Re: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises: Resilience-building programming

Naomi Baird Concern Worldwide, United Kingdom

This is a very interesting and stimulating discussion, with the diverse range of experiences and opinions being shared indicative of the wide ranging nature of addressing resilience building in areas of protracted crisis.  As we all testify, this is not a simple feat.  The growing understanding of the interrelatedness of systems, structures, processes, shocks and stresses is drawing together different schools of thought and practice in the public and private domains, in an attempt to address this challenge in a more joined up and systemic way.

I would like to echo the inputs already made by my colleagues in Afghanistan and Ethiopia, and build on them, predominantly drawing upon Concern's experiences in the Sahel and Horn of Africa.  

1.    What are the strategies that have been successful in building resilience? Can we build resilience in general or does it always have to be in relation to a (known) type of shock?

There is a consensus emerging on what needs to change in the delivery of aid including integrated multi-sector programming that brings together the different tracts of humanitarian, development and environment sectors, but this is a new progression requiring further research going forward.

Concern’s learning from projects in Niger includes; the importance of combining cash transfers and malnutrition interventions with interventions in other sectors that address the causes of malnutrition and food insecurity; and, the need to consider making cash transfer programmes conditional on certain health behaviours, or combining it with food aid or vouchers. To account for the diverse uses of cash transfers, it is also important to develop and monitor nutrition and food security indicators as a measure of the success of the programme.

In 2010, USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network indicated that Moyale District in the Horn of Africa was at risk of becoming ‘highly food insecure’. This warning led Concern, in collaboration with the government and local partners, to begin an early scale up of High Impact Nutritional Interventions across Moyale District. This included recruiting and training health workers, supporting the Ministry of Health to open six new health facilities, the distribution of water purification tablets and a food voucher scheme for 3,000 poor households.

The result was that between December 2010 and July 2011, the rate of severe malnutrition fell in Moyale (from 3% to 1.5%) whereas in the two neighbouring districts it increased dramatically. In Moyale, the general acute malnutrition rate increased only slightly whereas in the other two districts it increased substantially; the rate in Moyale was half that in the other districts. Several factors combined to enable Moyale to fare better than neighbouring districts:

  • Resilience was promoted over time through contextually appropriate, multi-sectoral interventions. Government capacity to respond was strengthened.
  • There was an early, multi-sectoral scale up of food, nutrition and livelihood interventions. There was coordination among agencies, with Concern working with local government services, the World Food Programme and another NGO, World Vision.

In Concern’s opinion it is important to build resilience to specific types of shocks. The shocks to which people are highly vulnerable vary across contexts: for instance, in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions it is drought, in the DRC it is conflict. However, people’s vulnerability to shock is not only determined by the types of shocks they face, but also by the rate of change and the interconnectedness of factors affecting change. It is the interaction of shocks and stresses that erode people’s options and ability to cope – and contribute to creating full-blown crises.

In the Sahel region for example, it took only a 3% dip of food production in 2012 to trigger a massive food and nutrition crisis. This is due to recurring drought cycles, price rises and disease. Therefore, efforts to build resilience must not only take into account the defining ‘shock’ but also the wider shocks, stresses, their pace and interaction.

2.    What programming has improved food security in protracted crises?

In the first place, it is important to stress that food and nutrition security must be addressed together. In turn, the causal framework that links food and nutrition security to a crisis must be understood from the outset. Although lessons learned from programming are context specific, there is evidence to support the following programmatic interventions to improve food and nutrition security in times of crisis:

  • Smallholder productive capacity: in order to have most impact on local food security, especially for the poorest
  • Agro-ecological practices: in order to restore degraded lands, boost yields, livelihoods and resilience
  • Climate smart programming: in agriculture and livestock to build and maintain people’s returns on assets in the face of climate change
  • Integrated programming: addressing all the underlying causes of food and nutrition security has greatest impact
  • Social protection and cash transfers: in order to ensure access to food for the poorest when food is available on the market and when access to food is a challenge
  • Early response to early warning: to scale up preventative activities in a timely manner so as to avert a crisis
  • Address the policy landscape: to build an enabling environment that supports the poor and marginalized and contributes towards their efforts to build their resilience to shocks.
  • 3.    How will we know we are on the right track to produce resilience?

The question of how to measure resilience is a work in progress. Concern Worldwide is committed to contributing towards the growing global evidence base on resilience. Concern is working in collaboration with Tufts University to assess the impact of programmatic work on community resilience in Chad. Our measures of impact and success are based on evidence of reduced inequality, risk and vulnerability.

Better nourishment can be evidence of improved returns on assets, reduced inequality, and reduced vulnerability since a well-nourished individual will be more resilient. We are also using livelihood, diversification and coping strategies indices to measure success. The real test will be to assess how indicators fare during crisis years.

4.    Can we predict and quantify the effects of action across a number of sectors in advance?   Do we need to?

In the context of climate change, population growth, and natural resource scarcity, programming for resilience will not take place in a static environment where impacts can be accurately predicted in advance. Thus, taking stock of external factors that shape resilience will have to occur on a regular basis.

5.    Why have we not done better to date?

Despite sophisticated systems to detect the onset of hazards, governments (both national and international) can lack political will to take preventative action.  The costs of this failure, both in human life and financially, can be colossal. Mitigating other factors that cause delayed reactions (agency decision making, accountability etc) can only be effective if political constraints can be resolved.  Foreign governments will weigh up a response with their own political agendas and their decision may not be determined by the humanitarian imperative.  National governments may not want to tarnish their international image, or perhaps show less interest if marginalised communities are most affected.  This means agencies must be more effective in their advocacy efforts.

Early response also falls through the cracks between the remit of the humanitarian and development sectors. This occurs in donor governments and other funding institutions, as well as within agency’s own approaches to programming and how aid workers even understand their job specs.  There is bifurcation throughout the system!  When early warnings are sounded the system is ill equipped to respond appropriately.  There is a call for a new paradigm, a fundamental shift in the aid architecture, that moves out of silos towards more integrated programming in order to build resilience and manage risk.  At a minimum DRR approaches need to be taken up by the development sector whereby long-term programming can respond to early warning triggers and adapt according to needs.  As mentioned previously, social protection will be vital to this.

The key question is “how” to create more holistic programming that integrates disciplines and communities of practice necessary to affect synergies for impact.  So far, DRR, CCA, Social Protection have worked in isolation, and are all fairly new disciplines. Continued separation leads to policy incoherence, ineffective use of resources, inefficiencies, duplication, and competition.

Communication, coordination and collaboration between institutions and government departments that deal with climate change, DRR, development etc pose serious challenges to tackling issues through a resilience lens.  Often governments own disaster management bodies and their climate change departments do not talk to one another, let alone do joined up planning.  At institutional level, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change only very scantily incorporates DRR strategies (due to political push back), and the Hyogo Framework for Action, as non-legally binding, struggles to be taken on board by non DRR bodies.  More functional ways of operating and connecting need to be established, something that needs to be taken up and addressed by the planners and budget holders.

The close association between DRR and humanitarian actors (responsible for relief response) is preventing this work being taken up by development and climate actors.  The perception of DRR as primarily a humanitarian concern is an anachronism that must be overcome.

Linked to this is the funding issue, whereby DRR interventions are largely funded by humanitarian aid.  This reinforces DRR as a humanitarian responsibility, rather than supporting it being taken up the development agenda.  Conversely taking on DRR with its more development style norms, can be seen to impact upon the humanitarian imperative and the ability of actors to carry out interventions based on humanitarian principles.  The funding of CCA initiatives from environmental budgets can also be seen to keep CCA from being taken up by development actors and keeps this climate work separate and isolated.  Funding through multilaterals only acts to enforce these divides and does not support integration.

The international aid architecture is not set up to promote resilience approaches.  Humanitarian actors specialise in response not prevention, and do not have long term sources of funding, yet they are now moving into longer term programming covering an ever increasing array of duties that stretch their mandate, principles and skills base.  Development actors on the other hand are still reluctant to see preparing for and mitigating shocks as part of their remit and generally wish to continue with business as usual, whilst also lacking the flexible funding needed to scale up activities to avert disaster.

Long term flexible funding is needed in order to strengthen resilience of communities. Programming needs to be integrated, and a body of evidence built up that examines the ins and outs, pros and cons of this approach.  Established best practice will support donors to put their money in the right places.

There is little interaction between the fields of expertise, practice and policy, of all these areas identified as necessary for resilience to develop.  There exist inherent scepticisms of one another’s fields as well as differing perspectives, tools and methods that all contribute to difficulties in building synergies between the approaches.  Demands from field applications for more joined up approaches will be necessary to bring together the thinking and planning for resilience, with back up given by bilateral and multilateral donors.

However, contrasts and conflicts do exist between the domains, and these cannot be ignored or left unaddressed.  To move forward in a constructive and effective manner a deep examination of the tensions and stressors in trying to align the approaches in a more coherent fashion needs to occur.  Resilience cannot afford to be pure rhetoric but must be underpinned by thorough analysis and research.  The pitfalls and trade-offs for moving these domains closer together in a more systematic manner must be determined and taken on board e.g. operating at different levels, short or long term perspectives, programmatic overload.  Unfavourable conditions for such a merger need to be identified immediately.

As well as identifying the political implications, costs, benefits and pay-offs of promoting a resilience agenda, strong leadership will also be required if it is to advance in a systematic way.  This is somewhat of a catch 22 as resilience cannot be led separately under a separate department or body as its very aim and strength lies in bridging and uniting all the different sectors that need to work collaboratively to ensure that development is sustainable and manages risk.

In many countries experiencing protracted crises the national and local government capacity is often too challenged to integrate different approaches to effectively build resilience.  This can also be said to be true of development agencies and NGOs.  Not only can institutional capacity be weak, but the capacity of individual staff also needs reassessing and people need to be able to wear several hats to be able to manage integrated programming.  If donors continue to promote resilience as the way forward, they will also need to put their money into building capacity to do so.

Designing resilient programming will require cross-disciplinary learning, planning and implementation, requiring new innovative ways of working.  Evidence for this way of working being more cost efficient, as well as effective, needs to be generated.  Scaling up such innovative programmes also poses challenges which must be tackled if significant impact is to be achieved.

Countries faced with food and nutrition challenges in a context of protracted crisis are also amongst the fastest growing in the world. However, often economic growth at the national level has not served the poorest groups in societies and has instead resulted in increased equality gaps between the poorest and the richest. Addressing inequalities at the national level is crucial, but global inequalities will also need to be addressed.

6.    Is it just about scale? Do we just need bigger programmes? Is this affordable?

It is about scale as well as coherent and integrated policy planning, not just about bigger programmes. Political will is necessary to achieve impact and scale, beyond resilience programming. In order to improve resilience, country governments cannot stop at producing a resilience strategy for example, they must commit to work on policies and investments that aim at reducing inequality and vulnerability. In the same way, donors cannot just fund resilience programmes without ensuring that their domestic and international policies are conducive to enhancing resilience in developing countries, and at the global level. In terms of funding, long-term commitments are required so that the life span of resilience programmes is longer than the typical 3-5 year projects currently being supported.

7.    Demographic and ecological changes are probably the most predictable causal factors that will have a major impact on resilience in the future -- how should we plan for this? Can we predict the consequences of inadequate action? Should we try to?

There is a wealth of evidence regarding the expected costs of inaction, trade-offs and lowest hanging fruits that take climate change and resource scarcity into account. However, there is a lack of decision-making or prioritization of tools that can enable countries to go from policy planning to action. In this sense, incentives and barriers to implementation of specific policies must be identified, and decision-making tools that can help policy-makers prioritize actions are needed.