2 Aug 2023

How can we anticipate food crises? Some key principles proposed by a consortium of organizations

In recent years, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have partnered to ramp up the scale and reach of anticipatory action – to protect communities’ food security, lives and livelihoods before they need life-saving assistance in the critical window between an early warning and a shock.

Since 2020, within the approach and framework of the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC), FAO and WFP have worked with relevant partners to establish a coordinated monitoring system for food security, livelihoods and value chains, in order to identify and inform key anticipatory actions.

FAO and WFP are currently finalizing a joint anticipatory action strategy to ensure synergies and coherence across their initiatives. They are also convening several stakeholders working in this sector to scale up anticipatory action in food crises contexts and advance collective agreement on this approach.

Why do we need to anticipate food crises?

The Global Report on Food Crises 2023 reports that in 2022, more than a quarter of a billion people in 58 food-crisis countries or territories were affected by acute hunger and in urgent need of food assistance. FAO and WFP warn that acute food insecurity is likely to worsen in 18 hunger hotspots (across 22 countries) between June and November 2023.

The current climate crisis is a major cause of food insecurity and has already caused widespread disruption. Immediate and long-term solutions are needed to prevent people from slipping further into worsening levels of hunger. We must empower people on the frontlines to adapt to the worsening impacts of the climate crisis.

What can we do about it?

  1. Collaboration is needed and should be strengthened as the number of people affected by acute food insecurity increases. For example, agreements on how to anticipate food crises are essential, as organizations cannot work in isolation to mitigate increasing food insecurity.  
  2. Ensure a shared understanding of anticipatory action forms the basis for our work.  
  3. Avoid disagreement on controversial issues; this enables anticipatory action policy-makers and practitioners to support food-insecure communities severely affected by the climate crisis.

We have the data, the analysis and the capability to better anticipate crises. With this foundation we can better bring together our collective responses for concrete anticipatory actions that prevent food insecurity, reduce hunger and save money.

Hugh MacLeman Head of country engagement, GNAFS
Ethiopia. Solar-powered irrigation in Somali region
A farmer next to an irrigation canal built by WFP © WFP/Anna Eriksen

What have organizations agreed upon?

Following a workshop in 2020, FAO, WFP and GNAFC organized a further workshop in 2022 on anticipating food crises. This recently published document summarizes the discussions held and conclusions reached.

During this second workshop, a group of UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international NGOs and research institutions agreed to address the challenges related to anticipatory action with common principles on:

  • appropriate approaches for generating evidence on anticipatory action to mitigate food insecurity trends  
  • supporting anticipatory actions for the most vulnerable populations in protracted crises
  • the use of food security projections in the anticipatory action approach
  • the ways in which anticipatory action can be a catalyst to operationalize the humanitarian–development–peace (HDP) nexus, taking into account current trends in food insecurity.

Common agreed principles for a successful operationalization of anticipatory action to curb food insecurity trends

1. On approaches for evidence generation

Agencies need to:

  • use joint specific food security measurements to ensure comparability and consistency of outcome indicators  
  • actively promote and share learning materials on open global platforms, so that they are widely accessible to all actors
  • use a mix of qualitative and quantitative data within their monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) frameworks
  • manage expectations on what can be proved/achieved.

2. On the use of food security projections

Agencies can use Acute Food Insecurity (AFI) projections:

  • as a key element in anticipatory action trigger systems, because this is an impact-based forecasting tool that is evidence-based, consensus-based when conducted by multi-partner analysis teams, trustworthy, and a common currency that enables multiple factor analysis
  • to inform the targeting of anticipatory action interventions, specifically on geographical targeting, if it is context specific  
  • considering regular information monitored by anticipatory action trigger systems (for AFI projection analysis and updates).

3. On support to the most vulnerable people in protracted crises

Anticipatory actions have a number of roles in protracted crises:

  • mitigating the impacts of new hazards and shocks, rather than addressing pre-existing humanitarian needs and underlying vulnerabilities.
  • preventing vulnerable communities at lower phases of acute food insecurity from slipping into higher levels, and in preventing further deterioration of food security outcomes within areas already classified as facing higher phases of acute food insecurity
  • ensuring the coordination and integration of anticipatory action within the overall humanitarian architecture and plans as a key complement to response
  • protecting the development gains achieved by development investments in protracted crises.

4. On operationalization of the HDP nexus

Anticipatory action can be a catalyst for operationalizing the HDP nexus, considering:  

  • development actors can influence the identification/preselection, targeting and sequencing of anticipatory actions
  • anticipatory action can be incorporated into joined-up programme planning as a key component of addressing risks and vulnerabilities, and to broaden the number of actors involved in anticipatory action  
  • an effective accountability mechanism between diverse actors is needed for the success of an HDP nexus approach, both in terms of its contribution to scaling up and facilitating anticipatory actions, and the way in which anticipatory action can incentivize and enhance more coherent and complementary HDP action
  • different types of financing instruments and financing flows need to be used by different actors at the right time.

Anticipating and preventing food crises requires collective efforts and strong commitments. This is already happening, and we now have common principles and evidence-based recommendations to act at scale.

Niccolò Lombardi Emergency and rehabilitation officer and anticipatory action team leader, FAO

Looking to the future: more collaboration needed

Together we can achieve more; as Aristotle said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. A special quality arises when cooperation and collaboration take place, and 2022 was a year filled with workshops, dialogue platforms, webinars and other forms of collaboration.

After a strong start to 2023, we hope that the growing community of anticipatory action policy-makers and practitioners is increasingly willing to coordinate their efforts to support affected populations to anticipate and prepare for predictable climate hazards.

By pooling our expertise, resources and efforts, we can harness the power of anticipatory action to protect vulnerable communities and create a future free from hunger and food crises.

Jesse Mason Anticipatory action global coordinator, WFP