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Integrated Resilience in the Sahel

Author: RBD

Burkina Faso
WFP is boosting resilience at scale in the Sahel by restoring land, building community infrastructure, promoting education, improving nutrition and health, and creating jobs for women and young people in the G5 Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. More than 2.5 million people benefited from activities only during the first half of 2022 and over 158,000 hectares of land were rehabilitated by Sahelians since 2018.

The programme is already demonstrating positive outcomes in terms of food security, economic empowerment, natural regeneration, nutrition, access to social services, reduction of negative coping mechanisms and daily hardships, as well as social cohesion. Most importantly, beneficiaries’ food security remained stable or improved in most countries and years despite the various shocks and stressors affecting the region and an increasingly difficult context marked by a deterioration of food security.

The Sahel and its challenges 

The G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) are facing multiple, interlinked challenges: high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, unequal access to basic services, poorly integrated markets, rising insecurity, an environment threatened by land degradation, recurrent droughts, and erratic rainfall.

Climate change and the impact of the conflict in Ukraine are compounding these simultaneously occurring shocks and stressors. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hardships experienced by communities, placing additional strain on already precarious health and food systems.

Despite these challenges, the Sahel is far from being defeated as it holds great potential.

The region's potential

Ecosystem restoration

The Sahel holds great potential for ecosystem restoration, including a wealth of untapped groundwater and renewable energy sources.

Demographic dividends

The demographic dividends could be enormous if the very young population is provided with the necessary resources and opportunities to thrive.

Our vision

Healthy ecosystems are the very foundation for people’s wellbeing and livelihoods in the Sahel. The multifaceted challenge exacerbated by climate change demands unprecedented investments in land rehabilitation, but also in education, health and nutrition, green jobs for all, enabling social cohesion and better governance.

It is with this vision that the WFP, in collaboration with governments and partners, has scaled up an integrated resilience programme in the Sahel: the approach is based on participatory watershed planning, triggering a variety of land rehabilitation activities and linking them to school meals, nutrition programmes, and support to smallholder farmers. In practice, this means bringing degraded land back to life, enabling access to food and healthy diets, getting children back to school, and developing value chains to boost incomes and green jobs.

What we do

Community-based participatory planning
At the very centre of the programme are communities. Therefore, WFP’s approach is grounded in the principle of inclusive community ownership and leadership – at all stages: in design, planning and implementation. To take into account the needs and expertise of communities, Community-based participatory planning (CBPP) is a critical contribution WFP provides with partners and governments to communities. It creates a platform for inclusive community engagement, where the most vulnerable, marginalized, and disempowered have a voice in community discussions and it facilitates agreements for access to land and water resources for women’s groups, youth, refugees/IDPs/returnees, and the very poor.
Food Assistance For Assets
Through Food Assistance For Assets (FFA) activities WFP supports communities in bringing their landscapes back to life, enhancing their natural resource base and developing community infrastructure. Through complementary cash, voucher or food transfers they are able to address their immediate food needs. At the same time, the assets built will improve food security, livelihoods and resilience to natural disasters of communities in the long-term. Across the Sahel, through FFA activities communities are empowered to: restore degraded landscapes as well as agricultural and pastoral land (e.g. through half-moons, zai pits, soil and stone-faced bunds); improve water harvesting for multiple uses (e.g. through water ponds); reverse negative environmental trends to reduce the risk of environmental disasters (e.g. through flood protection); develop community infrastructure (e.g. community access roads, grain stores).
WFP and partners treat and prevent the direct causes of malnutrition and address simultaneously the underlying factors, such as poor knowledge of feeding practices or limited access to basic social services. Efforts are concentrated on the most vulnerable, targeting young children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers. One way to sensitize and inform about healthy nutrition practices is through community nutrition learning and exchange groups. In these groups women and children gather with trained educators from the community and learn about nutrition, health, child and maternal feeding practices and the preparation of healthy foods based on local products.
School Feeding
Nutritious school meals improve the children’s overall health and nutrition and allow them to learn and perform better at school. School feeding empowers girls by dissuading parents from marrying them off early and they act as an incentive for families to enrol and keep their children in school. By linking school meals with farmers, local food value chains can be strengthened, and livelihoods improved. School feeding can be linked to complementary activities, such as building school gardens, installing grain mills or women’s groups managing herds. All together, this contributes to the production and consumption of more diversified food. At the same time school feeding activities present an entry point to sensitize about gardening, nutrition and the environment.
Smallholder support
WFP supports smallholders to increase their incomes and livelihoods by developing value chains and access to markets. With assistance from WFP and partners, smallholders optimize the use of assets created through FFA and produce generated from gardens and rehabilitated sites, focusing on the creation of (agri-)businesses and linking farmers with markets. Encouraged to form associations, they are able to negotiate better, sell more, lower their transaction costs and extend their customer base.
Capacity strengthening
Technical assistance and capacity strengthening of regional, national and local actors helps to create a conducive environment for resilience and support sustainability of investments. Since the start of the scale-up in 2018, more than 20,000 people were trained as part of capacity strengthening every year, including cooperating partners, government staff, community-based committees, etc. In addition, over 200 Masters and PhD students were supported through internships to conduct research on WFP-supported resilience activities.

Our partners

The integrated resilience programme is aligned with national and regional development priorities and builds first and foremost upon local solutions and good practices. Line ministries and the corresponding decentralized technical services play a critical role in all stages of programme delivery. Operational partners, e.g. other UN agencies, NGOs, technical and financial partners, are a building block of the integrated resilience programme to address essential challenges faced by communities that do not fall under WFP’s mandate. Further, WFP has built partnerships at regional and sub-regional levels, such as the G5 Sahel Executive Secretariat, ECOWAS, and CILSS.

 Since the very start of the scale-up, WFP has partnered with local universities and signed agreements with ten universities across the G5 Sahel countries and Senegal to facilitate knowledge-sharing, advance the institutionalization of resilience tools, and help build the next generation of technical experts. Building on this broader engagement with academia across the region, WFP has been instrumental in setting up the Sahel University Network for Resilience (REUNIR) with six universities across five countries signing a Cooperation Agreement in 2020.

Evidence from the ground and space

1. Beneficiaries are better equipped to withstand seasonal shocks

Data from our monitoring systems and evidence collected in the field suggest that households and communities that participate in the integrated resilience programme are less affected by seasonal variations in food security. For instance, survey data collected from resilience beneficiaries shows that food consumption indicators such as the Food Consumption Score (FCS) have remained stable or improved between the post-harvest period and the lean season in most years and countries. 

In 2022, Niger faced its worst food security crisis in a decade following a particularly poor rainy season the year before. WFP resilience intervention areas were amongst the most impacted - however, the vast majority (80%) of WFP intervention villages did not require humanitarian assistance, which highlights the increased coping capacities of communities to withstand climate shocks.

2. Assisted communities have improved access to key natural resources like productive land

Resilience beneficiaries, who often have limited or no access to productive land, report that WFP’s asset creation activities have significantly increased their agricultural and/or pastoral production.

3. Families and their homes, belongings, and fields are better protected against climate

Most beneficiary households found that the assets created or rehabilitated in their communities contribute to protecting their household, their belongings, and their production capacities (fields, equipment, etc.) against the impacts of floods and/or droughts. They indicated as well improvements in their natural environment thanks to the improvement of soil fertility and its effects. These findings are confirmed by satellite-based analyses conducted in collaboration with USAID and NASA.

4. Diets are healthier and diversified

Increased agricultural production materialises not only in terms of the quantity of production but also in its quality. In many households, food consumption has become increasingly diversified, regular and of good quality since the start of the programme. Improved access, availability, affordability of nutritious foods as well as community-based learning and rehabilitation centres, might explain why the quality of the diets of WFP beneficiaries has improved significantly over time.

5. School feeding is a strong incentive to keep children at school

The school feeding programme has contributed to the improvement of children’s overall health and nutrition and allowed them to learn and perform better at school. School feeding has also led to girls’ empowerment by dissuading parents from marrying them off early and acting as an incentive for families to enrol and keep their children in school. It serves as an essential safety net and a significant saving for families, while safeguarding education and learning especially for girls.

6. Resilience activities prevent the use of negative coping mechanisms

The programme prevents the use of negative coping mechanisms (such as the sale of productive assets, withdrawing children from school, or the accumulation of debts) that would otherwise lead to a depletion of essential assets and have a long-term effect on people’s livelihoods and socio-economic wellbeing. Data from household surveys indicate that over time, the use of crisis and emergency coping strategies has decreased in most countries. Another trend that has been observed is the capacity of beneficiaries to reduce the reliance on negative coping strategies after a shock or stressor and reduced distress migration is observed in many resilience sites across the region.

7. Activities help to reduce daily hardships as fetching water or firewood and improve access to basic services

Households state that the assets created have reduced day-to-day hardships and saved time for their family members (including women and children), they further indicate that they had an improved ability to access markets and basic services (water, sanitation, health, education, etc).

8. Interventions serve as a buffer to instability by bringing people together, creating social safety nets, keeping lands productive and offering job opportunities

WFP is developing and rolling out new tools and approaches to better understand the contributions of its resilience interventions to reducing tensions between communities and building social cohesion. Initial research and data collected in some countries including Niger suggest that the vast majority of beneficiaries perceives that WFP’s assistance has a positive effect on social cohesion within assisted communities. For instance, respondents reported that the contributed to strengthening exchanges with neighbouring communities and strengthened the social cohesion across villages through the shared access to some parts of the integrated package, such as school meals.