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World Food Programme Adds Focus on Resilience

By Kathryn McConnell | Staff Writer | 14 December 2012
Woman standing in field (USAID)

The World Food Programme promotes food security and growth through agricultural and livestock productivity, increased resilience to shocks and linking farmers to markets.

Washington — The United Nations' World Food Programme has expanded its humanitarian aid focus to include helping communities build resilience to shocks and reduce their vulnerability to future stresses, says the director of the agency’s U.S. operations.

“The combination of development and humanitarianism … is made possible with partnerships between governments, international organizations and the private sector,” Allan Jury said December 6 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger, feeding an average of 90 million people around the world each year. In 2012, the United States contributed more than half of the agency’s funding.

“Resilience is the word of the moment,” Jury said, pointing to the recent announcement by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that it had begun to integrate humanitarian aid with development assistance to build communities’ resilience to recurrent crises.

The WFP strategy includes purchasing food for aid near where it was produced, developing markets and providing cash or vouchers to purchase food.

Now in its fourth year, the Purchase for Progress program links WFP’s demand for staple food in 21 vulnerable countries with a host of nonprofit and private sector organizations that buy food surpluses from farmers and sell them at a fair price. Since 2009, WFP has contracted for 270,000 tons of commodities from small-holder farmers worth more than $65 million, helping to turn subsistence farmers into small business operators, Jury said.

“It has so far probably been the largest targeted program to buy basic grain and commodities rather than specialized crops from small-holder farmers in the world,” he said. The program’s major funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, he added.

The Food for Assets program helps people who chronically do not have the means to purchase food by training them to build infrastructure essential to agriculture, such as irrigation systems, terraced fields, roads, warehouses, processing plants and other facilities. The training gives them skills so they can earn money to buy and keep food for several months and withstand a potential crisis, Jury said.

Jury stressed that unlike emergency food aid distribution, resilience programs need to address the specific shock that each community has faced. The programs also need to develop small-holder farmers’ associations to help farmers sell their products at fair prices.

He said that another way WFP builds resilience is through programs that provide cash or vouchers so people can purchase food from members of a local network of stores or cooperatives.

WFP also focuses on building resilience by supporting the development of nutritionally enhanced products for children. A third of all deaths in children under age 5 in developing countries are linked to undernutrition, the WFP says. Earlier in 2012, PepsiCo Inc. and USAID joined the WFP to develop nutrient-rich, ready-to-use supplementary food to combat child malnutrition.

“Whether its foundations, the private sector or NGOs, the key for these kinds of resilience programs is that the food has to be combined with the real knowledge of markets and of asset creation,” Jury said.