By Jennifer Sheahan, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC)
The time could not be more opportune to promote a better understanding of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) than now, during the 2016 Sahel and West Africa Week taking place from 12-16 December in Abuja, Nigeria. This is the single most important gathering of stakeholders to discuss food and nutrition security in the region. The week provides a fitting backdrop to review and discuss resilience action.
Between October and December 2016, 10.4 million people were identified as requiring food and nutrition assistance in the Sahel and West Africa. This situation is due to a combination of multiple, interconnected factors, including a lack of food availability, limited access to food and basic social services, and the effects of health and security issues. Over a number of decades, a proliferation of initiatives, projects and programmes of a development and humanitarian nature have emerged in the region to address food and nutrition insecurity. These initiatives, often implemented in an isolated, uncoordinated manner, outside of any overarching framework, have led to a duplication of efforts, a less than optimal use of resources and a source of competition between organisations.
The objective of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) – Sahel and West Africa is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by building resilience among vulnerable populations. Recognising that no single stakeholder or sector alone can adequately address the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity, AGIR promotes a collective and co-ordinated response from a range of stakeholders (inter-governmental organisations, government ministries, local governments, agricultural professional organisations, civil society and private sector actors, and technical and financial partners) across multiple sectors (agriculture, environment, health, education). AGIR brings all these stakeholders together, under a single, unifying framework, with a common objective and common terms of implementation, for greater, more effective impact. AGIR’s distinct unifying characteristic is underpinned by the political and technical leadership of the three regional organisations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), and the Permanent Interstates Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS). It is also supported by the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA), an international network for co-operation and co-ordination in the fight against food and nutrition insecurity. This solid institutional anchoring in the region, supported by the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat at the OECD, is essential for the buy-in of all stakeholders.
AGIR’s unifying function is further consolidated by a shared definition of resilience. This avoids stakeholders conceptualising resilience in their own way, at an individual project or programme level, without taking into account what needs to be collectively achieved for lasting results: “the capacity of vulnerable households, families, communities and systems to face uncertainty and the risk of shocks, to withstand and respond effectively to shocks, as well as to recover and adapt in a sustainable manner.”
It is important to emphasise that AGIR is not another initiative, project or programme. It is not a financial mechanism. Rather, it is a unifying framework to which all actors striving for food and nutrition security in the region may adhere.
To translate commitment into action, AGIR sets out its terms of implementation in a Regional Roadmap based on four pillars: improving social protection, strengthening nutrition, improving food production and income levels, and strengthening governance in food and nutrition security.
Across all four pillars, AGIR focuses stakeholder efforts on a common target: vulnerable populations, identified as lacking the most basic resources to protect their lives and livelihoods. These are poor and marginalised agricultural households, agro-pastoralists, artisan fishermen and poor urban and rural households in the informal economy.
AGIR seeks to ensure that resilience is at the heart of national food and nutrition security policies; this is done through a “National Inclusive Dialogue” process bringing together stakeholders from different sectors to formulate “National Resilience Priorities”. This process involves a series of steps:
Step 1: review and identify existing policies and programmes that contribute to resilience and therefore the objectives of AGIR in terms of target populations and expected results;
Step 2: identify national priorities contributing to resilience and the assessment of the different stages of their implementation; and
Step 3: identify any gaps, such as in policies that need to be developed or strengthened to contribute to the resilience priorities previously identified, including the funding required to fill these gaps in terms of amounts and sources.
National Resilience Priorities are drawn from existing policies; it is this fundamental part of the process that is often misunderstood. Governments are not required to re-invent the wheel nor are they required to create parallel structures. The process is supported by existing policies, frameworks and network arrangements in different countries (e.g. Scaling Up Nutrition [SUN], Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition [REACH], National Agricultural Investment Plans [NAIPs]).
For AGIR to be successful, however, countries must take full national ownership of the process. This requires identifying and implementing National Resilience Priorities that are tailored to national needs. Countries must build consensus on the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity, the specific populations targeted and the expected results. Countries also must agree on concrete, operational arrangements with regard to funding, implementation and collectively monitoring and evaluating the National Resilience Priorities, at national and local levels. AGIR provides these operational frameworks to support national governments. It also facilitates dialogue between stakeholders to encourage more effective, collective action on resilience.
Progress in formulating and implementing National Resilience Priorities is reviewed twice a year by the AGIR Senior Experts’ Group. The Group also discusses opportunities for stakeholders to strengthen co-ordination. This unified approach to channelling stakeholder action under a single framework to address food and nutrition insecurity is the foundation upon which AGIR is built.
Paving the Way Forward
The progress made by AGIR to date is encouraging; eight out of the region’s 17 countries have validated their National Resilience Priorities. Three others are pending validation, and the six remaining countries are in the start-up stage of the process. Despite the progress made in policy-making, a lack of co-ordination persists on the ground. Without a clear view and understanding by all stakeholders of what exactly is being implemented, the lack of co-ordination will prevail.
In tackling this challenge, one of the crucial next steps for AGIR is to carry out a detailed inventory of food and nutrition security and resilience interventions in the region. The inventory will be made available to stakeholders via an online mapping tool, paving the way for better, more effective co-ordination. It will allow for clear lines of ownership and responsibilities to be identified and established, thereby reducing duplication. This next step will bolster AGIR as a unifying framework, furthering the common objective of stakeholders to build resilience to a far greater extent than any single programme or project can achieve by working in isolation.