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Attention to livelihoods in emergencies is the most effective and dignified response that we can possibly mount: FAO Emergencies Chief
Monday, 2023/04/24 | 08:26:14

Interview with Rein Paulsen, Director of the FAO Office of Emergencies and Resilience


Figure: In a food crisis context, more than 70 per cent of affected people live in rural communities, and yet only 4 per cent of all the humanitarian response funding that goes into those protracted emergency settings supports agriculture. ©FAO


FAO News 17/04/2023


Rome - The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and conflicts have created significant food security challenges worldwide in the past years. Currently, millions of people around the world need urgent support in over 45 countries.


But just providing food aid isn't enough to tackle the growing hunger crisis, explains Rein Paulsen, the Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Office of Emergencies and Resilience.


During an interview with FAO Newsroom, Paulsen discusses critical concerns within the global humanitarian landscape and highlights the importance of proactive measures and investments that support local food production and enhance the resilience of agriculture in hunger hotspots.


What does emergency agricultural aid to farmers or fisherfolk look like?


Fundamentally, it's about putting resources in the hands of affected farming families.


This means – for example – seeds, tools, and technical assistance to allow them to plant for the upcoming season. It means keeping animals alive during a drought period or during winter and we do that through the provision of emergency animal feed and even veterinary assistance. Often, it is also about just putting cash in the hands of people.


These activities together are usually what people need to get through a difficult period when we are talking about farming families.


For example, I was in Afghanistan in early February. Just last year alone, FAO with some 21 implementing partners directly supported more than 6 million rural Afghans with time-sensitive interventions. We have been keeping animals alive through the winter season, we also provide cash support to female-headed households and marginalized families that even don't have access to a lot of land.


We focus on what they can do in their backyards with vegetables and with animal protein interventions, for example with chickens. These are very tangible activities that make a difference in a situation where you have acute food insecurity for a rural population.


For $220 we [also] provide enough wheat seeds to produce their cereal requirements for a 12-month period in Afghanistan. We provide seeds that are of better quality for the coming years ahead. So, this isn't just about a handout, this is about doing something much more impactful.


How could potential emergency food crisis situations be avoided through proactive approaches?


To give you an example, FAO was pivotal in successfully leading in support of several governments to prevent and respond to the major desert locust outbreak that hit much of the Horn of Africa, Eastern Africa and beyond.


Early detection treatment allowed us to respond at scale. This was a response over two years that cost about $230 million and saved at least $1.8 billion in crop losses. It makes sense.


Why wait to respond until the disaster happens? Who would  rather wait for a handout or assistance after a disaster hits than be able to anticipate and protect themselves and their families?


FAO's strengths in humanitarian response come from its development background. We are grounded in communities and countries. We have long-standing relationships with ministries of agriculture. If we distribute a seed in a country, we know it is the right seed because we've been improving it over years.


People always want a means to look after themselves. This attention to livelihoods in emergencies is absolutely indispensable. It is a cost-effective way to respond. It is a dignified way to support individuals affected by disasters. And let's also remember that not only do we provide means for families to eat in the weeks and months ahead, but we also strengthen their resilience against future disasters.


How does FAO support countries in the case of global outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic?


I think there are some really important lessons, collectively, that I hope we have learned when it comes to the reality of the interface between humans and animals, and the natural environment.


These diseases that can move between animals and humans can challenge food chains, but can also potentially impact humans directly, as well. FAO works day in and day out with other parts of the UN system and other partners in this space of animal health.


In the last 12 months, FAO prevented and responded to some 990 significant outbreaks of zoonoses(1. If you didn't hear much about it, it's because FAO did a good job. This prevention of the next COVID, is really important.




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