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FAO and social protection: time to scale up!

11/06/2018

A side event of the 159th FAO Council last 4 June, 2018, “FAO’s role in social protection: Innovation to achieve zero hunger, reduce poverty and build resilient communities” highlighted the organization’s growing engagement in the area of social protection in recent years. It also demonstrated FAO’s key role in solidifying partnerships with donors and governments in the areas of poverty reduction and resilience-building in rural communities around the globe. This event was also an opportunity to show not only progress but made the case for scaling up FAO’s work why the work cannot end here.

FAO’s social protection programme currently operates across five regions, cross-cutting through many FAO divisions and areas of work. In less than seven years, FAO has built a solid social protection framework, and progressively increased its country presence and support to reach 42 countries. FAO has a strong contribution in four priority areas of work: agriculture and natural resource management, nutrition, resilience building, especially in face of protracted crises and natural disasters, and expansion of coverage of social protection programmes. Some important goals and milestones achieved in recent years were shared during the side event by the organization, its partners and donors, making the case that social protection interventions work and are a viable and effective pathway out of hunger and poverty.

Since 2013, social protection has been framed as a corporate priority for FAO, and a key instrument in achieving Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 since 2015. However, as stated by the latest ILO report on Social Protection, currently only 45% if the global population is effectively covered by at least one social benefit. In fact, Benjamin Davis, leader of the Strategic Programme for Reducing Rural Poverty, warns against complacency, as much work is yet to be done. “Social protection coverage continues to be low in the regions where poverty incidence is highest, and (…) despite all the progress in social assistance, social insurance remains significantly limited”.

While the need for more work is clear, a priority of FAO is to work in a cohesive fashion as one FAO to actively advocate for the comprehensive coverage of social protection with its partners. Partnerships are one of the main driving forces behind FAO’s success in mainstreaming social protection across the organization, and accomplishments made so far would be nowhere possible without them. FAO makes concerted efforts to develop and nurture solid partnerships to share knowledge and expertise to achieve our common goals.

This was reiterated by both the representatives from Senegal, Lebanon, and the Central American Integration System (SICA), as well as by the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO), the World Bank and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) – all of whom expressed the impacts and significance of social protection in their respective countries and organizations.

In Lebanon, 20% of farmers in rural areas are living in extreme poverty. FAO is playing a key role in the design of a farmers’ registry in the country, an initiative that has already registered 450 farmers. Wafaa Dikah Hamze, advisor to the Minister of Agriculture in Lebanon, stated how the registry “is proving to be a leading initiative towards social security and assistance benefits for the sector and the procurement of reliable information”.

Amadou Canar Diop, representing Senegal, advocated for an integrated and multisectoral social protection strategy to bring vulnerable populations out of poverty, showing FAO’s added value through its support with the country’s Emerging Senegal Plan. Alfredo Suarez Mieses, Secretary-General of the General Secretariat for Social Integration of SICA, highlighted FAO’s technical and financial support in developing the methodology for the multisectoral initiative that is the 2018-2030 Regional Agenda for Social Protection and Productive Inclusion.

Christina Dankmeyer of GIZ also showed concrete examples of cooperation between FAO and GIZ, through the co-pilot of the Interagency Social Protection Assessment, observing food security and nutrition outcomes in Cambodia and Paraguay, and collaborating with FAO in Malawi to support the government in creating a single registry database.  

Reducing rural poverty is also where building resilience comes into play, especially in the face of complex and protracted crises, such as the Syrian humanitarian crisis that is deeply affecting the Near East region. According to Jan-Artur Sienczewski of DG-ECHO, “social protection is an area that can put the humanitarian-development nexus into practice by preserving principles of humanitarian action, and by building longer term perspectives for beneficiaries”. In fact, longer-term social protection interventions are the path to building resilient livelihoods.

Ugo Gentilini of the World Bank further coined “resilience as one of the main areas for future focus in social protection, through building shock-responsive social protection systems, connecting humanitarian assistance and social protection, and bridging emergency response with social protection systems”.  GIZ, on the other hand, expressed the importance of creating climate-resilience livelihoods.

The event is accompanied by a new FAO programme proposal for the scaling-up of social protection, the “Smart Rural Social Protection/Social Protection PLUS Programme”, which aims to expand coverage and scale-up existing frameworks in 20 countries across all five regions. This will be done through a set of policies and programmes for eradicating rural poverty, boosting economic inclusion and rural economies, and increasing resilience to economic, environmental and social shocks, by protecting and promoting these rural livelihoods. A presentation in September is being planned to discuss the way forward.

The webcast can be viewed here: http://www.fao.org/webcast/home/en/item/4750/icode/