Better prepared

As climate shocks are becoming more frequent, the risk of hunger crises is growing too. Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is supporting the resilience of countries concerned.
Production for local markets is a safeguard against hunger: sorghum harvest in Ethiopia. Mike Kolloffel/Lineair Production for local markets is a safeguard against hunger: sorghum harvest in Ethiopia.

In past years, the debate on the consequences of extreme weather, climate change and economic shocks for global development cooperation has been intensifying. The United Nations World Risk Report, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report and the World Bank’s Four Degrees Report all offer relevant scenarios. Today, almost one billion people do not enjoy food security and are vulnerable in case of shocks. Another billion is suffering from under- and malnutrition. The World Bank expects that problems will be compounded if arable land in sub-Saharan Africa is reduced by one third as a consequence of global temperatures rising by four degrees on average.

The drought disasters in the Horn of Africa (2011) and the Sahel region (2012) as well as recent harvest failures in the USA and India have shown that development policymakers must act. To safeguard the developmental progress made so far, we must support our partner countries in assuming responsibility to minimise risks, avert crises and boost resilience to drought.

In the past years, I’ve been to the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa several times, so I know the situation. In some world regions, political instability is compounding problems. Where statehood is fragile, institutions of governance are barely able to guarantee security and provide the people with basic services in normal times. Such institutions do not enjoy much trust and legitimacy, and every crisis makes matters worse. As people have little regard for governments that fail to rise to challenges, statehood is further weakened. The consequences for other countries and cross-border cooperation in the same region are dire. It is indispensable to boost our partner countries’ responsible policy ownership and gradually enhance people’s trust in government institutions.

Today, development policy can no longer be only about reducing the suffering of people as was typical of the early days. In my eyes, it is a core concern to use scarce public resources prudently, emphasising the prevention of disasters, the mitigation of risks and the adaptation to a changing climate. All this can only be achieved in the context of meaningful national strategies and policies.


Re-focussing policy

For these reasons, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has been scaling up its expenditure on mid- and long-term measures in regard to rural development and food security. We reversed the previous trend and began to invest more, spending more than € 2.1 billion from 2010 to 2012. Our vast portfolio is geared to strengthen the capacities of both people and institutions in view of extreme natural events, societal crises and conflicts. It serves the goals of promoting development and food security even in difficult settings. The crucial issue is to improve the adaptation and coping capacities of individuals, households, municipalities and nations. None of them must be overwhelmed by sudden shocks and adverse environmental conditions. Resilience is what matters.

Accordingly, boosting resilience is a core component in our development cooperation regarding rural development, agriculture and food security in general as well as the new approach that we call “development-oriented structure-enhancing transitional aid”. The BMZ is enhancing partner countries’ resilience through preventive action and investments before the impacts of crises, catastrophes, conflicts and climate change destroy livelihoods and un-do progress already made.

For the sake of more resilience, I did not only raise spending. I also made sure the ministry has a clear concept. The BMZ Task Force for Rural Development and Food Security is in charge. Boosting resilience is a strong priority in the ministry’s new agriculture concept, the innovative development-oriented structure-enhancing transitional aid as well as in its new, soon to be finalised regional strategy for the Horn of Africa.

Evaluation of past experience tells us that six components matter for goal attainment in particular:

  • The starting point must be diligent risk assessment, so we can plan measures in a tailored and effective manner. Obviously, we must not only be aware of risks, but also look out for opportunities so we can identify promising options and alternatives.
  • Hunger crises will only be prevented and their impact minimised if we take into consideration basic natural resources, in particular water and land.
  • We need to take a crosscutting approach, bearing in mind sectors such as health, education, water supply and infrastructure.
  • To strengthen resilience it is especially important to use diverse instruments (short-term, mid-term, long-term, twin-track approaches) in meaningful combinations, linking relief, rehabilitation and development efforts. Agencies therefore have to become more flexible, and closer coordination is needed.
  • We must respond to political instability in a targeted manner. Precise analysis of relevant interests, closer international coordination and stronger institutions at all national – and in particular the local – levels are indispensable.
  • To achieve results, we have to expand our efforts to evaluate results so we have information to better direct our action.

The crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011 showed that measures to strengthen resilience actually did allow various population groups in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to cope with drought without having to depend on food aid as they did in the past.  This is a considerable success for both humanitarian aid and development cooperation, though much certainly still remains to be done.

In the Horn of Africa, productive areas got support and, as a result, were able to supply other markets in the region. In draught-hit areas in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, BMZ funding contributed to stabilising the livelihoods of affected people. For the purposes of fighting hunger and strengthening the region’s resilience to draught, German development cooperation has made € 200 million available since 2011.

Support for the resilience programme of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is essential in this context. Germany and IGAD have jointly established a fund to boost drought resilience. The fund contributes to strengthening cross-border cooperation in this fragile region as well as to preventing drought and hunger catastrophes. The fund is financing infrastructure investments of social and economic relevance, including water reservoirs and storage facilities for agricultural goods. Obviously, better cultivation methods similarly lead to more resilience.

When crisis hit the Sahel region, Germany reacted very fast. We mobilised additional funding (€ 31.7 million in sum), grasped the opportunities of international coordination and took into account existing long-term programmes. German development cooperation is clearly geared towards sustainable food security and rural development. We are tackling the root causes of recurring food shortages. Livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers are improved when rural infrastructure is expanded, value chains are enhanced and access to markets is provided. At the same time, the development of national capacities for collecting data and using early warning systems is being supported.

I am convinced that, if we stay on this track, we will be able to measure tangible results in a couple of years. Our agriculture concept clearly states that food security and resource conservation are priorities. The overarching goal of our innovative strategy on development-oriented structure-enhancing transitional aid is to boost resilience. The regional strategy for the Horn of Africa will lay foundations for more comprehensive investments in our cooperation with the countries of the region to boost their resilience to drought.

Guaranteeing food security even though natural resources are becoming scarcer is one of humanity’s greatest future challenges. Prevention of famine and more resilience are of core relevance. A lot remains to be done, but my ministry is now well prepared to rise to the challenges.


Dirk Niebel is Germany’s federal minister for economic cooperation and development.

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