World Food Day 2015: Building Resilient Societies and Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty in the Sahel and West Africa Region
Ousman Tall, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat
The official programme marking World Food Day takes place today at the Universal Exposition in Milan, under the theme, “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty”. This theme underscores the role of social protection in ensuring that food and other basic needs of the most vulnerable individuals and households are addressed. Furthermore, embedded in this theme is the assertion that social protection programmes tied to productive activities, such as agriculture, are the most sustainable approach to eradicating poverty and achieving food and nutrition security. This has considerable implications for Sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty is pervasive in rural areas.
Sub-Saharan Africa, especially the Sahel and West Africa region, is one of the poorest and most food-insecure regions in the world. Out of the 25 poorest countries in the world, 23 are in Sub-Saharan Africa with 11 of them in the Sahel and West Africa Region. It has the world’s fastest growing population, where 65% of countries are classified as low-income countries and over half of the population is living below the poverty line. To address the high levels of food insecurity and poverty, a number of social protection initiatives have been put in place, including national social protection strategies in some countries. In 2014, the European Union alone assisted 1.7 million food-insecure people and 580 000 malnourished children in the Sahel. This has provided a strong argument and a basis for a pro-smallholder agricultural intervention in rural areas in the Sahel and West Africa region.
Most Recent Food Insecurity Situations in the Sahel and West Africa Region (click for full size)
© Map produced by CILSS/Agrhymet. Source: Regional analysis of the Cadré harmonisé (CH), Bamako, 22-23 June 2015.
Linking social protection programmes with economic activities, productivity, ownership and long-term sustainability is important. Tackling risk and vulnerability and at the same time ensuring pro-poor growth through investments in social protection programmes lead to greater inclusive growth. These should be the guiding principles in the design and implementation of social protection programmes. However, most social protection initiatives and interventions in the region are project-oriented, mainly addressing poverty and food insecurity during times of crisis. With the persistent nature and recurrence of crises in the region, there is a need to go beyond interventions during crises, to build the resilience of the most vulnerable populations in adapting – in a sustainable manner – to these emerging and recurrent crises.
Cognisant of this and at the invitation of the EU, stakeholders of the Sahel and West Africa region and their Technical and Financial Partners (TFPs) met in Brussels on 18 June 2012 to discuss the root causes of the recurrent food and nutrition crises in the region, which were weakening the livelihoods of the most vulnerable households. To tackle these problems, which are multiple and complex, the stakeholders agreed on a long-term collaborative effort that gave birth to the establishment of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) – Sahel and West Africa. AGIR is not a new policy or program, but a kind of framework or approach that seeks to channel the efforts of stakeholders in the region towards a common results-focused framework based on a shared definition of resilience: “The capacity of vulnerable households, families and communities and systems to face uncertainties and risk of shocks as well as to recover and adapt in a sustainable manner”.
Just ten days after the World Food Day Programme, the Sahel and West Africa Week will be celebrated at the 2015 Universal Exposition in Milan from 26-30 October. Organised by the Sahel and West Africa Club and its Members and partners, the Week will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to exchange best practices and shared solutions on issues such as food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty and resilience. AGIR stakeholders will meet to assess progress made since 2013 when 17 countries adopted the AGIR Regional Roadmap and committed themselves to its implementation. Consistent with the Roadmap, countries have organised national inclusive dialogues and are developing their own National Resilience Priorities (NRP-AGIR).
Through the NRP-AGIR, countries are fostering the improvement of social protection for the most vulnerable by strengthening food and nutrition programmes and improving their governance systems. They are also targeting income generating activities, especially through the agricultural value chains, in order to increase productivity and access to food for vulnerable segments of the population. These interventions are in recognition of the fact that the rural sector in the region is dominated by poor agricultural households that are faced with uncertainties as a result of numerous factors, ranging from socio-economic and political factors to natural disasters, such as flood, drought and pest infestation.
It is obvious that with the many uncertainties and the recurrent nature of crises in the region, livelihoods will continue to be affected, with individuals, households and communities becoming more vulnerable. To break this cycle, strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable segments of the population should be at the core of every social protection programme in the region. This is a fundamental priority of the Alliance. AGIR recognises that the state has an essential obligation in providing a framework to build resilience, and that this requires long term strategic planning based on existing national policies and programmes.
The strength of the Alliance lies in the fact that it is co-ordinated through the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA). Created in 1984, the RPCA has acquired remarkable experience in not only managing but preventing crises in the region. The Network benefits from a strong level of regional ownership, operating under the political leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), with the co-facilitation of the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and the SWAC Secretariat, and brings together all stakeholders working in the region. Through the Network, there is now broader co-operation among technical and financial partners, especially those working on food and nutrition security, poverty, social protection and resilience. At the occasion of World Food Day, the SWAC Secretariat, in collaboration with ECOWAS, UEMOA and CILSS, is launching today a film dedicated to the RPCA which raises awareness about the Network’s achievements and future challenges.
Finally, the AGIR objective of “zero hunger” (to completely eradicate hunger and malnutrition in the region) in 20 years is consistent with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” To achieve this objective, there is a need for all stakeholders to reaffirm their commitment to the implementation of the AGIR Regional Roadmap, especially at a time when the Sustainable Development Agenda has been endorsed by Heads of States at the United Nations General Assembly. There is no better place for AGIR stakeholders to reaffirm their commitments than at the Universal Exposition in Milan during the Sahel and West Africa Week.