By Julia Wanjiru, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)
While some partners are growing impatient, others underline the quality and inclusiveness of a process that is laying the groundwork for future implementation. AGIR stakeholders took stock of progress made in developing the NRPs during the recent meeting of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) on 15 April 2016 at the OECD headquarters in Paris.
Some national representatives are asking for additional financial support (“We have advanced well, but we need more support”), while technical and financial partners want to further improve the quality of co-ordination and are eagerly awaiting the concrete next steps in implementing the NRPs. In this context, it is worth recalling that AGIR is not just another programme or initiative. It is a policy tool which aims to channel the efforts of regional and international stakeholders toward a common results-based framework to achieve the “Zero Hunger” goal. It is also a long-term political partnership to improve the effectiveness of Sahelian and West African resilience initiatives.
In reality, the implementation of many resilience projects has already started… and for most Sahelians and West Africans, resilience has been part of their lives for a long time.
What has been achieved since the creation of AGIR?
An affirmed, strong West African leadership is the first and maybe most important achievement. The Alliance is run under the political guidance of ECOWAS and UEMOA, with the technical support of CILSS, which hosts the AGIR Support Unit that facilitates co-ordination and supports countries in their efforts to conduct inclusive dialogues. All national governments are involved in the process. AGIR is based on existing platforms and networks, in particular the RPCA, which plays a key role in implementing the Alliance and lobbying on the international scene – a “win-win” situation for AGIR to capitalise on and strengthen existing networks and structures.
Improved mobilisation of development partners. Resilience had almost disappeared from the development agenda and was powerfully re-introduced in 2012 when humanitarian and development actors recognised that recurrent food crises in the Sahel can only be tackled if the root causes of food insecurity are addressed through a systematic and long-term approach. AGIR recognises that resilience-building is necessarily a long-term endeavour that can only be achieved through full national and regional ownership; it recognises that it is not only better but cheaper to invest in prevention and preparedness of the most vulnerable populations.
All stakeholders clearly acknowledge the importance of a multi-sectoral approach, recognising that agricultural production and better functioning markets alone will not be sufficient to build the resilience of vulnerable populations. In this respect, the NRP process is not a simple copy and paste of existing policy texts. On the contrary, the NRP process provides a new reading of existing policies that goes beyond agriculture and food security concerns. It involves a large number of different ministries and portfolios: education, health, territorial planning, rural/urban development, gender issues, etc., that all contribute to reducing vulnerability and building resilience. The efficiency of multi-sectoral approaches is broadly recognised, but the actual implementation on the ground still poses immense challenges for West African policy makers and development partners alike.
Last but not least, another important achievement is the inclusiveness of the process, with a clear effort to involve civil society representatives. Eight networks of civil society organisations have participated in the work of the Alliance since the very beginning. “They have become true ambassadors for AGIR at both the regional and international levels”, confirms CILSS Technical Unit Co-ordinator Martin Issa Bikienga. This is a good starting point; the relevance of their contributions must be further enhanced and made sustainable.
What are the next steps? What are the challenges?
The most critical next step is to finalise the NRP process in the remaining countries. The RPCA meeting conclusions urged all AGIR stakeholders to “renew their commitment to the Alliance, by: i) providing support to countries working towards the validation of their priorities; and ii) providing support and guidance to national and regional actors, to ensure an effective integration of the NRP-AGIR into the next generation of national agricultural investment plans.” It will also be important to capitalise on the three-year consultation process and identify best practices so that countries can learn from each other’s experiences, success stories and difficulties.
The few outstanding NRPs should not keep other countries from advancing. This is just the first step in a long-term dialogue process that must be pursued steadfastly if AGIR wishes to consolidate a multi-sectoral approach.
In terms of implementing the NRPs, the next step will be for countries to speed up the implementation of the identified resilience priority projects by allocating national budgets (if not already done) and mobilising their partners to cover financial gaps. Some AGIR pillars, in particular pillar 3 aimed at “sustainably improving agricultural and food production, the incomes of vulnerable households and their access to food”, could also potentially benefit from climate financing.
Lastly, AGIR needs to make further headway toward improving co-ordination and measuring impacts. It is currently impossible to get an overview of the many projects already being conducted on the ground in the region and even less to measure their impact. The RPCA has started working on resilience impact measures, and an interactive mapping tool to geo-localise the many resilience, food and nutrition initiatives is under way, with the support of the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat. This work will help monitor and evaluate the Alliance’s outcomes, as well as foster synergies and the convergence of resilience initiatives.
For many West African policy makers the resilience debate that gained international interest in 2012 was nothing new. They may not have had dedicated national resilience priorities, but resilience has always been a concern for West African governments and regional organisations.
The challenges remain enormous: whether there is a good or bad harvest, every year, the region must deal with at least 3 to 4 million chronically food insecure people. Malnutrition is a serious, permanent concern: one out of five children under five in the Sahel is undernourished. This year, almost 2 million children will be affected by the most severe form of acute malnutrition, if no appropriate measures are taken.
For those who are still sceptical and for whom resilience still sounds like a buzzword, we need to convince them that building resilience is not a passing fad but requires a very urgent, yet long-term commitment.