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Lessons learned



Food security and agricultural livelihoods recovery in protracted crises: Lessons learned by FAO and partners.


Jennifer Nyberg, FAO, Rome (Italy)

Neil Marsland, FAO, Rome (Italy)

Lucia Palombi, FAO, Rome (Italy)

Dick Trenchard, FAO, Rome (Italy)




Most responses to protracted crises take place in a humanitarian context that often limits the ability to address the real drivers of the crisis in a more comprehensive way. However, experience in Afghanistan, Haiti and Tajikistan shows how linking short- and long-term responses in protracted crises, and undertaking or promoting responses that address the structural causes of crises, can support longer-term recovery in agricultural livelihoods and food security.
However, given the characteristics that differentiate countries in protracted crisis from other food-insecure countries, greater attention is necessary to ensure the application of available tools, coordination and conceptual frameworks in more holistic and integrated ways that focus on understanding and supporting community resilience and creating more sustainable, diversified livelihoods.


Afghanistan: promoting sustainable livelihoods, food security and nutrition

FAO’s work in Afghanistan provides important lessons in terms of addressing short- and long-term needs in a protracted crisis context. Decades of conflict, compounded by drought, have left Afghanistan with degraded infrastructure, high unemployment and widespread poverty. In 2005, 44 percent of Afghan households perceived themselves as food-insecure. Agriculture plays a prominent role in the Afghan economy, generating an estimated 36 percent of GDP, excluding poppy cultivation and other services related to agriculture, such as food processing.
Two specific examples demonstrate the way that livelihoods have been transformed or constraints addressed through a more integrated approach in Afghanistan. These interventions are supported by an active food-security cluster, jointly coordinated by FAO and WFP, as well as an Agricultural Task Force, supported by the members of the UN country team, that is focused on ways of responding in the immediate-, medium- and longer-term by addressing crosscutting issues (including food security, agriculture, irrigation, social affairs and health).

First, FAO has implemented programmes in Afghanistan aimed at integrating emergency relief/recovery with nutrition, biodiversity preservation, food security and livelihoods objectives into relevant government policies and institutions, notably in agriculture, rural development, health and education. Strategies promoted to develop the agriculture sector and, in turn, the national economy, have been aimed at diversifying crop and animal production in ways that reach many segments of society.

For example, FAO and the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock worked together to expand wheat seed production by supporting private seed enterprises with loans to produce certified and quality-declared seed for the 2008 and 2009 planting seasons. At the end of both seasons, 99 percent of the loans had been repaid, with interest, by the seed enterprises. The proceeds (approximately US$5 million) have been used to create a seed industry development fund, managed by the Afghanistan National Seed Association, that will help establish new private seed enterprises in other parts of the country with FAO technical support. The proceeds will be also be used to provide seasonal loans to seed enterprises as a means of supporting increased production of certified seed.

Second, nutrition programmes were also used as culturally acceptable entry points to address gender issues in Afghanistan. Strategies have aimed at strengthening women’s technical skills by working in partnership with organizations that assist women to form self-help groups to access credit and markets and develop small, agriculture-based businesses. 

Lessons learned: These interventions were implemented during a period marked by substantial changes in government structure. Such an evolving institutional context required flexibility that allowed for effective real-time adjustments without compromising longer-term goals, and interventions focused at local levels or other types of entry points – communities, households and small enterprise. Nutrition was a culturally acceptable entry point to address gender issues in Afghanistan, even when women remain excluded from public life. Assisting line ministries and local institutions in project planning and resource mobilization for food security interventions helped fill identified gaps and scale up successful interventions.


Haiti: strengthening climate resilience and reducing disaster risk in agriculture to improve food security post-earthquake

After the earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January 2010 FAO formulated a project, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), World Bank, that for the first time under this funding window explicitly integrated emergency relief (agricultural inputs) with identified good practice in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

FAO had previously undertaken a regional project in the Caribbean aimed at promoting climate change adaptation. Lessons learned from the previous work were used in planning the GEF-funded project interventions. Interventions include promoting soil conservation and agroforestry practices that have proved effective in reducing risks associated with climate hazards; identifying, multiplying and distributing seed of short-cycle, drought- and flood tolerant crops that had already been accepted by local farmers and adapted to changes in local climatic conditions; and promoting good agricultural practices that enhance risk reduction and risk management.

Lessons learned: Actively seeking ways to link short-term and long-term needs through one programming and funding window may provide a good opportunity to ensure that Haitians’ livelihoods are restored and transformed, and that results are sustainable. Accessing good practice and lessons learned from a wide variety of disciplines have provided ways forward in terms of integrating multiple programming entry points. One of the key challenges in integrating short- and long-term needs has been resolving the tensions between the more operational and relief-focused humanitarian actors and the more systematic and longer-term focus of development practitioners, particularly in terms of cost-benefits, coverage of beneficiaries and concepts related to sustainability.


Tajikistan: institutional and gender-sensitive land reform

Tajikistan remains one of the poorest countries among the former Soviet republics, with poverty concentrated in rural areas. Civil conflict from 1992 to 1997 resulted in a large number of IDPs, disabled people and widows. The collapse of state social safety nets exacerbated poverty, particularly for rural women. Women were, in many cases, the primary source of financial support for their families and households, and while 73 percent of all agricultural workers were women, only 2 percent of private farms were owned by women. There was a need for greater awareness of gender related issues in agriculture, particularly in the context of the unfolding land reform process. Between 2006 and 2008, FAO and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) implemented a project to improve land reform management and monitoring systems, with a special focus on promoting gender equality and consultative processes. One of the aims of the project was to support women in securing their land-use rights and livelihoods, and focused on campaigns to raise awareness of impending land reform for ten state farms. More than 60 seminars were conducted on the state farms, reaching 3 784 participants, 55 percent of whom were women (see: Improved Food Security and Enhanced Livelihoods through Institutional and Gender-sensitive Land Reform: lessons from Tajikistan).

To enhance the gender responsiveness of key government institutions, a network of national gender specialists was formed in the Agency of Land Tenure, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Water Resources, Association of Dekhkan Farms, Agroinvestbank and the Agency for Statistics. Throughout this process, FAO and UNIFEM worked closely with the former State Land Committee (now renamed the Agency for Land Management, Geodesy and Cartography).

Lessons learned: Efforts at land reform were weakened by the lack of capacity to undertake sustainable actions aimed at achieving gender equality and a poor understanding of gender analysis and a gender mainstreaming approach. Intervention is needed to be developed by specialists with a holistic perspective. Traditional technical experts may not necessarily adopt people-centred approaches in addressing technical problems. Adoption of consultative processes and participatory approaches helped reduce the disproportionate emphasis on external support in rural areas, and helped women secure their land-use rights and livelihoods.


Ways forward: addressing short- and longer-term dimensions of food insecurity in protracted crises

Most responses to protracted crises take place in a humanitarian context that often limits the possibility of addressing the different drivers of the crisis in a more coordinated and holistic way. However, humanitarian food-security clusters in protracted crises can provide important platforms for strengthening linkages between immediate humanitarian responses and longer-term development assistance aimed at addressing underlying structural factors limiting livelihoods. Clusters can develop transition strategies to ensure a smooth handover to development structures and processes and bring together the main national and international partners active in the food security sector.

From a conceptual point of view, simultaneously addressing short- and longer-term food-security issues in protracted crisis situations is not a new idea. What has perhaps changed in recent years is the extent to which such thinking has been put into practice and, in a growing number of instances, mainstreamed. Major donors have highlighted the need to link humanitarian food assistance and efforts to promote sustainable, agriculture-led growth as part of an integrated food-security approach. Donors have increasingly recognized that this is necessary in order to address comprehensively the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition while maintaining necessary support for humanitarian food assistance.
For the examples above, activities were developed through a unified food-security strategy that integrated short- and longer-term dimensions. However, they are still far from a comprehensive approach for addressing short and longer-term issues such as institutional weakness affecting livelihoods.


What can be done to support livelihoods and food security in protracted crises?

There are three broad types of intervention: livelihood provisioning, livelihood protection and livelihood promotion.

Livelihood provisioning – the most common type of intervention – aims to meet immediate basic needs and protect people’s lives. Free food distribution is often carried out for livelihood provisioning; as well as meeting immediate food needs directly it frequently serves also as a form of income support. Other examples of livelihood  provisioning include interventions such as voucher systems, which people can use to buy essential goods and services.

Livelihood protection interventions aim to protect and support people’s assets and to prevent negative outcomes, such as divesting productive assets.

Livelihood promotion aims to improve livelihood strategies and assets, and to support key policies and institutions that can boost livelihoods. Projects that provide vocational training to IDPs, for example, can enhance their skill levels and thus their employability once the crisis is over.  

Generally, however, humanitarian agencies do not frequently engage with institutions and policies that could boost livelihoods during the crisis, such as helping to negotiate access to markets or engaging with issues over land rights and land “occupation”. These are seen as “long-term” issues, whereas short-term planning and funding drive much humanitarian work. But there is growing demand for agencies to engage with some of these contentious issues when the crisis becomes protracted.

There are three priorities for strengthening livelihoods programming in protracted crises in the future:

1. Livelihood assessments should be undertaken early in all crises (not just protracted crises), incorporating not only an assessment of basic life-saving needs but also an assessment of the causes of longer-term vulnerability to food insecurity for all groups. This should inform strategies to protect and promote livelihoods that should be implemented as soon as the emergency has been contained. This kind of programming  should be seen as part of the first phase of response and should not be delayed.

2. The analysis that precedes livelihoods programming must pay attention to conflict and power dynamics, in particular the interactions among different livelihood groups. This is true not only for protracted crises caused by conflict but also for natural disasters. In both, there is a high probability that inequalities and exploitation by the powerful will intensify in the chaos and weakened governance that often prevails.

3. Humanitarian agencies must become aware of, and be prepared to engage with, the longer-term transitions that begin or are accelerated during prolonged crises, the most common of which is urbanization. This requirement challenges the short-term planning horizons that characterize humanitarian programming, yet will ensure more appropriate interventions that prepare for the post-crisis era.



Margie Buchanan-Smith, Susan Jaspars, Sara Pantuliano, How livelihoods adapt in protracted crises, in FAO, State of Food Insecurity 2010. Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises, Rome, 2010.

Jennifer Nyberg, Neil Marsland, Lucia Palombi, Dick Trenchard, Using short-term responses to support longer-term recovery in agriculture and food security, in FAO, State of Food Insecurity 2010. Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises, Rome, 2010.



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