Partnering with Civil Society

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While the ultimate duty to realize the right to food rests with the State, civil society plays a crucial role. Civil society is an all-encompassing term and includes organized and non-organized non-state and non-government actors.These could be special interest groups, such as Farmer Associations, faith-based groups or simply individuals living in the same area and are thus interested in the development of this location. And, that food security and nutrition stays high on the political agenda and the plight of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society is not forgotten.

FAO is convinced that true and meaningful participation of civil society in planning, implementation and monitoring of public policies leads to better results. This requires however that civil society is empowered and well trained, has access to information, is able to voice its concerns freely and is allowed to inform about malpractices when they occur. In a nutshell, FAO’s work with civil society closes the gap between those that hold information and resources and are close to decision making and those that lack all of these three things. The outcome of a more vocal and constructive civil society may be a more just, equal and inclusive development for the benefit of all citizens.

What do we concretely? We strengthen technical and political capacity of civil society groups. We support such groups to participate in a meaningful manner in all aspects of national development. And we teach tools and techniques that allow civil society to track expenditure, monitor implementation and understand national budgets.

Participatory planning

A growing number of countries decentralize decision-making from national to sub-national level.
It is often a country’s districts that formulate and implement targeted interventions to reduce food insecurity, vulnerability and poverty. Every region in a country may have different needs and priorities. Public officers, based in a specific region, are familiar with the context of the area and are thus better placed to identify the most appropriate measures to target the most vulnerable and food insecure. Civil society in turn has a better chance to interact with public officials and participate in decision-making processes. Local governments are easier accessible which facilitates participation in decision-making by civil society, NGOs and the private sector.

However, the problem is that local government is often understaffed, has huge staff turn-over and low technical capacity. The available budget is far too low and essential equipment to govern a district are missing. Civil society is often unaware of public processes and wouldn’t know how to make their voice heard. Thus, the Right to Food Team set out to support district development planning.
This page illustrates a participatory planning process in the Kambia district in Sierra Leone with an active involvement of all stakeholders.

Monitoring and Expenditure Tracking

The Right to Food Team, in its support to district development planning, helps districts and sub-districts reproduce budgets in a simplified format. This is, for instance, done by producing one-page posters informing about the food and nutrition priorities in the development plan, targets to be achieved, when an activity should take place, how much money has been earmarked and the source of funds. Thereby, civil society has a chance to check whether their priorities are reflected in the budget and are adequately funded. This page also provides an example of a collaboration between government and an empowered civil society in Sierra Leone as well as a link to a guide to train civil society on budget analysis and expenditure tracking.