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2. Elements of a long-term strategy for food security.

The basic premises


All countries of the region have committed themselves to the achievement of development goals which were set at a series of UN conferences during the 1990s. Most of these goals have also been formally adopted by the donor community as represented by the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The goals are as relevant to the Horn of Africa region as they are to the rest of the world. It is logical, therefore, to adopt them as the targets at which a joint government-UN partnership will aim.

Central to the objective of improving food security is the commitment made at the World Food Summit to reduce by half the number of undernourished people worldwide by 2015. In regional terms, this implies a goal of cutting the number of chronically undernourished people from around 70 million to 35 million by 2015. A first step towards achieving this goal must be to ensure that the threat of famine will never be allowed to recur. Through concerted commitment and action, this target may even be exceeded.

Other international goals for 2015 that are of relevance to the region and to the elimination of food insecurity, and for which region- and country-specific targets and indicators that can be monitored would be developed, include:


The right to food is among the fundamental human rights enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), to which all nations in the Horn of Africa have subscribed.2 The Universal Declaration and subsequent covenants provide a useful starting point for any long-term strategy through which the concerned governments and the UN system can jointly address food insecurity and deprivation in the region. These rights are enshrined in international law and have been reiterated in the declarations of the 1990s summits and international conferences. The regular recurrence of famine in the region is evidence that rights have been infringed, whether wantonly or inadvertently.

The formulation of a long-term strategy to address the problem of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa is something that must be, first and foremost, the responsibility of the governments of the region. When respect for the fundamental human right to freedom from hunger and deprivation is adopted as a central goal of development, and its implications are acknowledged, it is possible to define a set of broad strategic principles which can guide the way ahead.

Full respect for human rights, and particularly the right to food, can create an enabling environment for achieving improved food security and can become a powerful tool in mobilizing the required resources. It requires that governments:

Within this framework, governments and their partners can address the critical constraints to improved livelihoods by:

Ensuring inclusive food security

The rights-based framework recognizes that some people will not benefit from improved policies and will remain at risk of food insecurity and that existing coping mechanisms may fail, especially in the face of drought or other hazards. For those who are unable to take advantage of the opportunities for improving their livelihoods that become available, governments are obliged to ensure that social safety nets are in place in order to prevent undue deprivation without compromising human dignity. However, the history of direct intervention in the provision of food by governments through price controls and rationing should serve as a clear warning of the need for the careful planning and direction of any actions in the future. Government capacity to take full responsibility for poverty eradication and food security is often highly limited and, particularly in the Horn, external agencies (including both relief and developmental organizations) must continue to play a central role in supporting governments' efforts to fulfil their obligations.


Recent episodes of famine or acute food insecurity in many parts of the region show that the previous efforts of governments and their development partners have been both inadequate in scale and persistence and, frequently, misdirected. Some well-intentioned interventions have had the unintended effect of increasing, rather than reducing, vulnerability to drought and other adverse events. For example, the injudicious development of water for livestock in some pastoral areas has led to the expansion of herds beyond the capacity of the range, resulting in environmental degradation and reduced resilience in time of drought. The strategy must be refocused so that the driving force comes from communities and local institutions, who are ultimately responsible for identifying, formulating and implementing programmes and projects. The strategy must provide a greater role for civil society organizations (CSOs), including farmers' unions and CBOs, NGOs and the private sector, and explore alternative investment channels that promote rather than undermine self-reliance.

Within such a strategy, while there is a place for certain major investments in large-scale infrastructure items (such as improved ports and highways), the bulk of investments should be in response to local preferences and demands, and should avoid top-down "technical solutions". Appropriate financial mechanisms and participatory design processes must be used, devolving the responsibility for choices to the local level. The details of national action and local investment plans must be generated from the countries and localities concerned.

Focus on excluded people

The beneficiaries of past government and donor-financed programmes have often been limited in number and have seldom been the most needy people. Typically, the poorest people, especially those living in remote areas, have little voice in the design of programmes, and therefore do not reap the benefits. International investment in poverty alleviation should be directed to the least privileged elements of society. Even if programmes do not have a specific poverty alleviation or food security focus, due attention must be paid to distribution of the costs and benefits of investments and to the implications of programmes for household and community claims on resources. There is a need to shift the bias towards the people living in remote, fragile and highly famine-prone highland areas and arid and semi-arid lowland areas throughout the Horn. This shift must include a focus on pastoral and agropastoral people, who have been largely neglected by government services and investment projects and who continue to have very little influence on national policies. The needs of marginalized groups in urban areas, such as street children, should also be considered. Most importantly, mechanisms must be created, especially at the community level, to ensure that excluded people are able to participate in the design and implementation of programmes and share in their benefits.

The most important response by the international community to the realization that pro-growth policy reforms have not reached the poorest people and the remotest parts of countries has been to put poverty reduction at the top of the development agenda. This is reflected in the focus of bilateral donor programmes and in the Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS) being promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions. The World Bank's and IMF's decision to make client governments' adoption of pro-poor, poverty reduction policies the principal criterion for the approval of assistance marks a fundamental change in the way in which the international community operates.

Focus on gender

Women are critical to food security in the Horn of Africa. They are the primary agricultural producers, the preparers of food and the carers of the family. However, they are more vulnerable than men, for a variety of reasons. They are typically illiterate and have neither basic education nor appropriate technical skills. They invariably lack access in their own right to productive assets such as arable land and inputs for production, and undertake the majority of agricultural tasks with just simple tools and by working long hours. Women suffer discrimination because they have no recognized independent status as farmers, and their contribution is considered as secondary, both within the family and in society. Their livelihood strategies are based on successfully managing the natural resources to which they have access, but these are often the hardest hit when disasters occur.

Customary traditional values and laws limit women's opportunities to participate in local decision-making processes and restrict their access to credit, research and the use of improved technologies. Despite their important contributions to the household economy, food security and sustainable family livelihoods, women are excluded from decision-making at the household, community and national levels because of these restrictions. Women's local knowledge of the environment and community natural resources, together with their social networks, offer important avenues for both disaster mitigation and development activities which should not be neglected.

Both women and men have gender-defined roles and capacities that must be taken into consideration when planning and implementing programmes intended to reduce vulnerability and develop community self-reliance. Women's coping strategies and skills should be reinforced and utilized, not only for disaster mitigation but also for eliminating long-term food insecurity. At the same time, they need to be protected from extra work loads and their involvement in decision-making processes should be encouraged through broadening female participation in local organizations.

Focus on sustainable livelihoods

Offering people the tools to attain prosperity entails considering, not just how to increase crop and livestock production, but also how to open up alternative sources of income. In the marginal areas it also means building on people's own ways of dealing with risk. Where crop- and/or livestock-based production systems can provide neither a sufficient nor a reliable livelihood, diversification out of agriculture may be the only sustainable and viable option. It is almost impossible for external agents to identify activities that will support sustainable livelihoods. Priorities must be set by the communities themselves, as they know more than any outsider about the constraints they face and the opportunities available.

The basic philosophy behind the strategy recognizes that there is no single solution to the underlying problems of deprivation in the Horn of Africa and that synergies among different elements of the strategy must be exploited. For example, efforts to introduce more efficient agricultural technologies are likely to fail if people are not sufficiently educated to understand their implications or if the transport infrastructure is too weak to permit efficient marketing and input supplies. Similarly, nutrition interventions will have little impact if mothers do not have a basic understanding of child care, have no access to basic preventive health services and have no clean water supply.

This philosophy has much in common with the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach 3 (SLA) which seeks, inter alia, to focus development on people and their livelihood strategies in a way that recognizes the numerous strategies that people may follow and the diversity of institutions that may support those strategies. Only by capturing the diversity can sustainable poverty reductions be achieved and will people be able to pursue effective strategies for coping with risks. The SLA also emphasizes full participation at the local level, and recognizes the need for policies that are informed by local people's knowledge and insights.


While it is certainly possible - and necessary - to avoid recurrence of famine, it will take many years to achieve better livelihoods under the very difficult resource-poor conditions in which the region's most vulnerable people live. This is a process that involves fundamental social transformation, ultimately leading to a better equilibrium between population and natural resources. Improved nutrition and sanitation will reduce disease and premature mortality and enable people to gain more from improved education, which in turn will lead to a progressive slowing of population growth rates. Better health and education will enhance creativity, opening up more opportunities for economic diversification and raising people's competitiveness in labour markets. It will also enable stronger local institutions to emerge.

These are long-term processes that cannot be externally driven. They can, however, be facilitated and nurtured by the careful and sensitive provision of external financial and technical support in response to local needs and offered in a spirit of mutual confidence. Critical to the success of any interventions will be an acceptance by partners, local and external, of the need for a long-term and reliable engagement that spans many more years than the typical development project.

1 The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) and the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

2The right to food as a human right is firmly established under international law, as are a number of other rights. Under Articles 1, 55 and 56 of the UN Charter, States Members of the UN have undertaken binding legal commitments to respect, protect, promote and cooperate collectively in the observance of human rights, rights that were later spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in legally binding covenants. The primary source of the right to adequate food is Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides: "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food ...". Article 11(2) of the Covenant recognizes "the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger". The Covenant is a legally binding international treaty, ratified, as at 18 September 2000, by 143 States. Every State Party has the obligation to "take steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, ... to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights" recognized by the Covenant (Articles 2[1] and 11[2]).

3 C. Ashley and D. Carney. 1999. Sustainable livelihoods: lessons from early experience. DFID; and V. Alterelli and A. Carloni. 2000. Interagency Experiences and Lessons, Forum on Operationalizing Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches, Pontignano, Italy, 7 to 11 March 2000.

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