Food insecurity is the vulnerability to not having enough access to the right amounts or types of food, which can be caused by chronic or acute shocks to their normal coping mechanisms. People can be food-insecure even when, at times, they have access to sufficient food, as that access can be under threat of failure.
People enjoy food and nutrition security when they have access to sufficient, nutritious food for an active and healthy life, in terms of;
- Availability: ensuring that a stable supply and wide variety of food is available locally at all times
- Access: people are able to produce or purchase sufficient quantities of foods that are nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable
- Utilization: food is stored, prepared, distributed and eaten in ways that are nutritionally adequate for all members of the household, including men and women, girls and boys
Food security is not just about production of food, but stable livelihoods to buy the foodstuffs not produced by the household. Therefore food security interventions often include an element of production of surplus for sale or other income generating activities.
Food insecurity is exacerbated by the impact of the HIV and AIDS pandemic across Benin. Those living with, or affected by HIV and AIDS have less labour available, spend more time caring for others, and have decreasing experience and skills. They may have to sell off productive assets or adapt their livelihood strategies, which are sometimes risky in nature, in order to cope. This increases vulnerability to other shocks such as drought, and reduces ability to produce or access sufficient food and nutrition.
Maize is the staple food of choice for most Africans but its production is particularly vulnerable to erratic climate patterns as in recent years, and is reliant on use of quality seed and application of fertiliser which are often unafordable. Therefore Beninis under continuous risk of staple food crop failure, and thus national food insecurity.
Interventions are therefore needed to promote production of a variety of other food crops to spread risk and ensure access to a range of nutritious foods.
It is estimated that up to 30% of crops are lost due to poor storage techniques and facilities. Interventions are needed to address lack of knowledge on storage processes, pest management and food preservation, as well as provision of local storage facilities to address food shortages in the lean periods before the next harvest.
The Solution – WASFO ’s Interventions
WASFO ’s response to the challenges of food security is to increase availability of food at household and community level, within its geographical reach. Weather patterns of recent years have been erratic between seasons and districts. While this makes it hard to predict the extent and location of food insecurity each year, there are some membership communities which consistently have shortfalls in access and availability of food. The WASFO programme seeks to address these food security hotspots through;
- Extension support for increased and diversified crop production: WASFO works to improve the quality and quantity of smallholder production and livelihoods. The WASFO extension network is used to disseminate information to the far reaches of membership. The 70+ Association Field Officers are trained on crop production techniques and socio-economic interventions, and they train 1,500 Farmer Trainers who pass the information on to the 100,000 WASFO membership.
- Food storage and village grain banks: With up to 30% of crops being lost to poor storage, this is a major challenge at household and community level. WASFO works with Associations and their communities to improve household and community storage processes and facilities. This includes training on storage, as well as moisture and pest management processes. Some Associations are also supported to set up and manage village-based grain banks for local storage of surplus maize and legumes for the next hungry season.
- Food utilisation, nutrition and permaculture: Complimenting WASFO ’s diversification efforts, training programmes are run on the value of indigenous plants and crops like cassava and sweet potato which are more suitable to local growing conditions and require low labour inputs. Members are also trained on food value and nutrition of these crops, and how to use them to boost health, linking to WASFO HIV and AIDS programme. Also linking issues of food security and HIV/AIDS, permaculture farming practices are promoted with low-input methods, crop varieties and locations to enable vulnerable households to grow their own food.
- Farming as a Business Concept: The “Farming as a Business” concept underpins all WASFO programmes, by increasing knowledge of the principles of business, and awareness of cross-cutting issues that impact on business potential, such as gender inequality, HIV and AIDS. Field Officers are trained and provided with a manual to guide support to members.
- WASFO Radio Programmes: WASFO produces a twice-weekly 30 minute radio programme, aired nationwide on MBC1. This provides a channel for reaching members and the broader community with up to date information and advice on how to increase their social and economic productivity from smallholder farming. Programmes include features on food storage techniques and use of indigenous crops for improved nutrition.