ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security

Guidelines for Thematic Groups

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The ACC Network

III. The ACC Network's Strategy: Building Partnerships at Different Levels

IV. The Establishment and Operation of Thematic Groups

V. International Support for Thematic Groups

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

1. These Guidelines are designed to facilitate implementation of the Administrative Committee on Coordination's (ACC) decision to establish a global consultative Network on Rural Development and Food Security. In particular, they are intended to provide assistance in establishing and operating national Thematic Groups on rural development and food security.

2. Thematic Groups are demand-driven and country-focused. Their needs are determined by specific contextual factors. Therefore, these Guidelines are in essence `guidance notes', suggestions for action that should be adapted to meet the particular needs and situations in each country. They are not meant to be prescriptive.

3. The following sections describe the background, objectives and national, regional and global levels of the ACC Network; explain the role of Thematic Groups; and provide suggestions to guide their establishment and operation. They also describe the international support system that provides assistance to Thematic Groups.

II. The ACC Network

Background and Institutional Framework

4. Commitment 7 of the World Food Summit Plan of Action assigns the ACC a significant role in World Food Summit follow-up. Paragraph 59(h) specifies that governments:

"Invite the ACC through its Chairman, the Secretary-General of the UN, to ensure appropriate inter-agency coordination in accordance with UNGA Resolution 50/227 and, when considering the Chair of any ACC mechanisms for inter-agency follow-up to the World Food Summit, to recognize, in the spirit of ECOSOC Resolution 1996/36, the major role of FAO in the field of food security, within its mandates."

5. At its April 1997 Session, the ACC decided to establish a global, consultative Network on Rural Development and Food Security. The Network replaces the former ACC Sub-committee on Rural Development. It constitutes, inter alia, the mechanism for inter-agency follow-up to the World Food Summit and supports the Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty. The UN Secretary-General and the heads of 20 UN Organizations have endorsed and supported the Network.

"... FAO is determined to ensure a coordinated approach to food security issues, including at the country level, and in this spirit has undertaken to manage the new ACC Network jointly with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and in close cooperation with the World Food Programme (WFP) as well as other concerned partners." Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General speaking at the World Food Day Ceremony in FAO on 16 October 1997.

"I appreciate the innovative modalities of action being envisaged and welcome the intention to involve civil society organizations in the work of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security and, particularly in the activities of Thematic Groups within the Resident Coordinator System." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his letter of 25 August 1997 to the Director-General of FAO.

6. As the body entrusted by the World Food Summit to monitor implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has an important role to play in monitoring the progress made by the Network and, in particular, the Network's Thematic Groups as they promote coordinated follow-up to the Summit. In this context, the CFS, at its twenty-fourth session, "stressed the importance of close cooperation between FAO, the WFP, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), UNDP, UNICEF, and other international organizations as well as with bilateral cooperation institutions in the efforts to implement the World Food Summit Plan of Action. In this connection, the Committee welcomed the operationalization of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security established to promote information exchange and interactive networking between United Nations agencies at all levels, and cooperation at country level through thematic groups for rural development and food security established within the United Nations Resident Coordinator System."


7. The ACC Network seeks to enable different actors to work together in pursuit of common goals based on their commitment to promote rural development and overcome global food insecurity. The objectives of the Network are to:

Guiding principles

8. The ACC Network is country-focused, demand-driven and action-oriented in order to respond to national needs and priorities. It is an interactive communication system, which establishes linkages and facilitates the sharing of knowledge and learning. It promotes participatory approaches, pluralism and the involvement of all relevant stakeholders and clients and seeks to generate complementarity and synergy among partners and enhance the sustainability of rural development and food security efforts.

III. The ACC Network's Strategy: Building Partnerships at Different Levels

9. The ACC Network serves as a broker between partners working towards rural development and food security. It is an informal and flexible mechanism, which emphasizes action at the country level and links Thematic Groups with partners, including both UN and non-UN organizations at the national, regional and global levels.

At the country level

10. At the national level, the Network consists of Thematic Groups, established within the UN Resident Coordinator System. These Groups typically include the participation of UN Organizations in the country, as well as representatives of national governments, bilateral and multilateral donors, national institutions, and civil society and private sector organizations. Thematic Groups are national networks in their own right, establishing linkages with all relevant stakeholders and clients in the country to promote action-oriented partnerships aimed at enhancing food security and rural development.

11. Thematic Groups are also intended to act as a complementary mechanism to support Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS). They can also serve as a useful tool to support national Food for All Campaigns, which have been launched to promote partnerships between governments and civil society in follow-up to the World Food Summit; and contribute to furthering the work of the Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty in building public awareness in the South and North and fostering policy reform and civil society initiatives.

Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS)

FIVIMS is any system or network of systems that assembles, analyses and disseminates information about people who are food insecure or at risk - who they are, where they are located, and why they are food insecure or vulnerable. In this context, it provides a useful analytical tool for monitoring implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action and assessing progress in reaching the Summit's goals for reducing undernutrition. At its 24th session, the Committee on World Food Security recognized the "role of the Thematic Groups of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security in the promotion of FIVIMS at country level."

At the sub-regional and regional levels

12. The Network aims to link country-level Thematic Groups with partners at the sub-regional and regional levels. The Network promotes linkages between these Groups both within and across regions and fosters cooperation between developing countries. These linkages may lead to the creation of clusters of Thematic Groups based on sub-regional and regional interests, common themes and issues (such as FIVIMS), or similar conditions (agro-ecological, cultural, linguistic, etc.). The Network also promotes linkages with other sub-regional and regional networks, such as UNDP's Sub-regional Resource Facilites (SURFs), the Réseau Africain pour la securité alimentaire durable (RASAD), and IFAD's Fidamerica etc.

At the global level

13. At the global level, the Network includes interested UN Organizations, which support and participate in country-level Thematic Groups. The Network is also open to non-UN actors at the international level. FAO and IFAD, in close cooperation with WFP, jointly coordinate and manage the Network. The Network Secretariat, based in the Rural Development Division (SDA) of FAO, is responsible for the day-to-day management and operation of the Network. IFAD  manages the Network's monitoring and evaluation component and will collect, analyse and disseminate selected country experiences and best practices, using its Web-based evaluation forum, EVAK. There is more information on EVAK in paragraphs 36 and 37 of these Guidelines.

Networking Tools

14. The Network makes use of electronic information technology and other channels of communication.

The ACC Network's Home Page on the World Wide Web

Welcome to the Internet site of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security, a global Network enabling diverse actors to work together in pursuit of common goals based on their commitment to promote rural development and overcome global food insecurity.

The purpose of this Web site is twofold: i) to share information on the activities initiated within the Network and promote an exchange of experiences; and ii) to facilitate the creation of linkages and interactive networking among countries and regions and between Network members at all levels.

News: Featured are the progress and achievements, activities and programmes implemented by the Network's Thematic Groups, as well as interesting news items, announcements of relevant events and details of `what's new'.

Background: Established in April 1997, the Network constitutes the mechanism for inter-agency follow-up to the World Food Summit and supports the Popular Coalition on Hunger and Poverty. It is a two-tiered informal mechanism that comprises, at the country level, Thematic Groups on Rural Development and Food Security within the UN Resident Coordinator System, and at Headquarters, a network of interested organizations that support these national groups.

Members: Jointly managed by FAO and IFAD, in close cooperation with WFP, the Network currently includes 20 UN Organizations, which support and participate in country-level Thematic Groups.

Countries: Country-focused and demand-driven, Thematic Groups composed of concerned partner organizations, including UN Organizations, national institutions, bilateral donors and civil society organizations, are setting agendas and implementing activities that meet national needs and priorities.

Themes: Thematic Groups are selecting priority themes to focus their coordinated support for policy formulation and field activities. This section explores key themes in more depth.

Resources: Accessible here is information on resource materials, ranging from publications and training materials to monitoring and evaluation tools and Internet links.

IV. The Establishment and Operation of Thematic Groups

Key steps to establishing and operating Thematic Groups

15. The establishment and operation of Thematic Groups will reflect the complexity of national circumstances. The suggestions below should be adapted to meet the particular situation and needs of each country.

Setting up a Thematic Group

16. FAO Representatives, or UNDP Representatives in countries where FAO is not represented, should promote the establishment of an inter-agency Thematic Groups within the framework of the United Nations Resident Coordinator System. In this area, they are encouraged to consult with the UN Resident Coordinator and all other partners concerned to ensure the Thematic Group's establishment. Where Thematic Groups on food security and rural development already exist, they should be brought into the Network to ensure appropriate technical support and sharing of experiences.

Thematic Groups Emerge in Response to Differing National Circumstances

The Network is intended to be flexible and informal, and as such there is no single way to establish Thematic Groups. Already a variety of ways have been used to set up Thematic Groups in response to differing institutional contexts:

  • In 1997 and early 1998, after the ACC decision to create the Network, new Thematic Groups were established in a number of countries (e.g. Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Guinea, Pakistan, Chile).
  • In some countries, Thematic Groups have replaced the national committees and groups that emerged in 1996-97 before and after the World Food Summit. In these cases, the terms of reference and agenda of these existing food security groups have been widened to reflect their expanded focus on cross-cutting rural development issues (e.g. Peru, China).
  • In most countries, the establishment of Thematic Groups within the Network reflects a complex national situation in which several groups are engaged in issues related to rural development and food security. In some countries (e.g. Bangladesh), they have decided to expand existing groups. In others (e.g. Madagascar), they are forming local networks to bring together all the relevant groups.

17. In some cases, Thematic Groups may decide to create a number of smaller sub-groups to focus attention more closely on specific issues related to rural development and food security, such as nutrition, environment and FIVIMS. These smaller groups can work in greater depth on particular issues within the Thematic Group's mandate, and they could be facilitated by the appropriate UN Organization. Members of one sub-group would be permitted to participate in other sub-groups.

Thematic Group in Pakistan Establishes Sub-groups to Focus on Priority Areas

In Pakistan, the Thematic Group has created sub-groups in six priority areas related to rural development and food security. This approach is intended to enable the Thematic Group to focus its attention more closely in a few key areas and to enable UN Organizations to play a leading role in their areas of expertise. Task forces have been established in the Thematic Group's six priority areas:

  • policy and strategy for sustainable household food security in Pakistan (Coordinator: FAO and UNDP);
  • improving information and statistical data on food insecure and vulnerable groups (Coordinator: FAO and WFP);
  • assessment and advice on nutritional status including follow-up to the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) (Coordinator: WHO and FAO);
  • strengthening the food control system in Pakistan (Coordinator: FAO);
  • improving preparedness and responsiveness to emergencies through early warning systems and emergency procedures (Coordinator: WFP and FAO);
  • ensuring sustainability of resources and technologies including the Food for All Campaigns (Coordinator: FAO).

Involving key partners and stakeholders

18. Intended to be pluralistic, the Network encourages the participation of key stakeholders and development partners. Although Thematic Groups should determine their own membership based on local needs and opportunities, they are encouraged to mobilize a broad-based membership that includes relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations, such as national institutions, bilateral and multilateral organizations, and representatives from civil society, the private sector and UN Organizations. National and local government institutions and civil society organizations should play an important role in Thematic Groups in order to ensure coordination and complementarity between national efforts and international support.

19. Thematic Groups are also encouraged to engage in dialogue and promote alliances with relevant clients and stakeholders (national institutions, academic institutions, media organizations, etc.) who are not Group members.

Building a Broad-based Membership in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the Local Consulting Group (LCG) on Food Security and Nutrition, part of the ACC Network, has successfully mobilized the participation of government organizations, bilateral donors and civil society alongside UN Organizations. This illustrates the Network's potential use in building alliances among different actors. It brings together:

  • UN Organizations: FAO, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, the World Bank.
  • Government organizations: Department of Agricultural Extension in the Ministry of Agriculture; Food Production and Monitoring Unit, Directorate of Food in the Ministry of Food; Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief; Ministry of Women's Affairs; External Relations Division in the Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Planning; Ministry of Local Government; Bureau of Statistics; National Nutrition Council in the Ministry of Health.
  • Bilateral Donors: Australia, Belgium, Canada (CIDA), France, Netherlands, USA (USAID), UK (DFID), E.U., Germany, Japan.
  • Civil Society Organizations: Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), Helen Keller International, CARE Bangladesh, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.

Identifying objectives

20. The main purpose of the Network's Thematic Groups is to provide an effective framework to discuss, plan and implement collaborative activities in rural development and food security and enhance the efforts of national governments to implement the commitments in the World Food Summit Plan of Action. As Thematic Groups consolidate and strengthen themselves, they should become major channels for inter-agency decision-making processes in rural development and food security.

21. While the specific objectives of Thematic Groups will vary depending on national priorities and the work programme, the Groups should seek to achieve two broad objectives:

22. Thematic Groups are encouraged to adopt terms of reference as a foundation on which to develop and implement activities and agree on the Group's management procedures and operations. A reflection of national needs and priorities, the mandate and terms of reference should be firmly based on the country's specific action plans and programmes, such as World Food Summit National Action Plans, draft Strategy Papers for Agricultural Development, Horizon 2010, and the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), as well as inter-agency country plans and programmes, such as United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), and Country Strategy Notes, which are expected to be consistent with the World Food Summit Plan of Action. The work of Thematic Groups is also expected to make a major contribution to the preparation of UNDAF documents. Above all, the terms of reference should ensure that Thematic Groups are more than simply forums for discussion and information exchange, but rather action-oriented groups promoting policies, programmes and projects that accelerate rural development and food security in follow-up to the World Food Summit. It is also recommended that Thematic Groups develop a work plan that clearly defines planned activities, the time frame, and the roles and responsibilities of the different partners.

Identifying a Facilitator

Most Thematic Groups have identified a facilitator (usually the FAO or UNDP Representative) and rapporteur. The main role of the facilitator is to:

  1. organize and chair meetings;
  2. ensure that the work plan is followed;
  3. monitor the Group's progress and achievements;
  4. encourage all members of the Group to participate in discussions, decisions and activities;
  5. promote national networking with all stakeholders; and
  6. . disseminate results and report on activities.

23. The World Food Summit Plan of Action provides a broad framework for the many interrelated topics dealing with food security and rural development. However, Thematic Groups may wish to address in greater depth a limited number of themes, rather than tackle at the same time all the issues listed in the Plan of Action. In this context, the Groups are encouraged to focus their attention on selected priority themes based on national needs. Nevertheless, it will be important to ensure that these priority themes are in accordance with the Network's broad objectives for rural development and food security.

Priority Themes

Some Thematic Groups have already selected priority themes on which to focus their activities:

Other possible high priority themes for rural development and food security include: SPFS; gender and development; trees (inside and outside forests); rural transport; rural energy; rural health; rural education; community-based (or demand-driven) rural development; rural employment; implications of HIV/AIDS for agriculture; new communication technologies and rural telecenters; alternative rural development (for drug control); Horizon 2010; sustainable livelihoods; and information management systems.

Implementing activities

24. In accordance with their mandate and terms of reference, Thematic Groups are expected to engage in concrete activities that contribute directly to rural development and food security. These activities could also be used to support national Food for All Campaigns and to raise awareness about World Food Day. Thematic Groups are also encouraged to use the Network to exchange information and experiences, stimulate ideas, and contribute to improving the coordination of rural development and food security activities at the national level.

25. Based on the selected priority themes, the Thematic Groups' work programmes could include a broad range of activities, such as:

Examples of Thematic Group Activities

Identifying financial resources

26. Since the Network is expected to be a low-cost mechanism for coordinating World Food Summit follow-up and rural development and food security activities, no funds have been provided for its operation. The Rural Development Division (SDA) of FAO has allocated funds to the Network through its Regular Programme budget for Secretariat support at FAO Headquarters.

27. One of the main aims of the Network's Thematic Groups is to increase project activities and investment in areas related to rural development and food security. It is expected that donors and/or financing agencies participating in the Network could fund Thematic Group activities at the national or regional level. Along with members of Thematic Groups, representatives from the regional and central offices of participant organizations can help identify sources of funding.


28. The effectiveness and long-term sustainability of the Network will depend on the capacity of different partners to provide mutual support, build linkages at the national, sub-regional, regional and global levels and initiate dialogue and joint ventures.

Networking begins at the country level

29. To identify opportunities for collaboration and sharing human and financial resources, Thematic Groups are encouraged to create linkages and engage in dialogue with like-minded or complementary stakeholders and clients, including national institutions, the private sector, academic institutions, farmers' associations and other theme groups and committees, such as the Food for All Campaign Committees.

Networking at the sub-regional, regional and interregional levels

30. Establishing linkages with Thematic Groups in other countries and other networks with common interests will provide for an effective exchange of experiences on key elements of rural development and food security, which should lead to enhanced cooperation among developing countries.

Networking at the global level

31. The Network provides a means for Thematic Groups to engage in interactive dialogue with, and to receive support from, international partners committed to achieving rural development and overcoming global food insecurity. The Network also encourages the creation of linkages with other networks, such as the FAO Network on Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP), the Global Forum on Sustainable Food and Nutritional Security, IFAD's Fidamerica, the UNDP's Sustainable Development Networking Programme, RASAD and the Network on Forests in Rural Development.

Networking promotes opportunities for:


32. Thematic Groups should also identify channels of communication for relaying information and materials received through the Network to other interested groups, institutions and individuals. For instance, Thematic Groups may wish to publicize their activities through national and local mass media; include interested national institutions on the Network's e-mail discussion list; prepare regular news bulletins; or create links from the Network's Web pages to the Web sites of partners in the country. Groups may wish to identify an information officer to assume responsibility for these tasks. Regional and national information officers of participating UN Organizations can help to disseminate information and experiences. World Food Day represents an opportunity to support Telefood and focus discussions on relevant issues and the achievements of Thematic Groups.

Reporting, monitoring and evaluation

33. Thematic Groups should monitor national activities and report regularly on progress made in food security and rural development. This should not impose additional burdens on national reporting systems. Reports can be based on the reporting submitted to the CFS on the implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action and should be submitted to the FAO focal point for the Network. Thematic Groups are also encouraged to develop national FIVIMS processes, which can be a tool for gathering and monitoring data that can be used for reporting purposes.

34. Information provided by Thematic Groups and other partners will be included in a database managed by the FAO Secretariat. This database will be a useful resource for sharing information and monitoring progress and will also be used for evaluating the Network. To prepare periodic progress reports for submission to Network partners and the ACC, the FAO Secretariat will also draw on the information received from Thematic Groups and other partners. At the end of a two-year period (1999), the ACC will evaluate the overall experience and performance of the Network and make recommendations regarding its future.

Joining the ACC Evaluation Knowledge Web (EVAK)

35. Thematic Groups are encouraged to join EVAK, a Web site forum being developed by IFAD to disseminate lessons learned and best practices based on findings from different organizations in various countries. EVAK will provide an opportunity for multilateral, bilateral, governmental and non-governmental organizations and Thematic Groups to exchange knowledge on selected topics, such as credit and rural financial services, community development, farm technology generation, gender, soil and water, participation and empowerment, livestock, conservation (including agroforestry), environment and agriculture in arid and semi-arid areas.

36. EVAK will distribute the `lessons learned', produced on the basis of evaluation findings, to members of the Knowledge Web. They will also be available on the EVAK Web site. Thematic Groups wishing to receive information distributed by the Specialized Evaluation Forum, should subscribe to EVAK. Participation in the Specialized Evaluation Forum is free of charge. To join EVAK, visit the EVAK Web site at: <http://>; or send an e-mail to <[email protected]>. Include the following information: name, type of organization, preferred language (English, French or Spanish), e-mail address and a brief profile of activities being implemented.

V. International Support for Thematic Groups

The FAO Secretariat and the Help Desk System

37. The Director-General of FAO has designated the Director of the Rural Development Division as the FAO Focal Point for the Network. The FAO Secretariat for the Network consists of the FAO Focal Point, Mr. Santiago Funes; the Network Coordinator, Ms. Jennie Dey Abbas; and the Help Desk system. The Help Desk system is intended to serve as a source of practical assistance for Thematic Groups and promote linkages and cooperation between the different members and levels of the Network.

38. The role of the Help Desk system is to:

39. The Help Desk system will provide support to FAO Representatives and establish linkages at national, sub-regional, regional and global levels.

  1. Initially, Thematic Groups are encouraged to seek and obtain support at the national level. The FAO and UNDP Representatives and Thematic Group members should also attempt to identify resources and solutions locally.
  2. The second level of assistance can come from the FAO regional and sub-regional offices and draw on regional resources, information and technical expertise, including UNDP's SURFs. Sub-regional and regional offices will be regional nodes for the Network and will play an important role in promoting cooperation among developing countries and establishing regional clusters of Thematic Groups and linkages with other networks.
  3. When assistance is not available at national and regional levels, Help Desk officers at Headquarters will provide a referral service, establish linkages, provide technical inputs, information and materials to address the needs identified by Thematic Groups.

40. The Network will develop as initiatives, activities and linkages grow. As a result, the Secretariat and Help Desk System will adapt to developing needs, and the final system will only be established after an experimental pilot phase (June - October 1998).

The Role of UN Organizations

41. In addition to participating in the Thematic Groups, UN Organizations are important actors at the international level within the framework of their specific areas of interest and technical expertise. For this purpose, focal points have been identified within the 20 UN Organizations participating in the Network. It is expected that UN Organizations can participate in the Network at the international level by:

The Role of Civil Society Organizations

42. The main role for civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Network will be to participate in Thematic Groups at the country level. Also, CSOs can contribute to the Network's success by:

43. World Food Day, national Food for All Campaigns, and the Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty should also be used as vehicles to encourage the participation of CSOs in the Network and promote complementarities and synergies between these initiatives.

VI. Conclusion

44. It is hoped that these Guidelines will help partners at the country level pursue coordinated and integrated follow-up to the World Food Summit by participating in Thematic Groups on rural development and food security. The effectiveness of the Network as a whole will depend on the establishment and consolidation of sustainable, dynamic and action-oriented Thematic Groups and their achievements; and on the creation of effective linkages between these Groups and other members of the Network.

45. Genuine collaboration between the different partners of Thematic Groups should make it possible to improve inter-agency cooperation and enhance complementarity and synergy; identify areas for joint action in support of common goals; facilitate the sharing of information and knowledge; promote common and participatory approaches; and identify and finance new projects and activities in areas related to rural development and food security.