At the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, last week, World Food Program USA hosted an event highlighting the need for collaboration across humanitarian and development initiatives to increase food and nutrition security in one of the world’s most vulnerable areas.
The Sahel region of West and Central Africa is in the midst of a severe crisis that has left 18 million people hungry and malnourished. Infrequent rainfall, conflict, political instability, high food prices, and locusts, have all contributed to the humanitarian crisis in the region.
On Thursday, October 18, WFP USA hosted a panel discussion moderated by Richard Leach, WFP USA President and CEO. Panelists Thomas Yanga, Regional Director for West Africa for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP); Paul Weisenfeld, Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Food Security at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, highlighted the critical importance of both humanitarian and development investments to break the cycle of hunger in the Sahel.
Panelists underscored the importance of creating resilient communities that are able to withstand shocks and decrease negative coping mechanisms in the face of crisis. Mr. Yanga expressed that WFP, through food-for-work and cash-for-work programs, has employed innovative food assistance programs in the Sahel that go beyond traditional relief efforts. The pillars of WFP’s crisis response include coordination among international partners, early response, and building nutritional resilience for affected communities. In an interview about the impact of WFP’s work in the Sahel, Mr. Yanga said “These [programs] have helped communities to cope with the situation and prevented them from migrating, taking their children out of school, and generally seeing their nutritional intake deteriorate.”
Alongside a call for innovation partnerships, the panel emphasized the need to invest in women in order to find lasting success in the fight against hunger. Diénaba Diallo, a pastoralist and dairy producers’ organization leader from Burkina Faso, reminded the panelists during the discussion that women are critical to providing for the food and nutrition needs of their children. Panelists affirmed the key role that women play in the region and around the globe and underscored the importance of women-targeted investments. During the World Food Prize ceremony later Thursday evening, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin cited that women produce close to 80 percent of Africa’s food supply. With the knowledge that improving training and opportunities for women will lead to a more “food secure future,” the FAO, IFAD, UN Women and WFP are joining forces to invest in rural women farmers in the Sahel and other areas worldwide.
Increased collaboration was an overarching theme of the event, with panelists calling for innovative partnerships across the public and private sector. Mr. Weisenfeld believes that resilience-building programs offer great opportunities to focus efforts on the chronically vulnerable—a population often neglected in development efforts—and reduce the reliance on food assistance. Through the protection and expansion of economic livelihoods, environmental shocks are less likely to become full-blown crises requiring humanitarian intervention.
Mr. Thurow remarked that small-scale farmers are no longer “too remote, too distant, too poor” and are increasingly seen as valuable collaborators in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. Building government capacity is also a critical component of building resilience in the Sahel. Local institutions must have both political will and dedicated resources to ensure interventions are sustainable over the long-term. Panelists expressed that through listening to those impacted by malnutrition and food insecurity and expanding access to resources and opportunities, international organizations can work alongside local leaders in building a bright, stable future for communities in the Sahel.
While the World Food Prize exists to honor individuals for their efforts to fight hunger, the symposium also was a celebration of the collaborations and partnerships that have been established in the work toward food security worldwide. As Executive Director Cousin expressed at the ceremony on Thursday evening: “No organization—no matter how good— can rise to this challenge alone…let’s consider the impact of these partnerships in constructing a future history for this next generation and the generation that follows.”
For more information, read Building Resilient Communities in the Sahel.
Photos: WFP USA/Alisha English; WFP/Vigno Hounkanli; WFP/Rein Skullerud