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

Anticipatory action interventions to mitigate the effects of drought and migration on food security in Colombia
Sep 2020

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.

La Guajira is the driest and one of the poorest provinces of Colombia and struggles with a history of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, even before the current migration crisis. The frequency and intensity of recurrent droughts is also increasing due to climate change. 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.

Overall objective: The intervention’s goal was to allow the rapid recovery of food production, protect livestock and prevent a potential food crisis due to a forecast increase in migration from neighbouring Venezuela, compounded by the negative effects of a forecasted drought. Increasing food production would also soften the impact of more people arriving in the months to come, alleviate resulting tensions in the community, and prevent the humanitarian crisis from becoming worse.

Triggers: Three main early warning triggers have activated anticipatory action funds in La Guajira in September 2018. These are:

  • The observed and projected increase in migration from Venezuela to vulnerable rural communities, and its expected impact on food security;
  • The forecast of below average precipitation potentially affecting the planting season in September-October 2018; and
  • The risk of continued large-scale emigration from Venezuela and call for immediate action in the Early Warning Early Action quarterly report July-September 2018.

Timeliness: The activities were implemented between September 2018 and June 2019. The intervention has been implemented on time ahead of the forecast disaster. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) acted in two stages. First, its Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities (SFERA) quickly released USD 400 000 for anticipatory action to support 600 households in the municipalities of Manaure, Albania, Maicao, Uribia and Riohacha in La Guajira. The Fund was key to releasing this initial money quickly. The number of households was later increased to 1 003, some 7 000 people, thanks to extra funds from the United Nation’s Central Emergency and Rehabilitation Fund (CERF) and the Brazilian Cooperation Agency.

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.

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