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Beyond Relief: Food Security in Protracted Crises

Time (GMT +01) 11:30 13:00


Luca Alinovi - Senior Agricultural Economist, FAO

Luca Russo - Food Security Policy Analyst, FAO

Sara Pantuliano - Research Fellow, ODI


James Darcy - Director of Humanitarian Programmes, ODI

In this newly published book, the editors of Beyond Relief: Food Security in Protracted Crises, Luca Alinovi, Guenter Hemrich and Luca Russo, provide examples of the opportunities to bridge the gap between emergency relief and longer term developmental approaches. The authors provide evidence and in-depth analysis from Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, shedding light on how to support the livelihoods of local populations. Using concrete examples, the book demonstrates how food security means different things in different contexts while also advocating a crosscutting learning process for longer-term approaches to protracted crisis.

James Darcy
Director of Humanitarian Programmes, ODI

  1. An announcement was made inviting the audience to comment on the new book, Beyond Relief: Food Security in Protracted Crises, on the Humanitarian Practice Network website: http://www.odihpn.org/report.asp?id=2943
  1. Although the relationship between humanitarian and development agendas in conflict and fragile states has improved, there has been no real improvement towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals for people living in fragile states.
  2. The way situations are characterised is critical and exposes problems with communication. Protracted crises are often not ‘news worthy’ which can result in inadequate responses.  
  3. It is difficult to meet people’s basic and urgent needs while not undermining support for local institutions.
  4. The relief-development continuum does not necessarily exist and there is not a linear progression from one to the other. It is problematic to differentiate between crisis state and normal state in these contexts. This assumption is unhelpful and can lead to a misperception of the reality on the ground.

Luca Alinovi
Senior Agricultural Economist, FAO

The book’s case studies focus on areas of protracted crisis in the Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The context of these protracted crises, which are not only found in conflict areas, is a combination of fierce competition over scarce resources, poor governance, limited or no access to basic social services and widespread insecurity affecting livelihoods. Without sufficient security, it is therefore very difficult to keep assets.

  1. The failure of institutions and conflicts over resources are the driving factors of crises and food insecurity. For example, in the Eastern DRC, malfunctioning institutions existed before the conflict but were subsequently fuelled by it. Tensions over land tenure issues and the capitalisation of land in Kinshasa also impacted on food insecurity. This land was then utilised to reinforce the militia power base. Elsewhere, in the Sudan, the prolonged nature of the crises impacted heavily on informal institutions such as the Dinka Kinship mechanism which were weakened by the magnitude and duration of the 1998 crises.
  2. Informalpolicy processes and the political environments in protracted crises are downplayed and misunderstood by the international community. Greater effort is required to listen to the local people, as formal policies are often of little relevance in a crisis context.
  3. Communities are working for the long term and not merely waiting for the emergency to be over. Yet mainstream analytical frameworks are hardly ever appropriate in this respect.
  4. The coordination of delivery mechanisms is crucial yet rarely enforced and the involvement of local institutions and partners is the expectation rather than the rule. The humanitarian community fear that becoming involved in the political dimension and involving local partners, risks losing neutrality and can result in missed opportunities.
  5. The protracted nature of the crisis leads to a sustained erosionof livelihoods and to structural vulnerability. As a result, the choice between short-term strategies (usually referred to as coping strategies) and longer term (or adaptation) strategies becomes extremely important. Approaches which do not take account of these two elements can be counterproductive.
  6. Food security is perceived as a humanitarian problem resulting in short-term responses rather than a long-term holistic approach. In the countries analysed, short-term responses based on humanitarian paradigms dominated and impacted on longer-term food security. The majority of responses were aimed at increasing the supply side dimension of food security only. In another example, in Somalia, free seeds were provided when seed markets were still functioning.

Luca Russo, Food Security Policy Analyst at FAO, added two points on improving the quality of humanitarian assistance for those involved in protracted crisis:

  • It is important to remember that affected peoples continue to live and organise themselves, invest in assets and exploit opportunities.
  • A range of innovative and forward looking approaches do exist but need to be mainstreamed.

Two challenges were also flagged up.

  • It is essential to understand and simultaneously address both immediate needs and the institutional, policy and livelihoods dimensions of crises.
  • The rethinking of aid delivery mechanisms and architecture as well as strategic and political alliances is also necessary. Governments need to provide balancedservices and move away from the tendency to look at acute situations only.

Sara Pantuliano
Research Fellow, ODI

1. Some humanitarian responses can be too formulaic and, in some cases, accidentally aggravate conflict. Aid can represent a valuable economic resource and can penetrate the war-calculus in different ways. What is more, relief and also development assistance can exacerbate the tensions and divisions which underlie violent conflict. Research suggests that aid managers prefer to concentrate on technical issues such as establishing a better irrigation system rather than engaging sufficiently with the politics of their interventions. Aid can acquire a ‘systemic blindness’ to the possible political situation relating to its project and resources. Greater emphasis on political analysis is necessary in order to make responses more tailored to local situations.

A thorough investigation of the link between power and vulnerability is essential and exploring the relationship between political economy analysis and livelihood analysis is key to understanding processes of neglect, exclusion and exploitation. It is also vital to investigate the historical roots of a crisis since, when this does not happen, history tends to repeat itself. Identitydiscourse and ‘identity markers’ (e.g. ethnicity or religion) define people (particularly in conflict areas), and can be easily manipulated by governments and others. Analysis of identity markers is fundamental to understanding the conflict environment. The perceptions, concerns, and fears of excluded groups and warring-parties also require examination in order to build lasting peace agreements in these sorts of contexts.

2. The conflict in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan exploded in 1988/9 and was driven by land appropriation. This was the only region in the Sudan were Jihad was actually declared adding impetus to the conflict and leading to innumerable human rights abuses. The displacement of communities led to peace camps becoming a key facet of the aid strategy. Food would eventually become a weapon in this conflict as well. Aid was not allowed in the Nuba Mountains which was under control of the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement in defiance of humanitarian principles.

3. The experience of the UN Development Programme’s Nuba Mountains Programme Advancing Conflict Transformation (NMPACT) programme in Sudan was described. The prize winning programme was the result of a collective effort to rethink approaches to delivering humanitarian assistance. The programme provides an example of a response which addresses a food security crisis through an approach which emphasizes strengthening livelihoods and peace building.

NMPACT brought the SPLM and the government of Sudan together to work while the conflict was still ongoing. This allowed the parties to play a more constructive role in the management and coordination of the provision of assistance to the region. As part of the Partners Forum, heads of agencies and diplomatic missions met with local actors. This provided a great opportunity for local people to meet with policy makers and improve engagement.

4. The programme’s success was also a weakness though. As soon as the leadership of the UN changed, the programme changed. NMPACT was streamlined within standard UN structures and lost the value-added that it had brought with its innovative approach. There was then a return to the 1998/9 situation with both sides moving away from each other and becoming entrenched again. One of the main lessons learnt is that unless the architecture is changed, even initiatives specifically designed to address protracted crises will not be able to last and have impact.

Jean-Michel Grand
Executive Director, Action Against Hunger

Jean-Michel Grand responded to the presentations with the following key points:

  1. More analysis on the contextof protracted crises is necessary and agencies should be challenging themselves to improve assistance.  
  2. It is very important to put peoples’ interests at the centre of our action. A pre-defined response is not always helpful.
  3. It is necessary to provide predictable assistance in order to develop long term coping mechanisms and help prevent people from depleting their assets.
  4. The UN has a greater role to play in providing leadership on responding to protracted crises than it currently does. There is a tendency to hide behind other organisations.
  5. There is a need to change the culture of response and put people at the centre since, without it, there is not always an understanding of what beneficiaries need.
  6. More in-depth investigation into the causes of food security is required to underpin responses.


  • A strategic approach is required to help people build on their own coping strategies. There is sometimes a trade off between humanitarian and development needs which can result in some actors being sidelined. Reform of the aid architecture is required to ameliorate this trade off.
  • Livelihoods and protection issues are fundamentally integrated.
  • Transparency and coordination are very important but there are many limitations to doing this well within the current international system. Often times, there is a reluctance to share information and collaborate.
  • A major reform of aid architecture seems unlikely unless there is a catastrophe. For this reason, a focus on behavioural change within important agencies is vital and arguably more important than waiting for a major ‘shake up’.


Many of those worst affected by food insecurity live in countries characterised by prolonged conflict and poor governance. Initial response and humanitarian relief efforts are rarely followed by programmes that offer a longer-term perspective on food security, even where the 'crises' in question have been going on for decades. This seminar, based on six in-depth case studies from Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, provided insights on opportunities for bridging the gap between emergency relief and longer term developmental approaches. The aim of the event was to help rethink how to support food security in protracted crises.