Takahiro Utsumi is one of our many students who also works for another UN organisation — in this case the World Food Programme (WFP) in Khartoum, Sudan. He came to Maastricht for our unique course on Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods (EPRM), to improve his everyday work and long-term career as a food security analyst. We caught up with him in mid-December 2016.
You’re a Japanese analyst working for a UN programme in East Africa. What exactly do you do?
I’m a Food Security Analyst working in Sudan for the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping Unit. This means I do food security and livelihood assessments of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugee and host communities. Basically, the WFP uses my reports to help design food assistance operations.
Sudan is one of the WFP’s most complex humanitarian emergencies – marked by recurring conflicts, regional insecurity, and both new and protracted displacement. As a result, we’re witnessing crisis levels of malnutrition and food insecurity, chronic poverty and a deteriorating economy.
The country is classified by the UN as a least-developed, lower-middle income, food-deficit country. What that means in real terms is that Sudan has 15 million people (about 40% of the population) living in poverty, and 4 million people suffering crisis levels of food insecurity (just under 10% of the population).
Across the conflict-affected region of Darfur, for example, political insecurity has a massive impact on food security. Clashes during the planting and harvesting seasons have left huge tracts of land uncultivated, further worsening the overall food security situation in the region.
You’re particularly interested in social protection for migrants. What exactly do you plan to study? Social safety nets have been shown to reduce vulnerability, especially within ‘spirals of poverty’. As a result, the international community is increasingly using cash- and asset-transfer programmes to build or supplement the incomes and livelihoods of vulnerable populations. What we need now is to better understand how these programmes work for large populations going through protracted crises.
Based on my experience in the field, I see the need for a special kind of programme – one that transcends the humanitarian-development divide; one that increases people’s resilience and self-reliance and helps them escape poverty. I think further research into social protection and resilience-building for IDPs would make a great contribution to policy dialogue. It would bridge the gaps between humanitarian and recovery policies, showing new ways for agencies to intervene in protracted situations.[UT1]
How will this course help you in your everyday work and your long-term career? Right now at WFP we’re going through strategic changes, in line with the new Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically in the context of Sudan, WFP has shifted from emergency operation to protracted relief and recovery operation. In other words, beside emergency assistance, we’re aiming to address food insecurity by encouraging livelihood and resilience of beneficiaries.
I came here to learn how to research the links between resilience and food security (and by ‘resilience’ I mean the capacity to cope with conflict and environmental and economic shocks). My goal is to understand how shocks affect vulnerable populations, especially from the food security point of view, and how they cope with these shocks.
On this course we learned a range of quantitative analytical methodologies. We learned how to apply them to improve our food security analyses to bring more evidence to support our policies and interventions. We’re now able to rank beneficiaries according to their vulnerabilities and then provide assistance tailored to their needs and capacities. So, for example, we can provide food assistance to the most vulnerable populations while also providing asset creation assistance to moderately vulnerable beneficiaries.
What were your impressions of the EPRM course? It was a really intensive course with the face-to-face and online training. I’ve learned a lot over the three months and I think I can bring a lot of things back to my work.
WFP / T. Utsumi