Principles and Practice for Resilience, Food Security and Nutrition

We are at a tipping point in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. The world is becoming a less predictable and more threatening place for the poorest and most vulnerable. As we grow more interconnected, a range of complex risks, including climate change, environmental degradation, population growth, conflict, and food and fuel price volatility, are exacerbating the challenges faced by vulnerable communities. Unless we protect the world's poorest people and empower them to adapt to change and build robust, adaptable and more prosperous livelihoods, we face a future where every shock becomes an opportunity for hunger and poverty to thrive.

All of us engaged in the fight against hunger -- governments, international organizations, non-governmental and community-based organizations, private businesses and foundations -- recognize the need to shift the way we work with food insecure communities to help them become more resilient.

The Rome-based United Nations agencies are championing this shift by aligning our policies and programmes with six core principles.

PRINCIPLE 1: People, communities and governments must lead resilience-building for improved food security and nutrition

Resilience-building strengthens the capacities of vulnerable households and communities to adapt to changing circumstances, manage an increasingly complex risk environment, and cope with shocks they are unable to prevent.

Efforts to assist vulnerable groups to manage risks and build their resilience must be developed through country- and community-led efforts. Government leadership brings a more holistic approach that transcends any institutional barriers partners might have to working together. Capacity-building of local authorities and better engagement of community leaders increases the likelihood that activities will be relevant to local needs and deliver sustained gains. All efforts must focus on people, their organizations, and build on their current risk management and coping strategies.

PRINCIPLE 2: Building resilience is beyond the capacity of any single institution

Building resilience must be a joint effort. No single activity on its own is likely to build resilience, yet together and if taken to relevant scale, each can contribute to improved resilience overall.

In Kenya, during the 2011 crisis, communities enrolled in programmes to build assets and reduce disaster risks were able to harvest crops, while their neighbors required emergency relief assistance. FAO, IFADand WFP, in partnership with the Government of Kenya, are working together to replicate this successful experience on a larger scale, turning post-disaster recovery into an opportunity for building resilience.

Through the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, Oxfam America, Swiss Re and WFP, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development, are scaling up a resilience-building approach that brings together safety nets, disaster risk reduction and micro-insurance. R4 enables cash-poor farmers to work on community-identified projects in exchange for drought insurance, reducing the potential negative impact of future disasters. Insurance also allows farmers better access to credit for livelihood investments. In Ethiopia, R4 reached a major milestone in 2012 when nearly 12,000 drought-affected households received an insurance payout of over US$320,000, or US$26 each. This insurance payout helped households absorb the shock, repay loans, and invest in agricultural inputs for the next season.

PRINCIPLE 3: Planning frameworks should combine immediate relief requirements with long-term development objectives

Building resilience means addressing the immediate causes of vulnerability, food insecurity and malnutrition, while building the capacity of people and their governments to better manage underlying risks to their lives and livelihoods. We can no longer divide development from humanitarian action.

Better risk management and strengthened resilience are as central to the development agenda as they are to humanitarian action. They are a prerequisite for enabling vulnerable people to cultivate a new crop, start a new enterprise, or take any new action to overcome hunger and poverty.

IFAD's 2011 Rural Poverty Report affirms that "because the risks that poor rural people face today are changing and arguably increasing, improved risk management needs to become a central, cross-cutting element within the development agenda."

PRINCIPLE 4: Ensuring protection of the most vulnerable is crucial for sustaining development efforts

Productive safety nets are a cost-effective way to achieve longer-term solutions to hunger and increased flexibility to manage risks.

Only 20 percent of people in the world today have access to social protection. The poorest, most vulnerable and food insecure among us typically have no access to social protection or safety nets. For this reason, when disaster strikes it has a more dramatic effect on the lives and livelihoods of poor people.

But experience in Ethiopia offers a welcome glimpse into a more hopeful future. Although Ethiopia faced a severe drought in 2011, the impact on the most food-insecure people was less severe than in similarly affected neighboring countries. The Government of Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), Early Warning System, bi-annual Food Security
Assessment and associated Humanitarian Requirements Document HRD) contributed to a more timely and effective response to people affected by drought. In 2011, the HRD provided relief assistance to more than 4.5 million people while the PSNP provided food and cash support to over 7 million people.

PRINCIPLE 5: Effective risk management requires integration of enhanced monitoring and analysis into decision-making

Better monitoring and early warning will provide decision makers at all levels with the information they need to manage risks, adjust plans, and seize opportunities.

Our approach begins with the vulnerable communities and continues through local, national and regional levels, helping ensure that action at every level is mutually reinforcing. This allows for better responses to shocks, but it also saves a lot of money. The World Bank estimates early warning systems save between 14 and 70 U.S. dollars per dollar invested.

PRINCIPLE 6: Interventions must be evidence-based and focus on long-term results

Building resilience is complex and dynamic. It requires a concentration of resources to address fundamental challenges faced by vulnerable populations. To ensure the most effective use of resources, we must rigorously evaluate the resilience-building impacts of medium- and long-term interventions on household food security and nutrition.

The 2011 famine in Somalia starkly illustrated how shocks overwhelm the resiliency of the poorest or most marginalized, leading to destitution, displacement, hunger, illness, death and the breakdown of families and communities. This highlighted the inadequacy of efforts in the years prior to the crisis to build people's resilience to future and recurrent shocks.

Our choice of a world without hunger and poverty requires us to help vulnerable people build resilience against complex risks. We need to support their livelihood, risk management and coping strategies. We must encourage and support the leadership of the governments and people we assist so they can build their own resilience. We must work together more effectively.

To do this, we must improve our policy and planning frameworks to combine our short-term humanitarian work with longer-term development objectives. We must change the way we grow, share and consume nutritious food. We must make concerted efforts to assist the most marginalized people through safety nets and other investments. We must bolster risk management services, including insurance for poor and vulnerable populations, to encourage investment and development of their livelihoods. And we must act on a more robust evidence base to ensure we use the limited resources that we have in the most efficient way possible.

If we do these things, we will help build a future where periodic shocks no longer plunge people into hunger and poverty, and communities thrive where the threats of hunger and poverty once ruled.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Rockefeller Foundation on resilience, a topic being discussed at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos. To see all the posts in the series, click here.