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Special Programme for Food Security

FAO Field Operations Division, Technical Cooperation Department


What it is

The Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) aims to support low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) in their efforts to:

  • improve their national food security through rapid increases in productivity and food production on an economically and environmentally sustainable basis;
  • reduce year-to-year variability in agricultural production;
  • improve people's access to food.

It was launched by FAO in 1994 and endorsed by the World Food Summit (WFS) in November 1996 and is already making a substantial contribution to the Summit's goal of halving the number of chronically undernourished people in the developing world.

A culvert constructed at an SPFS pilot site in Cambodia
Since its launch in 1994 the SPFS has become operational in 36 countries

Objectives and approach

Food security is defined by FAO as access by all people at all times to the food needed for a healthy and active life. Achieving food security means ensuring that sufficient food is available, that supplies are relatively stable and that those in need of food can obtain it. Although over the years governments, with support from FAO and other development agencies, have addressed food security and its related elements in many ways, today some 800 million people in developing countries - about 20 percent of their total population - are chronically undernourished. With a growing world population - the present figure of 5.7 billion is expected to rise to 8.3 billion by the year 2025 - this situation will worsen unless very determined and well-targeted actions are taken to improve food security.

Chronic undernutrition and food insecurity are principally the results of:

  • low productivity in agriculture, frequently caused in part by policy, institutional and technological constraints;
  • high seasonal and year-to-year variability in food supplies, often owing to unreliable rainfall and insufficient water for crop and livestock production;
  • lack of off-farm employment opportunities, contributing to low and uncertain incomes in urban and rural areas.

The causes and consequences of food insecurity and poverty are inextricably linked. One way to break this vicious circle is to increase agricultural productivity, particularly where gains can be achieved by small farmers, who are often among the poorest. As the world's population and standards of living rise, the need for food will grow and the availability of underutilized arable land will continue to decrease.

It is therefore important to intensify production, using sustainable methods, on land that has agricultural potential and is currently in use, rather than to encroach on land that is only marginally suitable for cultivation.



Women in the Dodoma and Morogoro regions of the United Republic of Tanzania are good examples for the 1998 World Food Day theme: Women feed the world. Farmers in Tanzania are working in groups to form savings and credit associations so that they have easier access to inputs. Women's groups are claiming that, with good yields from their farms, they are getting close to "holding the lion by the tail".

Holding a lion by the tail is believed to be the most effective way of fighting it, as its ribs do not allow it to bend backwards. So as long as you hold the lion by the tail and turn round and round you are safe.

Women in the programme say that they are holding hunger, malnutrition and poverty by the tail because their efforts are slowly starting to pay back in the form of increased production from small livestock keeping. In Kongwa a farming group has been able to open a bank account and deposit 300 000 Tanzanian shillings (US$450) - a useful step towards overcoming difficulties in purchasing inputs.

With improved inputs, farmers in Kilombero have managed to raise production from 17 bags of paddy per acre (about 42 bags per hectare) to as much as 35 to 40 bags (85 to 100 bags per hectare).

Source: adapted from The African, the Tanzanian Daily, 24 July 1998.



How does the SPFS work?

Core features of the SPFS include raising farmers' net income, generating rural employment and increasing social equity. More specific actions include:

  • farmer-led demonstrations of improved technologies and management practices;
  • dissemination of successful farming methods among smallholders;
  • policy reforms to remove practical and bureaucratic constraints and create conditions conducive to increased food production, higher farm incomes and more off-farm employment.

Overall, the SPFS was conceived as an evolving process that would be continually shaped and reshaped by participants' local knowledge and the results of project experience acquired in real-life circumstances. In addition to social equity, gender sensitivity and environmental awareness are central concerns, and projects are adapted to local conditions and priorities defined jointly by farmers and country planners.



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By September 1998, the SPFS was operational in 36 LIFDCs - 20 in Africa, 10 in Asia and the Near East, three in Latin America, two in Europe, and one in Oceania. It was at various stages of formulation in a further 33 countries.



The SPFS belongs to the beneficiary countries that choose to adopt its principles. So, although technical and financial support is given by FAO and other international and national sources, individual governments are responsible for the actual design and implemantation of their own programmes.

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