Photo Credit: FAO

FAO recently released its latest Global Early Warning – Early Action (EWEA) report on food security and agriculture. The report is released quarterly, with this latest edition covering April-June 2017. The EWEA report provides an analytical summary of major disaster risks to food security and agriculture around the globe and aims to translate these forecasts and early warnings into action to mitigate or even prevent negative impacts on vulnerable populations.

The report highlights both potential new emergencies caused by imminent threat of disaster and significant deterioration in countries currently undergoing a protracted crisis or emergency. While not covered in detail, countries that are in a state of prolonged crisis (without significant threat of further deterioration) or in the response stage of an emergency are presented an overview section.

The EWEA report uses a consultative process that includes the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS), and the Food Chain Crisis and Emergency Prevention System (FCC-EMPRES), among other organizations and actors. Together, these actors rank countries as “high risk” (where there is a very good chance of a new emergency or deterioration of a current situation with potentially severe effects on agriculture and food security) or “on watch” (where there is the moderate to high likelihood or a new emergency or deterioration, with moderate or significant impacts on food security and agriculture). Countries with little to no risk of an imminent emergency or deterioration of a current crisis are not included in the EWEA report.

Four countries (Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia) are listed as “high risk”. This ranking for these countries is to be expected, as they have been suffering from ongoing conflict, weather shocks, and reduced agricultural production that have led to severe food insecurity and famine.

In Nigeria, food insecurity and hunger remain high, due in large part to ongoing conflict in the northeast regions of the country. Localized famine conditions have been reported, and conditions are expected to further deteriorate in July-August with the onset of the lean season. The report expects the number of people facing crisis-level (Phase 3), emergency-level (Phase 4), and famine-level (Phase 5) conditions to increase to 5.2 million, with more than 50,000 people experiencing famine. The ongoing conflict has disrupted both livelihood activities and market supplies and has negatively affected both the availability of and the access to food. Increasing food prices, a large number of internally displaced people (IDPs), and localized conflict between pastoralists and farmers will likely exacerbate current food insecurity conditions, according to the report. Recommended actions to deal with these threats include ensuring that vulnerable populations, particularly IDPs, have access to adequate levels of nutritious foods, providing inputs like seeds and fertilizers to help smallholder farmers and pastoralists restore their livelihoods during the May cropping season, and supporting pastoralists through the provision of fodder supplies and in-kind or cash transfers.

Among the countries ranked as "on watch" are Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A combination of drought and conflict in these countries has significantly impacted agricultural production and food security. In addition, an infestation of fall armyworm has broken out in Kenya and Ethiopia, further decimating staple crops like maize. The report predicts that Kenya’s upcoming long rains are anticipated to be well below average; if this forecast holds, many households in the country could face crisis-level (Phase 3) and emergency-level (Phase 4) food insecurity in the coming months. In Ethiopia, the progression of the lean season could push many households in the south and southeastern regions of the country into crisis-level (Phase 3) conditions; without humanitarian aid, many of these communities could reach emergency-level (Phase 4) conditions. Recommended actions include the provision of emergency water and animal fodder supplies to at-risk pastoralist communities, the relocation of at-risk animal stocks, and the establishment of cash-for-work programs to supplement livelihoods and repair local infrastructure.

In Uganda, drought and an influx of refugees from neighboring South Sudan have placed significant stress on agricultural production and food supplies. High food prices have exacerbated the situation, and the EWEA report expects many people to experience stressed-level (Phase 2) and crisis-level (Phase 3) food insecurity through June. Recommended actions include establishing cash-for-work programs to supplement livelihoods and restore agricultural infrastructure, providing animal health services to vulnerable pastoralist communities, and supporting livelihood activities for both refugee and host communities to increase resilience and ensure social cohesion.

Finally, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, localized conflict has displaced large portions of the population. The problem has been compounded by a growing fall armyworm infestation and dry weather conditions. As a result, agricultural and livestock production have suffered and food prices continue to rise throughout the country. Ongoing conflict and military operations are expected to further drive displacement and food insecurity, according to the EWEA report, and the fall armyworm infestation is expected to increase. These challenges mean that the upcoming agricultural season will likely see below-average harvests, further restricting both availability of and access to food. Recommended actions include establishing storage facilities and improving roads and other infrastructure to better link producers to markets, supporting the livelihood activities of both refugees and host communities, and encouraging the creation of farmers organizations to better procure agricultural inputs and services.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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