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Key food and nutrition security policy process issues in Southern Africa

Florence Nazare ( and Scott Drimie (

A discussion paper for the SARPN/ODI/FARNPAN Inaugural Meeting on:
"The Use of CSOs' "Evidence" in Policies for Food Security in Southern Africa"

Birchwood Conference Centre, Johannesburg, 25 May 2005

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With growing issues of food and nutrition security, civil society organizations (CSOs) in southern Africa have taken the initiative to provide voice for otherwise marginalized interests by providing evidence. CSOs are not just essential in mobilizing public support for the achievement of food security but are further being challenged to engage the entire food and nutrition security policy process. There is an increasing realization that the food security issue in southern Africa requires both short and long term interventions as well as inputs from a multiplicity of sectors through balancing the region's present and future interests and needs (Devereux and Maxwell, 2000; Clover, 2003; Wiggins, 2003; Young and Court, 2003). This is reflected in the types of agencies and sectors represented in this field, ranging from humanitarian to development in nature.

The attention on contemporary problems of vulnerability to food insecurity, poverty and HIV/Aids in southern Africa, with the household and local communities as the key levels of analysis, to a large extent calls for an active participation of civil society organizations in food security and nutrition policy. This is primarily because by their nature most CSOs work with local communities and are better positioned to provide "on the ground information, experiences" and analysis. We argue here that, CSOs in southern Africa have provided useful food security and nutrition data for varied purposes and that these could play an even more effective role in affecting policy especially in identifying effective adaptation options. We further argue that CSOs need to perceive themselves as full participants in the region's entire food security policy system. The paper therefore seeks to critically look at the policy/research nexus in trying to better understand the context, evidence and links in the region's food and nutrition security policy process.

We pose two main questions to frame this discussion of CSOs and the food and nutrition security policy process in southern Africa:

  • How can CSOs' evidence be effectively integrated into the entire food security process?
  • How can the region harness institutional linkages involving CSOs in addressing the food and nutrition security policy imperative in southern Africa?
The need for collaborative engagement

Many of the problems regarding food security in the region are not a result of a lack of knowledge about what policies to adopt or the absence of information to use in decision-support. Arguably, it is partly a result of failing policy processes or policy gaps (Young and Court, 2003; World Bank, 2003) within the system. In order to have effective policy processes all the stages in the policy cycle from agenda setting to evaluation are equally important and so is the participation and contribution of governments, international organizations and civil society organizations in the entire cycle. The way that these actors and institutions are linked in the policy cycle determines the quality of information produced, how it is translated and eventually used. Clearly, civil society organizations have a key role to play not in just advocating for change but in participating in this policy process, that is, in eventually influencing the actions of governments. CSOs' evidence has the potential to act as a catalyst for change in the food sector. This implies that CSOs in the region have a challenge to create constituencies for information by creating a demand for evidence that is relevant, reliable and usable.

Much of the scientific or research-based knowledge on food and nutrition security, vulnerability, mitigation and adaptation has traditionally been regarded as belonging to the "scientific" arena. Once produced and processed it is then later transferred for use in policy making. Such traditional dichotomies have provided barriers in the uptake of the "scientific research" information. In order to identify the policy gaps, we examine in this paper the science research-policy interface in food security. We treat the food security policy arena as a policy-subsystem. The CSOs are in this case actors in the policy subsystem dealing with a particular public issue of food security. Such an argument requires an exploration of the concept of institutions as a significant determinant in shaping the nature of food security policy decision-support. In order to be effective such systems are required to succeed in building sustained and adaptive networked relationships between science and decision-making and across levels (Cash, 2003). A system such as this would support long-term and meaningful interactions between scientists, decision makers and various stakeholders. The nature of the configuration would determine how the different knowledge communities (science research and policy) work together and for what purposes.

The pertinent issue to explore would be how to integrate users and producers of knowledge in the process of producing and translating information for use in food and nutrition policy decision-support. The CSOs would need to participate in agenda setting that is, influencing the kind of information that is sought as well as participating in the translation of the information. This requires a process that is inclusive of all stakeholders and actors, thus, an integrated process that is capable of producing "legitimate, salient and credible information" (Cash, 2003). The information can only have these qualities if the whole food security subsystem owns the process through organizing dispersed interests and conceptualizing the relevant issues and methodologies. This way there is no need to then "transfer" knowledge from the science arena to the policy arena. The process of inclusion facilitates the production of integrated research-based evidence that is viewed as readily usable, relevant to local needs and that naturally flows as part of the policy cycle. It becomes a process that is naturally iterative where innovation and experimentation is regarded as safe and legitimate (World Bank, 2003). Such a process by nature facilitates the creation of an integrated institutional structure necessitating the formation of integrated networks and communities structured along the lines of the policy issue and cycle. By CSOs listening as part of an integrated policy cycle at the grassroots level and testing ideas against reality, they can promote creativity; relevant policies and workable solutions that help national governments govern better (World Bank, 2003).

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