National And Regional Dimensions Of Food Insecurity1

Food insecurity and chronic marginalisation of poor households have been both symptoms and causes of humanitarian crises in the Third World over the past decades. Despite massive international relief and development assistance, extraordinary technological advances in every sphere of life, millions of people continue to be affected by food insecurity and hunger every year. This is puzzling. At national and international levels, there are no lack of commitments from global citizens of high moral and financial standing, world leaders, and national authorities to tackle the problem. Nor is there a lack of information. In today’s world, hunger and starvation are headline news, conveyed instantaneously onto the front pages of major newspapers and into living rooms by CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and other networks. Responding to the crises is also a priority due to the wealth, and capacity of nations to respond and due to the political mobilization of concerned citizens (this despite continuous discussion of ‘donor fatigue’ as regards famine in Sub-Saharan Africa). Such crises are no longer isolated geographically. With globalisation of world economies, there is a profound interdependence of the world community that makes local problems international, for example, the unabated relief burden as well as increased migration to escape despair and disparity. Yet, despite all of this publicity, concern, and financial assistance, hunger continues to affect 850 million people, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In many communities in sub-Saharan Africa, populations officially identified as undernourished2 have more than doubled from 92.8 million in the 1970s to 206.2 million in the 2000s. This decline in nutritional status is attributed to the long-term deterioration in livelihoods coupled with civil strife, sharp inequalities in resource endowment, and occasional adverse climate events. Not only did at-risk population increase in the past decades but also the geographical areas affected have increased. Inequalities in opportunities and access to resources have led to marginalisation of communities, often leading to armed conflict between communities or the formation of rebel movements against central authority. If current trends continue, food insecurity risks becoming permanent in some regions of the continent, and defying existing frameworks of humanitarian assistance for sustainable recovery. Indeed this author argues that existing institutional arrangements and visions have proven inadequate in this regard. At the same time, there is no doubt that the capacity to respond to humanitarian crisis has tremendously improved, benefiting not only from lessons learned in successive crises (developing such resources as internal loans, rapid response funds, regional stockpiling of relief supplies, etc) but also from technological progress particularly in climate forecasting (such as El Nino phenomenon).

The graph below (Figure 1) provides an indication of the growth trends of food insecure populations using WFP beneficiary numbers. It can be assumed that the real extent of food insecurity and populations suffering from chronic and transitory hunger exceeds those shown in the graph. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, a voluntary redistribution of assistance within communities and households is considerable, the true magnitude of which is not reported in international assistance statistics. Regardless, even the partial statistics themselves reveal the underlying food insecurity concerns across the continent. As the graph shows, the volume of food aid and the corresponding number of beneficiaries fluctuated over the years; the lowest number of food aid and the corresponding number of beneficiaries fluctuated over the years; the lowest number of beneficiaries recorded in 1996 and the highest in 2003. The fluctuation is explained by episodes of droughts, floods and surge in internal displacements and related factors.

Source: World Food Programme Global Office: Summaries prepared based on WFP in Statistics, 1991 to 2004.

Consistent with global concerns, the agricultural sector, the main provider of food security, remains sluggish. Figure 2 shows that, among 35 countries in Africa, only 7 countries exhibited positive growth per capita cereal production since 1969. The remaining 28 countries demonstrated negative growth during the same period. Bear in mind, many of the countries with negative growth rates do not have export economies to enable them to participate in international grain trade. The recent emergence of bio-fuel technologies, particularly those using corn, have created an unprecedented demand in producer countries, consequently forcing up grain prices, and further reducing the ability of third world countries to participate in the international grain market.

Source: Based on Agricultural Statistics, FAO STAT, 1969 – 2002

FAO’s 2005 report “State of Food Security in the World” estimates 842 million people suffer chronic hunger (this number has reached 850 million in the 2006 report). In 19 developing countries, the number of hungry dropped by 80 million over ten years, but in developing nations overall, hunger is on the rise. While substantial improvements are recorded in other parts of the world, in Africa, malnutrition dropped by only one percent in the past 30 years. In absolute terms, more children are malnourished in 2002 in Africa than 30 years ago (see Table 1).

Table 1: Percentage of Population Undernourished in the Developing Regions

The International Approaches

Principal causes of the poor performance of the agricultural sector and rising food security crisis are attributed to poor economic policies and climate on the one hand, and civil strife with associated problems of displacement, refugees and economic disruption on the other. This should be seen in the face of a constrained productive resource accessible to the households and lack of action at the community level. In Ethiopia, for example, there is diminishing access to resources evidenced by growing landlessness among rural population, and high unemployment outside (even within) the agricultural sector. Simply put, in most of the economies where food insecurity is pervasive, there is war, bad governance, limited or poor resource endowment, limited employment and income earning opportunities. In this context, five seminal theses about hunger and poverty are referred to, not withstanding others.

Amartya Sen’s Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981) thesis shifted public opinion and policy action on the causes of famine and hunger from merely a decline in food availability to an entitlement decline. In his seminal work Development as Freedom (Sen 1999) presents a world with remarkable deprivation, destitution and oppression including persistence of poverty and unfulfilled elementary needs, occurrence of famines and widespread hunger, violation of elementary political freedom as well as basic liberties, extensive neglect of the interests and agency of women, and the worsening threats to our environment and to the sustainability of our economic and social lives. The removal of these factors, “the unfreedom”, constitutes development.

In 2000, another important thesis was published by Hernando De Soto, the Mystery of Capital: why capitalism triumphs in the west and fails everywhere else. The author argues that it is “dead capital”, not the absence of capital, that is responsible for poverty in the third world countries. In his powerful and fact-based presentation, the author advances that “in every country we have examined, the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the poor has created wealth on a vast scale — wealth that also constitutes by far the largest source of potential capital for development. These assets not only exceed the holdings of the government, the local stock exchanges and foreign direct investment; they are many times greater than the aid from advanced nations and all loans extended by the World Bank”. De Soto’s analogy of six blind men are telling the fact of continued food insecurity and lack of consensus amongst thinkers and actors —- “Most of us are like the six blind men in the presence of an elephant: one grasps the animal’s searching trunk and thinks the elephant is a snake; another finds its tail and thinks the elephant is a rope; a third is fascinated by the large, sail-like ears; another embraces its leg and concludes that the elephant is a tree. No one views the elephant in its totality, and thus they cannot come up with a strategy for dealing with the very large problem at hand.”

Jeffrey Sachs, The end of poverty; economic possibilities of our time (2006), asserts that world prosperity is spreading with the ability to use modern and science-based ideas to organise production. As chief architect of the MDGs, it is not surprising that his optimistic depiction of the world economy is based on the analysis of historical economic trends, and the aggregation of macro economic indicators. His six major kinds of capital to ending poverty include: human capital, business capital, infrastructure, natural capital, public institutional capital, and knowledge capital. Surprisingly, Sachs claims that “Africa’s corruption as the basic source of the problem does not withstand practical experience or serious scrutiny”. Of course, this is far from the truth, at least in this author’s view. In fact bad governance, including corruption, is the source of the many conflicts and long-term decline of development opportunities in Africa, which is the source of neglect and marginalisation.

Easterly, The Whiteman’s Burden, why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good (2007), argues that “the short answer on why the dying poor children don’t get twelve-cent medicines, while healthy rich children do get Harry Potter, is that twelve-cent medicines are supplied by planners while Harry Potter is supplied by searchers.— In foreign aid, planners announce good intensions but don’t motivate anyone to carry them out; searchers find things that work and get some reward”. He argues that bad government is the key contributing factor, as he states “As if the problems with markets were not enough, poor countries have bad government”. His recommendations include six basic actions: (1) have aid agents individually accountable for individual, feasible areas for action that help poor people lift themselves up; (2) let those agents search for what works, based on past experience in their area; (3) experiment, based on the results of the search; (4) evaluate, based on feedback from the intended beneficiaries and scientific testing; (5) make sure incentives are strong to do more of what works.

In his recently published book, Paul Collier in The Bottom Billion. Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What can be done about it (2007) suggests that four “traps” are to blame for the misery of “the bottom billion”. Conflict, natural resources (too many or too few), being landlocked with bad neighbours and bad governance in small country are the traps that must be removed to move countries out of poverty.

This brief review of some of the literature suggests there is no lack of thinking and diverse ideas on how to deal with hunger. In addition to this is the international mobilization to action, evidenced by the international, regional and even donor governments that develop policies and make commitments to support the fight against hunger.

At the international level, Heads of State and Government pledged at the World Food Summit (WFS) held in Rome in November 1996 their political will and their common and national commitment to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their level no later than 2015. In September 2002, six years later, recognising the continued threats of poverty and hunger, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were declared. Among others, the declaration committed to “halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world’s people whose income is less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and, by the same date, to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.”

At the regional level, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) — is a pledge by African leaders, based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction, that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and to place their countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and development and, at the same time, to participate actively in the world economy and body politic. The Programme is anchored on the determination of Africans to extricate themselves and the continent from the malaise of underdevelopment and exclusion in a globalising world. Individually, major donor governments and groups of governments have played major roles in supporting not only these international initiatives, but also their own programs at the country level to attack hunger.

The commitments are great instruments for funding and awareness-raising among global and regional citizens. Often commitments are made and then search for action begins; then in the frenzy of meeting and the deadlines of funding commitments, plans will be drawn up devoid of practical action and out of touch with the reality of those suffering from hunger and poverty and who are the intended beneficiaries of the programs. At the end, neither the passionate global citizens’ desire of ending hunger and poverty nor improved conditions of the desperate poor and hunger results from the process. Ideally, the system would work in the reverse. Community level action plans would be prepared then commitments could be solicited to be matched with the problems on the ground. Instead, with the current set-up, disappointing reports of unmet targets and failures abound. For example, as the Secretary General of the United Nations point out “Progress towards most of the Millennium Development Goals depends heavily on equitable growth. A sustained and broad-based annual per capita income increase of 3 per cent is the minimum needed to lift people out of poverty at a rate sufficient to meet the Goal of reducing by half, by 2015, the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day. Global growth, however, has slipped since the Millennium Declaration was adopted, with developing countries bearing the brunt of the slowdown.”

For what seems a simple problem of hunger and poverty, there are so many debates, so many concepts to describe the simple issues. “Good” concepts and frameworks must help provoke or clarify ideas and link them to action. The many concepts and frameworks are unhelpful if they simply generate debates and confusion. Evidently, experimentation with too many concepts, too frequent changes, and with too little actions at community and household levels are, in part, contribute to the continued under-achievements. What is pressingly needed is tangible action that links resources to community and household recovery needs as will be discussed below.

The Long-Term Decline, Marginalisation And Conflict

This section highlights the author’s firsthand experience about recurrent crises and the day-to-day challenges faced by communities and households in many parts of rural Africa. He shares three typical examples of how long-term deterioration of livelihoods combined with the wars, environmental degradation, sharp inequalities in resource endowment, and climatic irregularities continue to produce food insecurity and human suffering. The three examples are Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan, where the problems have continued for generations; sadly, people born in the wars have grown up not only to suffer in them, but also fought those wars and produced yet more misery and suffering. One cannot help thinking that poverty, hunger, marginalisation, and war are inherited from generation to generation. It is unbelievable that the massive international assistance has not been able to break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger.

Ethiopia–the long-term decline of development opportunities

Dosha is a village in Arsi province of Ethiopia. It is located in the proximity of the provincial capital Asella. The author grew up in Dosha, herding cattle, tending crops, and generally helping out on the farm. His parents and relatives continue in that life until today, and he returns whenever he can. The author has been able to observe many changes, or lack thereof, over time. Day to day life and services for the people of this area has changed little over the five plus decades of his life. The population lives within the cycle of the agricultural year, living through times when more food is available, and those where food is expensive and stocks at home limited. A basic market provides a venue for exchange of surplus agricultural production for household basics such as salt, soap, clothes, kerosene. A hospital, a few primary schools and one secondary school serve the community, indeed the whole province. Perhaps the shining positive change is the pride of the people in the world class marathon runners that are produced regularly from the area and who have invested some of their earnings in some basic for-profit infrastructure. What has changed negatively and dramatically to a periodic visitor such as the author is the increasing poverty of the area driven by a sharp decline in the environment of the area, and growing landlessness of the population.

In the 1960s, the community enjoyed abundant natural resources including thick forest covering more than half of the area, preventing soil erosion. During the same time, a Swedish funded Arsi Rural Development Unit (ARDU) was working in the area, advancing the introduction of new crop varieties, new species of cows, fertilizer, herbicides, credit facilities, and farmers’ cooperative. With effective extension services, the project introduced fertilizer and high yielding crop varieties, and inseminated local cows with hybrid semen, which increased their milk yield. Intensification and intensification of production was made possible through the introduction of tractors and tractor hiring centres. Farmers eagerly adopted the new methods, and the results were visible. It was a model of technological changes for replication elsewhere in the country.

In the mid seventies, Ethiopia underwent a Marxist social revolution with the military takeover by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Land was nationalized, doing away with, in the stroke of a pen, the traditional system for voluntary redistribution of private resources that was an effective hedge against hunger within communities. Nationalization also did away with environmental practices such as tree planting on individually owned land. Deforestation thus occurred on a large-scale, accelerating soil erosion, that, unchecked, stripped away the healthy topsoils and their nutrients. The start of the civil war further diverted attention away from agriculture as the government directed financial resources into the war. Then international sanctions on Ethiopia dried up most development aid, leaving humanitarian funding for absolute life saving work as the only source of assistance to rural Ethiopians. The now-too-familiar litany of problems of Ethiopia set in: landlessness, land degradation, episodes of drought and ensuing crop failure, lack of and/or limited opportunities for seasonal and farm employment. Despite the change of government in 1991, and a concerted emphasis by the authorities on food and food security supported by the international community, the impact of the years of crisis lingers. In fact, until today millions of Ethiopians are dependent on some level of food aid every single year.

Villages in Ethiopia face differing risks and predispositions to vulnerabilities. In extensive research conducted over several years, this author found that the very farmers that had experienced recurrent food insecurity were gainfully engaged only for 40 – 50% of the time. This was because the supply of available land for agriculture was declining while simultaneously other means of employment outside this primary source of livelihood was unavailable. The productivity of land itself was also a major factor with episodic drought or below normal moisture regimes reducing on-farm production. Worse, coping strategies employed by farmers, such as opening up new areas for planting were actually regressive because often the areas chosen were fragile, hilly, and forested, producing near-future risks such as increased erosion and overall degradation of the environment, the very resource that was needed to sustain their livelihoods over the long term. Added to this was the taxation regime which continues to this day to extract 3 to 4 times the amount of money than is actually put back into the economy through limited services (health or education). How can vulnerable people then have any future opportunity to over come crisis? Before one crisis is over, yet another one sets in, constituting a cycle of despair.

Uganda–Conflict and encampment

Post Ed Amin and Obote regimes, in the 1980s Uganda emerged as one of the new democratic nations of Africa with the hope for change and the promise of a success story for ending war, building peace and introducing the conditions for national economic development. Twenty years on, the conditions for peace building have not been fully inclusive of political differences in the country, nor has there been the necessary organisational structure and capacity fully created to support that peace. The northern and northeastern regions of Uganda faced political, social and economic crises that introduced massive food insecurity in the face of near-virgin and fertile lands. Even when the government policy of decentralization was introduced, the regions’ local governments were crippled by the rebel activities, inadequate capacity to generate revenue, shortage of qualified manpower and lack of infrastructure to implement crucial development programmes. The LRA actions against the populations in the North of the country have produced one of the largest displaced populations in the region.3

In 2000/2001, the author worked in Uganda where he visited Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and held many discussions with the displaced. It was evident that they felt unprotected, trapped, overwhelmed, and depressed by the prolonged political encampment —- loss of self-confidence, disillusioned, frustrated by inability to care for their families and loss of self-esteem. In this case, climate, land fertility and labour were no long the determinants of production. The ability to produce was dependent upon the extent to which political and military activities permitted the IDPs to access agricultural fields.

The explanation of the forces of war is complex; but the simple fact remains that millions of Ugandans continue to suffer for the past 20 years. The question is how long should it continue? What is the opportunity cost of lost time, and the generation of food insecure people borne into it?

Sudan–Marginalisation, neglect and conflict

The author visited and worked in Sudan since early 1990 as an NGO staff member and more recently with the United Nations. Sudan represents yet another example of multiple causes of food insecurity and human suffering: a vicious cycle of poverty, neglect, marginalisation and conflict feeding on each other. The 25 year civil conflict in South Sudan, one of the longest running conflicts in the region, was fuelled by the marginalisation and neglect of the southerners by the central government on political, economic and social levels. The conflict generated massive food insecurity that required the mobilization of enormous logistics resources to deliver food by ground and air year after year. Food needs continue to be addressed through international assistance although with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005, there is hope that food aid will increasingly be used to support the recovery of the agricultural sector, eventually weaning the Southern areas from hand outs.

The author witnessed the Darfur conflict from the first important attack by rebels in February 2003 and the beginning of village burnings by janjaweed militias. By May 2003 the scope of the impending crisis was evident to humanitarian workers on the ground. By June 2003, UN/WFP had prepared a request for a resource increase to respond to the crisis in the making. By November/ December 2003, humanitarian movements were restricted due to the intensity of the crisis and the intensity of burning of villages began attracting media attentions. In April 2004 the UN resident coordinator described the conflict in Darfur as similar to Rwandan “genocide”, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of Rwandan genocide. During the author’s series of trips to Darfur, it was evident that the conflict was an example of inadequate resources, that is to say, marginal and diminishing agricultural lands, coupled with the disenfranchisement and neglect of the population by the central government. Very little, if any, tangible investment can be seen in the Darfur. Roads, education and health facilities were marginal at best. Crop production was limited to the central and the southern fringes; livestock rearing was the most important source of income in this harsh environment with access to pasture and water being critical to sustaining life..

Recurrent droughts and ensuing crises are no strangers to the Darfur states. Communities in Darfur had long adapted to this environment through migration of part of the labour force—comprising mostly of men— to other locations in search of on and off-farm employment leaving behind females, elderly and the children. A combination of factors over the years has eroded the resource endowment and capacities of these communities. Crop yields have remained low and unpredictable due to erratic rainfall, pest infestation and the lack of inputs. The number of livestock has dwindled due to pasture and water scarcity, and mortality from episodic drought. Local conflict management mechanisms related to the use of scarce resources and livestock migration paths were well established over centuries and were effective at containing violence between tribes to a certain level. The rise of the Darfur rebel movements highlighted the lack of development in Darfur but brought about a strong reaction from central government. Today, because of the conflict, millions of people lost their homes, livelihoods and land and now find themselves in displaced persons camps and dependent on international assistance. Moreover, inter-tribal relations have deteriorated to such a point that many believe traditional leadership cannot recuperate the situation absent concrete changes in resource availability between groups.

With continued long wars, deterioration of livelihoods, absence of development opportunities, often poor households suffer greater relative losses of physical and social assets, and deepening their poverty further. Such losses of assets trap households in chronic poverty and food insecurity.

The Missing Links: Investment Decision & Village Patterns

As discussed above, hunger and poverty are profoundly associated with war, marginalisation, neglect, and the long-term decline in access to development opportunities. This section looks at an added dimension which is the diversity in resource endowments at community and household levels. The author analyzes these diversities, including domestic resource endowment, predisposition to disruptive factors, risks faced differentially by households with a view towards identifying some underlying patterns that can inform investment decisions to improve food security.

Village Diversity & Patterns

In understanding the context for effective management of food insecurity, we must first identify the types of agrarian economies that exhibit similar patterns of production and income earning opportunities with corresponding food security implications. Agrarian economies are diverse with different types of primary and secondary livelihood options (Diriba 1991, 1995) derived from the underlying features of the domestic resource. In this case, a domestic resource is defined as fertility of the land and its strategic location in a farming system, the predisposition of an area to natural hazards such as drought or flood, its suitability for crop and livestock husbandry, and the amount and distribution of rainfall. Domestic resource capacity also combines natural and technological factors to ensure the capability of communities collectively or individually to produce sufficient income to meet needs and mitigate a disaster. In them is contained variability of resource endowment that determines the predisposition to risks or their absence. The key determinant of food security in an agrarian economy is, therefore, the state of domestic resource capacity together with availability as well as accessibility to health, education, and technological services. Selective disposal of assets, seasonal migration and diversification of economic activities, as well as liquidation of productive assets that don’t compromise the future, all constitute the elements of coping strategies that are only possible within the range of given domestic resource endowments.

In Ethiopia, one can find at least three typologies that classify domestic resources. The first area-typology is the lowland (high-risk) zones, characterised by variable rainfall (often less than 500 mm) hence variable productivity and lower diversity in the types of crops grown. The farming system manages erratic rainfall, high evapo-transpiration, and experiences crop harvest losses in most years due to rain failure. It represents a chronically food insecure area. The second area-typology, called medium-risk, refers to farming systems with moderate annual rainfall predominantly suitable for root crop production, more cropping diversity, and what might be called mild food insecurity, i.e. harvest loss in one out of five years. Within this location, inter-household variations of food insecurity can be noted. The third area-typology are the highlands, low-risk, with favourable rainfall distribution, high crop yield per unit area, more secure production, and crop failure only reported in one out of ten years. The major limitation of this area is the exposure of the land to heavy soil erosion due to extensive cultivation.

In a survey in North Kordofan, Sudan, a similar pattern of economic zones can be found. (Diriba & Dunston 1996). Zone A high-risk is predominantly a livestock/pastoral economy characterized by erratic and less than 150 mm of rainfall per annum, unstable sandy soils and a fragile environment. In this area there is visible desert encroachment and formation of desert-like conditions. There is limited cereal production, primarily of millet along wadis. Yields are dependent on the moisture regime. Populations are migratory in this area, with few having permanent residence. Livestock is the single most important source of livelihood and as such the farming system heavily depends on markets to exchange livestock in order to meet cereal demands for household consumption. Zone B (medium-risk) is a mixed crop and livestock, agro-pastoral economy. The farming system is characterised by an annual rainfall of 150 to 200 mm, but with sandy soil subject to wind erosion. Shifting cultivation is practiced, millet is the major food crop but also watermelon, sesame and karkade are grown in limited amounts. Most of the area is favourable for gum Arabic production, an important cash crop; in addition to other animal species, sheep and goats production is abundant. There are permanently settled communities in the area. Zone C (low-risk) is a predominantly crop dependent economy with a mix of cash and food crop production. Livestock ownership is also important in this zone but not as significant as in the other two economic zones. This household economy is characterized by an annual rainfall in excess of 200 mm with fewer dry spells, stable sandy soils, and shifting cultivation. Large areas are devoted to cash crop production such as ground nuts, sesame, gum Arabic and karkade. Food crops such as millet and dura are widely grown; livestock production consists of sheep, goats, cattle; permanent and settled communities are common.

In an assessment conducted in Uganda (WFP 2000), we also identified similar patterns of domestic resource endowment differentiations typified by highland agricultural zone with low risk, lowland agricultural zone with medium risk and arid pastoralist zone with high risk.

The author’s analysis and observations show that the type of main activity pursued by households within the agricultural sector not only differentiates agrarian economies but also determines household livelihood risks. That is, any shock to an economy, and the capacity to respond to the shock, fundamentally depends on the agrarian profile of the economy itself. This is not surprising. Indeed, agrarian economies know this from experience and typically minimise inherent risks by planting different types of crops adapted to specific conditions (and couple farm activities with off- season off- farm activities as they can). For example, the studies conducted by the author found that farmers diversify risks they face by planting root crops in zones with high rainfall variability; emphasise cereal crops where rainfall tend to be less frequent and specialise in high value cash crops where market opportunities prevail. Although some slight variations can be noted, the overall approach and differentiation of resource endowment and the risk inherent to them follow the pattern, an important factor to inform resource investment decision.

Important distinctions should be made here about cross-country /community comparison of risk classification. The patterns of risk are inherently localized, for example, a high-risk zone in Ethiopia will not necessarily translate to the same degree of risk in Sudan or Uganda. While the underlying principle of risk pattern remains, their extent or manifestation crucially depends on local adaptation and practices. This is important to note as eventual investment in food security improvements must be linked to these patterns as national and international practitioners attempt to mitigate the crisis, and promote capabilities.

Resource-based management of reversing food security crisis

To formalise his observations across many villages, in Ethiopia and elsewhere, the author used statistically based research to describe the relationship between resource endowment and the capacity to maintain food security (see Diriba 1991 & 1995). The experiments examined the relative importance of resource endowment: i.e. land size, production output, livestock holdings, household size, non-farm income and quantity of fertiliser used (independent variables) in determining the value of the dependent variables, namely household food security differentiated by farming systems, a measure of inherent risk. As a matter of fact, these are common sense understandings or basic knowledge about an economy. Nevertheless, they are presented here to formalise the statistical measure of the impact of resource investment in different farming system and corresponding recovery capacity.

The statistical model estimates the association between food security (dependent variables) and the relative importance of independent variables, specified as different productive resources of the land-owning household, and examines if the probability of recovery is different in each of the farming systems and, if indeed, combined investment can be made across different zones to enhance recovery from a devastating risk. Food security variables are treated here as dichotomous dependent variables. Many values of the dependent variables are zero. Since zero values are important data points to be explained in this case (example 0 = households who do not fulfil food security) an alternative model is used here.4 For these reasons a non-linear regression model, or a logistic probability unit (logit for short), was selected, which satisfies conditions required by a dichotomous dependent variable. To measure the varying importance of household resources on food insecurity, we must specify an appropriate form of non-linear equation, food insecurity take two values, 0 and 1, referred to as Bernoulli response (dichotomous dependent) variables. Food insecurity is therefore non-continuous dependent variables which do not satisfy the key assumption in regression analysis; that is, a continuous value for dependent variables. This is expressed as provided in equation 1 below.5


A strong statistical relationship is found between farming systems and food insecurity, inherently explaining the differential risk distribution in each of the zones. As derived from the statistical model, corroborated with the author’s village observations, food security improvement measures have differential impacts on each of the three farming system (i.e. that translate into different risk zones). The probability of recovery from severe food insecurity is relatively rapid in low-risk zones followed by medium-risk zones. In the high-risk zone, however, the process of recovery from food insecurity is much slower than in the other two farming systems. Thus, the recovery from crisis requires a profound understanding of the patterns of farming system in which investment decisions will have to be made (see Figure 3). A cautionary note should be drawn in making this observation: the model is based on resource endowment – external factors to the model, such as conflict or bad governance must be removed to make recovery investment work.

Source: Diriba 1991 and 1995.

To help interpret Figure 3, the horizontal axis represents a bundle of resources essential to produce food security (land, seeds, livestock, fertilizer and family labour) ranging from 0 to 2.2 units. The units represent combined resources a household must have to recover from food insecurity and/or maintain food security status. To obtain a comparable resource unit and combine them, each of the productive resources is converted into a comparable weight derived from the statistical model. Conversely, households with the lowest units of resource endowment are exposed to the highest probability of risk, hence have a long way to go to get to better chances of recovery. Please note that a single or partial resource will not bring about a desired impact of recovery, for example, providing fertilizer or seeds without access to land and family labour unlikely to yield recovery or maintain food security norm without combining it with land and family labour. Effective investment must combine essential food security resources.

The vertical axis represents the probability of recovery or state of food security given the patterns of farming system, ranging from 0 to 1 unit on the axis. The higher the unit on the vertical scale, the higher is the chance of fulfilling the food security norm. The other dimension, which would also be understood in a three-dimensional plane, is the pattern of agro-ecological zones in which differential risks are represented: high, medium and low.

The desire to initiate recovery from crisis through investment decision should realise that the rate of recovery depends on the initial conditions of each of the communities and households in their specific pattern of farming system. As shown, communities located in zones with differentiated endowment scale (zone) respond to the level of investment with varying degrees of recovery outcome. For example, an initial combined 0.6 units of resources on horizontal axis (land size, livestock, production and use of fertiliser) does not have a major impact on reducing food insecurity (the probability of attaining food security ranging from 0.05 to 0.27, i.e. 5% to 27% on the probability scale). An additional 0.4 unit on top of the previous 0.6 units (increasing from 0.6 to 1.0 on the horizontal scale of Figure 3) raise the probability of recovery to 17% in low-resource area, just over 30% in medium-resource areas and about 55% probability of food security attainment in high resource areas. However, an additional 0.7 combined resource units (increase from 1.0 to 1.7 units on the on the horizontal axis) increases household probability of attaining 60%, 80% and 90% food security in high, medium and low-risk zones, respectively. Here after, only an additional 0.3 units of combined resource units (an increase from 1.7 to 2.0 units on the horizontal scale) increases the chances of attaining household food security nearly complete. Note that it took 0.4 units of initial investments to induce 17 to 30% food security improvement; another 0.7 units reach a steep rise of 60 to 80% recovery chances.

The above demonstrates that intense resource investment is needed to make an initial recovery possible, an important issue to be borne in mind that there is no quick fix to recovery. Incremental investment of combined resource units, given initial conditions, is needed to further their impacts on improving food security. Once the initial conditions are met, the impact of additional combined-unit change in resource investments significantly alters the risk. There after, the impact of additional resource units on reducing risks of food insecurity becomes marginal, as can be seen from the graph.

Using the model as an investment guide – what do we learn

The interpretation of the statistical model into actionable investment decisions is that genuine and sustained commitments must be made to the recovery of crisis-affected population by linking investment to the specific local potentials. This requires not only the financial but also the institutional arrangements that foster a coherent, synergistic investment climate in favour of community/ household recovery initiatives such as improved crops, improved land management, and extension services. There have been policies, frameworks and commitments; what is needed now is combining these policies, frameworks and commitments with field based research, careful analysis, and successful experiences, and translating them into tangible action at community and household levels.

Key challenges remains regarding the rising number of households without access to or means to acquire productive resources. In the absence of access to or ownership of land-based productive resources, it is imperative that alternative instruments for recovery from food insecurity be found in sustainable employment generation schemes.

Furthermore, recurrent risks and their disruptive capacities should be acknowledged. Emergencies frequently recur; therefore relief assistance must be linked to practical actions of sustainable recovery and development initiatives. Despite relentless commitments to ending hunger each side blames the other for recovery failures (externalities, such as continued conflict, aside) — the development camp charging that emergency life-saving actions play a disincentive role to the development opportunities due to the free distributions of goods and services whereas the emergency camp claim that relief measures are brought about in the first place by the failure of development. Emergency relief has become one of the largest and growing ‘industries’ of our times. What is needed is to harness emergency resources to not only save lives but also to be allocated for work in tandem with development partners in the emergency phase. Investing early on in community/ household level improvements, for example, in land management, technological innovations, crop and livestock husbandry, extension services, can give a boost to the affected community to launch the recovery process. Genuine commitments must be made to help this happen as it is the only sure way to reverse the prevailing negative trends on food security and create conditions to foster growth and resilience. A key problem of funding inequity must be overcome in this context: emergency programs are usually well funded, whereas after the emergency phase is over, funds for recovery and development are much smaller.

With respect to the conflict-induced food security crises, finding an end to the conflict is a pre-condition to tackling the food security in a sustainable way. In the case of Sudan an end to the North-South conflict immediately opened the way for displaced people to return to their villages, and given its natural resource allocation for agriculture, the South stands a good chance to attain food security in the future. Success will be dependent both on the sustained investment start-up by donors and the absence of debilitating externalities, such as a breakdown of the CPA. The problem is more complex in Darfur where agricultural lands are increasingly marginal due to environmental degradation. Here, should conflict be stopped, food security solutions will have to be gauged to the vulnerabilities of individual climatic areas, requiring, as the author has shown in the model above, significant investment at the start. Although the recovery of communities emerging from conflict is seemingly more daunting than stable economies suffering from cyclical food insecurity, the underlying principles of resource-based livelihood investment remains the same.


In spite of continued humanitarian assistance, millions remain destitute whose plight cannot be ignored. It is a force with no voice at the present, but if not addressed with sustainable solutions, can be a drain to international/ national resources, and can become a disruptive force of the future. Local invest, even at the early stage of humanitarian assistance and recovery must focus on such specific factors as land management, crop improvements, and extension service.

A genuine effort must be made to link national/ regional and national commitments and resources (as well as the good will) to local action. This would mean translating international poverty reduction policies into actions with full appreciation of the intensity of resources and the time it takes to bring about the desired improvements as we have shown with graphical representation (see Figure 3). This can only be done by having a full appreciation of variations in livelihood and farming systems so that development investments made will be targeted to finding solutions to the local problems. Sustainable solutions can be fostered in a village that suffers from chronic food insecurity due from recurrent drought by investing in crop varieties that adapt to changes in moisture regime, introducing short maturing crop varieties, moisture preserving cultivation method, surface water collection ponds, and/or improved irrigation system together with diversifying livelihood /income earning options suitable to the local conditions.

Grass-roots organizations with cost-effectiveness, vision and ability to bring together the resources, technology and knowledge must be supported and strengthened. For example, Sasakawa Global 2000 (the joint programme of the Sasakawa Africa Association and Global 2000 from the Carter Centre) introduced far reaching agricultural improvement programmes by establishing stronger partnerships and cooperation, and covering complete programmes such as technical training, agro-processing, marketing, farmers’ organizations, and value-adding activities.

Deep food security crises cannot be addressed by “quick fixes”. A sustainable recovery of communities and households requires both time and intensive resource investment, particularly after the devastating impacts of recurrent disasters. As is shown from the statistical model and Figure 3, the duration and intensity of investments are crucial, especially during the initial phase of intervention and partners have to have the staying power to see through the recovery period to avoid backsliding into another emergency. The delays in putting funds in place, in releasing those funds and in sustaining the budget levels through the necessary time frame for recovery are key issues that have to be addressed. It is also evident, as shown in the cases of Sudan and Uganda, that the mere fact of ending war and removing conditions that lead to war, will have a positive impact in ending hunger and improving food security.


Collier, Paul 2007. The Bottom Billion. Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What can be done about it.

CSIS, 2002. Post-Conflict Reconstruction: A joint project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Task Framework.

De Soto, H. 2001. The Mystery of Capital: Why capitalism triumphs in the west and fails everywhere else

Diriba, G, 1991. Famine and Food Security in Kembatana Hadiya, Ethiopia. A Study of Household Survival strategies. Doctoral thesis. University of East Anglia, School of Development Studies

Diriba, G. 1995. Economy at the Crossroads. Famine and Food Security in Rural Ethiopia. Commercial Printing Enterprise.

Diriba, G & Dunston, C. 1996. Poverty & Livelihood Security Profile: A Baseline Study of North Kordofan. Part 1: Analytical Report. CARE International

Easterly, W. 2006. The White Man’s Burden. Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done SO Much Ill and So Little Good.

FAO 1996. Report of the World Food Summit 13-17 November 1996. WFS 96/REP

FAO, 2005. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2005. Eradicating Hunger – key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals

FAO, 2005. Assessment of the World Food Security Situation.

Kent, R, 2004. Humanitarian futures. Practical policy perspectives. ODI. HPN

NEPAD, The New Partnership For Africa’s Development (NEPAD) October 2001

Sachs, J 2005. The End of Poverty. Economic Possibilities of Out time.

Sasakawa Global 2000:

Sen, A, 1999. Development as Freedom.

Sen, A. 1981. Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.

United Nations, 2000. General Assembly. United Nations Millennium Declaration. Fifty-fifth session Agenda item 60 (b).

United Nations, 2003. Implementation of the United Nations, Millennium Declaration, Report of the Secretary-General.

WFP, 2000. Emergency food needs assessment for Uganda, November 2000.

WFP, 2000. Crisis to Recovery.

WFP, 2004. Transition from Relief to Development.

World Bank, 1999. The Transition from War to Peace: An Overview.

World Bank, 2002. Aid, Policy, and Growth in Post-Conflict Societies. Policy Research Working Paper 2902.

  1. Getachew Diriba works for the United Nations World Food Progrmme. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not in any way imply that of his employer. [return]
  2. According to FAO (2005), undernourishment refers to the condition of people whose dietary energy consumption is continuously below a minimum dietary energy requirement for maintaining a healthy life and carrying out a light physical activity. [return]
  3. There is hope to ending the Ugandan longest conflict with the international mediation. [return]
  4. In conventional linear regression, zero values are excluded from estimates of variance in the regression equation. [return]
  5. Where: Pi = Probability that a household faces food insecurity; α = Unknown constant; bk = Unknown coefficients; Xk for K = 1, …, 7, K are the independent variables and the subscript i denotes ith observation from the sample of size N; K1 = Land size, K2 = Livestock owned, K3 = Farming systems, K4 = Adult equivalent household size, K5 = Cereal production output, K6 = Money paid for use of fertiliser, K7 = Off-farm income obtained. [return]

One Response to Reversing food insecurity: Linking global commitments to local recovery needs

  1. Hailu Ejara says:

    Dr. Diriba, I am just writing the proposal in similar area specific to the safety net program (PSNP). I want to investigate how these beneficiares unable to graduate from the PSNP after so many years, I want to have an insight why and when these hosueholds could achieve self reliance and to dig into the linking gap. This my first reference as I have done it in my previous thesis. I share your idea, food security is a multi dimensional system of livelihood. few assets cannot bring significant change as far as assets are also vulnerable to shocks. But what type of assets can bring self reliance and food security is my basic question. As far as I read particularly in theories of poverty trap, the majority depends on few assets while rural poor depends on a number of less costly assets with varying utility value. I do not go into commenting your work as I just started working on similar area. As I go step by step through my work I will provide my comments. I appreciate your work, however.