Africa: When It Comes to Its Humanitarian Work, FAO Is in It for the Long Haul

press release

An enduring commitment to sustainable agriculture and resilient communities

Celebrated every 19 August, World Humanitarian Day provides an annual reminder of the continuing need for collective action to alleviate suffering and want around the globe. It is also an occasion to honour the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. Here, we reflect on FAO’s activities in humanitarian situations and profile some of our team who are working in the field to build a world free from hunger.

A seed takes months to develop and grow before it yields its bounty, but conflict or natural disasters can – sometimes in a matter of seconds – wipe out an entire season’s crop. And slow onset-crises like those associated with climate change sap fields and livestock, taking a steady toll on plant and animal health and culminating in “slow-motion” harvest failures.

Each year, millions of people who depend on the production, marketing and consumption of crops, livestock, fish, forests and other natural resources are confronted by a variety of disasters and crises that threaten either their food security, their livelihoods, or both. The repercussions can be felt at local, national and, at times, regional and global levels.

When the worst happens and people find themselves unable to feed or shelter themselves, humanitarian responses that provide emergency food, water, health and shelter represent critical, life-saving interventions.

However, the longer-term work that goes into helping communities build their resilience to such events, cope with them as they unfold, and recover once they subside, presents a unique set of challenges.

These are the challenges that FAO and its partners are wrestling with each day in places like Afghanistan, Central America’s Dry Corridor, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

In 2016, 75 percent of the planet’s poorest, most vulnerable people remain reliant on agriculture as their primary source of food and income.

Yet agricultural development, farming, livestock rearing are activities that require a considerable time investment. They are highly vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, and perform best in times of peace. Planting and tending crops is hard work and can be a challenge just on its own — it is infinitely more difficult in conflict zones, or when extended droughts mean that the rains on which crops and animals depend, simply never come.

Understanding FAO’s humanitarian work

FAO plays a unique role in responding to crises affecting food production and rural communities. From day one, we work to protect and restore the livelihoods of affected farmers, fishers, herders and foresters. In doing so, our resilience building efforts not only save livelihoods, but also help communities lay the foundations for long-term recovery.

Well after the TV crews and headlines have moved on, FAO remains engaged in the field, working with farmers and rural communities to build strong, productive, and resilient rural livelihoods.

This includes diverse activities such as, for example: monitoring food security trends to allow for early action; supporting food production, even as conflicts are ongoing, and helping countries and communities resume food production after they subside; and preventing pastoralist conflicts or facilitating land conflict resolutions.

Rising needs and the role of agriculture

Currently, as a result of conflict and disaster, more than 130 million people around the world need humanitarian assistance to survive. Together, they would form the tenth most populous country on Earth.

Meanwhile, recent analysis by FAO and the World Food Programme found that protracted conflicts affecting 17 countries have driven over 56 million people into either “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity.

Another FAO study has shown that droughts, floods, storms and other disasters triggered by climate change are having a large and increasing impact on agriculture in the developing world.

“Let’s not forget that underneath these staggering statistics are real lives and real people,” says Daniele Donati, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Emergency Response Division.

“Agriculture can and must be an integral part of humanitarian responses aimed at preventing the dire and complex food security situations around the world from getting worse; it cannot be an afterthought,” according to Donati. “What’s more, sustainable agriculture can be more than just a buffer — it can be the bedrock of peace and resilience,” he adds.

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