Interview with Amer Daoudi, Regional Director for Sudan, World Food Programme

“There is a whole change or shift in the way we look at food security today, both from the level of the household up to the community, up to the state itself, and the governments, and the countries we operate in,” says Amer Daoudi, regional director for Sudan for the World Food Programme, in this interview. Mr. Daoudi goes on to discuss new technological advances in monitoring and reporting, as well as the World Food Programme’s engagement in Rio+20, and the effects of climate change on long-term food production.

The interview was conducted by Chris Perry, Senior Policy Analyst.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Interview Transcript

Chris Perry (CP): I wanted to start out with a question about the situation in Sudan. Your current position with WFP in Sudan is not your first. Can you speak a little bit about how the food security situation over the past several decades has changed over time and how that can be extrapolated to the bigger picture of food security issues globally?

Amer Daoudi (AD): Thank you. In Sudan, no, it’s not my first assignment, but I have to say that being almost seventeen, eighteen years in WFP, I have seen recently a massive shift moving from a food aid agency to more food assistance, helping governments, population in need to have more tools at hand in order to address their food insecurity.

I think the whole world around us is changing, both from the Secretary-General downwards to the grass roots levels. Governments are buying into the importance of food security. I think the shock that we had in 2007-2008 with the high food prices brought the attention of the world to the vulnerability of the world population, the vulnerability of economies and the stability, political and economic stability of governments around the world.

So there is a whole change or shift in the way we look at food security today, both from the level of the household up to the community, up to the state itself and the governments and the countries we operate in.

CP: So you talked a little bit about the responsibility of the state and the responsibility of partners. And you talked about WFP and its long term resilience, strategy and development resilience. Can you speak a little bit about how the WFP is working to coordinate with other UN agencies? I know through some of the architectural governance is being discussed through delivering as one. There’s a lot of emphasis on bringing issues like food security and sustainable development into all sectors of government.

So one, can you speak about how WFP is coordinating with other agencies? And two, can you talk a little bit about how the WFP is trying to develop capacity within the state to deal with this, not just in the agricultural departments but also in the broader government?

AD: Absolutely. I think the initiatives on the ground which have been taking place, but it has been brought more to the limelight by the initiatives of the Secretary-General, not only the current Secretary-General, but the previous ones on the delivery as one initiatives and the pilot testing in several countries, as well as the current changes that are taking place and the discussions that are taking place, how we all can work together and complement each other.

And this is not only UN focused because WFP operates worldwide with almost 2,400 to 2,800 different partners, from international nongovernmental organizations to local nongovernmental organizations and, as you saw today, with community based organizations and the like.

What has come to surface over the past five, seven years is also the governments themselves taking the initiatives to lead and/or co-lead on the strategies within their own countries on food security and access to food and so on and so forth. This is very healthy. This is very important and it’s extremely important that the local ownership, both at the government level and at the community level, is there.

I think the old ways of the humanitarian community and the relief agencies, as well as the development agencies, coming in and doing the work themselves are over. Today we have the governments being involved from the get-go. We have governments actually leading on development their medium and longer term food security strategies.

In Africa we are seeing quite a lot of ownership. Today some of the best advocates that speak about food security and demand from the international community as well as the humanitarians and the development type agencies and early recovery type agencies, for them to feed into their strategy is very prominent. There are many initiatives taking place. The African Union is leading on this, both as an African Union and as country level. And we’ve seen many developments taking place like that.

So it’s all coming together. It’s not there yet, but I think we are taking the right steps to move into that and have the transition. Sometimes you go in as a humanitarian, you transition from an emergency into an early recovery and then a lot of fantastic development agencies and NGOs that work on the ground come to take over.

The one issues that we need to continue driving home, if you will, is the fact that we need to continue to have the support of the international community as well as the involvement and the ownership of the governments to continue with this because many times, oftentimes, we see that the emergency is over and the shift goes somewhere else and resources dry up. And that’s what brings us back again into that vicious cycle of every few years or every couple of years or sometimes every ten years, we come back again to start all over.

Yes, meanwhile we are developing, we are improving our tools. WFP using its cash vouchers, focusing on the household level, focusing on nutrition, focusing on school feeding, focusing on small holder farmers is one of the many tools that we have in our toolbox to address some of these chronic issues that we are confronted with.

CP: I guess speaking more to the breaking down silos between other international institutions and NGOS, the Rio+20 is coming up and a big part of that is the issue of sustainable development, which food security will figure fairly high in that. How is WFP engaged in that process? What does WFP want to see come out of the process as far as moving the debate along?

AD: Believe it or not, it’s quite incredible the level of engagement from WFP because it’s front and center for us, frankly speaking. We have been engaged from the get-go, from our New York office, our HQ, country offices. We’re having almost weekly or every ten days, a teleconference on these issues, discussing the inputs and the examples. And also we are partnering and discussing the Rio+20 with our counterparts in the governments and everything because at the end of the day it is the primary responsibility of each government towards its people. We come in to fill in gaps. That’s what our role is and that’s where the governments need to take ownership. So we are engaged both within the UN system but also with the governments themselves because they are going to be present there. It’s going to be probably the largest gathering ever, and food security is front and center [with] the longer term development, sustainable development.

So I think the engagement and the commitment is pretty much there front and center. Today Rio+20 is one thing that is talked about everywhere, at all levels within the organization and also among the community itself. But more very, very important is the governments themselves that are also leading on this which is really important.

CP: So moving the topic a little off that, one of the issues you mentioned upstairs and one of the issues that comes up with humanitarian response is the issue of reliable and timely data and how to get that from the field. Have you thought at all about how technology can fill that gap? I know that the Global Pulse is working on a crowdsourcing data acquisition tool called Hunchworks. There are some early warning conflict prevention tools, election monitoring tools that are crowdsource technology based. Has WFP thought about how to engage in that process and how to utilize those tools to better respond to and manage crises?

AD: Absolutely. We have two types or three types of emergencies and the like. We have the slow onset where early warning [and where] our work with WFP is a leader in the VAM, what we call the VAM which is a Vulnerability Assessment Mapping unit and system that we have worldwide to enable us to predict and see the crisis coming in the case if it’s slow onset.

Sometimes you are confronted with an earthquake and you have to respond. And over the years WFP has developed the expertise to respond to such situations. But what we are also doing today preparing and empowering, is training and investing in the training and capacity building of local government entities.

I remember when we started in Sudan this approach, we started with training government counterparts on vulnerability assessment and mapping, measuring food security, both at the community level and at the house level. And we have trained almost 2,000 government officials. And what that translated into is not only building their capacity so that when we leave that capacity remains, but also today when we carry our assessments they are part of our teams. They are the ones that are going out there asking the questions and doing the surveys and doing the assessments. They sometimes have more access than we do.

So the capacity building of governments and institutions is extremely important. We have engaged in Sudan for example with the Strategic Grain Reserve where we train them rather than just having, based on very little data, having to intervene as a strategic reserve, now they have the tools at hand to carry out a proper assessment and say , “that area we need to intervene. Yes, this area is food insecure, but it is moderately food insecure. And it’s this one that is severely food insecure.” And this is part of the interventions or the capacity building that we are doing worldwide. It’s not only in Sudan. I’m talking about Sudan because I happen to be in Sudan, but this is happening everywhere.

In the cases of sudden onset emergencies two examples come to mind is Pakistan earthquake where I went to lead the WFP response to the Pakistan earthquake back in 19…in 2005, I think. At that time we immediately partnered with the local authorities. And we started our response and so on and so forth and the Pakistanis, both military and civilian, were outstanding. We saw the result of that when Pakistan was hit with these massive floods where the authorities, the Pakistani authorities, were in the lead and they’ve done an amazing job in response to that. We were helping. We were feeding in. We were also coming in to fill gaps, but they led.

And this is the kind of thing we need to do. It’s not only on the slow onset emergencies and the food insecurity, but we’re also building local capacity and institutions’ capacity at the local level in sudden onset response to that crisis. So these are some of the good examples.

The early warning we have no in Indonesia on tsunami early warning. This is paying off as we saw the tsunami back in 2004/2005 and now. The early warning is there. It works. So investment in local capacity is one of the tools that we deploy immediately, even when it is a sudden onset emergency.

CP: This is the last question. The Bonn climate talks are happening right now. This is more of a long-term question. In the food security world the long-term crisis that’s coming is this issue of climate change and how it affects food security. Sudan, being in the Sahel, will probably be dealing with those effects more than other places. How do you see this affecting your work on resilience which runs up against some of the projections that we’re seeing coming out of the IPCC as far as long-term food production trends that we’re likely to see in the next fifty or a hundred years. How do you see the WFP trying to get ahead of the curve there?

AD: Well, part of building resilience is basically climate adaptation and what we’re doing in Darfur, the one million trees that we’ve planted, are local trees that are drought resistant anyways. They provide first cash crops. They provide wood for their own consumption. But also they provide foods, but they require very minimum interventions in terms of water resources which are scarce in many areas, especially in the northern part of Darfur. Building the water reservoirs, the dams and the type of terracing, agricultural terracing, is helping in weathering and/or deflecting some of the environmental change that we are seeing.

Our problems come where there are erratic rains and it’s no longer once every five years, sometimes you have two years in a row like as we’ve seen in Somalia and we’re seeing now the situation is very precarious in terms of rainfall in The Horn. And for that we need to have our preparedness, both the enable the government first and foremost to respond and be ready for these kind of shocks, both at the community level as well as at the national level in the country. And these are things that we can no longer dismiss: “this year the rain was bad.” These things are front and center now. And front and center even with governments.

But we need to start both nationally, but also locally at the local level to talk about these things and start building the resilience in order to absorb such shock. But we need to look at local solutions. Adaptation is part of the community. They do adapt. Darfur has been there for thousands of years and I think it’s going to remain there for thousands of years to come. And you see how the community is adapting. You see how they move sometimes southwards where there’s more rainfall and everything. But by doing these projects and these types of interventions that prolongs their resilience vis-a-vis the climate change and gives them a bit more adaptation to the climatic changes that they are facing.

CP: Thank you very much for the interview.

AD: Thank you.

Photo credit: Don Pollard