No matter how much we like to think of ourselves as informed consumers, the majority of us do not fully understand the complexity of the arrangements needed to get even the most basic commodities to our tables safely, reliably and with any luck, tastily. The journey of the humble cornflake from corn seed to the breakfast table requires a tangled web of research, forecasting, analysis, logistics, contracts and legal compliance.
Yet for some 820 million people around the world, that complexity intersects with poverty, conflict, fragility, displacement and extreme weather events to mean a struggle to fulfil one of the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food. Too many people in the world stand at this intersection, and the emotional and physical burden is great; the feeling of powerlessness and despair when faced with empty stomachs, empty markets and often a harsh or unfamiliar environment is hard to imagine.
It is at this intersection, pushed on all sides by competing forces, that the World Food Programme works to revitalise supply chains, markets and logistics networks over the most hostile terrains in the world – to bring food where it is needed the most. It is for these reasons that the WFP has won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.
Our joint work in Africa
UNU-MERIT is proud to have a long-term working relationship with WFP, evaluating their relief and recovery operations in Kenya’s refugee camps and host communities, and their cash transfer programme to urban settlements in Nairobi and Mombasa implemented in direct response to COVID-19. We are also their long-term partners in developing and evaluating social protection programmes in Kenya, and were previously their evaluation partners for a new cash transfer scheme in the refugee camps, a large school feeding programme in Malawi, and a nutrition and livelihood support programme in the Gambia.
While evaluating WFP’s work in Kenya’s Kakuma, Kalobeyei and Dadaab refugee camps, researchers from UNU-MERIT routinely spend several weeks of the year with WFP’s staff at the forefront of their operations in Kakuma, standing at one such intersection between rights, poverty, food and security. Here, out of the dusty yet shimmering haze, emerge row upon row of wooden structures cloaked in white UNHCR tarpaulin, dwarfed by the enormity of the barren landscape, pockmarked by dry river beds and thorny shrubs. While refugees are safe from the insecurity and drought that forced them from their homes, they find themselves in a legal vacuum: unable to work, unable to own livestock or land, prohibited from leaving this dystopian oasis.
Even if agriculture were legally permitted (and there are efforts to relax this restriction with the implementation of the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement Programme), the unforgiving landscape would yield little. Rainfall is sporadic and restricted to a few weeks in the year (and even then it’s arrival is a cause for concern rather than celebration because of the risk of flooding). The nearest market town is an 850km return trip, the nearest port over 2400km; the most reliable way in and out is the thrice weekly flight to Nairobi from the dirt airstrip at the edge of the town.
Since the camp’s inception in the early 1990s, ensuring food security in such an environment has meant walking a fine line: markets and ports are distant, the ground is unyielding and the policy environment unlikely to soften. For several generations of children born in the camps, this has been all they have known. Numerous threats are held at bay thanks to the efforts of various agencies, organisations and charities that have worked in these forbidding environments for nearly 30 years. Not least among them is WFP, which constantly overcomes obstacles to ensure that a monthly supply of food reaches this remote camp of 120,000 souls – roughly the size of our home city of Maastricht.
WFP has gone above and beyond in developing new methods for ensuring the food security of the refugees under their care, and UNU-MERIT is proud to accompany and assist them in this process. In 2017, UNU-MERIT created a research ‘evidence base’ on the efficacy of a new restricted cash transfer implemented in the settlements, and over the last two years in understanding the effects of new cash transfers and livelihood programmes in Dadaab, Kakuma and Kalobeyei. In Nairobi and Mombasa, WFP has implemented a cash transfer scheme to help households that have lost their livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic. This scheme helps to ensure that their food needs are (at least partially) met. In such circumstances, it is critical to protect the most vulnerable. To ensure essential aid flows as quickly as possible, we work alongside WFP as part of a rigorous monitoring and evaluation process.
Overall, UNU-MERIT and WFP work together to ensure accountability and effective policies, bringing life-saving relief to the most vulnerable people around the world. We warmly congratulate our partners at WFP for winning this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
WFP / A. Abbonizio