FAO Regional Office for Africa

FAO's crucial role in emergency preparedness and response to food security crises in Africa

Equipping country office teams with the capacities they need in a region with increasing crises


Climate change and unexpected crises have become the new normal today. Responding swiftly and effectively to emergencies is of critical importance. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023, one of the flagship publications of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), reported an increase in severely food insecure people in sub-Saharan Africa from 302.4 million in 2021 to 310.6 million in 2022.

With the looming threat of the effects of El Niño and growing conflicts across the continent, this number is feared to increase, and it is often the most vulnerable, rural communities whose lives depend on their fragile ecosystems and agrifood systems that are first and hardest hit. It is essential to build the capacity of countries to prepare for disasters and be resilient in the face of shocks. Doing so will ensure that these communities do not remain in this debilitating cycle, and in this, FAO stands out as a key partner in combating food insecurity and malnutrition.

In anticipation of the needs ahead, fourteen FAO country office teams in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region convened to share knowledge, best practices, and strengthen their capacities. This exercise focused primarily on preparedness and learning from other emergencies where FAO’s expertise paved the way to effective emergency response, saving lives and safeguarding livelihoods. The teams participated in a comprehensive workshop on emergency preparedness, response and strategic positioning, and FAO's vital role in these critical areas.

Patrice Talla, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa and Representative in Eswatini, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe, kicked off the workshop. "This is an opportunity to discuss what we need to do to address not only the gaps ahead but to respond to the needs and requests at the country office level."

The three-day workshop, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, targeted FAO Representatives, Assistant FAO Representatives, and Country Office Resilience focal points. These individuals are pivotal in preparing for emergencies, advocating for necessary support, and coordinating with various stakeholders.

Building capacity, strengthening preparedness

Participants delved into FAO's approach to emergency preparedness and response, explored risk assessment to identify potential threats to agriculture and food security, and learned how to access and interpret early warning systems for proactive decision-making.

The workshop focused on developing comprehensive emergency preparedness and response plans. This involved establishing effective communication channels, designating roles and responsibilities, and increasing understanding of internal and external project development and funding mechanisms. Discussions also emphasized communication skills, helping participants effectively convey vital information to the public, media, and other stakeholders during emergencies.

Drawing from practical insights and successful case studies in emergency preparedness and response in agriculture and food security, the workshop also addressed post-emergency recovery strategies, including rebuilding infrastructure and restoring agricultural production, ensuring that long-term food security challenges are adequately tackled. A distinctive aspect of this initiative was its emphasis on operational readiness for anticipatory action, preparedness, and response.

"This training has been timely and very useful. A whole lot of knowledge has been exchanged. And I, for one, leave this training much more empowered to do my job as an FAO Representative," declared Charles Boliko, FAO Representative in Madagascar.

 "I outlined that I wanted to leave this workshop well-equipped and ready to act when I go back to Zimbabwe, and for me, this expectation has been fully met," added Constance Pepukai, Assistant FAO Representative in Zimbabwe.

Coordinating for greater impact

The workshop has better positioned participants to coordinate FAO's resilience work and contribute to improved preparedness and response in their countries of focus. Participants were equipped to monitor the food security situation in each context and make informed programme decisions that benefit the most vulnerable. They were also empowered to engage more effectively with interagency platforms, resource partners, and other key stakeholders, a critical component in emergencies.

As the world faces increasing agriculture and food security challenges, FAO's commitment to emergency preparedness and response is crucial to achieving better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind. The workshop underscored FAO’s position as a partner of choice in enhancing food security during crises, ensuring vulnerable, rural communities receive the support they need, and demonstrating why the Organization's efforts are more critical than ever in a rapidly changing world.