ACC Network:Themes:Moving forward

ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security

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Posted 16 April 1998

Theme: Moving forward

See also: Sustainable livelihoods (July 1998) | Natural Resource and Environmental Management (NREM) (June 1998) | Building a pluralistic network (May 1998)

Thematic Groups emerge in response to differing national situations

The emergence of Thematic Groups within the Network reflects the complexity of national circumstances. In addition, it corresponds to two of the guiding principles at the core of the Network - that it is demand-driven and country-focused. By 17 March 1998, Thematic Groups had already been established or were in the process of being established in 75 countries. These Groups have emerged in a variety of ways in response to differing institutional contexts. New Thematic Groups on Rural Development and Food Security have been established in a number of countries in 1997 and early 1998 (for instance, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Guinea, Pakistan, Chile) following the ACC decision to create the Network. By comparison, in other countries, pre-existing groups dealing with issues related to rural development and food security have been affiliated to the Network in order to enable them to benefit from the support and sharing of experiences offered (e.g. China, Bangladesh, Madagascar).

In some countries, the Thematic Groups have built on and/or replaced the national committees and groups which emerged in 1996-97 in preparation for, or follow-up to, the World Food Summit. In these cases, the terms of reference and agenda of the pre-existing food security groups have been widened to reflect their expanded focus on cross-cutting rural development issues (e.g. Peru, China).

In other countries, Thematic Groups are emerging based on an awareness and appreciation of a complex national situation which is characterised by the existence of several groups engaged in issues related to rural development and/or food security. These groups have sought to reflect and complement local realities by adapting to national circumstances. In some cases, they have sought to build on operational groups, including for instance local consultative groups or round tables (e.g. Bangladesh). In other cases, they are attempting to form their own local area networks to bring together all the relevant pre-existing groups already working in areas related to rural development and food security (e.g. Madagascar).

In Madagascar, where a large variety of both formal and informal thematic and issue groups, focusing on food security, rural development, poverty alleviation, environment, rural credit etc., are already operational with varied membership, the FAO Representative expressed his desire to draw upon rather than to duplicate these pre-existing groups. In response, an innovative initiative to create a local network of functional groups was proposed. Still at the conceptual stage, this local network will be based on two existing groups - Special Programme on Food Security (Programme Spécial de Sécurité Alimentaire) and National Programme on Food Security (Programme National de Sécurité Alimentaire) - that are currently chaired by FAO. However, it will open its membership to new partners and members of other pre-existing groups, concerned with food security and rural development related issues, and seek to bring them onboard in a systematic way.

In some cases, Thematic Groups are creating smaller sub-groups or task forces to focus attention more closely on specific issues related to rural development and food security (e.g. Burundi, Pakistan, Mynamar, Zimbabwe). For instance, sub-groups have been established to deal with issues such as rural employment, nutrition, environment, food insecure and vulnerable groups, emergencies and early warning systems and World Food Summit follow-up. These smaller groups work in more depth on particular issues within the mandate of the Thematic Group and provide their work as inputs to the main Thematic Group. They are usually facilitated by the UN Agency with expertise in the particular issue area and members of one group are not precluded from participating in the work of other groups.

Next steps

Setting an agenda and a programme of work

Setting up Thematic Groups at the national level is the first step called for by the ACC Network. The second and more vital step is the operationalization of these Groups aimed at fostering co-operation and partnerships between the various stakeholders in specific areas related to rural development and food security. With the support of the Network Secretariat in FAO Headquarters, IFAD and WFP, in addition to the active participation of the other UN member agencies, these efforts are expected to stimulate information exchange, to increase awareness of best practices and, most importantly, to generate demand-driven activities in support of rural development and enhanced food security at the national level.

Significant achievements have already been made by many of the Thematic Groups established in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Near East. A number of Groups have already discussed and agreed on an agenda and programme of work, identified priority themes and sub-themes on which to focus and, in some cases, planned or even launched specific activities related to rural development and food security. Such activities have included: definition of production targets for meeting basic food needs of the population; design of strategies to protect most vulnerable groups from nutritional deterioration in periods of economic and political crisis; design of policies to strengthen pro-poor local institutions for improving household food security; compilation of agricultural compendiums to describe recent developments in agricultural investment and donor-funded projects; specification of inter-agency work plans to obtain adequate information on household food security issues needed for advising governments; identification of field projects in support of rural development and/or food security for vulnerable groups; and definition of key concepts in food security and rural development, prioritization of issues for thematic group attention, and commissioning of expert papers on those selected concepts and issues.

Selecting priority themes and sub-themes

The identification of priority themes and sub-themes within the broad areas of rural development and food security is of critical importance. Selecting a few key priority themes which correspond to national priorities and concerns will help to focus Thematic Group discussions and decisions regarding co-ordinated support for policy formulation and field activities. In addition, it will enhance the results and impact achieved by the Thematic Groups at the country level.

The following sub-themes have been suggested by the Network Secretariat, based on the inputs received from ACC members and FAO Representatives, in addition to an assessment of timely and globally important topics in rural development and food security.

  • Strengthening local institutions and producer organisations for ensuring food security;
  • Improving access to food through income and employment generation and other poverty alleviation strategies;
  • Improving household food security through integrated production, education and nutritional interventions at local levels;
  • Trends in aggregate food supply, prices and distribution and implications for food security at local levels;
  • Early warning measures and emergency relief;
  • Natural resource and environmental management for food sustainability (suggested by UNEP).

The sub-themes outlined above are only suggestions. Thematic Groups are encouraged to identify their own priority themes and sub-themes which reflect national priorities and concerns. Indeed, many Thematic Groups have already selected their own themes and sub-themes based on an analysis of country-level needs and priorities. The following sub-themes are examples of those chosen in some countries:

  • nutrition (Bangladesh, Guinea, India, Kenya, Mynamar)
  • environment (Burundi, Cambodia, Zimbabwe)
  • impact of El Niño on food security (Bolivia, Venezuela)
  • agrarian issues (Chad, Tunisia, Brazil)
  • food aid (Bangladesh, Chad)
  • food security for vulnerable groups (Cuba)
  • emergency situations and natural disasters (Pakistan, Guinea, Caribbean sub-region)
  • the role of agricultural technology transfer through extension in enhancing household food security (China)
  • food movements prior to and post-harvest (Eritrea)
  • strengthening the productive capacities of rural populations as a means to improve incomes of disadvantaged populations and alleviate poverty (Guinea)
  • development of the non-farm sector (Kenya)
  • Panchayati Raj (system of local self-government) and food security (India)
  • water use and utilisation of appropriate techniques and equipment involving users in water resource management (Tunisia)

Encouraging results

Although the Network is still in its early stages, many exciting initiatives have already been launched by Thematic Groups with very encouraging results.

Go to Countries for a list of countries in which Thematic Groups on Rural Development and Food Security had been set up, or are in the process of being established. See also examples of the achievements already made by Thematic Groups in Countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, China, Guinea, Kenya, Pakistan and Peru.

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