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Anticipatory action interventions to mitigate the effects of drought and migration on food security in Colombia

Protecting livelihoods and boosting social cohesion between Venezuelan migrants, Colombian returnees and host communities in the department of La Guajira

 Colombia’s northern neighbour Venezuela has slipped into a deep economic crisis that has sent 5 million people across borders in search of food and stability. It has been the fastest movement of people in Latin America’s recent history and it has affected Colombia more than any other country in the region. As of December 2019, almost 1.8 million migrants from Venezuela registered in Colombia. Many have settled in bordering areas like La Guajira, where communities have opened their doors to Venezuelan migrants and Colombian returnees alike, sharing homes and meals. Some households have grown to over 30 persons and many families are still expecting the arrival of more relatives in the months to come. This is not only putting a strain on individual families but also on locally available resources, like land and water.

The impact of drought on food security has affected especially indigenous people like the Wayúu, who make up a third of the population in this part of Colombia and who frequently lack access to public services. Rearing sheep and goats is a mainstay for Wayúu families. But lately, the need to feed more people has driven many to start selling or eating their productive animals – one of many negative coping strategies families resort to in times of crisis. Across communities on the Venezuela border, the influx of people has also resulted in a workforce oversupply, which has driven down wages and put additional pressure on communities.

What were the main anticipatory action interventions to mitigate the effects of drought and migration in the department of La Guajira, Colombia?

Anticipatory action interventions included:

  • The establishment of inclusive community production centres for rapid crop production;
  • The distribution of drought-tolerant seeds and agricultural tools to individual households;
  • Animal health campaigns and distribution of animal feed and supplements;
  • Rehabilitation of water infrastructure; and
  • Training on agronomic practices, livestock management and nutritional education.

Anticipatory actions in La Guajira made a positive contribution towards improving the social cohesion between host and migrant households targeted by the project. Seventy-four percent of interviewed beneficiary households claimed that their relationship with other groups in the community had improved compared with the previous year. This improvement is significant when compared to control households, where just 39 percent stated their relationships with other groups had improved. This observed improvement in intergroup relationships was corroborated through qualitative data collected during focus group discussions with host and migrant/returnee community members.

Cost-implications and risk levels: For every USD 1 FAO spent on anticipatory actions in La Guajira, beneficiary households had a return of USD 2.6. Such direct benefits derived from:

  • Improved animal body conditions, and consequent avoided loss of animal value;
  • Reduced livestock mortality;
  • Increased milk production;
  • Increased number of animal newborn;
  • Increased crop production due to increased size of cultivated land;
  • Avoided crop losses; and
  • Increased crop production in community production centers.


  • On value chains: La Guajira is the driest and one of the poorest provinces of Colombia and struggles with a history of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. Given a forecasted increase in migration from neighbouring Venezuela, compounded by the negative effects of a forecasted drought, the intervention’s goal was to allow the rapid recovery of food production, protect livestock and prevent a potential food crisis in the region. The experience shows that anticipatory actions identified through community consultations to protect local livelihoods of both host and migrant households, such as the establishment of inclusive community production centres for rapid crop production; the distribution of drought-tolerant seeds and agricultural tools to households; the distribution of animal feed and supplements, coupled with animal health campaigns; the rehabilitation of water infrastructure; and the delivery of training sessions on agronomic practices, livestock management and nutritional education, can effectively stimulate consumption of nutritious food, increase animal health as well as their productive and reproductive capacity, and increase the surface of cultivated agricultural land, thereby contributing to protect livelihoods and strengthen social cohesion.
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