scheme (Agence djiboutienne d'exécution des travaux d'intérêt public [ADETIP]), financed by the World Bank.


Government priority, as spelled out in its macropolicy, is poverty eradication, with reduction of food insecurity being given special prominence. Owing to the increasingly unreliable rainfall patterns throughout the country, both public and private sector development efforts are focused on irrigation. However, pastoralist and small-scale livestock, as well as fisheries, development projects are currently being designed as integral parts of the country's long-term food security programme. The Government considers it essential that any programme aimed at reducing food insecurity addresses the needs of families displaced during the protracted war of independence and the recent conflict with Ethiopia. The initiative is timely because:

  • IMF, the World Bank and other donors have resumed their assistance following the promising initial steps taken, under UN and OAU auspices, towards the cessation of hostilities with Ethiopia.
  • The Government is in the process of formulating a Food Security and Nutrition Strategy with the support of the UN Country Team.
  • A PRSP is planned to be prepared with the support of the World Bank.
  • The UN Country Team has initiated the process leading to formulation of a United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF


The Government is keen to undertake both small- and large-scale irrigation development to address the problem of food insecurity caused by increasingly unreliable rainfall patterns, as well as programmes in support of pastoralists. The initiative is timely because:

  • Cessation of the war with Eritrea is prompting financing institutions and bilateral donors to consider resuming development programmes.
  • A well-conceived Food Security Strategy exists, and the Government is seeking external support for a Food Security Programme.
  • A PRSP is being prepared.
  • The process of UNDAF formulation is beginning.


Government priority is to address food insecurity in the arid and semi-arid areas, especially for pastoralists, who have been most seriously affected by the present emergency. The drought continues to worsen and its impact to spread. The initiative is timely because:

  • IMF and the World Bank have recently resumed assistance.
  • A broad reform programme has been initiated with a "Dream Team" of senior civil servants drawn from the World Bank, IMF and the private sector.
  • A PRSP, in which food security is a central theme, is being prepared.
  • A UNDAF that includes food security as a focus exists.
  • A Rural Development Strategy (RDS), which is at an early stage of preparation by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, proposes to focus on food security issues.


The team held discussions with the UN Country Team resident in Nairobi and visited Baidoa and other UN bases for two days. There are positive signs for the formation of a government which offer an opportunity to begin providing longer-term assistance to Somalia. The implementation of the Framework for Action in Somalia could begin by supporting the formulation of a long-term food security programme when a new government emerges. Peace and stability in Somalia would not only enhance food security there but would also bring immediate benefits to the country's neighbours through ending the spillover effects of conflict (arms flows and refugees) and opening access to this strategic part of the Horn for trade.


The Government is anxious to improve smallholder rainfed agriculture, rehabilitate major irrigation schemes and enhance livestock productivity. The initiative is timely because:

  • There are promising signs of resolving the civil war which would immediately improve the food security prospects of the large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
  • Having been largely excluded from external assistance for a decade, the Government is keen to re-engage with the donor community.
  • IMF voting rights have been restored.
  • The initiation of oil exports is allowing the Government to devote resources to food security and rural development issues.
  • A poverty alleviation strategy being preparared.


In Uganda, the incidence of poverty is declining. The Government has a Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), in which food security issues are addressed, and a Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture (PMA), which focuses on the adoption of improved technologies for the rainfed sector and small-scale irrigation. Having been favoured by donors and with an interim PRSP prepared, the Government is less concerned with resource mobilization than are others in the region. However, the Government agreed that the initiative could:

  • focus on concrete, community-based activities within the PEAP, the PMA and the PRSP;
  • support rehabilitation and development in the arid areas of the north (Karamoja).

4 To the extent that governments are already engaged in preparing Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), this may be the appropriate vehicle through which to address such issues.

Top Of PageTable Of ContentsNext Page