Published on Agriculture & Food

Responding to the realities of a new normal: Deepening and more frequent food crises require a systems rethink

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Farmers working in their fields. Farmers working in their fields.

The world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. The intensification of climate extremes, conflict, and economic shocks, combined with high cost of food and growing inequalities are increasing the likelihood and frequency of major food and nutrition security crises across the world . As the world becomes more susceptible to these crises, national governments and international humanitarian organizations are finding their resources and capacities to respond increasingly strained. In this new landscape, business-as-usual responses are proving to be too slow, too cumbersome, and too fragmented to keep up with the demands of more frequent crises.

To operationalize systems-wide responses to the realities of this new normal, the Global Alliance for Food Security (GAFS) has been working closely with senior focal points from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Program (WFP), the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC), and the Office of the United Nations Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator (OFPRC), alongside several donor partners. 

In April, this coalition of global partners convened in Geneva, Switzerland for a two-day workshop focusing on how to put in place the necessary global architecture to support a transition from the current system of ad hoc, individual, and ex post responses to one of more systematized, collective, and anticipatory and early action. Such efforts leverage existing interagency coordination mechanisms while seeking to further advance and concretize the ways in which humanitarian and development partners work together. While such an ambitious agenda is not without its challenges, there is a collective and renewed willingness among partners to tackle these systemic issues and ensure we can deliver on past promises of a world free of hunger and famine. 

Improving countries’ capacities to get ahead of food and nutrition crises

The foundation for this transition is the development of national Food Security Crisis Preparedness Plans (FSCPPs) which are being developed in 26 countries in close collaboration with GAFS and coalition partners. The process to develop these plans is government led and includes extensive consultations with stakeholders at the country level. These operational plans will detail how countries proactively identify major tipping points associated with an emerging food and nutrition crisis and prompt dedicated anticipatory and early action to save lives, protect livelihoods, and prevent further setbacks to a country’s development path. Currently, there is no mechanism in place for enabling the collective recognition of when worsening, slow-onset conditions are shifting into a major crisis except for a formal declaration of famine, which is far too late and extreme of a signal for raising attention and mobilizing resources and responses across government, humanitarian, and development partners. 

At the country-level, the FSCPPs link food security risk reporting to timebound decision making procedures to collectively recognize an emerging food and nutrition crisis. They include clear guidance on identifying major tipping points - for example, an acute shock coming on top of an already dire chronic situation - together with step-by-step protocols, roles, and timelines for mobilizing additional funding and early action to respond. The activation of an FSCPP will indicate that a country is facing an emerging and major crisis and that there is a need to scale-up early responses across all partners.

Strengthening the global crisis response architecture

The process of developing the FSCPPs is providing the international community with a tangible opportunity to reconsider how the global system can better and more predictably come together when a country recognizes an emerging food and nutrition crisis. In addition to the structures and protocols being put in place at national levels, the plans will be linked to a global support framework that will be mobilized when FSCPPs are triggered. The April workshop focused on building consensus on the parameters of this architecture.

Moving from fragmented awareness to collective action: The siloed nature of decision-making and fund-raising within the various response communities is not conducive for maximizing global attention on a major food and nutrition crisis and contributes to the general tendency of slow and unconnected responses. Additionally, interagency communications at global/regional levels, particularly between humanitarian and development partners, typically takes place on an ad hoc and personal basis. To move away from scattered and siloed awareness of emerging crises towards collective recognition across the international community, the FSCPP framework will need to establish well-defined and timebound protocols for communicating between country and regional/global levels, as well as arrangements for convening senior officials.

Expanding the burden share in the context of compounding crises: The ability to generate a scaled up and timely national response to an emerging crisis is contingent on the ability of country counterparts to mobilize additional resources. In most countries, however, Humanitarian Response Plans are woefully underfunded and country development envelopes are fixed across specific planning cycles, leaving limited options at the country level to scale-up when needed. Additionally, contingency resources, where available, are already being consistently exhausted and are often inadequate to respond to the additional needs driven by a major food and nutrition crisis. It is therefore critical for the global FSCPP architecture to have the capacity to mobilize additional and timely resources to support country-level responses.

The emergence of an food and nutrition crisis marks an urgent situation requiring “all hands on deck”, i.e. government, humanitarian, and development partners.  While humanitarians, and in particular the United Nations system, have developed extensive crisis coordination mechanisms over the years, the integration of development partners has been a critical missing piece. These arrangements have evolved naturally due to varying mandates and funding streams, but the result is that there is no one forum that systematically brings together all desired stakeholders when we need them the most at country, regional, and global levels, namely: the UN system, development partners including international financial institutions and multilateral development banks, major donors, and even other relevant fora such as the G7 and G20. The need for an FCSPP activation to trigger a collective response that engages the full spectrum of partners across the international community is vital for mitigating the impacts of these crises.

Tracking for an informed, transparent, and accountable response: When an FSCPP activation at the country level triggers the mobilization of an international response, ensuring the systematic, transparent, and comprehensive tracking of financing and activities is of paramount importance. The concurrent advent of the FSCPPs and the GAFS Global Food and Nutrition Security Dashboard provides a rare opportunity for enabling more systematic links between country, regional, and global efforts to mobilize additional resources and track responses. In its current iteration, the Dashboard brings together disparate FNS risk monitoring data and tracks FNS-related financing across the international system as part of one consolidated platform. Significant investments have been and continue to be made to enhance the Dashboard’s functionality, and it will be adapted to support the tracking of triggered FSCPPs and related global responses.

From consensus to reform

The “new normal” demands fundamental and systemic change now. The strong consensus that emerged around the required evolution of the existing system is the first step towards a more reliable, agile, and holistic response architecture. While FSCPPs cannot solve all issues related to food and nutrition security, they are an essential part of the solution needed to prevent and mitigate the impacts of these crises. By being better prepared to respond to future food and nutrition crises, we can limit severe impacts on countries, and especially the poor, and ensure that much needed resilience building activities are not derailed but remain on track . It is in this spirit that the coalition partners continue working diligently and in lockstep to systematize FSCPP operational arrangements and to realize the true potential of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. 


Zacharey Carmichael

Senior Economist, Agriculture & Food Global Practice

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