By Akanimo Sampson
In 22 countries including Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Libya, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, 43 million people are currently vulnerable.
For the past three years, the number of people facing acute food insecurity has been persistently above 100 million.
The latest addition, are at risk of increased acute food insecurity. Yet, they are agriculture-dependent people.
Conflict and insecurity are the main drivers of hunger, exacerbated by climate shocks and economic instability.
Many countries are facing a combination of two or all of these drivers at the same time, resulting in major food crises.
Conflict and climate shocks have had devastating impacts on food security and agriculture. For example in 2019, in southern Africa, drought, consecutive cyclones (including Cyclone Idai which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi in March 2019) and flooding have disrupted and destroyed harvests.
However, in a funding appeal released on Monday, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is asking for $900 million to reach the vulnerable 43 million people.
According to FAO, a United Nations agency, while global attention is focusing on the swarms of Desert Locusts attacking crops in East Africa, a number of other countries and regions are also confronting serious food security threats and require support.
This represents the FAO component of the UN system’s consolidated 2020 humanitarian appeal. It does not include the additional $138 million that the Organisation is seeking for countries in East Africa affected by the ongoing Desert Locust upsurge.
FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, says “the majority of people facing acute food insecurity globally – due to conflicts, the impacts of climate change or economic constraints – rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
“We need to provide them with the necessary tools to cope with these challenges, enhance their resilience and bounce back.”
FAO’s 2020 appeal outlines a range of initiatives aimed at boosting local food production and enhancing nutrition while strengthening people’s resilience to shocks like conflicts and insecurity, pests and extreme weather.
Activities vary from country to country, but FAO’s goal is to help people produce nutritious food, earn an income and become self-reliant as fast as possible.
This can be done by providing agricultural inputs such as seeds, tools, fertilizers and other inputs for crop farming, livestock restocking, by providing animal feed and veterinary care and distributing fishing gear, as well as cash assistance which helps people meet their immediate needs while continuing to produce food.
FAO is also working with communities to help them strengthen their approach to farming and natural resource management, raise their agricultural productivity, and pursue livelihood diversification strategies.
An ounce of prevention
The last edition of the Global Report on Food Crises indicated that the drivers of acute food insecurity include conflict, climate-related shocks, natural disasters, plant and animal pests and diseases, and economic downturn. It is clear that we need to address the underlying causes.
Investing in risk reduction, and building the ability of vulnerable people to withstand shocks before they occur, is a more humane, effective and cost-efficient approach than responding to the aftermath of disasters.
FAO’s unique blend of humanitarian assistance combines shorter-term responses with anticipatory actions and longer-term resilience-building interventions that seek to build the coping capacity of vulnerable populations before shocks hit.
It seems, providing timely agricultural support to vulnerable families not only allows them to produce their own nutritious food but also often to earn an income essential to cover other critical food and non-food expenditures.
This contributes to improving their livelihoods and enhances their resilience to better withstand shocks.
2019 ended with the worst desert locust upsurge in more than 70 years across the Greater Horn of Africa, which is threatening the livelihoods and food security of millions of people, and damaging tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and pasture.
For this, FAO has launched a separate appeal. Economic instability has also led to rising food and fuel prices, along with the cost of other essential items, severely undermining the food security situation in numerous countries and eroding vulnerable households’ capacity to cope with shocks.
In times of crisis, protecting livelihoods saves lives and contributes to strengthening resilience to future shocks. Rapid and efficient response in the agriculture sector also promotes recovery and reduces the gap between dependency on food assistance and self‑reliance.
For instance, supporting food production rapidly increases and sustains food availability, while generating an income to protect the agriculture-based livelihoods on which the majority of crisis-hit people rely.
In 2020, FAO will continue to scale up its response to restore and protect agricultural livelihoods to meet the most urgent needs of vulnerable populations, while also strengthening their resilience and building longer‑term self-reliance.
These interventions are imperative to fight hunger and malnutrition.