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Southern Africa Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) Concern Worldwide (CW) Oxfam International (OI)

Strengthening responses to the Triple Threat in the Southern Africa region - learning from field programmes in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia

Joint Project of Southern Africa Regional Poverty Network (SARPN), Concern Worldwide (CW) and Oxfam International (OI)

June 2006

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Synthesis report
Prepared by Scott Drimie1, November 2006

Background

April marks the end of the hungry season in Southern Africa, characterised by the appearance of green maize and other seasonal food crops that become available at the household level, as well as on rural markets. Overall food security generally improves as many households access the new season crops following the above average growing season of 2006, which was enhanced by the availability of natural resources in open-access areas2. However, a cursory impression of food abundance, reinforced by roadside images of pedestrians, cyclists and scotch carts carrying crops such as banana and sugar cane, overshadow the reality of many households who continue to suffer the reality of extremely serious or acute food insecurity. The fact remained that in many parts of Southern Africa a chronic emergency was still unfolding, momentarily offset by seasonal abundance. This essentially meant that many households run a continually high risk of being unable to meet the food needs of its members.

This emergency, due to the negative impact of climate variability, HIV/AIDS, gender inequalities and a macro and micro policy environment that has not prioritised the rights and needs of vulnerable people3, raises important challenges for development agencies like Oxfam and Concern, especially around how to respond effectively and appropriately. This implies an understanding of the complexity of the livelihoods crisis facing southern Africa, which is recognised as having both moderate and severe dimensions. Understanding livelihoods means having a focus beyond agriculture alone and embraces the complexity of vulnerability studies, which appreciates the complex spatial and temporal dynamics of threats to human welfare. These include socio-political dimensions, the role of markets, social protection responses and other issues.

Recognising this complexity, and taking advantage of a period when many project-level practitioners were reviewing their interventions in anticipation of new funding and activity cycles, Concern-Worldwide, Oxfam-International and the Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) commissioned a study of a number of projects in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. The exercise was designed to assess what has happened at grassroots level through working with staff, and through them communities and partners, to identify how their activities help respond to long-term livelihood insecurity, including short-term responses to acute need. A "debriefing" process enabled the perspectives and experiences of "front-line" staff and partners to be captured to allow debates to emerge within the country offices. In many instances the discussions were critically retrospective and therefore contentious in some instances. The three country reports or case studies have been presented as annexes to this paper to enable quick reference. The objective of this exercise was to initiate a learning process within the country and district offices and partner organisations, drawing out key impressions around four main areas:

  1. The level of understanding by NGO practitioners of the drivers of food insecurity and their knowledge of community coping strategies in response to rising food insecurity, particularly differences for men and women;
  2. The appropriateness of the response to the 'humanitarian imperative' of saving lives and protecting livelihoods in response to HIV/AIDS in particular;
  3. Interventions that should be strengthened to address the nexus between hunger, vulnerability and HIV/AIDS and new approaches that were being tested; and
  4. Current targeting mechanisms around vulnerability and HIV/AIDS considering the gender dimensions of these and addressing inequalities.
These four areas were used as a loose guide in many discussions although respondents were allowed to discuss any issues that were important. The identification of key lessons has been presented by overviews of issues in each country (see annexes) and this synthesis paper, which compares and contrasts experiences across countries and agencies. The synthesis paper draws in and validates many of the issues with recent literature in order to bring these perspectives into the discussions. It should be emphasised that the issues discussed emerged from interaction with practitioners and the debates reflect observations in the field rather than considerations from other sources.

The synthesis paper has been structured in four main sections, which present the main issues and lessons emanating from the field, including a number of challenging issues. Firstly, an analysis of broad livelihood patterns across the three countries is presented, drawing out some of the specificity of particular sites and case studies. Where appropriate, an assessment of coping strategies in response to shocks and stresses is provided. Building on this, the following section explores innovations in the field as developed by the organisations and their partners in response to underlying livelihood insecurity. An analysis of the implications and integration of these innovations into broader programming is provided followed by a section focusing on the role of the state. A discussion on whether agencies are meeting the humanitarian imperative and a summary of challenging issues, which emerged during the study, feed into a final section depicting a way forward.

Footnotes:
  1. Independent Consultant & Facilitator, Johannesburg, South Africa, .
  2. See FEWS NET, Southern Africa Food Security Update March / April 2006, www.fews.net for a detailed assessment of the season progress, production outlook, regional price movements and trade flows.
  3. The thinking of most agencies is that the underlying problems of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and weakening capacity for service delivery (triple threat) is rapidly reversing development gains, leaving communities and whole societies more vulnerable to external shocks, such as the effects of the dry-spell that impacted the region in late 2005.


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