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

Morwenna Sullivan ACF, United Kingdom

ACF’s focuses on the prevention and treatment of undernutrition. We recognize that combatting the underlying causes of undernutrition will involve preventive interventions which range from food security and livelihoods protection and enhancement, to care practices, access to health and WASH facilities and social protection.  Thus a comprehensive coordinated approach forms the basis of any action.  Resilience building must focus on reducing people’s vulnerability to shocks and stresses and seasonal fluctuations while also addressing long term structural vulnerability affecting the nutrition security of the population, especially children under five.

For ACF, strategies which have been successful for resilience building encompass a number of programming conditions:

  • A thorough understanding of the dynamics of natural and man-made hazards affecting nutrition security in the Sahel. This must inform a context specific needs analysis which includes analysis of seasonal vulnerabilities for underlying causes of undernutrition – coupled with analysis of risk of future disaster and undernutrition.
  • A holistic, multi-sectoral, integrated approach in which all nutrition sensitive actions reinforce each other.  Well-timed activities which targets different layers of society as appropriate from the individual level through to the household, and community. Ideally this should be complemented by interventions targeting policy makers at national and regional levels.
  • A multi-phase approach. In the event of a crisis, humanitarian needs are prioritized, with resilience building outcomes relating to FSL (and other underlying causes of undernutrition) identified. Emphasis is on needs assessment and analysis and support to existing projects that act to measure and manage severe acute malnutrition.  This leads into medium-term rehabilitation combined with resilience building. Examples include support to the health system coupled with upgrading preparation and response systems and hazard-proofing existing and new infrastructure linked to early recovery and rehabilitation operations.  The emphasis should also be to build capacity of government and CSOs.  The final stage incorporates long-term reduction of structural vulnerability.  Action here aims to address the causes of disaster and undernutrition and assuring that communities are supported by responsible and capable local institutions and the international system. 
  • Multi-layered targeting able to identify and address specific needs and opportunities at individual level, household and community level and at government (local and central) level, which  takes into account factors that can increase people vulnerability.
  • A flexible and adaptive approach, allowing different programme elements (targeting, beneficiaries, activities, calendar, budget) to be adapted according to evolving needs and/or changes in the context.
  • Long term commitment form governments, donors and civil society
  • Strong coordination between international communities, governments, civil society, the private sector, research, and other stakeholders in order to better understand the challenges, the opportunities and the objectives of resilience building and achieve agreements on roles based on comparative advantages and added value.
  • Strong leadership effort from governments (where possible) and from other actors in more fragile states, with progressive empowerment of authorities ranging from local to central level.
  • The capacity to foster inclusive economic development benefiting the poor while protecting them with appropriate and safety nets tailored to needs.

For ACF, priority areas to build resilience include:

  • Nutrition interventions in under-fives and mothers (at scale and with high coverage)
  • Protection and development of dietary diversity and addressing  the imbalance of women in local food systems  (with focus on complementary foods for 6-24moths old)
  • Protection of assets (with in ACF’s seasonal thinking and resilience response in 3 phases as described in pt 4 above)
  • Prepositioning of CMAM resources to mitigate seasonal surge of Severe Acute Malnutrition and Moderate Acute Malnutrition. Sustain and synchronise responses and ensure nutrition objectives within cross sectorial interventions at all levels.

Resilience programming has a lot to do with maximizing the nutritional impact of our interventions in different sectors. ACF has adopted a holistic framework in the fight for nutritional security, but this integrated, multi-phased and long term programming has mostly happened despite funding structures not because of them. Efforts by donors to provide a new financial framework, (which does not necessarily mean additional funding) will be key. Practitioners must have the flexibility to implement overlapping emergency response or rehabilitation or longer term resilience building activities at the same time, if the need arises. They are currently unable to do so due to the rigid funding mechanisms in place.  Flexible, predictable and long-term funding strategies, combining a traditional development programming approach with pre-positioning humanitarian reserves to enable timely response are crucial.

Programmes improving food security in protracted crisis foster a longer term vision which brings together actions that are able to comprehensively address vulnerability to shocks and stresses and to seasonal fluctuations as well as the structural vulnerability, reducing impact at all levels of society (individual, households, communities and states’ system and services).  Pregnant and lactating women, babies and children have heightened nutritional requirements, particularly between conception complementary feeding phase and age two. Resilience building strategies must therefore be planned and monitored in relation to how far they address these nutrition needs for children under five during ‘the window of opportunity’ of 1000 days to prevent impaired child growth, create healthy conditions for  women during pregnancy and that put the growing child at a lower risk of suffering from chronic diseases in adulthood.

In the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions, where hunger and under-nutrition are highly seasonal, integrating seasonality into information systems and programme design is crucial. Income, food prices, health, care practices, all determinants of undernutrition follow seasonal patterns. By thinking seasonally, and planning accordingly, and by combining humanitarian and development efforts, governments, NGOs and donors can put in place predictable interventions to strengthen the resilience of populations in order to prevent seasonal peaks in undernutrition reaching crisis point.  If stakeholders are serious about reducing the number of people affected undernutrition, if they really want to improve and save lives, to transform rhetoric into reality, a seasonal approach is imperative.

Innovative, flexible and context specific programmes are also key. One size does not fit all. We can make two examples, certainly not exhaustive. In Niger ACF’s food security and livelihoods teams are providing assistance which helps counter the negative effects of seasonal changes in food availability and food price fluctuations. Using a “warrantage” system, ACF teams help small farmers to access credit through micro finance institutions (MFI), using part of their harvest as collateral. The credit can be invested in other activities, while the harvest is stored until prices rise. At this point the farmer can buy back their harvest for the original price they sold it for and sell it on the open market for a higher profit. This system buffers small farmers against the effects of market price fluctuations and counters the vicious cycle where farmers are obliged to sell their crops at harvest time, at low prices, in order to purchase additional food and other essentials or to pay back loans taken during the lean season.

Another excellent example of resilience initiatives is the REPI program in Burkina Faso, which, thanks to flexible funding, has introduced safety net mechanisms to an existing development program following the 2012 drought crisis. This innovation has forced organizations to structure safety nets in way to reinforce and not harm the ongoing development program implemented with the same beneficiaries, and further enhance the climate change adaptation through land protection and rehabilitation.

Predicting and quantifying the effects of action across a number of sectors is essential. However the settings of specific impact monitoring systems should not be disconnected from our ultimate goal: the reduction of nutritional vulnerability, with particular focus on the 1000 day ‘window of opportunity’. We need now to include the reduction in rates of malnutrition as an impact indicator of successful resilience programming. For ACF, resilience will only be achieved when all interventions, in all sectors, measure their impact vis-a-vis the reduction of under nutrition.