How Food Assistance Can Contribute to Environmental Protection

Food insecurity often goes hand-in-hand with environmental degradation. If the land is degraded or prone to natural disasters, less food is produced and significant food shortages can occur. Food/cash-for-assets programmes in various countries are a useful tool to enable communities to restore their environment.

One country where land degradation had reached alarming proportions was Ethiopia. The degradation of its natural resources is one of the reasons for food insecurity and rural poverty there. To reverse this major barrier to development, the Government of Ethiopia, WFP and other partners/donors initiated the so-called MERET project (Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transition). Due to the success of the project it has been constantly expanded to cover more communities. Read story

Collaboration with the communities
The main reason for MERET’s success is its community-based, participatory approach. Already the basic principles of MERET were established that way. Staff from  the government and WFP observed how local people grew their crops, where they got their water, what their fuel sources were and how they reared their livestock. After learning about the best and worst methods, the project team, together with the communities, established different principles to achieve higher agricultural productivity while conserving land and water.

The planning, implementation and evaluation of MERET activities is now done by district-level government experts in collaboration with affected communities. The regional and federal governments provide policy guidance and financial and technical resources. WFP supports the government with food-for-assets programmes through which community members receive food in exchange for building and maintaining the conservation structures. Furthermore, WFP is also involved in training activities and the implementation of MERET’s results-based management system.

Major Achievements
The MERET project therefore provides chronically food-insecure communities, particularly women, with income-generating activities and contributes to their longer-term food security through land rehabilitation. Among the programme’s many activities are measures to reforest barren hillsides, restore springs and rainwater ponds, construct agricultural terraces, develop nurseries, build and rehabilitate feeder roads to improve access to markets. About 800,000 people in 300 crisis-prone food-insecure communities currently benefit from the project.

Since 1980, MERET has contributed to the rehabilitation of over 1,000,000 hectares of land and 600,000 hectares of reforested are. The food security of MERET households since 2000 has increased by 50 percent, and the length of food shortages has been reduced by half. MERET has also provided a major contribution to the development of national guidelines for community based participatory watershed management. These are now used for the Sustainable Land Management project funded by the World Bank, by several NGOs and for the larger government-led Productive Safety Net Programme which covers 7.3 million chronically food insecure people. In 2010, the MERET project is still going-on.