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World Humanitarian Day 2016: Staff profiles

Staff profiles: George - Lesotho

Most of the countries affected by El Niño in Southern Africa have been unable to produce enough food to meet national food requirements. For Lesotho, the impact is even worse as the country already produces far less than it requires. This year, there has been an estimated 89 percent drop in overall agricultural production, leaving over 680 000 people in need between May 2016 and June 2017. Food prices have gone up, household incomes have declined and remittances from South Africa have dwindled. Livestock conditions have deteriorated, water shortages and lack of employment opportunities have all contributed to increased food insecurity.

GEORGE MVULA is from Malawi and has been working for FAO for 12 years in a number of challenging contexts, including in Somalia, South Sudan and the Gambia. He joined FAO’s team in Lesotho 8 months ago as a programme and operations officer.

Can you give an overview of the scope of the El Nino emergency and what you’ve seen on field missions throughout the country?
The livelihood crisis that caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon has been unprecedented. On field missions, you can see the struggles people are going through to sustain their lives and livelihoods. There are reports of increased migration to towns and South Africa in search of work. Livestock lack feed, the situation has further been exacerbated by the harsh winter conditions in the mountains where snowfall affected livestock grazing.

How is FAO responding to the El Nino emergency?
Once the situation became clear that we are dealing with a widespread crisis; FAO in Lesotho prepared an Emergency Response Plan that focuses on safeguarding livelihoods. With the summer agricultural season starting at the end of August; farmers need assistance through provision of seeds and implements. However, FAO intends to not only distribute inputs, but contribute to building resilience through proper management of the natural resources by promoting climate smart agricultural practices and techniques.

What is your current role with FAO and what does it involve?
I am a Programme and Operations Officer which basically involves managing the whole project cycle from conceptualization to reporting and closure. I lay my hands on almost everything that needs to be done to ensure that the project is successfully implemented.

What motivated you to work in the humanitarian field, and specifically in food security?
The ability and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those that need help owing to natural, economic and human induced disasters. My main motivation has always been the knowledge that I am making a contribution either directly or indirectly, by bringing food to the millions that lack it; the very same food that most of us take for granted and throw away every day!

Can you share your most inspiring moment in humanitarian (FAO) work? i.e., in terms of work achievement in the country where you are, what have you been most proud about?
My most inspiring moment comes from my previous engagement in Malawi still with FAO. With funding from Spain, we supported drought-affected smallholder farmers with inputs and training during winter production. We developed a small-scale gravity-fed irrigation scheme that comprised a group of about 20 farmers. One of the farmers was a mid-aged lady who was able to produce enough crop from the 0.1ha we supported to enable her send her daughter to high school, improve her house with proper iron sheet roofing, bought an ox-drawn cart and was planning to save enough money to buy a small car to take her produce to further markets in order to fetch better prices. That was so inspiring and felt extremely honoured to have been part of the team that changed the life of this lady!

What is it like working in an emergency environment?
Working in an emergency environment requires adequate skills in planning, ability to focus, ability to work under extreme pressure and sacrifice your leisure to work long hours every day. Since you do not have much time and that response interventions are time bound, everything has to be done on time and sometimes organizational rules and procedures do not allow you the luxury to skip a step.

What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you cope?
The biggest challenge is the pressure to deliver the assistance to affected populations on time. Organizational rules, procedures and processes sometimes do not allow us to work at the speed that we would like to; unfortunately, those things do not make sense to a family that is suffering out there. For them, all they need is food on their plates. Therefore, it becomes incumbent on me to ensure that I do everything within my capacity to deliver the commitment that FAO has made to that family in the village through its programmes. This calls for open and honest communication channels with all colleagues within the Organization.

What are the biggest challenges facing FAO in the location where you are?
FAO is facing huge funding difficulties in Lesotho. The country does not receive much attention from donor community and that makes it too difficult to raise enough resources necessary for emergency response especially with the magnitude of this El Niño crisis.

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do on the job?
Working with FAO in Jonglei State in South Sudan – that was a challenge and a half in all aspects!!!!!!!