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The international community needs to intervene more swiftly in humanitarian crises in ways that are also designed to support affected farmers, pastoralists, fishers and other food producers, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in Riyadh on Monday.
"The international community has not been effective enough in its response to humanitarian crises. To improve results, we need to better combine humanitarian assistance with development actions on the ground," Graziano da Silva said. "To do this effectively we need financing that encourages stronger collaboration among partners across the humanitarian and development spheres."
In an address to the First International Humanitarian Forum taking place in the Saudi Arabian capital, the FAO Director-General also highlighted the need to be more financially flexible and predictable when responding to crises.
He noted that "even in the worst situations" rural people can continue to produce food for their families and communities, when provided with early and appropriate support.
"A 2017 FAO assessment of the impact of conflict on agriculture in Syria showed that despite six years of violence, 75 percent of rural families continued to produce their own food," Graziano da Silva pointed out.
Support that keeps rural communities producing their own food offers a way to stop hunger from cascading into famine and can prevent humanitarian assistance needs from escalating, the FAO Director-General argued.
Yet while humanitarian funding requirements nearly tripled from US$ 8.5 billion in 2013 to US$ 22 billion in 2018, agriculture was one of the least-funded sectors under the UN's 2017 humanitarian appeal. This despite all the evidence that investing in the sector is a fundamental and cost-effective way to respond to crises.
Cannot neglect agriculture
Some 815 million people currently suffer from hunger to varying degrees of intensity, according to the most recent UN global report on world hunger.
And up to 80 percent of people at risk of severe hunger rely on different agricultural sectors for their survival, including crops, fishing, livestock and forestry.
When crises break out and food security is impacted agriculture and local food production cannot be an afterthought in the equation, "we have to help people maintain and restore their livelihood" noted Graziano da Silva.
He challenged his listeners to stop short-changing on investments in rural resilience, arguing, "Investing in agriculture not only saves lives and protects livelihoods, but it lays the foundations for recovery and resilience building."
Early action yields dividends
Quick responses to early warning alerts allows humanitarian interventions to have the greatest impact on at-risk rural livelihoods - and this requires investment in early action, or forecast-based financing, according to the FAO Director-General.
That is why in 2016, FAO established an early warning, early action fund which enables it to respond rapidly to ease the impact of crises on vulnerable people, like drought-hit pastoralists in the Horn of Africa. "Tools such as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) provide clear information on evolving food crises, we need to act early and not wait until is declared or about to be declared " said Graziano da Silva.
Improved coordination among donors and among agencies at field level remains a priority so as to avoid duplication and bridge the humanitarian-development gap, Graziano da Silva noted.