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

Jean-Charles Le Vallee Food system specialist, Canada
04.07.2013

Food systems exhibit economic, social and ecological thresholds that, when exceeded, result in changes in food system properties and services, thus impacting its sustainability, prosperity and levels of food security. The focus needs to shift to the resilience of food system properties and services to ensure food security when experiencing abrupt changes and chronic shocks. The more resilient a food system, the larger the disturbance it can absorb.

However, strong resilience is not always positive, e.g. areas depleted of natural resources are extremely resilient to change but provide little food security benefits in terms of food system properties and services. Resilience is experienced in the short term when faced with environmental, economic, demographic, technical, political and other acute shocks to the system. Aid improves short term resilience wealth benefits but development supports resilience growth and continuation. The aim is to remain within resilience thresholds (e.g. water - floods (high threshold) and droughts (low threshold)) and foster food security within steady tenable food system conditions, while reducing the potential for future food insecure conditions and food system failures to occur.

Food system resilience has several dimensions:

• Ecological resilience (slow dimension) denotes land-use change in physical and natural wealth, effectiveness in terms of resource utilisation and waste minimisation, its ability to support social and economic resilience, as well as food utilisation, without undermining ecological conditions and the natural ecosystems in which it operates. Food availability is largely coupled to this base;

• Economic resilience (fast dimension) symbolises the financial wealth of the system, economic growth and diversity in which it operates, the food provision chain that it rests on, its labour and capital productivity, and increasing incomes over time and the markets that it serves. Food access is mainly tied to this resilience dimension;

• Consumption Resilience (outcome dimension) is distinct from the other three resilience processes. It is a cornerstone of food system resilience as nutritional status indicates performance in which the individual participates in food systems. For example, it is possible for some individuals and household members to be food insecure in households enjoying food security. Conversely, certain individuals are well nourished even in households that are food insecure overall. Measurement of individual food security, whose access to food is regulated by intra-household allocation rules and processes, requires measurement of individual food utilisation, the third pillar of food security. This measurement is of particular relevance in selecting food poverty thresholds for analysis to distinguish between the food secure, the vulnerable to food insecurity, and the food insecure; and

• Social resilience (mixed slow/fast dimension) is designated as the human, political, and cultural wealth of the system, including safety-nets, levels of education, institutional stability, social cohesion regarding food system objectives, and both the political and cultural cohesion and enhancements of the standard of living of its host societies. This fourth resilience dimension is linked to the food security pillar regarding stability.

Food systems thus exhibit economic, social, safety, and ecological thresholds that, when exceeded, result in changes in food system properties and services. Investments in domestic food emergency preparedness and resilience-building are indispensable. Threats are constant. Aside from stock-to-use ratios showing tightness of the food supply, a nation must look into its diversity and reliability of transportation, food, and energy supplies; the share of consumption met through local and imported foods; regulatory compliance; measures to protect crops and animals from drought, pests, diseases; maximize reductions in food waste/losses, etc. Are national food contingency, emergency, and continuity plans in place? Can they be implemented? Is the gini coefficient low? Are food system participants working strategically towards common food security and resilience goals?

In crises, laddering resilience investments is necessary. Focusing on immediate economic resilience is the quickest and appropriate solution. Often labour productivity is the only resilience asset the indigent have. Thereafter, once health needs are assured, and some degree of temporary food security attained, other forms of social and economic resilience-building may begin to assume significance: e.g. agricultural extension, loans, basic literacy and numeracy leading onto business skills. As the development path grows, demands for resilience assets and connections rises, with additional investments in ecological resilience, and in food system properties and services beyond the primary sector.

It is more beneficial for food systems to exploit and reciprocate resilience for mutual benefit. By addressing the wealth aspects of resilience, a food system can reach food security and resilience goals, e.g. by promoting adequate incomes for producers; local and global diverse food production based upon agro-ecological principles; by offering protection of local agricultural lands and fish habitat; by ensuring widespread access to healthy, safe and nutritious food; and through social cohesion, allowing for the reduction of disparities, inequalities, and social exclusion. If the food system cannot deliver food and services on which people depend, sustainability declines, food system degradation occurs and the probability of becoming food insecure rises.