Clark: Joint Briefing to Member States on the Western Sahel

27 May 2011

Statement by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
For the Joint Briefing to Member States on the Western Sahel with Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Friday, 27 May 2011, New York

Food insecurity is a serious challenge with global reach. High and volatile international food prices add to this problem. Yet the impact is not even across regions and peoples – some, like the Western Sahel, are especially hard hit, and women and children too often bear the brunt of a lack of food and nutrition with lasting consequences.

The food and nutrition crisis affecting several countries in the Sahel last year was the latest in a series of crises which have recurred there for many years.  

These crises are triggered by natural hazards like droughts or floods in a region which is prone to climate and weather shocks, and which suffers from land degradation. In some cases, violent conflict has also exacerbated the problem.

Alongside those factors there is also much chronic poverty - every year many people cannot get the food they need because of a lack of reliable income and low agricultural production.

Serious underinvestment in rural infrastructure; limited access to credit, insurance, and markets; and weak social protection coverage lead to many households being unable to cope when times get even tougher.

UNDP believes that it is vital that the root causes of recurring food insecurity are addressed effectively.  While there has been some improvement in recent harvests in the region, serious levels of food insecurity and malnutrition do persist among vulnerable people across the region, especially among those who have been unable to rebuild their livelihoods after last year’s food crisis. Political unrest in Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere has added to this fragility. 

Clearly the existing vulnerabilities cannot be eliminated in the short term - so timely and effective humanitarian responses remain imperative to avoid disasters for people. Gaps in humanitarian funding need to be filled.

The key challenge is to break the vicious cycle of these food and nutrition crises. Long term programmes and adequate resources need to be in place in the Western Sahel to address the structural causes of food insecurity. People need to be able to improve their livelihoods and their agricultural production on a sustainable basis.

To address the structural issues effectively, there need to be integrated responses from within governments, and between governments, civil society, the development partners, and the private sector.  Each brings unique expertise and resources to the task.

These efforts need to be tailored to fit each country context. For too long, stand-alone projects have not added up to more than the sum of their parts.

UNDP plays a key role in co-ordinating the work of the development system at the country level. We are also determined to play our part in addressing the underlying causes of food insecurity in the Western Sahel.

We are working to support countries there to prepare for and mitigate the effect of natural disasters, and to adapt to the effects of climate change. We are promoting good governance, better natural resource management, and increased access of vulnerable populations to microfinance, productive assets, and clean water and sanitation.

We are including conflict prevention and conflict resolution as a key component of our early recovery and development programming in the region, and we are ready to scale up our efforts to safeguard progress on recovery from crises. In Niger, for example, we have an integrated disaster and conflict prevention programme which helps mainly rural communities recover from crises.

We also work alongside others to raise the status of women and girls in society. Disproportionate numbers of women and children experience under-nutrition and nutritional deficiency.  Women also comprise a significant proportion of the countries’ small farmers – but do not always enjoy equal access to land, tenure, and inheritance rights and farm inputs.

I saw for myself last year in Burkina Faso how UNDP programmes to expand access to energy are supporting agro-processing and creating income-generating opportunities for women, reducing the time they spend on collecting firewood and water and on other domestic chores. Similar programmes are also underway in Mali and Niger.

Since the MDGs were launched, UNDP has been active in helping countries to achieve them. The first MDG calls for eradicating both extreme poverty and hunger.

Last year UNDP developed an MDG Acceleration Framework.  It enables governments and development partners to identify and systematically prioritize the bottlenecks preventing MDG progress, as well as the tested and proven solutions which can help overcome them.

Last year, UNDP worked with UN Country Teams and governments in ten countries to pilot the Framework. The results suggested that it is an effective tool in supporting programme countries to prioritize what works, and turn strategies into action which will accelerate MDG progress.  The Framework has now been endorsed by the wider UN Development Group as a useful tool.  

Last October Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger agreed to apply the Framework to accelerate progress on MDG1 on reducing chronic hunger. Action plans have now been completed and validated by the government, UN agencies, development partners, and civil society in Niger and Burkina Faso. The process is also underway in the other two countries.

In Burkina Faso, the Framework has led to a number of solutions being proposed in the area of food security and nutrition.  These include improving equitable access to appropriate inputs and agricultural equipment; the development of better irrigation for smallholder farmers; and the development of rural roads and infrastructure for the conservation and processing of food products.

These interventions prioritise areas vulnerable to food insecurity and most affected by malnutrition.

In Niger, the Government launched the Framework as a consultative process with its partners, and has made food security a central part of the development agenda. Linkages were ensured between the Framework and existing national programmes, including the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and the National Agricultural Investment Programme.

The Framework’s action plan also informed the International Conference on Food and Nutrition Security in Niamey.

In Niger, where more than eighty per cent of the population relies on agriculture for livelihoods, the key interventions identified through the Framework included measures to increase crop yields by improving access to agricultural inputs and research findings by small-scale producers, and ensuring access to food at all times through social protection measures, initially targeting especially vulnerable agro-pastoral households.

The Government has pledged $30 million over five years towards the implementation of the resulting action plan.  The newly sworn-in President of Niger has also reiterated his support in making food security a priority for his country.

Strong leadership by national authorities, the UN, and other development actors is critical for helping to build resilience and tackle food insecurity. So is the provision of the funding and technical support necessary. Proactive strategies for food security will ultimately prove cost effective : it is always cheaper to prevent a crisis than to respond to one.

I hope that development partners will support the implementation of the action plans drawn up by Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as the efforts to address the structural causes of food insecurity elsewhere in the Western Sahel.

Beyond the Western Sahel, UNDP is currently preparing its regional African Human Development Report on food security. It will investigate how human development can contribute to and be strengthened by interventions to boost food production; how access to food by the poorest and most vulnerable can be ensured; and how well the food which is available is contributing to nutritional, economic, and human welfare. This Report should generate more insights into food security challenges and inform policy choices and debates.

Looking ahead, UNDP is committed to working with Governments and other partners in the Western Sahel to support a strong focus on food security for the long term, and to see that reflected in national development plans.

For years to come, food security will remain an important determinant of the Western Sahel’s ability to reduce income poverty, improve health and education, and empower women. In short, better food security will support the achievement of the MDGs.

The progress we can together make in boosting food security and agriculture in the Western Sahel will help ensure that countries there are able to follow a more sustainable and upward development trajectory, protected from the devastating impacts which recurrent food crises bring.