The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)’s efforts to build resilience to climate-related and human-made shocks and stressors have been shown to boost food security, while also strengthening social cohesion and improving the prospects for peace in Burkina Faso and Niger – a new study reveals.
The “Sahel Social Cohesion Research in Burkina Faso and Niger” report was conducted by WFP, the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Institute for Peace and Development (IPD). It reveals that WFP’s support to rehabilitate land for crop and fodder production contributes to increased dialogue and peaceful coexistence within and between different identity groups and between communities and their leaders in Burkina Faso and Niger. The two countries are part of a regional WFP-promoted resilience-building programme covering the two Sahelian countries as well as Chad, Mali, and Mauritania. The two countries are among the most structurally vulnerable and food-insecure countries in West Africa.
“Conflict – one of the primary drivers of hunger in the Sahel – has escalated dramatically in recent years. This report reveals that resilience-building actions act as an effective buffer against both rising hunger and growing instability in the region,” said Margot van der Velden, WFP’s Deputy Regional Director for Western Africa.
The Sahel region – a vast area south of the Sahara Desert – faces acute food insecurity, malnutrition, limited access to social services, high levels of conflict and displacement, political instability, economic shocks, and environmental threats such as land degradation and the impact of the climate crisis. Conflict remains one of the primary drivers of food insecurity in the Sahel region, with an alarming increase in violent events and armed conflicts in recent years. The March 2023 Cadre Harmonisé food security analysis projected that over 10.2 million people across Sahelian countries – or one in ten people in the region – will have irregular access to safe and nutrition food during the 2023 June-August lean season.
In response, WFP massively scaled up resilience efforts since 2018, partnering with national governments, local communities and organizations across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. In just four years, WFP’s resilience programmes have benefitted over more than three million women, men and children in over 2,800 villages, and has helped rehabilitate 220,000 hectares of land – the equivalent of 308,500 soccer pitches.
Together with its partners, WFP promotes climate-resilient agricultural practices and infrastructure to help address issues of land degradation, deforestation, dwindling pasturelands, and depletion of water sources, which all trigger competition for resources, and lead to the migration of both people and livestock into better-resourced areas.
The study highlights the impact of WFP’s interventions in building the resilience of vulnerable communities to various shocks and stressors while fostering social cohesion and peace among and between participating communities. The report shows how participatory planning and management of programme activities created spaces of encounter and allowed to develop a common vision within and between communities as well as with community leaders, traditional chiefs, and subnational government services.
“There is an urgent need to create a more holistic, long-term approach to food crisis responses by building on existing innovations and exploring new solutions. Traditional responses have focused on humanitarian and emergency food aid, but more frequent, compounding, and protracted crises require more sustainable, long-term solutions,” said Samuel Benin, Deputy Director, Africa Regional Office, IFPRI.
“This study shows that the way resilience building programs are structured can strengthen social cohesion, thereby reducing further cycles of conflict. The qualitative approach used in this study identifies ways in which WFP activities have contributed to social cohesion and sets the basis for further studies on a broader scale,” he added.
WFP’s resilience activities that require collective action contributed to sustained interaction of individuals and groups of different identities, reducing stereotypes, suspicions, and fostering stronger bonds within and between communities. This has enhanced trust between different ethnic, religious, livelihood, gender, and age groups, as well as host and displaced communities. These efforts demonstrate WFP’s commitment to fostering trust, respect, tolerance, solidarity, and equal opportunities in vulnerable communities.
For instance, WFP’s resilience activities helped to improve relationships between farmers and herders. Asset creation activities focused on restoring degraded environments enhanced natural resource supply and management, reducing conflicts between farmers and herders, allowing them to find ground for symbiotic relations. Similarly, joint engagements in resilience activities have deepened integration of displaced populations within host communities, supporting pre-existing inclinations to help new arrivals and fostering a sense of belonging.
Women participating in livelihood and nutrition activities have expressed a sense of empowerment and closer ties with community leaders. Increased participation in decision-making processes and economic life has raised awareness about the vital role women play in community development, leading to greater acceptance, respect, and inclusion.
Finally, the study highlights how resilience activities created new economic opportunities, reducing outmigration, increasing involvement of youth in community life, and enhancing trust between youth and elders.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Food Programme (WFP).