Three Waves of Innovation in Food Assistance

According to the book's authors, the expansion of WFP's tool box is one of the ways the UN agency has brought about a major paradigm shift in food aid and development.

Copyright: WFP/Shehzad Noorani

 

A new book by WFP’s Steven Were Omamo, Ugo Gentilini and Susanna Sandström explains the revolution that has positioned WFP as a catalyst of practical hunger innovations, and maps the fundamental changes in the way the organization implements programs, shapes key policy debates, and engages strategically with actors and partners.

ROME -- The new book, Revolution: From Food Aid to Food Assistance - Innovations in Overcoming Hunger, explores three ways in which WFP has brought about a major paradigm shift in food aid and development.

1. Expanding the toolbox

Food-based programs represent the cornerstone of WFP assistance. More recently, however, those programs have been complemented by tools such as cash transfers and vouchers. Under certain conditions, cash and vouchers enhance people’s access to food and strengthen local markets.

Recent examples include urban voucher programs in Burkina Faso and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In Syria, vouchers were delivered through state-of-the-art mobile technologies, while in Sri Lanka they were part of the overall emergency response. Insurance products are also increasingly used a way to anticipate the possible effects of disasters.

Revolution: From Food Aid to Food Assistance - Innovations in Overcoming Hunger

Farmers in Ethiopia and China, for example, benefit from WFP insurance schemes to protect against droughts and floods. Taken together, food, cash, vouchers and insurance provide a flexible and diversified toolbox to tailor food assistance to context-specific needs.

2. Food assistance as an investment in the future

Improvements in agriculture, health, education and nutrition are all key ingredients in the development equation. WFP is leveraging its tools to ensure they are provided in ways that further strengthen sustainable enhancements in those domains.

Through Purchase for Progress, WFP connects smallholder farmers to agricultural markets, while programs such as MERET in Ethiopia support sustainable land management and increased productivity. Early nutrition is key for children’s future, including cognitive development and physical growth.

Food technology ensures high quality and safety in WFP’s food assistance, while school feeding helps keeping children in school and increase their learning capacity. , All of these not only help meeting immediate needs, but also helps people invest in their future.

3. Informing, delivering and connecting hunger solutions

Food assistance programs must be based on detailed information on people’s vulnerability. WFP’s mapping, needs and market analysis capacity has been important to gauge the impacts of recent food and financial crises. All food assistance programs are ready to ramp-up based to sophisticated early-warning systems, while state-of-the-art ICT solutions are mainstream across programs.

Similarly, food assistance must be delivered through solid logistics capacity and comprehensive networks of partners. WFP’s capacity to provide those solutions is unparalleled. Food assistance must also be geared towards sustainability and ownership. Innovative approaches in, for example, Ethiopia, Uganda and Namibia respond to that call. Reaching people in a timely, appropriate and sustainable fashion hinges on the combination of all these factors.