JOHANNESBURG, Mar 18 - Aid agencies are prioritising programmes aimed at increasing livelihoods and resilience to shocks, such as floods and drought, in Southern African countries that have suffered food shortages.
Humanitarian organisations have recognised that poverty and HIV/AIDS have worsened people's vulnerability, and their ability to cope with, such crises.
"Emergency response has traditionally been to react to shocks to livelihoods - be they drought, civil war, cyclone, or flooding. However, C-SAFE [the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency] is embarking on a new initiative to consider minimising vulnerability to recurrent shocks in Southern Africa. Given the history of drought in Southern Africa, there is a high likelihood that additional shocks will hit this region in the next 10 to 20 years," said Paul Macek, Catholic Relief Services Representative on the C-SAFE steering committee.
He added that "we recognise the limits of humanitarian assistance and believe that any approach [to the crises in the region] should incorporate long-term mitigation efforts as an essential response to the needs in Southern Africa".
In Zambia the Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA), a member of the C-SAFE consortium of NGOs, is focusing on women, "because women in Zambia are responsible for 85 percent of work done in the home and, due to the gender inequality, they are the most vulnerable, especially in times of crisis".
"As such ... ADRA hopes to explore avenues to strengthen support in areas of skills training for women groups, OVCs [orphans and vulnerable children] and youths, in order to contribute towards increased livelihood and employment options for these groups," said ADRA official Joy Chigogora.
Tailoring clubs are among the planned income-generating activities: people would be trained in tailoring, "after which beneficiaries will be assisted in setting up tailoring clubs and in market identification to sell their products," Chigogora added.
A poultry project will see participants being assisted to set up a project for raising both broilers and layers, and then assisted in market identification and access.
Another income-generating ADRA project will train beneficiaries in basic vegetable growing, using conservation farming methods that do not involve the use of expensive inputs, such as fertiliser, but rather organic material, such as manure.
C-SAFE currently operates in three countries in the region: Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, which were worst affected when the food crisis began two years ago. Although Zambia and Malawi recovered after successful harvests, there are still pockets of need, while Zimbabwe remains the most affected country in the region.
PREPARING FOR SHOCKS
Macek told IRIN that "a lot of this thinking [in terms of increasing resilience to shocks] is coming more from a livelihoods focus. These communities are not just responding to one shock, but a whole variety of shocks that are acute or ongoing, and that are recurring in these countries. There's recognition that planning for disaster should, in many ways, be a part of everyone's business in Southern Africa, especially given the underlying chronic shock of HIV/AIDS".
As a result, C-SAFE has focussed on building the capacity of local organisations, such as church and community groups, not only to respond to shocks, but also to play an early warning role.
"We're training people on how to do needs assessments, write proposals that might get funded in terms of disaster response; public health in emergencies training; food logistics training," Macek said.
A key component of this programme is "working with the communities to figure out what's worked for them", and then reinforcing these mechanisms.
"It's difficult to say at this point what those activities we might be reinforcing, may be. One could assume you may have some community-level early warning system that worked well, that merits strengthening, or community-level institutions or groups that were particularly effective in responding [to shocks]. We might want to develop their capacity and link them with others. The [goal] is not to create a new structure, but look at what's worked and reinforce it," Macek explained.
He added that the exercise also offered a learning opportunity for NGOs and humanitarian organisations responding to the crisis in the region.
Among the initiatives aimed at reducing vulnerability to shocks is the Market Assistance Pilot Programme (MAPP) being conducted in Harare, Zimbabwe.
There are now plans to extend the project, which aims to provide low-income, urban households with access to affordable sorghum meal, to Gweru in Midlands province, Chitungwisa in Mashonaland East and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.
"It will utilise Zimbabwean private sector enterprises, entrepreneurs and markets, to mill, package and sell 30,000 mt of sorghum. Due to the current economic crisis, these urban dwellers have reduced purchasing power and are largely unable to acquire sufficient cereals at affordable prices," said a C-SAFE situation report.
It noted that "if successful, the model could be replicated in other countries experiencing economic turmoil that leads to massive food availability and access gaps".