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Seed is a farmer's most essential input, especially in times of crisis. Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been an increasing incidence of emergency situations stemming from natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, as well as from civil wars and ethnic conflicts. Seed relief activities aim to contribute to food and livelihood security in such situations by ensuring that farmers, especially vulnerable farmers, have access to seed (i.e. planting material) of adequate quality.

In May 2003, FAO, together with its partner organizations, convened an international stakeholders' workshop on effective and sustainable seed relief activities. This brought together stakeholders from FAO, relief agencies, donors, technical organizations and emergency-prone countries to exchange lessons learned in the area of seed relief; to identify gaps and needs in the development of tools, guidance and methodologies; and to agree on recommendations for further work. This report contains the results of that workshop, including a number of case studies of seed relief activities in several African countries. The lessons learned have been translated into a set of guiding principles that have already been adopted by FAO's Emergency Coordination Group and are being progressively applied in the Organization's emergency operations.

The results of the workshop demonstrate that the international community has refined its understanding of seed relief in recent years. We have learned to distinguish between lack of availability of seed and constraints on access to seed that commonly result from poverty. We now appreciate the resilience of local seed systems and the importance of local markets in facilitating access to seeds. We also know that relief interventions have to be targeted to the specific needs of farmers and to be appropriate to the nature of the emergency situation.

As FAO continues to reflect on its own operational activities as well as to fulfil its normative role of helping to disseminate "best practice" worldwide, it is also well aware of the challenges ahead. Better needs assessment, targeted evaluations and a broader repertoire of responses are all key elements on the path to becoming more effective. However, no single blueprint will suffice. Rather, in this environment, in which emergencies are becoming even more complex and often more protracted, we need to focus also on the processes that will help us and our partners continue to adapt, learn and deliver appropriate responses. In this respect, we would like to highlight the important role of international organizations, including FAO, and especially of member states, in building capacity to understand, devise and implement more appropriate emergency response actions, and of our donor community who influence what type of actions will or will not be supported.

Louise Fresco
Assistant Director-General
Agriculture Department, FAO

Henri Carsalade
Assistant Director-General
Technical Cooperation Department, FAO

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