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Malawi: Lessons learned in food aid programming

Published by the C-SAFE Learning Center

October 2004

Posted with permission of the C-SAFE office in Johannesburg.
For further information contact Kristy Allen-Shirley, C-SAFE communications coordinator, at
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C-SAFE in Southern Africa

In its second year of operation, the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) is a groundbreaking linkage of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the common goal of addressing urgent food security needs in three southern African countries - Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

C-SAFE has taken a ‘developmental relief’ approach to the food security emergency in these countries. Its relief and recovery programs aim to improve nutritional status, protect productive assets, and support households and communities to strengthen their resilience to current and future food security shocks that affect their well-being and livelihoods.

The consortium has three core NGO members - CARE, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and World Vision (WV) – all working in each of the three countries. There is one additional member in Zambia (ADRA) and six additional members in the Malawi consortium - Africare, Emmanuel International, Malawi Red Cross, Salvation Army, Save the Children UK, and Save the Children US. The regional program unit (RPU) of the consortium is located in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The unique experiences of working in a consortium and embarking on the developmental relief approach present new opportunities for sharing and learning, including examining better practices for programming, and analyzing the benefits and costs of working in a consortium format. The C-SAFE Regional Learning Center has been established to facilitate learning, and provided support to the learning exercise documented herein.

C-SAFE in Malawi

In Malawi, CARE is the lead NGO and is responsible for coordinating program activities and managing sub-grants to six of the nine NGOs. C-SAFE Malawi covered 23 of the 27 districts in the country assisting more than 100,000 households in Year One and approximately 95,500 households in Year Two. Selection of the districts was based on NGO presence in the district as well as acquired past experience during implementation of JEFAP I, a WFP funded program. Similarly, NGO participation in the consortium was based on previous engagement in general food distributions and involvement in the NGO consortium that implemented JEFAP I.

The C-SAFE Malawi consortium is seen by many as a model of collaboration for the region. The NGO consortium benefits from common understanding of strengths and weaknesses of members. The NGOs have gained experience from working together, and have profited from each other’s expertise in various sectors. Importantly, there has been a concerted effort to share information and coordinate activities through bi-weekly meetings of technical working groups and a C-SAFE general meeting. The four working groups represented in this document are Nutrition, Chronically Ill, Food for Work, and Commodities, with some additional lessons from CARE as manager of the Consortium.

In an attempt to provide program supervision and ensure adherence to agreed implementation plans, the C-SAFE Country Coordinator endeavoured to visit each partner and conduct a program audit. After several visits to NGO sites, it was realized that visits by the Country Coordinator alone did not provide opportunities to share experiences and learning across the membership, and that additional mechanisms needed to be established to fully exploit the benefits of working as a consortium. The working groups which met regularly to discuss and exchange information on technical issues were given the added responsibility of conducting field visits to learn from one another’s experiences and provide guidance where necessary. The learning in this document is a result of that evolving process.

The Workshop

With the phasing out of C-SAFE planned for the end of September 2004, C-SAFE members in Malawi organized a Lessons Learned Workshop in Lilongwe on August 27, 2004. There were over 50 participants, including C-SAFE staff from Zambia and Zimbabwe and the Regional Program Unit. The workshop sought to explore aspects of learning from the Malawi technical working groups, with expectations that participants will take back lessons learned from the C-SAFE experience to their respective agencies and colleagues and carry them forward into the I-LIFE Development Assistance Program, due to start in October 2004. Participants from the other C-SAFE countries were invited both to share their experiences, and to take back lessons learned and better practices to their respective country programs. By examining programming methodologies, challenges and successes as a group, it is hoped that NGO members will be able to carry some of these lessons forward in the form of improved program quality, and where appropriate, increased harmonization of systems and methods of implementation. Finally, the process has facilitated the identification of areas for joint advocacy where common issues/challenges arise with respect to donor and other stakeholder constraints. Each of the four working groups took different approaches to examining lessons within their technical areas, therefore each is presented in a slightly different manner. Each group prepared a paper from which they presented at the August 27 workshop. An abridged summary of the key lessons from those presentations are contained in this document.

“C-SAFE Malawi Lessons Learned Workshop” Participants

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