The United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) to highlight the importance of family and smallholder farmers. Food Tank is partnering with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to commemorate IYFF, and will feature weekly posts and other media highlighting the innovations that family farmers are using to alleviate hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation along with the campaigns and policies that support them.
Famines don’t happen suddenly. In a report from Chatham House, Managing Famine Risk: Linking Early Warning to Early Action, famines are identified as “slow-onset disasters” because they take months to develop. But there are systems in place to warn of food crises before they gain momentum and destroy the livelihoods of many family farmers. Unfortunately, however, these systems have not been as effective as they could be.
Those systems include, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), which works with other organizations on national, regional, and international levels to monitor and analyze famine indicators like drought conditions and food prices. Unfortunately, according to the report, the advance warnings made possible by these systems do not always produce action.
In the Chatham report, author Rob Bailey cites the famine in Somalia in 2010 and 2011: predictive systems warned of oncoming famine for 11 months before famine was declared. In addition, the report finds that family farmers in developing nations are particularly vulnerable in times of drought. The missing step, according to the report, is bridging the gap between warning and action. The report lists political, institutional, and organizational factors that act as impediments, such as the lack of organizations’ accountability to the vulnerable populations and the political risk for the donor governments.
Chatham House makes a number of recommendations, including that donor organizations and national governments empower communities to mobilize themselves to head off food crises through local early warning systems. The report is critical of what it calls “bureaucratic risk aversion,” and recommends instead an institutional culture of risk management to incentivize timely and appropriate action to head off famine. Another recommendation is to incorporate multiple groups of stakeholders on different levels in order to improve the existing prevention systems and create long-term sustainable solutions.
Bailey additionally argues that famine risk should be regularly discussed in parliament meetings to increase political attention and government accountability.